Prior to the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railroad, Russia held a position inferior to that of China in the Far East, its efforts characterized by haphazard measures of colonization, unstable means of communication and passive diplomacy. However, at its completion, Russia had a means of deploying a significant military force in Manchuria. Manchuria, of course, was home to the nearly ice-free Port Arthur; Russia’s other naval ports were frozen for a large part of the year. In addition, control of Port Arthur gives Russia a large measure of control over the water approaches to Peking. Moreover, by controlling the southern coast of Korea, Russia would not merely possess a truly ice-free, and the best naval port to be found in East Asia, but also at last feel secure in Manchuria and complete her Far Eastern design of absorbing Korea and China and pressing down toward India. At the same time, for Japanese, too, Port Arthur possessed importance beyond its strategic significance, fought for and won as it had been by their troops in the Chinese War and then wrestled from them by the Europeans.
How important was Port Arthur in the Russo-Japanese war? Port Arthur had its roots in the simultaneous determination of both Japan and Russia to develop spheres of influence in the Far East, mainly at the expense of China. Japan fought a very successful war against the crumbling Chinese Empire in 1894-95 and imposed a severe treaty. Japan demanded from China a heavy war indemnity, the island of Formosa, and Port Arthur and its hinterland. The European powers, while having no objection to the indemnity, did feel that Japan should not gain Port Arthur, for they had their own ambitions in that part of the world. Russia persuaded Germany and France to join her in applying diplomatic pressure on the Japanese, with the result that Japan was obliged to relinquish Port Arthur. Two years later Saint Petersburg forced the Chinese into leasing Port Arthur to Russia, together with the Liaotung Peninsula on which it stood. For Russia this meant the acquisition of an ice-free naval base in the Far East to supplement Vladivostok. For Japan it was a case of adding insult to injury.
The Boxer Rebellion of 1900 was used by Russia “as a welcome pretext for taking outright possession of most of Manchuria, as a preliminary to turning it into an additional Russian province.” (Walder, David). In many ways, Russia was inadequately prepared for the upcoming conflict. At the time of the conflict, Russia had an enormous army of over one million troops, with another 2.5 million in reserve.