Russia was defeated in the 1904–05 Russo-Japanese War which saw the annihilation of the Russian Baltic Fleet at the Battle of Tsushima, the loss of Russian influence over Manchuria and Korea, and the Japanese annexation of South Sakhalin. The Anglo-Russian Entente was designed to counter the German Empire's attempts to gain influence in the Middle East, but it ended the Great Game of confrontation between Russia and the United Kingdom. Nicholas approved the Russian mobilization on 30 July 1914 which led to Germany declaring war on Russia on 1 August 1914. It is estimated that around 3.3 million Russians were killed in the First World War. The Imperial Russian Army's severe losses, the High Command's incompetent management of the war efforts, and the lack of food and supplies on the Home Front were the leading causes of the fall of the House of Romanov.
Following the February Revolution of 1917, Nicholas abdicated on behalf of himself and his son. He and his family were imprisoned and transferred to Tobolsk in late summer 1917. On 30 April 1918, Nicholas, Alexandra, and his daughter Maria were handed over to the local Ural Soviet in Ekaterinburg; the rest of the captives followed on 23 May. Nicholas and his family were eventually murdered by their Bolshevik guards on the night of 16/17 July 1918. The remains of the imperial family were re-interred in St. Petersburg 80 years later on 17 July 1998.
In 1981, Nicholas, his wife, and their children were recognized as martyrs by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia in New York City. On 15 August 2000, they were canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church as passion bearers, commemorating believers who face death in a Christ-like manner.
Nicholas was born in the Alexander Palace in Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire, the eldest son of Emperor Alexander III and Empress Maria Feodorovna of Russia (née Princess Dagmar of Denmark). He had five younger siblings: Alexander (1869–1870), George (1871–1899), Xenia (1875–1960), Michael (1878–1918) and Olga (1882–1960). Nicholas often referred to his father nostalgically in letters after Alexander's death in 1894. He was also very close to his mother, as revealed in their published letters to each other.
His paternal grandparents were Emperor Alexander II and Empress Maria Alexandrovna (née Princess Marie of Hesse and by Rhine). His maternal grandparents were King Christian IX and Queen Louise of Denmark. Nicholas was of primarily German and Danish descent, his last ethnically Russian ancestor being Grand Duchess Anna Petrovna of Russia (1708–1728), daughter of Peter the Great.