Askold was a protected cruiser built for the Imperial Russian Navy. She was named after the legendary Varangian Askold. Her thin, narrow hull and maximum speed of 23.8 knots (44.1 km/h) were considered impressive for the time. Askold had five thin funnels which gave it a unique silhouette for any vessel in the Imperial Russian Navy. This led British sailors to nickname her Packet of Woodbines after the thin cigarettes popular at the time. However, the five funnels also had a symbolic importance, as it was popularly considered that the number of funnels was indicative of performance, and some navies were known to add extra fake funnels to impress dignitaries in less advanced countries.
Britain’s large cruiser program, and the Two Power Standard in general, were aimed primarily at the threat to trade posed by the French Navy, but it was also increasingly directed at Russia. Between 1889 and 1893, Russian naval expenditures increased 64 percent. On the whole, Russia devoted its resources to the construction of battleships. The Russians persisted in the construction of armored cruisers rather than protected ones, but these ships numbered only three in this period. Two, Rurik and Rossiya, were large and commissioned in 1895 and 1897 respectively. The Rossiya was the larger, displacing 13,675 tons with a hull that measured 480 feet, 6 inches by 68 feet, and mounted four 8-inch guns and 16 6- inch weapons on the broadside below the upper deck. This ship and Rurik were the impetus for the British construction of the Powerful class for fear of the potential damage that the Russian ships might cause to British commerce in time of war. In truth, the British had little to fear from these ships. Neither were very good designs, being poor steamers, and the disposition of the guns was so badly arranged that French officials believed it “had been stuck on as an afterthought.” These rather poor ships were only augmented by one protected cruiser Askold (1900). Russian naval officials simply believed in the superiority of the battleship over all else.
Russia’s fleet in 1904 was still powerful, but this fact was, as always, the product of its strength in battleships rather than cruisers. Only two armored cruisers were launched between 1899 and 1904, and both were rather unremarkable designs. One was simply an improved version of Rossiya. Unlike in most navies of this period, the majority of Russian construction was in protected cruisers, totaling 11 in all. A principle reason was the savings in cost over armored cruisers, as the Russians did not have the money to spare for a large armored cruiser program after all the battleships. These ships and their older counterparts were completely inadequate for a fleet the size of Russia’s. There were few ships in the fleet that could perform the duty of reconnaissance for the battle fleet in time of war. This problem would lead to disaster when tensions with Japan over Asia exploded into war.