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Russian Revolution

Following the withdrawal of Allied diplomats from Petrograd and Moscow in 1918, the Allied leaders - U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, British Prime Minister David Lloyd George, French Prime Minister Georges Clemenceau, and Italian Prime Minister Vittorio Emmanuele Orlando - grappled with the question of how to address the Russian Civil War that had broken out between the Bolsheviks and White Russian forces following the Russian Revolution. After the signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in March of 1918, Allied, Japanese, and U.S. troops had occupied parts of Northern Russia, the Ukraine, and Siberia to protect vital areas from falling into the hands of the Germans, and to provide assistance to the White Russians.

Marines were landed at and near Vladivostok in June and July 1918 to protect the American consulate and other points in the fighting between the Bolshevik troops and the Czech Army which had traversed Siberia from the western front. A joint proclamation of emergency government and neutrality was issued by the American, Japanese, British, French, and Czech commanders in July. In August 7,000 men were landed in Vladivostok and remained until January 1920, as part of an allied occupation force. In September 1918, 5,000 American troops joined the allied intervention force at Archangel and remained until June 1919. These operations were in response to the Bolshevik revolution in Russia and were partly supported by Czarist or Kerensky elements.

The increasingly obvious interdependence of the Germans and the Bolsheviki finally caused the Allied Governments to reach a tentative accord on the question of intervention. It was decided to dispatch two expeditionary forces to Russia: the one would be landed on the Murman coast and at Archangel in order to defend the Murman railwayl from Finnish-German attacks, prevent the establishment of submarine bases on the Arctic, and keep the large stores of munitions and supplies which had been purchased by the old Russian regime but never paid for, from falling into enemy hands; the other would be sent to Vladivostok in order to police the Trans-Siberian railway and support the Czechoslovaks. The former would comprise British troops, with detachments of French and Americans; the latter would consist of Japanese troops, with smaller contingents of Americans, French, British, Chinese, and Italians.

The United States Government, in embarking upon the enterprise, declared it did so "not for interference in internal affairs of Russia and not to distract from the Western Front," but " to protect the Czechoslovaks against the armed Austrian and German prisoners who are attacking them and to steady any efforts at self-government or self-defense in which the Russians themselves may be willing to accept assistance. Whether from Vladivostok or from Murmansk and Archangel, the only present object for which American troops will be employed will be to guard military stores which may subsequently be needed by Russian forces."

A naval landing had been effected by the British in March, 1918, at Murmansk, the single ice-free port on the Arctic and the terminus of the recently constructed railway to Petrograd. Hither in June arrived the small Allied expedition, under the British General Poole, which proceeded to occupy the railway as far as Kem on the White Sea and to declare the Murman coast to be "Russian territory under Allied protection." On August 2 General Poole took Archangel, and five days later he organized, from among anti-Bolshevist Russian refugees, a regional "provisional government," headed by Nicholas Tchaikovsky. These activities of the Allies in northern Russia served alike to embitter the Bolsheviki and defeat German schemes. Finland's enthusiasm for conquest of the Arctic littoral gradually waned and Germany's increasing preoccupation elsewhere made her aid negligible. By the second half of September General Poole had advanced from Archangel fifty miles southward along the Dvina river, but farther he could not get. His forces were too few and his lines of communication too precarious. Merely to feed the starving population in the liberated region overtaxed his resources.

In the Far East the Allied Expeditionary Force, under the Japanese General Otani, landed at Vladivostok in August, 1918, and within a month cleared the regions to the north, along the Ussuri and Amur rivers, and likewise the Trans-Siberian railway as far as Lake Baikal where a juncture was effected with the Czechoslovaks operating to the westward. Communication was thus opened between Vladivostok and the Volga, and the enemy in Siberia virtually collapsed. Yet the comparative smallness of the Allied forces, their lack of unity, and their endless civil difficulties about railway control and the recognition of "provisional" Russian Governments, which sprang up in their wake like mushrooms, prevented them from utilizing their successes in Siberia for a decisive drive against the Bolsheviki in European Russia. In particular, there was dislike of the Japanese, who constituted a large majority of the whole expeditionary force and who not only treated all Manchuria and eastern Siberia as their peculiar "sphere of influence" but also blocked for several months the project of the other Allies to intrust the repair and operation of the Trans-Siberian railway to a staff of experienced American engineers headed by John R. Stevens. It was not until the signing of the armistice on the Western Front, in November, 1918, that Japan, responding to American representations, consented to reduce her army in Siberia from 73,000 to 25,000 and to turn over the whole Trans-Siberian railway to the American engineers.

Ever since Allied intervention at Archangel and at Vladivostok, in August, what amounted to a state of war had existed between the Entente Powers and the Bolshevist Government of Russia. That Moscow and Berlin were coming nearer to conciliation and united action was evidenced by the signing on August 27 of three special agreements supplementary to the treaty of Brest-Litovsk. By the terms of these agreements, Germany conceded to the Soviet Government full liberty to nationalize Russian industry; the Baltic states of Esthonia and Livonia were declared independent of Russia, though Russia was given free harbor zones in the Baltic ports of Reval, Riga, and Windau; Baku (in the Caucasus) with its rich naphtha deposits, was left to Russia with the understanding that a portion of the naphtha should be at the disposal of Germany; the Bolshevik! promised to employ all the means at their disposal to expel the Entente forces from northern Russia, while Germany guaranteed Russia against attacks by or through Finland; and Russia agreed to pay Germany an indemnity of one and one-half billion dollars, a small part of which would be assumed by Finland and Ukrainia.

As the Bolshevist Government leaned more and more toward Germany, the Allies redoubled their efforts to coordinate and unify the anti-Bolshevist factions and "governments" in Russia. In September anti-Bolshevist members of the Constituent Assembly which had been elected in the autumn of 1917, held a National Convention at Ufa and set up a new "All-Russian Government," with Nicholas Avksentiev as president and Peter Vologodsky as premier. With this government were gradually consolidated the Temporary Siberian Government, the Provisional Government of Northern Russia, and the regional administrations of the Urals and the Don, so that early in November its authority extended over the greater part of Siberia and over portions of the provinces of Samara, Orenburg, Ufa, Ural, and Archangel, and its seat seemed securely established at Omsk. On November 18, however, a counter-revolutionary coup d'etat was executed at Omsk by Admiral Kolchak, the minister of war and marine in the All-Russian Government; President Avksentiev was "taken to an unknown place," several influential radical leaders, such as Victor Tchernov, minister under Kerensky, were imprisoned, and Admiral Kolchak assumed a dictatorship. Obviously the same factional wranglings and dissensions which had ruined Kerensky in the autumn of 1917 were disgracing and paralyzing the anti-Bolshevists in Russia in the autumn of 1918.

Nevertheless, in spite of manifold difficulties, Allied intervention in Russia, combined with the chaos in Bolshevist Russia and with the nationalistic strivings of lesser nationalities within the former empire of the tsars, effectually prevented Germany and Austria-Hungary from reaping the full fruits of the peace of Brest-Litovsk. Russia as a whole did not become a Teutonic satrapy or supply-station. And by the time that German arms were defeated on the Western Front German prestige had been quite lost in the East. Had it not been for the continued chaos in Russia to which probably the Czechoslovaks and the Allies contributed, it might have been possible for Germany to have exploited the East politically and economically and thereby to have strengthened her resistance in the West and postponed the collapse of Mittel-Europa. As it was, Allied intervention in Russia hastened the inevitable.

When the First World War ended Allied leaders found it difficult to justify leaving tens of thousands of war-weary troops in Russia. In early 1919, both Lloyd George and President Wilson suggested that the leaders of the warring Russian factions should meet in order to hammer out a peace accord. In spite of fierce French opposition, President Wilson succeeded in proposing that the Russians would meet on Prinkipo Island off the coast of Turkey. While the Bolsheviks accepted Wilson's proposal, the conference failed to materialize due to French resistance and the unwillingness of Russian anti-Bolsheviks to attend negotiations that would include the Bolshevik government.

Nevertheless, Lloyd George and Wilson remained interested in working toward resolving the Russian situation. Because Bullitt had urged that a mission be dispatched to Russia, Wilson?s chief adviser, Colonel Edward M. House, asked William Christian Bullitt, an attache to the U.S. delegation to the Paris Peace Conference, if he would be willing to lead such an endeavor. Bullitt then drew up a list of peace proposals to present to the Bolshevik government that proposed an armistice, the re-establishment of economic relations, and the withdrawal of Allied troops. Additionally, House encouraged Bullitt to secure a promise from the Bolsheviks that they would honor Tsarist Russia?s debts to the Allied powers. However, while Bullitt secured House?s assent to his proposals, neither Wilson nor Lloyd George knew of them.

In March of 1919, Bullitt visited Soviet Russia on a clandestine mission. Although Secretary of State Robert Lansing only authorized him to report on political and economic conditions, Bullitt?s actual objective was far more ambitious: to broker an agreement between the Allies and Russia?s Bolshevik government that would end the Russian Civil War, lift the Allied blockade of that country, and allow the Allies to withdraw the troops they had dispatched to Russia in 1918. Bullitt eventually received a proposal from the Bolshevik government that would have realized these goals, but the Allied leaders at the Paris Peace Conference were unwilling to accept the offer.

On March 6, 1919, the Bullitt Mission (which comprised Bullitt, journalist Lincoln Steffens, and a U.S. Army intelligence officer) crossed the Russian border. Following a meeting with Deputy Soviet Foreign Minister Maxim Litvinov in Petrograd, Bullitt and Steffens left for Moscow, where they met with Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin and his Foreign Minister, Georgi Chicherin. Although there was opposition to negotiations with the Americans within the Bolshevik leadership, on March 14, Bullitt received a Russian proposal that demanded that the Allies call for a ceasefire within the former Russian Empire and agree to a peace conference in a neutral nation. The proposed terms for discussion at the conference included allowing all de facto governments within the borders of Russia to retain the territory they held prior to the armistice, the lifting of the Allied blockade, the withdrawal of Allied troops from Russia, disarmament of the warring Russian factions, and a commitment by the Bolshevik government to honor Russia?s financial obligations to the Allies.

During his week in Russia, Bullitt also compiled an extensive report on conditions there. While acknowledging the economic hardships facing the Russian people, Bullitt asserted that the violent phase of the Bolshevik Revolution had ended and that the Bolsheviks enjoyed popular support. Furthermore, he reported that Lenin and a large segment of the Bolshevik Party were willing to compromise with the United States. In fact, Bullitt believed that the greatest danger confronting the United States was the possibility that continued Allied interventions and support of the Whites Russians would lead to the rise of more radical political factions. Consequently, Bullitt concluded that " [no] Government save a Socialist Government can be set up in Russia today except by bayonets," and that Lenin?s faction of the Bolshevik was "as moderate as any Socialist Government which can control Russia."

Bullitt returned to Paris on March 25, and there faced Allied resistance to the proposal he received from Lenin. Although Lloyd George privately assured Bullitt that he was sympathetic to the Bolsheviks? offer, he repudiated it once news of Bullitt?s mission had been leaked to the British press. Clemenceau had opposed any overtures to Lenin from the start. Wilson was in poor health and was focused on achieving a breakthrough in negotiations with the French concerning the peace treaty with Germany. Furthermore, the President's relations with House, Bullitt's original patron, had soured greatly. Finally, news from Russia indicated that anti-Bolshevik forces would soon capture Moscow, thus obviating the need to negotiate with Lenin. Consequently, the April 10th deadline for the Allies to respond to Lenin's offer passed without any word from the Allied side, and Bullitt angrily resigned from the U.S. delegation on May 17.

The failure of the Allies to agree to the proposal secured by the Bullitt mission delayed official U.S. recognition of Soviet Russia for many years. The plea of Count Sforza, Italian Minister of Foreign Affairs, before the Italian Chamber in favor of allowing Russia to develop her government as she saw fit without foreign interference, encouraging though it was to Krassin, was more than offset by the attitude of France and the United States. In a note to the Italian ambassador on August 10 Secretary of State Colby, while expressing sympathy for the Russian people and respect for the territorial integrity of their country, stated emphatically that the Soviet government was tyrannical, untrustworthy, unrepresentative and dangerous, and as such would not be recognized by the United States.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:34:58 Zulu