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Cordon Sanitaire

The stated reason for Allied military intervention in Russia was three-fold: to crystallize opposition to Germany by accentuating the difference between Allied and Teutonic methods, to aid the Czecho-Slovaks in effecting a passage to France by way of Siberia, and to help the former Russian Empire in establishing internal peace by freeing the country from maleficient alien domination and domestic enemies. Efforts to this end were foreshadowed when in the spring of 1918 small contingents of British and Japanese troops were landed under protest of the Soviet government at Vladivostok upon the pretext of protecting life and property. A few months later Allied forces landed at Murmansk on the Kola peninsula for the avowed purpose of protecting war materials which had been collected there during the Kerensky regime.

For some time there had been considerable agitation in America and in the Allied countries for military intervention on a large scale, but the United States, believing it would result in greater confusion and misunderstanding, was reluctant to accede to such a course, in this decision being supported by the Liberals of the associated countries. During the summer and early autumn of 1918, however, Russian emigres advised the Allied leaders that comparatively small Allied forces introduced into several Russian ports would have no difficulty in penetrating the country, rallying the people to then- support and crushing the hated Bolsheviki. Blindly or unblindly, the Allied diplomats resolved to try this military expedient. Their decision did not have the unanimous approval of public opinion and apparently in consequence "declarations of intentions" were issued by the United States and several of the Allied governments. The American government declared that the "only present object" for which troops would be employed would be to guard military stores and to render such aid as might be acceptable to the Russian people in the organization of their own self-defense. It emphatically stated that the United States did not contemplate interference with the political sovereignty of Russia nor intervention in her internal affairs On August 8 the British government issued a declaration similar to that of the American government stating that "we wish to solemnly assure you that while our troops are entering Russia to assist you in your struggle against Germany, we shall not retain one foot of your territory," and that it was for the Russian people "to decide their form of government and to find solution for their social problems." Like assurances given by the Japanese government were concurred in by the other Allies.

In the meantime Allied troops which had landed at Archangel on the south shore of the White Sea, were soon in control of the coast from there north to Murmansk and in the following November French detachments occupied Odessa. These expeditions made little headway, for with the exception of the landowners, former officials and part of the Cossacks, the Russian people did not rally to their support as had been prophesied and expected. Insistent demands for their withdrawal were made not only by the Soviet authorities, but by individuals both in Europe and America. For example, in supporting his resolution in the United States Senate for the withdrawal of the American troops from Russian territory, Senator Hiram Johnson of California on January 29, 1919, characterized Allied intervention as a "miserable adventure," and Allied dealings with Russia as an "exhibition of the crassest stupidity." The Allied governments, although the target of much adverse criticism, and apparently realizing the failure of partial military intervention, nevertheless did not immediately direct the withdrawal of their troops. In the opinion of the Entente diplomats the presence of these troops on Russian soil was a necessary adjunct to what appeared to them to be the one remaining method for the destruction of Bolshevism - the sanitary cordon.

By means of hostile states and armies and a stringent blockade Russia was to be isolated and cleansed of her political leprosy. Already Allied forces held the gateway to the north, Czecho-Slovaks, Russian and Allied troops controlled the Trans-Siberian railroad eastward from Omsk, Turkestan and Trans-Caucasia were dominated by Cossacks and British troops, an Allied squadron in the Black sea supported French and Greek forces at Odessa, and the western front was to be barred by the buffer states of Ukraine, Roumania, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, and Esthonia. To the northwest Finland, no longer under German tutelage, was to form the connecting link in the chain of opposition. This "barbed wire fence" policy, as M. Clemenceau glibly termed it, was destined to be no more successful in accomplishing the desired end than had been the policies of opposition governments and partial military intervention.

On the Murmansk-Archangel front the Allies and Russian White Guards, totaling approximately 15,000 men, were faced by a Bolshevik force of about 50,000. Outnumbered and under constant bombardment of the Red artillery, they were able to achieve but slight success. In an attempted offensive during March, 1919, they were easily driven back and their situation became so serious that on April 3 it was announced that only immediate reinforcements could prevent disaster. Just a week later Washington officially disclosed the fact that American forces in North Russia were discontented and had threatened a general mutiny. In June the American as well as the British detachments were withdrawn, their departure removing all danger of anti-Bolshevik aggressiveness on this particular front.

The situation on the eastern or Siberian front was of a very different character. On January 1, 1919, the Omsk government had an estimated fighting force of 300,000 including the Czecho-Slovaks under General Gaida as well as contingents of allied troops. Thanks to the Entente, it had an excellent base at Vladivostok and its line of communication, the Trans-Siberian railroad, was under the protection of Anglo-AmericanJapanese forces. Although it is impossible to state the exact strength of the Soviet armies opposing the all-Russian Siberian troops, it has been conservatively placed at not less than 1,200,000, a figure probably not over-estimated, inasmuch as the Lenine government sought to defend itself by the annihilation of its enemies through offensive tactics. During the months of January and February, 1919, little permanent progress was made by either army. By the end of March, however, the Kolchak forces had advanced to a line paralleling the Urals and running from Omsk northwestwardly beyond Perm. Further advance was also made during April and the early part of May when Kazau and Samara were occupied and Viatka taken. In an an effort to protect his advance on Moscow, Kolchak using Viatka as a temporary base made desperate attempts to establish a connection with the Allied forces on the Archangel front. At this time unfortunately these troops were so hard pressed that they were unable to render assistance and as a partial consequence before the end of May the main Siberian armies encountered severe defeat, being forced to retreat from both the Kazau and Samara regions. Within the next two months they struggled desperately to regain their lost ground, but the Bolshevik forces succeeded in taking the important center of Ufa and capturing Perm. By the end of July the Siberian armies were hard pressed against the Urals.

Opposition to the Bolsheviki in South Russia centered in the Ukraine and in the transCaucasian country. With the withdrawal of the Germans from the former territory numerous claimants eagerly seized the opportunity to expropriate the soil of the Little Russians: the Poles seized Kholm and eastern Galicia; Roumanians with French sanction grabbed Bessarabia; the Turks claimed Crimea; the Cossacks under General Denikin, aided by the British, attacked on the east, and the Bolsheviks pushed down from the north, while French reinforced by Greeks and Sengalese occupied Odessa. The Ukranians, opposed to all these claimants, rallied around General Petlura and Vladimir Vinnichenko, both members of the Social Democratic party. These leaders, although they had sufficient men, lacked money, officers and transportation experts; but their urgent appeals to the Allies met with no response. In March, 1919, Petlura was driven out of Kiev by the Bolsheviki, the French refusing to come to his assistance unless France should have complete military and industrial control of Ukraine for an "indefinite" period. The situation was not improved when it became known that the French were committed to support the Poles in their claim to Eastern Galicia where the population, with the exception of the city of Lemberg, is predominantly Ukranian. Finally convinced that the British and French, especially the latter, intended to deprive them of their land and liberty and set up a reactionary regime, the Ukranian peasants joined the ranks of the Bolsheviki.

One of the most interesting phases of the sanitary cordon policy was the attempt on the part of the Allied governments to hem in Soviet Russia on the west by means of buffer states. Russia having sinned against the "national idea," it was only natural, therefore, that the submerged nationalities of the Russian border provinces should seize the opportunity of civil war to reassert their independence. To the Entente powers these new states, especially Esthonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Ukraine, seemed to afford a means for establishing a barrier against the spread of Bolshevism westward as well as a base for military operations against the Lenine government. At the outbreak of the Russian revolution the three Baltic provinces were completely dominated by a minority, the Baltic barons, who owned the greater portion of all the land in Esthonia and Latvia as well as a large part of the Lithuanian territory. Soon after the collapse of the czar's army the Germans overran Latvia and during the winter of 1918 they continued their advance into Esthonia where a Soviet republic had just been proclaimed; the Bolshevik! were soon expelled however, and the whole country placed under German military government. In the meantime, every effort was made by the baronial and junker element to hand the Baltic territories over to Berlin, the packed Bait assemblies, for instance, openly voting for union with Germany. This move was bitterly opposed by the nonGerman population of both the former Russian provinces, who, inspired by patriotic emotions and by the desire to be rid of landlordism, secretly organized National Councils, which blossomed forth as provisional governments as soon as the armistice with Germany had been concluded.

The policy pursued by the Allies toward Russia from the overthrow of the czarist regime to the lifting of the Allied blockade, was founded on fear and distrust. The Entente diplomats failed to perceive the psychological temperament of the Russian people; they failed to understand that the Russian masses were struggling in an effort to find their way out of the meshes of czardom. They persisted for over two years in adhering to a policy which at best netted a maximum of irritation and a minimum of effect-in other words a policy which served only to consolidate Bolshevist resistance and to prolong civil war. In supporting Yudenitch, Kolchak and Denikin, all three of whom in the eyes of the Russian masses, were apostles of reaction and monarchism, the Entente simply strengthened the opposition. The peasantry, proletariat and even the bourgeoise chose to rally round the standard of Lenine.

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Page last modified: 11-07-2011 03:29:23 ZULU