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Project 1917 is a series of events that took place a hundred years ago as described by those involved. It is composed only of diaries, letters, memoirs, newspapers and other documents

The failure of Korniloff's attempted coup d'etat had, as I told Tereschenko, destroyed my last hopes of an improvement in the situation either at the front or in the rear, as it had deprived officers of the little authority which they previously possessed, while it had restored the waning influence of the Soviet. The latter had passed resolutions abolishing the death penalty, declaring all existing secret treaties invalid, and demanding the immediate conclusion of a universal democratic peace. They were, I said, the masters, and the Government only existed on sufferance till such time as they should decide to take the reins into their own hands. Tereschenko tried to reassure me by say- ing that he had told the Socialist Ministers that strong disciplinary measures must be adopted at once and that any Bolshevik rising must be sternly suppressed.

The next step taken by the Soviet was to decline to recognize Kerensky's newly formed Coalition Government, and to convoke a democratic congress for the purpose of determining the composition of a Government capable of realizing the programme of revolutionary democracy. Pending the meeting of this congress, the administration of the country was entrusted to a council of five, of whom Kerensky, Tereschenko and the Minister of War (Verkhovski) were the principal members, on the understanding that it was to maintain close contact with the Soviet

"In consequence of the slowness of Korniloff 's advance the Government has had time to organize the garrison, to bring up soldiers and sailors from Cron- stadt, to arm thousands of workmen, and to arrest many of his supporters."

"Tereschenko tells me that Korniloff has definitely resigned, that Kerensky will assume the supreme command of the army, with General Alcxcieff as chief of the general staff, and that General Verkhovski, the commander-in-chief of the Moscow district, will become Minister of War.

Korniloff 's venture had from the outset been marked by the almost childish incapacity of its organizers, and ended in a complete fiasco. On arriving at a station some seventeen miles distant from Petrograd his troops were met by Tchernoff and, as they had been kept in ignorance of the object of their expedition, were per- suaded by him to declare for Kerensky. Krimoff, their commander, was brought to Petrograd in a motor, and after an interview >vith Kerensky shot himself. Korniloff was placed under arrest while awaiting his trial for high treason, but succeeded in escaping after the Bolshevik revolution.

Although all my sympathies were with Komiloff, I had always done my best to discourage the idea of a military coup d'etat, as Russia's best hope of salvation lay in a close co-operation between him and Kerensky. Korniloff, who was not a reactionary, honestly believed that Lvoff had been sent by Kerensky to ascertain his views on the political situation ; and he expressed them with his usual frankness, without giving them the form of an ultimatum. The role played by Lvoff in the affair is quite impossible to explain. He misrepresented Kerensky to Korniloff and Korniloff to Kerensky ; but whether he was a knave or a fool I cannot say. He was in any case an arch mischief-maker. It was only after being called on by Kerensky to resign his com- mand that Korniloff decided to act, and in doing so he was prompted solely by patriotic motives. But while he personally would have been ready to work with Kerensky, there were men behind him who had for weeks past been plotting to overthrow the Govern- ment and who were bent on using him as their instru- ment and on forcing his hand.

There w^ere so many persons in the secret of this counter-revolutionary movement that it was a secret no longer. Kerensky knew it, so that when Lvoff brought him what purported — though quite incorrectly — to be an ultimatum from Korniloff, he was already suspicious of and predisposed against him. Though Kerensky undoubtedly regarded him as a dangerous rival, who if he once got control of the army might use it against the Government, I do not believe that he purposely laid a trap for Korniloff in order to get him out of the way. But, like the latter, he had evil counsellors behind him who, for personal or party reasons, encouraged him to remove the commander-in-chief. That he was still hesitating to do so is shown by the fact that he had, in his tele- graphic conversation with Korniloff, promised to come to the Stavka; and it was Nekrassoff who finally per- suaded him to denounce the latter as a traitor. His policy throughout had been weak and vacillating ; fear of the Soviet seemed to paralyse his every action ; he had the chance after the July rising of suppressing the Bolsheviks once and for all — and he refused to use it ; and now, instead of endeavouring to come to an under- standing with him, he dismissed the one strong man capable of restoring discipline in the army. By way, moreover, of defending the revolution, which ever had the first place in his thoughts, he made the further mistake of arming the workmen, and thus played directly into the hands of the Bolsheviks. Writing to the Foreign Office on September 21, I said: "As a well-known foreign statesman remarked to me yester- day, Kerensky has two souls — one as head of the Government and a patriot and the other as a Socialist and Idealist. So long as the former is in the ascendant he issues orders for strong measures and talks of estab- lishing an iron discipline ; but, as soon as he listens to the promptings of the latter, he relapses into inaction and allows his orders to remain a dead letter. I fear, moreover, that, like the Soviet, he has never wished to create a really strong army, and that, as he once re- marked to me, he will never lend a hand to forge a .weapon one day to be used against the revolution."

Though Tereschenko had consented to retain the post of Minister for Foreign Affairs in Kerensky 's reconstructed Government, he had done so under protest. He had had a serious disagreement with the Minister of War of which I had been the involuntary cause. I had complained to Tereschenko of a state- ment published in a Moscow Socialist paper to the effect that British armoured cars had taken part in Korniloff's ill-starred adventure, and orders had, in consequence, been given by Kerensky for the suppres- sion of the paper. Instead of carrying out these orders, Verkhovski had contented himself with causing legal proceedings to be taken against the editor, and the paragraph of which I had complained had been repro- duced.

Tereschenko tells me that the Petrograd garrison has declared for the Government, and that the only troops on whom Korniloff can rely are the three cavalry divisions under Krimoff. All the Ministers have resigned, though continuing to act as heads of their respective departments, and Kerensky is virtually a dictator. See more

"Minister for Foreign Affairs informed me this morning that the Prime Minister had charged him to thank the Allied Ambassadors for their action, which had greatly touched him, and to express regret that the commander-in-chief's attitude made it impossible for the Government to try to make terms with him.

Tereschenko tells me that the Petrograd garrison has declared for the Government, and that the only troops on whom Korniloff can rely are the three cavalry divisions under Krimoff. All the Ministers have resigned, though continuing to act as heads of their respective departments, and Kerensky is virtually dictator."

"On my calling on Tereschenko this morning I found him much preoccupied by the turn which events have taken. General Alexeieff, he told me, had arrived at midnight and had urged the adoption of a poUcy of conciliation. The Government were considering the question when they received the new^s that Korniloff had proclaimed himself dictator and that he had, in the manifesto which he had issued, accused them of having provoked the crisis by sending Lvoff to the Stavka as an agent provocateur. He had further in- structed General Krimoff to advance on Petrograd with a cavalry corps and artillery, which were at Luga at a couple of days' march from the capital. This meant the beginning of civil war, and it was, therefore, impossible for the Government to have any further dealings wdth him. I'he advance on Petrograd would be resisted by force, but he was afraid that the conse- quent cutting off of supplies would provoke a Bolshevik rising that would end in a Commune. He would there- fore advise the diplomatic body to leave at once for Moscow or Finland, and on hearing from me he would make the necessary arrangements for their doing so. I told him that I could not possibly run away and leave the British colony unprotected, and that there was not sufficient time to arrange for the evacuation of all the Allied colonies. I would call a meeting of the heads of missions and let him know their wishes, but I would, at the same time, urge on the Government the necessity of a reconciliation with the commander-in-chief and of sending General Alexeieff as an intermediary to arrange terms with him. As he held out no hope of any such step being taken, there is nothing to be done but to await events and to trust that Korniloff will be strong enough to overcome all resistance in the course of a few days.

On returning home I endeavoured to persuade my wife and daughter to go to Finland, but, with characteristic courage, they absolutely refused to leave me. At the meeting of the heads of missions, held at the Embassy in the afternoon, it was decided that we should remain at Petrograd in order to ensure pro- tection for our nationals; while the Allied representa- tives subsequently passed a resolution tendering their good offices, as mediators, in the conflict that had arisen between the Provisional Government and the commander-in-chief, with the sole object of averting civil war and of serving the interests of Russia and her allies."

"In handing to Tereschenko this evening the resolution passed by the Allied representatives, I told him that, while we had no wish to intervene in Russian internal affairs, we desired, as Russia's friends and allies, to place our services at the Government's disposal could we in any way help to avert what might prove an irreparable disaster.

After expressing his thanks and saying that he would at once inform the Prime Minister of the action we had taken, he told me that, in his opinion, a con- flict was now inevitable. The social revolutionaries, together with Kerensky, held that there was nothing to do but to fight it out, as matters had gone too far to admit of any compromise. The Cadets, on the other hand, were in favour of the Government giving in and of allowing Korniloff to form a Ministry. Tereschenko had himself always been a warm admirer of the com- mander-in-chief and would be prepared to go very far to save the country from civil war. He could not, however, regard without serious apprehension the idea of entrust- ing Russia's destinies to the group of men by whom Korniloff was surrounded. His chief adviser, Zavoiko, was designated for the post of Minister of Finance, but his past record ,was such that no confidence could be placed in him ; while his future colleagues, includ- ing Aladin, who was to be Minister for Foreign Affairs, were not much better. Tereschenko added that he was personally still working for a reconciliation, and was urging that both Kerensky and Korniloff should retire, and that a new Government should be formed of representatives of the Moderate parties to the exclusion of the Soviet."

I had spent Sunday at Mourina, a village some fifteen miles from Petrograd, where the British colony had laid out a rough golf course, and on returning in the evening I found a telephone message from Tereschenko asking me to come to the Ministry with the French Ambassador, M. Noulens, immediately after dinner. He then told us of the complete breach w^hich had just taken place between Kerensky and Korniloff.

So many different accounts have been published of the genesis of their quarrel that it is still difficult to apportion the share of blame attaching to each or even to state correctly what actually happened. The person, whether wittingly or not, responsible for bringing matters to a head was the former Procurator of the Holy Synod, Vladimir Lvoff. He had a conversation with Kerensky on the 4th, and immediately afterwards proceeded to headquarters, apparently with the object of arranging for the formation of a stronger Govern- ment. According to a statement subsequently pub- lished by Savinkoff, he gave Korniloff the choice between three possible courses, and he did so in such a way that Korniloff was under the impression that he was speaking in Kerensky 's name : —

1. Korniloff to form a Government, with Kerensky and Savinkoff respectively Ministers of Justice and War.

2. A triumvirate, with dictatorial powers, composed of Kerensky, Korniloff and Savinkoff.

3. Korniloff to declare himself dictator.

In a conversation Tereschenko informed me that three cavalry divisions had been summoned from the front to guard against the danger of a Bolshevik rising, and I rather hoped from what he told me about the political situation that Kerensky and KorniloffCommander in Chief of the Petrograd command - from 18 March 1917 were, after all, working together for the maintenance of order.

On Wednesday a Russian friend of mine, who was the director of one of the principal Petrograd banks, came to see me and said that he found himself in rather an embarrassing position, as he had been charged by certain persons, whose names he mentioned, with a message which he felt that it was hardly proper for him to deliver. See more

The fears expressed by Kerensky of a counter-revolution are to a certain extent justified, as I have since been told that a group of persons, who are said to have the support of prominent financiers and indus- trials as well as of certain regiments, contemplate arresting the Government and dissolving the Soviet. See more

Letter to the Foreign Ministry

"Since I last wrote public interest has centred round the Moscow conference and the influence it is likely to exercise on the political situation. The only concrete results, so far as I can judge, are that, after the very outspoken language of Ministers, the nation knows the truth about the desperate state of the country, while the Government has learnt the views of the various parties and industrial organizations. So far from contributing to establish national unity, the conference has but served to accentuate party differences, and though all the speeches, with the exception of those pronounced by the Bolsheviks, were surcharged with patriotic sentiments, no attempt .was made to bridge the gulf that separates the right and the left. Kerensky indulged in generalities. He neither told his audience what he had done in the past nor what he proposed doing in the future. Neither he nor any of the party leaders, with the exception of Cheidze, the president of the Soviet, submitted any concrete proposals.

While expressing their readiness to support the Government, they did so conditionally and under reserve, and showed not the slightest disposition to sink their differences or to sacrifice their class interests. The curious thing is that they all seem to think that they scored a success at the conference, but nobody is agreed as to what the conference actually accom- plished. On the whole, however, the Government as a body has strengthened its position, as, though no resolution was passed, it has now virtually full powers to deal with the situation if it will only use them.

Kerensky, on the other hand, has personally lost ground, and he made a distinctly bad impression by the way in which he presided over the conference and by the autocratic tone of his speeches. According to all accounts, he was very nervous ; but whether this was due to overstrain or to the rivalry which un- doubtedly exists between him and Korniloff it is difficult to say. Korniloff is a much stronger man than Kerensky, and were he to assert his influence over the army and were the latter to become a strong fighting force he would be master of the situation. I hear from several sources that Kerensky did his best to prevent Korniloff addressing the conference, and though he has been obHged by the force of circumstances to accede to all the General's demands, he evidently regards him as a dangerous rival. Rodzianko and his friends on the right went out of their way to compromise Korni- loff by putting him forward as their champion, while the Socialists, in consequence, adopted a hostile attitude and acclaimed Kerensky.

Korniloff 's conduct, moreover, was hardly calcu- lated to lull the suspicions with which he was regarded by Kerensky. He made a dramatic entry into Moscow, surrounded by his Turcoman guard, and before proceeding to the conference visited the sacred shrine, where the Emperor always went to pray when- ever he came to Moscow. Kerensky, whose head has been somewhat turned of late and who has been nicknamed ' the little Napoleon,' did his best to act up to this new role by posing in several of Napoleon's favourite attitudes and by making his two aides-de-camp stand behind him during the whole of the proceedings. There is little love, I imagine, lost between the two men, but our chief safeguard lies in the fact that, for the moment at any rate, neither can get on without the other. Kerensky cannot hope to retrieve the military situation without Korniloff, who is the only man capable of controlling the army ; while Korniloff cannot dispense with Kerensky, who, in spite of his waning popularity, is the man best fitted to appeal to the masses and to secure their acceptance of the drastic measures which must be taken in the rear if the army is to face a fourth winter campaign.

Rodzianko and others have been talking far too much about a counter-revolution and have been saying that a mihtary cowp d'etat is the only thing that can save Russia. The Cadets, too, though they have been more prudent in their language, are determined to try to overthrow the Government, and have by their tactics inspired the belief that they also are working for a counter-revolution. In a telegram which General Barter sent me on his return to headquarters from Moscow, he spoke as if some sort of coup d'etat might be attempted at any moment. I have told him that anything of the kind would be fatal at present, and would inevitably lead to civil war and entail irreparable disaster. I do not regard Kerensky as an ideal Prime Minister, and, in spite of the services which he has rendered in the past, he has almost played his part. But I do not see who is to replace him with advantage, nor do I believe that a purely Cadet and Octobrist Government would do any better than the present one, though certain changes ought certainly to be made in its composition and Tchernoff ought more especially to be dismissed.

The long conversation which I had with Kerensky a few days ago rather depressed me, as he could not deny that there might be an eventual collapse owing to the breakdown of the railways and the scarcity of supplies, while the fear of the army being one day used to carry out a counter-revolution makes him hesitate to go all lengths to restore its discipline and efficiency. He more than once spoke of the necessity of our all doing our utmost to shorten the duration of the war, as if he feared that Russia could not hold out in- definitely. I told him that it was with this object that all the Allies were pushing their offensives on the various fronts and that, if he wished the war shortened, he must help us by restoring the combative power of the Russian army by restoring order in the interior and by apply- ing to the troops in the rear the disciplinary measures in force at the front. He gave me positive assurances on all these points, but whether he will give effect to them I will not venture to predict."

Letter to the Foreign Ministry

"I saw Kerensky this morning and, on my ques- tioning him about the conference, he expressed himself as satisfied with its results. I told him that, though I was one of the few who had not abandoned all hope of Russia being able to pull herself together, I could not assume the responsibility of sending favourable reports to my Government unless he could give me satisfactory assurances as regarded the maintenance of order in the rear as well as on the food and transport questions. Korniloff had spoken at Moscow of the danger of a breakdown of the railways and of the army being faced with famine, and were this to happen there would be a general collapse, for which I must prepare my Government.

Kerensky could not deny that the situation was very serious. He could, he said, make no prophecies or give any absolute guarantees as regarded the future. At Moscow the representatives of the Soviet and of the industrial organizations had promised the Govern- ment their support. Tseretelli had declared that the war must be continued until the enemy had been expelled from Russian territory, and that it was only over the body of the revolution that a separate peace would ever be made. He could but reaffirm this declaration and assure me that Russia would never withdraw from the war unless she was materially incapable of continuing it. The death penalty, he added, would be applied in the rear in the case of all persons guilty of high treason. I told him that what preoccupied me most was the fact that the Socialist members of the Government were afraid of making the army a really efficient fighting force lest it might one day be used against the revolution. This was a fatal mistake, and if there ever was a counter-revolution it would be due to the failure of the Government to take the necessary measures to save the country. If the Government did their duty they had nothing to fear. Kerensky said that I was mistaken, that the danger already existed, and that he could never lend a hand to forge a weapon that might be delivered over to those who would use it against the revolution. On his appealing to me to give the Provisional Govern- ment my active support and to discourage all talk of reaction, I said that I had in two interviews, which I had recently given the Press, called on all parties and on all classes to sink their differences and to rally round the Government in defence of their country. I could not, however, conceal from him how painful it was to me to watch what was going on in Petrograd. While British soldiers were shedding their blood for Russia, Russian soldiers were loafing in the streets, fishing in the river and riding on the trams, and German agents were everywhere. He could not deny this, but said that measures would be taken promptly to remedy these abuses."

Tereschenko, with whom I had a conversation on his return from Moscow, considers that the conference has strengthened the hands of the Government. See more

Age: 62
Lives in: Petrograd, Russian Empire
Occupation: Diplomat
Job: Ambassador of the United Kingdom to Russia


in Petrograd
in Moscow