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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 most dangerous germ involved in the revolution has been developing during the last few days with the most alarming rapidity.

Finland. Livonia, Esthonia, Poland, Lithuania, the Ukraine, Georgia and Siberia, are demanding their independence, or, failing that, complete autonomy.

That Russia is doomed to federalism is highly probable.

She is predestined to that development by the enormous size of her territories, the diversity of her races and the increasing complexity of her interests. But the present movement is separatist much more than particularist; secessionist rather than federalist; it tends to nothing less than national disintegration. So the Soviet gives it its full blessing. As if the visionaries and lunatics of the Tauride Palace would not be tempted to destroy in a few weeks the historic work of ten centuries 1

The French Revolution began by proclaiming the Republic one and indivisible. Tothat principle it sacrificed thousands of heads, and French unity was saved. The Russian revolution has taken for its motto Russia dissolved and dismembered.

Since the wreck of tsarism. all the metropolitans, archbishops, archimandrites, abbots, archpriests. and hieromonachs of whom Rasputin had formed his ecclesiastical clientèle have been having a very uncomfortable time. They have everywhere seen not only the revolutionary gang but their own flocks, and often enough even their subordinates, rise up against them. Most of them have resigned their offices, more or less spontaneously: many are in flight or in prison.

There is a fresh manifesto from the Soviet, addressed this time "to the peoples of the universe." It is a long rigmarole of emphatic statements, one long messianic dithyramb:

We, the workmen and soldiers of Russia, announce to you the great event of the Russian revolution, and we send you greetings of fire. . . Our victory is a great victory of universal freedom and democracy. . . . And we address ourselves first to you, proletarian brothers of the Germanic coalition. Follow our example and shake off the yoke of your semi-autocratic power; refuse to be any longer an instrument of conquest in the hands of your kings, landlords, bankers, etc.

I await the reply of the Teutonic proletariat.

As early as the 14th March, i.e., even before the abdication of the Emperor and the formation of the Provisional Government, the Soviet issued under the form of a prikaz an Order of the Day to the army, inviting the troops to proceed at once to the election of representatives to the Council of Deputies and Soldiers. This prikaz further decreed that in each regiment a committee should be elected to seize and supervise the use of all arms, rifles, guns, machine guns, armoured cars, etc. . . .; in any case, the use of these arms was no longer to depend upon the will of the officers. The prikaz wound up by abolishing all outward signs of rank and prescribing that "any difference of opinion between officers and men" should henceforth be settled by the company committees. This fine document, which bore the signatures of Sokolov, Nachamkitz and Skobelev, was telegraphed the same evening to all the armies at the front. As a matter of fact, it would not have been possible to send it had not the mutineers seized the military telegraph offices at the very outset.

The moment Gutchkov was installed at the War Ministry, he tried to persuade the Soviet to withdraw the extraordinary prikaz which involved nothing less than the destruction of all discipline in the army.

After prolonged negotiations, the Soviet has consented to declare that for the time being the prikaz shall not apply to the fighting armies. But the moral effect of its publication still remains, and judging by the latest telegrams from General Alexeïev indiscipline is spreading to an alarming degree among the troops at the front.

How grievous to think that the Germans are only eighty kilometres from Paris

Alexander Nicolaïevitch Benois, the painter and historian of art and a friend of whom I see quite a good deal, has given me an unexpected call.

Descended from a French family which settled in Russia somewhere about 1820, he is the most cultivated man whom I know here. and one of the most distinguished. See more

I had recently been thinking of giving a luncheon to the Provisional Government, with an idea of getting into more personal touch with its members and giving public proof of our approval.

But before issuing my invitations I thought it prudent to have some of the ministers discreetly sounded on the subject. How thankful I am that I did! See more

The Soviet has heard that the King of England is offering the Emperor and Empress the hospitality of British territory. At the bidding of the "Maximalists" the Provisional Government has had to pledge its word to keep the fallen sovereigns in Russia. The Soviet has gone further and appointed a commissary to "supervise the detention of the imperial family." See more

This morning Buchanan has announced that King George, with the advice and approval of his ministers, offers the Emperor and Empress the hospitality of British territory; but he refuses to guarantee their safety and confines himself to a hope that they will remain in England until the end of the war.

Miliukov is obviously greatly touched by this announcement, but he added sadly:

"But I fear it comes too late!"

It is certainly true that from day to day---I could almost say from hour to hour---the tyranny of the Soviet, the despotism of the extreme parties and the domination of Utopians and anarchists are becoming increasingly evident.

And so., as the latest press telegrams show me that people in Paris are cherishing curious illusions about the Russian revolution, I have telegraphed to Ribot in the following terms:

Notwithstanding the importance of all that has happened in the last twelve days, it is my opinion that the events we are witnessing are only a prelude. The forces which are destined to be the determining factor in the final result of the revolution (I mean the rural masses, the priests, the Jews, the subject nationalities, the bankruptcy of the State, the economic débâcle, etc.), have not even entered the field. So at the moment it is impossible to give any logical and practical forecast of the future of Russia. The best proof of this lies in the hopelessly contradictory prophecies offered me by people in whose judgment and open-mindedness I have the greatest confidence. Some regard the proclamation of a republic as a certainty. Others think the restoration of the Empire, under constitutional forms, is inevitable.

But if your Excellency will be good enough to rest content for the time being with my impressions, which are wholly dominated by the thought of the war, I see the course of events in the following light:

1. When will the forces to which I have just referred begin to make themselves felt?---Hitherto, the Russian nation has attacked the dynasty and the administrative caste, nothing else. We shall now be faced with economic, social, religious and ethnical problems. These problems are very formidable, from the point of view of the war; for the Slav imagination, far from being constructive like that of the Latin or Anglo-Saxon, is essentially anarchical and dispersive. Until these problems are solved the public mind will be wholly taken up with them. Yet we cannot want the solution to be precipitate, for it cannot be realized without severe upheavals. We must therefore expect that for a considerable time to come Russia's effort will be weakened and uncertain.

2. Is the Russian nation determined to continue the war to final victory? Russia implies so many different races, and ethnical antagonisms are so acute in certain regions, that the national idea is far from being universal. The conflict of social classes has a similar effect on patriotism. The working masses, the Jews and the inhabitants of the Baltic provinces, for instance, merely regard the war as senseless butchery. On the other hand,, the fighting armies and the genuinely Russian populations have in no way abandoned their hope of m victory and their determination to achieve it. If I wanted to express my idea somewhat extravagantly to make it more intelligible, I should be tempted to say that "In the present phase of the revolution Russia cannot make peace or war."

In yesterday's Petrograd Gazette the Grand Duke Cyril Vladimirovitch has had a long interview published in which he attacks the fallen sovereigns:

I have often wondered, he says, whether the ex-Empress were not in league with William II; but each time I have forced myself to dismiss so horrible a suspicion.

Who can tell whether this treacherous insinuation will not before long provide the foundation for a terrible charge against the unfortunate Tsarina? The Grand Duke Cyril should know or be reminded that the most infamous calumnies which Marie Antoinette had to meet when she faced the Revolutionary Tribunal first took wing at the elegant suppers of the Comte d'Artois.

About five o'clock I went to call on Sazonov at the Hôtel de l'Europe where he has been suffering from a stubborn attack of bronchitis for the last three weeks. I found him in a very melancholy frame of mind, though not despairing. As I expected, he sees the hand of Providence in the present misfortunes of Russia:

"We deserved chastisement. I did not think it would be so severe . . . But God cannot mean Russia to perish . . . . A purified Russia will emerge from this trial."

Then he spoke in strong terms of the conduct of the Emperor:

"I needn't tell you of my love for the Emperor, and with what devotion I have served him. But as long as I live I shall never forgive him for abdicating for his son. He had no shadow of right to do so! . . . Is there a body of law in the world which allows the rights of a minor to be abandoned? And what's to be said when those rights are the most sacred and august on earth? Fancy destroying a three-hundred-year-old dynasty and the stupendous work of Peter the Great , Catherine II and Alexander I! What a tragedy! What a disaster!"

His eyes were full of tears.

I asked him if his health would allow him to leave for London in the near future as I had no doubt that he would consider it his duty to take up his ambassadorial post.

"I'm horribly perplexed," he said. "What line of policy can I follow in London? I shall certainly not refuse my help to honest men like Lvov and Miliukov. But will they stay in power? . . . In any case, my doctor doesn't think I shall be fit to travel for at least three weeks."

I was certainly struck by his deathly pallor, his haggard features and all the signs of physical and mental suffering he betrayed.

Last night Rasputin's coffin was secretly exhumed from its resting-place in the chapel at Tsarskoïe-Selo and taken away to the Forest of Pargolovo, fifteen versts north of Petrograd.

In the midst of a clearing there, a number of soldiers, commanded by an engineer officer, had piled up a large quantity of pine logs. After forcing off the coffin lid they drew the corpse out with sticks; 'they dare not touch it with their hands, owing to its putrefying condition, and they hoisted it, not without difficulty, on to the heap of logs. Then they drenched it in petrol and set it on fire. The process of cremation lasted until dawn, more than six hours.

In spite of the icy wind, the appalling length of the operation and the clouds of pungent and fetid smoke which rose from the pyre, several hundred moujiks crowded round the fire all night; silent and motionless, they gazed in horror-stricken stupor at the sacrilegious holocaust which was slowly devouring the martyred staretz, friend of the Tsar and Tsarina, the Bojy tchelloviek, "Man of God."

When the flames had done their work, the soldiers collected the ashes of the corpse and buried them under the snow.

The authors of this gruesome epilogue were anticipated by Italy in the Middle Ages; the human imagination cannot go on indefinitely renewing the forms in which its passions and visions find expression.

In the year 1266 Manfred (bastard of the Emperor Frederick II, usurper-King of the Two Sicilies) murderer, perjurer, simoniac, heretic, with every crime on his soul and excommunicated by the Church, perished while warring with Charles of Anjou on the banks of the Calore, near Beneventum.

His captains and soldiers, who worshipped him for his youth, beauty, open-heartedness and charm, buried him with touching affection on the very spot where he fell.

But a year later, Pope Clement IV decreed that the pontifical process of execration and excommunication should be continued against a monster unworthy to rest in consecrated ground. On his orders,, the Archbishop of Cosenza had the body exhumed and over the unrecognizable remains pronounced the pitiless sentences which consign the outcast to Hell: In ignem æturnum judicamus. . . . The ceremony took place at night, by the light of torches which were extinguished one by one until darkness was complete, when what was left of Manfred was cut in pieces and scattered far and wide.

This tragic and picturesque scene deeply moved contemporary Italy and in fact gave Dante the inspiration for one of the finest passages in the Divina Commedia. Ascending the steep mountain of. Purgatory, the poet sees the phantom of the young prince approaching him. It calls to him and says: "I am Manfred. My sins were horrible. But the infinite goodness of God has arms long enough to clasp all who turn towards it. If the spiritual father of Cosenza who was sent by Clement to scatter my bones had seen God's face of pity, my bones would be still at the end of the bridge near Beneventum, guarded by a heavy stone. And now the rains soak them and the winds play with them on the banks of the river where the Archbishop and his priests had them tossed after the torches were extinguished. But their denunciations make no man so lost that the divine love cannot restore him, so long as hope retains a single green branch within him."

I should like to offer that quotation to the poor captive Tsarina.

The Emperor reached Tsarskoïe-Selo this morning.

His arrest at Mohilev produced no incident; his farewell to the officers about him (many of whom shed tears) was disconcertingly banal in its simplicity. But the Order of the Day in which he takes leave of the army has a certain ring of nobility about it:

I address you for the last time, you soldiers who are so dear to my heart. Since I renounced the throne of Russia for myself and my son, power has been transferred to the Provisional Government which has been set up on the initiative of the Imperial Duma.

May God help that Government to lead Russia to glory and prosperity! And may God also help you, my brave soldiers, to defend your country against a cruel foe! For more than two years and a half you have continuously borne the hardships of an arduous service; much blood has been spilt, enormous efforts have been made and already the hour is at hand in which Russia and her glorious allies will break down the enemy's last desperate resistance in one mighty common effort.

This unprecedented war must be carried through to final victory. He who thinks of peace at the present moment is a traitor to Russia.

I am firmly convinced that the boundless love you bear our beautiful Fatherland is not dead in your hearts. May God bless you and Saint George, the great martyr, lead you to victory!


Returning from a visit to the Admiralty Canal I came through Glinka Street where the Grand Duke Cyril Vladimirovitch lives. I saw something waving over his palace---a red flag!

During the last few days a rumour has spread among the mob that "Citizen Romanov" and his wife, "Alexandra the German," are working secretly for a restoration of autocracy, with the connivance of the "moderate" ministers, Lvov, Miliukov, Gutchkov, etc. The Soviet accordingly demanded the immediate arrest of the sovereigns yesterday evening. The Provisional Government yielded to its desires. The same evening four deputies of the Duma, Bublikov, Gribunin, Kalinin and Verschinin, left for G.H.Q. at Mohilev, with instructions to bring the Emperor back with them. See more

The Provisional Government's manifesto was published this morning. It is a long, verbose and strongly-worded document which fiercely castigates the ancien regime and promises the nation all the benefits of equality and liberty. The war is barely mentioned: The Provisional Government will loyally maintain all its alliances and do everything in its power to provide the army with all its needs with a view to carrying on the war to a victorious conclusion. Nothing more!

I went straight to Miliukov this is exactly what I said:

"After my recent talks with you I was not surprised at the language adopted by the manifesto published this morning on the subject of the war; but it doesn't make me any less angry. A determination to prosecute the war at any cost and until full and final victory isn't even mentioned! The name of Germany does not occur! There isn't the slightest allusion to Prussian militarism: No reference whatever to our war aims! France too has had her revolutions with the enemy at the gates; but Danton in 1792 and Gambetta in 1870 used very different language . . . And yet in those days France had no ally who was in deadly peril on her behalf."

Miliukov looked very pale and abashed as he heard me out. Choosing his words carefully, he argued that the manifesto was intended specifically for the Russian nation and, anyhow, political eloquence to-day employs a more temperate vocabulary than in 1792 and 1870.

I then read him the appeal which our socialists, Guesde, Sembat and Albert Thomas, have just made---at my suggestion---to the socialists of Russia, and I had no difficulty in bringing home to him the warmth of tone, fierce resolution and determination to conquer which inspires every line of this appeal.(1)

Miliukov, who seemed painfully moved to the very depths, did his best in urging extenuating circumstances, the difficulties of the internal situation, and so forth. He, wound up with:

"Give me time!"

"Time has never been more precious! Swift action has never been so necessary! Please don't think it isn't very painful for me to talk to you like this. But the moment is far too serious for us to treat each other to diplomatic euphemisms. The question with which we are faced---or perhaps I should say the question that forces itself upon us is this: yes or no, will Russia go on fighting at the side of her Allies until full and final victory, without faltering and without ulterior motives? Your ability and your patriotic and honourable past are my guarantee that you will soon give me the answer I expect."

Miliukov promised to take an early opportunity to set our minds entirely at rest.


This afternoon I went for a walk round the centre of the city and Vassili-Ostrov. Order has been almost restored. There are fewer drunken soldiers, yelling mobs and armoured cars laden with evil-looking maniacs. But I found "meetings" in progress everywhere, held in the open air, or perhaps I should say open gale. The groups were small: twenty or thirty people at the outside, and comprising soldiers, peasants, working-men and students. One of the company mounts a stone, or a bench, or a heap of snow and talks his head off, gesticulating wildly. The audience gazes fixedly at the orator and listens in a kind of rapt absorption. As soon as he stops another takes his place and immediately gets the same fervent, silent and concentrated attention.

What an artless and affecting sight it is when one remembers that the Russian nation has been waiting centuries for the right of speech!

On my way home I dropped in on Princess R----- on the Serguievskaïa for tea.

The beautiful Madame D-----, the "Houdon Diana " or Tauride Diana," was there in a tailor-made and skunk toque, smoking cigarettes with the lady of the house. Prince B-----, General S----- and a number of familiars came in one after the other. The stories told and impressions exchanged revealed the darkest pessimism.

But there was one anxiety greater than all the others, a haunting fear in every mind---the partition of the land.

"We shall not get out of it this time! What will become of us without our rent-rolls?"

To the Russian nobility, the rent-roll is of course the main, and often the only, source of income.

The company's forebodings comprised not only legal partition of the land, i.e. formal expropriation, but confiscation by the high hand, wholesale looting and jacquerie. I am certain that the same sort of conversation can be heard in every corner of Russia at the present time.

A fresh caller, a lieutenant in the Chevaliers-Gardes, entered the room, wearing the red favour on his tunic. He soothed the company's anxieties a little by telling them (supporting his argument with figures) that the agrarian question is not as terrifying as it seems at first sight.

"There's no need to have immediate recourse to our estates to take the edge off the peasants' hunger," he said. " With the crown lands, perhaps ninety-four million desiatins, (2) thechurch and monastic lands, let's say three million desiatins, there's enough to keep the moujiks from gnawing-pains for quite a long time to come."

His entire audience agreed with this argument; everyone consoled himself or herself with the thought that obviously the Russian nobility will not suffer too severely if the Emperor, Empress, Grand Dukes, Grand Duchesses, the Church and the monasteries are ruthlessly robbed and plundered. As Rochefoucauld said, "We can always find strength to bear the misfortunes of others."

I may remark in passing that one person present possesses an estate of 300,000 hectares in Volhynia!

When I returned to the embassy, I heard that there had been a ministerial crisis in France and Briand's place is being taken by Ribot.

Nicholas Romanov, as the Emperor is now styled in official documents and the papers, has asked the Provisional Government for: 

(1) A free pass from Mohilev to Tsarskoïe-Selo; (2) Permission to reside at the Alexander Palace until his children have recovered from the measles; (3) a free pass from Tsarskoïe-Selo to Port Romanov on the Murman coast. See more

As yet I know nothing of the effect the Russian revolution has had in France; but I am afraid of the illusions it may create there and it is only too easy for me to guess all the examples with which it is likely to present the socialist jargon-mongers. I have therefore thought it advisable to give my government a word of warning and I am cabling as follows to Briand:

When I said good-bye to M. Doumergue and General de Castelnau last month, I asked them to advise the President of the Republic and yourself of my increasing concern at the internal situation of the Empire; I added that it would be a serious mistake to think that time is working for us, at any rate in Russia; I came to the conclusion that we should expedite our military operations as much as possible.

I am more convinced of that than ever. A few days before the Revolution I advised you that the decisions of the recent conference were already a dead letter, that the confusion in the munitions production establishments and transport services was beginning again on an even more formidable scale, and so forth. The question is whether the new Government is capable of promptly carrying out the necessary reforms. It says, and quite sincerely, that it can but I don't believe a word of it. For it is not merely confusion, but wholesale disorganization and anarchy from which the military and civil departments are suffering.

Taking the most hopeful view I can, what can we expect? A terrible load would be off my mind if I could be certain that the fighting armies will not be contaminated by demagogic agitation and discipline soon restored among the garrisons behind the front. I have not yet abandoned that hope. I can still bring myself to think that the social-democrats will not translate their desire to end the war into irreparable acts. I can also admit the possibility of a revival of patriotic fervour in some parts of the country. But for all that there must be a weakening of the national effort which was only too anaemic and spasmodic already. And the process of recovery is likely to be a long one with a race whose ideas of method and forethought are so rudimentary.

After sending this cable, I went out to see some of the churches: I was curious to know how the faithful would behave at the Sunday mass now that the name of the Emperor has been deleted from public prayers. In the orthodox liturgy divine protection was continually being invoked for the Emperor, Empress, Tsarevitch, and all the imperial family, it was a kind of recurring chorus. By order of the Holy Synod, the prayer for the Sovereigns has been abolished and nothing has taken its place. The churches I visited were the Preobrajensky Cathedral, Saint Simeon and Saint Panteleimon. The same scene met me everywhere; a grave and silent congregation exchanging amazed and melancholy glances. Some of the moujiks looked bewildered and horrified and several had tears in their eyes. Yet even among those who seemed the most moved I could not find one who did not sport a red cockade or armband. They had all been working for the Revolution; all of them were with it, body and soul. But that did not prevent them from shedding tears for their little Father, the Tsar, Tsary batinshka!

Then I called at the Foreign Office.

Miliukov told me that yesterday evening he discussed with his colleagues the formula to be inserted in the coming manifesto of the Provisional Government on the subject of the prosecution of the war and the maintenance of the alliance; he added in a tone of embarrassment:

"I hope to secure the adoption of a form of words which will satisfy you."

"You mean to say you only hope? A hope's no good to me: I want a certainty."

"You may be certain I shall do everything in my power . . . . But you've no idea how difficult our socialists are to handle! And we've got to avoid a rupture with them at any cost. Otherwise, it means civil war!"

"Whatever reasons you may have for going slowly with the hotheads of the Soviet, you must realize that I cannot tolerate any doubt about your determination to continue the alliance and carry on the war."

"Please trust me!"

Miliukov struck me as less optimistic than he was yesterday. The news from Kronstadt, the Baltic Fleet and Sebastopol is bad. To crown all, disorder is spreading at the front; officers have been massacred.


This afternoon I went for a walk on the Islands, which are more deserted than ever and still snow-bound.

Thinking of my visit to the churches this morning, I mused on the strange inaction of the clergy during the revolution; it has taken no part; is never seen anywhere and has given absolutely no sign of life. This abstention and self-effacement are all the more surprising because there was not one celebration, ceremony or public occasion in which the Church did not occupy the foreground with the splendours of its rites, apparel and singing.

The matter is self-explanatory, and to put that explanation into words I have only to search the pages of this Diary. In the first place the Russian people are not as religious as they appear to be: they are primarily mystics. Their habit of continually crossing themselves, their genuflections, their taste for ritual and processions and craze for ikons and relics are simply an outlet for the demands of their lively imagination. Pierce but a little way into their minds and all one finds is a faith which is vague and hazy, sentimental and dreamy, almost destitute of intellectual and theological elements and always on the verge of sinking into sectarian anarchy. One must also bear in mind the confined and humiliating servitude tsarism has always imposed on the Church, a servitude which made the clergy a kind of spiritual police, to reinforce the military, police. Often enough, during the sumptuous services in the cathedrals of St. Alexander Nevsky or Kazan, I have called to mind Napoleon's remark that "an archbishop is simply a second Prefect of Police!" Nor must one forget the opprobrium brought on the Holy Synod and the episcopal hierarchy in the last few years by Rasputin. The Hermogenes, Varnava, Basily and Pitirim scandals, and many others, had greatly shocked all true believers. When the nation rose in revolt the clergy could do nothing but keep silence. But when the time for reaction arrives, perhaps the country priests, who have remained in touch with the rural masses, will make their voice heard again.


I was told yesterday that the form of the Emperor's abdication decree was settled by Nicholas Alexandrovitch Basily, formerly Deputy-Director of Sazonov's department and now in charge of the diplomatic section of General Headquarters; the decree is said to have been communicated by telegraph from Pskov to Mohilev on March 15, even before the delegates of the Duma, Gutchkov and Shulgin, had seen the Emperor. It is a point which would be interesting to clear up.

Curiously enough, late this afternoon I had a visit from Basily whom General Alexeïev has sent to the Provisional Government on some mission.

"Hallo!" I said: "I understand it's you who drafted the Emperor's abdication decree?"

He started,, and protested vigorously: "I absolutely deny the paternity of the document the Emperor signed. The draft I prepared on General Alexeïev's orders was very different."

What he told me was this:

"In the morning of the 14th March General Alexeïev received from President. Rodzianko, a telegram informing him that the machinery of government had ceased to function in Petrograd and the only means of averting anarchy was to secure the Emperor's abdication in favour of his son. The Chief of Staff of the Imperial Armies was thus faced with a dreadful problem. Would not the Tsar's abdication threaten the army with divisions, if not disruption? The only thing to do was to get all the military heads to agree at once on one course. General Russky, commanding the northern armies, had already pronounced strongly in favour of immediate abdication. General Alexeïev personally inclined to that view; but the matter was so serious that he thought it his duty to consult all the other Army Group commanders by telegraph, Generals Evert, Brussilov, and Sakharov and the Grand Duke Nicholas Nicholaïevitch. They all replied that the Emperor should abdicate at the earliest possible moment."

"On which day did all these replies come into General Alexeïev?"

"During the morning of March 15th. It was then that General Alexeïev instructed me to report to him on the circumstances in which the fundamental status of the Empire authorized the Tsar to lay down his sceptre. I was not long in furnishing him with a memorandum explaining and proving that if the Emperor abdicated he was obliged to hand over his powers to his legitimate heir, the Tsarevitch Alexis. 'That's exactly what I thought,' the General said to me. 'Will you draft me a proclamation on those lines at once?' I soon produced a draft in which I expounded the theory of my memorandum to the best of my ability while endeavouring to keep the necessity of prosecuting the war to victory persistently in the foreground. The Chief of Staff had with him his principal colleague and loyal Quartermaster, General Lukomsky. I handed him my document. He read it aloud and agreed with every word. Lukomsky also approved of it. The document was immediately telegraphed to Pskov to be laid before the Emperor. A little before midnight on the same day, General Danilov, Quartermaster-General of the northern armies called his colleague at G.H.Q. to the tapemachine to tell him of His Majesty's decision. I happened at that moment to be in Lukorusky's room, with the Grand Duke Sergei Michailovitch. We all rushed to the telegraph office and the machine began to work before our eyes. I immediately recognized my draft on the tape as it came out.

. . . To all Our faithful subjects We make known. . . in these days of fierce conflict with the foreign foe, etc. But you can just imagine the amazement of all three of us when we observed that the name of the Grand Duke Michael had been substituted for that of the Tsarevitch Alexis! We looked at each other in blank consternation for the same idea entered all our heads. The immediate accession of the Tsarevitch was the only means of stopping the revolution in its career, or at any rate keeping it within the limits of a great constitutional reform. In the first place, the young Alexis Nicholaïevitch would have had the law on his side. He would also have benefited by the sympathetic feeling of the nation and army towards him. Lastly---and this was the vital point---the imperial office would not have been vacant even for a moment. If the Tsarevitch had been proclaimed, no one would have had the authority to make him abdicate. What has happened to the Grand Duke Michael would not have been possible in the case of this boy. There might have been some wrangling over the appointment of the regent, but that's all. Russia would have a national head . . . But where are we now?"

"I'm sorry to say that I fear events will prove you right before very long . . . When the Emperor deleted his son's name from the proclamation you drafted for him he launched Russia on a terrible adventure."

After discussing this topic for some considerable time, I asked Basily:

"Have you seen the Emperor since his abdication?"

"Yes. On the 16th March, when the Emperor was returning from Pskov to Mohilev, General Alexeïev sent me to tell him how the situation was developing. I met his train at Orcha and went straight to his coach. He was absolutely calm, but it shocked me to see him. with a haggard look and hollow eyes. After telling him of the latest happenings in Petrograd, I took the liberty of saying that we at the Stavka were greatly distressed because he had not transferred his crown to the Tsarevitch. He answered quietly: 'I cannot be separated from my son.' I learned afterwards from his escort that before the Emperor came to his decision he had consulted his physician Professor Feodorov: 'I order you to give me a frank answer,' he had said. 'Do you think it possible that Alexis can ever get better?' 'No, Your Majesty, his disease is incurable.' 'That's what the Empress thought long ago, though I myself still had hopes. As God has willed it thus I shall not separate myself from my poor boy!' A few minutes later dinner was served. It was a melancholy meal. All of us felt our hearts bursting; we couldn't cat or drink. Yet the Emperor retained wonderful self-control and asked me several questions about the men who form the Provisional Government; but as he was wearing a rather low collar I could see that he was continually choking down his emotion. I left him yesterday morning at Mohilev."

The weather is very dismal this morning. From dark and heavy clouds the snow is falling in dense flakes, and so slowly that I cannot even make out the granite wall which lines the icy bed of the Neva twenty paces from my windows. We might be in the very depths of winter. The gloom of the landscape and. the enmity of nature harmonize only too well with the sinister course events are taking.

One of those who were present gives me the following detailed account of the meeting at the conclusion of which the Grand Duke Michael signed his provisional abdication yesterday.

It took place at ten o'clock in the morning at Prince Paul Putiatin's house, No. 12, Millionaïa.

In addition to the Grand Duke and his secretary, Matveïev, there were present Prince Lvov, Rodzianko, Militikov, Nekrassov, Kerensky, Nabokov, Shingarev and Baron Nolde; about half-past ten they were joined by Gutchkov and Shulgin, who had come straight from Pskov.

As soon as the discussion. began, Gutchkov and Miliukov boldly asserted that Michael Alexandrovitch had no right to evade the responsibility of supreme power. Rodzianko, Nekrassov and Kerensky argued contra that the accession of a new Tsar would release a torrent of revolutionary passion and bring Russia face to face with a frightful crisis; their conclusion was that the monarchical question should be reserved until the meeting of the constituent assembly which would make its sovereign will known. The argument was pressed with such force and stubbornness, particularly by Kerensky, that all those present came round to it with the exception of Gutchkov and Miliukov. With complete disinterestedness the Grand Duke himself agreed.

Gutchkov then made a final effort. Addressing the Grand Duke in person and appealing to his patriotism and courage he pointed out how necessary it was that the Russian people should be presented at once with the living embodiment of a national leader:

"If you are afraid to take up the burden of the imperial crown now, Monseigneur, you should at least agree to exercise supreme authority as 'Regent of the Empire during the vacancy of the throne,' or, to take a much finer title, 'Protector of the Nation,' as Cromwell styled himself. At the same time you would give a solemn undertaking to the nation to surrender your power to a constituent assembly as soon as the war ends."

This ingenious idea, which might have saved the whole situation, made Kerensky almost beside himself with passion and provoked him to a torrent of invective and threats which terrified everyone there.

In the general confusion the Grand Duke rose with the remark that he would like to think things over by himself for a minute or two. He was making for the next room when Kerensky leaped in front of him as if to keep him back:

"Promise us not to consult your wife, Monseigneur!"

His thoughts had at once gone to the ambitious Countess Brassov whose empire over her husband's mind was complete. With a smile the Grand Duke replied:

"Don't worry, Alexander Feodorovitch, my wife isn't here at the moment; she stayed behind at Gatchina!"

Five minutes later the Grand Duke returned. In very calm tones he declared:

"I have decided to abdicate."

The triumphant Kerensky called out:

"Monseigneur, you are the noblest of men!"

The rest of the company, however, was wrapped in a .gloomy silence; even those who had been the strongest advocates of abdication---Prince Lvov and Rodzianko, for instance---seemed overwhelmed by the irreparable occurrence that had just taken place. Gutchkov relieved his conscience by a final protest:

"Gentlemen, you are leading Russia to her ruin; I am not going to follow you in that baneful path."

A provisional and conditional abdication was then drawn up by Nekrassov, Nabokov and Baron Nolde. Michael Alexandrovitch interrupted them several times in their task to make it quite clear that his refusal of the imperial crown remained subject to the ultimate decision of the Russian nation as represented by a constituent assembly.

At the conclusion he took the pen and signed.

Throughout this long and painful discussion the Grand Duke's composure and dignity never once deserted him. Hitherto his compatriots have had but a poor opinion of him; he was considered to be of weak character and lacking in brains. But on this historic occasion his patriotism, nobility and self-sacrifice were very touching. When the final formalities had been concluded, the delegates of the Executive Committee could not help showing him that the impression he made upon them won their sympathy and respect. Kerensky tried to interpret the emotion they all felt in a lapidary phrase which fell from his lips in a theatrical outburst.

"Monseigneur! You have generously entrusted to us the sacred cup of your power. I promise you we will hand it on to the constituent assembly without spilling a single drop."

General Efimovitch, who called on me this morning, has brought me some news of Tsarskoïe-Selo.

It was through the Grand Duke Paul that the Empress learned yesterday evening of the Emperor's abdication; she had heard nothing of him for two days. She burst out:

"It's quite impossible! It isn't true! It's another newspaper lie! I believe in God and trust the army. Neither could have deserted us at so critical a moment!"

The Grand Duke read her the abdication which had just been published. Then everything came home to her and she burst into tears.


The Provisional Government has not been long in capitulating to the demands of the socialists. At the Soviet's command it has actually come to the following humiliating decision:

The troops which have taken part in the revolutionary movement will not be disarmed but will remain in Petrograd.

Thus the first act of the revolutionary army is to extract a promise that it shall not be sent to the front but shall fight no more! What a badge of shame for the Russian Revolution! How can one help thinking of the contrast afforded by the Volunteers of 1792! Besides, the soldiers in the streets seem lost to all decency and are giving a disgusting exhibition of effrontery and licence. By its infamous insistence the Soviet has created for itself a formidable militia, for the garrisons of Petrograd and the suburbs (Tsarskoïe-Selo, Peterhof, Krasnoïe-Selo and Gatchina) comprise no less than 170,000 men.


This afternoon Miliukov took over the portfolio of foreign affairs. He made a point of seeing me at once, as well as my English and Italian colleagues.

We answered his summons at once.

I found him very much changed, extremely weary and looking ten years older. The days and nights of fierce controversy through which he has just passed have worn him out.

I asked him:

"Before you take to official phraseology tell me frankly and honestly what you think of the situation."

In an outburst of sincerity he replied:

"Within the last twenty-four hours I have passed from utter despair to all but perfect confidence."

Then we talked officially:

"I'm not yet in a position," I said, "to tell you that the Government of the Republic recognizes the government you have set up; but I'm certain I'm only anticipating my instructions in promising you active and sympathetic assistance on my part."

He thanked me warmly, and continued: "We didn't want this revolution to come during hostilities; I didn't even anticipate it; but it has taken place, as the result of other agencies, and through the mistakes and crimes of the imperial regime. Our business now is to save Russia by ruthlessly prosecuting the war to victory. But the passions of the people have been so exasperated and the difficulties of the situation are so frightful that we must at once make great concessions to the national conscience."

Among these immediate concessions he mentioned the arrest of several ministers, generals, officials, and so on, the proclamation of a general amnesty---from which the servants of the old government will of course be excluded---the destruction of all the imperial emblems, the convocation of. a constituent assembly in the near future; in a word every measure calculated to rob the Russian nation of all fear of a counter-revolution.

"So the Romanov dynasty has fallen I said."

"Yes, in fact; no, in law. The constituent assembly alone will be qualified to change the political status of Russia."

"But how will you secure the election of this constituent assembly? Will the men at the front be content to forego their votes?"

With considerable confusion he admitted: "We shall be obliged to grant the men at the front the right to vote."

"What, you're going to give the men at the front a vote! Most of them are fighting thousands of versts from their villages and can't read or write!"

Miliukov as good as told me that in his heart of hearts he shared my views and confided that he is doing his utmost to give no definite promise as to the date of the general election.

"But the socialists are insisting on an election at once," he added. "They are extremely strong, and the situation is very, very critical!"

As I pressed him to explain these words, he told me that though order has been restored to some extent in Petrograd, the Baltic Fleet and Kronstadt garrison are in open revolt.

I asked Miliukov about the official nomenclature of the new government.

" The title hasn't been decided upon yet," he said. "At the moment we are calling ourselves the Provisional Government. But in that name we are getting all executive authority, including the imperial prerogative, into our hands; so we are not responsible to the Duma."

"In a word, you derive all your power from the revolution?"

'"No, we have received it., by inheritance, from the Grand Duke Michael, who transferred it to us by his abdication decree."

This legal sensitiveness showed me that the "moderates" of the new order, Rodzianko, Prince Lvov, Gutchkov and Miliukov himself, are extremely worried and uneasy in their conscience at the idea of violating monarchical rights. At bottom---and it is only, the normal course of revolutions---they feel that they are already being thrust aside, and are fearfully wondering where they will be to-morrow.

Miliukov looked so exhausted, and the loss of voice he has suffered in the last few days made talking so painful for him, that I had to cut short our interview. But before leaving him I urged very strongly that the Provisional Government should delay no longer in solemnly proclaiming its fidelity to the alliances and its determination to continue the war at any cost.

"You must realize that what is wanted is a plain and unambiguous proclamation. Of course I haven't a doubt about your own feelings. But the direction of Russian affairs is now at the mercy of new forces; they must be given a lead at once. I have another reason for insisting that the ruthless prosecution of the war and the maintenance of the alliances shall be proclaimed openly. I must tell you that in the old days I more than once caught germanophile circles at Court---the Sturmer and Protopopov gang---dropping a hint which worried me very much; it was admitted that the Emperor Nicholas would not be able to make peace with Germany so long as Russian soil had not been entirely cleared of the enemy, for he had taken an oath on the Gospel and the ikon of Our Lady of Kazan; but it was whispered that if the Emperor could be induced to abdicate in favour of the Tsarevitch under the regency of the Empress, his disastrous oath would not be binding on his heir. You can see that I should like to be sure that the new Russia considers herself bound by the oath of her former Tsar."

"You'll receive every guarantee on that head."


The food problem is still so difficult in Petrograd that my supplies and the skill of my chef are very valuable to my friends. I had seven or eight of them to dinner to-night, the party including the Gortchakovs and Benckendorffs. Everyone was very depressed; they could see extremist proletarian doctrines already sweeping over Russia, disintegrating the national unity, spreading anarchy, famine and ruin everywhere.

My forebodings are equally gloomy, alas! None of the men in power at this moment possesses the political vision, faculty of swift decision, courage and boldness which so formidable a situation calls for. They are "Octobrists," "Cadets," advocates of constitutional monarchy, level-headed, honest, moderate and disinterested. They remind me of Molé, Odilon, Barrot, etc. in July, 1830. Yet the least that is required now is a Danton! I am told, however, that they have one man of action among them, the young Minister of Justice, Kerensky, who represents the "Labour" group in the Duma and has been forced on the Provisional Government by the Soviet.

There is no question that the men of initiative, energy and courage, must be sought for in the Soviet. Themultifarious sections of the Social-Revolutionary and social-Democratic parties, "People's Party," "Labour Men," "Terrorists," "Maximalists," "Minimalists," "Defeatists," etc., are not lacking in men who have given proof of resolution and audacity in plots, penal servitude and exile; I need only mention Tcheidze, Tseretelli, Zinoviev and Axelrod. These are the true protagonists of the drama on which the curtain is now rising

Nicholas II abdicated yesterday, shortly before mid-night.

When the emissaries of the Duma, Gutchkov and Shulgin, arrived at Pskov about nine o'clock in the evening, the Emperor gave them his usual simple and kindly reception.

In very dignified language and a voice which trembled somewhat, Gutchkov told the Emperor the object of his mission and ended with these words:

"Nothing but the abdication of Your Majesty in favour of your son can still save the Russian Fatherland and preserve the dynasty."

The Emperor replied very quickly, as if referring to some perfectly commonplace matter:

"I decided to abdicate yesterday. But I cannot be separated from my son; that is more than I could bear; his health is too delicate you must realize what I feel . . . I shall therefore abdicate in favour of my brother, Michael Alexandrovitch."

Gutchkov at once bowed to the argument of fatherly affection to which the Tsar appealed and Shulgin also acquiesced.

The Emperor then went into his study with the Minister of the Court; he came out ten minutes later with the act of abdication signed. Count Fredericks handed it to Gutchkov.

This memorable document is worded as follows:

By the grace of God, we, Nicholas II, Emperor of all the Russias, Tsar of Poland, Grand Duke of Finland, etc., etc., to all our faithful subjects make known:

In these days of terrible struggle against the foreign enemy who has been trying for three years to impose his will upon Our Fatherland, God has willed that Russia should be faced with a new and formidable trial. Troubles at home threaten to have a fatal effect on the ultimate course of this hard-fought war. The destinies of Russia, the honour of Our heroic army, the welfare of the nation and the whole future of our dear country require that the war shall be continued, cost what it may, to a victorious end.

Our cruel enemy is making his final effort and the day is at hand when our brave army, with the help of our glorious allies, will overthrow him once and for all.

At this moment, a moment so decisive for the existence of Russia, Our conscience bids Us to facilitate the closest union of Our subjects and the organization of all their forces for the speedy attainment of victory.

For that reason We think it right---and the Imperial Duma shares Our view---to abdicate the crown of the Russian State and resign the supreme power.

As We do not desire to be separated from Our beloved son, We bequeath Our inheritance to Our brother, the Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovitch, and give him Our blessing on his accession to the throne. We ask him to govern in the closest concert with the representatives of the nation who sit in the legislative assemblies and to pledge them his inviolable oath in the name of the beloved country.

We appeal to all the loyal sons of Russia and ask them to do their patriotic and sacred duty by obeying their Tsar at this moment of painful national crisis and to help him and the representatives of the nation to guide the Russian State into the path of prosperity and glory.

May God help Russia!


On reading this declaration, which was typed on an ordinary sheet of paper, the emissaries of the Duma were deeply stirred and could hardly speak as they took their leave of Nicholas II who was as unmoved as ever as he give them a kindly handshake.

As soon as they left the carriage the imperial train started off for Dvinsk with a view to returning to Mohilev.

History can show few events so momentous, or so pregnant with possibilities and far-reaching in their effects. Yet of all those of which it has left any record, is there a single one which has taken place in such casual, commonplace and prosaic fashion, and above all with such indifference and self-effacement on the part of the principal hero?

Is it simply lack of interest in the Emperor's case? I think not. His abdication decree, over which he has pondered long if he did not actually word it himself, is inspired by the loftiest sentiments, and its general tone is nobility itself. But his moral attitude at this supreme crisis appears perfectly logical if it is admitted as I have often remarked, that for many months past the unhappy sovereign has felt himself lost and that he long ago made his sacrifice and accepted his fate.


The accession of the Grand Duke Michael to the throne has aroused the fury of the Soviet: "No more Romanovs!" is the cry in all quarters: "We want a republic!"

For one moment the harmony was shattered which was established with such difficulty between the Executive Committee of the Duma and the Soviet yesterday evening. But fear of the gaol-birds who are in command at the Finland Station and the Fortress has compelled the representatives of the Duma to give way. A delegation from the Executive Committee went to see the Grand Duke Michael who made no sort of objection and consented to accept the crown only if it should be offered to him by the constituent assembly. Perhaps he would have submitted less tamely if his wife, the clever and ambitious Countess Brassov, had been at his side and not at Gatchina.

The Soviet isnow master.

Disturbances in the city are also beginning again. In the course of the afternoon I have been told of many demonstrations against the war. Certain regiments have suggested making a protest outside the French and English Embassies. At seven o'clock this evening the Executive Committee decided it was better to post soldiers in the two embassies. Thirty-two cadets of the Corps of Pages have just taken up their station in my house.

Gutchkov and Shulgin left Petrograd at nine o'clock this morning. Thanks to the aid of an engineer attached to the railway service, they were able to get a special train without arousing the suspicions of the socialist committees. See more

There has been much fighting and burning again in Petrograd this morning. The soldiers are hunting down officers and gendarmes---a ruthless and savage chase which betrays all the barbarous instincts still latent in the moujik nature. See more

The firing, which had died down by this morning, began again about ten o'clock; it seemed to be pretty vigorous in the region of the Admiralty. Armoured cars, with machine-guns and displaying red flags, were continually passing the embassy at top speed. More fires were blazing at several points in the capital. See more

During a day which has been prolific in grave events and may perhaps have determined the future of Russia for a century to come, I have made a note of one episode which seems trivial at first sight, but in reality is highly significant. The town house of Kchechinskaïa, at the end of the Kammenny-Ostrov Prospekt and opposite Alexander Park, was occupied by the insurgents today and sacked from top to bottom. I remember a detail which makes it easy to see why the residence of the famous dancer has been singled out by mob fury. See more

At half-past eight this morning, just as I finished dressing, I heard a strange and prolonged din which seemed to come from the Alexander Bridge. I looked out: there was no one on the bridge, which usually presents such a busy scene. But, almost immediately, a disorderly mob carrying red flags appeared at the end which is on the right bank of the Neva, and a regiment came towards it from the opposite side. It looked as if there would be a violent collision, but on the contrary the two bodies coalesced. The army was fraternizing with revolt. See more

Age: 58
Lives in: Petrograd, Russian Empire
Occupation: French Ambassador to the Russian Court


in Petrograd
in Moscow