The next day I returned to Moscow, and Lord Milner resumed his place at the conference table. And, while the delegates were discussing Constantinople, Alsace-Lorraine, and the spoils of war, there were riots round the bread-shops, workmen were being arrested by the Ochrana, and in the entourage of the Imperial family frightened women were repeating the prophecy of Rasputin: "If I die or you abandon me, you will lose your son and your throne within six months."
Having been postponed several times, the Inter-Allied Conference was scheduled for late January 1917. The choice of the Russian capital as its venue represented a fresh attempt to confirm the commonality of the interests of all the Entente Cordiale countries. There was every reason to believe that the summer campaign of 1917 would consolidate the unity of their efforts both in theory and in practice.
Conference delegates travelled to Russia in secret due to the risk of a German U-boat attack.
My dear Lerichka, you’ll be scolding me, of course: I’m writing you for the first time since my departure, yet I’ve already received two enchanting letters from you. But, on the very day of my arrival, I found myself in the trenches, shooting at Germans out of a machine gun and being shot at by them; and two weeks have passed in the same fashion. Only a graphomaniac can write from the trenches, so little reminiscent of trenches as they are : there aren’t any chairs, the ceiling is leaking, and several huge rats perched on the table grumble angrily if you approach them. And I’ve spent whole days lolling in the snow and gazing at the stars; mentally drawing a line between us, I pictured your face looking down at me from the heavens. It’s a delightful pastime – you should give it a go at some point.
It was a large room. “So then” they said before sitting around the table… Something in the air felt peculiar, secretive and important. Conversation began with the matter of how the situation was worsening with every day and that things could go on no further… That something must be done… Must be done at once… That big decisions must be met with courage… serious steps taken… I didn’t follow exactly… But it was possible to deduce… Perhaps, they meant to speak of revolution occurring from above before it came from below. In any case, they hadn’t decided… And, having spoken for a while, they parted. I had the vague sense that something formidable loomed on the horizon… and that these attempts to withstand it were futile… The powerlessness of those who surrounded me, and my own impotence, struck me the first time. It was a cruel and unnerving moment.
What’s the good of this endless anxiety? Even if I subsequently find fame and fortune, no glory or wealth could ever be worth the pain of these arduous years.
The Allied delegates arrived, and a preliminary meeting of the conference was held in the afternoon under the presidency of the Foreign Minister, Pokrowski.
The French, British and Italian delegates to the allied conference arrived in Petrograd this morning. At the very outset it appeared that the governments of the western Powers had only given their delegates vague instructions; no directing principle to co-ordinate the allied effort and no joint programme to hasten the common victory. After a prolonged exchange of generalities, the emptiness of which everyone felt, we modestly agreed to say that the recent conferences in Paris and Rome had sufficiently defined the object of the present meeting. We next decided that questions of a political nature should be examined by the chief delegates and ambassadors; plans of operations should be settled by the generals; a technical committee should look into questions of matériel, munitions, transport, etc.; final decisions to be taken by the full conference.
On January 29th, at Liouba Egorova's farewell performance, I danced my favourite Russian dance in the last act. When I had finished, Fokine, who was in the wings, told me that he never remembered the Russian dance better performed. Such praise from him made me very proud.