November’s Diplomatic Aftershocks: Petrograd, Khabarovsk and Beijing

The Bolshevik seizure of power in November 1917 was followed by a feverish search for a way to end the war. As discussed in a previous post, they began by sending a military representative to the German lines and publishing secret treaties in the hope of embarrassing the Allied countries. On 26 November – the same day Krylenko’s men crossed the German trenches to discuss a ceasefire – Trotsky addressed the Allies, asking them to join in the peace initiative. Eager to redirect their troops to another front, the Germans agreed to talks the very next day. The Allies, on the other hand, ignored Trotsky’s overtures.

krylenko
N.V. Krylenko, tasked with opening peace talks with the Germans. Source.

Ambassador Liu Jingren immediately informed Beijing of the peace initiative in a lengthy letter from Petrograd. Despite mounting pressure for a ceasefire, Trotsky committed a diplomatic faux pas by leaving out important Allied countries – most notably Japan and, for Liu, China – from his appeal, as the following extract shows:

此外可注意者,駐俄外交團與廣義派政府不但無正式之交際,即事實上之往來亦力為規避,其不為該派所慊可知。昨日新生報載外務委員脫祿次基,與兵工會議時,宣言各國駐使對於停戰媾和之照會,至今未覆,彼等靜觀亦無礙於事,試觀駐俄外交官,將無一能准出俄境者等語。使團聞此說,咸詑訝,誠恐愚民無知,或因脫氏一語,變而加厲,惹出侵犯使團之舉而。

再脫祿次基之照會,鏡與日本、巴西、羅馬尼亞、葡萄牙各使,迄未接到,外交界深以為奇。

Moreover, it is notable that the diplomatic corps in Russia not only does not maintain official relations with the Bolshevik government, but also strenuously avoids any actual dealings with them. Their dissatisfaction towards that party is evident. Yesterday, Novaia Zhizn reported that Foreign Affairs Commissar Trotsky, in a meeting with workers and soldiers, announced that the foreign ambassadors had yet to reply to the message on the ceasefire and peace negotiations. [He said] that their hands-off approach would not be an obstacle, and one need only see what would happen if not a single diplomat in Russia were permitted to leave Russian territory. The diplomatic corps, upon hearing this, were all astounded. There is a fear that ignorant people may, because of Trotsky’s words, grow more extreme, triggering an assault on the corps.

Also, Trotsky’s message has yet to be received by myself and the ambassadors of Japan, Brazil, Romania and Portugal. The diplomatic corps is deeply surprised by this.

Letter from Ambassador Liu Jingren, 13 December 1917 (sent 26 November). Zhong-e guanxi shiliao, Minguo jiunian zhi banian (1917-1919). E zhengbian yu yiban jiaoshe (1), p. 189

This oversight was only temporary, however. Bolshevik diplomacy towards the Chinese would soon become far more adroit.

1maykhab
Demonstration of railway workers in Khabarovsk, 1 May 1917. Source.

For their part, the anti-Bolshevik opposition was able to access sympathetic Russian diplomats and, through them, to appeal to foreign powers, including Beijing. One such example came from the Amur Oblast Zemstvo Assembly, convened in Khabarovsk on 2 December by the Menshevik I.N. Shishlov. In the Russian Far East, elections for local zemstvo and municipal authorities had only just been permitted and carried out after the March Revolution. Many of these new bodies – staffed largely by liberals and moderate socialists – looked askance at the Bolsheviks’ undemocratic tendencies, especially given the latter’s hostile attitude towards the Constituent Assembly.

Unlike Trotsky’s note, the Assembly’s December declaration not only mentioned China, but was also dispatched to Ambassador N.A. Kudashev for transmission to the Chinese government.

頃據本國阿穆爾省省議會議長電稱:本會此次在伯裡城開幕臨時會議,請將本會對於俄國近況所訂議決書,轉達同盟各國政府等情前來。查阿穆爾省省議會議員,均系按照普及選舉法當選之員,是該會所議決者,確實代表廣大阿穆爾省全省公民之意旨。茲將該議會議決書譯文,函送貴總長查閱可也。

阿穆爾省省議會議決書譯文
本會在阿穆爾省承有全權,開幕第一次臨時會議,對於各團體及個人之叛逆舉動,殊為憤激,特提出抗議。凡有以武力佔奪國權者,本會自當斥責之。所有無責任團體及個人,表面以迅速媾和為口實,施行各法,為本會所深憾,概不承認。本會此次宣言,阿穆爾省於外交政策上仍舊信任與俄國同盟各友邦,即自由之英吉利,優美之法蘭西,碩大之北美合眾國,強大之日本,英雄之比利時,太古之中華國,及其他同盟友邦,各該國承受俄國實力相助,速達光榮及公平共享和局之目的。本議會茲將上述之意見,囑托本會議長轉達同盟各國外交代表。

Regarding a telegram received from the leader of the Amur Oblast Zemstvo Assembly, which held an extraordinary meeting in Khabarovsk and requested that its resolution on the recent events in Russia be conveyed to the various Allied governments. Since the members of the Amur Oblast Zemtsvo Assembly were all elected via popular vote, its resolutions truly represent the wishes of the general public of Amur oblast as a whole. Here, a translation of the resolution is enclosed for Your Ministry’s perusal.

Translation of the Resolution of the Amur Oblast Zemtsvo Assembly
This Assembly, having full authority in Amur oblast, convened its first extraordinary meeting. Towards the rebellious activities of various organs and individuals, it expresses deep outrage and, in particular, voices its protests. All who seize state power by military force must be denounced by this Assembly. All irresponsible organs and individuals superficially using a swift conclusion of peace as a pretext to implement various laws are deeply regretted by this Assembly and will absolutely not be recognised. This Assembly hereby declares that Amur oblast, in its foreign policy, still keeps faith with the nations allied to Russia, namely free England, gracious France, vast America, powerful Japan, heroic Belgium, ancient China and the other Allied countries. These countries will receive Russia’s strength and support in swiftly achieving the goal of a glorious, fair and general peace. The Assembly hereby charges its leader with conveying the aforementioned views to the diplomatic representatives of the various Allied nations.

Letter from the Russian Embassy, 6 December 1917 (sent 5 December). Ibid., p. 185.

Underscoring Russia’s fragmentation yet further was Ambassador Kudashev’s coldness towards the new government. In a meeting with Deputy Foreign Minister Gao Erqian, Kudashev revealed that he was no longer maintaining direct contact with Petrograd and even asked Gao to forward him Liu’s reports.

armisticekudashev
Allied diplomats at the British Legation, Beijing, on Armistice Day 1918. Russian Ambassador Kudashev is on the extreme left. Source.

庫使云:近日貴部曾否接到俄京來電。
次長云:日來屢接劉使來電,皆系交通未斷以前所發,報告貴國紛亂情形,貴使諒已見諸報章,無須贅述。茲接駐丹麥使來電稱,俄京所立新政府,曾派代表向德奧兩國聲請停戰,並求媾和,兩國政府意見,須俟俄國大多數人民有媾和之意思表示時,方可提媾和問題云云。
庫使云:本國多數人民對於媾和問題,決不贊同。
次長云:現在交通既復,貴公使曾否接到貴國政府來電。
庫使云:本國現時暫立之政府,外國均未承認,協商各國,尤不願承認,即本使亦不欲與之公牘來往,是以未經去電,亦並無來電。惟本國重要各地舊有機關,本使業經去電詢問詳情。近聞前駐奧沈使新返北京,經過俄京時,親見如何景象,可得轉告。
次長云:沈使返京,路經貴國各地,途中非常危險,曾遇亂兵拋擲磚石,火車上玻璃窗為之擊碎者不少,在俄京時常聞槍炮聲響,巷中戰斗,無時或已。
庫使云:從今而后,貴部接到劉公使報告,即希轉告,實為感荷。
次長云:今后劉使來電,如有關系貴國內情者,當即擇要抄送貴使可也。

Kudashev: Has Your Ministry recently received any telegrams from Petrograd?
Gao: In the past few days several telegrams from Ambassador Liu have been received. All were sent before communications were disrupted and [they] reported on the disordered situation in Your country. Your Excellency must have already seen all the newspaper reports and I need not belabour you with an account. Now a telegram has arrived from the ambassador in Denmark, saying that the new government in Petrograd has sent a representative to Germany and Austria to request a ceasefire and call for peace. The opinion in those two countries is that they must wait for the majority of the Russian people to express a desire for peace before raising the issue.
Kudashev: Most people in my country will absolutely not approve the peace issue.
Gao: Now that communications have resumed, has Your Excellency received telegrams from Your Government?
Kudashev: The government established for the moment in my country is not recognised by any other nation. The various Allied countries are especially reluctant to recognise it, hence I am also not willing to exchange official correspondence with it. Thus I have neither sent it any telegrams nor received any. With important, pre-existing local institutions, however, I have made enquiries regarding the exact situation. Recently, I heard that the former ambassador to Austria, Shen [Shen Ruilin – ed.], returned to Beijing. When he passed through Petrograd, he must have witnessed the scene [there]. Could you give a sense of it?
Gao: When Shen returned to Beijing, he passed various places in Your Country. The journey was extremely dangerous, encountering mutinous troops who hurled bricks that broke not a few of the windows on the train. While in Petrograd, he frequently heard gunfire and the street-fighting was relentless.
Kudashev: Henceforth, if Your Ministry receives reports from Ambassador Liu, I would be deeply grateful if they could be conveyed to me.
Gao: From now on, insofar as Ambassador Liu’s telegrams relate to the internal situation in Your Country, we will send Your Excellency a digest.

Meeting between Ambassador Kudashev and Deputy Foreign Minister Gao Erqian, 1 December 1917. Ibid., p. 184.

Shen’s harrowing journey aside, Beijing’s thoughts soon turned to how China might use Russia’s diplomatic isolation and the rupture between Kudashev and Petrograd to its advantage. This led directly to China’s first post-revolutionary foray into “rights recovery”: A unilateral cessation of Russia’s Boxer Indemnity payments, which will be discussed in a future post.

3 thoughts on “November’s Diplomatic Aftershocks: Petrograd, Khabarovsk and Beijing

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