As the Czechoslovak Legion rose in revolt in summer 1918, it was followed by a number of anti-bolshevik regimes taking advantage of the power vacuum. A moderate socialist government sprung up in Vladivostok under the Socialist Revolutionary P.Ia. Derber, while at Grodekovo a rather more authoritarian group claimed power under D.L. Horvath. Both were quick to issue declarations to an international audience, including China.
The first communique to arrive was from Derber’s Provisional Government of Autnomous Siberia:
Subsequent to the 8 July declaration of the Provisional Government of Autonomous Siberia [hereafter PGAS] to the Friendly Powers, and on the basis of a 15 July special resolution of the Government, the PGAS announces the following:
‘The PGAS sincerely wishes to confirm the friendship that exists between the two countries of China and Russia, and requests that You convey to Your Government, at this time of threat from our common enemy, the utmost desirability of a swift union between the military forces of China and Russia. China and Russia must know the consequences of the advance of the Austrian and German forces into the heart of Russia and Siberia. And in Siberia and Russia, a large number of POWs continues to act independently, which is sufficient to cause concern. The PGAS, in conveying the desirability of the union, also cites the difficulty of rapidly mobilising all forces in Russia. The Government thus requests Your Ministry to study and communicate the views and intentions of Your Government regarding the organisation of a new Russo-German front through a military alliance.
‘The territorial sovereignty of Russia must be safeguarded by this Government. Your Government’s real intentions for the resolution of our common problems – if they do not infringe on the territorial sovereignty of Russia – will be welcomed by the PGAS. My personal hope, with regards to the most pressing issue now, is for the Chinese and Russian governments to enter into immediate talks to study the conditions for joint action, in order to resolve these common problems. I sincerely hope that You will be so kind as to swiftly convey Your Government’s response. For the Minister, [Arkadii N.] Petroff.’Telegram from the PGAS in Vladivostok, 16 July 1918. Zhong-E guanxi shiliao, Minguo jiunian zhi banian (1917-1919). E zhengbian yu yiban jiaoshe (1), p. 449.
The Chinese were not Derber’s sole intended recipients; in fact, this same telegram was also sent to the Americans and the references to “China and Russia” are absent in the French original. Nevertheless, Derber was no stranger to the Chinese. Already in February, his Extraordinary Siberian Regional Congress in Tomsk had reached out directly to the Beijing Foreign Ministry to request recognition as a provisional Russian government. Out of all the other anti-bolshevik groups, Derber’s were the only ones to make first-hand contact with Beijing.
For his part, Horvath dispatched a lengthy missive via Ambassador Kudashev:
Telegram from General Horvath to the Russian Ambassador in Beijing (23 July 1918, sent 10 July)
According to the opinion expressed by several foreigners, it seems that the Allied forces, upon occupying the areas they have entered, have resolved to establish an administrative organ. Were such an organ to belong to foreigners, it would be the same as those established by the Germans. It would give absolutely no recognition to the Russian Provisional Government and the various classes would not welcome such an arrangement. The Allies will, because of this, forfeit all goodwill – this much is evident and goes without saying. No people will quietly endure a foreign power. Because of the realities of their occupation, the Allies may create an unstable situation in these territories. And as for the intention to reorganise Russian forces and restore the Russian front, it will make it harder to achieve these aims. In Russian territory there is only one foreign battlefront; this is the sole interest of the Allies, since there is a pressing need to concentrate all military forces on the Eastern Front. If the Allies are indeed adhering to the wishes of all, their presence in Russia would be to support and maintain a Russian administration that is working towards resuming the war effort, in order to once again resist our common enemy, carry the war to final victory, and restore the domestic order necessary and appropriate for this purpose. Entirely new situations will constantly emerge out of this.
Speaking of such an authority, for it to establish a ruling body which could abide by the wishes of all people from the beginning would be extremely difficult. The lower classes have already been steeped in bolshevism and anarchism. Only a leader who panders to the natural tendencies of the lowest class of people and expresses magnanimity can win the approval of such types. But such a leader would be ineffectual, unable to restore the proper order, and ordinary people who hold to the principles of citizenship will naturally not tolerate it. The ineptitude of a political authority formed out of an assembly, such as was evident with the former Provisional Government, is already clear to all. With the diametrically opposing views of all the parties, it will be hard to unite them. Thus fruitless disputes and chaotic and ambivalent policies, intended to benefit the citizenry, instead waste time and fail. Such is the outcome of a government by assembly, which has brought the country to its current fractured state.
In all times of trouble, such as today, Russia has had to vest sole and firm authority in one person, since by his experience he may guide the common will as expressed by a governing party that reflects the people’s wishes. Thus he may turn things around and obtain a positive outcome. Going by the histories and past events, there are indeed many precedents for this. Hence my guiding principle is to establish a government made up of varying elements, without party divisions, all working together diligently to develop its strategy. As it advances and achieves a scale suitable for state-building, it will convene a national assembly, hand over power and cease its activities. As for the dangers of such a change, since the Cabinet draws upon diverse elements, there need not be any misgivings. The Allies may send representatives to observe the strength of this authority and communicate all opinions on everyday questions among the various governments. Thus, I ask Your Excellencies to convey the above to the governments of the countries where you are stationed, and to request again that they support the government I have established. This government truly wishes to act in concert with the Allies and has received statements of recognition from many areas. Since I am unable to communicate with Washington, London, Paris and Rome directly, I request that this be conveyed to our country’s representatives there.Letter from Ambassador Kudashev, 27 July 1918 (sent 26 July). Ibid., pp. 459-460.
Horvath had already issued a declaration on 9 July on the formation of a new provisional government, which also set out some immediate policies. By contrast, this later statement laid out more general governing principles and wasted no time in taking a swipe at the Allies, who were more inclined to aid the Czechoslovaks than throw their weight behind yet another Russian regime of dubious longevity.
China’s approach to the two declarations was deeply informed by the Allied attitude, especially those of the Americans and the Czechoslovaks. In mid-July, two missions were sent to sound out the Horvath regime. They concluded that he had the support of neither the Americans nor the Legion, partly because of his authoritarian views; the more democratic Derber group, on the other hand, did. But without any control over actual “military forces” – and with Allied intervention gaining momentum – the Derber group soon proved a dead letter, their message not warrenting even a brief consultation with Ambassador Kudashev. Beijing’s focus now turned to its role in the interventionary effort and the resumption of the civil war on a new scale.