In previous posts, we saw how White misgovernment antagonised both Russian and Chinese populations in Transbaikalia and the Amur region; in the latter case, it resulted in a burgeoning partisan movement that had to be suppressed by the Japanese army. The Maritime Province was no exception. A combination of forced mobilisation – announced by the Omsk government in mid-February 1919 – and the excesses of anti-Bolshevik warlords led to a wave of popular resistance in the spring. By April, partisan activity had grown particularly marked in the Suchan region (later aptly renamed Partizansk), with its strategically important coal mines. A key target was the railway linking Suchan to Vladivostok, which passed through the town of Shkotovo.
One particularly daring attack took place on 11 April, when Shkotovo came under fire from partisans seeking to free Bolshevik prisoners held by the town’s White garrison. The Allied high command promptly dispatched a 1,000-strong multinational force to quell the insurgency and protect the railway. Upon its arrival, however, it found that the partisans had melted away into the countryside. General William Graves, commander of the American forces in Siberia, went so far as to consider the Shkotovo affair a Japanese plot to force him to abandon the principle of non-interference and act against the Bolsheviks. The futility of the April expedition, coupled with the sheer incredulity at facing outright rebellion just 30 miles from the Allied headquarters in Vladivostok, prompted a reassessment of Kolchak’s regime.
Recently, because the officials appointed by the Omsk government have misgoverned wilfully and recklessly, with extortion and coercion, the people’s anger has reached boiling point. The Reds have taken this opportunity to agitate among the people, saying that the government is corrupt; [?] this has affected the areas near the Trans-Siberian Railway, with villagers rising up repeatedly in revolt. In the Shkotovka River area 200 li [sic; Liu uses “Qimenghe”, the Chinese toponym for the area] from Vladivostok, there was a large number of disturbances, signs pointed to great turbulence. This was also a Red initiative and the Allies have gone there to suppress it. According to reports from various sources, the undercurrents of this matter run very deep and there is even a rumour that there will be an alliance with the railway union to launch a general strike as a show of resistance.
The diplomatic corps regarded these events as having a political nature, hence the various representatives gathered at the British consulate for an unofficial discussion and to exchange views, which would be presented to their governments for consideration. The following was agreed. Observing the current situation in Siberia, if it were to continue for long, it would be a great hindrance to transport. The people’s anger stems first from the restorationist party’s support for the Kolchak government. Second, from the attempt to implement forced mobilisation. Third, from the officials appointed by Kolchak and their violation of the people’s will. Fourth, from the interference in the zemstvo, the various associations and the labour movement. Fifth, from the prohibition against organising the Siberian bank. The duma government’s grievances lie in the Socialist Revolutionary Party’s anti-government propaganda. This situation has caused the ruble to lose its stability and thwarted the Allies’ plan to help Russia unite. It has given the Reds a golden opportunity to carry out agitation among peasant societies, earning the enmity of both governors and governed. Hence the following peaceful solutions were proposed. 1. To ask the Omsk government to take a broadly liberal approach to popular associations, so as to gain credibility with the lower sectors of society. 2. To render financial aid. 3. To swiftly and effectively develop industry and revive the people’s livelihoods. 4. To reform financial administration. 5. To require the Omsk government to assemble an organisation representative of the people’s will, so that the population will be able to convey their opinions. This was agreed, but the political views of the various governments towards Russia differ. One cannot predict if they will act in unison. For your consideration.Telegram from Liu Jingren, 23 April 1919 (sent 21 April). Zhong-E Guanxi Shiliao: E Zhengbian yu Yiban Jiaoshe (2), Minguo Liunian zhi Banian, p. 193.
As we have seen, Kolchak’s authority did not effectively extend into East Siberia and the Russian Far East. This hands-off approach allowed his appointed officials – such as S.N. Rozanov and P.P. Ivanov-Rinov – to terrorise the local population in the name of enforcing the draft or of rooting out Bolsheviks. Worse still, he had become tainted by his association with Japanese-sponsored White warlords such as Semenov and Kalmykov, who surpassed Kolchak’s men in brutality. Even more insidious was the Omsk regime’s prejudice against representative institutions, most of which were dominated by moderate Socialist Revolutionaries. When the Far Eastern Congress of Zemstvos and Municipal Dumas strayed into political discussions in January and February 1919, many of its participants were arrested and deported by Ivanov-Rinov. With Allied leaders such as President Wilson championing the spirit of democracy at the Paris Peace Conference, they could hardly approve of Omsk’s authoritarian tendencies and its unsavoury Far Eastern confederates.
This took the shine off Omsk’s military successes in March and April 1919, when its armies advanced rapidly into the Urals, captured Ufa and began marching on the Volga. One immediate impact was the failure of the draft in the Russian Far East: Less than half of the quota was eventually mobilised, and some historians have attributed Kolchak’s military defeat partly to the resulting lack of manpower as the campaign dragged on into the summer months. Equally serious was the western Allies’ continued ambivalence towards the Omsk government. As much as they may have lauded Kolchak’s successes on the battlefield, official recognition of his government – and hence more reliable access to Allied diplomatic and material aid – also depended on its political stance. Mirroring the five points enumerated by Liu, the Allies sent an official request to Kolchak on 26 May to clarify his politics and adhere to “democratic principles”. He would have to convene a Constituent Assembly after defeating the Bolsheviks, permit free and fair elections in areas under his control, and recognise the independence of Poland and Finland.
Liu’s concluding note of scepticism was nonetheless well-deserved, for the Allies were not completely united in their attitude towards Kolchak. The British were far more positive about his regime than the Americans were, while Japan’s hostility towards him had nothing to do with democratic principles. Furthermore, had Kolchak’s military victories outlasted the first heady months of spring 1919, the Allies might well have overlooked his illiberal politics and given Omsk the official recognition it craved. Less than two months after Liu’s telegram, however, the tide would turn against the armies of White Siberia, leaving Allied policy towards Kolchak as inconclusive as ever.