Let us introduce you a short historical essay. It is about dim time in history of the Russian Far East - the civil war and intervention. We hope it will get you acquainted with the situation that we are going to cover in further issues of our magazine.
PREPARATIONS AND BEGINNING OF INTERVENTION IN THE FAR EAST (OCTOBER 1917 - OCTOBER 1918)
This happened 77 years ago, in August 1918. The troops of our former allies in World War I - USA, Great Britain, France, Japan, China and others - landed at Golden Horn Bay, Vladivostok port. The official purpose of the descent was help in establishing democratic rule, which the Soviets were unable to provide. The secondary goal was support of the Czechs, former prisoners of war, who became allies and were sent back home or to German front.
Admiral A.V. Kolchak, who arrived to Vladivostok a month later the descent, remarked: "Vladivostok did not look good as it used to during the Empire. We were masters over here those years. That was our port, our city. Now everybody takes charge of it. All best houses, best barracks has been given to Czechs, Americans, Japanese, and other "allies". Our standing is miserable and humiliating. I felt like Vladivostok was no longer a Russian city. Indeed, this intervention was going to finish with occupation and seizure of the city and the entire Far East."
The intervention was a response of allies to the changes in Russia - the revolution and political fight. They wanted to help those who was going to restore democratic - capitalist government. Anyhow, they were not interested in Strong Russia.
Our own historians covered the intervention topic in details, but the ideological bias did not allow to consider some facts objectively. According to political situation, the organizers of intervention were Japanese, British, or Americans. Historians tended to view Russia as some kind of messiah, that was destined to play the leading role in world history, lead the proletarian revolutions and bury "rotting" capitalism.
Anyway, we do not want to justify the allies. No one country has the right to interfere in inner military conflict happening in one given country. Although, we can understand the motivation of the Entente. The controversial politics of Soviet government, based on controversial notions caused distrust to the Soviets. The "communist ideals" of Soviets were in opposition to ideas of struggle for liberalism and democracy, tendency to keep "Bolshevik disease" away from their countries.
After the communist take over in Petrograd (St. Petersburg) the diplomats in the Far East received orders to avoid contacts with Soviets and keep in touch with "old" local authorities and city's council.
Japanese government was particularly aggressive. They worked out a plan of descent to northern Manchuria and Primorye in November 1917. (several days after the revolution!) 3 divisions were ready for action in the very beginning of December. Foreign diplomatic missions helped with the propaganda, spreading the ideas of German invasion, and possibility of prisoners of war uprising.
The international conference in Paris considered the possibility of invasion to Siberia in November 1917. Although, they were not ready for action yet because of inner controversial issues. For example, the US were afraid of Japanese domination in South-East Asia as a result of intervention. On the other hand, Japan could not ignore America's opinion. Japanese newspapers announced about the descent in Vladivostok in December 1917 (which was false). It immediately caused negative response from Washington, D. C. Secretary of State had a talk with Japanese ambassador K. Isii, where he declared official disapproval "as it could strengthen Bolsheviks as leaders of struggle against foreign intervention."
The allies decided to act without rush, first of all they sent their ships to Vladivostok. Japanese battleship "Ivami" (former Russian cruiser "Oryol") arrived to the port on December 30, 1917. British cruiser "Suffolk" and American "Brooklyn" came over there a month later. Japanese consul explained that they had arrived to protect Japanese citizens. All protests of the local authorities were ignored. The foreign cruisers also served like moral support to all kinds of anti-Soviet forces.
The next step on intervention was economical pressure: Chinese government banned all export from Manchuria to Russia. Vladivostok residents started to suffer from lack of food supplies. They blamed the Soviets for this.
The debates regarding intervention intensified in February, when the Germans took the offensive in the west of Russia. Japan insisted on carrying on the intervention in the Far East alone, which was not acceptable for the US. France proposed to start joint intervention, but the US were not ready for it, because their forces were busy in Europe, too.
However, the Japanese government was preparing for hostilities quite intensively. Minister Teratuti announced at the Parliament opening session: "Japan takes the responsibility for keeping peace in this part of the world, therefore, in case of any threat to it... the government will immediately make necessary arrangements." Cabinet of Ministers publicized its intention to limit the power of Russian army in the Far East, liquidate the Vladivostok fortress, declare Vladivostok a free port, with favored conditions for Japanese merchants, and access to Amur.
In this connection the US government stated on January 26, that in case the intervention is considered reasonable it must be carried on by "joint forces."
Former Japanese ambassador in Russia - Mr. Utide - explained, upon his return back home, that German threat to Far East was a myth. Anyhow, the preparations continued. The Japanese government proposed a draft of agreement concerning joint occupation of Siberia and Trans-Siberian Railway. They hoped to get help from Cossack chieftains who fought against new Bolshevik power.
They also tried to use General D.L.Khorvat (head of Chinese-Eastern Railway KVJD in Russian ). As a compensation for financial aid and supplies they tried to make him fulfill the decisions of Japanese Cabinet of Ministers.
There were several people and groups of people who considered themselves governors of Siberia while the official authorities were absent. Members of one of such bodies - "temporary government of independent Siberia" arrived to Harbin from Tomsk. They intended to take the power after the military coup. The Japanese did not take them into consideration.
A general rehearsal of intervention was made up in the beginning of April 1918 in Vladivostok. Joint British and Japanese descent landed at the port as if for protection of foreign citizens. As there was no decent reason for interference in Russia's internal affairs, the Japanese provoked assassination of two citizens. All consulate staff backed up this action, having claimed official protest to the city council. The representatives of the last one came the protest against the descent, but the consul talked to them as to private persons.
Soviet government and general public protested against unjustified intervention. Lenin ordered to start setting up defense of Primorye and evacuate military freight from Vladivostok. These made the allies think about stopping the "rehearsal". Though, the main reason of their withdrawal was absence of consent among the them. New Japanese Minister of Eternal Affairs Utido considered large-scale intervention premature. The commander of 5th Japanese squadron Kato got ordered "to view the descent at a temporary measure of local significance, which should be ended if further provocation do not occur." The troops were taken back to the ships by the end of April.
Finally (May 1918) , the Japanese General Staff decided to carry on joint intervention under general command of Japan (yeah right). Japan and China signed secret military agreements against Russia. Former Russian ambassador in China Mr. Kylashev acknowledged that "defeat of chieftain Semenov, in connection to military alliance of China and Japan, make us think that Japanese attack in the Far East is inevitable.
The whole thing was like a big game. Americans wanted to win Semenov over to their side: that could terminate "the Japanese problem" in the Far East. President Wilson charged Mr. Lancing to "observe Semenov's activities and find out a lawful way to help him." This order was given on August 20, 1918; but Americans did not manage to find a common language with a Cossack chieftain.
The Entente intended to use the Czech corps for anti-Bolshevik coup in Siberia and the Far East. Actually, that has happened in May-June 1918, as a result of the Far East got practically separated from the rest of Russia.
This time was also noticeable with activation of the white (pro-czar) forces in the Far East. Admiral Kolchak was the man who led it. Several little detachments were formed in the area of Grodekovo station (border line with China) under command of some Orlyov and Kalmykov. There was almost like a real Grodekovo front. However, the whites got defeated, and had to withdraw to Manchurian territory.
Ignoring Kolchak, Semenov came to agreement with General Khorvat. Kolchak was sent "on a business trip" to Japan for his unwillingness to accept pro-Japanese point of view.
So, the allies came to agreement about the overthrow of the Soviets by June. Czechs arrested the members of Vladivostok city council. That insolent step was accompanied by new Japanese, American, British, and French descent as if for the protection of consulates. "Temporary government of independent Siberia" were allowed to "rule", old local governing bodies got re-established. The commander of "Brooklyn" cruiser was charged to "demonstrate the Czechs our support from Washington, D. C." ...like a good action movie.
The allied command declared Vladivostok a "city under international supervision". Czech corps together with Kalmykov detachment started advancement to Nikolsk-Ussuriysk (near-by city). Soviet troops had to withdraw to Usury station, where they decided to take the offensive.
The anti-Soviet overthrow in Vladivostok accelerated the Entente's decision about joint intervention. The White house decided to take part in the intervention. President, secretary of State, and several other powerful secretaries came to such decent conclusion at July 6 meeting. They intended to send 7 thousand troops over, and wanted Japan to do the same. Japanese ambassador in D. C., got suggested to get his superiors acquainted with that plan.
However, Japan was not going to limit its forces. They did not respond to American proposal promptly, but sent 13500 men to Vladivostok on July 10. The US could not allow sending many more that that: by the end of the year they had 10 thousand soldiers in Vladivostok, while Japanese forces consisted of 73,000 soldiers.
Official declarations of allies were publicized at the last decade of August. They declared several purposes of the intervention: help to Czechs on their way back home, help to Russians, struggle against German threat of interference in Russia's internal affairs. Apparently, the real goal - assistance
in anti-Soviet overthrow - was supposed to remain in the shadow.
Soviet troops initiated advancement against the Czechs in the end of August. It was going to be successful, but foreign descent saved their lives. Soviets had back up facing numerical superiority of the enemy. Thus, the intervention was lasting till October 1922.
By some reasons the allies decided to let Kolchak back to Russia. He declared himself the Supreme Governor of Russia. Neither Japan, nor the US sent their troops to Siberia. They limited themselves with the Far East, where their biggest concern was not letting the opponent to consolidate its hold.
Actually, those controversial attitudes among the allies contributed to the delay of further advancement. US' actions looked even more anti-Japanese that anti-Soviet. That was really helpful in stopping Japanese aggression in the Russian Far East.
Professor of History B. I. Mukhachev.