The Ambassador in Russia (Francis) to the Secretary of State
[Received August 19.]
Dear Mr. Secretary: The resignation of Foreign Minister Sazonoff and the appointment of Minister of Interior Stürmer as his successor was announced in the papers Sunday morning, July 23, and was a great surprise to all classes of people and to every section of the country. On Monday, July 10, upon which day I was expecting a conference with Mr. Sazonoff concerning a plan between the allies and belligerents whereby America could extend aid to Poland, etc., the Embassy was informed by telephone that the Minister had been called to the front to confer with the Emperor. Mr. Sazonoff returned to Petrograd the morning of Thursday, July 13. I saw him that afternoon in company with Mr. Samuel McRoberts of the National City Bank of New York who had asked to pay his respects, and to whom the Minister extended a cordial welcome because Mr. McRoberts had formed an American syndicate which had loaned $50,000,000 to the Russian Government. Mr. Sazonoff complained of being tired and said that on the following day, July 14, he would go to Finland for a rest of two or three weeks. He was in Finland when his resignation was announced and he is still there; his plan is to return to Petrograd on Monday, July 31.
Universal regret is expressed at the retirement of Mr. Sazonoff, which he and the Emperor and all members of the Government attribute to ill health. At the same time there are rumors to the effect that his parting with the Emperor on July 12 was not only friendly but affectionate, the Emperor, it is said, kissing him three times and expressing the highest appreciation of his public services. The day after the Minister’s departure the Empress joined the Emperor at his military headquarters, and two days thereafter the [Page 316]departure of Mr. Sazonoff from Petrograd for Finland he received a telegram asking for his immediate resignation. Whether this is true no one can say authoritatively. It is generally believed, however, that the Empress is very desirous for peace. She has long been suspected of German sympathies. One story is to the effect that when Minister Sazonoff was directed to submit to Russia’s allies proposals of peace suggested by Germany, he refused to do so, whereupon Mr. Stürmer, President of the Council of Ministers, said he would submit such proposals if the Foreign Minister declined to do so, and that thereupon Mr. Sazonoff tendered his resignation.
... It is now thought that if peace negotiations are opened and the terms of peace agreed upon, Stürmer will be made Chancellor of the Empire, an office which has not been filled since the days of Gortshakoff.
This would indicate that the court party of the Empire is preparing to counteract what they fear will be a liberal movement on the part of the people after the close of the war. It is not charged that Russia is planning to make a separate peace with Germany. One report is to the effect that von Lucius, present Minister from Germany at Stockholm, has recently made a secret visit to Russia and has suggested terms of peace which are attractive to Russia and not objectionable to France, as they provide for ceding to France Lorraine which has belonged to Germany since 1870. It is not known what concessions, if any, are proposed to England, but it is said that Germany is willing to recognize the integrity of Belgium and to indemnify her for damages inflicted. England is to be propitiated by retaining the German South African colonies which she has captured. Japan will be appeased by being permitted to retain the territory she has captured in the Far East.
In the meantime Russia is marshalling the largest army ever assembled. She has already called 16,100,000 men and in a call issued ten days ago increased this number by 2,500,000, making a total of 18,600,000 men. What an army! What a menace this would be to other countries if these men were armed and well organized! It may be that the supporters of an absolute monarchy in Russia are asking themselves what such an army well disciplined and conscious of its strength will do in Russia when there are no more foreign enemies to fight. These soldiers are as fine looking men as I ever saw carry a musket. I have seen thousands of them coming into Petrograd in obedience to a call, fresh from the fields,—boys who had never before seen a village of over 2,000 inhabitants, with sunken chests, slip-shod gait and careless carriage. After three or four weeks of drill, equipped with military clothing, including boots of which they are very proud, they march through the streets with swinging gait, head high in the [Page 317]air and chests out-thrown, singing, and their very countenances manifesting pride in their country and consciousness of their own power. After arrival in their barracks they have been given the most nourishing food, including meat which previously they had not had more than once a week,—soup and black bread had been the principal means of their subsistence.
The last call which comprised 2,500,000 men was to go into effect July 15/28, but yesterday the date when the call was to be effective was postponed from July 15 to August 15. This change of date may not have any significance but it was determined upon the day after Sazonoff’s resignation and Stürmer’s appointment.
Minister Sazonoff was and is a bitter enemy of Germany. . . . Sazonoff’s treaty with Japan was considered a very severe blow to Germany; that was his conviction and the main reason he gave me for its consummation. The Russo-Japanese Treaty has not been talked about very much in Russia, but in Japan it has aroused the greatest enthusiasm; banquets have been held and toasts have been drunk to the new alliance.
You have probably seen before reading this communication thus far that I am disposed to share in the belief that the resignation of Sazonoff was forced and that the promotion of Stürmer is a triumph for the party of reaction and for the champions of absolute monarchy in Russia, although such a victory may be due in part to the strengthening of pro-German sentiment in the Empire.
Before closing I desire again to remind you that all the rumors outlined in the reports narrated above are given for what they are worth and that their truth is not vouched for in any degree. The official announcement and the talk among diplomats is that Sazonoff was compelled to resign because he was broken down in health. I spent several hours this forenoon conferring with representative commercial men in Petrograd, three of whom are bank presidents, and all of whom would be greatly concerned if not alarmed if they were made known as the sources of the above expressions. None of these rumors or reports are from American sources; all are from Russians who are men of substance and of representative character, whose loyalty to their country is unquestionable, but who are grieved to see their country take a step which in this age of progress they consider to be a backward one.
Minister of Finance Bark who negotiated the $50,000,000 loan with the National City Bank syndicate is in France, after having passed a week or more in London. He left Petrograd about the middle of July and I don’t think knew anything about the change in the ministry when he went away. England has been financing Russia for some time past, but reports are to the effect that Minister Bark has arranged [Page 318]in France for sufficient credit to pay for the munitions of war furnished by that country to Russia. He has been considered completely tinder English influence and has not been held in the highest esteem as a financier. Mr. McRoberts, however, thought he was the ablest man he met in Petrograd, with the possible exception of Sazonoff.
I have [etc.]