The Acting Secretary of State to the Secretary of War (Baker)

My Dear Mr. Secretary: I beg to refer to your letter of January 23 in which you indicate that you consider the movement of American [Page 499] troops in Siberia toward Vladivostok a military necessity and that this movement is now being accomplished. I desire, in this connection, to draw your attention to a paraphrase of a telegram dated January 26, from Mr. C. H. Smith, the American representative on the Inter-Allied Railway Committee at Vladivostok, which reveals a very serious state of affairs in Eastern Siberia, as, indeed, do other telegrams to be referred to later. Mr. Smith believes, and on apparent good ground, that the steadying influence of American troops is essential to the safe evacuation of the Czecho-Slovak troops. The telegram is quoted below:

“Vladivostok—January 26. No. 25.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

“General Graves and some troops should remain here in Vladivostok until all the Czechs arrive on the Chinese Eastern Railway. Until all the Czecho-Slovaks have arrived at the embarkation point the Russian Railway Service Corps inspector should remain. It is not easy to estimate the arrival of the Czechs, but I am of the opinion that if the troops wait until April first and the American inspectors until May first the Czechs will have arrived. Everything possible will be done by the Committee, …

“There is little fighting going on between the Soviet forces and the rear guard of the Czechs, who are refraining, upon the request of the Bolsheviki, from destroying the railroad. The Czechs have asked permission to have Bolshevik soldiers accompany them east of Baikal. …

I would also call your attention to a telegram from the same source also indicating that a period of difficulty will ensue when the Czech troops enter the Trans-Baikal region en route to Vladivostok. Mr. Smith, who is an able and sober observer, anticipates difficulty between the forces of Ataman Semenoff and the Czechs, particularly as the control exercised by Semenoff over his men is apparently weakening. The text of this telegram is given below:

“Vladivostok, January 24. No. 24.

“Girsa40 is in receipt of the following information: Power was handed over peaceably by the Social Revolutionists to the Bolsheviki on the 21st, and it is apparent that the Zemstvos, Municipalities, Social Revolutionists and Bolsheviki are in harmonious relations. Those war-weary Russians say that only in this way can the old guards be eliminated. Kolchak is now being held by the Bolsheviki, as well as his ministers, and a demand has been made upon the Czechs for the surrender of the gold reserve, as well as any Russians or Allies who are under their protection. The Czechs, in all probability, will turn over the gold but will refuse to give up the Allies, which will be much to the satisfaction of the Bolsheviki, who say [Page 500] they do not desire to detain the Czechs. The Czechs are of the opinion that all further trouble will be with Semenoff’s men, over whom he has no control, as they believe the Bolsheviki will give them no further difficulty.

“Six trains start westward [eastward?] from Irkutsk each day, but from Mysovaya only two, because the locomotives are controlled by Semenoff’s bands. Committee has asked the Technical Board to remedy this and the Japanese military on this sector have been asked to cooperate with the Technical Board in carrying out orders. This will be sufficient.

“Local Zemstvos and Bolshevik leaders have informed me today that as soon as they have assurance that there will be no interference … they are ready to assume power without bloodshed, if possible. Before the Americans leave this may probably happen.

. . . . . . . . . . . . . .

The already completed withdrawal of American forces from the Suchan Mines, and the consequent failure of this important coal supply, may, as indicated, retard the later movement eastward of the Czecho-Slovak and other friendly troops.

The third telegram—from the American Consul-General, formerly at Omsk, [now] en route to Vladivostok—gives further evidence of the extreme delicacy of the situation in the interior of Siberia … The text of this telegram is given below:

“Chita via Harbin. January 23, 11 a.m.

“The situation in which the Czechs find themselves at present is of their own making, as in every town from Krasnoyarsk to Irkutsk they have encouraged the Social Revolutionists to revolt and the same methods are being pursued as far as Verchne-Udinsk on the Trans-Baikal. The Czech soldiers, and to some extent their leaders, are protesting against this situation because of their enmity for the Government of Admiral Kolchak and of their determination to (omission) Kolchak as much as possible before withdrawing from Siberia. The movement which they have fostered and encouraged has now spread to such an extent that it is beyond their power and control. Social Revolutionists west of Lake Baikal are being rapidly converted to the Bolsheviki, thus turning over the power once more into the hands of those who were in control in the spring of 1918. It is only logical that these Bolsheviki who did not spring up all over the country, have only one idea, and that is to destroy the element if it is possible. The evacuation of all (omission) is in charge of General Janin,41 who is now at Verchne-Udinsk. In all probability the American Red Cross will leave Verchne-Udinsk during the coming week. …

It is believed that in the extremely complicated and threatening situation outlined in the three telegrams quoted, the presence of American troops may prove the only stabilizing factor. Their premature [Page 501] withdrawal to Vladivostok might even jeopardize the successful repatriation of the Czecho-Slovak troops to which the Government of the United States stands solemnly pledged.

I am [etc.]

Frank L. Polk
  1. Václav Girsa, political representative of the Czechoslovak Army in Siberia.
  2. Gen. Maurice Janin, of the French Army; Commander in Chief of the Allied forces west of Lake Baikal.