The Consul at Harbin (Jenkins) to the Acting Secretary of State

No. 378

Sir: With reference to the Department’s telegram of December 31, 3 p.m.,83 instructing me to submit a report covering recent events [Page 555]in Eastern Siberia, especially in relation to the governments of Chita, Blagovestchensk, Verchne-Udinsk and Vladivostok, I have the honor to submit the following:

With the collapse of the Koichak government early in January, 1920, Ataman Semenoff, who had been pursuing a more or less independent course at Chita, declared himself the successor of Admiral Koichak and undertook to form a government. Simultaneously, provisional governments were formed at Vladivostok and Blagovestchensk. The Verchne-Udinsk government was not organized until a few months later, probably in April. It was really an offshoot from the Bolshevik “center” at Irkutsk.

The Semenoff, or Chita, government was controlled by army officers and reactionary leaders. The Vladivostok government was formed from the provisional zemstvo board and though extremely radical was not Bolshevik. The Blagovestchensk government was practically Bolshevik, although composed of socialist revolutionaries and members of other parties in addition to communists. A more or less independent municipal administration existed at Ha-barovsk for some time but this was nominally under the Vladivostok government.

By the end of 1920, the Semenoff government had ceased to exist and the Verchne-Udinsk organization had been moved from that city to Chita. The Vladivostok and Blagovestchensk governments were still functioning but had been subordinated in a great measure to the former Verchne-Udinsk government which, under the protection of Moscow, had assumed control of all Far Eastern Siberia and styled itself the Far Eastern Republic.

The Chita Government (Semenoff’s)

The presence of some ten thousand Japanese troops in the Trans-Baikal enabled Ataman Semenoff to maintain himself at Chita after the collapse of the Koichak government. His position was also strengthened by the arrival early in February of the so-called Kappel Army, about fifteen thousand effective troops, who fought their way through Siberia to Chita and formed a combination with the Semenoff organization.

Although various ministers were appointed by Ataman Semenoff and an effort made to create a regular government, the Ataman remained under the control of incapable reactionary politicians, with the result he failed to win the confidence of the people in the Trans-Baikal district and never succeeded in securing recognition of any sort from outside. The Japanese government undoubtedly gave him its support for a time, but this was gradually withdrawn and ceased entirely with the evacuation of the Japanese forces from the Trans-Baikal towards the end of August.

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In the meantime, Ataman Semenoff had opened negotiations with the Vladivostok authorities with a view to forming a united government. …

As was anticipated, Semenoff failed to reach any understanding with Vladivostok and with the withdrawal of the Japanese forces in August the Verchne-Udinsk government, through so-called independent partisan troops, began a vigorous offensive. The Semenoff forces were gradually driven towards the Manchurian frontier. Chita was abandoned and other towns along the railway line in quick succession. By the end of November the Semenoff forces had been driven out of the Trans-Baikal onto Chinese territory and the Semenoff government had ceased to exist. The remnant of the army, about ten thousand men, was transported by the railway across Manchuria into the territory around Vladivostok and the so-called Verchne-Udinsk government found itself in complete control of the Trans-Baikal.

The Vladivostok Government

As soon as it became definitely known that the Kolchak government had gone to pieces in Central Siberia, the troops under the command of General Rosanoff, the military governor of Vladivostok, began to desert and in a few days the general found himself without support. His officers left him and the city fell into the hands of a temporary government formed by members of the provisional zemstvo board. There was little or no fighting.

Although extremely radical this government was not a Bolshevik one. Medvyedieff, its president, evidently desired to win the sympathy and support of the allied powers, including Japan. With this object in view he exerted all his influence to prevent the Bolsheviks securing control. It soon became evident, however, that the Medvyedieff government was lamentably weak. The reactionary parties were opposed to it on the one hand and the Bolsheviks, who were undoubtedly very numerous in Vladivostok, continually pressed for the introduction of Bolshevik measures such as the confiscation of land, the monopoly of trade, etc.

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

In June a meeting of the popular assembly took place. Among other things the assembly voted to enter into negotiations with other governments in Eastern Siberia with a view to uniting under one single organization. The Vladivostok government occupied more or less middle ground in a political sense and the negotiations moved slowly. On the one hand it had to deal with the reactionary Semenoff at Chita, and on the other with the radical governments at Blagovestchensk and Verchne-Udinsk.

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It was about this time that the Verehne-Udinsk government began to proclaim itself the predominant government in Eastern Siberia and to demand that the others submit themselves to it. This position was resisted by Vladivostok until Semenoff was eliminated and a union with the Verchne-Udinsk government (which had in the meantime been transferred to Chita) was effected. The plans for this unification had not been entirely worked out by the end of 1920, but had become more or less effective, although the Vladivostok government was still showing some disposition occasionally to resist carrying out all of the orders issued from Chita. In the meantime, however, the Vladivostok government had fallen more and more under the control of the communists.

The entrance of the remnants of the Semenoff army into Vladivostok territory by way of the Chinese Eastern Railway was an unexpected complication toward the end of the year. The position of the government continues obscure and uncertain. The presence of the Japanese troops prevents any overt act, but it would appear that the condition cannot long remain unchanged; either the communists will come into complete and open control (provided the Japanese permit it) or there will be a coup d’état by the Semenoff troops who are now scattered along the railway from Grodekovo to Nikolsk.

The Blagovestchensk Government

Although Japanese troops were stationed along the Amur railway at an early period in the Koichak administration they maintained themselves with the greatest difficulty, being subjected to almost constant attacks by partisan bands. When the Koichak government collapsed the withdrawal of the Japanese troops along this line began immediately, Habarovsk being selected as a point of concentration.

This left the Bolsheviks free to carry out their ideas in the Pri-Amur territory. It was then that the Blagovestchensk government sprang into being. This government was headed by a communist called Trelisser and associated with him were Vlasoff, a social-democrat, and another communist by the name of Tzelik.

Not hampered to any extent by Japanese interference and being in close touch and sympathy with the Bolshevik authorities in Western Siberia, the Blagovestchensk government immediately introduced the soviet system, though in a somewhat limited form. From the first its leaders seem to have been cognizant of the desire on the part of the Moscow government to organize a buffer state in Eastern Siberia which would not be entirely soviet in form, the idea being that through this buffer state Russia would be able to come into touch with the outside world.

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The Blagovestchensk government has never showed any ambition to be an independent state and as soon as it could come into direct contact with the Verchne-Udinsk leaders it submitted itself to that government. It has now ceased to be a separate organization but is merely a local administration controlled from Chita. Trelisser remains at its head as an emissary of the Chita (formerly Verchne-Udinsk) government.

The term emissary seems to indicate the development of a new type of official in the Bolshevik organization. Formerly everything was done through commissioners or commissars, but now, at least so far as eastern Siberia is concerned, commissars seem to be rather inferior persons who are detailed to work with the troops and laboring classes as communist exhorters or agitators, while the duties of governing are assigned to emissaries, or emissars as they are known in Russia.

The Verchne-Udinsk (now Chita) Government

It will be recalled that when Admiral Kolchak reached Irkutsk, where he met his death, that city had already fallen into the hands of a revolutionary government supposed to be controlled by the socialist revolutionary party. It was not long, however, before the socialist revolutionaries disappeared from the scene and the Bolsheviks appeared as the real masters of the situation. A so-called “political center” was organized at Irkutsk and Jansen, who had formerly been in control there in the early days of the Bolshevik government, returned and resumed control.

With the arrival of the Kappel army in Chita the territory between Irkutsk and that city was occupied by the Bolsheviks and the outer world began to hear for the first time of the Verchne-Udinsk government. This organization was headed by Krasnoschekoff. It will be recalled that Krasnoschekoff was the president of the so-called Far Eastern Soviet at Habarovsk in the summer of 1918. The idea of a buffer state seems to have originated with him, for he brought forward this plan even as far back as 1918.

Krasnoschekoff was reported to have been captured and executed by the Czechs but like most reports of this sort it proved to be untrue. He evidently succeeded in escaping from Habarovsk and managed to work his way into Central Siberia where he reappeared as soon as the Kolchak government fell.

In spite of the fact that the Verchne-Udinsk government controlled practically no territory and was the latest arrival in the field it began almost immediately to assume an attitude of superiority over the other Far Eastern governments. Through the influence of [Page 559]Krasnoschekoff a vigorous propaganda was begun in favor of a “buffer state” in Eastern Siberia with the Verchne-Udinsk government as its center. The telegraph line from Verchne-Udinsk to Peking was utilized in the furtherance of this project.

The outside world was informed that the Verchne-Udinsk government was a democratic one, that it was independent of Moscow, that it was humane in its treatment of former Russian officers and reactionaries, and that it would respect the rights of foreigners and their properties.

At the same time a vigorous military offensive was opened against Semenoff in Chita. The Verchne-Udinsk authorities insisted that no regular Bolshevik troops were engaged in the Trans-Baikal but this was proved to be untrue, reports being received from reliable sources to the effect that a considerable number of regular Bolshevik soldiers were actually brought into the Trans-Baikal region and engaged in military operations against Semenoff.

In June, when it had been decided that the Japanese army was to be withdrawn from the Trans-Baikal, the Japanese authorities entered into negotiations with Verchne-Udinsk with a view to an armistice which would include the Semenoff troops and establish certain neutral zones. An agreement is understood to have been signed and the Japanese evacuation began.

It was at the same time that negotiations between the Verchne-Udinsk government [and the government] at Vladivostok started, negotiations which revealed decided differences between the Verchne-Udinsk policy and that of the Vladivostok government. Under pressure from the Japanese the Vladivostok government was inclined to be decidedly the more conservative and took the position that Ataman Semenoff could be disposed of without a resort to arms, pointing out that the Kappel troops were in no sense in sympathy with Semenoff and could probably be incorporated in the army of the new buffer state.

On the other hand, the Verchne-Udinsk representatives absolutely refused to compromise in any way with Semenoff and continued operations through so-called partisan bands, although the government insisted that its regular army had no part in the fighting. Chita was taken in October and the Verchne-Udinsk government was immediately transferred to that city. Fighting continued, however, until Semenoff was forced into Chinese territory.

Shortly after the fall of Chita representatives from Vladivostok and Blagovestchensk arrived in that city and a program for the government of the buffer state, which was to be known as the Far Eastern Republic, was mapped out and in a measure adopted. Krasnoschekoff became the president of the council of ministers and minister [Page 560]for foreign affairs, and another communist, Kozhevnikoff, was made minister of communications. Rumiantzeff, a peasant, also became a member of the government.

The representatives from Vladivostok, who were of the moderate socialist parties (Kabtzan, Binasik and Trupp) declined to enter into the buffer state government on the ground that their proposal to create a representative parliament to function until a constituent assembly could be called had been overruled. However this did not prevent the Chita government from undertaking to carry out its program and it was decided that an election for a constituent assembly should take place on January 25. In the meantime there was to be no temporary popular assembly.

As pointed out elsewhere in this dispatch, the Vladivostok and Blagovestchensk governments have become mere organs for local administration and are more or less subject to the present Chita government. In Vladivostok the popular assembly has been retained but it has not convened since the first of December. The head of the provincial administration is Antonov, a communist. In other words, the Vladivostok government has become so modified and its complexion changed to such an extent that it is now to all intents and purposes under the control of the Chita administration. In Blagovestchensk the local administration, as already explained, is headed by the local emissary Trelisser, a communist.

Not only in the Chita government but in the local administrations at Vladivostok and Blagovestchensk as well, the actual control is in the hands of the communist or Bolshevik party. There are, however, in all of these governments representatives from some of the other political parties. In the recent elections in Blagovestchensk the communists barely secured a majority. In Vladivostok, however, they were more successful. The results of the election on January 25 for the constituent assembly are being awaited with some interest. It is believed, however, that the communists will see to it that a majority of their party is returned, and that there will be Little or no change in the present policy of the government.

Although the government of the Far Eastern Republic is seeking to create the impression that it is independent of Moscow it is undoubtedly but an offshoot of the central Bolshevik administration. It is understood that officially there are no Soviets in the territory of the Far Eastern Republic. On the other hand, from what can be gathered, the administration is carried on in a manner which amounts to the same thing.

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As yet there has been no wholesale confiscation of private property, but recent steps rather indicate that something approaching confiscation may be expected. The government appears to be determined to monopolize foreign trade. But little has been heard of acts of terrorism in recent months and it may be that a more liberal policy is being adhered to in this respect. It should be borne in mind, however, that there has been little or no communication and reports coming to Harbin from the Trans-Baikal and other provinces in Eastern Siberia are not entirely to be relied upon.

I have [etc.]

Douglas Jenkins
  1. Not printed.