Sunday, 20 November 2011

Britain, Russia and Brest Litovsk

An interesting little conundrum here. On August 30, 1918, Fanya Kaplan attempted to assassinate Lenin.

To put this is context, this was some six weeks after the murder of the Tsar and his family in the Ipatiev house, and nearly six months after the signing of the Treaty of Brest Litovsk, which settled the Eastern front in world war I.

What is less clear is the British role in all of this.

Immediately after the (post revolution/pre-treaty) ceasefire in the east British secret agents continued to organise partisan groups that sneaked across the ceasefire line in the Ukraine to harry the German and Austro Hungarian forces there, with the aim of continuing to tie down a substantial part of the German army which might be otherwise deployed to the Western front. It wasn't all one way - various Habsburg proteges such as Basil the Embroidered were involved in attempts to create new states in the west of Ukraine.

The British are also claimed to have tried to persuade the government of Russia to allow the transit of Japanese troops prior to Brest Litovsk to fight on the eastern front, and when initially it appeared that Trotsky was against a treaty with the Germans, to persuade the Russians to maintain at least a token force. They even sent a general, General Poole, to take command of the Czechoslovak legion with the aim of reinforcing the token Russian force in the east.

In short the British were afraid that a settlement in the east would allow Germany to move its forces west, and maybe finally achieve breakthrough on the western front. Which is exactly what Ludendorff  tried to do during the spring offensive in 1918.

All this came to naught. Lenin, fearing that continued involvement in a war with Germany, however token, would inevitably divert resources away from any internal conflict, and would mean that the Bolshevik government would have to compromise with other factions and have to form a more moderate coalition of the left leaning parties, forced through a pro-treaty motion in the Central committee, effectively overruling Trotsky and mandating him to make an agreement, however distasteful.

Enter Bruce Lockhart – alleged diplomat but clearly a British ‘black operations’ officer to advance the British position, and responsible for organising several plots, including one to rescue the Tsar.
Bruce Lockhart (his surname, not his full name) was arrested immediately after Fanya Kaplan’s failed assassination attempt. It’s clear that Bruce Lockhart and another British intelligence officer, Sidney Reilly had a more than passing involvement in the plot.

The question is – was the assassination attempt in revenge for the murder of the Tsar and his family, or more an attempt to remove Lenin in the hope that the ultra left Bolshevik faction would implode and a more moderate government emerge which would repudiate Brest Litovsk and again open hostilities in the east?

And was Britain’s earlier apparent lack of interest in a serious attempt to free the Tsar and the Imperial family because they expected other things to happen which would allow the Tsar to leave for exile, much as later happened for the Kaiser and Karl of Austria?

[by happenstance, when checking one of the background facts while correcting this post I happened across this article from the BBC, which gives an alternative but not dissimilar view]

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