HC Deb 27 March 1919 vol 114 cc750-60

Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER, pursuant to the Order of the House of the 12th February, proposed the Question, "That this House do now adjourn."

Lieutenant-Colonel W. GUINNESS

I wish to raise, in rather greater detail than was possible at Questions this afternoon, the urgency of recognising the Government of Admiral Kolchak in Siberia. When I asked the question this afternoon, the Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs said, in effect, that we could do nothing, because the Paris Conference was sitting, and we must leave the matter for them. That, perhaps, answered the parallel which I had drawn between the recognition of Esthonia, to which we consented a year ago, and the proposed recognition of Admiral Kolchak's Government. But there is another and more apposite case which I would put before the House and that is the recognition by France, a few weeks ago and during the sitting of the Conference, of the State of Finland. We have not recognised Finland, and for various reasons I am glad we have not. But the fact that France has recognised Finland shows there is no inherent objection to individual countries recognising Governments in Russia and other parts of Europe at the present time owing to the fact that the Peace Conference is sitting. If you are to recognise any Government the claim of Admiral Kolchak's Government is, I think, overwhelming. That Government is now acknowledged to be the paramount Government in Russia. It has been admitted as such by General Denikin, of the Kuhban Cossacks of the Crimea, and by Tchackovsky, head of the Archangel Government. Those Governments now have representing them in Paris, but with no official position there, a committee of the most eminent men, whose names were known in Russia during the period of Constitutional Government. Collaborating with Monsieur Sasonoff, the late Russian Foreign Secretary, there is Monsieur Tchackovsky himself, as evidence that the Archangel Government is entirely at one with the Government of Admiral Kolchak. Under these conditions it is very difficult to see why the Government has so long delayed recognition.

I believe in this House the feeling is overwhelming against the Bolsheviks. There are a few hon. Members who have asked supplementary questions in their interest on questions about Russia, but these supplementary questions are always directed against military action, and the hon. and gallant Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Colonel Wedgwood), the hon. Member for Ogmore (Mr. Hartshorn), and many Socialist Members, have joined in reprobation of the action of the Bolsheviks, and in urging the importance to this country of an orderly and durable form of Government being set up in Russia. The whole House is, I think, united in deploring the continued disorder in Russia, and we all wish to avoid the necessity of sending a British or Allied Army to that country. Obviously, it is more satisfactory if the present Bolshevik regime can be overthrown by a reaction of the Russians themselves against the poison than if it is overthrown from outside, because any Russian steps which can be taken against Bolshevism will prevent their friends in other countries saying that another form of Government was imposed on them by forces from without.

The Bolsheviks have not been slow to exploit the indecision of the Allies. They have been dropping leaflets on the forces of Admiral Kolchak's and General Denikin's Government in which they misrepresent the case. They misrepresent our unwillingness to recognise them, and make out that it is because we have sympathy with their Bolshevik methods. Shortly after the Armistice, pamphlets were dropped by the Bolsheviks on the forces of General Denikin, saying: Soon the English soldiers will come, but not to help you, but us. Have the Allies given you anything. Have you any English guns or any English tanks. After the Prinkipo proposal, which tried to impose disarmament on all forces alike in Russia, they became even more confident, and stated in a pamphlet: You see the Allies are anxious for a rapprochement with us, but as yet we do not know whether we will even talk to them. The Bolsheviks are spreading amongst the ignorant population the theory that we refuse to help or to recognise the more orderly Governments in Russia, because we are afraid of the strength of the Bolsheviks. The Prinkipo proposal has given the impression that Europe is going to insist upon disarmament, that it is no use going on fighting, and naturally many of the war weary Cossacks feel that they might as well go back to their villages. We know that the failure to recognise Admiral Kolchak's Government is not due to fear but due to the infirmity of purpose which is always the disadvantage of committee procedure, and that if it had been left to one man here instead of a Conference sitting in Paris, we could have evolved a Russian policy many months ago. In the absence of a decided opinion in Paris we urge upon the Government—and I believe we speak for a very large number of Members of this House—to recognise this feeling and to apply the necessary stimulus of our example in Paris.

The Bolsheviks have reached their present success entirely by the mistakes of the Allies. Their great difficulty was food. The territories of the Ukraine, the rich granaries of Kherson and Bessarabia, have been lost, and lost because our representatives, who were thinking of other things, neglected to reinforce Skuropadsky, or to take over from the German forces in the Ukraine the territories which they held up to the Armistice. A disastrous result of our lack of policy in Russia. Surely it is time to take steps to stiffen up the attitude of the Paris Conference! We have waited four months and we have seen the condition of affairs go from bad to worse, because of our vacillation; and we now ask that Great Britain should use its example and its influence in Paris to give moral support to the Governments who are striving to restore order and good government in Russia; because we know that the moral support of the civilised Powers of the West is only next in importance to an armed force at the present time to consolidate the position of the Kolchak Government and to make a lasting victory possible.

11.0 P.M.


I should like to say a few words in support of the position taken up by the hon. Member who has just spoken. There is no subject which presents to the minds of hon. Members so much difficulty as the question of Russia. First, there is the difficulty of ascertaining what is happening. One thing which is abundantly clear is that there is a position of absolute chaos. Secondly, anything like armed interference on a large scale at the moment is, for reasons into which I need not go, practically impossible. At the same time, as the French Foreign Minister said in a speech which is reported in this evening's papers, there is no use living in a fool's paradise with regard to the chaos in Russia. We contemplate hopefully the prospect at an early date of a real peace settlement as far as Germany is concerned. I, for one, think that any peace of a lasting character with. Germany is practically im- possible so long as the difficulties arising on the German Eastern Front are not adequately dealt with. Granting these propositions, we seem to be forced inevitably to the position which has been admirably put by the hon. Member. We have a reconstructive regenerative force at work in Russia. Admiral Kolchak is making a fine struggle for a reasonable theory, a reasonable policy in Russia. His hands would be immensely strengthened if recognition can be given to him by the Government of this country. Surely it cannot do any harm. It is a possible line, and in all the circumstances of the case, I ask the Government to give very serious consideration lo this proposal with a view to a favourable answer to the question asked by my hon. Friend.

Lieutenant-Colonel ARCHER-SHEE

I desire to say two or three words in support of what has been said by my hon. Friend on this subject. Admiral Kolchak's Government is in possession of enormous territory, extending for a distance of something like 4,000 miles. It is certainly the most important anti-Bolshevist Government in the Russian Empire. In the circumstances, I cannot see why the Government have not recognised his Government yet. It may be that we cannot yet intervene with armed forces. I for one do not believe that that is the case. I believe that we can get up a very large volunteer Army which could intervene now with great effect in conjunction with volunteer Armies from America and France, and even an Army of 150,000 men added to the anti-Bolshevist forces would turn the scale and alter entirely the situation in Russia. As long as this beastly barbarism, which is called by the name of Bolshevism, is rampant in Russia there is not any possibility of peace in Europe. Therefore, I cannot conceive why we cannot do something alt any rate to help the anti-Bolshevist forces by recognising Admiral Kolchak's Government. Only the other day I saw a photograph of the building in which some of the Russian Imperial family had been incarcerated at Ekaterinburg. The fact that these photographs had been taken by anti-Bolsheviks is proof of the tremendous extent of territory which is commanded by Admiral Kolchak's Government. I at the same time saw a photograph of the mine-shaft down which those grand dukes and their suites were thrown, bound hand and foot, still alive and then finished off by bombs cast upon them. This bestial work that is going on in Russia will spread unless taken in hand at once. The first step is to recognise these people, who are putting up a most gallant fight against the enemies of civilisation.


I am sure that the sympathy of the House goes with the hon. and gallant Member in the appeal which he has made to-night, but I venture, with great respect, to suggest that there is an even more important principle we should bear in mind than the principle of supporting the Government which appears at the moment most likely to reintroduce law and order in Russia. That principle surely is that our Government will be wise in refraining from recognition of any insurgent State or community which has not de facto power at the moment, because if our Government once begins to recognise according to sympathies which may move it, different bodies in such a distressed country as Russia, they are likely to be dragged into difficulties which they had not foreseen. This is not the first time in the world's history this difficult question of recognition has arisen, and it would be well for our Government to remember the example of Canning, who waited twenty years before he recognised the Republics of South America, which were as much deserving of our sympathy as is Russia at the present moment. I think some of the troubles of the Government at the present moment are due to the fact that the Esthonian Provisional Committee were accorded a recognition to which probably they were not entitled according to the principle on which our Government has always acted in this matter. As far as I know, the principle is that before any community can be recognised as a Sovereign Power it shall be the de facto Government in possession of the territory over which it purports to exercise sovereignty. When a de facto Government has been put in power, then will be the time to discuss the question of expediency which will arise, and whether or not recognition shall be given. I have intervened in this Debate lest we should add to the difficulties in which we find ourselves in regard to Russia. Desirable as it is that law and order shall be restored and that the Bolshevik Government should be resisted by every means in our power, yet that appears to be a question entirely distinct from this question of the recognition which the Government will offer to Admiral Kolchak at the pre- sent time. I hope our Government will be slow—however strong their sympathy may be—to accord recognition to Governments which are not Governments, lest we establish in Europe what has been called the right of insurrection—a right which I venture to think our Government has never yet recognised, and I hope always will be slow to recognise in any form whatever.

Lieutenant-Colonel Sir S. HOARE

I am not quite sure that I follow what was said by the last speaker, nor am I quite clear as to which Government he referred to when he spoke of an "insurgent Government." So far as I can see the only insurgent Government in Russia at the present time is the Bolshevist Government. As to the Government of Admiral Kolchak, there are few Governments who can claim as well to be a de facto Government as that one. I would remind my hon. Friend that Admiral Kolchak has under his control the whole of Siberia and a small part of European Russia, while the Government of General Denikin, that acknowledges allegiance to Admiral Kolchak, has also wide territories in the Caucasus and the South under its direct control. If ever there was a Government de facto in Eastern Europe, that Government is the Government of Admiral Kolchak. I would add my word to those which have already been said in support of the recognition of this Government without further delay. The Government of Admiral Kolchak represents all that is best, quite apart from parties and political opinion, in European and Asiatic Russia. It is a Government composed of all sections of opinion. The hon. and gallant Gentleman (Colonel Wedgwood) this afternoon implied that it was a Royalist Government. Even if it were a Royalist Government it is a Government de facto, and there is no reason why we should not acknowledge it. But, as a matter of fact, it is not a Royalist Government. It numbers amongst its members prominent representatives of the extreme Socialist parties. It represents every section of loyal and reasonable opinion in Russia at the present time. To suggest that it is a Royalist Government bent upon bringing back a reactionary Czarism is as far removed from the truth as anything can be. Only in the last few weeks Admiral Kolchak has officially declared that his first act when he has destroyed the Bolshevist power will be to form a Constituent Assembly and to leave it to the Russians to decide for themselves, without any interference, what kind of Government, Republican or otherwise, they desire.

I suggest that it is due to Admiral Kolchak and his loyal supporters that the Allies should recognise his Government. I also suggest that it would be extremely advantageous both from our own point of view and the point of view of the Peace Conference. My own view is that one of the great difficulties with which the Peace Conference has been faced over its Russian policy is that it has not recognised the Government of Admiral Kolchak, and has therefore not been in direct communication with any official body of Russian opinion. I am convinced that it would greatly expedite the conduct of the Peace Conference and make it much more easy for them to adopt a Russian policy if without further ado they recognised Admiral Kolchak's Government and at once entered into official relations with his accredited representatives in Paris. From these two points of view, first, the debt that we owe to Admiral Kolchak as the representative of the Allied parties in Russia and as the enemy of the Bolsheviks, who entered into an unholy compact with our enemies, Germans at Brest-Litovsk, and, secondly, from the point of view of the Paris Conference who are much more likely to be in a position to adopt a reasonable Russian policy if they are in direct communication with the loyal Russian Government. I suggest to my hon. Friend that he should bring the strongest representations to bear upon our delegates in Paris at once without further ado, to recognise the only de facto and the only just Government in Russia at the present moment.


I am very much obliged to all my hon. Friends who have spoken for their recognition of the fact that this is an extremely delicate matter. It is like so many subjects that arise for consideration at the present time in connection with foreign policy. It is so difficult to speak on one side or the other that often already I have taken the liberty of asking some of my hon. Friends not to raise certain questions. Here we have to consider a matter which must be recognised as one which concerns our Allies as much as it concerns ourselves. As one of my hon. Friends has said, there is, of course, a certain disadvantage in working by way of inter-allied co-operation, no matter how enormous the advantages may be on the other side in other connections. But there is this great disadvantage, that whatever might be the private view of Ministers, or indeed the general view of this House, that view cannot be given effect to without the concurrence of those with whom we work in association. I am disposed to agree with my hon. and gallant Friend who spoke last in his description of Admiral Kolchak's Government. I am not sufficiently skilled in these matters to know what is the proper diplomatic description of that Government, but it is a substantive Government, and as my hon. Friend pointed out, it exercises sway over a territory not only enormous in size but of the utmost importance. I was very glad to hear him point to the fact, and one which is not often recognised, that Admiral Kolchak's Government is not in any sense a Czarist Government. My hon. Friend also pointed to the fact that at a recent date Admiral Kolchak issued a statement of policy, guaranteeing land for peasants, and promising the convocation of a national assembly to determine the future form of government as soon as that is practicable. We have every reason to believe that Admiral Kolchak and his Government enjoy the support not only of the military in Siberia but of moderate public opinion of all kinds. One of my hon. Friends spoke of moral support, and much has been said about recognition. I do not want to go into that question of formal diplomatic recognition at present, but it cannot be overlooked that we have afforded to this Government moral support and much more than moral support. My right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War, only two evenings ago, gave a very full description of the kind of material support that we are lending to Admiral Kolchak at the present moment. We have sent him guns, rifles, and ammunition, and instructors in some of the more difficult branches of the art of war have also been sent to him. I think we must leave the matter there for the present. I gather that my hon. Friends have been speaking this evening not so much to the Treasury Bench and, indeed, not so much even to this House as with a view to their views being heard in Paris. They have asked me to use influence in Paris. I cannot pretend, occupying the relatively humble sphere I do, to be able to exercise far-reaching influence in Paris. If my hon. Friends mean that I should take such steps as are open to me to bring their views to the British delegation in Paris, that, of course, I will do with the greatest pleasure. I think that, to be prudent, I had better confine my remarks to what I have already said, and I do so with the greater pleasure because by 'sitting down at this juncture I can afford an opportunity to one of my hon. Friends to make a speech as well.


I wish to thank my hon. Friend for his very sympathetic reply. The great point he made was that when you enter into alliances you expect certain limitations, and one of those limitations is that you act in common with that alliance. But may I point out that all sorts of smaller nationalities, much smaller bodies than Admiral Kolchak's Government, have received recognition in Paris. Armenia has stated her case to the Peace Conference, Albania has put her case to the Peace Conference, and yet the representatives of Admiral Kolchak's Government have not been received.

I think this is a case in which this country can very fairly give a lead. After all, we have got the example of France, who recognised Finland, but I put the case much higher than that. The hon. Member who spoke about expediency said that we ought to recognise none but the de facto Government of a country. If he means the absolute Government of the whole country and that we ought to wait until one Government is supreme, I should like to ask him if Poland is now the de facto Government of the Baltic and if Roumania is now the de facto Government of Transylvania? No; we cannot wait for that. May I also say that, when he talks of expediency, there is a higher claim than expediency, and that is right? Here it is not a case of two contesting Governments. You have one Government, that of Admiral Kolchak, and on the other side murder and lust and anarchy, which never can form a stable Government. I quite agree that we cannot carry the matter any further to-night. I thank my hon. Friend most heartily, and I am sure from the way in which he has received the case we have made that he will represent it in the most forcible terms to the proper authorities.

Question put, and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-four minutes after Eleven o'clock.