Russia's attitude towards Georgian independence (1918-1921)
08/10/2010 15:37
Vasil Kvirikashvili
Experts' Club

One of the most difficult spheres of foreign policy of independent Georgia was relationship with Soviet Russia. Georgian politicians were well aware that Russian orientation meant destruction for the country. Therefore, they gave priority to western orientation. Despite this, and based on the principle of cooperation and equality, young Georgian republic was ready to cooperate with Russia as well. Though Russia still thought of every nation that was part of the empire as its integral part.

Gabriel Khundadze (1877-1937) (extraordinary and plenipotentiary ambassador of independent Georgia to Soviet Russia) especially noted at the session of the National Council of Georgia that took place in August 1918: "Bolsheviks declared war against all those nations that took advantage of a principle of self-determination of nations and did not recognize Bolshevik government. Trotsky ordered Admiral Sablin (Yuri Sablin Commander of the Red Army (1897-1937) to prepare the fleet for military actions and to advance from Sebastopol against Chkhenkeli government (Akaki Chkhenkeli (1874-1959) – Chairman of the government of Democratic Transcaucasian Federative Republic in April –May 1918). Bolsheviks do not call this advancement against self-determination of nations".

As we see start of military actions against independent Georgia was on the agenda for Russian authorities. Realization of this intention was only foiled by attack operations of "the volunteer army" and start of the civil war in Russia (Volunteer army - main military force in Soviet Russia during the civil war in 1918-1920) commander of the volunteer army was General Alexeev and Commander-in-chief was General Cornilov. At the end of 1918 as a result of support of member-states of Entente anti-Soviet forces of General Denikin united as armed forces of South Russia. It aimed at overthrowing of the Soviet authority and restoration of united Russian empire). Given very grave situation, Soviet Russia substituted its hostile political course towards Transcaucasian states with attempts to establish seemingly "good-neighbourly" relations with them. This is confirmed by "appeal" that was sent by Commissar of Foreign Affairs of Soviet Russia Chicherin to workers and peasants of Azerbaijan, Dagestan and Georgia. According to this document, based on the principle of self-determination of nations Russia's aim was to support independence of the above-mentioned republics. "If you Muslims of the Caucasus and Georgians - says the appeal - are satisfied with your government, live in peace and confidence in the progress of your country and restore good relations with us".

Conciliatory ton in the document and Soviet recognition of "self-determination of nations" was doubted by Ertoba newspaper. In order to strengthen its position the newspaper recounted facts of Bolsheviks' anti-state actions in Georgia, that their words contradicted their actions and declared that it was impossible to trust Moscow's "peace" course. "We are accustomed to believe actions –said the newspaper - and until there is a harmony between words and acts of Bolsheviks our politics towards Bolsheviks will be adequate to their actions and not just their "appeals". These words demonstrate that leaders of the Georgian government were correctly assessing processes of that time and even were making relevant conclusions regarding "compliant" step of Russia towards Transcaucasian states.

A striking example of a "double policy" Soviet Russia is a note of Chicherin which advises the Georgian government that there is a need to overcome "fragile" policies toward Russia. In it the Soviet Commissioner encourages the Government of Georgia to sign a military agreement with Russia to fight against Denikin. Newspaper Ertoba responded immediately to this document. In the article "Proposal of Communists to Georgian government" considered how advisable it was to accept proposal of Georgia's northern neighbour and pointed out the consequences that may follow in the event of signing such a treaty. The article reminded the public that: 1) Even without entering into "military alliance" with Russia Georgia was still in a state of war with Denikin since 1919. Against this background the article considers limiting Russian foreign policy regarding neighbouring republics to protection from threat coming from Denikin to be a great mistake; 2) "Military alliance " suggested by Russia aimed at involving of Transcaucasian republics into civil war, at causing hostility of European countries towards Georgia and blockade. Such step would cause a very grave economic crisis in the country. "This means that - the newspaper writes – ten-fold increase of famine, this means putting inhabitants of our country on the road to extinction. Russian nation of one hundred million people may survive this disaster but our two-million people will not. It will snap and be completely wiped out. Bolsheviks are not concerned about this as they do not care much about a nation as such. A nation for them is just means to achieve something else. While for us maintaining a nation is the highest goal"; 3) Entering into "military alliance" with Russia will be " unreasonable and intolerable step on Georgia's part as ... we are not sure that - said the Ertoba newspaper - that today's allies" will not sacrifice us at the altar of their Communist gods".

The above newspaper built up its position with the above issues in its article titled "strange mess". "In today's conditions when anarchy rages in Russia and we are dealing with two forces that caused this anarchy – Lenin and Denikin – we consider it absolutely impossible to form state relations with either of these two forces". Other article "Against the reaction" reads: "to assume Bolshevism because of Denikin would mean to fall in another extreme, lose one's way and prepare a soil for sure defeat. Our goal is clear – to overthrow Denikin and to avert Bolshevik anarchy by means of democracy and through democratic methods. Joint realization of both of these aims will save our side from imminent destruction", as we see negative attitude towards Denikin as well as towards Bolshevism is clearly demonstrated here.

By officially expressing such position, the Georgian government press demonstrated distrust towards Russia. At the same time it was necessary to solve this issue at the government level. From this point of view special interest is attracted by a response note sent to Chicherin by Yevgeny Gegechkori. This document considers establishment of peaceful, good-neighbourly relations with Russia to be an immediate task and indicated necessity of searching for relevant ways to do so. But at the same time the said note denied possibility of establishing military alliance with Russia and participation in military operations against Denikin. Gegechkori named the following circumstances as main arguments: a) Georgia's foreign policy was based on neutrality of the country; b) despite the state of war with Denikin since 1919 and because of impossibility of attacking war and taking into account of interests of the country, Georgia used to only realize defence operations; c) involvement of Georgian armed forces in actions against Denikin on the territory of Russia was interference in internal affairs of Soviet Russia.

It seemed that argumented response that was devised according to diplomatic norms unnerved Russia's foreign affairs commissar. This is confirmed by a note sent in response by Chicherin to Gegechkori (January 31st 1919). It was overstepping boundaries of diplomatic framework and what is more important contained a new series of purposeful/ accusations in address of the Georgian government. In the response note (of February 7th) Gegechkori not only answered claims of the Russian foreign affairs commissar but revealed those main objectives that the Russian side tried to achieve. "Contents and nature of the above-mentioned radiogram - says the note of Gegechkori - gives the Georgian government every reason to suppose that Soviet government is trying to lower prestige of the Georgian republic by referring to false information using of which I believe to be completely unacceptable". Chicherin's accusations were considered by Gegechkori in the moral and political light and even gave its assessments. "On behalf of my government I announce that on the part of the Georgian republic there is no obstacle to strengthen these attitudes and I hope that Soviet government in its future politics will find language acceptable for Georgian people".

Gegechkori's expectations did not materialize. On the contrary, leaders of Soviet Russia fully demonstrated in diplomatic confrontation all the hostile attitude and biliousness that accumulated in them towards Georgia. This is confirmed by the third note N 432 of Chicherin that is dated February 19th 1920. Apart from containing another series of accusations towards Georgia, this note explains main reason that caused Soviet Russia's "anger" towards Georgia. "Despite all of this – says the note – government of workers and peasants of Russia hoped that the Georgian government would not have dared to refuse to fight against a common enemy of workers of Russia and Georgia".

One detail should be taken not account here. Namely, "to dare to refuse" "military agreement" offered by the northern neighbour. It seems that change of times did not have any affect on Russian conscious. Despite this, the Georgian government did not change its firm poistion regarding this issue. Article "The third note of Chicherin" published in the Ertoba newspaper calls this document "bottomless sea of lies and gossip" and in confirmation it brought facts to justify every accusation. Among those the special attention was paid to a rebellion that was especially organized by Bolsheviks in Sukhumi orkug during the attack of Turkey on Georgia. At the same it reminded the author of note about the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. "By remembering such moments we do not think that Bolsheviks will gain anything – says the article – It would have been sensible for Chicherin not to forget the treaty that was signed by Soviet Russia in Brest-Litovsk, agreement that was equal to betraying Transcaucasian democracy, by which the Lenin government laid our democracy, the whole or nation, everything that we gained by the revolution at the feet of Turkish pashas".

As for accusation of Georgia—Ottoman coup against Russia, the same article says: "It must be explained by political naivety or incredible impudence that Chicherin recalls several times our alleged agreement with Turkish pasha. To talk about Turkish pashas on the part of Chicherin is to say least insolence towards today's ally of Soviet Russia with which the Bolshevik government has a real alliance hatched and together with which it conducts its policy in the east and Transcaucasus. Chicherin cannot deny this fact".

It is confirmed in historiography that since 1920 correspondence had been taking place between Mustafa Kemal Pasha (Ataturk) – (1881-1939), founder of the Turkish republic and its first president (1923-1938) and Lenin about assistance towards Turkey. While the Grand National Assembly (July 12th 1920) sent a message to people's commissariat of RSFSR (Russian Federative Soviet Socialist Republic) officially recognized alliance of Turkey with Soviet Federative Socialist Republic of Russia. With regards to this fact Soviet Russia made a response step. In June of the same year Chicherin sent a special note to Mustafa Kemal Pasha which clearly demonstrated attitude towards Turkey. The document said with regards to issues interesting to us: "Soviet government received your letter where you expressed your wish to have permanent relations with Soviet government and take part in fight against imperialism that threatens both our countries in equal measures... Soviet government takes into account decision by the great national assembly for our works and... Military operations against imperialist governments to be coordinated... Today when Turkey suffers great pain Soviet government is especially glad to establish friendly relations that would connect peoples of Russia and Turkey".

The above facts confirm that discontent of leaders of the Georgian state had ground. And this acute article aimed at revealing sins committed by Soviet Russia against Georgia and their full demonstration before the society. As for the Russia-Turkish agreement interests of both countries were taken into account there.

As it was an ally of Russia, Turkey's aim was confrontation with Entente and saving Turkey from collapse. While Russia by gaining upper hand in the Caucasus wanted to created a firm ground for advancement into Middle East. With this regard Mandelstam clearly stressed in his article published in Slovo newspaper that "Europe where industry is well developed is turning its back to Bolshevism. But the Kremlin looks in the direction of the east. Georgia is on the way to it and Bolshevism will try to subdue it". And Tan newspaper reported with this regard: "Mustafa Kemal has a close relations with Lenin with whom he devises plans of involvement of Soviet government in affairs of Asia minor.

This is a confirmation that Russian-Turkish alliance was directed immediately against independent Georgia. On the other hand, Russia's Middle East politics became clearly defined. There is one important factor here to be taken into account, namely, sameness of political aspirations of Bolsheviks and Tsarist Russia.

The article is based on work by Shota Vadachkoria "Independent Georgia and aggressive politics of Russia in 1918-1921"

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