Robert Chiuchiarelli

Historical Writings, Diorama Creations, and Professional Information

Archive for the tag “Russia”

Lessons from the Russian Revolutions and Modern Ukraine

With Kiev in shambles and Russia scrambling to sneak pieces of the broken state into their own strong correlations appear between the revolution in Kiev today and the Revolution in Russia in 1917.  The West needs to look to their failed policies during the First World War to prevent them from re-occurring today. 

So here is a bit of backstory that most people are not aware of.  After Nicholas II abdicated the throne in March, 1917 a new government was set up.  This was called the Provisional Government and was headed mostly by center-left leaning old nobility with Prince Georgy Lvov at the head.  The purpose of this government was to stabilize the war-torn nation, preserve its territorial integrity, and set up elections for the new government.  The Provisional Government failed at all of these tasks and the Bolshevik Party (a little known extremist faction) took power in October 1917, started a brutal civil war (which the United States, Great Britain, Italy and Japan all took part in) and gave birth to the USSR.  So why did this happen?  How did the actions of some of the most powerful nations in the world fail to bring the democracy that Russia wanted and instead facilitated the creation of one of the most oppressive regimes in modern history?  The answer is pretty simple, the West failed to provide the support Russia needed and relied instead on rhetoric and hope that Russia would turn out how the West wanted it to turn out.

The Provisional Government needed two things, money and manpower.  The Russian Empire had racked up huge debts during the war and need capitol to rebuild its country and its economy.  America had the money to help but would only give money to Russia if it stayed in the war.  This would be the proverbial final nail in the coffin for the Provisional Government.  The war weary citizens were ultimately swayed by Lenin and the Bolshevik’s enticing rally of “bread and peace” and the Provisional Government was forced out leading to a civil war between the White (anti-Bolshevik/communist forces) and the Reds (Bolsheviks).   The Reds were well organized but few in numbers.  They had to their advantage control of key economic and communication facilities that allowed them to strangle the nation.  Many Western leaders asked America to intervene and protect the democracy the Russian people wanted.  Instead they got a half-hearted attempt by Wilson who sent troops but ordered them to strict neutrality.  America had to watch as the Bolsheviks became stronger and drove out the White forces that were begging for assistance.  This lead to development of the USSR and many of the problems that could have been avoided then have come back to haunt us now.  But, we can learn from these past errors and make a better outcome for Ukraine. 

Think of Ukraine’s current interim government as the Provisional Government.  They need two things right now, money and manpower.  Money is needed to stabilize their falling economy now that Russia has withdrawn financial aid and manpower is needed to preserve the territorial integrity of the nation.  The West has to be willing to pay the bill for democracy.  If not, then Ukraine will fall many of the radical parties that helped facilitate this revolution will go unchecked and take over the nation.  Also, Ukraine needs manpower to preserve its territorial integrity.  Ukraine has something that the Provisional Government in 1918 did no, a United Nations.  Remember, Wilson’s dream of a League of Nations came directly out of the First World War.  If possible the UN can mobilize forces in Ukraine to stabilize the region and to allow democratic elections to take place than Ukraine would be able to keep much if not all of its territory.  Revolutions can be costly for a nation, and if the West wants Ukraine’s to be successful then it must be willing to pick up the check. 

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Oak trees in Russia and the American Civil War

So with the Olympics closing soon I have had many friends and coworkers ask me about Russia. They have been especially interested in the history that they were never taught in school. Basically in your history books, Russia appears three times. First, as the place napoleon invaded and failed, second, as the place Hitler invaded and failed and third as the big evil red commie scourge that America triumphantly defeated in the cold war. Well it is interesting to note that there were several other interactions between the United States of American and the Russian Empire that actually showed a level of friendship between the two nations.

ImageWhen I was in St. Petersburg, I visited Tsarskoe Selo, Catherine the Great’s Summer Palace. While I was there I learned that the palace was a sort of summer playground for the imperial youth. While walking the grounds my attention was directed to a small island what looked a bit out of place. Our guide told us that the island was a favorite play spot of future Tsar Alexander II, who would grow up to free the serfs in 1861. This created among US and Russian diplomats a kind of cultural bond between Alexander II and Abraham Lincoln, who motioned to free the American slaves in 1862. Upon the death of Alexander II in 1881, the American Ambassador presenting the Romanov family with acorns from the the oak tree at Lincoln’s burial site. The Romanovs planted the acorns on the island that the young Alexander played on and the flourished. It is now one of the only places that American Oak trees grow in Russia. But, that is not the only interaction American and Russia had in the mid 19th century. In fact, Russia was a critical player in the outcome of the American Civil War.

During the American Civil War the North was at a loss for international help. It naturally turned to its allies in France and Spain, and even looked to its former imperial mother Great Britain but was ultimately rejected by all of these nations. This was largely due to Europe hoping to capitalize on trade relations with both the North and the South. But there was one country who was willing to work with the Union, and that was Russia.

See, Russia was already facing its share of difficulties with Europe after the Polish rebellion of 1863 and was worried that the other European powers, hoping to capitalize on the revolution, would deploy their forces in order to weaken Russia. Therefore, the Russian Admiralty sought new ports for the Atlantic and Pacific fleets. The Russian ports could easily be blockaded by enemies and, in the case of the Atlantic fleet, could be frozen and unable to leave port. So the plan was to winter their ships in American ports. Abraham Lincoln welcomed this and allowed the Russian navy to dock their ships in New York and San Francisco.

Now, some historians have asserted that the Russians were looking to help the Union and prevent Europe from entering the war on the side of the Confederacy but a more reasonable explanation is that Russia got access to warm water ports and the Union got the publicity of foreign aid that it desperately needed. Therefore, in the fall of 1863, a dozen Russian ships docked in American harbors.

Upon arriving the Russians were met with all the fanfare and celebration that American had to offer. Mary Todd Lincoln personally received the Russian navy and even attended a party on the Russian Frigate Osliaba.

The arrival of the Russian fleet in America was a huge propaganda boon for the Union. It helped to rejuvenate the failing war effort and gave many Northerners hope that the world was starting to support them. It would also cement US/Russian relations for decades to come.

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