A. V. (Anatolii Vasilevich) Nekliudov.

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congratulations to the Emperor. "But what on?"
" But on the capture of Erzerum, sir ! " " Ah, yes, yes ! "
he started, as if he had been dreaming; "certainly it
was a fine performance of our troops." . . . Then the
I^mperor was kind enough to say a few words to me
about my son, who had just joined the regiment of
which His Majesty was the virtual commander, and the
uniform of which he nearly always wore ; and then I
was graciously dismissed.

At this audience I noticed a great change in the
Emperor. These two years of terrible trials had natu-
rally aged him ; his hair and beard were streaked with
white, his eyes were sunken. But it was not that that
impressed me most. I noticed a kind of weariness, a kind
of constant preoccupation which seemed to prevent him
concentrating his whole attention on the conversation on
hand ; the vivacity of his manner and of his mind seemed
to have vanished. 1 attributed all that to the fatigue of
the moment, to the manifold worries of the situation.
But when I recall those memories to-day it seems to me
that in the manner and appearance of the Emperor
Nicolas II. there was more than preoccupation, more
than worry. Perhaps he already saw the abyss opening
at his feet and perhaps he knew that to stop was
impossible, that he must pursue his way towards the
inevitable and fatal crash.

I never saw my unfortunate Emperor again. In the
course of this book I have often had to deplore the
faults committed by him — faults which he expiated in a
truly ghastly manner; I shall still have occasion to
criticise bitterly, in the name of " cold-eyed justice," the
last actions of this man, fore-ordained to the most
appalling catastrophes. 1 must be allowed here to
tender grateful homage to the kindness that he had


always shown me, to his universal kindness, to liis ardent
patriotism and to the undeniable nobility and sincerity
of his personal and private character.

When he was hurled from the pinnacle of greatness,
most of those who had served him, fawned on him,
flattered him, turned against him and no longer re-
membered either what they had obtained through his
generosity — or his weakness, or the devotion they had
heretofore professed to the person of the Monarch.
They now only spoke of the "country"; the country
must be saved at all costs, and it was in the name of this
sentiment — probably— that they abjured their former
convictions and overthrew their former idols. Never-
theless, in saving the country, they intended also to save
their interests, their position, their emoluments, and
it is that side of the case which has always appeared to
me to be the weak point in all the fine speeches that I
heard, from the outset of the Russian Revolution, from
the lips of my friends, men of the world, men in office,
who from one day to another had become the staunch
partisans of the new regime and the assiduous clients of
the new men, the dispensers of the sportiila.

The next day I returned to Tsarskoe-Selo to present
myself to the Empress Alexandra.

I began by lunching with the Grand-Duke Paul and
Princess PaleT in their fine palace which had recently
been built. I found myself again in the congenial
atmosphere of the informal receptions of the Grand-
Duke and his wife in Paris at their charming house in
the " Pare des Princes." In their Tsarskoe palace —
built and decorated by French experts in the same
Louis XVI. style, but larger and grander — there were
gathered together on that fine winter's morning the
same people I had seen so often in Paris : the worthy
Grand-Duke, so good, so simple and yet so refined ;
the beautiful and charming Countess of Hohenfelsen
(re-named Princess Palei since the war through horror
of all Boche names) ; their two daughters, born while I

402 A VISIT TO PKTROGRAD [chap. xxi.

was in Paris in 1904 and 1905 ; their son, whom I had
watched growing up, now an officer in the Hussars of
the Guard, and resting at Tsarskoe after having been a
year in the trenches; one or two intimate friends of the
family ; suddenly like a whirlwind in came the Grand-
Duchess Marie, ex-Princess William of Sweden, in her
nurse's uniform ; she was as frank and simple in manner
as ever, and for a quarter of an hour she and I talked of
Stockholm, which at heart she still loved just as she had
been loved there.

When I learnt the horrible fate of the Grand-Duke
and his unfortunate morganatic son, I recalled vividly
that last luncheon-party at Tsarskoe ; with it mingled
other memories — of Paris, Florence, Constantinople —
right back to those far-away days, so far away that they
seemed as a dream or as a tale that is told, when in
Moscow, in 1866, about a dozen of us small boys used
to go on Sundays to share in the games of the little
Grand-Dukes Serge and Paul; days of real fun and wild
pranks in the big park and the fine suburban palace of
Neskutchnoye, under the strict supervision of the old
mentor of the Grand-Dukes, Khrenoff", formerly a non-
commissioned officer of the Guards, who never let us
out of his sight and whom we all adored. The Grand-
Duke Paul was then a very attractive child of seven
years of age, with pink cheeks, lively but always good ;
who could have foreseen for him that ghastly end,
preceded by the most terrible privations and the vilest

But I must return to Tsarskoe. At two o'clock I
went to see the Empress Alexandra, who, in my honour,
had discarded her usual sister's uniform and donned her
smartest clothes : it was quite the Empress receiving
her Minister Plenipotentiary. I had not been near Her
Majesty since February, 1911, when, beautiful, charming
and good tempered, she had received me and my wife
and eldest daughter in that same bright drawing-room
filled with flowers. I found the Empress changed. She
had a deep vertical wrinkle between her eyebrows which


gave her an expression of morbid tension. Her eyes
were intensely sad. Her Majesty spoke to me first
about matters relative to the work of the Red Cross
and to that of our Stockholm Committee. Then she
asked me whether I had taken the necessary measures
so that the goods sent by the Red Cross to our prisoners
of war should not be indefinitely delayed at Haparanda
(the Swedish frontier). " Madam, I have made inquiries
on the subject, and they prove that the Swedish
Red Cross does all in its power to get the goods
across the frontier without hindrance, and to send them
further ! "

The Empress took up a photograph lying on the
table and passed it to me : " But all the same, Monsieur,
here is a photograph showing a huge stock of goods from
the Red Cross piled up in the open air at Haparanda."

" I know that photograph, Madam, I have been shown
it before ; but that pile of cases which Your Majesty
sees there are not goods from the Red Cross, but postal
packages in transit that Sweden kept back for months
at the frontier by way of reprisal. Your Majesty is
well aware that every case and every bale from the
Red Cross is marked with a Geneva cross quite large
enough to come out in this photograph; now Your
Majesty will be good enough to observe that it is not to
be seen on the cases shown here."

The Empress took the photograph and examined it
carefully. "That is true," she said, replacing it on the

After that she turned the conversation to general
questions concerning politics and the war, and she laid
great stress on the seriousness of the situation which —
abroad as well as at home— called for the greatest and
most unceasing straining of efforts. "Alas! So few
people here seem to realise the gravity and the dangers
of the hour ; there are some houses in Petrograd where
they even dance! " added Her Majesty, emphasising the
words. Soon after I was graciously dismissed. The
audience made a somewhat unfavourable impression on

2 D

404 A VISIT TO PETROGRAD [chap. xxi.

me; it may well have been that I was prejudiced against
my august hostess ; but it seemed to me that she wished
to show me to what extent she shared the worries of
the Government and of the High Command, and to
make me understand that when one came to Petrograd
on business connected with one's official duties, one
ought to discuss this business with the Empress. The
co-regency had begun.

Two days later I called on the Dowager Empress.
Her Majesty discussed with me the unprecedented
sufferings inflicted by Germany on our prisoners of war ;
she mentioned the insults to which she had been
subjected in Berlin when she passed through Germany
the day before the declaration of war, on her way from
the Belgian frontier to Copenhagen. The dear good
Empress did not conceal the feeling of profound disgust
inspired in her by German cruelty and the duplicity of
William II. ; the terms she used were as frank as they
were cutting.

I also went to see the Grand - Duke Nicolas
Mikhailovitch, whom I had often met during my last
years in Paris and in Petrograd. The enemies of this
man, who was both clever and cultivated, liked to
compare him to Philippe Egalit^, and asserted that he
intrigued with the "Masonic" party against his august
cousin, the Emperor Nicolas II. Nothing was ever
less true. A very sincere Liberal, the Grand-Duke did
not restrain his criticisms of a regime that he considered
disastrous, as much for the country as for the combined
interests of the Emperor and the Imperial Family; he
did so with an openness that precluded all idea of
intrigue ; the most that could be said of him was that
he had the characteristics of the perpetual fault-finder.
Carefully excluded from politics and the government of
the Empire, he had taken refuge in the sphere of
historical research. The studies and works which he
wrote himself, and which were brought out in sumptuous
editions to which one was not accustomed in Russia,


are of undeniable interest. His excellent and impartial
history of the reign of the Emperor Alexander I. is the
work of a true historian, and was very well received
abroad. Nicolas Mikhailovitch was a sincere and faithful
friend to France; he had some intimate friends among
French contemporary historians.

The Grand-Duke received me in his magnificent
study filled with a precious collection of portraits-
historical miniatures. What has now become of this
superb collection? Our conversation naturally turned
on the political questions of the day. My august host
did not restrain his criticism. He was of opinion that
we were making for a revolution which would probably
not break out while the war lasted, but certainly im-
mediately after the conclusion of peace. " Alexander III.
did not like me very much ; Nicolas II., although full of
kindness for me as a private individual, has a holy
horror of my ideas. Nevertheless, I have served them
faithfully, and I am always ready to serve the Emperor;
only I cannot conceal from him that first and foremost
I have duties towards my country and the Russian

The impression I received from the ten or twelve
days spent in Petrograd was frankly bad. Public dis-
pleasure could not be hidden. In drawing-rooms, in
the offices of journalists, politicians, scientists, there was
violent criticism of the last appointments, the actions of
the Government, the perennial conflict in the very
bosom of the Council of Ministers between M. Sazonoff,
Krivocheine, Count Ignatieff, General Polivanoff on one
side, and Stiirmer, Trepoff, Prince Schakhovskoy, pro-
tagonists of the reactionary party, on the other. Count
Kokovtzoff, whom I made a point of calling on, predicted
the worst calamities. Others were less pessimistic, but
they anxiously wondered how far the blindness of the
unfortunate Emperor would go; they all pitied him;
but his weakness was the subject of the bitterest

4o6 A VISIT TO PETROGRAD [chap. xxi.

Concerning the war itself every one was far less
gloomy. They were hopeful about the reorganisation
of the Russian forces, and were confidently awaiting
the offensive which was to take place in the spring. I
remember a dinner-party composed only of men where
this question was much discussed. One of the guests
upheld the theory that from the purely military point of
view one could not hope for decisive successes, nor need
one fear fresh reverses ; that in fact it would be a draw.
I disputed that theory hotly. " Either zve shall do for
them or else they ivill do for us," I summed up my opinion ;
"there can be no medium between complete victory and
complete disaster ; and the final result will be seen in
the autumn of 1918 at the latest." At my suggestion a
short formula of the two opinions was drawn up ; my
opponent alone signed his own ; all the other guests
wrote their names under mine, and we gave the document
into the keeping of the Italian Ambassador, Marquis
Carlotti, who was one of those present.

And the people ? At first sight nothing seemed to
reveal their frame of mind. Externally it was the same
colourless, apathetic, sleepy mass. But the persons
who came most regularly in contact with the working-
classes of the capital and the country, with the lower
orders, did not conceal their anxiety.

I was out one day in a "izvostchik" with a young,
intelligent and well-educated woman, whose modest
income and occupations brought her a great deal in
touch with the masses. We passed a queue which
had formed outside a provision shop. Women were in
the majority, but both men and women walked up and
down the frozen pavement with the same air of gloomy
indifference. " That is what will make us lose the war,"
said my companion, pointing to the queue.

" /« Cauda vencmtm ?" I asked, jokingly.

" Do not joke ; what I tell you is the absolute truth.
At the beginning of the war there was enthusiasm
among the lower classes, at least in Petrograd, which I


have never left. But now nothing remains but weariness
and apathy. It has lasted too long. The people are
deeply displeased at the privations they have to under-
go ; they seize eagerly on all tales about malpractices
that are being indulged in, about dissensions in the
bosom of the Government, about Court scandals. They
comment on all that in their own way. When one goes
about a great deal among the people one often hears
things that make one shudder!"

" But the workmen are getting huge wages ?
Drunkenness has been abolished? There are no ragged
people to be seen in the streets? So whence comes all
this discontent?"

'* From our reverses of last year, which the people
felt far more deeply than is generally believed ; from
the propaganda of the revolutionary leaders, which is
more vehement than ever. True, a workman's family
at the present time have warm clothes, good boots ;
they sometimes even buy a gramophone ; but the
moment any discomfort, any disappointment occurs :
a rise in prices, scarcity of provisions, a necessity to
spend hours on the pavement in order to buy the least
thing, brutality on the part of the police — and all the
relative comfort is forgotten, and one hears threats
uttered in a spirit of bitter hostility."

This conversation, like other somewhat similar ones,
gave me food for deep thought.

From the beginning of the war I had heard on all
sides that the danger of a revolution had been tem-
porarily warded off. All the parties of the Left, begin-
ning with the " cadets " and ending with the Socialist-
revolutionaries, had pledged themselves not to undertake
anything that might hinder the progress of the war; all
these people were supposed to have agreed that a
German victory would be the worst blow struck at the
cause of liberty, in Russia and elsewhere ; that con-
sequently it was first and foremost necessary to win
the war.

408 A VISIT TO PETROGRAD [chap. xxi.

But when the representatives of Liberal opinions in
Russia agreed thus to proclaim a kind of " sacred
union," and declared that as long as the war lasted they
would prevent a revolution from breaking out, they
were reckoning without their host, that is to say with-
out Germany.

German policy had reckoned on the Russian Revolu-
tion from the very beginning of the war. She was
counting on it firmly. Long before the precipitation
of political events in Europe had brought about the
conflagration, the German Government had begun to
knead the dough in Russia — dough into which the
leaven of revolutionism was worked. In 1905 and
1906 the role of the German agents with regard to a
Russian revolution was an ostensibly negative one. At
that period William II. thought and hoped to allure the
Tsar afresh through the support he lent him and the
favours he lavished on him. But when, after Bjoerkoe
and more especially after the tightening of Anglo-
Russian ties, the Kaiser's hopes had faded away, then
Berlin entered resolutely into relations with the Russian
revolutionaries, and sent resolute and clever agents
amongst the working-classes of the Empire. These
agents were rarely recognised revolutionaries. There
was a whole category of people who could further
Germany's schemes without having to write themselves
down as Socialists, without having to think that they
were engaged in a work of pure destruction ; especially
without arousing the suspicions of the Russian police.

These agents — often unconscious ones — were the
German proprietors, directors, workmen, of the numer-
ous German industrial enterprises in Russia.

Foreign colonies are, always and everywhere, in-
clined to criticise the country in which they find them-
selves. More especially does this apply to the foreign
colonies established in Russia, when in the course of
their work they are confronted by the malpractices
and venality of the police, the dilatoriness of the
administration etc. Nevertheless, up to a certain


period the Germans who had work in Russia had
received the word of command to show themselves
conservative, loyal to the Imperial Government, obedient
to the authorities. Towards 1907 the word of command
was changed. " Russia and her governors were worth
nothing; the duty of the Germans established in Russia
was to bring to the unfortunate Russian people the
good news of their political and social rights." As ever,
when it is a question of German action, the Berlin
directions were carried out with zeal and uniformity.
Whole bales of proclamations and revolutionary litera-
ture were sent from Germany to Russia under the
benevolent eye of the frontier-authorities and even —
so I have been told — under that of German diplomats
and consuls. A remarkably intelligent Frenchwoman
belonging to the Diplomatic Corps of Petrograd,
Frau von L, told me that one day, in her draimng-
room. Baron von Lucius — at that time Counsellor to the
German Embassy — had announced in loud and clear
tones : "What is all this about Russia? Russia cannot
and dare not go to war. And if she dared, the very
next day the revolution, fully armed, would come from
there " (and the Counsellor pointed towards the work-
shops and foundries on the other side of the Neva)
" and would hurl itself on all these beautiful palaces ! "

From the beginning of the war, as I have said, the
Germans were awaiting with feverish impatience the
outbreak of revolutionary disturbances in Russia.
These disturbances as yet showed no signs of occurring ;
on the contrary — miracle and malediction ! — the entire
Russian people seemed seized afresh with true patriotic
ardour. But in 191 5, the reverses of the Russian
armies, the grumbling caused by the lack of munitions,
the terrible sufferings of the populations who were
fleeing and whose flight was encouraged, before the
German invasion, the fatigue of the working-classes,
the mistakes made by the Government — all that com-
bined to cause Berlin to hope that the ardently wished-
for Russian revolution— the One which alone could save

410 A VISIT TO PETROGRAD [chap. xxi.

Germany — was at last becoming visible on the horizon.
From that moment everything was done to bring about
the outbreak as soon as possible. On one side the
agents who influenced the working-men redoubled their
efforts; on the other, the invisible but numerous wires
which still — in spite of the war — connected Russian
society with Berlin were set working. Gossip, false
rumours, exaggerations were disseminatedin the capitals,
the provinces, even in the ranks of the Army. The
conscious and unconscious agents of Germanic influence
incited the Court and the rulers of the hour to the worst
follies, whilst on the other hand public displeasure was
skilfully stimulated and exasperated.

Nevertheless, at the beginning of 1916 the principal
forces of the Russian Opposition, forces which, as I
have said, had sworn not to allow the revolution to
break out as long as the war lasted, still remained
loyal to their pledge. In order that their formula, " no
revolution in war-time," should be abandoned and re-
placed by "a revolution to save the war," it was
necessary that, by a series of actions and measures of
calamitous absurdity the supreme power should give
them the illusion that the reactionary party was
contemplating an understanding with the enemy ; it
was necessary that rumours cleverly exaggerated and
disseminated should lead even the allies of Russia to
doubt the fidelity of the Russian Monarchy to the
common cause. All this was necessary and all this was
done from the month of July, 1916, through the
strenuous efforts of the agents and partisans of
Germany in Russia; through the ingenuousness of
Russian public opinion — not to mention foreign public
opinion; finally through that fatality which presides
over the great events of history, setting at nought all
human prophecies, weighing men and nations in the
scales of destiny and hurling into the abyss all those
who are found wanting.



On arriving in Stockholm, I took care at once to solicit
an audience of King Gustaf V., in order to transmit
to His Majesty the words of the Emperor.

I was received in the King's private study, a small
room, with walls covered with purple brocade, and filled
with a fine collection of old Swedish silver. The King
was in plain clothes (I had been ordered to wear the
same) in order the better to accentuate the purely
private character of my audience. I transmitted to His
Majesty the message entrusted to me by my august
Master. The King first asked me if I had informed his
Minister for Foreign Affairs of all that I had just told
him. My answer being in the affirmative, Gustaf V.
said that it was with sincere pleasure and gratitude that
he received the message of His Majesty the Emperor.
" I cannot hide from you," continued the King, " that
the question of the Aland Islands has been seriously
preoccupying the Swedish Government all this time.
Swedish public opinion has been excited about it
repeatedly. In a few weeks a new session of the Riks-
dag will open and my Ministers think that they will have
questions— possibly very insistent ones — to answer on
that subject." The King then alluded to the alarm that
Sweden and he himself had felt in 1908 at our intention
to revise — in consequence of the separation of Sweden
and Norway — the additional treaty of 1856 which dealt
with the Aland Archipelago. The recent events of the
war had disclosed possibilities and dangers which did
did not exist before ; so the Swedish Government had


412 EVIL OMENS IN PETROGRAD [chap. xxii.

a legitimate desire to settle the Aland question in a
definitive manner which would not lend itself to any
ambiguity, and this could only be done by a direct and
formal conversation between the two Governments.

In answer, I told the King that M. Wallenberg had
already given me to understand that the Swedish
Government wished to make the question of the Aland
Islands the object of a new special convention between
Russia and Sweden ; that I had not omitted to transmit
this wish to M, Sazonoff, and that as far as our Foreign
Office was concerned there was no objection to beginning
such a conversation, provided that it only applied to the
peace regime and not to that of the present war.

The King then asked me — but laying great stress on
the fact that it was private and confidential — whether in
Petrograd they did not see any possibility of stopping
the war. I replied that I had received no indication of
anything of the kind ; that on the contrary we at home

Online LibraryA. V. (Anatolii Vasilevich) NekliudovDiplomatic reminiscences before and during the World War, 1911-1917 → online text (page 34 of 46)