Volume II - CHAPTER III - SEPTEMBER 21-NOVEMBER 8, 1915
Tuesday, September 21, 1915.
Tsar Ferdinand has shown his hand. Bulgaria is mobilizing and concentrating for attack on Serbia.
When Sazonov gave me this news, I exclaimed:
"Serbia mustn't wait to be attacked; she must attack at once herself."
"No," Sazonov replied we must still try to prevent hostilities."
I argued that hostilities cannot be prevented now that Bulgaria's game has long been too obvious; the only effect of diplomatic action would be to give the Bulgarian army time to mobilize and concentrate, and that the Serbians are lost unless they take advantage of the fact that the road to Sofia will still be open to them for some days yet. I ended up by declaring that to support the operations of the Serbians the Russian fleet must bombard Burgas and Varna.
"No! " exclaimed Sazonov ... . "Bulgaria is of our faith; we created her with our own blood; she owes her national and political existence to us; we cannot treat her as an enemy."
"But it is Bulgaria who has made herself your enemy . . . and now, of all times."
"It doesn't matter! We must continue to negotiate. At the same time we must appeal to the mass of the Bulgarian nation, and denounce the crime their Government want them to commit. A manifesto addressed to them by the Emperor Nicholas in the name of Slav unity would no doubt have a great effect. We have no right not to make one last effort."
"I adhere to what I said just now. It is essential for the Serbs to make for Sofia by forced marches. If they don't. the Bulgarians will be in Belgrade within a month."
Friday, September 24, 1915.
A telegram dispatched from Paris yesterday evening tells me that the French and British Governments have decided to send an army corps to the Balkans.
Sazonov was delighted when I reported this to him. Sending allied troops to the rescue of Serbia seems to him to change the whole aspect of the Balkan problem. He wants Sofia to know of this intention very soon, so that the Bulgarian Government may have time to stop its military preparations; he is also endeavouring to prevent the Serbians from attacking the Bulgarian army before the latter has obviously begun an offensive.
On this latter point I argued with him very hotly, and as I have reason to believe that my view is shared in Paris I am telegraphing to Delcassé:
I have some difficulty in following M. Sazonov's point of view. A swift invasion of Bulgarian territory by the Serbian army would create a huge sensation in Germany and Austria - and in Turkey, Greece and Rumania. The salvation of Bulgaria no longer concerns us. If we can obtain a swift and easy success at her expense, it is our duty to do so. It is no longer a question of the Balkan balance of power and historical memories. Victory before anything else!
Saturday, September 25, 1915.
The Russian public is beside itself with indignation at the, action of Bulgaria. Even those papers which have hitherto been kindest towards the Bulgarians join in the chorus of resentment, though they endeavour to draw a distinction between the personal policy of the Tsar Ferdinand and the sentiments of his people.
Sunday, September 26, 1915.
The great offensive which the French General Staff has been preparing for many months began yesterday in Champagne; it is being supported by an English attack in Artois.
The opening move has been successful; we have pierced the German lines on a front of twenty-five kilometres, to a depth of three or four; we have also made 15,000 prisoners.
Monday, September 27, 1915.
The Union of Zemstvos and the Union of Towns, which have been in session in Moscow the last few days, have passed the following joint motion:
In the tragic trials through which Russia is passing, we deem it our first duty to send a warm greeting to our stoical, glorious and dearly-loved army. The Russian people are more determined than ever to continue the war to victory, in loyal association with their faithful allies. But on the path of victory there lies a fatal obstacle, an obstacle created by all the old vices of our political system, we mean irresponsible power, the absence of any link between the Government and the country, etc. A drastic change is required... . In place of our present governors we must have men who enjoy the confidence of the nation. The work of the Duma should be resumed without delay.
The two Unions have appointed three delegates each, and commissioned them to put the wishes of the country before the Emperor in a personal audience.
The President of the Council, Goremykin, has advised His Majesty not to receive these delegates, who have no claim or right, so he said, "to speak in the name of the Russian people." The Emperor has therefore refused the audience.
Tuesday, September 28, 1915.
There is much dissension in the bosom of the Russian Government. Several of the ministers, alarmed at the reactionary tendencies prevailing at Court, have sent a joint letter to the Emperor, begging him not to continue in this disastrous course, and explaining that their conscience does not permit them to work under Goremykin any longer. Besides Sazonov, the signatories to this letter are Prince Stcherbatov, Minister of the Interior, Krivoshein, Minister for Agriculture, Prince Shahovskoï, Minister for Commerce, Bark, Finance Minister, and Samarin, Procurator of the Holy Synod. Out of consideration for military discipline, General Polivanov, the War Minister, and Admiral Grigorovitch, the Naval Minister, abstained from signing.
On receiving this letter, the Emperor summoned all his ministers to the Stavka. They have just left for Mohilev, where they will arrive to-morrow. Developments are proceeding in the strictest secrecy.
A week ago, Rodzianko, the President of the Duma, solicited an audience of the Emperor. He has been informed this morning that his request has not been granted.
Wednesday, September 29, 1915.
The day before yesterday the Russian Government proposed to the Allied Governments that the following note should be sent to Sofia:
The Allied Powers, having very grave reason to suspect the motives for the general mobilization of the Bulgarian army, and attaching, as they do, the greatest importance to the maintenance of their friendly relations with Bulgaria, consider it their duty, in the very name of that friendship, to ask the Royal Government to revoke the mobilization decree, or declare its readiness to co-operate with the said powers against Turkey. If the Royal Government has not adopted one or other of these courses within twenty-four hours, the Allied Powers will immediately break off all relations with Bulgaria.
I had pointed out to Sazonov that the inoffensive form of this lecture made it futile from the start, but he had insisted on his proposal. To-day, Buchanan tells me that Sir Edward Grey would like to water down the Russian note still more, and remove anything having the smallest resemblance to an ultimatum. I am telegraphing to Delcassé:
This policy of Sir Edward Grey's seems to me an illusion. Are we going to make the same mistake with Bulgaria that we made with Turkey, a mistake we have not finished paying for? Cannot Sir Edward see that the Germans are getting a firmer grip on Bulgaria every day, and that they will soon be the masters there? Is he credulous enough to believe in the pacifist professions of King Ferdinand? Does he propose to refrain from action at Sofia until the Bulgarian army has completed its concentration, and the German officers have taken over their commands? It has pleased Germany to make war on us on Bulgarian territory. It is now in our power to inflict an immediate reverse upon her on that very territory. And here we are, still talking!
Thursday, September 30, 1915.
This evening I have heard that yesterday, at Mohilev, the Emperor used very harsh language to the ministers who signed the letter. In a peremptory tone he said to them:
"I won't have my ministers going on strike against my President of the Council. I insist upon everyone respecting my wishes."
Our Champagne offensive is continuing brilliantly, and without a pause.
The effect on public opinion in Russia is excellent. The sense of disappointment produced by our inactivity on the western front was becoming dangerous, as it was spreading to the army. The Novoïe Vremia accurately reproduces the general impression in the following terms: "While the bulk of the German forces, and almost the entire Austro-Hungarian army, were hurling themselves upon us, our allies in the west did nothing. This inaction on General Joffre's part during our fiery trial was incomprehensible. The Anglo-French offensive has put an end to all our doubts. It is clear now that the apparent idleness of our allies was really a period of preparation."
Friday, October 1, 1915.
The President of the Republic has commissioned me to give the Emperor the following telegram:
The grave situation created by the definitely hostile attitude of King Ferdinand and the Bulgarian mobilization is causing the French Government the greatest anxiety. We have very solid reasons for fearing that the Bulgarians will attempt to cut the Salonica-Nish railway, and shortly make it impossible for us to communicate not only with Serbia but with Russia herself, and to send our allies the munitions we are making for them. At the present time our daily output of shell for Russia is three to four thousand. This figure will increase progressively, and in January reach the ten thousand asked for by Your Majesty's Government.
To Russia and France unhampered communication is of vital importance. We are making arrangements with England to send troops to Serbia as soon as possible. But the presence of Russian troops would certainly have a very great effect on the Bulgarian people. if Your Majesty has not a division available at the moment, or does not think it possible to send one to Serbia, it would at any rate seem essential that units of Russian soldiers should be detailed to join ours in guarding the Salonica railway. The feelings of gratitude towards Your Majesty entertained by the Bulgarian nation would then perhaps bring them up short in their road to a fratricidal encounter, and in any case the unity of the allied countries would be clearly revealed to all the Balkan peoples. I beg Your Majesty to pardon my persistence, and accept my assurances of loyal friendship.
Sunday, October 3, 1915.
The "fratricidal" act of Bulgaria towards Serbia has aroused the greatest resentment in every class of Russian society. It is as if a wave of indignation were sweeping over the whole of Russia.
Tuesday, October 5, 1915.
Bad news reaches us from Athens. King Constantine has compelled Venizelos to resign. A few days ago the President of the Council declared in the Greek Chamber that if the realization of the national programme brought Greece into contact with the Teuton empires the Government would do its duty. These strong words have been considered inadmissible by Berlin. Count Mirbach, German minister in Athens, called on the King, lectured him in the name of his imperial brother-in-law, and no doubt also reminded him of their secret compact. Constantine immediately demanded and obtained the resignation of Venizelos.
A first detachment of Anglo-French troops has just disembarked at Salonica.
Wednesday, October 6, 1915.
The only reply given to the President of the Republic by the Emperor (who is on a tour of inspection at the front) is the following telegram:
As I entirely agree with you as to the extreme importance of the Salonica railway to the maintenance of communications between France and her allies, I regard it as essential that the line should be held by Anglo-French troops, and I am glad to hear that their disembarkation is in progress. I should have been particularly glad to see a detachment of my army joining up with them, and establishing on this new front an even closer collaboration with our allies. To my great regret, it is impossible at the moment for me to divert any troops for that purpose, and more particularly to get them to their destination by the routes at our disposal.
I intend to reconsider this plan, the soundness of which I recognize, the moment circumstances permit. I take this opportunity of expressing to you, Monsieur le Président, the satisfaction with which I have received the report you give me of the output of shell for my army. The help which French industry is giving Russia in this vital matter is highly appreciated by my country. Accept, Monsieur le Président, the assurance of my lasting friendship.
When Sazonov told me of this telegram, which was dispatched to Paris yesterday, I said to him:
"We cannot accept the Emperor's decision. Please ask him to grant me an audience. I shall try and convince him that Russia cannot leave her allies with the whole burden of the new war which is opening in the Balkans."
"But the Emperor's at the front, and in a different place every day!"
"I'll go in and see him wherever he likes. I insist on your communicating to him my request for an audience."
"All right! I'll telegraph to him."
Saturday, October 9, 1915.
The reactionary influences around the Emperor are getting stronger every day.
Prince Stcherbatov, the Minister of the Interior, and Samarin, the Procurator of the Holy Synod, who had been in office barely three months, and whose liberal tendencies made them acceptable to public opinion, have been dismissed without a word of explanation. The new Minister of the Interior, Alexis Nicolaïevitch Khvostov, formerly Governor of Nijny Novgorod, and one of the leaders of the Right in the Duma, is known as a man of energy. Samarin's successor has not yet been appointed.
Sunday, October 10, 1915.
The Emperor received me at Tsarskoe Selo, this afternoon.
He looked well, with a calm, confident air, which I have not seen him assume for a long time. We went straight to the object of my visit. I enumerated the multifarious considerations which compel Russia to take her share in the military operations which France and England are about to undertake in the Balkans, and concluded with these words:
"Sire, France asks you for the assistance of your army and fleet against Bulgaria. If the Danube route is impracticable for the transport of troops, there remains the Archangel route. In less than a month a brigade of infantry can be moved by that route from the centre of Russia to Salonica. I beg Your Majesty to order that brigade to be sent. As far as naval operations are concerned, I know that the east winds which prevail in the Black Sea at this season make a landing at Burgas and Varna practically impossible. But it would be easy for two or three battleships to bombard the forts at Varna and the batteries on Cape Emine which command Burgas Bay. I ask Your Majesty to order this bombardment."
The Emperor listened to me without interrupting, and remained silent for some considerable time. Two or three times he stroked his beard and looked at the point of his shoes. At length he raised his head, fixed his blue eyes upon me, and said:
"From the moral and political view I cannot hesitate over the reply you expect of me. I agree to what you ask. But you will realize that from the practical standpoint I shall have to consult my staffs."
"Does Your Majesty authorize me to inform the Government of the Republic that within a very short time a Russian contingent will be sent via Archangel to the help of Serbia?"
"May I also say that in the very near future the Russian Black Sea Squadron will receive an order to bombard the forts of Varna and Burgas?"
"Yes.... But to justify this last operation in the eyes of the Russian nation I shall wait until the Bulgarian army has committed some hostile act against the Serbs."
"I am very grateful to Your Majesty for all this."
Our conversation then took a more personal turn. I asked the Emperor about the impressions he had brought away from the front.
"My impressions are splendid," he said. "I am more confident and enthusiastic than ever. The life I lead at the head of my army is so healthy and comforting! What a splendid soldier the Russian is! I don't know what he couldn't do! And his determination to conquer and confidence of victory are so amazing!"
"I am glad to hear you say so, as the task before us is still colossal, and we shall win through only by dint of sheer tenacity."
Clenching his fists, and raising them above his head, the Emperor replied:
"I'm up to my neck in tenacity. I shall never get out of it until our complete victory."
He then asked me about our offensive in Champagne and praised the splendid qualities of the French troops. Next he talked about myself and my life in Petrograd:
"I pity you having to live amidst so much faint-heartedness and pessimism!" he said. "I know how bravely you struggle against the poisoned air of Petrograd. But if you ever feel yourself intoxicated by it, come and see me at the front; I promise you'll soon be cured."
He turned grave all of a sudden, and said in a bitter tone:
"We feel these Petrograd miasmas even here, twenty-two versts away! And it isn't from the poor quarters, but the drawing-rooms, that the worst smells come! What a shame! What a disgrace! How can men be so devoid of conscience, patriotism and faith!"
With these words he rose and resumed his kindly tone
"Good-bye, my dear Ambassador. I'm afraid I must leave you, as I'm returning to the Stavka this evening and have lots to do... . Let's hope we shall have only good news to talk about next time we meet!"
Monday, October 11, 1915.
I have been dining very quietly with Madame P - -.
"How did you find the Emperor yesterday? " she asked me
"In very good spirits."(1)
"So he does not suspect all that is in store for him?"
And with characteristically feminine excitement, she told me of several talks she has had with various people in the last few days, the burden of which is this: "It cannot go on like this. In the course of her history, Russia has often had to put up with the reign of favourites, but she has never known anything like the infamy of the reign of Rasputin. We must unquestionably have recourse to the great remedies of other days, the only possible and effective remedies under an autocratic regime. We must depose the Emperor and put the Tsarevitch Alexis in his place, with the Grand Duke Nicholas Nicolaïevitch as regent... . Time presses, for Russia is on the very brink of the abyss ...."
The same language was used in the St. Petersburg drawing-rooms in March, 1801. The sole aim of the conspirators of those days, Pahlen and Bennigsen, was to secure the abdication of Paul I in favour of his son.
Tuesday, October 12, 1915.
Judging by certain remarks made by Madame Vyrubova yesterday evening to a pious household where communion with Rasputin is held, the high spirits, confidence and enthusiasm of the Emperor which I have noticed are claimed to be largely due to the extravagant praise the Empress is heaping upon him since he began to behave "as a true autocrat." She keeps telling him: "You're worthy of your greatest ancestors now; I'm certain they are proud of you, and blessing you from heaven above. Now that you have taken the course ordained by Divine Providence, I have no more doubts about our victory, not only over our external enemies, but those at home as well; you are saving your country as well as your throne. ... How wise we were to heed what our dear Grigory said! What a lot we owe to his intercession with God for us!"
I have often heard the question discussed whether Rasputin is sincere in alleging his supernatural powers, or at bottom nothing but a charlatan and impostor. Opinions were almost always divided, for the staretz is a bundle of contradictions, incoherences and freaks. Speaking personally, I do not doubt his utter sincerity. He would not have such a fascination for people if he was not convinced himself of his extraordinary gifts. His confidence in his mystical power is the main element in his personal ascendancy. He is the first to be duped by his tongue and his practices: if he adds a certain flavour of braggadocio that is all. Paracelsus, the great master of magic, and clever author of the Philosophia Sagax, observed very rightly that the condition precedent to the persuasiveness of the magician is his belief in his own dynamic powers: " Non potest facere quod non credit posse facere " - " A man cannot do what he does not think he can do." In any case, how could Rasputin fail to believe that some extraordinary power emanates from him? Every day the credulity of those about him furnishes him with proof of the fact. When he claims to be inspired of God in order to make the Empress do what he wants. the unhesitating obedience he receives from her seems to him patent proof of the truth of his claim. They thus hypnotize each other.
Has Rasputin the same power over the Emperor as over the Empress? No; there is a material difference.
As regards the relations between Alexandra Feodorovna and the staretz, she lives in a kind of hypnosis. Whatever opinion or desire he expresses, she acquiesces and obeys at once. The ideas he suggests to her are implanted in her brain without provoking the slightest opposition. In the case of the Tsar, the fascination is much less passive and complete. He certainly thinks that Grigory is a Bojy tchelloviek, a "Man of God," but to a large extent he retains his liberty of judgment in dealing with him, and he never allows him the initiative. This comparative independence of mind is particularly marked when the staretz intervenes in a political matter. It is then that Nicholas II wraps himself in a mantle of silence and reserve; he evades awkward questions, defers definite answers, and in any case yields only after a long internal struggle, in which his natural good sense very frequently wins the day. But on the ethical and religious side, the Emperor is profoundly influenced by Rasputin. He draws much quiet strength from him, as witness what he once said to Colonel Drenteln, one of his aides-de-camp, who was out walking with him:
"I can't understand why Prince Orlov hated Rasputin so much; he never tired of calling him names, and saying that his friendship is disastrous to me. It's quite otherwise. Why, when I'm worried, or doubtful, or vexed, I have only to talk to Grigory for five minutes to feel myself immediately soothed and strengthened. He always manages to say what I need to hear, and the effect of his wise words lasts several weeks."
Wednesday, October 13, 1915.
Delcassé resigned yesterday. His views have not squared with those of his colleagues in the Ministry for some time, and he has also been suffering from nervous trouble.
Friday, October 15, 1915.
The Bulgarians are beginning to reap the consequences of the colossal mistake we have made in giving them time to carry out their concentration. They have taken the offensive with great skill and vigour in the region of Egri-Palanka and the Pirot sector, and along the course of the Timok. They have driven the Serbians back at all points, while an Austro-German army has captured Belgrade and Semendria.
Saturday, October 16, 1915.
After Shakespeare and Balzac, Dostoïevski is the greatest raiser of spirits, and the mightiest creator of imaginary beings, the writer who intuitively divined the secrets of moral pathology and the inward man, the mechanism of passions, the unfathomable rôle of elementary forces and instincts; in a word, all that is fateful, occult and unknowable in human nature. In all this, how far he is above Tolstoi, with whom the artist, logician, apostle and prophet so often wronged the psychologist! And yet the author of Crime and Punishment denied that he was a psychologist, feeling that his genius was essentially a matter of clairvoyance, divination and an almost diseased acuteness of vision. He has said of himself: "I am called a psychologist. It is wrong. I am simply a realist in the higher sense of the word; that is, I depict all the dim recesses of the human soul." In his works we find a kind of catalogue of all the characters, peculiarities and aberrations which make the Russian soul the most amazing and paradoxical flower of the human plant.
From his Diary of a Writer, I took these suggestive lines to-day:
"The Russian always feels impelled to overstep the bounds, to go to the very edge of the precipice and lean over to scan its depths; often enough to hurl himself over it like a madman. It is that hungering after negation which besets the man of greatest faith - the negation of everything, the most sacred feelings, the noblest ideals, the holiest impulses, the fatherland itself. At critical moments of his life, or his national life, the Russian is alarmingly precipitate in enrolling himself on the side of good or evil. Under the influence of rage, drink, love, erotic mania, pride or envy, he suddenly shows himself ready to destroy or repudiate everything - family, traditions and faith. The best of men is thus changed into a criminal, his only idea being to disown himself and seek destruction in some swift cataclysm. Of course he is just as impetuous in saving his soul when he has reached the uttermost limits, and does not know where to turn. ... " In another place, Dostoïevski writes: "Nihilism has appeared among us because we are all nihilists."
Sunday, October 17, 1915.
Along the whole Danube-Save-Dvina front the Serbians are withdrawing under the formidable pressure of two Austro-German armies commanded by Field-Marshal von Mackensen.
The Serbian Government and the Diplomatic: Corps are making preparations to leave Nish for Monastir.
Tuesday, October 19, 1915.
Yesterday the Emperor issued a manifesto on the Bulgarian felony:
We, Nicholas II, by the grace of God Emperor and Autocrat of all the Russias, King of Poland, Grand Duke of Finland, etc., etc., etc. We make known to all our faithful subjects that the Bulgarian people has accomplished the act of treachery to the Slav cause, an act perfidiously contemplated since the very beginning of the war, though it seemed to us impossible.
The Bulgarian troops have attacked our faithful ally, Serbia, bleeding from her struggle with an enemy superior in numbers. Russia and the Great Powers, our allies, have striven to dissuade Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg's Government from this fatal step. . . . But the secret machinations inspired by Germany have triumphed. Bulgaria, a land of our faith, liberated from Turkish thraldom by the brotherly love and blood of the Russian people, has openly joined the ranks of the enemies of the Christian faith, Slavism and Russia.
The Russian nation looks with grief on the treachery of Bulgaria, a country so dear to her, even to the last, and it is with a bleeding heart that it draws its sword against her, leaving the fate of these traitors to the Slav cause to the just chastisement of God.
Given at General Headquarters, the 18th October, in the year of grace 1915.
Monday, October 25, 1915.
The Serbian disaster is developing apace.
A swift Bulgarian raid on Vrania, on the upper Morava, and Uskub, on the Vardar, has cut the Nish-Salonica railway. Henceforth the Royal Government and the diplomatic corps cannot flee to Monastir. They intend to try and reach Scutari and the shores of the Adriatic via Mitrovitza, Pritzrend and Diakovo, i.e., crossing the mountain tangle of Albania, where all the passes are already blocked by snow!
Every day Pastchich is sending a desperate--and vain - appeal to the Allies.
Thursday, October 28, 1915.
Yesterday, the Russian Black Sea fleet appeared off Varna, which was bombarded for two hours. Hostilities have thus been opened between Russia the liberator and Bulgaria the felon.
Sunday, October 31, 1915.
Delcassé's resignation has involved certain changes in the composition of the French Cabinet. Viviani hands over the Presidency of the Council to Briand, who also takes the portfolio for Foreign Affairs.
Monday, November 1, 1915.
On the initiative of the French Government, the three Allied Powers are negotiating with the Rumanian Government with a view to obtaining permission to send an army of 200,000 Russians by way of Moldavia and the Danube to the relief of the Serbians.
Wednesday, November 3, 1915.
Replying to my urgent entreaties, the Emperor commissioned Sazonov to assure me "that he attaches as much importance as the French Government to sending an army of five corps against the Bulgarians at the earliest possible moment." The concentration of these corps has already begun: it will be pressed on with all possible speed.
The reports I am getting from General de Laguiche confirm the fact that troops are arriving systematically in the region of Kishinev and Odessa. But the transport difficulty gives us no hope that the concentration can be complete before the beginning of November.
Thursday, November 4, 1915.
Bratiano has categorically told the English minister at Bucharest that he will not allow a Russian army to cross Rumanian territory to help the Serbians. He again enumerated the general military terms which Rumania makes a condition precedent to joining our alliance eventually. Here they are:
(1) An Anglo-French army of 500,000 men to be concentrated in the Balkans.
(2) A Russian army of 200,000 men to be concentrated in Bessarabia.
(3) The Anglo-French Balkan army and the Russian Bessarabian army must attack the Bulgarians with the greatest vigour.
(4) The Russian armies will open a strong offensive against the Austro-Germans from the Baltic Sea to the Bukovina.
(5) The Rumanian army will receive from France and England - via Archangel - all the arms and munitions it needs.
Until all five conditions have become realities, the Rumanian Government will retain a free hand.
Monday, November 8, 1915.
This morning Sazonov read me a letter he has received from General Alexïev, the substance of which is as follows:
"Judging by all the reports that have reached the imperial headquarters, the Russian army must not count on the help of the Rumanians for the time being.
"It is impossible to send a Russian army by the Danube.
"A landing at Varna or Burgas would be practicable only if the Russian fleet had Constanza as its base. The total tonnage of available shipping in Odessa and Sebastopol would only allow the transport of 20,000 men at once. Thus the troops who arrived first would be exposed to grave danger until the whole expeditionary force had disembarked.
"It is thus materially impossible for Russia to assist the Serbian nation directly; but she can give them potent indirect help by resuming the offensive in Galicia."