13/6/1919 The pendulum swings against the Red Army in Ukraine and south Russia

With unfortunate timing, the Allies have conferred partial recognition on Admiral Kolchak as leader of Russia now that the Red Army has successfully struck back against him; his army no longer threatens to break into European Russia and overthrow the Communists.

The Bolshevik situation is less promising in the south. The Red Army had overrun Ukraine, advancing as far as the pre-war frontiers, but their overstretched forces now face revolts by forces following Nikifor Grigoriev (previously a Bolshevik ally) and the anarchist partisans of Nestor Makhno.

Soviet control of Ukraine is also being contested by Denikin‘s counter-revolutionary Volunteer Army. Bolshevik repression of the Cossacks has pushed them to revolt, which has allowed Denikin’s forces to break through and advance north. Denikin’s men have pushed back the Red Army and advanced into south eastern Ukraine, where they have in turn defeated Makhno’s anarchists. Today Kharkov falls to Denikin’s field commander May-Mayevsky, whose dissolute character does not stop him being an effective military commander.

Denikin and May-Mayevsky have certain key advantages over their enemies. The men of the Volunteer Army are highly trained and far better motivated than the Red Army’s conscripts. They also possess an abundance of cavalry and have received plenty of supplies and military equipment from the Allies, which May-Mayevsky has proved adept at using to good effect. With the Volunteer Army’s star clearly in the ascendant, further defeats for the Red Army in Ukraine look to be inevitable.

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Vladimir May-Mayevsky (Wikipedia)

28/4/1919 The Red Army strikes back against Kolchak’s Siberian Army

The Allies have been pursuing a contradictory policy towards Soviet Russia, never being entirely sure whether the Bolshevik regime is something they should seek to contain or overthrow, or whether they should accept that the Bolsheviks are not going away and instead seek some kind of accommodation with them. As a result Allied intervention forces have been landed in Russia, but forces too small to seriously contend with the Red Army. The Allies have also supplied arms to the White forces in the field against the Soviets, but never in very great quantities. And through all this they have been carrying out half-hearted attempts at negotiating with Lenin‘s representatives.

For all the efforts Trotsky has put into moulding the Red Army into an efficient fighting machine, it had looked as though the Whites might actually succeed in crushing the Bolsheviks. Admiral Kolchak‘s Siberian army successfully captured Perm at the end of last year. Earlier this month Kolchak launched a new offensive. His forces made impressive gains, helped by a peasant uprising taking place in the Red Army’s rear.

But today the Red Army launches a counterattack, led by Mikhail Frunze, formerly a Bolshevik agitator in Minsk and Moscow. Frunze’s blow shatters Kolchak’s forces. It becomes apparent that Kolchak’s army has overstretched itself and is unable to battle determined opposition. Moreover corruption and disorganisation in the Whites’ rear means that their army is badly supplied and equipped. And the Whites too face their own revolting peasants, angry at attempt to requisition food or pay for it in currency rendered worthless by runaway inflation.

In Paris, many had been hoping that Kolchak’s offensive would spell the end of the Bolsheviks. There was talk of formally recognising Kolchak’s regime as the government of Russia. Now though it is apparent there is no prospect of the Bolsheviks’ immediate collapse. Kolchak is not going to be solving the Allies’ Russian problem for them.

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Soldiers of Kolchak’s army (Wikipedia)

Mikhail Frunze and his wife, Sophia (Wikipedia)

The Bolshevik counteroffensive (Wikipedia)

24/12/1918 Striking back against the Bolsheviks: Kolchak routs the Red Army and storms Perm #1918Live

With the defeat of Germany on the Western Front the main threat to the established order of Europe is now Bolshevism. Lenin and his Bolsheviks have taken power in Russia and overturned the prevailing order of society there, executing the royal family, seizing property and reversing traditional hierarchies. Across Europe and beyond the fear of those in power is that something similar might now happen in their own countries. Consequently their policemen are on guard for any sign of Bolshevik contagion spreading to their own disgruntled working classes.

The end of fighting on the Western Front and the Middle East has freed up large numbers of Allied troops. Large stocks of war materials are no longer needed for the struggle against Germany and Turkey. Could some of these soldiers and some of this materiel be sent to aid the White armies fighting against the Bolsheviks? Allied troops have already established themselves in ports on the periphery of the former Russian Empire: Archangelsk and Murmansk in the north, Vladivostok in the far east, and Odessa, Sevastopol and Novorossiysk in the south. The Allied forces thus far deployed are too small to seriously affect the outcome of the Russian Civil War, but White leaders hope that they are just the advance guard of larger intervention forces. Allied material aid to the Whites has also been relatively modest thus far, but again, the anti-Bolshevik leaders hope that more is on its way.

Trotsky‘s reorganisation of the Red Army had seen it win a number of victories but now perhaps the pendulum is swinging in the other direction. Admiral Kolchak has reinvigorated White forces in the Siberian theatre, with his troops no longer needing the backing of the Czechoslovak Legion to take on the Red Army. Today Kolchak’s men capture Perm, an industrial city in the Urals. In the fighting large numbers of Red Army troops surrender to Kolchak; they appear to have been sent into the battle without adequate training or winter clothing. The Red Army troops appear also to be suffering from food shortages, a consequence of disorganisation in the Bolsheviks’ rear and the alienation of the peasantry by the Red Terror. This is all very promising for Kolchak, as it suggests that the Red Army might just be on the brink of disintegration.

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Kolchak reviewing troops (Wikipedia: Russian Civil War)

18/11/1918 Meanwhile in Russia…

Peace is descending on Western Europe but in Russia the civil war between the Bolsheviks and their opponents continues. The terms of the Western Front armistice oblige the Germans to abandon the gains of the Brest-Litovsk treaty, so now German and Austro-Hungarian troops are withdrawing from Ukraine, forcing the client regime there to stand on its own two feet and face off a likely Red Army invasion. Meanwhile the Germans are also withdrawing from the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, where liberal nationalists are now establishing independent administrations.

The anti-Bolshevik forces within Russia itself hope that the armistice means that they will receive more assistance from the Allies, who have promised the Whites that Russian military stores captured by the Germans will be shipped to them; there is even talk of sending troops to occupy Ukraine. For now though the military situation remains confusing. Baron Wrangel is leading a White army in the northern Caucasus and is successfully clearing the Red Army and Bolsheviks from there. Elsewhere though the Red Army seems to be getting stronger and stronger and is no longer the ineffectual rabble it once was. The White are also suffering from the increased lack of interest by the Czechoslovak Legion in the Russian Civil War; the emerging independence of Czechoslovakia means that the Czechoslovaks do not see why they should remain in Russia any longer.

In southern Russia Denikin is the preeminent leader of White forces, particularly since the recent death by heart attack of Alexeev. In Siberia the situation is more complicated. The Komuch had attempted to establish a liberal and socialist regime but never attracted much popular support and increasingly became puppets of more reactionary military figures; the Komuch also finds itself consumed by infighting between different factions. Now the pretence of democracy is abandoned and a purely military regime is established under Alexander Kolchak, previously the commander of Russia’s Black Sea fleet.

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Pyotr Wrangel (Wikipedia)

Alexander Kolchak (Wikipedia)