China’s New Vassal
How the War in Ukraine Turned Moscow Into Beijing’s Junior Partner
RECENT developments indicate that the ethnic problems arising out of the present line of demarcation between the Soviet Federation and the states of eastern Europe are tending to become political factors of considerable importance. This is particularly true of the boundary between Poland and Soviet Russia. An examination of the accompanying map reveals that the northern section of the western frontier of Soviet Russia--i.e., the boundary with Esthonia and Latvia--approximates very closely the ethnic frontier. The areas under Esthonian and Latvian sovereignty represent to a large extent homogeneous racial entities; economic rather than racial considerations will therefore predominate in the relations between these two states and their eastern neighbor. From the Dvina River to the Dniester, however, it will be observed that the political boundary is not based on ethnographic considerations. This frontier is the one laid down in the treaty of peace concluded at Riga on March 18, 1921, between Russia and the Ukraine on the one hand and Poland on the other, and is fundamentally the same as that stipulated in the armistice and preliminary peace agreement of October 12, 1920.
It is not within the province of this paper to enter into any discussion of the events leading up to the Treaty of Riga. It may be pointed out, however, that the policy of the Soviet power with regard to the determination of its boundary with Poland was not based on the national interests of the Soviet state. The declaration of Joffe at the Riga peace conference in September, 1920, that the Soviets "were willing to recognize as the boundary between Poland and Russia a line which runs much more to the east than the boundary fixed by the Supreme Allied Council on December 3, 1919, whereby Eastern Galicia remains to the west of this boundary," appears to have been the result of the initiative of Lenin himself, who conceived the idea of "proposing to Poland more territory than Clemenceau and Curzon offered her" and who insisted on the signing of the treaty embodying these territorial concessions.[i] In the eyes of Lenin the questions of boundaries were always of minor importance, secondary to what he considered the basic interests of the workers, i.e., to the union of the proletariat of all countries in a joint struggle against capitalism, a union which is to take the form of a single world Soviet Republic. The fundamental divisions of society are horizontal, into classes, and not vertical, into national entities. The Soviet-Polish frontier represents, therefore, not an attempt to arrive at a definite solution of a difficult problem, but rather an expedient compromise which from the Bolshevik point of view was to have quite a transitory character. To the Poles this frontier, which follows closely the line of the German trenches in 1917-18, appeared justified by military considerations essential to their national existence.
While it may be a matter of dispute as to whether Poland has well-grounded claims, on ethnic grounds, to territories east of the so-called "Curzon line" (laid down by the Allies in 1919), it seems a well-established fact that the region between the Curzon line and the present Polish-Soviet frontier contains extensive areas in which the Polish population is decidedly in the minority. According to data published by the Polish Statistical Office itself, the seven eastern districts of Poland contain no less than 3,739,000 Ukrainians (or Little Russians) and 910,000 White Russians, out of a total population of 8,886,000. In Volhynia, for instance, the Poles number 240,892 as compared with 982,203 Little Russians, and in Stanislavov 298,870 as compared with 937,713; in Polesie there are 213,678 Poles and 156,105 Little Russians and 374,004 White Russians. The essential fact to be remembered is the existence of a situation very favorable to the development of a future Russian "irredentism."
During the first two years following the establishment of normal relations between Soviet Russia and Poland, ethnic questions played a very small role in the many controversies that arose between the two states. With the consolidation of the Soviet power, however, and the cessation of foreign and civil wars, Bolshevik leaders were obliged to give more attention to ethnic considerations. This tendency has perhaps been accelerated by the realization that world revolution is no longer imminent and that therefore it is imperative that special emphasis be placed on the strengthening of the Soviet state itself. Two processes towards this end are noticeable--first, the administrative reorganization of Soviet Russia on an ethnic basis, granting a certain measure of self-government to the various ethnic groups, and, second, the reintegration on an ethnic basis of the various parts of the former Russian Empire which had tended to escape from the control of Moscow during the period of civil war. This second process culminated in the creation of the Federation of Socialist Soviet Republics by a treaty concluded on December 30, 1922, between the four republics known respectively as the Russian Socialist Federated Soviet Republic, the Ukrainian Socialist Soviet Republic, the White Russian Socialist Soviet Republic, and the Trans-Caucasian Socialist Federated Soviet Republic.
At the XII Congress of the Russian Communist Party in April, 1923, considerable attention was devoted to the question of nationalities within the Soviet state. Stalin called attention to the growth of what he termed "Great Russian chauvinism" and to the consequent danger of a "rupture between the proletariat of the former ruling nation and the peasants of the earlier exploited nationalities." In order to prevent this, he declared that the Soviet power must adapt itself to local national requirements, particularly as to the use of the native language and employment of natives in the administration.
The increasing attention given by the Bolshevik leaders to ethnic considerations is further evidenced in the recent enlargement of the territory of White Russia and in the exchange of notes with Poland regarding the alleged oppression of the Russian minorities in Poland. In this connection it should be observed that the Soviet leaders have not failed to comprehend the international implications of their internal policy. At the XII Congress, Stalin pointed out that "We must here in Russia in our Federation solve the national question correctly, in order to set an example to the East, which represents the heavy reserves of our revolution, and thereby increase its confidence and its tendencies towards our Federation."
Subsequent developments show that the Soviet leaders had also in view the effect on the West. The enlargement of the territory of the White Russian Socialist Soviet Republic in accordance with the decree of March 3, 1924, was designed to include in White Russia the contiguous territories of Soviet Russia in which the White Russian population predominated. The vast majority of the White Russian population under the Soviet régime is now concentrated in White Russia. According to Cherviakov, President of the White Russian Soviet of People's Commissars, "the territory of the newly amalgamated state comprises 9,291,000 dessiatines with a population of about 4,000,000," but "as a result of the Treaty of Riga there are still, according to the most conservative estimates, about 3,000,000 White Russian laborers and peasants living in territories outside of the Soviet Federation contiguous to White Russia." Of course attention has been called to the alleged oppression by the Poles of the White Russian populations in the Grodno and Vilna districts and their consequent turning towards their brethren in the White Russian Socialist Soviet Republic. The sons of the peasants are represented as flocking across the border to Minsk to enter the White Russian State University on account of the closing of White Russian schools by the Poles. Tomas Dombal, an ex-patriated Pole, now head of the Peasant International at Moscow, has predicted that the enlargement of White Russia will further "the revolutionary struggle of the laborers and peasants who are groaning under the yoke of bourgeois Poland and will inspire them with energy for their further struggle, until they achieve complete reunion with their Soviet brothers."
The conciliatory policy of the Soviet leaders towards the interests of the various nationalities has been particularly manifest with regard to the Little Russians. Definite steps have been taken to Ukrainize the governmental apparatus, party organs, schools and Red Army in the Ukraine. A recent resolution of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Ukraine in March stated that Ukrainization was progressing favorably in the lower organs of the Soviet, but not in the chief central organs. It enjoined all higher officials to learn the Ukrainian language and expedite its use at meetings of the chief governmental bodies.
This new Soviet policy was soon to show itself in the domain of foreign relations. At the Second Federal Congress of Soviets which met at the end of January, 1924, N. A. Skrypnik, a Ukrainian delegate, sharply attacked Poland for its alleged oppression of national minorities: "By the Treaty of Riga the Polish Government took on itself the obligation completely and entirely to observe the rights of the national minorities on those territories which form part of the Polish Republic. Millions of Ukrainians and White Russians and Russians exist in the territory of the Polish Republic, and if we in the Treaty of Riga declare that we--Russia, Ukraine, White Russia, and now the Federation of the Socialist Soviet Republics--do not make any state claims to these territories inhabited by our brethren by blood and position, that does not mean that we are not interested in the fulfilment by the Polish Republic of the obligations assumed by it in the treaty of Riga in regard to our brothers and comrades." Kamenev in his reply declared that "our government notes with the greatest attention the declarations which have been made here by the representative of the Ukraine regarding the oppression of our kinsmen in neighboring states." The government, he said, is aware not only of the conditions set forth by Skrypnik but also observes Rumanian oppression in Bessarabia. "We can say only one thing; we know these facts; we hear these groans; we consider them, and will consider them." The same subject came up for discussion at the April session of the All-Ukrainian Central Executive Committee. A resolution was adopted "to request the Federal Central Executive Committee to take steps to ameliorate the position of Ukrainians oppressed in Poland and Rumania."
This agitation assumed a concrete form when the Soviets addressed a note to Warsaw under date of May 10 accusing the Polish Government of violating the Treaty of Riga by denying to the Russian minorities in Poland the treatment guaranteed to these latter in the treaty. The note recites a long series of "acts of violence" committed by the Polish military and civil authorities against Ukrainians and White Russians. It accuses the Polish Government of attempting to dominate the intellectual life of the latter by closing Ukrainian and White Russian schools, thereby obliging the inhabitants of White Russian and Ukrainian districts to send their children to Polish schools. Attention is called to the alleged persecution of the Greek Orthodox Church and to the compulsory colonization of former Polish soldiers on lands chiefly populated by the Ukrainians and White Russians. In concluding, the note reminds the Polish Government that a strict carrying out of Article 7 of the Treaty of Riga "constitutes an indispensable condition to the establishment of good relations and neighborliness which are so necessary to the two nations."
The Polish reply, dated May 15, denies the truth of the accusations of the Soviet Government and states that it can not "acknowledge the contents of the above note as a basis for negotiations." It regards the Russian note as an attempt at interference in the internal affairs of the Polish Republic. To the statement that Article 7 of the Treaty of Riga "gives to the Federal Government the right to guard the rights of the national minorities by demanding the exact fulfilment of the treaty by the Polish Government," Warsaw replied that "the Polish Government warns you categorically against the . . . incorrect understanding of Article 7 of the Treaty of Riga, according to which it is mutually recognized that the guarding of the liberties of national minorities is dependent exclusively on the internal legislation of the respective governments."
Along the Rumanian-Soviet frontier we find a somewhat different situation. This boundary, according to the Bolsheviks, is de facto in character, and they have consistently refused to recognize the incorporation of Bessarabia in Rumania and still regard that province as an integral part of Soviet territory.[ii] At the Rumanian-Soviet conference held in Vienna from March 24 to April 2 of this year, Krestinsky at the opening session declared that the Governments of Russia "have never given their assent to the incorporation of Bessarabia in Rumania and they regard the occupation of Bessarabia in 1918 by Rumanian troops, an occupation which continues up to the present, as a forcible seizure of that territory." Asserting that the Government of the S. S. S. R. was guided by the principle of self-determination of nations in establishing mutual relations with neighboring states, he proposed that a plebiscite of the population of Bessarabia be held. The reply of the Rumanian delegation challenged the assertions made by Krestinsky and refused to consider the demand for a plebiscite, insisting that the Bessarabian question had already been definitely settled by the Great Powers.
It is to be noted that the Soviets, laying aside the question of their historic rights to Bessarabia, brought into the foreground of the discussion the principle of self-determination of peoples. In this connection it is interesting to observe that preceding the Vienna conference numerous meetings of alleged Bessarabian refugees and emigrants were held throughout Russia. Such meetings generally passed resolutions denouncing the Rumanian oppression of Bessarabians, and demanded the liberation of Bessarabia and the creation of a Moldavian Socialist Soviet Republic. Radek, writing in the Pravda, April 25, 1924, declared that "our demand for a plebiscite in Bessarabia is the vanguard skirmish in the struggle with the policy of imperialism in the southeast," and that "the struggle of oppressed nationalities plays a large rôle in the reconstruction of Europe on new principles." Emphasizing the ethnic aspects of the situation, he stated: "Even when the co-relation of forces compels us to acknowledge the fact of such violence, as we have recognized it with regard to Poland which is oppressing White Russians and Ukrainians, we do not cease to consider the struggle of oppressed nationalities as just and we stand, morally and politically, entirely on their side in their struggle for freedom."
It appears, therefore, that with regard to Rumania, as with regard to Poland, the Bolshevik leaders are convinced of the expediency of utilizing ethnic considerations and national interests to further their policies, and that they believe that the question of nationalities has great revolutionary possibilities. In general, it may be said that the Bolsheviks feel that time is on their side and that they do not need to force the issue precipitately. It is apparently not the intention of the Bolsheviks to try to recover Bessarabia by force of arms, but rather to keep Rumania in a nervous state, compelling her to maintain as many troops as possible under arms, thereby weakening her economically and fostering discontent among the laboring masses.
Curiously enough, the situation on the northern section of the Russian frontier in Europe is almost the reverse of what it is further south. In the north it is Russia's neighbor who is complaining of oppression of its kinsfolk by the Bolsheviks, and it is the Soviet Government which is asserting its right to manage its own affairs free from outside intermeddling.
The boundary between Soviet Russia and Finland has been a source of considerable friction between the two countries. The existing line was established by the Treaty of Peace concluded at Dorpat on October 14, 1920. The crux of the present difficulties lies in the existence of a large Finnish population in Soviet territory adjoining the present boundary. These people (commonly called East Karelians) are closely related to the tribes that form the basis of the Finnish nation. The Treaty of Dorpat, while providing for the reincorporation of the districts of Reppola and Porajaren into Soviet Russia, stipulated that they are to be "attached to the autonomous territory of East Karelia which shall be formed of the Karelian population in the Governments of Archangel and Olonets, and enjoy the right of national self-determination." Finland has repeatedly complained of the failure of the Soviets to carry out their obligations toward East Karelia. The Bolsheviks have as persistently maintained that "the autonomy of East Karelia is a question of the internal policy of the Russian State, which can be a subject of negotiation only between the Russian and the Karelian people." Although failing in its attempt to secure the intervention of the League of Nations, the Finnish Government still considers the Treaty of Dorpat and its annexed declarations as obligations of an international order, while the Bolsheviks regard the whole matter as purely domestic. The dangerous possibilities of the situation were demonstrated by the serious tension in the relations between the Soviets and Finland during the uprising in East Karelia in the winter of 1920-1921. There is no question of the deep and sincere interest of the Finnish people in the welfare of the East Karelians. This feeling will continue to be a powerful factor in Finnish-Soviet relations.
It is only too evident from all that has been said above that along the greater part of the European (not to say the Asiatic) border of the Soviet Republic there exist serious causes of trouble. The fact that the same nationalities are to be found on the two sides of frontiers (which are of recent origin and are none too well marked geographically) serves to prevent those frontiers from being recognized as permanent. Disturbances on either side inevitably affect the other, and lead to popular excitement and difficulties between the governments. The situation is one that needs close attention.
[i]Izvestia, January 30, 1924.
[ii]See "The Bessarabian Dispute," FOREIGN AFFAIRS, Vol. II, No. 4.