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Czech troops take Russian port of Vladivostok for Allies

On July 6, 1918, troops of the Czech Legion, fighting on behalf of the Allies during World War I and for the cause of their own independent Czecho-Slovak state, declare the Russian port of Vladivostok, on the Pacific Ocean, to be an Allied protectorate, having gained control of the port and overthrown the local Bolshevik administration a week earlier.

When World War I broke out in the summer of 1914, the countries now known as the Czech Republic and Slovakia were part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, now fighting with Germany against the Allies—Russia, France and Great Britain. Czechs who enlisted in the Austro-Hungarian army found themselves fighting against their countrymen—many Czechs had emigrated to Russia near the turn of the century, mostly settling in and around Kiev, the capital of Ukraine—and began to bristle under Austro-Hungarian rule and in many cases to surrender voluntarily to the Russian enemy. In 1917, Thomas Masaryk, a professor of philosophy, pan-Slavist and ardent Czech nationalist, began lobbying the Russian government to let him raise a full Czecho-Slovak army in Russia to fight against the Central Powers. After the abdication of Czar Nicholas II in March, the provisional government allowed Masaryk to go ahead with his plan, and the Czech Legion was formed.

Over the next year, however, the Russian war effort collapsed, amid crushing losses to Germany on the Eastern Front and inner turmoil, culminating in November, when the radical socialist Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Lenin, seized power from the provisional government and almost immediately called for an armistice with the Central Powers. The Czech Legion, finding itself abandoned by its Russian comrades, decided to keep up the fight. Blocked by German forces from joining the other Allies on the Western Front in France, they headed east, coming into conflict with Bolshevik forces along the way.

By the summer of 1918, the Czech Legion had reached the Russian Pacific port of Vladivostok, where they overthrew the local Bolshevik administration on June 29. On July 6, the legion declared the port to be an Allied protectorate. That same day, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson lauded the Czecho-Slovak contribution to the war effort, suggesting that some 12,000 Japanese troops be dispatched to Vladivostok in order to relieve the Czech Legion and allow them to proceed to the battlefields of France, a suggestion the Japanese accepted. On the following day, more Czech troops toppled Red army units and occupied the city of Irkutsk, in Siberia, spreading Allied control of the Russian Far East and Siberia just as Germany was consolidating its holds in southern Russia and the Caucasus.

In a statement issued on July 27, 1918, Masaryk, in his position as chairman of the Czecho-Slovak National Council, pointed to his countrymen currently fighting in Russia as a further argument for Allied recognition of their independence. In Masaryk’s words: The Czecho-Slovak Army is one of the allied armies, and it is as much under the orders of the Versailles War Council as the French or American Army. No doubt the Czecho-Slovak boys in Russia are anxious to avoid participation in a possible civil war in Russia, but they realize at the same time that by staying where they are they may be able to render far greater services, both to Russia and the Allied cause, than if they were transported to France. They are at the orders of the Supreme War Council of the Allies.

The following September, with World War I in its last months, U.S. Secretary of State Robert Lansing declared de facto recognition of the Czecho-Slovak republic as an independent state, with Masaryk as its leader. Based on the fighting in Russia by Czecho-Slovak forces against the Central Powers, Lansing wrote that The Government of the United States further declares that it is prepared to enter formally into relations with the de facto government thus recognized for the purpose of prosecuting the war against the common enemy, the empires of Germany and Austria-Hungary. The republic of Czechoslovakia—made up of the former Austro-Hungarian territories of Bohemia, Moravia, part of Silesia, Slovakia and sub-Carpathian Ruthenia—was subsequently proclaimed at Prague in October 1918.

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