Winston Churchill urges talks with Russia

One month after Russia signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, formally ending its participation in World War I, Winston Churchill secretly proposes to the British War Cabinet a method by which Britain’s former ally could be persuaded to reenter the war.

Russia’s withdrawal from the war was a direct result of the sweeping revolution of 1917 that brought the abdication of Czar Nicholas II in March and the rise to power of the radical socialist Vladimir Lenin and his followers, the Bolsheviks, in November. The departure left the other Allies reeling, as they assumed (correctly) that Germany, freed from its struggle in the east, would launch a renewed, potentially devastating, initiative on the Western Front.

Churchill, a former first lord of the Admiralty who had been forced to resign for his role in the disastrous Allied campaign at the Gallipoli Peninsula in 1915, had returned to London after a stint spent serving in a battalion on the Western Front to become the minister of munitions in Prime Minister David Lloyd George’s cabinet. In his note to the War Cabinet of April 7, 1918, Churchill suggested that a prominent and well-respected representative of the Allies—perhaps former U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt—should be dispatched to Russia to negotiate with the Bolsheviks a plan to reopen the Eastern Front.

In these negotiations, Churchill wanted Britain, France and the United States to offer support to the Bolsheviks in their efforts to overcome internal opposition to their regime in Russia. Let us never forget, Churchill reminded his colleagues, that Lenin and Trotsky [Leon Trotsky, the Bolsheviks’ foreign minister] are fighting with ropes round their necks. They will leave office for the grave. Show them any real chance of consolidating their power, of getting some kind of protection against the vengeance of a counter-revolution, and they would be non-human not to embrace it. The future prime minister and legendary statesman later proved to be an avid anti-Bolshevik and steadfast supporter of the White (opposition) forces in Russia in the post-World War I years; thus his April 1918 plan, which was not put into practice by his superiors, was a clear manifestation of his all-consuming drive to achieve victory for the Allies.

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