Soviets Respond to Food Relief Offer

Fridtjof Nansen (1861-1930).  His Fram expedition had reached 86°13′ N in 1895.  Undeterred by the failure of the 1919 relief offer, he would try again, with some more success, in 1921.

May 15 1919, Moscow–After the idea of a conference on Prinkipo fell through, the Allies had little contact with the Soviets, apart from an American mission which was ignored, and Smuts’ very indirect approach via Béla Kun.  In large part, this was because they did not want to; the French hated the Soviets, as did much of Lloyd George’s coalition.  News from Russia was limited and of exceedingly poor quality (The New York Times printed headlines in May claiming that Petrograd had fallen to the Finns), but what little there was suggested a humanitarian crisis in a country now completely cut off from the outside world.  Hoover, head of food relief in Europe, suggested that food relief be extended to the Soviets as well–this would help the people of Russia and possibly help bring Russia back into the community of nations.

To avoid the perception that this would be yet another Allied intervention in Russia, Hoover proposed that Russian food aid be organized via a prominent neutral–Fridtjof Nansen, the famous Norwegian explorer.  Under Nansen’s leadership, Norway and other neutral countries would deliver food and medical aid to Russia, provided ceasefires were arranged in the civil war.  The offer went out from Berlin (as the Allies refused to send it), and on May 15 the Soviets responded.  Lenin had instructed Chicherin and Litvinov to be “extremely polite to Nansen, extremely insolent to Wilson, Lloyd George and Clemenceau,” and they were, rejecting outright the idea of ceasefires without a formal peace conference.  The Allies would do nothing else that attempted to reach out to the Soviets during the remainder of the Paris Peace Conference.

Sources include: Margaret MacMillan, Paris 1919