January 22 1919, Paris–The sudden end of the war left Allied efforts in Russia in an awkward position. Their official purpose, to prevent the Central Powers from having a free hand in Russia after Brest-Litovsk, was no longer relevant, and the Allied public had no interest in a full-scale war in Russia to depose the Bolsheviks. Lloyd George wanted a way out, and wanted to invite the Bolsheviks to the peace conference. While he did not like the Bolsheviks, “To say that we ourselves should pick the representatives of a great people was contrary to every principle for which we had fought.” Talking only to the Whites and the Russian émigrés would be to follow the same course Britain had during the French Revolution, which “led [Britain] into a war that lasted about twenty-five years.”
Clemenceau, understandably, had a much different perspective. A veteran of the fight against the Paris Commune in 1871, he had no patience for the Bolsheviks and certainly would not invite them to his city to let them cause trouble. Backed by Wilson, Lloyd George proposed a compromise on January 21–a separate conference to handle any matters falling within the former boundaries of the Russian Empire (apart from Poland and Finland). The Bolsheviks would be invited, along with the various White governments and the states that had declared independence from Russia since the revolution. The conference would be held on Prinkipo [Büyükada], an island in the Sea of Marmara near Allied-occupied Constantinople, starting in mid-February. Clemenceau strongly objected, but decided not to break with the British and French. Sonnino was even more adamant, but could not back up his anti-Bolshevik attitudes with any commitment of Italian troops.
On January 22, the Council of Ten agreed to Lloyd George’s proposal, and the invitation was extended by radio the next day. The conference, it was hoped, would work out a peace between the various Russian factions, would normalize relations between Russia and the Allies, and settle the question of Russia’s new western and southern borders. As a pre-condition for the conference, the Allies called for a ceasefire on all fronts of activity between all parties.
The non-Bolshevik governments in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, and Crimea accepted the proposal, although in some cases with preconditions of their own. Georgia declined to attend, believing its independence secure. The Whites felt betrayed by the Allies, and most of their governments rejected the invitation or lodged strong protests. The Bolsheviks were of two minds about the invitation–they wanted Allied troops, weapons, and money out of Russia, but they also believed world revolution was imminent and that negotiations were pointless. On February 4, they responded, avoiding the question of a ceasefire and offering large concessions of territory and raw material to the Allies. Effectively, this was a repeat of Brest-Litovsk; Lenin simply hoped to gain enough time for the revolution to spread.
Wilson said that “This answer was not only uncalled for, but might be thought insulting.” Lloyd George thought the same, and came under considerable political pressure at home from both the Conservatives and many within his own party (especially Churchill). Combined with continued French opposition and the non-cooperation of the Whites, the proposal quietly died.
Sources include: Evan Mawdsley, The Russian Civil War; Margaret MacMillan, Paris 1919.