Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Campaign to Clear White Generals Gains Pace

Anton Denikin

Alexander Kolchak

Pyotr Wrangel

After a major setback last year, efforts to clear the names of several White Army leaders are again gaining pace, with supporters writing to the president and pushing plans to re-inter the remains of two White officers in the Kremlin wall.

Cossacks, nobles, monarchists and 14 admirals appealed last month to President Vladimir Putin, Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and navy chief Vladimir Kuroyedov to rehabilitate Admiral Alexander Kolchak, who led White Forces in Siberia during the Civil War after the Bolsheviks took power in 1917.

The legal battle to rehabilitate Kolchak, who became an embodiment of evil in Soviet propaganda, reached the Supreme Court but was rejected by its military arm last fall.

In the meantime, the Nobles' Assembly, one of the groups spearheading the Kolchak campaign, also wants to have the remains of White generals Anton Denikin and Pyotr Wrangel, who died in exile, placed in the Kremlin wall -- although not on the side of Red Square, where the Whites' former enemies lie, but on the side facing Alexander's Garden and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Prince Andrei Golitsyn, who heads the Nobles' Assembly, said the Defense Ministry and the Moscow city government have agreed to the return of the remains, Noviye Izvestia reported.

He also said Denikin's 83-year-old daughter Marina, who lives in Versailles, France, thought her father "would be very pleased if his remains were returned to Russia," but added that "it is unlikely he would want to lie next to Wrangel, with whom he was on bad terms."

Denikin's remains are in a Russian cemetery in New Jersey, while Wrangel is buried in Belgrade.

Some 80 years have passed since the bloody Civil War that cost the lives of millions. But the Bolsheviks' vilification of the Whites, many of whom went into exile after their defeat, has yet to be reassessed in a systematic way.

The legacy of the White movement -- perceived very differently at home and abroad -- has been a touchy issue for the Russian leadership.

However, in a gesture of reconciliation, Putin in 2000 paid a visit to the Russian cemetery at Saint-Genevieve-des-Bois outside Paris where many prominent White emigres are buried.

One report in the Italian newspaper Il Tempo, picked up by the Russian press, said last month that Putin supports the move to return Denikin and Wrangel's remains. The presidential press service declined to comment on the report.

But Andrei Ryabov of the Moscow Carnegie Center said he would not be surprised if Putin supported the gradual restoration of the White leaders to a position of honor.

"I think, even if there isn't a legal rehabilitation, some moves to rehabilitate them politically and morally are likely," he said in a recent telephone interview.

Putin's team is interested in finding elements in Russian tradition that are not communist but not the pro-Western dissidents of the 1960s through the 1980s, Ryabov said.

"One of the problems of the last decade has been the difficulty for Russians of shedding their identity as Soviets. When they removed the Soviet identity there was nothing left of the Russian identity," he said.

Ryabov added that a figure such as Denikin could be attractive because "he offered to support Russia in its war against Hitler."

"We want to do what has already been done in France, Spain and the United States when they finished their civil wars -- to restore brotherly relations and begin building one country," said Alexander Smirnov, a St. Petersburg lawyer who has been working to rehabilitate Kolchak since 1994.

Smirnov, a member of the biographical society at the Russian Academy of Sciences, argued that Kolchak's achievements before the Civil War, which included polar expeditions, were worthy of recognition.

Attempts by Smirnov and other Kolchak supporters in May last year to mount a memorial plaque at St. Petersburg's Museum of the Naval Corps were rebuffed by officials when the event was called off at the last minute due to "technical problems."

About 10 books have been published recently based on Kolchak's interrogation in Irkutsk, Smirnov said, and in early February residents of that Eastern Siberian city erected a memorial cross on the spot where Kolchak was shot before his body was thrown into the icy Ushakova River.

According to the Nobles' Assembly, the campaign to rehabilitate Kolchak has the support of Nobel prize winner Alexander Solzhenitsyn. But so far that has done the admiral's supporters little good.

A rehabilitation request filed by Smirnov with the prosecutor's office of the Transbaikal military district in 1997 was rejected in January 1999, and the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court upheld the decision last November.

While versions of Kolchak's death vary, prominent U.S. historian Richard Pipes writes that Kolchak was captured and executed without trial on Lenin's orders in early 1920.

Before he was shot, a commission interrogated him about his past and his activities as "supreme ruler" of the Whites.

"Kolchak behaved with great dignity," Pipes writes in his book "Russia Under the Bolshevik Regime." "The minutes of the testimony reveal a man in complete command of himself, aware that he was doomed but confident that he had nothing to hide and that history would vindicate him."

History might. But military prosecutors are not planning to.

Izvestia quoted Alexander Kolomin, prosecutor of the Transbaikal military district, as saying that Kolchak is ineligible for rehabilitation "because he did not stop the terror committed by his counterintelligence service against the civilian population."

Alexander Yakovlev, chairman of the presidential commission for the rehabilitation of victims of political repression, has said Kolchak's name should be cleared.

In an interview after last year's Supreme Court decision, Yakovlev attributed the ruling to a skewed historical view of the October Revolution of 1917, when the Bolsheviks took over.

"In fact, it was a counterrevolution when compared with the February Revolution," Yakovlev told Ekho Moskvy radio.

The February Revolution of 1917 was a revolt by soldiers and workers to which Tsar Nicholas II responded by dissolving parliament and ineffectually trying to suppress the workers by force. Soon after, he was forced to abdicate power and the Duma appointed a provisional government.

"If the October events are considered a revolution, then everything else is considered counterrevolutionary, including Kolchak, peasant uprisings, revolts by workers against Soviet power and the battles in the Civil War," Yakovlev said.

"Kolchak wanted to restore the legal authority of the Provisional Government, which had been overthrown by the October counterrevolution," he said.

In a separate interview with the Izvestia daily, Yakovlev also said that refusing to rehabilitate Kolchak because of his counterintelligence terror is illegitimate, considering that Stalin was not judged nearly so severely for the actions of his counterintelligence.