Primary Documents - Lenin's Ultimatum Against Ukrainian Independence, 17 December 1917

Lenin Reproduced below is the text of Lenin's ultimatum to nationalist Ukrainians warning against a declaration of independence and of providing aid against known anti-Bolshevik forces operating within Russia.

With the disintegration of the Russian monarchy in February 1917 nationalist Ukrainian leaders (led by Vinichenko) moved swiftly to seek a form of independence within the Russian union, a desire granted by the Provisional Government in July 1917.  With the success of the Bolshevik October Revolution of the same year however, the Ukrainians found themselves accused of essentially aiding and abetting anti-Bolshevik forces within Russia.

Ukrainian President Vinichenko consequently issued a proclamation of autonomy on 20 November 1917 in response to the unrest within Russia.  He reiterated the Ukraine's desire to remain autonomous within a wider Russian union - to no avail.  The following month, December 1917, brought the Ukraine into civil war against Bolshevik forces.

Ultimately the Ukrainians sought protection from the Germans with whom they negotiated a peace treaty at Best-Litovsk in 1918 (click here to read Vinichenko's formal plea for inclusion at the peace conference).  Exacting a heavy economic price for their support the Germans duly took the Ukrainians' side and obliged the Bolsheviks to accept an autonomous Ukraine.  The Ukraine declared independence on 22 January 1918.  (Click here to read the terms of the peace treaty agreed between the Ukraine and the Central Powers.)

Lenin's Ultimatum to the Ukraine Warning Against Independence, 17 December 1917

The Russian Socialist Government, by the voice of the Soviet of the people's commissaries, once more confirms the independent national rights of all the nationalities that were oppressed by the Tsarist-Great Russian bourgeoisie, even to the point of recognizing the right of these nationalities to separate themselves from Russia.

Consequently, we, the Soviet of the commissaries of the people, recognize the right of the Ukrainian People's Republic to separate itself entirely from Russia and to enter into pourparlers with the Russian Republic on the subject of the determination of federal or other mutual relations to be established between the two republics.

All that concerns the national rights and the independence of the Ukraine we, the commissaries of the people, freely recognize without any limits or conditions.

As regards the bourgeois Republic of Finland, which is still bourgeois, we will not make a gesture toward restricting its national rights or toward interfering with the independence of the Finnish people.  We will not make a movement against the national independence of any people belonging to the Russian Federation.

Nevertheless, we accuse the Rada of Ukraine of the fact that, under cover of phrases and declarations regarding national independence, it has given itself over to a systematic bourgeois policy, under which neither the Rada nor the Soviets of Ukrainia are willing to recognize the action of our Soviet over their country.

Among other things, the Rada has refused to call immediately the Soviets of Ukrainia in a general assembly, as they demand.

This double-faced policy, which deprives us of the possibility of recognizing the Rada as authorized representative of the labouring masses (exploited as they are by the Ukrainian Republic), has latterly reached a point where it has practically annihilated every possibility of accord with us.

This attitude in the beginning disorganized the front.  Through its manifestos addressed to the Ukrainian troops at the front, the Rada destroyed its unity and provoked division at a time when unity was possible only by following the path of systematic accord between the Governments of the two republics.

In the second place, the Rada has been guilty of dispersing the troops in the Ukraine that were faithful to the Soviets.

In the third place, the Rada is lending assistance to the plots of Kaledine by taking its stand against the influence of the Soviets and by meddling effectively with the autonomous rights of the Don and Kuban Provinces.

By sheltering the counter-revolutionary movement of Kaledine, and by running counter to the will of the great mass of Cossack workmen in allowing the armies favourable to Kaledine to pass through the Ukraine, and at the same time refusing such passage to the armies hostile to that General, the Rada is opening the way to an unheard-of treason against the revolution.

By supporting the worst enemies of the national independence of the peoples of Russia - the Cadets and the partisans of Kaledine - the Rada may oblige us to declare war upon it; and this we would do without any hesitation, even if that institution were formally recognized as representing incontestably the entire population of the independent and bourgeois Republic of the Ukraine.

For the reasons given, the Council of The People's Commissaries, calling to witness the Ukrainian People's Republic, submits to the Rada the following questions:

1. Does the Rada promise to renounce in future all action for the disorganization of the common front?

2. Does the Rada promise to refuse in future to permit the passage over Ukrainian territory of any troops going into the region of the Don, the Urals, or elsewhere, and never to permit such passage without first having obtained the authorization of our Generalissimo?

3. Does the Rada promise to lend assistance to the armies of the revolution in the struggle against the counter-revolutionary forces of the Cadets and of Kaledine?

4. Does the Rada promise to put an end to the attempts to crush the armies of the Soviet and of the Red Guard in the Ukraine, and return their arms, immediately and without delay, to those from whom they have been taken?

In case a satisfactory reply has not been received within twenty-four hours, the Soviet of the People's Commissaries will consider the Rada in a state of war with the influence of the Soviet in Russia and in the Ukraine.

Source: Source Records of the Great War, Vol. VI, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni 1923

"Beachy Bill" was the name given to one of the Turkish guns which regularly shelled Anzac Cove.

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