Creation of the ROVSWrangel’s Men Settle in France (1924)
By early 1924, the treasury of Wrangel’s government was empty and severe cuts in expenditure were ordered. Under these circumstances, it became necessary to consider moving men out of the Balkans to Western Europe, where they might be able to earn a decent living.¹⁹
On March 24, 1924 Wrangel asked Shatilov, who was then in France, to start finding work for men of the Russian Army in France.²⁰
The number of letters of recommendations²¹
provided by the ROVS’s department in France in 1925 gives us an idea of the number of émigrés who had followed Shatilov to France: 5,800 men in the Paris region and 860 in provincial cities (notably Decazeville, Toul and Knutange).²²
By late 1924, the majority of Wrangel’s men had been relocated to France by Shatilov, while some stayed behind in Yugoslavia and Bulgaria.From Local Military Unions to ROVS
From the first moments of their exile, Russian veterans spontaneously began to form their own military associations. In Paris, for instance, one of the largest of these, the Soiuz Russkikh Ofitserov Uchastnikov Voiny (SROUV)²³
, was formed in January 1921. Similar military unions also were created in Turkey, in the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes, and in Berlin. To encourage this process of uniting the émigré soldiers into one organization, Wrangel provided small sums of money to those military associations that recognized his authority.²⁴
However, the remnants of the Russian Army were so vastly spread out that Wrangel decided to create a new structure to hold the dispersed military together, and in September 1924, he announced the formation of the Russian All-Military Union (Russkii Obshche-Voinskii Soiuz, ROVS).²⁵
Two important foundational documents of the ROVS are Wrangel’s order no. 35 of September 1, 1924
, and the Temporary Statute of the Russian All-Military Union, issued on the same day. Both documents created a military union²⁶
by including all military units of the Russian Army and all military associations that wished to join the ROVS.²⁷Central Directorate and Local Departments
In 1924, the headquarters of the ROVS was located at Wrangel’s home in Sremski Karlovac, Serbia—half‑way between Belgrade and the Hungarian border. In 1921, this was also the headquarters of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia (ROCOR) with Metropolitan Antonii (Aleksei Pavlovich Khrapovitskii)
(1863–1936). In 1929, when Wrangel died and Koutepov took over the leadership of the ROVS, a central directorate was created in Paris.
The ROVS's structure made it a federation of military organizations, rather than a centrally controlled, tightly-organized body.²⁸
Six regional departments were created, each with its own head and staff.²⁹
In addition, as ROVS members dispersed ever further around the world, subdepartments eventually were created directly under the ROVS’s President.³⁰
With 35,000 members,³¹
the ROVS was the largest organization in Russian emigration, compared to the People’s Labor Union (Narodno-trudovoi soiuz, NTS, at 1,500 members) and the Brotherhood of Russian Truth (BRP, at 3,000 members). But the ROVS’s members represented only about a third of the 100,000 men who left Crimea in March 1920; therefore this figure also represents the failure of Wrangel’s attempts to unite the entire military emigration into one body.The ROVS, Nikolai Nikolaevich, and the dynastic competition with Kirill VladimirovichThe Dynastic Competition with the Russian Emigration
Officially, the ROVS was an “undecided” monarchist organization that supported the idea of “non‑predetermination,” i.e., that the future form of state government should not be predetermined by émigrés, but should be left to the Russian people to decide. In reality, however, its creation was highly motivated by dynastic competition.
After the murder of Tsar Nicholas II and his brother Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich in 1918, the Russian line of succession was disputed. One faction pledged support for Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich (1876–1938)
, the eldest surviving son of Alexander III and the cousin of Tsar Nicholas II, as the most legitimate heir to the throne. Another faction supported Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaevich (1856–1929),
a grandson of Emperor Nicholas I of Russia. Even though he was farther away in the line of succession, Nikolaevich was popular among the White Russians due to his brief role as a leader of the Russian Imperial Army in the first year of WWI.
The creation of two rival military organizations supported the two contenders for the throne: ROVS was created on September 1, 1924 to act as a pro-Nikolai Nikolaevich military organization, and the Imperial Army and Navy Corps (Korpus Imperatorskoi Armii i Flota, KIAF) ³²
created in April 1924 was pro-Kirill Vladimirovich organization. The statutes of the ROVS were also notably created the next day after Kirill Vladimirovich declared himself “Emperor of all Russia,” on August 31, 1924. Nikolai Nikolaevich vs Kirill Vladimirovich
An important difference between the two contenders was the generational gap between them. Kirill Vladimirovich was twenty years younger than Nikolai Nikolaevich, and the son of the latter’s brother. During WWI, Nikolai Nikolaevich was Commander-in-Chief of the army, while Kirill Vladimirovich served under his command. This sharp generational gap was also embodied by the organization they sponsored: Nikolai Nikolaevich patronized the ROVS, a senior military organization, while Kirill Vladimirovich bankrolled the Mladorossy —a White Russian youth organization sponsored by Grand Duke Kirill Vladimirovich.
Both men also operated in different circles. Kirill Vladimirovich’s supporters came from the German extreme right, including Hitler's Bavarian entourage. Vladimirovich was notably involved in funding the Aufbau Vereinigung and, through it, the NSDAP.³³
This German connection was encouraged by Vladimirovich’s wife, the German, Victoria Melita of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha (1876–1936)
. Her birth and links to Bavarian monarchy and big industry inclined her to have a sympathy for the Nazi regime that would return her to power in her native country.³⁴
Melita was a driving force and was personally involved in her husband’s political ventures, especially with Aufbau, for which she secured in 1924 funding from the American, Henry Ford³⁵
with the help of Kirill's representative in the U.S., Boris Lvovich Brasol (1885–1963). Melita was also actively involved with the youth organization Mladorossy, for which she organized the first founding Congress in Munich in February 1923³⁶
.Nikolai Nikolaevich and the ROVS
The day after Kirill’s self-proclamation as “Emperor of All Russia,” General Wrangel announced the creation of the ROVS. The term “all-military” meant that the Union included members of different branches of the Army and Navy, as well as the Cossacks. The goal of the ROVS was, if not to bring together the entirety of exiled military, then at least to become its leading organization and a unifying nucleus.³⁷
To increase the authority and influence of the ROVS, Wrangel looked for a popular figure among servicemen to become ROVS’s sponsor, and turned to Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaevich³⁸
who became Honorary Chairman of the Union. On November 16, 1924³⁹
Nikolaevich issued a decree in which he officially agreed to head the ROVS.
In addition, “The Treasury of the Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaevich,” later known as the “Fund for the Salvation of the Homeland”
(Fond Spaseniia Rodiny, FSR) was created in 1924 to fund the underground activities of the ROVS in the USSR.⁴⁰
The main financial source of the Treasury was private donations, collected through the émigré newspaper Renaissance (Vozrozhdenie), which had been based in Paris since 1925. General Pyotr Nikolayevich Krasnov (1869–1947)
appointed Sergei Nikolaevich Paleolog (1877–1933)—formerly the head of the Internal Affairs Department in the government of Denikin—as Head of the Treasury. Mikhail Vladimirovich Bernatskii (1876–1943), who had been Minister of Finance of the Provisional Government and then of the Denikin Government, was also involved in the creation of the Treasury of Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaevich.
In 1930, after the scandal of the penetration of the ROVS by the Trust, Paleolog left the “Fund for the Salvation of the Homeland” and create his own organization, the “Russian Liberation Treasury in Memory of the Tsar-Martyr Nicholas II” (Russkaia Osvoboditelʹnaia Kazna v pamiatʹ Tsaria-Muchenika Nikolaia II, ROK).
Paleolog’s fund, which acted as a second treasury for Nikolai Nicholaevich, funded the Brotherhood of the Russian Truth (Bratsvo russkoi pravdy, BRP) instead of the ROVS. Nikolaevich was also closely linked to the BRP because of his family connection⁴¹
to one of its founders, Georgii Leuchtenberg
, a descendent of the former Russian Tsar Nicholas I.⁴² FundingThe Whites vs Zemgor
After the arrival of the White Army at Constantinople in November 1920, Wrangel sent his ministers⁴³
to Paris to plead the army’s case with the French government and to obtain control of funds that were owned by the former Russian state and held in foreign banks and property abroad. Wrangel’s ministers could not negotiate with the French government, as the French did not recognize the Army’s existence.
The French Prime Minister, Aristide Briand, wished to disband the Russian Army and, therefore, did not want Wrangel to gain control of Russian state property that he could use to support the Army. Instead, Briand decided to concentrate the money for Humanitarian aid for Russian refugees in the hands of the Zemstvo and Town Relief Committee, also known as “Zemgor,”
and its leader,
Prince Georgii Evgenievich Lvov⁴⁴
(1861–1925).⁴⁵The Petrograd Credit Institution
By early 1922 Wrangel’s government treasury was empty, and he decided to liquidate the assets of the Petrograd Credit Institution. This consisted of money and valuables left as deposits on loans and mortgages. The institution had moved its assets south to the Caucasus for safekeeping when the German army approached Petrograd in 1917. There, during the Civil War, the assets were captured by troops from Denikin’s army and, subsequently, taken to Yugoslavia. In 1922, deposits made on loans that had expired were liquidated, raising 41.5 million dinars.⁴⁶Individual Donations: Baroness Olga Wrangel and General Podtiagin
In late 1923, funds gained from this liquidation began to run out. Additional aid for the troops was provided by Wrangel's wife, Baroness Olga Mikhailovna Wrangel (Ivanenko) (1883–1968), who made several fundraising trips to America starting in the fall of 1923. The trips were funded by Prince Felix Felixovich Yusupov (1887–1967)⁴⁷
and helped raise $12,000, which was used to support three sanatoria for the troops, two in Bulgaria and one in Yugoslavia.⁴⁸
After Wrangel’s death, Olga Mikhailovna moved to the U.S., where she reconnected with and stayed close to the head of the Mladorossy, Alexandr Lvovich Kazem-Bek.⁴⁹
After 1928, large sums⁵⁰
were provided to the ROVS by General Mikhail Pavlovich Podtiagin (?–1935), who was, from 1916 to 1924, a Russian military representative in Japan. During the Civil War, he was the main conduit of funds for the purchase of weapons for the Russian Army, especially the units led by Alexandr Vasilyevich Kolchak
(1874–1920) and Grigory Mikhaylovich Semyonov (1890–1946).⁵¹Kutepov’s underground activities and the TrustKutepov and Nikolai Nikolaevich
In March 1924, Kutepov was summoned to France by Grand Duke Nikolai Nikolaevich, who had fled there to his castle in Choigny after the monarchy was overthrown. Kuterov went to France to take over the command of the ROVS’s underground work in the USSR. His efforts focused particularly on the North Caucasus, Crimea, and southern Russia. These underground networks destroyed oil pipelines, disrupted communication, and created partisan units behind enemy lines.
Kutepov’s operations were funded first through the Fund for the Salvation of the Homeland. In 1922, Georgii Leuchtenberg
, a distant relative of the Grand Duke, established the Banque Slave du Midi in France to finance the underground activities of Kutepov. We can, therefore, deduce that either Leuchtenberg’s Banque Slave du Midi housed the Fund for the Salvation of the Homeland or the bank was a second financing structure.⁵²Kutepov and Operation Trust (1927)
Kutepov, however, felt that if the Soviet regime was to be overthrown, it had to be done by forces inside Russia. This meant that his first step was to establish contacts with anti-Bolshevik movements within the Soviet Union. Emigration’s role would then be to support and encourage these groups⁵³
. For this, it was necessary to recruit a number of long-term agents inside the Soviet Union. This strategy led Kuterov right into a trap laid by the Soviet secret services—GPU—in the form of a counterintelligence Operation Trust. The “Trest”⁵⁴
(Trust, “association”) was the codename of a fictional underground anti‑Soviet organization that was, in fact, fully operated by the Soviet secret services.⁵⁵
As part of the trap, White organizations, like the ROVS, would be contacted by a Soviet citizen abroad on business, who would pretend to be a member of a large, well-organized underground movement inside the Soviet Union. The White organization would be asked to establish contacts with the “underground movement,” send agents to meet inside Russia, and give the movement financial support. The purpose of the exercise was to channel the underground activities of White organizations into directions where they could be observed and controlled by the Soviet secret services, and, at the required moment, shut it all down and arrest its members.⁵⁶
Former State Political Directorate (Gosudarstvennoe Politicheskoe Upravlenie, GPU) agents, who were involved in the Trust, revealed the nature of the organization, and the information quickly was relayed to European émigré newspapers. The papers then revealed details of Kutepov’s involvement with the Trust.⁵⁷
After this scandal, Kutepov came under tremendous pressure to surrender the leadership of the underground activities of the ROVS to someone else. In order to restore his reputation, Kutepov immediately adopted a new strategy—terror—and organized several underground missions in the USSR in 1927–1928 with limited results.⁵⁸Golovin’s military training courses ROVS Straddled the Generation Gap
Starting in the late 1920s, a sharp generational divide emerged in Russian émigrés. Younger émigrés rebelled against the values and institutions of their fathers and rejected what they saw as the passivity of the older generation. The ROVS bridged the generation gap and made great efforts to influence and appeal to the younger generation.⁵⁹
At first, ROVS tried to recruit youth organizations within its ranks with limited results. The problem was that there was very little incentive for young men to join ROVS: it was a military organization where one’s seniority was defined by military rank. In spite of their best efforts, the ROVS was a veterans’ organization where older men recalled old times. Knowing they could never be more than junior members of the ROVS, youth never cared to join.⁶⁰
The leaders of the ROVS realized that it was less important to get young people to join the ROVS than to attract them generally to Russian nationalism. The ROVS, therefore, provided financial and material help as well as military training courses to the youth groups in order to appeal to them.General Golovin’s Military Training Courses
The most successful training course was the Higher Military Scientifical Course (Zarubezhnye Vysshie Voenno-Nauchnye Kursy, ZVVNK), run by General Nikolai Nikolayevich Golovin (1875–1944),
one of Russia’s foremost military scholars. There were two branches of the course, one in Paris, beginning in 1927, and one in Belgrade, beginning in 1931. Initially reserved for ROVS members, the courses were eventually opened to non-members in March 1931, after Evgenii Ludwig Miller (1967–1939)
—the chairman of the ROVS between 1930 and 1937 — issued a “Statute on the Military Preparation of ROVS Members.” This aimed, among other things, to provide a basic military education for those outside of the ROVS, who wished to attend. Lecture subjects included tactics, airpower, chemical warfare, military history, military organization, logistics, and also included the work of the general staff and the economics of modern warfare. Between 1927 and 1940, over 400 people attended the Higher Military Courses in Paris and 200 attended the courses in Belgrade,⁶¹
all of which were funded by Mikhail Bernatskii, one of the cofounders of the Fund for the Salvation of the Homeland.Participation in foreign wars against communist powers
Since the Whites would not be able to fight against in Russia, they saw their participation in foreign wars against communist powers as a continuation of their own struggle. Of particular note was the ROVS, which fought with Franco in Spain in 1936 and with Mannerheim in Finland in 1939.Participation in the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939)
The outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in July 1936 and the struggle of General Franco’s Nationalist forces against the Republicans, who received support from the Soviet Union, was seen by many ROVS members as a continuation of their struggle with communism and socialism. Some members felt it was incumbent upon them to organize Russian volunteers to go to Spain to fight in Franco’s army.
In December 1936, an ROVS delegation led by Shatilov, head of the ROVS French section, travelled to Spain to speak to Franco’s High Command. Franco’s forces agreed to accept Russian volunteers to be formed into a Russian unit in the Spanish Foreign Legion, but they refused to pay travel expenses.
At the beginning of February 1937, the chairman of the ROVS, General Miller, called for volunteers, but because the cost of travel was expensive, few actually volunteered. Only 32 volunteers, all from the French section of the ROVS led by Shatilov went to Spain.⁶²
The volunteers were assigned to the Tercio Maria de Molina unit, which belonged to the Carlist organization Requetés.Participation in the Soviet-Finnish War (1939–1940)
Until the end of 1917, Finland was part of the Russian Empire. After the October Revolution, the Bolshevik government granted Finland its independence, the first time in Finnish history. Immediately after, in January 1918, Carl Mannerheim (1867–1951), a former White Guard, was appointed Commander in Chief of the newly independent Finnish army. Mannerheim was instrumental in the rapprochement of Finland with the Third Reich after 1933. After the outbreak of World War II (WWII) in September 1939, Finland sided with Germany. The proximity of the Finnish border—and of their Nazi allies—to Leningrad (now Saint-Petersburg) caused worry among Soviet leadership. After several attempts to negotiate land swaps, all of which were refused by the Finns, Soviet leadership denounced the Soviet‑Finnish Non-Aggression Pact of 1932. On November 30, 1939, the Soviet-Finnish War began.Alexei Petrovich Arkhangelskii (1872–1959),
Chairman of the ROVS after Miller’s kidnapping in 1937, sent a letter on December 16, 1939 to Marshal Mannerheim, offering the ROVS help in the Finns’ struggle against the Soviets. Mannerheim, a former Imperial Russian Army officer, had served with both Generals Arkhangelskii and Fyodor Fyodorovich Abramov (1871–1963) and was still in contact with both. Yet, despite his sympathies for the White cause, Mannerheim declined Arkhangelskii’s offer.
In February 1940, as the war dragged on and Finland’s position became more precarious, Mannerheim changed his mind. Boris Bazhanov, Stalin’s former secretary who had defected to the West, was given permission by the Finns to recruit a “Russian National Army” from among Soviet prisoners of war, to be used behind the Soviet front lines. Bazhanov recruited 450 volunteers who were Soviet prisoners. They were unwilling to serve under Soviet oficers, so Bazhanov decided to put ROVS officers in charge of the group. In early March 1940, the first detachment went into battle, working behind the Soviet front. Soon after, on March 14, 1940, the war came to an end, and the “Russian National Army” was disbanded. The ROVS’s involvement in the Finnish War had come too late to make any impact.⁶³