Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Thursday, June 8, 2017

What Was the Durnovo Memorandum?

The Durnovo Memorandum was possibly the most prescient political analysis in history. It was penned by Pyotr N. Durnovo, a member of the State Council and former minister of the interior in Witte's cabinet, and presented to the Tsar on 14 February 1914. A conservative monarchist and Russian nationalist, Durnovo thought war between Germany and Great Britain was certain, and he emphasized that it was not in Russia's interest to fight in such a costly and uncertain war against its fellow monarchy Germany. He thought the outcome of such a war would only further British interests and that rapprochement with Germany was a more prudent course. The specificity of his forecasting is remarkable. Here are some of his most significant "hits": 

    Pyotr N. Durnovo
  • The fundamental groupings in a future war are self-evident: Russia, France, and England, on the one side, with Germany, Austria, and Turkey, on the other...[Romania] will remain neutral until the scales of fortune favor one or another side. 

  • Indeed, it is possible that America or Japan may join the anti-German side. [Both did, of course.]

  • We must note, first of all, the insufficiency of our [Russia's] war supplies. 

  • But in the event of defeat, the possibility of which in a struggle with a foe like Germany cannot be overlooked, social revolution in its most extreme form is inevitable...the trouble will start with the blaming of the Government for all disasters. In the legislative institutions a bitter campaign against the Government will begin, followed by revolutionary agitations throughout the country, with Socialist slogans, capable of arousing and rallying the masses, beginning with the division of the land and succeeded by a division of all valuables and property. The defeated army, having lost its most dependable men, and carried away by the tide of primitive peasant desire for land, will find itself too demoralized to serve as a bulwark of law and order. 

  • Germany, likewise, is destined to suffer, in case of defeat, no lesser social upheavals. The effect of a disastrous war upon the population will be too severe not to bring to the surface destructive tendencies, now deeply hidden.

Apparently, however, the memorandum had no impact on the decision making of the Tsar and his advisers six months later during the July Crisis. Durnovo died in 1915 before most of his predictions were validated.


  1. Whoa!

    Too bad I'm on the road and can't check my library to see what Sean McMeekin et al think.

  2. Maybe some of the leaders of the Russian revolutionary groups also read it, and used it as a blueprint? And it became a self fulfilling prophecy for that reason.


  4. I am perfectly aware of Pyotr Durnovo memorandum to his Sovereign Nicholas II; I read it many times. He was right in everything. Even in the open betrayal from Paris and London to the Imperial government. Russia wasn’t ready for a war, was a tremendous mistake, the Foreign Minister Sazonov was the visible head of the pro War party and a melange of nationalists and “liberals” who streamed with an alliance with democracies against the Central Empires

  5. What was worst is that Durnovo wrote the memorandum to the Emperor alongside Count Sergey Witte the former President from the Council of Ministers of the Russian Empire, both were convinced that a war will bring revolution and the end of the Monarchy in Russia and almost sure in Germany and the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. A tragedy was the assassination two years earlier of the most influential statesman in Russia, Pyotr Arkadeevich Stolypin, the man that was convinced about the necessity of deep reforms in Russia. He carried out a land reform, giving millions of acres of land to Russian and Ukranian peasants, around five million families were awarded with land, livestock, cereals, grains and machinery. These were the same murdered in two waves of the Communist genocide under Lenin and Stalin from 1918 to 1939. Durnovo worked close to Stolypin and share his concerns. Both were considered enemies by revolutionaries and reactionaries. The Emperor didn’t read the memorandum and only knew its very existence when Durnovo died suddenly in 1915, obviously was too late and what Stolypin, Witte, Durnovo and others feared was already happening. Not only Alexander Sazonov knew about this memorandum, the French ambassador Maurice Paleologue and the British ambassador Sir George Buchanan had copies and with Sazonov and Izvolsky blocked the access of the memorandum to the Emperor. With the collaboration of prominent members from Nicholas II inner circle. When Durnovo died his daughter Princess Olga Kurakin showed a copy to the Emperor; as I said previously was too late and the Russian troops were defeated in almost all the front by the Germans; they had a very tiny success in the Galitzian front when they took Lemberg (today’s Lviv in Ukraine). Thanks to the Russians offensives Paris was safe; nevertheless Clemenceau and other French ministers were plotting against the Tsar and the Russian monarchy. Durnovo was convinced that a mesalliance with France and England will end in tragedy for Russia; as it happened