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Problem of Russia.

Genoa Conference. – in the House of Commons on 25th May 1922.

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The problem which naturally occupied most of the attention of the delegations, and the one which excited most controversy was the problem of Russia. I should like to tell the Members of the Committee how the problem presented itself to us there, and I think it is essential that I should state the facts, without reference to their particular bearing upon any conclusions which either Members or I may draw from them. Some may draw one set of conclusions, and others may draw a different set of conclusions. My business is to state the facts as they appeared to us at Genoa, and I shall do so quite frankly and quite fearlessly, because, unless we get to the realities of the European situation, we shall never clear up that situation.

There sat around that table the representatives of 34 nations. Over there sat the Russian delegation, representing more human poverty, wretchedness, desolation, hunger, pestilence, horror, and despair than all the other nations represented round the table. That was the first fact to realise. The other fact was this, that without the assistance of the other nations, it was hopeless for Russia, whatever its Government, to extricate itself from that pit of squalid misery. The Russian people are a gallant people, a loyal people, a patient people, a people capable of greater heights of unselfish devotion than almost any race in the world, as they demonstrated during the first two or three years of the Great War, when, more particularly on one occasion, they sacrificed themselves, in order to save the Allies, but also a people accustomed for generations to obey ruthless and relentless autocracy, and a people who, under the lash of despair, could be very formidable to their neighbours.

There—it was no use questioning it—sat the men who represent the unchallenged masters for the time being of the fate of that formidable, but very distressed people. The millions of Russia could only be dealt with through them. They could only be brought into contact with the outside world through them. They could only be rescued from hunger and death through them. The treasures of Russia could not be unlocked to the outside world except through them. Peace or war with Russia could only be made through them, and whether Russia marched forward or retreated, whether the 1,500,000 she has under arms marched to-day, and whether the 4,000,000 she has in the background in reserve would march to-morrow is a question whether they obey them or not. That was the first fact that you had to get well into your mind before you began with the business of Russia.