On March 6, the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs official Twitter account posted a tweet about the history of Western powers' intervention in Russia in 1918-1922, a period of revolution and civil war.
“#OTD in 1918 British Royal Marines landed in #Murmansk, launching multi-national military intervention in our country. Pursuing their geopolitical interests, Western powers deployed troops all around #Russia, but met fierce resistance & were forced to withdraw in 1920-22.”
A reader with little knowledge of Russian history might infer that this was a hostile invasion, justifying modern Russia’s frequent complaints of Western “Russophobia” and meddling.
And for that reason the tweet is highly misleading.
The military intervention in Russia in 1918 was launched with the aim of propping up the Russian provisional government, which had replaced the Tsarist monarchy after the February Revolution of 1917. The short-lived government was overthrown by the communist Bolshevik party in November of that year (October by the Russian calendar of the time), which in turn ignited what became known as the Russian Civil War.
In other words, there was a lot going on, not to mention a world war in Europe.
One key policy of the Bolsheviks was getting Russia out of the First World War, which by 1917 was extremely unpopular with both soldiers and civilians in the Russian Empire.
On March 3, 1918, just three days before the arrival of those Royal Marines, the newly created Soviet government signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk with Germany and its allies, which were still fighting with the U.S., U.K., and France.
All three of those countries had been allies of Russia throughout WWI, and now, with peace on the Eastern Front, there were fears that Germany would be able to redirect resources to fighting on the Western Front in France and Belgium.
So, allied intervention in Russia aimed at keeping Russia in the war and preventing Germany from taking advantage of the peace agreement.
As allied troops fought on the side of the anti-Bolshevik Russian forces, collectively known as the “Whites,” they had local Russian allies. Despite this, the White movement was unpopular in parts of the crumbling empire, including with Russians who backed the Bolshevik “Reds” and with some in Ukraine and other imperial territories.
To be sure, Western allied intervention was indeed pragmatic and self-interested, but interest dropped off considerably after November 11, 1918, when the allies signed the armistice that led to the end of WWI.
Most Western forces were withdrawn from Russia by 1920. Morale was low as soldiers saw no reason to continue fighting after the central powers’ surrender, and they had no interest in fighting to support a failing Russian movement.
The U.S., U.K., and France also experienced a series of strikes against support for the White movement, whose leaders were associated with reactionary politics and pogroms against Jews.
The Russian foreign ministry’s portrayal of the allied intervention solely as an invasion defeated by Russian resistance ignores and misrepresents historic facts: That the allies’ goal was to support what many saw as a legitimate Russian government of the time.
It also serves the Kremlin’s narrative about Russia’s “historic threat from the West.” That narrative comes in handy when the Kremlin attempts to explain actions such as the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and the military intervention in the east of that country as a response to NATO’s expansion toward Russia’s borders.