Lieutenant-general Pyotr Krasnov, before 1919
|Born||22 September 1869|
Saint Petersburg, Russian Empire
|Died||16 January 1947 (aged 77)|
Moscow, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
|Allegiance|| Russian Empire (1888-1917) |
Don Republic (White Movement) (1918-1920)
Nazi Germany (1933-1944)
Committee for the Liberation of the Peoples of Russia (1944-1945)
|Service/|| Imperial Russian Army|
Don Army (White Movement)
Committee for the Liberation of the Peoples of Russia
|Years of service||1888-1945|
World War I
Russian Civil War
World War II
Pyotr Nikolayevich Krasnov (Russian: ? ? ?; 22 September (old style: 10 September) 1869 - 17 January 1947), sometimes referred to in English as Peter Krasnov, was a Don Cossack historian and officer, promoted to Lieutenant General of the Russian army when the revolution broke out in 1917, one of the leaders of the counter-revolutionary White movement afterwards and an Axis collaborator who mobilized Cossack forces to fight against the Soviet Union during World War II.
Pyotr Krasnov was born on 22 September 1869 (old style: 10 September) in Saint Petersburg, son to lieutenant-general Nikolay Krasnov and grandson to general Ivan Krasnov. In 1888, Krasnov graduated from Pavlovsk Military School and later served in the Ataman regiment of the Life Guards. During World War I, he commanded a Cossack brigade, the 2nd Combined Cossack Division, and in August-October 1917, the 3rd Cavalry Corps. During the October Revolution, Alexander Kerensky appointed Krasnov commander of the army, which was sent to Petrograd from the front to suppress the Bolshevik revolution (see Kerensky-Krasnov uprising). However, Krasnov was defeated and taken prisoner. He was released by the Soviet authorities after falsely promising to end his struggle against the revolution.
Krasnov fled to the Don region and in May 1918, in Novocherkassk, was elected Ataman of the Don Cossack Host. The American historian Richard Pipes described Krasnov as an "opportunist and an adventurer" primarily interested in using the Civil War to advance his own interests. Though the White movement was officially committed to overthrowing the Bolsheviks in order to resume the war with Germany, Krasnov entered negotiations with the Germans who were occupying the Ukraine with the aim of securing their support, portraying himself as willing to serve as a pro-German warlord in the Don region, which made him the object of much distrust in the Allied governments. The Germans had set up the Ukrainian Zaporizhian Cossack Hetman Pavlo Skoropadskyi as the puppet leader of the Ukraine, and Krasnov indicated his willingness to serve as a leader of a regime similar to the Skoropadskyi regime. Through not willing to formally embrace Cossack separatism, Krasnov as the first elected ataman of the Don Host for centuries favored more autonomy for the Don Host than what the Host had enjoyed the Imperial period.
With support from Germany, he equipped the army, which ousted the Soviets from the Don region in May-June 1918. By the middle of June, a Don Army was in the field with 40,000 men, 56 guns and 179 machine-guns. On 11 July 1918, Krasnov wrote a letter to Wilhelm II declaring that the Cossacks had always been friends of the Reich and went on to say: "The glorious Don Cossacks have been engaging in fighting for their freedom for two months and the fight resulted in their complete victory. The Cossacks have fought with a courage only equaled by that displayed against the English by a people of Germanic stock, the Boers".
His relations with the Volunteer Army were strained on the account of his pro-German views, made more difficult by the fact that he was only willing to have the Don Cossacks serve with the Volunteer Army if he was made Supreme Commander-in-Chief of all the White forces, a demand that was rejected. As the Don Cossack Host outnumbered the Volunteer Army until the summer of 1919, the Volunteer Army's commander, General Anton Denikin, was at a disadvantage in his negotiations with Krasnov. The general view of Krasnov in the White movement was that he was a petty and self-interested warlord only willing to act if there was something of benefit to him on offer. Throughout the Civil War, the Don Cossack Host kept its own identity with the Don Cossacks serving under their elected colonels in their own regiments apart from the rest of the White armies. Krasnov wanted Deniken to advance on and take Tsaritsyn (modern Volgagrad) on the Volga to end the possibility of the Red Army of entering the Don region, a demand that the latter was opposed to. Krasnov was so desperate to take Tsaritsyn that he even offered to have Don Cossacks temporarily serve under Deniken's command if he was willing to advance on Tsaritsyn, but Deniken had other plans.
Viewing Krasnov as unreliable and untrustworthy, Deniken instead decided to take his army south to the territory of the Kuban Cossack Host to raise more men and to take on the Red North Caucasian Army before turning north towards Moscow. Deniken viewed the Kuban Cossacks as more willing to help than Krasnov and his Don Cossacks who tended to put their own interests first. Deniken also believed that he needed to the liquidate the 70, 000 strong Red North Caucasian Army first before advancing on Moscow, arguing that an advance on Moscow would be impossible with a threat to his rear. Deniken's decision to turn the Volunteer Army south to the Kuban rather than north to Moscow has one of the most controversial of the Civil War for by not advancing north in 1918 he missed his best chance of linking up with the White forces in Siberia under Admiral Alexander Kolchak who were advancing west down the Trans-Siberian Railroad towards Moscow.
In the second half of 1918, Krasnov advanced towards Povorino-Kamyshin-Tsaritsyn, intending to march on Moscow on his own, but was defeated. In the siege of Tsaritsyn in November-December 1918, Krasnov sent his Cossacks repeatedly to storm Tsaritsyn, only to see them cut down by Red machine gun and artillery fire. Following his defeat at Tsaritsyn, Krasnov returned to the territory of the Don Cossack Host and refused all offers to co-ordinate with Deniken unless he was made Supreme Commander-in-Chief of the Whites first. After Germany's defeat in World War I, he set his sights on the Entente powers in his search for allies. The defeat of the Ottoman Empire in October 1918 allowed British, French and American naval forces to enter the Black Sea and for the first time allowed direct contract between the Allies and the Whites. Krasnov appealed to the French, offering to allow them to establish a protectorate over the Don Host in an effort to sow discord between the Allies as the Don region had assigned to the British sphere of operations. However, Krasnov was informed that the Allies would not supply him with arms, saying arms would be supplied only to the Volunteer Army, which would then pass on arms to the Don Cossack Host if necessary. In January 1919, Krasnov was forced to acknowledge General Denikin's authority over the White movement, despite his animosity towards him.
On February 19, 1919, Krasnov fled to Western Europe after losing the election for the office of Don Ataman. He was succeeded by Afrikan P. Bogaewsky. Arriving first in Germany, he moved to France in 1923, where he continued his anti-Soviet activities. In France Krasnov was one of the founders of the Brotherhood of Russian Truth, an anti-communist organization with an underground network in Russia.
In exile, Krasnov wrote memoirs and several novels. His famous trilogy Ot Dvuglavogo Orla k krasnomu znameni (From Double Eagle To the Red Flag), in addition to the main plot, with its hero, General Sablin, has several sub-plots which encompass many places, events, and personages from the time of the Revolution of 1905 to the Russian Civil War. It presents a vast panorama of the Revolution and the Civil War throughout the country. Events are revealed through the fates of many characters, who, in turn, give their own interpretations of the events. Even the revolutionaries have an opportunity to express their views, although, in general, their political expositions seem to be the weakest parts of the novel. The ideology of the book is thus presented polyphonically. The author, although he tends to align himself with his conservative characters, offers no personal opinion of his own. All major themes, such as authority vs. anarchy, respect for human dignity vs. violence, creative work vs. destruction, as well as cruelty and terror, are treated in this polyphonic manner. Karsnov had began writing From Double Eagle to the Red Flag when he was in prison in 1917, but the novel was first published in Russian in Berlin in 1921. The American historian Brent Muggenberg wrote that Krasnov had "an impressive grasp of the motivations and mentalities" on both sides in the Russian Civil War. The German historian Daniel Siemens described From Double Eagle to the Red Flag as a deeply anti-Semitic book that accepted The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion as genuine and accused "international Jewry" of inventing Communism. Other books written by Krasnov included a historical novel about a group of Don Cossacks resisting the French invasion of Russia in 1812 and another historical novel about Yermak Timofeyevich, the Cossack conqueror of Siberia. Krasnov's novels were translated into English, German, French, Serbian and other European languages. Despite his chequered military record, Krasnov was seen within emigre circles as a "legendary hero of the Civil War".
Another of Krasnov's novels was his 1927 work Za chertopolokhom (Behind the Thistle), a future history set in the 1990s that imagined a post-Communist Russia ruled over by a restored monarchy that had built an enormous wall around the entire empire to prevent any and all contact with the West. Through set in the future, the emperor who has chosen to isolate Russia from the West bears a strong resemblance in both appearance and personality to Ivan the Terrible. The novel begins with the Soviet Union launching an invasion of Eastern Europe sometime in the 1930s, which was to be started by an unleashing of an immense quantity of poisonous gases. However, the Soviet Air Force accidentally unleashed the deadly chemical gases on the Red Army, killing millions while setting off forest fires. Despite or perhaps because he had been defeated by the Red Army, Krasnov tended to portray the Red Army as an incompetent military force in his writings. The masses of corpses lead to an outbreak of plague, which rendered the borderlands of the Soviet Union uninhabitable for decades and led to a monstrous thistle standing several feet high growing up to in the borderlands. After the disaster, the rest of the world assumes that there is no life left behind the thistle.
In Krasnov's future history, in Europe, socialist parties have come to power in all of the European nations, leading to an irrevocable economic decline over the course of the 20th century and by the 1990s, in the European states food is being severally rationed, technological advances have ceased, housing is in short supply and the triumph of avant-garde has led to a cultural collapse. Disenchanted with life in a declining Europe, a hardy group of the descendants of Russian emigres who have managed to keep the Russian language and culture led by a man named Korenev climb over the thistle to see what lies behind it. Korenev has a dream featuring a beautiful girl threatened by the zmei gorynych, the gigantic, monstrous three-headed dragon of Russian mythology. The girl represents Russia while the zmei gorynych represents the West whose individualistic ideology that Krasnov portrayed as antithetical to Russian values. Korenev and his companions discover that in the world "behind the thistle" that the Communist regime was overthrown decades ago and was replaced with a restored monarchy. The restored monarchy has brought a return to the dress and culture of the era before the Emperor Peter the Great with the men growing long beards and wearing modified traditional costumes while the women wear the traditional sarafans and keep their hair in long braids. The ideology of the regime is based on the Official Nationality ideology of the Emperor Nicholas I, namely the triad of Orthodoxy, Autocracy and Nationalism while the only political party allowed is "The Family of Russian Brothers and Sisters in the name of God and the Tsar". Jews are allowed a place in Krasnov's utopia, but "they no longer have the power to rule over us nor can they hide under false Russian names to infiltrate the government". All of the Russian characters "behind the thistle" speak in a pseudo-folksy way meant to evoke the Russian of the 16th and 17th centuries.
In contrast to the declining economies of the socialist West, the Russia that Krasnov imagines under the restored monarchy is economically and culturally flourishing while achieving marvelous technological feats such as building a sort of flying railroad system over the entire country and constructing vast canals that turn deserts into farmland. Every home in Russia has a television, which only airs the emperor's daily speech to his subjects. Every subject has a personal library in their home consisting of traditional books such as dream-readers, patriotic poetry, folk tales and the Bible. However, the regime allows no freedom of expression and one of the returning emigres says: "Some might say that the Russian government is now totalitarian, only this is not the same sort of totalitarianism as that of the Communists and the Masons of the West. They bow down to some invisible force, whose aim is destruction, but our society is founded on the bedrock of family and at its head is the Tsar, blessed by God, a man whose thoughts are only about the prosperity of Russia". The social order is enforced by the public floggings, torture and execution of any Russians who dare to think differently and those speak out "return home with black stumps in place of their tongues". The narrator of the novel agrees that despite the use of extreme violence and cruelty by the restored Tsarist regime that the system that exists in Russia is superior to the "rotting democratic West". The narrator of Behind the Thistle praises extreme violence committed by the state as not canceling out freedom, but rather "is indeed true freedom, a freedom that democratic Europe had never known or experienced-a freedom for good deeds that goes hand in hand with oppression against evil".
Krasnov was an Eurasianist, an ideology that saw Russia as an Asian nation, having more in common with other Asian nations such as China, Mongolia, and Japan rather than with the Western nations. Some aspects of the novel such as its nostalgia for the pre-Peterine Russia have led to Krasnov being misidentified as a Slavophile, but he was opposed to the ideology of the Slavophiles, arguing that Russia had little in common with other Slavic nations such as Poland, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, and Czechoslovakia. In common with other Eurasianists, Krasnov believed that Russians had a natural affinity with the peoples of Asia, and in Behind the Thistle Russia has extremely friendly relations with other Asian nations such as China, Mongolia and India (through India was part of the British empire in 1927, Krasnov assumed India would be independent by the 1990s). Unlike other Eurasianists who saw the Soviet Union as a "stepping stone" towards the development of a Eurasianist Russia, Krasnov's anti-communism led to the rejection of the "stepping stone thesis". In the 1920s-1930s, Krasnov was a popular novelist with his books being translated into 20 languages. Krasnov favored Asian values with the focus of putting the collective ahead of the individual, and for this reason, argued that Russia was an Asian nation that should look east towards other Asian nations instead of looking west.Behind the Thistle, however, met with an overwhelmingly negative critical response in 1927, being panned by reviewers in the majority of Russian emigre journals. Despite the negative reviews, the expression "behind the thistle" became popular with the younger Russian emigres as a way describe the Soviet Union.
During the Berne Trial of 1933-35 started when a Swiss Jewish group sued a Swiss Nazi group, Krasnov was asked by his fellow emigre Nikolai Markov to come to Berne to testify for the defendants about the alleged authenticity of The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, but he declined. Markov in turn was a member of the Welt-Dienst, an international anti-Semitic society based in Erfurt, Germany and headed by a former German Army officer, Ulrich Fleischhauer whose efforts to promote The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion in Switzerland had caused the lawsuit in Berne. In his correspondence with Markov, Krasnov affirmed his belief in the authenticity of The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, but stated he was unwilling to be grilled by the lawyers for the plaintiffs.
In 1937 after several Russian White emigre leaders in Paris had been assassinated by the NKVD, Krasnov moved to Berlin where he believed he would be safer, and declared his support for the Third Reich In another of his novels, The Lie in 1939, Krasnov wrote about one character: "Lisa was right in her severe judgment: Russia was no more. She did not have a Motherland or her own. However, when the Bremen floated noiselessly by and she saw a black swastika in a white circle on a scarlet banner, a sign of eternal motion and continuum, she was feeling a warm tide covering her heart...That's Motherland!"
During World War II, Krasnov continued his "German orientation" by seeking an alliance with Nazi Germany. Upon hearing of the launching of Operation Barbarossa on 22 June 1941, Krasnov immediately issued a statement of support for the "crusade against Judeo-Bolshevism", declaring: "I wish to state to all Cossacks that this is not a war against Russia, but against Communists, Jews and their minions who trade in Russian blood. May God help the German sword and Hitler! Let them accomplish their endeavor, similar to what the Russians and Emperor Alexander I did for Prussia in 1813". By all accounts, Krasnov was extremely elated when he heard of Operation Barbarossa, believing this was the beginning of the end of the Soviet Union and the "liberation of Russia from Judeo-Bolshevism". Krasnov contacted Josef Goebbels, the German Minister of Propaganda, and asked for permission to speak on Radio Berlin's Russian language broadcasts to deliver pro-Nazi speeches, which was granted. From late June 1941 onward, Krasnov was a regular speaker on Radio Berlin's Russian language station, where he delivered very anti-Semitic speeches that portrayed the Soviet Communist regime as the rule of "Judeo-Bolsheviks" and the German forces advancing into the Soviet Union as liberators.
In January 1943, Alfred Rosenberg appointed Krasnov to head the Cossack Central Office of the Ostministrium, making him the point man for the Ostministrium in its dealings with the Cossacks. The previous head of the Cossack Central Office, Nikolaus Himpel, who like Rosenberg was a Baltic German who spoke fluent Russian, had failed to inspire many Cossacks to join the German war effort. Just as was the case with Rosenberg, Himpel was fluent in Russian, but spoke it with a pronounced German accent, making him a figure of distrust to the Cossacks. Rosenberg realized that he needed a leader who was a Cossack himself to inspire more recruitment and turned to Krasnov after it was discovered that his first choice, the Prague-based Cossack separatist leader Vasily Glazkov had no following. Through Krasnov was aged and had to walk with a cane, he was known for his political skills and through "not universally popular", was relatively well respected amongst the Cossacks as a former ataman of the Don Cossack Host and as a popular novelist. He managed to avoid for the most part the feuds that characterized the Russian diaspora, making him an acceptable leader. He agreed to organise and head Cossack units out of White emigres and Soviet (mostly Cossack) prisoners of war, to be armed by the Nazis. The Nazis, in turn, expected Krasnov to follow their political line and keep to a separatist Cossack orientation. Krasnov who considered himself a Russian first and a Cossack second was not in sympathy with Roseberg's notion of establishing a Nazi puppet state to be called "Cossackia" in southeastern Russia.
In September 1943 the soldiers of the newly formed 1st Cossack Cavalry Division learned that their division would not as expected be sent to fight on the Eastern Front, but was going to the Balkans to fight Communist partisans. At the request of the division's commander, General Helmuth von Pannwitz, Krasnov traveled to address the division. Krasnov tried to assuage the wounded feelings of the Cossacks who did not want to go to the Balkans, assuring them that the fight against the Partisans was part of the same struggle against "the international Communist conspiracy" on the Eastern Front, and promised them if they did well in the Balkans that they would ultimately go to the Eastern Front. At a meeting with the Cossack separatist Vasily Glazkov in Berlin in July 1944, Krasnov stated that he did not agree with Glazkov's separatism, but was forced under pressure from Rosenberg to appoint three supporters of Cossackia to important positions in the Cossack Central Office. In November 1944, Krasnov refused the appeal of General Andrei Vlasov to join the latter's Russian Liberation Army. Karsnov disliked Vlasov as a former Red Army general and because as an old man he was unwilling to submit to take orders from a much younger man. At the end of the war, Krasnov and his men voluntarily surrendered to British forces in Austria. All of them were promised upon surrender by Major Davis that they, as White Russian emigres, would not be repatriated to the Soviets.
On May 28, 1945, Pyotr Krasnov was handed over to the Soviets by the British authorities during Operation Keelhaul. He was taken to Moscow to held in the Lubyanka prison. He was charged with treason for working for Nazi Germany in World War Two and for "White Guardist units" in the Russian Civil War. He was sentenced to death by the Military Collegium of the Supreme Court of the USSR, together with General Andrei Shkuro, Timofey Domanov and Helmuth von Pannwitz. On January 17, 1947, he was hanged. The article in Pravda that announced his execution stated he made a guilty plea to all charges; however, this claim is impossible to verify as his trial was not public.
In 2002, Behind the Thistle, a book which has been forgotten for decades was published in Moscow and has become quite popular in modern Russia, being in its third reprinting as of 2009. Modern Eurasisnists such as Alexander Dugin have embraced Behind the Thistle as a visionary and prophetic book. The book's fundamental hostility and contempt towards the West and its values, especially democracy, has made it a favorite of the regime of Vladimir Putin, which has brought Behind the Thistle back into print in 2002. Krasnov's message in the Behind the Thistle that extreme violence against dissidents is necessary to keep the social harmony in Russia has endeared the book to the current government in Russia.Behind the Thistle was satirized by the Russian novelist Vladimir Sorokin's 2006 novel Day of the Oprichnik.The Day of the Oprichnik (the title is a reference to the members of the secret police of Ivan the Terrible) has the same premise and scenario as Behind the Thistle, but what Krasnov celebrates, Sorokin mocks as the Russia of the future he depicts is as dystopian as Krasnov's Russia of the future is utopian.
On January 17, 2008, Victor Vodolatsky, Ataman of the Don Cossacks and a deputy of the United Russia party in the Russian Duma proposed the creation of a parliamentary working group for rehabilitation of Pyotr Krasnov. Dmitry Kiselyov, a Russian journalist who serves as a spokesman for the Putin regime during a broadcast on Rossiya-1 TV channel on 26 April 2020 listed Krasnov as one the figures from Russian history, whom he believes deserve a monument.
Krasnov is the grandfather of Miguel Krassnoff, an Austrian-born Chilean citizen convicted of numerous crimes against humanity committed during the presidency of Augusto Pinochet. Among others charges, Miguel Krassnoff was convicted for the "permanent kidnapping" of former communist militants, for whom there is now proof that they are dead.