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  • Multiple Paths to AutonomyModerate Ukrainians in Revolutionary Petrograd
  • Yuki Murata (bio)

When Nicholas II abdicated the Russian throne and his brother Grand Duke Mikhail Aleksandrovich refused to succeed him under revolutionary pressure in February–March 1917, the 300-year-long imperial rule of the Romanov dynasty in Russia ended.1 Despite this fundamental regime change from autocracy to democracy, however, Russia did not cease to be an "empire." The Provisional Government (PG), the new ruler of the Russian state, inherited from the autocracy a vast territory stretching from Poland to the Pacific Ocean and a multiethnic population. While the PG aimed to maintain the former imperial territory under its own rule, including autonomous Finland and Poland, the political liberty given by the revolution encouraged national elites in the borderlands to organize broad political movements and to openly demand national self-government or autonomy from the central government. Thus from the first, the PG found itself confronting troublesome nationality problems.2

No nationality problem was more acute than the "Ukrainian Question." Disagreement over national-territorial autonomy between the Ukrainian Central Rada (Ukrains´ka tsentral´na rada, UCR), a national organization established in Kyiv in March 1917, and the PG posed considerable difficulties to the central government's war effort, exacerbated by the status of Ukraine as a front region. A temporary compromise in July caused a government crisis, and the revision of this compromise by the PG strengthened the centrifugal tendency of the Ukrainian movement. In the autumn, the UCR was inclined [End Page 255] to ignore the authority of the central institutions, resolving to hold Ukraine's Constitutional Assembly separately from Russia's. This move finally led to the Ukrainian leaders being summoned to Petrograd. No comparably tense situation could be seen in any other ethnic region under the rule of the PG. This process clouded prospects for the building of a constitutional order in Ukraine and the whole of Russia.

Why was the relationship between the UCR and the PG so strained? There has been much productive work on the dispute between the UCR and the PG over Ukrainian autonomy. Ukrainian historians have usually attributed responsibility for the deterioration of the relationship between the two sides to the unfaithful and centralist attitude of the PG.3 Conversely, historians who sympathized with the PG laid the blame on the UCR for its unfaithfulness and chauvinism.4 Thus the focus on the rivalry between the Kyivan Ukrainians and the central government has not seldom resulted in an oversimplified interpretation of the Ukrainian Question in the context of dichotomous Russian-Ukrainian national antagonisms. In the current decade, though, more balanced studies have appeared. Emphasizing the role of soldiers, Mark von Hagen has rightly identified the existence of numerous military units and organizations in Kyiv, a hub city on the Southeastern Front, as a factor in the rapid radicalization of the UCR.5 Moreover, a recent contribution by Johannes Remy demonstrates a more complicated dynamic of the relationship by addressing internal disagreements within the UCR and the PG.6 [End Page 256]

This article aims to examine the cause of deterioration of the relationship between the UCR and the PG, with a particular focus on the absence of a mediator between Petrograd and Kyiv. The term "mediator" here refers to an actor who represents a local community/society while acting for the administration of central power. In the Russian Empire, the imperial government ruled its conquered territories and populations with the help of local "collaborators," who were recognized as representatives of the local community and often held official posts in government institutions.7 The interaction between imperial power and local society through those mediators, who offered local skills and knowledge, guaranteed the maintenance of order in a heterogeneous space, and local elites also benefited from collaboration with the imperial power. During the whole era of imperial rule, the most important subject groups were religious communities. However, from the turn of the century on, the category of "nationality" gradually appeared as a criterion for classifying the non-Russian population into social groups.8 The most important event that brought about that change was the 1905 revolution. The political liberty achieved at that time...