Vladimir Sukhomlinov

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Vladimir Aleksandrovich Sukhomlinov
Владимир Александрович Сухомлинов
Vladimir Sukhomlinov.jpeg
Sukhomlinov in his office (1912)
Minister of War
In office
11 March 1909 – 11 June 1915
MonarchNicholas II
Prime MinisterPyotr Stolypin
Vladimir Kokovtsov
Ivan Goremykin
Preceded byAleksandr Roediger
Succeeded byAlexei Polivanov
Personal details
Born16 August [O.S. 4 August] 1848
Telšiai, Litva-Vilna Governorate, Russian Empire
Died2 February 1926(1926-02-02) (aged 77)
Berlin, Weimar Germany
Alma materNikolayevskoye Cavalry School
General Staff Academy
Military service
Allegiance Russian Empire
Branch/serviceRussian Empire Imperial Russian Army
Years of service1861—1915
RankGeneral of Cavalry
Commands6th Dragoon Regiment
Officers' Cavalry School
10th Cavalry Division
Kiev Military District
Battles/warsRusso-Turkish War of 1877–1878
AwardsSee list

Vladimir Aleksandrovich Sukhomlinov (Russian: Владимир Александрович Сухомлинов, IPA: [sʊxɐˈmlʲinəf]; 16 August [O.S. 4 August] 1848 – 2 February 1926) was a cavalry general of the Imperial Russian Army (1906) who served as the Chief of the General Staff in 1908–09 and the Minister of War until 1915, when he was ousted from office amid allegations of failure to provide necessary armaments and munitions. The Myasoedov/Sukhomlinov cases may have done more harm to the monarchy than the lurid scandals associated with Rasputin.[1]


Born in Telšiai, Vladimir Sukhomlinov graduated from Nikolayevskoye Cavalry School (1867). He served in the Uhlans of the Imperial Guard Regiment based at Warsaw. He graduated from the General Staff Academy in 1874. He participated in the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-1878, served for some time on the staff of General Mikhail Skobelev, and was awarded the Order of St. George 4th class.

After the war, on the invitation of General Mikhail Dragomirov, Chief of the General Staff Academy, he joined the staff of that institution, and lectured as well at the Nicholas Cavalry School, the Corps of Pages and the Mikhail Artillery School.

From 1884 to 1886, Sukhomlinov commanded the 6th Dragoon Regiment at Suwalki. He was Chief of the Officers' Cavalry School at St. Petersburg from 1886 until 1898, being promoted General in 1890. His next appointment was as Commander of the 10th Cavalry Division at Kharkov. In 1899, Sukhomlinov was appointed Chief of Staff of the Kiev Military District. In 1902, he became a deputy commander and, in 1904, commander of the Kiev Military District. In 1905, Vladimir Sukhomlinov was appointed Governor General of Kiev, Podolia, and Volhynia.

Minister of War[edit]

Vladimir A. Sukhomlinov.jpeg

In December 1908, he became head of General Staff and, in March 1909, Minister of War. In this position he opposed training innovations that would have placed emphasis on infantry firepower against the use of sabers, lances and bayonets; stating that "I have not read a military manual for the last twenty-five years". Sukhomlinov's personal charm and popularity with Tsar Nicholas II enabled him to survive charges of lazy incompetence and dishonesty while in office.[2] Sukhomlinov was standing next to Pyotr Stolypin, who had just resigned as Chairman of the Council of Ministers, when the latter was assassinated inside the Kiev Opera. Disagreement between the Minister and his assistant, General Alexei Polivanov, culminated in 1912[citation needed] in the dismissal of Polivanov, and his replacement by General Vernander.

As Minister of War, Sukhomlinov was never trusted by the Army Committee of the Duma, led by Alexander Guchkov and it came to a duel. Sukhomlinov was resented by Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich of Russia (1856–1929), Commander-in-chief of the Russian forces in the first phase of World War I.

Sukhomlinov was not allowed to interfere with Sergey Sazonov, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Stavka, c.q. Grand Duke Nicholas; all the briefing with through the hands of Nikolai Yanushkevich, his assistant. Despite Sukhomlinov's reforms (or perhaps because of his inefficacy and resistance to change, as some assert), the opening phase of the First World War went badly for Russia. After several Russian defeats in East-Prussia during the first months of war, on 11 June (O.S.) Sukhomlinov was forced out of office.[3] Sukhomlinov held Grand Duke Nicolai, Guchkov and Polivanov responsible for his downfall. He was succeeded by Alexei Polivanov. Sukhomlinov went fishing in Saimaa near Imatra, wrote articles under the pseudonym Ostap Bondarenko,[4] and studied the Russo-Turkish War (1787–92).


Some regard Vladimir Sukhomlinov as responsible for the military stagnation of 1905–1912, which resulted in the unpreparedness of the Russian Army at the outbreak of World War I. On the other hand, in Bayonets Before Bullets, Bruce W. Menning asserts that "There was no doubt that he remained committed to building Russia's defensive and offensive military power.... Thanks to Sukhomlinov's reforms, the peacetime strength of the Imperial Russian Army on the eve of World War I reached 1,423,000 officers and men." Though he has some criticism for the Minister, Menning credits him with simplifying and modernizing the structure of the Russian army corps, including the addition of a six aircraft detachment to each.

Norman Stone maintains that Sukhomlinov had "an extremely bad press" due to his autocratic style and accusations of corruption made by his enemies in the Imperial Duma and the army. The effect of the allegations against him is that "Sukhomlinov, as a sort of uniformed Rasputin, belongs to the demonology of 1917. But the case against him is far from watertight." Stone details his position as the leader of an informal group of "praetorians" in the high ranks of the army: professional soldiers, often from lower- and middle-class backgrounds, with experience in and loyalty to the infantry. As such, Sukhomlinov and his allies were opposed by what Stone calls the "patrician" faction, upper-class officers owing less of their status to military service, who tended to favor the cavalry and artillery (especially fortress artillery). Stone regards the continued standoff between the two factions as the responsibility of the Czar Nicholas, who played the two sides off against one another as a means of preserving his own freedom of action. In any case, Sukhomlinov did try, with some success, to direct resources away from the static fortifications which would prove less useful in the coming war, to the infantry and mobile artillery. Stone blames Sukhomlinov's failure to achieve more on problems of Russian development economics, and the resistance of the supposedly "technocratic" patrician faction.

Imprisonment and death[edit]

His wife madame E.V. Sukhomlinova,[5] who was thirty years younger and made arrangements with Rasputin in order to get her husband released. Photo by Karl Bulla

On 20 April 1916, the police searched his mansion; in the evening he was taken to the Peter and Paul fortress, but in July he was transferred to a hospital. Polivanov accused him of abuse of power, in relation with the divorce of his wife, corruption, depositing millions of rubles at the Deutsche Bank in Berlin and high treason, after some of his close associates had been convicted for espionage on behalf of Germany (c.q. S. Myasoedov, A. Altschuller, V. Dumbadze, who was allowed to see documents in order to write a biography). Myasoedov, having an affair with the wife of Sukhumlinov, was arrested in Kovno, tried in Warsaw by a military court on 17 March and hanged the next day ). Sukhomlinov was sentenced two years. Responsibility for his being brought to trial was shared by Duke Mikhail Andronnikov, Alexander Guchkov, Alexander Khvostov[citation needed] and Alexander Alexandrovich Makarov.

The third wife of Sukhomlinov was accused of having very extravagant tastes for clothes and furs.[6] Like Alexandra, she had organized a hospital for wounded soldiers. One evening she organized a donation party using the name of the tsarina to attract people. According to Mikhail Rodzianko, Sukhomlinov's wife had sought assistance from Grigori Rasputin and Peter Badmayev.

After Rasputin had spoken to the Empress, she defended Sukhomlinov until she (and Alexander Protopopov) had him freed after six months. On 26 October[citation needed] Sukhomlinov was placed under house arrest. When Protopopov visited the former minister at his apartment he was heavily criticized in the Duma.[7] It disgusted the public and injured the reputation of the government.

Sukhomlinov was rearrested during the February Revolution and locked up in the same cold and humid cell as two years before. Also his wife and Anna Vyrubova were imprisoned there. His trial took place from 10 August through 12 September 1917. While acquitted of charges of treason, Sukhomlinov was found guilty of not using his power in the past to organize weapons and ammunition for the army. He was sentenced to open-ended forced labour (as a librarian, printer and sweeper) on charges of leaving the army unprepared for World War I. For the first time in Russian jurisprudence history,[citation needed] a public jury was used for a political trial, organized in a military concert-hall.[8] After the fall of the Russian Provisional Government Sukhomlinov had in prison the company of all the former ministers, others were Alexei Khvostov, Purishkevich, and Stepan Petrovich Beletsky.

On May Day 1918, he was released from prison (shortly before reaching 70 years of age). For a while he kept himself hidden in an empty apartment. On 22 September he moved to Hanko (Finnish Rivièra) and then to Germany. His memoirs appeared in 1924, dedicated to his former friends in the army. Highly critical of former colleagues, it was published in translation by the new Soviet Government. Sukhomlinov lived in extreme poverty in Berlin, where he was found frozen to death on a park bench[9] one morning in February 1926.[10]


  • As a journalist under the pseudonym Ostap Bondarenko;
  • Suchhomlinov, W.A. (1924) 'Erinnerungen'. Verlag von Reimar Hodbing. Berlin.

Honours and awards[edit]

 Russian Empire

See also[edit]

  • Kornelij Šacillo: Delo polkovnika Mjasoedova, in: Voprosy istorii (Moskau) 4/1967, S. 103–116.
  • Viktor Gilensen: Germanskaja voennaja razvedka protiv Rossii (1871–1917), in: Novaja i novejšaja istorija (Moskau) 2/1991, S. 153–177.


  • William C. Fuller, The Foe Within: Fantasies of Treason and the End of Imperial Russia, 2006. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.[11][12]
  • Alfred Knox. General V. A. Sukhomlinov. The Slavonic Review, Vol. 5, No. 13 (Jun., 1926), pp. 148–152.
  • Meiden, G.W. van der (1991) Raspoetin en de val van het Tsarenrijk.
  • Bruce Menning, Bayonets Before Bullets: The Imperial Russian Army, 1861–1914, Bloomington: Indian University Press, 1992 (ISBN 0253213800).
  • Norman Stone, The Eastern Front 1914–1917, New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1975 (ISBN 0140267255).
  • Vladimir G. Orloff, Underworld And Soviet, 1931


  1. ^ William C. Fuller (2006)The Foe Within: Fantasies of Treason and the End of Imperial Russia, p. 7.
  2. ^ Barbara W. Tuchman (1964) "The Guns of August", pp. 80–82. Four Square Edition [1]
  3. ^ O. Figes (1996) A People's Tragedy. The Russian Revolution 1891-1924, p. 268, 273.
  4. ^ The Foe Within: Fantasies of Treason and the End of Imperial Russia by William C. Fuller
  5. ^ "The Life of a Chemist". Retrieved 2 April 2016.
  6. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2016-03-03. Retrieved 2014-06-17.CS1 maint: Archived copy as title (link)
  7. ^ R.C. Moe, p. 447-448.
  8. ^ Sukhomlinov, pp. 467, 486
  9. ^ Fuller, William C. The Foe Within: Fantasies of Treason and the End of Imperial Russia. p. 256. ISBN 0801444268.
  10. ^ MacMillan, Margaret. The War that Ended Peace. Random House, 2013. p. 642.
  11. ^ "The Foe Within". Retrieved 2 April 2016.
  12. ^ "When spy mania ruled". The Washingtion Times. Retrieved 2 April 2016.

External links[edit]

Preceded by
Nicholas Kleigels
Governor-General of Southwestern Krai
Succeeded by
Feodor Feodorovich Trepov
Preceded by
Aleksandr Roediger
Minister of War
11 March 1909 – 11 June 1915
Succeeded by
Alexei Polivanov