Money of two empires

Dmitry Ermakov

More than two hundred million tsarist rubles – hundreds of billions if translated into modern money – disappeared after the death of Admiral Kolchak. For decades they were looking for them at the bottom of Lake Baikal, in the Czech Republic, Petrograd. New traces lead to China and Mongolia. Why the tsar’s gold was overgrown with myths and riddles and how much actually disappeared – RIA Novosti figured out.
Treasure church
In 1959, KGB officers seized an “American spy” in the Baikal region. But Vyacheslav Bogdanov was not associated with the CIA – he worked for himself.
Kolchak’s officer, he, leaving Russia in 1920, hid the Tsar’s gold in an abandoned church on the shore of Lake Baikal. The valuable cargo was transported on a sleigh, guarded by 45 soldiers. Bogdanov shot all the witnesses.
He returned after the Great Patriotic War. He came as a tourist, taking advantage of the amnesty of the Soviet government. According to some reports, he changed his name. And still came into the field of view of the investigating authorities. In America, Bogdanov talked about Kolchak’s gold. Like, before the defeat, the White Guards hid the imperial reserve without the knowledge of the commander-in-chief. He mentioned gigantic figures – 500 tons.
During interrogation, he had to confess and hand over the treasure. But the church turned out to be 35 million royal rubles, and lost, according to historians, 250.
Nevertheless, the find indirectly confirmed that Kolchak’s missing gold really exists.
A million shortage
They were looking for treasures back in the early 1920s. The rampant famine has forced many to leave their homes, wander the cities in search of earnings. Gangs raged on the roads, peasant uprisings could turn into a mass riot. The government was in dire need of money.
After the revolution and the civil war, they had no more than 400 million rubles left – four times less than the former imperial treasury. “Kolchak’s gold” could save the situation. And the Reds had reason to believe in his existence.
At the beginning of the First World War, the Russian Empire possessed a colossal reserve of precious metals. Production reached sixty tons per year, doubled compared to the end of the 19th century. By 1917, the gold reserve was somewhat dry due to military spending. But still it was estimated at 1.1 billion rubles – a lot of money.
The royal ruble was worth, according to estimates in 2013, about 1280 modern – this figure is called by enthusiastic historians, based on the consumer basket. At the current exchange rate, it is even more expensive.
In 1917, the Germans entered the Baltic States and approached Petrograd. The Provisional Government ordered the evacuation of the gold reserve to Moscow and the cities of the Volga region. The revolution followed. Part of the treasury fell into the hands of the Bolsheviks and then the Germans. Presumably – about 200 million rubles.
The Whites hurried to take the remaining money to Kazan, where a modern bank with extensive vaults was located. The calculation was as follows: it is easy to send gold from the provincial center to the east along the Trans-Siberian Railway. This is what they did when in 1918 regiments under the command of Leon Trotsky approached Kazan.
The main part was sent by train to Irkutsk, at the disposal of the commander-in-chief Alexander Kolchak. According to various estimates, the admiral, who declared himself the supreme ruler of Russia, received money and ingots for 650-660 million.
In 1920, Kolchak was shot. The troops of the Czechoslovak Corps, which made up a large part of his army, capitulated. As payment for returning to their homeland, they gave the Irkutsk Revolutionary Committee just over 400 million gold pieces. Researchers have been worrying about the fate of the remaining 250 for more than a century. This is the missing “Kolchak’s gold”.
At the bottom
The most widespread version among the people is that the treasure lies at the bottom of Lake Baikal. The Czech train, heading to the east, allegedly fell under a landslide caused by the Reds. Or by nature itself: old trains are too unstable, and the railway along the lake is laid on steep slopes. Moreover, the new authorities allegedly knew about the crash and tried to raise gold back in 1920. But nothing happened: the cars were carried away by the current to the depths. However, the authors of such theories do not refer to real documents.
For a long time, this story remained just a legend, which the inhabitants of the Baikal region loved to tell visitors. But in 2008 there seemed to be a sensation: search engines descended to the bottom of Lake Baikal and found several old wagons. However, no gold was found, although the search continued for more than one year.
However, the scientist and archaeologist Aleksey Tivanenko, who descended on the Mir spacecraft, claims: he noticed two bars that looked like ingots. But it is technically impossible to get them yet. “Bank marks are visible. It follows from this that the bars are gold,” Tivanenko said in an interview with reporters. It is difficult to draw conclusions looking at his pictures. The frame, published on the web, of low resolution, on top of the photo – graphic designations.
Academic historians are sure: there is no gold in Lake Baikal. And the cars could have been there even during the years of the Russian-Japanese war – before Kolchak. “A section of the Circum-Baikal railway was not completed, and in the winter of 1904 the trains were launched directly on the ice,” says Kirill Kotkov, head of the Center for the Study of the Far East in St. Petersburg. – but where did anyone get the idea that there was gold? “
The RAS historian Oleg Budnitsky, the author of several books about Kolchak’s gold, judges the version with the sunken treasure even more categorically: “About the bottom of Lake Baikal is complete nonsense.
However, they also talk about the flooding of gold elsewhere – at the bottom of the Golden Horn Bay in Vladivostok. White Czechs could have left him before sailing home. We haven’t looked there yet.
Was there gold
Budnitsky claims that Kolchak’s lost gold does not exist in principle. He calculated: the funds that the Bolsheviks did not get went abroad as payment for the White Guard weapons and ammunition. And he even named several banks where they ended up.
In a conversation with RIA Novosti, Budnitsky explains that he studied the statements of the tsarist State Bank, preserved in the State Archives of Economics, as well as documents of the Kolchak army and white emigrants. Some of these papers were seized by the Bolsheviks, other materials went to the NKVD when the Nazis were expelled from Eastern Europe. According to Budnitsky, these data are now declassified.
“During the First World War, the world’s gold reserves lost weight, the demand for the yellow metal was high,” the historian explains. “Nevertheless, at first Kolchak’s financiers sold the precious metal at a discount: no one recognized his government, not everyone wanted to risk their reputation.”
According to Budnitsky’s estimates, the Kolchakites transferred about 195 million rubles abroad. And more than 43 more were captured by the white ataman Semyonov, who led the resistance to the Bolsheviks in Transbaikalia.
Researcher Sergei Volkov, who has been studying Siberia for many years, made similar conclusions. But opponents doubt that the hungry, war-worn Czechs gave the Red Army every last coin before the long journey home.
In any case, the Czechs did not fully get the gold. After the death of Kolchak, his former subordinates could have taken him away – and not only by Semyonov and Bogdanov.
Money of two empires
In the fall of 2021, a film by the Buryat director Yuri Botoev “The Gold of the Empire” was released about the adventures of treasure hunters. And again, talk began about the treasures lost in the Far East. Or in Mongolia.
So, the professor of history Alexei Mikhalev recalled: in the Mongolian Tzain-Shabi during the civil war, an expedition of the Provisional Siberian Government worked to purchase horses and fodder. The historian claims that the transactions were carried out using Kolchak funds. And after the death of the admiral, the money could get to Baron Ungern, a white officer who was hatching no less than a plan for the restoration of Genghis Khan’s empire.
Ungern fought in Mongolia against the Chinese and the Bolsheviks. Successful at first. Then his army split, the baron was captured by the red partisans and was executed on the personal orders of Lenin.
Historian Kirill Kotkov doubts that Ungern had a lot of gold. Cites as an argument the low number of his troops. According to Oleg Budnitsky, ataman Semyonov allocated seven million Kolchak rubles to Ungern, but this was not enough for the planned campaign.
“Yes, this money could have completely remained in Mongolia and slightly increased the country’s financial reserve. But it can hardly be called Kolchak’s missing gold,” Budnitsky sums up.
Harbin final
But in China, Kolchak’s gold could well be. More precisely, in Manhuria. The city of Harbin, founded at the end of the 19th century by the Russians, became the center of the White emigration. By the mid-1920s, about one hundred thousand settlers from Russia lived there. Many are from Kolchak’s army.
After the overthrow of the monarchy in 1912, China fell into a state of sluggish civil war and until 1949 did not function as a normal state. Even after the Kuomintang party came to power with the help of the USSR in 1927, Manchuria was essentially not subordinate to the center. It was ruled by the militarist general Zhang Zongchang, and later became the puppet state of Manchukuo, where the Japanese ruled openly.
During this period of history, Russian officers continued to participate in regional wars. It is possible that the very Kolchak gold – or part of it – served as their financial support.
Historian Kirill Katkov emphasizes: White officers fought against the Kuomintang, with the Red Army on the Sino-Eastern Railway, and on Khalkhin Gol as allies of Japan. “But the problem is that the Russians in the Far East were not a single political force. The Japanese were even afraid to send the troops of Ataman Semyonov against the Red Army: they could go over to the side of their compatriots,” the scientist explains.
He recalls that the ataman really had money from the Kolchak reserve, but they all gradually disappeared into Japanese banks. As well as the gold of white officers from Harbin – all over the world.
Katkov stresses: the issue needs to be investigated, but for this it needs to be cleared of a thick layer of conspiracy theories. As, however, and a significant part of the books, publications and films that touch on the theme of Kolchak’s gold.