The insane Protopopov, Minister of the Interior, seized upon the death of Rasputin to increase his influence and consolidate his position with the Tsarina. He announced that the spirit of the martyred prophet had descended upon him; he had visions and went into ecstasy in public; at times, when conversing with the Empress, he would suddenly pause and point dramatically to the empty space behind her, saying that Rasputin was there hovering over them. At other times he would see Christ blessing the Empress and confirming her political wisdom.
But this riot of fantasy, this coinage of a disordered brain, did not impair the exercise of a shrewd wit. It is said that he had his agents compose letters of a flattering nature and mail them from different parts of Russia to the Empress. In these forged epistles the writers, simulating the style and the common errors of peasants, praised the Empress for her devotion to a holy cause and exhorted her to stand fast in her policy.
The die was cast. In the Duma, Milyukov was outspoken in his denunciation of the impossible régime. Within three months from the death of Rasputin the red flag of revolt was seen in the streets of Petrograd. More ominous still, rioting began before the food shops. 'An empty stomach has no ears,' runs an ancient Russian proverb. An epidemic of madness descended upon the government. Protopopov, in the final frenzy of reactionary bureaucracy, retaliated with all the apparatus of governmental suppression. Machine guns were mounted on the roofs and at the street corners of Petrograd. On March 8 there was a monster demonstration in the streets, and Protopopov's soldiers fired into the crowd. The mobs, in reprisal, murdered every police official that fell into their hands. On March 11 the Emperor, absent at the General Headquarters of the Army at Mohilev, attempted to dissolve the Duma. But the Duma refused to be dissolved. By this time the situation in Petrograd was so out of hand that Rodzianko, President of the Duma, wired the Emperor as follows:--
The position is serious. There is anarchy in the capital. The government is paralyzed. The transportation of fuel and food is completely disorganized. The general dissatisfaction grows. Disorderly firing takes place in the streets. A person trusted by the country must be charged immediately to form a ministry.
No answer from Mohilev. The letters of the Tsarina, with their scorn of the growing popular outcry against a corrupt and inefficient government, had blinded the judgment and paralyzed the will of her uxorious consort. One generous gesture might have saved Russia and changed the course of history.