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Not to be confused with the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk , a similar treaty involving Ukrainemarker and the Central Powers.

The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was a peace treaty signed on March 3, 1918, at Brest-Litovsk (now Brest, Belarusmarker) between the Russian SFSR and the Central Powers, marking Russia's exit from World War I.

While the treaty was practically obsolete before the end of the year, it did provide some relief to Bolsheviks who were tied up in fighting the civil war and affirmed the independence of Finlandmarker, Estoniamarker, Latviamarker, Ukrainemarker, Lithuaniamarker. In Poland, which was not mentioned in the treaty, its signing caused riots and protests, and the final withdrawal of any support for the Central Powers..

Armistice negotiations

Peace negotiations began on December 22, 1917, a week after the conclusion of an armistice between Russia and the Central Powers, at Brest-Litovsk (modern Brest, Belarusmarker, near the Polish border). The Germansmarker were represented officially by Foreign Secretary Richard von Kühlmann, but the most important figure in shaping the peace on the German side was General Max Hoffmann, Chief of Staff of the German armies on the Eastern Front (Oberkommando-Ostfront). Austria-Hungary was represented by Foreign Minister Ottokar Czernin, and from the Ottoman Empire came Talat Pasha. The Germans demanded the "independence" of Poland and Lithuania, which they already occupied, while the Bolsheviks demanded "peace without annexations or indemnities" — in other words, a settlement under which the revolutionary government that succeeded the Russian Empiremarker would give neither territory nor money.

The peace delegations that met at Brest-Litovsk were a very mixed assembly. On the one hand there were highly conservative representatives and noblemen from the monarchic German Empire and Austria-Hungary and on the other side were representatives of a radical revolutionary government that had never been seen before in the World and that openly proclaimed the aim of World Revolution. The first impressions after a common dinner were ambivalent. Count Ottokar Czernin, leader of the Austro-Hungarian delegation later wrote:The German state secretary Richard von Kühlmann noted:

The later leader of the Soviet delegation, Leon Trotsky later reported:

It is important to note that these negotiations were taking place about nine months after the United Statesmarker had declared war on Germany, but before the Americans were making a significant contribution on the Western Front. The Bolsheviks likely believed that the Germans would seize the opportunity to make a separate peace with Russia (even on moderate terms) so that they would have an opportunity to defeat France and Great Britainmarker before the Americans arrived, even if this meant they would have to settle for less generous terms.

Frustrated with continued German demands for cessions of territory, Leon Trotsky, Bolshevik People's Commissar for Foreign Relations (i.e., Foreign Minister), and head of the Russian delegation, on February 10, 1918, announced Russia's withdrawal from the negotiations and unilateral declaration of the ending of hostilities, a position summed up as "no war — no peace".

Denounced by other Bolshevik leaders for exceeding his instructions and exposing Bolshevist Russia to the threat of invasion, Trotsky subsequently defended his action on the grounds that the Bolshevik leaders had originally entered the peace talks in the hope of exposing their enemies' territorial ambitions and rousing the workers of central Europe to revolution in defense of Russia's new workers' state.

Resumed hostilities

The consequences for the Bolsheviks were worse, however, than anything they had feared the previous December. The Central Powers repudiated the armistice on February 18, 1918, and in the next fortnight seized most of Ukrainemarker, Belarusmarker and the Baltic countries. Through the ice of the Baltic Seamarker, a German fleet approached the Gulf of Finlandmarker and Russia's capital Petrogradmarker. Despite strikes and demonstrations the month before in protest against economic hardship, the workers of Germany failed to rise up, and on March 3 the Bolsheviks agreed to terms worse than those they had previously rejected.

Terms of the peace treaty

Signing of the treaty, March 3, 1918
Borders drawn up in Brest-Litovsk
The treaty, signed between Bolshevik Russia on the one side and the German Empire, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and Ottoman Empire (collectively the Central Powers) on the other, marked Russia's final withdrawal from World War I as an enemy of her co-signatories, fulfilling, on unexpectedly humiliating terms, a major goal of the Bolshevik revolution of November 7, 1917.

In all, the treaty took away a quarter of Russia's population, a quarter of its industry and nine-tenths of its coal mines.

However, Germany's defeat in World War I, marked by the armistice with the Allies on November 11 at Compiègne, made it possible for Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, and Poland to become truly independent sovereign states, and the designated monarchs had to renounce their thrones.

Transfer of territory to Germany

Russia's new Bolshevik (communist) government renounced all claims on Finland (which it had already acknowledged), the future Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania), Poland, Belarusmarker, Ukrainemarker.

Most of these territories were in effect ceded to the German Empire, intended to become economically dependent on and politically closely tied to that empire under various German king and dukes.

Regarding the ceded territories, the treaty stated that "Germany and Austria-Hungary intend to determine the future fate of these territories in agreement with their population" with few other effects than the appointment of German rulers to the new thrones of Latvia and Lithuania.

Occupation of the ceded territories by Germany required large amounts of manpower and trucks, and yielded little in the way of foodstuffs or other war material. However, the Germans transferred hundreds of thousands of veteran troops to the Western Front as rapidly as they could, where a series of spring offensives were unleashed that badly shocked the Allies. Some Germans blamed the occupation for significantly weakening the Spring Offensive.

Transfer of territory to the Ottoman Empire

At the insistence of the Turkish leader Talat Pasha, all lands Russia had captured from the Ottoman Empire in the Russo-Turkish War , specifically Ardahanmarker, Karsmarker, and Batumimarker, were to be returned. This territory was under the effective control of the Democratic Republic of Georgiamarker and the Democratic Republic of Armeniamarker until 1921. The territory under Armenian control, by and large, went to Turkey after the Soviet conquest, whereas the territory under Georgian control mostly reverted to the Soviet Union after Georgia's fall in March 1921.

Paragraph 3 of Article IV of this treaty specifically states that:
"The districts of Erdehan, Kars, and Batum will likewise and without delay be cleared of the Russian troops. Russia will not interfere in the reorganization of the national and international relations of these districts, but leave it to the population of these districts, to carry out this reorganization in agreement with the neighboring States, especially with Turkey."

Protection of Armenians' right to self-determination

Russia supported the right of the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire and Russia to determine their destiny, by ensuring the conditions necessary for a referendum as follows:

  1. The retreat (within 6–8 weeks) of Russian armed forces to the borders of the Democratic Republic of Armeniamarker, and the formation in the ADRmarker of a military power responsible for security (including disarming and dispersing the Armenian militia) . The Russians were to be responsible for order (protecting life and property) in Ardahan, Kars, and Batumi until the arrival of the Ottomans.
  2. The return by the Ottoman Empire of Armenian emigrants who had taken refuge in nearby areas (Ardahan, Kars, and Batumi).
  3. The return of Ottoman Armenians who had been exiled by the Turkish Government since the beginning of the war.
  4. The establishment of a temporary National Armenian Government formed by deputies elected in accordance with democratic principles (the Armenian National Council became the Armenian Congress of Eastern Armenians, which established the Democratic Republic of Armeniamarker). The conditions of this government would be put forward during peace talks with the Ottoman Empire.
  5. The Commissar for Caucasian Affairs would assist the Armenians in the realization of these goals.
  6. A joint commission would be formed in order that Armenian lands could be evacuated of foreign troops.

Payment of war reparations to Germany

A follow-up treaty, signed in Berlin on August 27, 1918, required Russia to pay six billion marks in war reparations to Germany.

Lasting effects of the treaty

The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk lasted only eight and a half months. Germany renounced the treaty and broke diplomatic relations with RSFSR on November 5, 1918 because of Soviet revolutionary propaganda. The Ottoman Empire broke the treaty after just two months by invading the newly created Democratic Republic of Armeniamarker in May 1918. Following the German capitulation, the Bolshevik government (VTsIK) annulled the treaty on November 13, 1918 (the text of the VTsIK Decision was printed in Pravda the next day). In the year after the armistice, the German Army withdrew its occupying units from the lands gained in the treaty, leaving behind a power vacuum which various forces subsequently attempted to fill. In the Treaty of Rapallo, concluded in April 1922, Germany accepted the Treaty's nullification, the two powers agreeing to abandon all war-related territorial and financial claims against each other.

The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk marked a significant contraction of the territory which the Bolsheviks controlled or could lay claim to as effective successors of the Russian Empire: while the independence of Finland and Poland was already accepted by them in principle, the loss of Ukraine and the Baltics created, from the Bolshevik perspective, dangerous bases of anti-Bolshevik military activity in the subsequent Russian Civil War (1918–20). Indeed, many Russian nationalists and even some revolutionaries were furious at the Bolsheviks' acceptance of the treaty and joined forces to fight them. On the other hand, from the viewpoint of non-Russians who inhabited the lands lost by Bolshevik Russia in the treaty, it was an opportunity to attempt to set up independent states not under Bolshevik rule.

The fate of the region, and the location of the eventual western border of the Soviet Unionmarker, was settled in violent and chaotic struggles over the course of the next three and a half years, most notably the Polish-Soviet War, terminated by the Treaty of Riga in 1921. Although most of Ukraine fell under Bolshevik control and eventually became one of the constituent republics of the Soviet Union, Poland and the Baltic states emerged as independent countries. This state of affairs in turn lasted until 1939, when as a consequence of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact the Soviet Union advanced its borders westward, by first invading Poland and Finland in 1939 then annexing the Baltic States and Bessarabiamarker in 1940, thus in large measure finally overturning the territorial losses incurred at Brest-Litovsk.

For the Western Allies, the terms imposed on the Russians were interpreted as a reminder and a warning of what to expect if the Germans and the other Central Powers won the war. Secret German archives found after 1945 proved that the German government and military did indeed intend to settle the conflict on harsh terms (especially against France and Belgium), although between Brest-Litovsk and the point when the German military situation in the west became dire some in the German government and high command began to favour offering much more lenient terms in exchange for Allied recognition of German gains in the east. In any event, Germany's treaty with the Bolsheviks spurred Allied efforts to win the war. One of the first conditions of the Armistice was the complete abrogation of the treaty.

Other information

Emil Orlik, the Viennese Secessionist artist attended the conference, at the invitation of Richard von Kühlmann. He drew portraits of all the participants, along with a series of smaller caricatures. These were gathered together into a book, Brest-Litovsk a copy of which was given to each of the participants.

See also


Further reading

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