The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was a peace treaty signed on March 3, 1918, at Brest, formerly "Brest-Litovsk", between Russia and the Central Powers, marking Russia's exit from World War I. The treaty was practically obsolete before the end of the year but is significant as a chief contributor, although unintentionally, to the independence of Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland.
Armistice and peace 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 (Polish: Brzesc Litewski, Belarusian: Брэст Літоўскі) on what is today the city Brest in Belarus, near the Polish border. One of chief German negotiators was Max Hoffmann, commander of German eastern front (Oberkommando-Ostfront). Soon, however, the negotiations ran into trouble over the Bolsheviks' demand for "peace without annexations or indemnities" — in other words, a settlement under which the successor of Imperial Russia's government would give neither territory nor money, and in practice remain an empire.
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 defence of Russia's new workers' state.
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 Ukraine, Belarus and Balticum. Through the ice of the Baltic Sea, a German fleet approached the Gulf of Finland and Russia's capital Saint Petersburg. Despite strikes and demonstrations the month before in protest against economic hardship, the workers of Germany and Austria-Hungary failed to rise up, and on March 3 the Bolsheviks agreed to terms worse than those they had previously rejected.
The treaty, signed between Bolshevist Russia on the one side and the German Empire, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey (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.
Russia's new Bolshevik (communist) government renounced all claim to Finland, the future Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania), Poland, Belarus, Ukraine and the Turkish districts of Erdehan, Kars, and the Georgian district of Batumi.
Most of these territories were in effect ceded to the German Empire, intended to become parts of that empire under different Germany-dependent kings 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 Finland, Latvia and Lithuania.
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 and Poland to become truly independent sovereign states, and the designated monarchs had to renounce their thrones.
A follow-up treaty, signed in Berlin on August 27, 1918, required Russia to pay substantial war reparations.
Lasting effects of the treaty
In the event, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk only lasted eight months, being in turn repudiated by the Bolshevik government in November 1918 following the surrender of Germany and her allies and the ending of World War I. In the April 1922 Treaty of Rapallo, Germany accepted the Treaty's nullification, the two powers agreeing to abandon all war-related territorial and financial claims against each other.
In 1939 the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact largely reversed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.
The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk marked a significant contraction of the territory held by the Bolsheviks: while the independence of Finland and Poland was already accepted in principle, the loss of Ukraine and the Baltics created 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. Although most of Ukraine was regained in 1920, the Baltic states and the Polish districts of present-day Ukraine and Belarus remained in anti-Bolshevik hands until World War II.
Last updated: 08-26-2005 02:43:44