Treaty of Brest-Litovsk
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The first two pages of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk,
in (from left to right) German, Hungarian, Bulgarian, Ottoman Turkish and Russian.
|Signed||3rd March 1918|
|Location||Brest-Litovsk, Kholm Governorate
(Ukraine under German occupation)
|Signatories|| Austro-Hungarian Empire
Kingdom of Bulgaria
|Languages||Bulgarian · German · Hungarian
Russian · Ottoman Turkish
The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was a separate peace treaty that the Soviet government was forced to sign on March 3, 1918 after almost six-month-long negotiations at Brest-Litovsk (now Brest, Belarus) between Russia (the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic) and the Central Powers marking Russia's exit from World War I. Signing of the treaty defaulted Russia's commitments on the Triple Entente alliance.
While the treaty was practically obsolete before the end of the year, it did provide some relief to the Bolsheviks, who were tied up in fighting the Russian Civil War, by renouncing all territorial claims on Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Lithuania. Also Poland got a piece of new territory (which included Warsaw), but by no means covered all the areas where Polish speaking people were in the majority. A territorial dispute between Poland, Belarus and Lithuania concerning Wilno (now Vilnius) also occurred. (In the end Poland won this struggle and Lithuania had to use Kaunas as their capital city during the independency 1918–1939.)
By 1917, Germany and Imperial Russia were stuck in a stalemate on the Eastern Front of World War I. At the time, the Russian economy nearly collapsed under the strain of the war effort. The large war casualties and food shortages in the major urban centres brought about civil unrest, known as the February Revolution, that forced Tsar Nicholas II to abdicate. The Provisional government that replaced the Tsar (initially presided by prince Georgy Lvov, later by Alexander Kerensky), however, decided to continue the war on the Entente side. Foreign Minister Pavel Milyukov sent the Entente Powers a telegram, known as the Milyukov note, informing them that the Provisional Government would continue the war with the same war aims that Imperial Russia had had.
The pro-war Provisional Government was opposed by the self-proclaimed Petrograd Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies, which was dominated by leftist parties. Its Order No. 1 called for an overriding mandate to soldier committees rather than army officers. The Soviet started to form its own paramilitary force, the Red Guards, in March 1917.
The position of the Provisional Government led the Germans to offer support to the Russian opposition, in particular the Bolshevik faction within the Communist Party who were proponents of Russia's withdrawal from the war. In April 1917 Germany allowed the Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin to return to Russia from his exile in Switzerland, and offered him financial help. Upon his arrival in Petrograd, Lenin proclaimed his April Theses. These included a call to give all power to the workers' and soldiers' soviets, and an immediate withdrawal of Russia from the war. Throughout 1917, Bolsheviks spread defeatist and revolutionary propaganda, called for the overthrow of the Provisional Government and an end to the war. Following the disastrous defeat of the Kerensky Offensive, discipline in the Russian army deteriorated completely. Soldiers would disobey orders, often under the influence of Bolshevik agitation, allowing soldiers' committees to take control of their units after deposing the officers. Russian and German soldiers occasionally left their positions and fraternized.
The defeat and ongoing hardships of war led in July 1917 to anti-government riots in Petrograd, headed by Bolsheviks. Several months later, on November 7 (October 25 old style) Red Guards seized the Winter Palace and arrested the Provisional Government in what is known as the October Revolution.
The newly established Soviet government decided to withdraw Russia from the World War. On 26 October 1917, Vladimir Lenin signed the Decree on Peace, which was approved by the Second Congress of the Soviet of Workers', Soldiers', and Peasants' Deputies. The Decree called "upon all the belligerent nations and their governments to start immediate negotiations for peace" and proposed an immediate withdrawal of Russia from World War I. Leon Trotsky was appointed Commissar of Foreign Affairs in the new Bolshevik government. In preparation for peace talks with the representatives of the German government and the representatives of the other Central Powers, Leon Trotsky appointed his good friend, Adolph Joffe, to represent the Bolsheviks at the peace conference.
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, Belarus, near the Polish border). The Germans 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 Empire 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, Austria-Hungary and a failing Ottoman Empire, and on the other side were representatives of a radical revolutionary government which was unlike anything ever seen in the world and which 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 leader of the Russian delegation is a Jew, named Joffe, who has recently been released from Siberia [...] after the meal I had a first conversation with Mr. Joffe. His whole theory is simply based on the universal application of the right of self-governance of nations in the broadest form. The thus liberated nations then have to be brought to love each other [...] I advised him that we would not attempt to imitate the Russian example and that we likewise would not tolerate a meddling in our internal affairs. If he continued to hold on his utopian viewpoints the peace would not be possible and then he would be well advised just to take the journey back with the next train. Mr. Joffe looked astonishingly at me and was silent for a while. Then he continued in a tone I shall never forget: "I very much hope that we will be able to raise the revolution also in your country."
The Moscovites had a woman as a delegate—of course simply for propaganda reasons. She had shot a Governor who had been unpopular among the Leftists, and was not sentenced to death but to life-long imprisonment due to the mild Tsarist practice. This person, who looked like an elderly housekeeper, Madame Bizenko, apparently a simple-minded fanatic, detailed to Prince Leopold of Bavaria who sat next to her at the dinner table how she conducted the assault. She demonstrated with the menu card in her left hand how she handed a petition to the General Governor—"he was an evil man," she explained—and shot him from beneath the petition with a revolver in her right hand. Prince Leopold listened in a friendly way, as if vividly interested in the murderer's story.
After a week of negotiations from December 22 through December 28, 1917, the delegation from the Central Powers withdrew from the conference to consider the Bolshevik peace proposals. Over Christmas of 1917, the Central Powers released a declaration stating that they were in favor of the separate peace with all the Allies without indemnities and without annexations provided the peace was immediate and all belligerents took part in the negotiations. V. I. Lenin was in favor of signing this agreement immediately. Lenin was convinced that only an immediate peace would provide the young Bolshevik government with the necessary breathing space it needed to consolidate its power inside Russia. However, he was virtually alone in this opinion among the Bolsheviks sitting on the Central Committee.
For the second round of negotiations with the Central Powers, Leon Trotsky replaced Adolph Joffe as the head of the Soviet delegation. He later reported:
I met with this sort of people for the first time. It is unnecessary to emphasize that I had no illusions about them. But I admit that I had expected the level to be higher. The impression of my first meeting could be summarized in the following statement: These people do not have a high estimation of their counterparts, but they also do not have a high estimation of themselves.
On January 8, 1918, President Woodrow Wilson of the United States proclaimed his famous Fourteen Points which centered around the concept of national self-determination. The Bolsheviks under the leadership of V. I. Lenin had long espoused the right of the national peoples to self-determination as a part of the anti-imperialist struggle endorsed by the Bolsheviks.
While Lenin was in favor of signing the German peace proposal immediately, a majority of the Bolshevik Central Committee under the leadership of Nikolai Bukharin and Karl Radek believed that Germany, Austro-Hungary Turkey and Bulgaria were all on the verge of a revolution within their borders. Consequently, the "Left Communists," the Bukharin-Radek faction, were in favor of continuing the war while they waited on the revolutions in those countries to develop. It is important to note that these negotiations were taking place about nine months after the United States had declared war on Germany, but before the Americans were making a significant contribution on the Western Front. The Left Communist 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 Britain before the Americans arrived, even if this meant they would have to settle for less generous terms. Thus the Soviet delegation returned to the peace conference without any instructions to sign the treaty.
Under the guise of supporting the Soviets' own national self-determination concept, von Kuhlman and General Max Hoffmann, when they returned to the negotiation table proposed independence for the Baltic states, Poland and the Ukraine as part of their new peace proposals. Indeed the Germans had already been negotiating with a separatist government in Ukraine and on February 9, 1918, the German government recognized the separate government in Ukraine and signed a separate peace with that government.
Frustrated with continued German demands for cessions of territory, Leon Trotsky, Bolshevik People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs (more or less 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 than what 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 the Baltic countries. Through the ice of the Baltic Sea, a German fleet approached the Gulf of Finland and Russia's capital Petrograd. Despite strikes and demonstrations the month before in protest against economic hardship, the workers of Germany failed to rise up against the government. On February 23, the Central Powers sent new terms for peace. These terms included cessation of Dünaburg, Livonia and Estonia to Germany, the cessation of Anatolia to Turkey, the recognition of the independence of Ukraine and the immediate evacuation of Finland and Ukraine and the complete demobilization of the Russian Army. Additionally, the Central Powers required that these proposals be carried out within 48 hours. Lenin again pressed the new Soviet government to sign this proposal and carry out these new terms. This time Lenin had a majority with him on the Central Committee and the Soviet government sent George V. Chichern and Lev Karakhan to head a new delegation to the peace conference with instructions to sign this proposal. On March 3, G. V. Chichern signed the new peace terms on behalf of the Bolsheviks. Thus the new Soviet government agreed to terms worse than those they had previously rejected.
The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed on 3 March 1918. Signatories were Bolshevik Russia on the one side and the German Empire, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and Ottoman Empire (collectively the Central Powers) on the other.
The treaty marked Russia's final withdrawal from World War I as an enemy of her co-signatories, on unexpectedly humiliating terms. In all, the treaty took away territory that included a quarter of the Russian Empire's population, a quarter of its industry  and nine-tenths of its coal mines. Almost all of this territory consisted of nations that Russia had absorbed by conquest during the prior several centuries and correspondingly non-Russian speaking population groups. Germany's defeat in World War I – marked by the armistice with the Allies on 11 November 1918 at Compiègne – made it possible for Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, and Poland to become independent sovereign states.
Territorial cessions in eastern Europe 
Russia's Bolshevik (Communist) government renounced all territorial claims on Finland (which it had already acknowledged), the future Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania), Belarus, and Ukraine. (The territory of Congress Poland was not mentioned in the treaty.) Most of these territories were in effect ceded to the German Empire, which intended to have them become economically dependent on and politically closely tied to the empire under various German kings and dukes. This plan was detailed by German Field Marshall Erich Ludendorff, who wrote, "German prestige demands that we should hold a strong protecting hand, not only over German citizens, but over all Germans."
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 populations". In fact Germany appointed aristocrats to the new thrones, Latvia, and Lithuania.
Occupation of the ceded territories by Germany required large amounts of manpower and trucks, yet yielded little in the way of foodstuffs or other war material, even as the Germans were transferring hundreds of thousands of veteran troops to the Western Front as rapidly as they could, where they began a series of spring offensives that badly shocked the Allies. Some Germans later blamed the occupation for significantly weakening the Spring Offensive.
Transfer of territory to the Ottoman Empire 
At the insistence of the Ottoman leader Talat Pasha, all lands Russia had captured from the Ottoman Empire in the Russo-Turkish War (1877–1878), specifically Ardahan, Kars, and Batumi, were to be returned. This territory was under the effective control of the newly established Democratic Republic of Georgia and the Democratic Republic of Armenia until 1921. After the Soviets conquered these republics, the territory under Armenian control, by and large, went to Turkey; 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 the treaty 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 
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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:
- The retreat (within 6–8 weeks) of Russian armed forces to the borders of the Democratic Republic of Armenia, and the formation in the ADR of a military power responsible for security (including disarming and dispersing the Armenian militia). Russia were to be responsible for order (protecting life and property) in Ardahan, Kars, and Batumi until the arrival of the Ottomans.
- The return by the Ottoman Empire of Armenian emigrants who had taken refuge in nearby areas (Ardahan, Kars, and Batumi).
- The return of Ottoman Armenians who had been exiled by the Ottoman Government since the beginning of the war.
- 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 Armenia). The conditions of this government would be put forward during peace talks with the Ottoman Empire.
- The Commissar for Caucasian Affairs would assist the Armenians in the realization of these goals.
- A joint commission would be formed so Armenian lands could be evacuated of foreign troops.
Russian-German financial agreement of August 1918 
In the wake of Russian repudiation of Tsarist bonds, nationalization of foreign-owned property and confiscation of foreign assets, the Russians and Germans signed an additional agreement on August 27, 1918. Russia agreed to pay six billion marks in compensation to German interests for their losses.
Lasting effects 
The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk lasted only eight and a half months. Germany renounced the treaty and broke diplomatic relations with RSFSR on 5 November 1918. The Ottoman Empire broke the treaty after just two months by invading the newly created Democratic Republic of Armenia in May 1918. In the 11 November 1918 Armistice with Germany that ended World War I, one of the first conditions was the complete abrogation of the Brest-Litovsk treaty. Following the German capitulation, the Bolshevik legislature (VTsIK) annulled the treaty on 13 November 1918, and 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 Brest-Litovsk, leaving behind a power vacuum that various forces subsequently attempted to fill. In the Treaty of Rapallo, concluded in April 1922, Germany accepted the Treaty's nullification, and the two powers agreed 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 the Ukraine and the Baltics created, from the Bolshevik perspective, dangerous bases of anti-Bolshevik military activity in the subsequent Russian Civil War (1917–1922). Indeed, many Russian nationalists and some revolutionaries were furious at the Bolsheviks' acceptance of the treaty and joined forces to fight them. Non-Russians who inhabited the lands lost by Bolshevik Russia in the treaty saw the changes as an opportunity to set up independent states not under Bolshevik rule. Immediately after the signing of the treaty, Lenin moved the Soviet Russian government from Petrograd to Moscow.
The fate of the region, and the location of the eventual western border of the Soviet Union, was settled in violent and chaotic struggles over the course of the next three and a half years. The Polish–Soviet War was particularly bitter and ended 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 lasted until 1939. As a consequence of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact the Soviet Union advanced its borders westward by invading Poland and Finland in 1939, and annexing the Baltic States and Bessarabia in 1940. It thus overturned almost all the territorial losses incurred at Brest-Litovsk, with the exception of Finland which did lose territories in the Winter War and Continuation War.
For the Western Allies, the terms which the Germans 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 intended to settle the conflict on harsh terms (especially against France and Belgium, whom they held responsible for damages after World War I). Between Brest-Litovsk and the point when the German military situation in the west became dire, some officials in the German government and high command began to favour offering more lenient terms to the Allies in exchange for their recognition of German gains in the east.
Russia's post-1991 western border bears a marked similarity to that imposed by the Brest-Litovsk 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 
- Commissions of the Danube River
- History of Belarus
- Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (February 9, 1918)
- Treaty of Bucharest (1918)
- (Russian) Whom belong Brest in 1918? Argument among Ukraine, Belarus, and Germany. Ukrayinska Pravda, March 25, 2011.
- Czernin von und zu Chudenitz, Ottokar Theobald Otto Maria (1920). In the World War. New York and London: Harper & Brothers. Internet Archive, retrieved 28 February 2009.
- Haffner, Sebastian (1988). Die Teufelspakt: Die Deutsch-Russischen Beziehungen Vom Ersten Zum Zweiten Weltkrieg. Manesse. ISBN 3-7175-8121-X.
- Ruth Fischer, Stalin and German Communism: A Study in the Origins of the State Party (New Brunswick, New Jersey: Transition Books, 1982) p. 32.
- Ruth Fischer, Stalin and German Communism, p. 36.
- Ruth Fischer, Stalin and German Communism, p. 34.
- Ruth Fischer, Stalin and German Communism, p. 24.
- Ruth Fischer, Stalin and German Communism, p. 39.
- Ruth Fischer, Stalin and German Communism, p. 33.
- Ruth Fischer, Stalin and German Communism, p. 35.
- Ruth Fischer, Stalin and German Communism, p. 38.
- John Keegan, The First World War (New York: Vintage Books, 2000), p. 342.
- Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, 1960, p. 57
- Ludendorff, Erich von (1920). The General Staff and its Problems. London. p. 562.
- "LENINE’S MIGRATION A QUEER SCENE", The New York Times, March 16, 1918
- Emil Orlik(1870–1932) - Portraits of Friends and Contemporaries, accessed 24 August 2009.
Further reading 
- Kennan, George. Soviet Foreign Policy 1917–1941, Kreiger Publishing Company, 1960.
- Wheeler-Bennett, Sir John Brest-Litovsk the Forgotten Peace, March 1918, W. W. Norton & Company 1969.
- Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (Yale University Avalon Project), including links to appendices.
- Map of Europe after the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, at omniatlas.com.