Treaty of Brest-Litovsk
Signed 3 March 1918
Location Brest-Litovsk, Russia
Effective 10 January 1920
Condition Ratification
Signatories Flag of the German Empire.svg Germany
Flag of Austria-Hungary (1869-1918).svg Austria-Hungary
Flag of the Ottoman Empire.svg Ottoman Empire
Flag of Bulgaria.svg Bulgaria
Flag of Russian SFSR (1918-1937).svg Russian SFSR
Languages Bulgarian, German, Hungarian, Russian, Ottoman Turkish

The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was a peace treaty signed on 3 March 1918 between the new Bolshevik government of Soviet Russia and the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire), that ended Russia's participation in the World War. The treaty was signed at Brest-Litovsk (Polish: Brześć Litewski; since 1923 Brest), after two months of negotiations. The treaty was agreed upon by the Bolshevik government under threat of further advances by German and Austrian forces. According to the treaty, Soviet Russia defaulted on all of Imperial Russia's commitments to the Triple Entente alliance.

In the treaty, Bolshevik Russia ceded the Baltic States to Germany; they became German vassal states under German princelings. Russia also ceded its province of Kars Oblast in the South Caucasus to the Ottoman Empire and recognized the independence of Ukraine. Congress Poland was not mentioned in the treaty, as Germans refused to recognize the existence of any Polish representatives, which in turn led to Polish protests. When Belarus declared independence on 25 March 1918 a boundry dispute existed until 1923.

The treaty was effectively terminated in August 1939, when the Soviet Union attacked Ukraine. However, in the meantime, it did provide some relief to the Bolsheviks, already fighting the Russian Civil War, by the renouncement of Russia's claims on Poland, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania.

Background[edit | edit source]

By 1917, Germany and Imperial Russia were stuck in a stalemate on the Eastern Front of the World War. At the time, the Russian economy nearly collapsed under the strain of the war effort. The large numbers of war casualties and persistent food shortages in the major urban centers brought about civil unrest, known as the February Revolution, that forced Tsar Nicholas II to abdicate. The Russian Provisional Government that replaced the Tsar (initially presided by prince Georgy Lvov, later by Alexander Kerensky), decided to continue the war on the Entente side. Foreign Minister Pavel Milyukov sent the Entente Powers a telegram, known as Milyukov note, affirming to them that the Provisional Government would continue the war with the same war aims that Imperial Russia did.

The pro-war Provisional Government was opposed by the self-proclaimed Petrograd Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies, 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 power, the Red Guards, in March 1917.

The position of the Provisional Government led the Germans to offer support to the Russian opposition, the Communist Party (Bolsheviks) in particular, who were proponents of Russia's withdrawal from the war. In April 1917, Germany allowed 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, which included a call for turning all political power over to workers' and soldiers' soviets (councils) and an immediate withdrawal of Russia from the war. Throughout 1917, Bolsheviks called for the overthrow of the Provisional Government and an end to the war. Following the disastrous failure of the Kerensky Offensive, discipline in the Russian army deteriorated completely. Soldiers would disobey orders, often under the influence of Bolshevik agitation, and allowed 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 to anti-government riots in Petrograd, the "July Days" of 1917. Several months later, on 7 November (25 October 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 end Russia's participation in the war with Germany and its allies. 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 the World War. 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.

Peace negotiations[edit | edit source]

File:Leo Trotsky 1918 Brest.jpg

Lev Kamenev arrives at Brest-Litovsk.

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Trotsky greeted by German officers.

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Special edition of the Lübeckischen Anzeigen, Headline: “Peace with Ukraine”.

On 15 December 1917, an armistice between Soviet Russia and the Central Powers was concluded and fighting stopped. On 22 December, peace negotiations began at Brest-Litovsk.

Germany was represented officially by Foreign Secretary Richard von Kühlmann, but the most important German figure was General Max Hoffmann, Chief of Staff of the German armies on the Eastern Front (Oberkommando-Ostfront). Austria was represented by Foreign Minister Count Ottokar Czernin, and the Ottomans by Talat Pasha. The German representatives had effective control of the Central Power side.

The Russian representatives were all radicals and supporters of world revolution. They were led by Adolph Joffe, a veteran Red agitator, and included Anastasia Bizenko, who had assassinated a high Imperial official.

At the start of the negotiations, the two sides were far apart.

German plans for the peace treaty included annexing most of Russian Poland, with Austria to receive a smaller piece. A rump Polish state would be established to act as a buffer between Germany and Russia. In addition, Ukraine would be detached as an independent state under German protection, while the Baltic states were to be annexed directly into Germany and ruled by German princes. For their part, the Bolsheviks declared that they sought a peace without any indemnities or territorial concessions.

On 28 December, the Central Powers delegation 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 Entente without indemnities and without annexations, provided the peace was immediate and all belligerents took part in the negotiations. But this did not supersede the demand for the "independence" of Poland and Lithuania. Reassurances from the German side that Berlin wished only for a peaceful, equitable resolution to the conflict met with an angry reply from Joffe, "Then why do you wish to tear eighteen provinces from us!?"

Lenin was in favor of signing the agreement immediately. He thought that only an immediate peace would allow the young Bolshevik government to consolidate power in Russia. However, he was virtually alone in this opinion among the Bolsheviks on the Central Committee.

For the second round of negotiations, Trotsky replaced Joffe as the head of the Soviet delegation. Meanwhile, Count Czernin announced that if negotiations between Berlin and Petrograd failed, then Austria would seek a separate peace with the latter. Kuhlmann then told the ambassador that such an action would result in Germany withdrawing all its divisions from the Austrian frontier, which promptly led Czernin to drop that offer. He also asked General Hindenburg exactly why he sought the annexation of the Baltic states and was told, "To secure my left flank for when the next war happens."

While Lenin wanted to accept the German peace proposal immediately, a majority of the Bolshevik Central Committee disagreed. The "Left Communists", led by Nikolai Bukharin and Karl Radek, believed that Germany, Austria, Turkey, and Bulgaria were all on the verge of revolution. They wanted to continue the war while awaiting revolutions in those countries. Thus the Soviet delegation returned to the peace conference without instructions to sign the proposed treaty.

Kühlman and Hoffmann now proposed independence for the Baltic states, Poland, and Ukraine, in accordance with the Soviets' own national self-determination doctrine. Indeed, the Germans were already negotiating with a separatist government in Ukraine. On 9 February 1918, Germany recognized that government and signed a treaty with it, the first Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.

Frustrated with continued German demands for cessions of territory, Trotsky on 10 February announced a new policy. Russia unilaterally declared an end of hostilities against the Central Powers, and Russia withdrew from peace negotiations with the Central Powers – a position summed up as "no war – no peace".

Other Bolshevik leaders denounced Trotsky for exceeding his instructions and exposing Soviet Russia to the threat of invasion. Trotsky subsequently defended his action on the grounds that the Bolshevik leaders had originally entered the peace talks ostensibly, with 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[edit | edit source]

The consequences for the Bolsheviks were worse than what they had feared in December. The Central Powers repudiated the armistice on 18 February 1918, and in the next fortnight seized most of Ukraine, Belarus, and the Baltic countries in Operation Faustschlag. 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 their government. On 19 February the Bolsheviks sent a radio message to the Germans agreeing to the original peace treaty, and on 23 February, the Central Powers sent new terms for peace. These terms included cession of Dünaburg, Livonia, and Estonia to Germany; cession of western Armenia to the Ottoman Empire; recognition of an independent Ukraine; immediate evacuation of Russian troops from Finland and Ukraine; and complete demobilization of the Russian Army. Additionally, the Central Powers required that these terms be agreed to within 48 hours. Lenin was again pressed for acceptance of these terms. This time a majority of the Central Committee supported Lenin. The Soviet government sent a new delegation headed by Georgy Chicherin and Lev Karakhan, with instructions to accept the proposal. On 3 March Chicherin signed the treaty.

Terms[edit | edit source]

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Signing of armistice between Russia and Germany

Signing[edit | edit source]

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Borders drawn up in Brest-Litovsk.

The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed on 3 March 1918. The signatories were Bolshevik Russia signed by Grigori Yakovlovich Sokolnikov on the one side and the German Empire, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and Ottoman Empire on the other.

The treaty marked Russia's final withdrawal from the World War as an enemy of her co-signatories, on severe terms. In all, the treaty took away territory that included a quarter of the population and industry of the former Russian Empire  and nine-tenths of its coal mines.

Territorial cessions in eastern Europe[edit | edit source]

Russia renounced all territorial claims in Finland (which it had already acknowledged), Baltic states, Belarus, and Ukraine. The territory of the Poland was not mentioned in the treaty.

The treaty stated that "Germany and Austria-Hungary intend to determine the future fate of these territories in agreement with their populations." Most of these territories were in effect ceded to Germany, which intended to have them become economic and political dependencies. The many ethnic German residents (volksdeutsch) would be the ruling elite. New monarchies were created in Lithuania and the United Baltic Duchy (which comprised the modern countries of Latvia and Estonia). The German aristocrats Wilhelm Karl, Duke of Urach (in Lithuania), and Adolf Friedrich, Duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin (in the United Baltic Duchy), were appointed as rulers.

This plan was detailed by German Colonel General Erich Ludendorff, who wrote, "German prestige demands that we should hold a strong protecting hand, not only over German citizens, but over all Germans."

The occupation of Western Russia ultimately proved a costly blunder for Berlin as over one million German troops lay sprawled out from Poland nearly to the Caspian Sea, all idle and depriving Germany of badly needed manpower in France. The hopes of utilizing Ukraine's grain and coal proved abortive and in addition, the local population became increasingly upset at the occupying army. Revolts and guerrilla warfare began breaking out all over the occupied zone, many of them inspired by Bolshevik agents. German troops had to intervene in Finland to put down an attempted Bolshevik coup, and Ludendorff became increasingly paranoid about his troops being affected by propaganda emanating from Moscow; this was one of the reasons he was reluctant to transfer divisions to the Western Front. Despite all this, Ludendorff completely ruled out the idea of marching on Moscow and Petrograd to remove the Bolshevik government from power.

Germany transferred hundreds of thousands of veteran troops to the Western Front for the 1918 Spring Offensive, which shocked the Entente badly, ultimately defeating them. Some Germans later blamed the occupation for significantly weakening the Spring Offensive.

Transfer of territory to the Ottoman Empire[edit | edit source]

File:Three bones–a bountiful tip (Bushnell caricature, 1918).JPG

"Three bones—a bountiful tip", a political cartoon from 1918 by American cartoonist E. A. Bushnell.

At the insistence of Talaat Pasha, the treaty declared that the territory Russia took from the Ottoman Empire in the Russo-Turkish War (1877–1878), specifically Ardahan, Kars, and Batumi, were to be returned. At the time of the treaty, this territory was under the effective control of Armenian and Georgian forces.

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 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 the Ottoman Empire.

Russian-German financial agreement of August 1918[edit | edit source]

In the wake of Russian repudiation of Tsarist bonds, nationalisation of foreign-owned property and confiscation of foreign assets, Russia and Germany signed an additional agreement on 27 August 1918. Russia agreed to pay six billion marks in compensation to German interests for their losses.

Lasting effects[edit | edit source]

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The treaty meant that Russia now was helping Germany win the war by freeing up a million German soldiers for the Western Front and by "relinquishing much of Russia's food supply, industrial base, fuel supplies, and communications with Western Europe". According to historians, the Entente Powers felt that "The treaty was the ultimate betrayal of the Entente cause. With Brest-Litovsk the specter of German domination in Eastern Europe threatened to become reality, and the Entente now began to think seriously about military intervention [in Russia]."

Immediately after the signing of the treaty, Lenin moved the Soviet government from Petrograd to Moscow. Trotsky blamed the peace treaty on the bourgeoisie, the social revolutionaries, Tsarist diplomats, Tsarist bureaucrats, "the Kerenskys, Tseretelis and Chernovs" the Tsarist regime, and the "petty-bourgeois compromisers".

Relations between Russia and the Central Powers did not go smoothly. The Ottoman Empire broke the treaty by invading the newly created First Republic of Armenia in May 1918. Joffe became the Soviet ambassador to Germany. His priority was distributing propaganda to trigger a German revolution. On 4 November 1918 "the Soviet courier's packing-case had 'come to pieces'" in a Berlin railway station; it was filled with insurrectionary documents. Joffe and his staff were ejected from Germany in a sealed train on 5 November 1918. In the Armistice of 6 September 1918 that ended World War, one clause recognized the Brest-Litovsk treaty. In the year after the armistice the young Belarusian People's Republic began securing territory it claimed that Brest-Litovsk left to Russia. The fate of the region, and the location of the eventual western border of the Soviet Union, was settled over the course of the next three and a half years. The territories of Eastern Europe were formally settled with the Treaty of Minsk in 1921. Although the Crimea fell under Bolshevik control, Belarus, Poland, Ukraine and the Baltic states all emerged as independent nations. In the Treaty of Rapallo, concluded in April 1922, normalized German-Russian diplomatic relations. This state of affairs lasted until 1939.

The treaty marked a significant contraction of the territory controlled by the Bolsheviks or that they 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 (1918–1922). However, Bolshevik control of Ukraine and Transcaucasia was at the time fragile or non existent. 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.

For the Western Entente Powers, the terms that Germany had imposed on Russia were interpreted as a warning of what to expect if the Central Powers won the war. Between Brest-Litovsk and the point when the situation in the Western Front began to favor the Central Powers, some officials in the German government and the high command began to favor offering more lenient terms to the Entente Powers in exchange for their recognition of German gains in the east.

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