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Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (Royale: The Second Great War)

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

Armistice negotiations

Leon Trotsky being greeted by German officers in Brest-LitovskPeace 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 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[2]:

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 utopic 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 astonishedly at me with his gentle eyes and was silent for a while. Then he continued in an for me ever unforgettable friendly - I would even nearly say suppliant - tone: "I very much hope that we will be able to raise the revolution also in your country."

The German state secretary Richard von Kühlmann noted:

The Moscovites had a woman as a delegate - of course simply for propaganda reasons. She had shot a Gouverneur who had been unpopular among the Leftists and was not sentenced to death but to life-long imprisonment due to the mild Tsarist practise. This person who looked about like an elderly housekeeper, Madame Bizenko, apparently a simple-minded fanatic, detailed Prince Leopold of Bavaria who sat next to her at the dinner table how she had conducted the assault. She showed - holding the menu card in her left hand - how she handed over a petition to the General Gouverneur - "he was an evil man", she explained - and shot him into the underside with a revolver she had kept conceiled in her right hand. Prince Leopold listened in his usual friendly advertence as if he was vividly interested in the murderer's story.

The later leader of the Soviet delegation, Leon Trotsky 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.

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 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.

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

Signing of the treaty, March 3, 1918The 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 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, and on March 3 the Bolsheviks agreed to terms worse than those they had previously rejected.

Terms of the peace treaty

Borders drawn up in Brest-LitovskThe 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 third of Russia's population, half of its industry and nine-tenths of its coal mines.

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, Belarus, Ukraine.

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 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 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 to defeat the Allies.

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 (1877–1878), specifically Ardahan, Kars, and Batumi, were to be returned. This territory was under the effective control of Democratic Republic of Armenia until 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 Armenia, and the formation in the ADR 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 Armenia). 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.

World War I (Royale)

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