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Treaty of Brest-Litovsk

The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was a peace treaty signed on March 3, 1918 at Brest, Belarus, formerly "Brest-Litovsk" (Polish Brzesc Litewski) on what is today the border between Belarus and Poland, by which Russia's new Bolshevik (communist) government renounced all claims to Finland, Kurland, Livonia, Poland and Ukraine and the future Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and the Armenian districts of Erdehan, Kars, and Batum.

The Treaty, signed between Russia on the one side and German Empire, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and Turkey (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 goal of the Bolshevik revolution of November 7, 1917.

Peace negotiations which began at Brest-Litovsk on December 22, 1917, a week after the conclusion of an armistice between Russia and the Central Powers, soon ran into trouble over the Bolsheviks' demand for "peace without annexations or indemnities" - in other words, a settlement under which Russia would give neither territory nor money to her enemies.

Frustrated with continued German demands for cessions of territory, Leon Trotsky, Bolshevik commissar (minister) for foreign relations and head of the Russian delegation, on February 10 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 the Soviet republic 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 regime.

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 and the Baltic provinces. Despite strikes and demonstrations the month before in protest at economic hardship, the workers of Germany and Austria-Hungary failed to rise up, and the Bolsheviks were forced to agree to terms worse than those they had rejected. A follow-up treaty, signed in Berlin on August 27, required Russia to pay substantial reparations.

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 April 1922, Germany accepted the Treaty's nullification, the two powers agreeing to abandon all war-related financial claims against each other.

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 in Moscow, the loss of Ukraine and the future Baltic republics created dangerous bases of anti-Bolshevik military activity in the subsequent Russian Civil War (1918-20). Although most of Ukraine was regained in 1920, the Baltics and the ceded western districts of present-day Ukraine and Belarus remained in anti-Bolshevik hands until World War II.



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