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Russia and Brest-Litovsk

The Germans imposed treaties of peace upon Russia and Roumania, and upon the big fragments of former Russia which had declared their independence rather than remain connected with a country controlled by the Bolsheviki, namely the Ukraine and Finland.

The Bolsheviki demanded immediate peace and when they succeeded in driving Kerensky from power, and themselves assumed control, they began negotiations to that end. They signed an armistice at Brest-Litovsk, the German army headquarters, on December 15, 1917. The negotiations were long and frequently stormy. Trotzky urged that the peace be based upon the principles of "no annexations, no indemnities." The Central Powers refused to withdraw their troops from the occupied parts of Russia and they indicated clearly that their aims were the opposite of their professions. At this Trotzky balked and withdrew from the conference and the Russian Government announced that it would not sign "an annexationist treaty" but at the same time it announced that the war was at an end and it ordered the complete demobilization of the Russian troops on all fronts.

Germany, however, refused to accept this solution of "no war, but no peace." It insisted on a treaty in black and white. As the negotiations had been broken off by the departure of the Russian Treaty of delegates on February 10, the German army immediately assumed the offensive and began a fresh invasion of Russia, advancing on a front of five hundred miles and to within seventy miles of Petrograd. This speedily brought the Russians to terms and they signed on March 3, 1918, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. Its principal provisions were : Russia surrendered all claims to Poland, Lithuania, Courland, Livonia, and Esthonia; she also renounced all claims to Finland and the Ukraine and agreed to recognize their independence and to make peace with them; she surrendered Batum, Erivan, and Kars in the Caucasus to Turkey, and she promised to cease all revolutionary propaganda in the ceded regions and in the countries of the Central Alliance.

By this treaty Russia lost an enormous territory, about half a million square miles, a territory more than twice as large as the German Empire. She lost a population of about 65,000,000, which was about that of the German Empire. A year of Bolshevism had sufficed to undo the work of all the Russian Emperors from Peter the Great to Nicholas II. So complete a mutilation of a great country Europe had never seen. Russia was thrust back into the condition in which she had been in the seventeenth century and which even then was found intolerable. Never in modern times has a great power surrendered such vast territories by a single stroke of the pen. Pacifism and internationalism had borne their natural fruit with unexpected swiftness. Gorky, the Russian novelist, estimated that this treaty robbed Russia of 37 per cent of her manufacturing industries, 75 per cent of her coal, and 73"per cent of her iron.

What the future of the ceded territories should be was not indicated beyond the statement that "Germany and Austria-Hungary intend to decide the future fate of these territories by agreement with their population." The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk laid bare the soul of modern Germany. It proved to all the world that, whatever her professions might be, her greed was unabashed and unrestrained. And this greed was characteristic not simply of her rulers, military and civil. All Germany applauded. The same Reichstag which in July, 1917, had voted in favor of the principle of "no annexations, no indemnities" now enthusiastically ratified the treaty of Brest-Litovsk, the Socialists joining in.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 13:15:08 ZULU