Brest-Litovsk Treaty of 1918

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Brest-Litovsk Treaty of 1918


a peace treaty between Russia on one side and Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and Turkey on the other, signed in Brest-Litovsk (now Brest) on Mar. 3, 1918. It was ratified by the Extraordinary Fourth All-Russian Congress of Soviets on Mar. 15, approved by the German Reichstag on Mar. 22, and ratified by German emperor Wilhelm II on Mar. 26, 1918. The treaty was signed for the Soviet side by G. Ia. Sokol’nikov, chairman of the delegation; G. V. Chicherin; G. I. Petrovskii; and L. M. Karakhan, secretary of the delegation. For the other side, the treaty was signed by the delegations headed by R. Kühlmann, state secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs, and M. Hoffmann, chief of staff and commander in chief on the eastern front (for Germany); O. Czernin, minister of foreign affairs (for Austria-Hungary); A. Toshev, envoy and minister plenipotentiary in Vienna (for Bulgaria); and I. Hakki Pasha, ambassador in Berlin (for Turkey).

On Oct. 26 (Nov. 8), 1917, the Second All-Russian Congress of Soviets adopted the Decree on Peace, in which the Soviet government proposed to all belligerent states that an armistice be concluded immediately and peace negotiations begin. The Entente countries’ rejection of this offer forced the Soviet government to enter into separate peace negotiations with Germany on November 20 (December 3).

The domestic and foreign situation of Soviet Russia demanded that a peace be signed. The country was in a state of extreme economic dislocation; the old army had fallen apart and a new, efficient worker and peasant army had not yet been created. The nation demanded peace. A truce agreement was signed in Brest-Litovsk on December 2 (15), and peace negotiations began on December 9 (22). The Soviet delegation proposed as the basis of the negotiations the principle of a democratic peace without annexations and indemnities. On December 12 (25), Kühlmann demagogically declared in the name of the German-Austrian bloc its adherence to the basic principles of the Soviet declaration on peace without annexations and indemnities, on the condition that the governments of the Entente countries adhere to the Soviet peace formula. The Soviet government once more addressed an appeal to the Entente countries to take part in the peace negotiations. On Dec. 27, 1917 (Jan. 9, 1918), after a ten-day interruption in the sessions, Kühlmann announced that since the Entente had not joined the peace negotiations, the German bloc considered itself free of the Soviet peace formula. The German imperialists considered the grave situation that had arisen in Russia to be opportune for the achievement of their expansionist aims. On January 5 (18) the German delegation demanded that more than 150, 000 sq km of territory, including Poland, Lithuania, part of Estonia and Latvia, and considerable areas settled by Ukrainians and Byelorussians, be torn away from Russia. The negotiations were temporarily suspended on the suggestion of the Soviet government.

Despite the onerousness of the German bloc’s conditions, V. I. Lenin considered it necessary to accept and sign the peace treaty in order to give the country a breathing space—to safeguard the achievements of the October Revolution, to strengthen the Soviet regime, and to create a Red Army.

The necessity of signing the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk evoked sharp intraparty differences. At the time, a considerable number of party workers failed to take into account the objective factors of the development of the revolutionary movement and counted on a socialist revolution throughout Europe (in connection with the intensification of the revolutionary crisis in the belligerent countries); thus, they did not understand the harsh necessity of signing the peace treaty with Germany. A group of “Left Communists” headed by N. I. Bukharin took shape within the party. Their basic contention was that without an immediate Western European revolution, the socialist revolution in Russia would perish. They allowed for no agreements with the imperialist states and demanded the declaration of revolutionary war against international imperialism. The Left Communists were even prepared to “confront the possibility of the loss of Soviet power, ” allegedly in the name of the “interests of international revolution.” This was a demagogic, adventuristic policy. No less adventuristic and demagogic was the position of L. D. Trotsky (people’s commissar of foreign affairs of the RSFSR at the time), who proposed to declare the war terminated and to demobilize the army but not to sign the treaty.

The stubborn struggle against the adventuristic policy of the Left Communists and Trotsky was led by Lenin, who proved the necessity and inevitability of signing the peace to the party.

On January 17 (30) the negotiations were resumed in Brest. As Trotsky, the head of the Soviet delegation, was leaving for Brest, it was agreed between him and Lenin, the chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars of the RSFSR, that the negotiations were to be prolonged by all possible means until Germany presented an ultimatum, after which the peace treaty should be signed immediately. The situation at the peace negotiations became heated. Germany refused the proposal to admit the delegation of the Soviet Ukraine to the proceedings of the negotiations; on January 27 (February 9), Germany signed a separate treaty with representatives of the nationalist Ukrainian Central Rada (Council), by which the latter was obligated to supply Germany with a large quantity of grain and cattle in exchange for German aid to the Rada in its struggle against the Soviet regime. This treaty made it possible for German forces to occupy the Ukraine.

On January 27-28 (February 9-10) the German side’s negotiations had the tone of an ultimatum; however, an official ultimatum was not yet presented. Thus, the possibility of prolonging the negotiations, in accordance with the resolution of the Party’s Central Committee (of Jan. 11 [24], 1918), had not yet been exhausted. Nonetheless, on January 28, Trotsky presented the adventuristic declaration that Soviet Russia would terminate the war and demobilize its army but not sign the peace. In response, Kühlmann announced, “Russia’s nonsigning of the peace treaty automatically entails the termination of the armistice.” Trotsky refused further negotiations, and the Soviet delegation left Brest-Litovsk.

Taking advantage of the rupture in the negotiations, Austro-German forces began an offensive all along the eastern front at noon on February 18. On the evening of February 18, a majority at the session of the Central Committee of the Party, after a sharp struggle with the Left Communists, endorsed the signing of the peace (seven for, five against, and one abstention). On the morning of February 19, Lenin, the chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars, sent a telegram to the German government in Berlin protesting the perfidious attack and stating that the Soviet government agreed to sign the German terms. The German forces, however, continued the offensive. On February 21, the Council of People’s Commissars of the RSFSR adopted the decree entitled “The Socialist Homeland in Danger!” The active formation of the Red Army began. It barred the enemy’s path to Petrograd. Only on February 23 was a reply received from the German government, containing still more onerous peace terms. Forty-eight hours were given for the acceptance of the ultimatum. On February 23 a session of the Central Committee of the RSDLP (Bolshevik) was held, at which seven members of the Central Committee voted that the German peace terms be signed immediately, four voted against, and four abstained. Foreseeing that the capitalist states would attempt to attack the Soviet republic, the Central Committee unanimously adopted a resolution calling for immediate preparations to defend the socialist homeland. That same day, Lenin addressed a joint session of the Bolshevik and Left Socialist Revolutionary (SR) factions of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee (VTsIK), then the Bolshevik faction alone, and later a session of VTsIK. In a fierce struggle against Left SR’s (who voted on Feb. 23, 1918, against the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk at a session of VTsIK), Mensheviks, Right SR’s, and Left Communists, Lenin won the VTsIK’s approval of the resolution of the Central Committee of the Party.

During the night of February 24, the VTsIK and the Council of People’s Commissars of the RSFSR accepted the German peace conditions and immediately informed the German government of this fact and of the Soviet delegation’s departure for Brest-Litovsk. On March 3 the Soviet delegation signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. The urgently convened Seventh Congress of the RCP (Bolshevik), which met March 6-8, approved the Leninist policy on the question of the peace treaty.

The treaty consisted of 14 articles and various appendixes. Article 1 established the cessation of the state of war between the Soviet republic and the countries of the Quadruple Alliance. Considerable territory was torn away from Russia (Poland, Lithuania, part of Byelorussia, and Latvia). At the same time, Soviet Russia was to withdraw its forces from Latvia and Estonia, where German troops were brought in. Germany retained the Gulf of Riga and the Moon Sound Islands. Soviet forces were to leave the Ukraine, Finland, the Åland Islands, and the regions of Ardahan, Kars, and Batumi, which were transferred to Turkey. Altogether, Soviet Russia lost about 1 million sq km (including the Ukraine). According to Article 5, Russia was obligated to carry out the complete demobilization of its army and fleet, including the units of the Red Army; under Article 6, it was obliged to recognize the Central Rada’s peace treaty with Germany and its allies, and to conclude, in turn, a peace treaty with the Rada and fix the boundaries between Russia and the Ukraine. The treaty reestablished the customs tariffs of 1904, which were extremely disadvantageous for Soviet Russia and beneficial to Germany. On Aug. 27, 1918, a Russo-German financial agreement was signed in Berlin, by which Soviet Russia was obliged to pay Germany an indemnity amounting, in different forms, to the sum of 6 billion marks.

The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk—a complex of political, economic, financial, and legal conditions—was a heavy burden for the Soviet republic. However, it did not affect the fundamental achievements of the Great October Socialist Revolution. The Soviet republic retained its independence and left the imperialist war, obtaining the peaceful respite essential for the restoration of its devastated economy, the creation of a regular Red Army, and the consolidation of the Soviet state. The November Revolution of 1918 overthrew the regime of Emperor Wilhelm II in Germany, and on Nov. 13, 1918, the Soviet government annulled the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.


Lenin, V. I. “K istorii voprosa o neschastnom mire.” Poln. sobr. soch., 5th ed., vol. 35.
Lenin, V. I. “O revoliutsionnoi fraze.” Ibid.
Lenin, V. I. “Sotsialisticheskoe otechestvo v opasnosti!” Ibid.
Lenin, V. I. “Mir ili voina?” Ibid.
Lenin, V. I. “Doklad na zasedanii VTsIK 23 fevralia 1918.” Ibid.
Lenin, V. I. “Neschastnyi mir.” Ibid.
Lenin, V. I. “Tiazhelyi, no neobkhodimyi urok.” Ibid.
Lenin, V. I. “Sed’moi ekstrennyi s“ezd RKP(b), 6-8 marta 1918 g.” Ibid., vol. 36.
Lenin, V. I. “Glavnaia zadacha nashikh dnei.” Ibid.
Lenin, V. I. “IV Chrezvychainyi Vserossiiskii s”ezd Sovetov, 14-16 marta 1918 g.” Ibid.
Dokumenty vneshnei politiki SSSR, vol. 1. Moscow, 1957.
Istoriia diplomatii, 2nd ed., vol. 3. Moscow, 1965. Pages 74-106.
Chubar’ian, A. O. Brestskii mir. Moscow, 1964.
Nikol’nikov, G. L. Vydaiushchaiasia pobeda leninskoi strategii i taktiki (Brestskii mir: ot zakliucheniia do razryva). Moscow, 1968.
Magnes, J. Z. Russia and Germany at Brest-Litovsk: A Documentary History of the Peace Negotiations. New York, 1919.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.