03/03 – The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk

Troops on the Eastern Front during a gas attack. The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk ended the fighting there after years of brutal, mobile combat. (Reddit)

On this day in 1918, Russia and the Central Powers signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, a territorial agreement that closed WWI‘s Eastern Front and brought an end to hostilities there. Signed in German-controlled Poland, the treaty enabled Germany to claim the Baltic states (Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia); additionally, a portion of the Southern Caucasus was ceded to the Ottoman Empire and Ukraine was granted independence. The treaty’s incredibly harsh terms were accepted by Russia in order to secure an end to the costly and brutal war that threatened its western flank.

A map of Brest-Litovsk’s immediate consequences. (Map Archive)

At this point in the war, the Central powers had made incredible gains in the East and the Western theatre was still inconclusive. As the October Revolution rocked Russia in late 1917, plunging the country into a vicious civil war, the new Bolshevik government could no longer afford to fight the Ottomans and Germans. Promising Russians “peace, land and bread“, Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin was forced to accept the unfair terms of Brest-Litovsk in order to continue to battle the White (loyalist) Russians. Although the treaty was annulled after the victory of the Allies in Western Europe, it had severe lasting effects. Primarily, it enabled the Red Russians to dedicate their efforts to consolidating control over Russia. It also freed up German troops to focus on battling the Western Allies, a consequence that prolonged the war and forever damaged relations between the West and the new Soviet Union.

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