Peace Negotiations and Outcome of the Polish-Soviet War

Peace Negotiations and Outcome of the Polish-Soviet War
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In mid-August 1920, peace discussions began in Minsk. The Soviets imposed hard demands on Poland at first, and if they were met, Poland would become a Soviet-dependent state. Adolph Joffe became senior Soviet negotiator after the Battle of Warsaw defeat, and the previous Soviet terms for an armistice were abandoned. On September 21, the talks were shifted to Riga. As winter approached with no military end to the conflict (despite numerous setbacks, the Red Army had not been decimated), both sides agreed to cease fighting. Despite Pisudski and his allies' protests, the Polish Council of National Defense declared that Poland could no longer afford to fight the war. "Poland must conclude a peace even if there are no guarantees that it will last," Foreign Minister Eustachy Sapieha remarked. To bolster Poland's bargaining position, a limited continuance of the current attack was allowed (till the armistice). In addition to battlefield losses, the Soviets were pressed by circumstances requiring the deployment of their force elsewhere, such as developments in the Turkish–Armenian War, Pyotr Wrangel's White Army still occupying Crimea, or peasant rebellions in Russia.

On October 12, the Preliminary Treaty of Peace and Armistice Conditions was signed, and the armistice took effect on October 18. On November 2, ratifications were exchanged in Liepja. Negotiations for a peace treaty began and were completed on March 18, 1921, between Poland and Soviet Ukraine, Soviet Russia, and Soviet Belarus on one side and Soviet Ukraine, Soviet Russia, and Soviet Belarus on the other. On that day, the Riga Peace was signed, establishing the Polish–Soviet boundary and dividing the disputed lands of Belarus and Ukraine between Poland and the Soviet Union (soon to be officially established). Various other elements of Polish–Soviet ties were also governed by the treaty. It supplemented the Treaty of Versailles and set the groundwork for Eastern Europe's relatively peaceful coexistence, which lasted fewer than two decades.

Foreign allied forces were required to evacuate Poland under the preliminary terms of the armistice. When Poland signed the contract with the Soviet republics, it had to renounce its recognition of Petliura's Ukrainian People's Republic and other "White" Russian, Ukrainian, and Belarusian governments and organizations, as well as the allied military formations of the three ethnicities in Poland. For a month, the Ukrainian People's Army battled the Red Army across the armistice line. Its remnants were deported to Poland, where they were incarcerated.

The All-Russian Central Executive Committee adopted the Riga Peace on 14 April 1921, the Polish Sejm on 15 April, and the Central Executive Committee of Soviet Ukraine on 17 April. The Soviet Union did not officially criticize the Riga Treaty Settlement until late summer 1939, but it was widely assumed that the Soviet policy goal was to have it reversed.

Approximately 100,000 individuals were killed in the Polish–Soviet War. A difficult problem with prisoners of war remained unsolved. Both sides suffered significant destruction and economic losses, as well as severe psychological distress. Pisudski's goal of isolating Ukraine from Russia was not realized, and the compromise reached on the Polish–Soviet boundary signaled future instability.

Russia

Between 1917 and 1921, Russia saw thousands of peasant uprisings and rebellions. The Pitchfork rebellion in February–March 1920 drew the Soviet leadership's attention away from the Polish Kiev Expedition and harmed their military readiness in Ukraine and Belarus. The peasant opposition to grain requisitions and other privations of war communism, according to Lenin, posed a greater threat to Soviet Russia than the White movement. The Tambov Rebellion of 1920–1921, the final and arguably biggest of peasant uprisings, took place between 1920 and 1921. Acute food shortages also hit Moscow and Saint Petersburg, sparking the Kronstadt uprising in March 1921.

Many of the political aims of Soviet Russia's war with Poland were not met. Despite Germany's backing, it was unable to overthrow the Versailles-imposed European system, and the two powers were forced to wait for another chance to settle their differences.

The Polish team, led by Jan Dbski, focused on an armistice line and the future border at the peace talks. These were minor considerations for the Soviets. The Ukrainian and Belarusian Soviet republics' statehood status was crucial, and their recognition was the most crucial concession made by the Polish negotiators.

The Anglo-Soviet Trade Agreement, which was signed on March 16, 1921, was the first of a series of international treaties of this type. It ended Soviet Russia's diplomatic isolation. The infusion of foreign guns and equipment that resulted assisted to the success of Mikhail Tukhachevsky's operation against the partisans in Tambov province, which was concluded by July.

The New Economic Policy, proclaimed by Lenin on March 23, 1921, eventually replaced the grain requisition practices. It was a semblance of a deal with capitalism.

The Treaty of Rapallo was signed on April 16, 1922, by Russia and Germany. Diplomatic connections were established, and Russian negotiators were able to reach an agreement on their financial worries.

Soviet Russia withdrew behind its ring sanitaire following the Riga Peace Treaty. In actuality, its leaders abandoned the cause of the universal revolution. As a result, the Stalinist goal of "socialism in one country" became a reality. The Soviet Union embarked on an era of rapid industrialisation, eventually rising to become the world's second-largest industrial power.

Poland

The Soviets offered the Polish peace delegation major territory concessions, including Minsk and other places taken by Polish forces, as a result of their losses during and after the Battle of Warsaw. Polish resources were similarly depleted, and the Polish population desired a resolution. Pisudski and his supporters resisted the peace process, preferring to keep the fighting going in order to realize the Intermarium vision. However, when the Defense Council decided on Poland's boundary aspirations on September 11, 1920, fulfillment of Pisudski's territorial and political ideas was already ruled out. Despite the victory in the Battle of Warsaw, Pisudski's political position remained weak, and he was unable to prevent developments that threatened his long-held goal of a vast Polish-led alliance from coming to fruition.

Roman Dmowski's National Democrats were in charge of the talks. The National Democrats wished to incorporate the regions they deemed valuable into the Polish state. Dmowski's allies dominated the Polish parliament (Sejm), and their beliefs about the structure of the Polish state and how its borders should be drawn had long since won out.

Pisudski had lost his power to operate as the key player, to manage people and events in Polish politics, as a result of the unsuccessful Kiev Expedition. There was no longer any agreement on his dominant function. As a result, he was allowed to win the war, but his opponents had already set the terms of the settlement.

The National Democrats, led by Stanisaw Grabski at the Riga discussions, only desired territory that was "ethnically or historically Polish" (had Polish-dominated cities) or could be Polonized, in their perspective. Except for a few places in the western part of the disputed territory, Polish culture was little represented in the east, and Grabski refrained from demanding a border along the so-called Dmowski's Line, which had previously been proposed by his organization. Despite the Red Army's defeat and the readiness of the senior Soviet negotiator, Adolph Joffe, to yield most of the areas captured by Polish troops, the Soviets were able to reclaim part of the territories gained by the Polish armies during the battle due to National Democratic politics. The National Democrats were concerned that Poland would be unable to control vast swaths of area occupied by national minorities; Grabski desired lands dominated by Poles. Minsk, in the north, and Kamianets-Podilskyi, and other areas east of the Zbruch River, in the south, were among the territories evacuated by the Polish Army. Pisudski's so-called "eligowski's Mutiny" and the Polish annexation of the Vilnius area were made feasible by the "Grabski Corridor," a tract of land inserted to isolate Lithuania from Russia and connect Poland to Latvia. The National Democrats were also aware of the electoral damage that annexing further territory dominated by non-Polish ethnic groups would cause them. Pisudski's partner, Leon Wasilewski, represented the failed federalist approach in Riga.

The National Democrats' plan did not work out in the end because "the Riga settlement created a Poland that was too westerly to be a federation, but not westerly enough to remain a national state." In interwar Europe, Poland had the highest total percentage of ethnic minorities of any unitary state (only about two thirds of Polish citizens considered themselves ethnically Polish or of Polish nationality). Nonetheless, the National Democrats' election prospects were aided by the refusal of the easternmost counties. The Intermarium project had thus been dealt a death blow by the end of the war.

The conclusion of the Polish–Soviet War resulted in Poland's elites developing an overblown view of the country's military capability. Western commentators disagreed, claiming that Poland could only defend itself because of the Allies' financial, logistical, and material help.

99,000 Poles were killed or disappeared, and the country suffered massive losses and destruction.

Ukraine

The Riga Peace divided Ukraine, giving Poland (eastern Galicia and most of Volhynia) a portion of the country and the Soviet Union the rest. Poland recognized the Ukrainian Soviet Republic and the Byelorussian Soviet Republic. "The most important result of the attempts to build an independent Ukrainian state in 1918–1920 was that the Soviet Union established in 1922 contained a Ukrainian SSR," argues historian Timothy Snyder.

The Warsaw Treaty between Poland and the Directorate of Ukraine had been declared null and void. The Riga Treaty went against Poland's previous agreement with the Ukrainian People's Republic. The Polish side de facto recognized the Ukrainian SSR from the start of the talks, and the armistice agreement mandated the suspension of support for foreign forces allied against the other side. Polish authorities have now interned members of the Ukrainian side that accepted the alliance with Poland and fought within it. Ukrainian political and military officials were outspoken in their condemnation of the peace talks and their conclusion. Because Polish democracy was "foreign, unrepresentative, and finally restricted," repressive tactics of Polish governments toward Ukrainians living in post-Riga Poland caused a considerable deal of hatred in the remaining interwar years.

The Soviet policy in the 1920s was to assist in the development of contemporary Ukrainian culture. Ukrainian intellectuals were pushed to develop in the Ukrainian language by the communist party, resulting in cultural renaissance and a time of high productivity. The majority of literature and newspapers were published in the original language, and children were educated in it. It was formed the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church. Under Joseph Stalin's regime, liberal policies came to an end when the new religion was outlawed and the Ukrainian intelligentsia was wiped out in huge purges.

Given the circumstances, eastern Galicia in Poland became the epicenter of Ukrainian political and cultural activity in the 1930s. Despite the atrocities committed in Soviet Ukraine, Ukrainian activists saw Poland as their main adversary. They were disillusioned by the failed alliance and the treachery in Riga, and they were irritated by the Polish authorities' and local Polish elites' daily dominance. Many people saw the Soviet Union as principally responsible for the formation of the Ukrainian SSR.

Belarus

The Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic was officially created on August 1, 1920, after Soviet forces entered Minsk on July 11, 1920. Belarus, like Ukraine, was partitioned after the Riga Peace Treaty between Poland and the Soviet Union. Moscow dictated the policy of the Byelorussian Soviet Republic.

Unlike Lithuania and Ukraine, Pisudski and his supporters did not propose a Belarusian state linked to Poland until the Riga talks, when they wished to claim Minsk as the capital of a Belarusian People's Republic in that capacity.

After the armistice, the Volunteer Allied Army in Belarus, led by General Stanisaw Buak-Baachowicz, fought the Soviets, similar to the Ukrainian Petliura's soldiers. On November 5, Buak-troops Baachowicz's launched an offensive, but after momentary victories, they were forced to retire back into Polish-controlled territory on November 28. The Polish police also detained the Belarusian soldiers.

Belarusian activists saw the Riga Peace Treaty's outcomes as a grave betrayal. Polish Belarusians were relegated to a primarily rural, marginalized group without Minsk. For many of them, the Soviet republic to the east appeared to be a viable option. The Soviet Union was formed as a formal federation of republics in 1922. Its program intended for the Byelorussian SSR to be expanded in the future to encompass the Belarusian lands under Polish authority. The Communist Party of Western Belorussia, which had its origins in Poland, was ruled by the Soviet Union. In 1923, 1924, and 1926, areas obtained from the Russian Republic were used to expand the borders of the Byelorussian SSR to the east. In contrast to Poland's repressive tactics, the Soviet Union fostered Belarusian culture in the 1920s, establishing numerous significant national organizations and thousands of Belarusian schools. Official Belarusian progress, on the other hand, was largely wrecked by Stalin in the 1930s.

In the fall of 1921, Belarusian activists convened a Congress of Representatives in Prague to consider the Riga Peace Treaty and its implications for Belarus. Vera Maslovskaya was sent as the Biaystok area's delegate, and she sponsored a resolution to advocate for Belarus's unification. She advocated for the independence of all Belarusian territories and condemned the separation. Despite the fact that the convention did not endorse a proposal to initiate armed war, Maslovskaya's proposal was passed, prompting quick retribution from Polish authorities. They infiltrated and detained members of an underground network pushing for Belarusian union. Maslovskaya, along with 45 other participants, largely peasants, was arrested in 1922 and tried in 1923. A sister and brother of Maslovskaya, as well as other teachers and professionals, were among those imprisoned. Maslovskaya admitted full responsibility for the underground organization, but insisted that she had committed no crimes and that she had just fought to preserve Belarus' interests against foreign intruders in a political, rather than military, action. The court judged the leaders guilty of political offenses and sentenced them to six years in prison after failing to prove that they had participated in armed revolt.

Lithuania

Poland and Lithuania signed the Suwaki Agreement on October 7, 1920, under pressure from the Entente forces; the armistice line left Vilnius on the Lithuanian side of the border. However, Polish military actions, particularly the so-called eligowski's Mutiny, which began two days after the Suwaki Agreement, allowed Poland to take control of the Vilnius Region, where a Polish-dominated Governance Committee of Central Lithuania was established. Local legislative elections were held on January 8, 1922, although they were boycotted by Jews, Belarusians, and Lithuanians. On February 20, 1922, the Vilnius parliament agreed to annex "Central Lithuania" to Poland, and the Polish Sejm confirmed the annexation on March 24, 1922. The Western powers condemned Poland's actions, but on March 15, 1923, the Conference of Ambassadors, convinced of the need for Lithuania to be geographically separated from the Soviet Union, approved Poland's eastern borders, which had already been determined by the League of Nations in early February (the Soviet Union rejected the granting of Vilnius to Poland). Lithuania refused to cooperate, and the events, as well as the absorption, exacerbated Polish–Lithuanian tensions for decades. Even though Lithuania lost territory to Poland, according to Alfred E. Senn, it was the Polish triumph against the Soviets in the Polish–Soviet War that halted the Soviets' westward expansion intentions and granted Lithuania the period of interwar independence.

Latvia

Latvia's fighting with the Bolsheviks ended with the Latvian–Soviet Peace Treaty on 11 August 1920. The Peace of Riga negotiations followed; it established a Polish-Latvian border in the area of Daugavpils. That same year Latvia passed a comprehensive land reform and in 1922 introduced a democratic constitution. The Warsaw Accord was signed by foreign ministers of Latvia, Estonia, Finland and Poland on 17 March 1922. However, the Treaty of Rapallo, signed on 16 April 1922, effectively placed the Baltic states in the German and Soviet spheres of influence.

Prisoners, War Crimes and Other Controversies

The Polish–Soviet War influenced the Polish military doctrine; under Piłsudski's leadership it emphasised the mobility of elite cavalry units. It also influenced Charles de Gaulle, who was an instructor in the Polish Army with a rank of major and fought in several of the battles, including the Battle of Warsaw. He and Władysław Sikorski correctly predicted, based on their experiences during the war, the importance of maneuver and mechanization in the next war. Although they had failed during the interwar period to convince their respective military establishments to heed those lessons, during World War II they rose to command of their respective armed forces in exile.

Aftermath and Legacy

Despite the Soviet forces' final retreat and the annihilation of three Soviet field armies, historians are divided on the issue of victory. Soviet Russia has suffered a major military setback, according to Lenin. "The Poles brutally defeated and disgraced the Soviet regime - one of Lenin's biggest defeats," Sebestyen wrote. However, the fight is seen as a military win for Poland, as well as a political setback. Poland formally gave up its hopes to assist in the independence of Ukraine and Belarus in the peace deal, and the two states were recognized as Moscow's dependencies. The countries envisioned by Pisudski as members of the Intermarium federation led by Poland had instead become absorbed into the Soviet Union under Lenin and Stalin.

Both sides understood in the autumn of 1920 that they couldn't gain a decisive military triumph. Internally, the newly reconstituted Polish state had demonstrated its viability, as the vast majority of its citizens contributed to the country's defense and were unresponsive to Bolshevik demands for revolutionist participation. Neither of the primary protagonists was able to achieve his main goal. It was Pisudski's goal to reconstitute the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in some way. Toppling the capitalist edifice in Europe by supporting revolutionary processes in major Western governments was Lenin's goal.

Historians in Russia and Poland frequently attribute victory to their respective countries. The majority of outside views declare the outcome a Polish triumph or inconclusive. The Poles claimed victory in defending their country, while the Soviets claimed victory in repelling the Polish invasion of Ukraine and Belarus, which they saw as part of a foreign intervention in the Russian Civil War. The failure of the Soviet Union to eliminate the Polish Army, according to certain British and American military historians, put a stop to Soviet plans for international revolution.

Andrzej Chwalba identifies several ways in which Poland's military win was actually a loss (the basic status quo – Poland's sovereign existence – had been preserved). Poland's reputation was harmed by the idea that it was the aggressor. Historians and publicists in both the West and the East have painted the country's eastern strategy in a bad light, portraying it as reckless and risky. Hundreds of thousands of lives were sacrificed in the years leading up to 1920, with little territorial or political gain for Poland.

The Soviets moved soldiers to Crimea and stormed the Isthmus of Perekop after signing an armistice with Poland in October 1920. The White Army of Pyotr Wrangel was beaten there in the end. By the 14th of November, 83,000 soldiers and civilians had been evacuated to Istanbul aboard French and Russian ships (the British government had refused to help), while 300,000 White collaborators remained. The Red Army then transferred its forces to central Russia's Tambov area to put down an anti-Bolshevik peasant revolt.

The Soviet–Lithuanian Non-Aggression Pact was signed in September 1926. The Soviets reaffirmed their support for Lithuania's claim to the Vilnius region. Stalin awarded Vilnius to Lithuania in 1939, following the Soviet invasion of Poland. Lithuania was admitted to the Soviet Union as a Soviet republic in 1940. This arrangement had persisted until the restoration of Lithuanian independence in 1990, when it was interrupted by the German occupation of Lithuania in 1941–44. Vilnius became a city dominated by ethnic Lithuanians under the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic.

The separation of Belarus and Ukraine came to an end on Soviet terms after the Soviet invasion of Poland in September 1939. The Soviet Union returned in 1944 after Operation Barbarossa and Nazi Germany's occupation, and the two Soviet republics permanently recovered what had been Polish "Kresy" from 1920 to 1939. Except for the 1954 transfer of Crimea from the Russian SFSR to the Ukrainian SSR, the republics' borders have remained unchanged since the post-World War II modifications. Following the fall of the Soviet Union, the borders of the Soviet republics were kept as the borders of independent Belarus and Ukraine.

The question of Poland's eastern frontiers was raised and discussed during the Tehran Conference in 1943, during World War II. Winston Churchill urged that the 1920 Curzon Line should be used instead of the Peace of Riga borders, and the Allies agreed to this at the Yalta Conference in 1945. Despite having alliance treaties with Poland and the Polish participation to the war, the Western Allies left Poland in the Soviet sphere of influence. The Allies agreed to compensate Poland for its territorial losses in the east by giving it the majority of Germany's former eastern possessions. Many Poles referred to the imposed postwar arrangement as the Western treachery.

The Polish–Soviet War was deleted or minimized in Polish and other Soviet Bloc countries' history books, or was depicted as a foreign intervention during the Russian Civil War, from the end of World War II until 1989, when communists took power in Poland.

Lieutenant Józef Kowalski of Poland was the war's last living veteran. On his 110th birthday, President Lech Kaczyski of Poland bestowed the Order of Polonia Restituta upon him. At the age of 113, he passed away on December 7, 2013.

Last updated: 2022-March-20
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