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The Soviet-Polish Peace of 1921 and the Creation of Interwar Europe

The Soviet-Polish Peace of 1921 and the Creation of Interwar Europe

Jerzy Borzęcki
Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 418
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    The Soviet-Polish Peace of 1921 and the Creation of Interwar Europe
    Book Description:

    The Soviet-Polish peace treaty of 1921, also known as the "Riga peace," ended the war of 1919-1920 and may be considered the most important Eastern European treaty of the interwar period. This deeply researched book offers the first post-Soviet account of how Bolshevik Russia and Poland came to sign the treaty-a pact that established the central part of the Soviet western border and provided Eastern Europe with a measure of stability that lasted until 1939.

    Jerzy Borzecki draws on a wealth of untapped materials in Russian and Polish archives to recreate the negotiations and behind-the-scenes maneuvers leading to and surrounding the treaty. He examines the significance of the agreement not only to its signatories but also to Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, and Latvia. The Riga peace represented an authentic compromise between Poland and Bolshevik Russia, Borzecki shows, and he offers new interpretations of other crucial aspects of the negotiations as well.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-14501-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. xiii-xvi)

    The Soviet-Polish peace treaty of 1921, which ended the war of 1919–1920, is arguably the most important Eastern European treaty of the interwar period. While one of its signatories was a great power, though temporarily weakened, the other counted as the largest of several small states that emerged in the region in the aftermath of the Great War. Also known as the “Riga peace” for the city in which it was signed, the treaty established the crucial central part of the Soviet western border, giving Eastern Europe a measure of stability which lasted until 1939. It forced Lenin to...

  5. CHAPTER I Early Diplomatic Contacts
    (pp. 1-22)

    The diplomatic and military struggle of 1919–1920 between the recently reestablished Poland and the still new Bolshevik government in Soviet Russia centered on the lands between them, the historic Polish-Russian Borderlands. These are usually understood to be the territories between Poland proper and Russia proper. In this work, the Borderlands will be specifically understood as identical to the Westland,¹ orZapadnyi krai,of the Russian Empire. The Westland was a separate administrative unit made up of territories acquired by Russia in the partitions of Poland (1772–1795).² It was subdivided into two parts: the Southwestland, with its capital in...

  6. CHAPTER II Failed Negotiations
    (pp. 23-45)

    During most of March and early April 1919 the front line did not change, as muddy roads prevented any significant operations, but the Poles worked on preparing their spring offensive on the Soviet front. Already in early March, the skeleton military staff of the Polish commander in chief began planning a raid to capture the city of Wilno.¹ On 4 April 1919, the Parliament called on “the Government and the High Command to expend all energy in order to liberate most expeditiously the northeastern part of Poland with its capital Wilno from Bolshevik invasion and to unite it permanently with...

  7. CHAPTER III Official Soviet Peace Offers
    (pp. 46-68)

    With Denikin’s final defeat clearly on the horizon toward the end of 1919, Piłsudski began preparations for the final and decisive phase of the war.¹ The first step was to strengthen the northern flank, which was in a precarious position, being surrounded on the east and northeast by the Bolsheviks, and on the northwest by hostile Lithuanian troops. This was to be done by ejecting the Soviets from Latgalia, thus establishing a common border with friendly Latvia. The direct Polish-Latvian link would also isolate Soviet Russia from both Lithuania and German volunteer troops, still remaining in western Latvia. This was...

  8. CHAPTER IV The Minsk Negotiations
    (pp. 69-104)

    It is remarkable that the Bolshevik leadership was not at all concerned that the Poles struck first by launching their offensive in the Southwestland on 25 April 1920. Indeed, four days later Lenin declared, “we regard this new adventure with the utmost calm.” He emphasized at the same time that “despite all our pliancy, war [with Poland] has been foisted on us.”¹ The same day, Supreme Commander Kamenev described the Polish offensive as “advantageous to us.”² The next day, Trotsky put it even more bluntly. By taking the offensive, the Poles “fell right into a trap.” It was obvious to...

  9. CHAPTER V Preliminary Peace Negotiations: Difficulties
    (pp. 105-129)

    In the wake of the Battle of Warsaw, the Poles were well aware of having survived the crisis by the skin of their teeth. They would not have approved of another offensive on Kiev, but they did expect their commander in chief to consolidate the surprising victory by extending successful military operations east of the Curzon line, paving the way for an acceptable peace treaty. Piłsudski was eager to fulfill these expectations. In the south, Budennyi’s cavalry was surrounded by Polish cavalry near Komarów, southeast of Zamość, on 31 August–1 September (see Map 3).¹ Budennyi managed to break out...

  10. CHAPTER VI Preliminary Peace Negotiations: Breakthrough
    (pp. 130-154)

    The break in the aftermath of Ioffe’s draft of the preliminary peace, requested by Dąbski, put pressure on the Poles as well as the Soviets. Sapieha, in a bid to speed up negotiations, had just decided to go to Riga himself and take over from Dąbski.¹ Thus, the Polish delegation head desperately needed a breakthrough. On the evening of 30 September 1920, Dąbski, using a middleman, proposed to Ioffe a confidential meeting,² hoping that such a meeting would offer a better chance than an official session. It also relieved the Pole from having to fence verbally with his Soviet counterpart,...

  11. CHAPTER VII Definitive Peace Negotiations: Difficulties
    (pp. 155-184)

    Only a couple of hours after the signing of the preliminaries on 12 October 1920, the Soviets received intelligence from Poland that Piłsudski was “extremely unhappy about the signed peace.” Subsequent intelligence reports indicated that, as commander in chief, he sharply reproached General Kuliñski, the member of the peace delegation at Riga representing the army, for “pliancy and haste.” The Polish leader could not reconcile himself to the signed preliminaries, and vowed that “under no circumstance will he abandon Petliura.” While the Soviets took this intelligence with all seriousness, they nonetheless believed that the support of all Polish political parties...

  12. CHAPTER VIII Definitive Peace Negotiations: Crisis and Breakthrough
    (pp. 185-229)

    In late December 1920, the Soviets were still uncertain as to whether the definitive peace negotiations at Riga would end in success. This raised with new urgency the question of solidifying their uneasy friendship with Lithuania, which they had nearly forfeited by signing the preliminary peace with Poland. Already in November 1920, the Soviets had cautiously considered supplying Kaunas with arms. Subsequently, Ioffe’s note to Dąbski of II December, protesting against the League of Nations’ decision to send international peacekeeping forces to Wilno, was to Lithuania’s liking. Now, however, the Lithuanians “very much insisted” that the Soviets send them a...

  13. CHAPTER IX The Implementation of the Peace Treaty
    (pp. 230-274)

    The process of implementation of the treaty was supposed to begin immediately after the exchange of ratification documents, which took place on 30 April 1921. Instead, the exchange was followed by a barrage of mutual accusations of breaching the treaty. This barrage lasted several months, while in the meantime the Soviets put the implementation on hold.

    Already in mid-April, Chicherin sent Sapieha a note charging that “counterrevolutionary bands” were being formed on Polish soil to carry out raids on Soviet territory. General Bulak-Balakhovich and “the Belarusian counterrevolutionary committee” were forming such bands in Belarus. Petliura was doing the same in...

  14. Epilogue
    (pp. 275-282)

    The Soviet-Polish peace of 1921 put an end to a military and diplomatic struggle stretching over two years. Conflict resulted from the clash between two maximalist concepts pursued by each side. The Bolshevik leader, Lenin, strove to export revolution to the rest of Europe, especially to its industrialized West. To achieve that objective, Poland, separating Russia from Germany, had to be Sovietized. On the other side, the Polish leader, Piłsudski, pursued the concept of so-called federalism, whereby Poland would be federated or closely allied with the indigenous nations of the historic Borderlands. The success of Polish federalism would have necessitated...

  15. Maps
    (pp. 283-294)
  16. Polish and Russian Pronunciation
    (pp. 295-298)
  17. Geographical Terms
    (pp. 299-302)
  18. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. 303-306)
  19. Notes
    (pp. 307-388)
  20. Index
    (pp. 389-401)