Peace of Riga

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Peace of Riga of 18 March 1921
Rzeczpospolita 1922.png
Central and Eastern Europe after the Polish-Soviet Treaty of Riga
Signed18 March 1921
Location Riga, Latvia
Expiration17 September 1939

The Peace of Riga, also known as the Treaty of Riga (Polish : Traktat Ryski), was signed in Riga on 18 March 1921, between Poland, Soviet Russia (acting also on behalf of Soviet Belarus) and Soviet Ukraine. The treaty ended the Polish–Soviet War. [2]

Polish language West Slavic language spoken in Poland

Polish is a West Slavic language of the Lechitic group. It is spoken primarily in Poland and serves as the native language of the Poles. In addition to being an official language of Poland, it is also used by Polish minorities in other countries. There are over 50 million Polish language speakers around the world and it is one of the official languages of the European Union.

Riga City in Latvia

Riga is the capital and largest city of Latvia. With 637,827 inhabitants (2018), it is also the largest city in the three Baltic states, home to one third of Latvia's population and one tenth of the three Baltic states' combined population. The city lies on the Gulf of Riga, at the mouth of the Daugava river. Riga's territory covers 307.17 km2 (118.60 sq mi) and lies 1–10 m above sea level, on a flat and sandy plain.

Second Polish Republic 1918-1939 republic in Eastern Europe

The Second Polish Republic, commonly known as interwar Poland, refers to the country of Poland in the period between the First and Second World Wars (1918–1939). Officially known as the Republic of Poland, sometimes Commonwealth of Poland, the Polish state was re-established in 1918, in the aftermath of World War I. When, after several regional conflicts, the borders of the state were fixed in 1922, Poland's neighbours were Czechoslovakia, Germany, the Free City of Danzig, Lithuania, Latvia, Romania and the Soviet Union. It had access to the Baltic Sea via a short strip of coastline either side of the city of Gdynia. Between March and August 1939, Poland also shared a border with the then-Hungarian governorate of Subcarpathia. The Second Republic ceased to exist in 1939, when Poland was invaded by Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union and the Slovak Republic, marking the beginning of the European theatre of World War II.


The Soviet-Polish borders established by the treaty remained in force until the Second World War. They were later redrawn during the Yalta Conference and Potsdam Conference.

Yalta Conference

The Yalta Conference, also known as the Crimea Conference and code-named the Argonaut Conference, held from 4 to 11 February 1945, was the World War II meeting of the heads of government of the United States, the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union for the purpose of discussing Germany and Europe's postwar reorganization. The three states were represented by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Premier Joseph Stalin, respectively. The conference convened near Yalta in Crimea, Soviet Union, within the Livadia, Yusupov, and Vorontsov Palaces.

Potsdam Conference

The Potsdam Conference was held at Cecilienhof, the home of Crown Prince Wilhelm in Potsdam, occupied Germany, from 17 July to 2 August 1945. The participants were the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom, and the United States, represented respectively by Communist Party General Secretary Joseph Stalin, Prime Ministers Winston Churchill and Clement Attlee, and President Harry S. Truman.


World War I removed former imperial borders across Europe. In 1918, after the Russian Revolution had renounced Tsarist claims to Poland in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and the war had ended with Germany's surrender, Poland was able to re-establish its independence after a century of foreign rule.

World War I 1914–1918 global war originating in Europe

World War I, also known as the First World War or the Great War, was a global war originating in Europe that lasted from 28 July 1914 to 11 November 1918. Contemporaneously described as "the war to end all wars", it led to the mobilisation of more than 70 million military personnel, including 60 million Europeans, making it one of the largest wars in history. It is also one of the deadliest conflicts in history, with an estimated nine million combatants and seven million civilian deaths as a direct result of the war, while resulting genocides and the 1918 influenza pandemic caused another 50 to 100 million deaths worldwide.

Treaty of Brest-Litovsk separate peace treaty that the Soviet government was forced to sign on March 3, 1918

The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was a peace treaty signed on March 3, 1918 between the new Bolshevik government of Russia and the Central Powers, that ended Russia's participation in World War I. The treaty was signed at German-controlled Brest-Litovsk, after two months of negotiations. The treaty was agreed upon by the Russians to stop further invasion. According to the treaty, Soviet Russia defaulted on all of Imperial Russia's commitments to the Allies and eleven nations became independent in Eastern Europe and western Asia.

Partitions of Poland Forced partition of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth

The Partitions of Poland were three partitions of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth that took place toward the end of the 18th century and ended the existence of the state, resulting in the elimination of sovereign Poland and Lithuania for 123 years. The partitions were conducted by Habsburg Austria, the Kingdom of Prussia, and the Russian Empire, which divided up the Commonwealth lands among themselves progressively in the process of territorial seizures and annexations.

The Russian Civil War presented an opportunity for Poland under the leadership of Józef Piłsudski to regain parts of the tsarist territories of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth which had been incorporated into the Russian Empire during the Partitions of Poland. Meanwhile, many in the Soviet leadership desired to respond to Piłsudski's moves into the Ukraine by using military force against Poland, which was seen by the Soviets as a land bridge to Western Europe and thus to extend the revolution westwards. The Polish–Soviet War ensued, culminating in the Polish victory in the Battle of Warsaw (1920), which made both sides receptive to ending the conflict. Further military setbacks after their defeat near Warsaw made the Soviets eager to begin peace treaty negotiations, [3] and the Poles, pressured by the League of Nations, were also willing to negotiate after the Polish army had annexed most of the disputed territories in the war but was nearing exhaustion.

Józef Piłsudski Polish politician and Prime Minister

Józef Klemens Piłsudski, was a Polish statesman who served as the Chief of State (1918–22) and First Marshal of Poland. He was considered the de facto leader (1926–35) of the Second Polish Republic as the Minister of Military Affairs. From World War I he had great power in Polish politics and was a distinguished figure on the international scene. He is viewed as a father of the Second Polish Republic re-established in 1918, 123 years after the 1795 Partitions of Poland by Austria, Prussia and Russia.

Polish–Soviet War 20th-century conflict between Poland and the USSR

The Polish–Soviet War was fought by the Second Polish Republic, Ukrainian People's Republic and the proto-Soviet Union over a region comparable to today's westernmost Ukraine and parts of modern Belarus.

Battle of Warsaw (1920) battle between Poland and the Soviet Union, 1920

The Battle of Warsaw refers to the decisive Polish victory in 1920 during the Polish–Soviet War. Poland, on the verge of total defeat, repulsed and defeated the Red Army.


Caricature: "Down with the infamous Riga partition! Long live a free peasant indivisible Belarus!" Caricature for Riga Peace 1921.png
Caricature: "Down with the infamous Riga partition! Long live a free peasant indivisible Belarus!"

Peace talks began in Minsk on 17 August 1920, but as the Polish counter-offensive drew near, the talks were moved to Riga, and resumed on 21 September. [4] The Soviets proposed two solutions, the first on 21 September and the second on 28 September. The Polish delegation made a counter-offer on 2 October. Three days later the Soviets offered amendments to the Polish offer, which Poland accepted. An armistice was signed on 12 October and went into effect on 18 October 1920. [5] The chief negotiators were Jan Dąbski for Poland [6] and Adolph Joffe for the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. [4] The Soviet side insisted, successfully, on excluding non-communist Ukrainian representatives from the negotiations. [4]

Minsk Capital city in Belarus

Minsk is the capital and largest city of Belarus, situated on the Svislač and the Nyamiha Rivers. As the national capital, Minsk has a special administrative status in Belarus and is the administrative centre of Minsk Region (voblasć) and Minsk District (rajon). The population in January 2018 was 1,982,444, making Minsk the 11th most populous city in Europe. Minsk is the administrative capital of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) and seat of its Executive Secretary.

A counter-offensive is the term used by the military to describe large-scale, usually strategic offensive operations by forces that had successfully halted the enemy's offensive, while occupying defensive positions.

Armistice situation in a war where the warring parties agree to stop fighting

An armistice is a formal agreement of warring parties to stop fighting. It is not necessarily the end of a war, since it may constitute only a cessation of hostilities while an attempt is made to negotiate a lasting peace. It is derived from the Latin arma, meaning "arms" and -stitium, meaning "a stopping".

Due to their military setbacks, the Soviet delegation offered Poland substantial territorial concessions in the contested border areas. However, to many observers, it looked like the Polish side was conducting the Riga talks as if Poland had lost the war. The Polish delegation was dominated by members of the National Democrat movement, who were Piłsudski's political opponents. [6] The National Democrats did not want non-Polish minorities in the reborn Polish state to constitute more than one third of the overall population, and were therefore prepared to accept a Polish-Soviet border which was substantially to the west of what was being offered by the Soviet side, even though this would leave hundreds of thousands of people who were ethnically Polish on the Soviet side of the border.

This decision was also motivated by political objectives. The National Democrats' base of public support was among Poles in central and western Poland. In the east of the country and in the disputed borderlands, support for the National Democrats was greatly outweighed by support for Piłsudski (and in the countryside outside of the cities, Poles were outnumbered by Ukrainians or Belarusians in these areas). So a border too far to the east was not just against the National Democrats' ideological objective of minimising the minority population of Poland, but would also be an electoral disadvantage to them. [7] War-weary public opinion in Poland also favoured an end to the negotiations [4] and both sides remained under pressure from the League of Nations to reach a deal.

A special parliamentary delegation consisting of six members of the Polish Sejm held a vote on whether to accept the Soviets' far-reaching concessions, which would leave Minsk on the Polish side of the border. Pressured by the National Democrat ideologue, Stanisław Grabski, the 100 km of extra territory was rejected, a victory for the nationalist doctrine and a stark defeat for Piłsudski's federalism. [4] [6]

Regardless, the peace negotiations dragged on for months due to Soviet reluctance to sign. However, the matter became more urgent for the Soviet leadership as it had to deal with increased internal unrest towards the end of 1920, which led to the Tambov Rebellion and later the Kronstadt rebellion against the Soviet authorities. As a result of this situation, Lenin ordered the Soviet plenipotentiaries to finalise the peace treaty with Poland. [3] The Peace of Riga was signed on 18 March 1921, partitioning the disputed territories in Belarus and Ukraine between Poland and the RSFSR, and ending the conflict.


The Treaty consisted of 26 articles. [8] Poland was to receive monetary compensation (30 million rubles in gold) for its economic input into the Russian Empire during the Partitions of Poland. Under Article 14 Poland was also to receive railway materials (locomotives, rolling stock, etc.) with a value of 29 million gold roubles. [9] Russia was to surrender works of art and other Polish national treasures acquired from Polish territories after 1772 (such as the Jagiellonian tapestries and the Załuski Library). Both sides renounced claims to war compensation. Article 3 stipulated that border issues between Poland and Lithuania would be settled by those states. [8]

Riga, March 18, 1921
Article 3. Russia and the Ukraine abandon all rights and claims to the territories situated to the west of the frontier laid down by Article 2 of the present Treaty. Poland, on the other hand, abandons in favour of the Ukraine and of White Ruthenia all rights and claims to the territory situated to the east of this frontier.

Article 4. Each of the Contracting Parties mutually undertakes to respect in every way the political sovereignty of the other Party, to abstain from interference in its internal affairs, and particularly to refrain from all agitation, propaganda or interference of any kind, and not to encourage any such movement. [10]

Article 6 created citizenship options for persons on either side of the new border. [8] Article 7 consisted of a mutual guarantee that all nationalities would be permitted "free intellectual development, the use of their national language, and the exercise of their religion." [8]


The Allied Powers were initially reluctant to recognise the treaty, which had been concluded without their participation. [8] Their postwar conferences had supported the Curzon Line as the Polish-Russian border, and Poland's territorial gains in the treaty lay about 250 km east of that line. [11] [12] French support led to its recognition in March 1923 by France, Great Britain, Italy and Japan, followed by the US in April. [8]

In Poland, the Peace of Riga was met with criticism from the very beginning. Some characterised the treaty as short-sighted and argued that much of what Poland had gained during the Polish-Soviet war was lost during the peace negotiations. Józef Piłsudski had participated in the Riga negotiations only as an observer, and called the resulting treaty "an act of cowardice". [13] Piłsudski felt the agreement was a shameless and short-sighted political calculation, with Poland abandoning its Ukrainian allies. [4] On 15 May 1921, he apologised to Ukrainian soldiers during his visit to the internment camp at Kalisz. [14] [15] [16] The treaty substantially contributed to the failure of his plan to create a Polish-led Intermarium federation of Eastern European countries, as portions of the territory proposed for the federation were ceded to the Soviets. [7]

Lenin also considered the treaty unsatisfactory, as it forced him to put aside his plans for exporting the Soviet revolution to the West. [3]

The Belarusian and Ukrainian independence movements saw the treaty as a setback. [17] Four million Ukrainians and over one million Belarusians lived within areas ceded to Poland; in one estimate, only 15% of the population was ethnically Polish. [18] [19] The Ukrainian People's Republic led by Symon Petliura had been allied with Poland under the Treaty of Warsaw, which was abrogated by the Peace of Riga. [3] The new treaty violated Poland's military alliance with the UPR, which had explicitly prohibited a separate peace. In doing so, it worsened relations between Poland and those Ukrainians who had supported Petliura. These supporters felt Ukraine had been betrayed by its Polish ally, a feeling that would be exploited by the Organization of Ukrainian Nationalists and contribute to the growing tensions and eventual anti-Polish massacres in the 1930s and the 1940s. By the end of 1921, the majority of Poland-allied Ukrainian, Belarusian and White Russian forces had either been annihilated by Soviet forces or crossed the border into Poland and laid down their arms.

According to Belarusian historian Andrew Savchenko, Poland's new eastern border was "military indefensible and economically unviable" and a source of growing ethnic tensions, as the resulting minorities in Poland were too large to be ignored or assimilated and too small to win their desired autonomy. [6]

Further consequences

Poland after the Peace of Riga with the pre-partition borders of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth also indicated Rzeczpospolita 1789-1920.png
Poland after the Peace of Riga with the pre-partition borders of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth also indicated

While the Peace of Riga led to a two-decade stabilisation of Soviet-Polish relations, conflict was renewed with the Soviet invasion of Poland during World War II. The treaty was subsequently overridden after a decision by war's Allied powers to change Poland's borders once again and transfer the populations.

In the view of some foreign observers, the treaty's incorporation of significant minority populations into Poland led to seemingly insurmountable challenges, because the newly formed organizations such as OUN engaged in terror and sabotage actions across ethnically mixed areas to inflame conflict in the region. [8] [11] [20] Nevertheless, many groups representing national minorities welcomed Piłsudski's return to power in 1926 providing opportunities to play a role in the Polish government. [21]

Second page of the treaty, Polish version Treaty of Riga.jpg
Second page of the treaty, Polish version

The populations separated from Poland by the new Polish-Soviet border experienced different fate from their fellow citizens. Ethnic Poles left within Soviet borders were subjected to discrimination and property confiscation. [22] Most of them (at least 111,000) were summarily killed in the NKVD operation in 1937/38, genocide preceding ones perpetrated during WW2, or exiled to different regions of the Soviet Union. [23] [24] [25]

Belarusians and Ukrainians, having failed to create their own states, were subjects of extermination in the Soviet Union, e.g. during Holodomor [26] [27] and Great Purge (of which Poles were also victims). [28] [29] Belarusians and Ukrainians living on the Polish side of the border were subjected to Polonization; which contributed to the rise of Ukrainian nationalist organisations and the adoption of terrorist tactics by Ukrainian extremists. [30] [31]

The Soviet Union, thwarted in 1921, would see its sphere of influence expand as a result of World War II. After establishing its control over the People's Republic of Poland, the Polish-Soviet border was moved westwards in 1945 to roughly coincide with the Curzon Line. This shift was accompanied by large population transfers which led to the expulsion of the Poles living east of the new border, and also moved most of the Ukrainian minority remaining in Poland to the former German territories that were ceded to Poland in compensation. The unified Belarusian and Ukrainian territories were fully incorporated into the USSR.

However, in 1989, Poland would regain its full sovereignty, and soon afterwards, with the fall of the Soviet Union, Belarus and Ukraine would go on to become independent nations.

See also


  1. 1 2 Text of the document. Германо-советско-польская война 1939 года website.
  2. K. Marek. Identity and Continuity of States in Public International Law. Librairie Droz 1968. pp. 419-420.
  3. 1 2 3 4 THE REBIRTH OF POLAND. University of Kansas, lecture notes by Professor Anna M. Cienciala, 2004. Last accessed on 2 June 2006.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Piotr Stefan Wandycz (1 January 1962). France and Her Eastern Allies, 1919–1925: French-Czechoslovak-Polish Relations from the Paris Peace Conference to Locarno. U of Minnesota Press. pp. 178–180. ISBN   978-0-8166-5886-2.
  5. Soviet foreign policy: 1917-1980, in two volumes, Volume 1. Progress Publishers. p. 181.
  6. 1 2 3 4 Andrew Savchenko (2009). Belarus: A Perpetual Borderland. BRILL. pp. 98–100. ISBN   978-90-04-17448-1.
  7. 1 2 Timothy Snyder (2004). The reconstruction of nations: Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, 1569–1999. Yale University Press. pp. 68–. ISBN   978-0-300-10586-5 . Retrieved 16 February 2011.
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Michael Palij (1995). The Ukrainian-Polish defensive alliance, 1919–1921: an aspect of the Ukrainian revolution. CIUS Press. pp. 165–168. ISBN   978-1-895571-05-9.
  9. J.C. Johari (2000). Soviet Diplomacy 1925–41. Anmol Publications PVT. LTD. p. 42. ISBN   978-81-7488-491-6.
  10. Full text. "Treaty of Peace Between Poland, Russia and the Ukraine" (PDF). Riga, March 18, 1921. Resource: Appendix C.
  11. 1 2 Dennis P. Hupchick (1995). Conflict and chaos in Eastern Europe. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 210. ISBN   978-0-312-12116-7.
  12. Michael Graham Fry; Erik Goldstein; Richard Langhorne (2004). Guide to International Relations and Diplomacy. Continuum International Publishing Group. p. 203. ISBN   978-0-8264-7301-1.
  13. Norman Davies (2003). White Eagle, Red Star: the Polish-Soviet War, 1919–20. Pimlico. p. 399. ISBN   978-0-7126-0694-3. (First edition: New York, St. Martin's Press, inc., 1972.)
  14. Jan Jacek Bruski (August 2002). "Sojusznik Petlura". Wprost (in Polish). 1029 (2002–08–18). ISSN   0209-1747 . Retrieved 28 September 2006.
  15. Jerzy Borzęcki (2008). The Soviet-Polish Peace of 1921 and the Creation of Interwar Europe. Yale University Press. p. 232. ISBN   978-0-300-12121-6.
  16. Polityka. Wydawn. Wspólczesne RSW "Prasa-Książka-Ruch". 2001. p. 74. Ja was przepraszam, panowie, ja was przepraszam – to miało być zupełnie inaczej
  17. Jan Zaprudnik (1993). Belarus: at a crossroads in history. Westview Press. p. 75. ISBN   978-0-8133-1794-6.
  18. Antony Evelyn Alcock (2000). A history of the protection of regional cultural minorities in Europe: from the Edict of Nantes to the present day. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 73. ISBN   978-0-312-23556-7.
  19. Raymond Leslie Buell (2007). Poland – Key to Europe. READ BOOKS. p. 79. ISBN   978-1-4067-4564-1.
  20. Richard J. Crampton, University of Oxford (1994). Eastern Europe in the Twentieth Century. Routledge. p. 148. ISBN   978-0415106917 via Google Books.
  21. Peter D. Stachura (2004). Poland, 1918–1945: An Interpretive and Documentary History of the Second Republic. Psychology Press. p. 65. ISBN   978-0415343589.
  22. J. M. Kupczak "Stosunek władz bolszewickich do polskiej ludności na Ukrainie (1921–1939)Wrocławskie Studia Wschodnie 1 (1997) Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Wrocławskiego , 1997 page 47–62" IPN Bulletin 11(34) 2003
  23. Marek Jan Chodakiewicz (15 January 2011). "Nieopłakane ludobójstwo (Genocide Not Mourned)". Rzeczpospolita. Retrieved 28 April 2011.
  24. Goldman, Wendy Z. (2011). Inventing the Enemy: Denunciation and Terror in Stalin's Russia. New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN   978-0-521-19196-8. p. 217.
  25. Snyder, Timothy (27 January 2011). "Hitler vs. Stalin: Who Was Worse?". The New York Review of Books. p. 1, paragraph #7. Retrieved 12 June 2012.
  26. Jones, Adam (2010). Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction. Taylor & Francis. p. 194. ISBN   9780415486187.
  27. Andrea Graziosi, "Les Famines Soviétiques de 1931–1933 et le Holodomor Ukrainien.", Cahiers du monde russe et soviétique, 46/3, p. 457
  28. Gellately 2007
  29. Figes 2007, pp. 227–315
  30. Jan S. Prybyla (2010). When Angels Wept: The Rebirth and Dismemberment of Poland and Her People in the Early Decades of the Twentieth Century. Wheatmark, Inc. pp. 46–. ISBN   978-1-60494-325-2 . Retrieved 16 February 2011.
  31. Aviel Roshwald (2001). Ethnic nationalism and the fall of empires: central Europe, Russia, and the Middle East, 1914-1923. Routledge. pp. 168–. ISBN   978-0-415-17893-8 . Retrieved 16 February 2011.

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Polish population transfers (1944–1946) Post WWII resettlement

The Polish population transfers in 1944–46 from the eastern half of prewar Poland, refer to the forced migrations of Poles toward the end – and in the aftermath – of World War II. These were the result of Soviet Union policy that was ratified by its Allies. Similarly the Soviet Union had enforced policy between 1939 and 1941, that targeted and expelled ethnic Poles residing in the Soviet zone of occupation following the Nazi-Soviet invasion of Poland. The second wave of expulsions resulted from the retaking of Poland by the Red Army during the Soviet counter-offensive. It took over territory for its republic of Ukraine, a shift that was ratified at the end of World War II by the Soviet Union's then Allies of the West.

The Suwałki Agreement, Treaty of Suvalkai, or Suwalki Treaty was an agreement signed in the town of Suwałki between Poland and Lithuania on October 7, 1920. It was registered in the League of Nations Treaty Series on January 19, 1922. Both countries had re-established their independence in the aftermath of World War I and did not have well-defined borders. They waged the Polish–Lithuanian War over territorial disputes in the Suwałki and Vilnius Regions. At the end of September 1920, Polish forces defeated the Soviets at the Battle of the Niemen River, thus militarily securing the Suwałki Region and opening the possibility of an assault on the city of Vilnius (Wilno). Polish Chief of State, Józef Piłsudski, had planned to take over the city since mid-September in a false flag operation known as Żeligowski's Mutiny.