| Territorial changes of|
the Baltic states
in the 20th century
The Soviet–Lithuanian Peace Treaty, also known as the Moscow Peace Treaty, was signed between Lithuania and Soviet Russia on July 12, 1920. In exchange for Lithuania's neutrality and permission to move its troops in the territory that was recognised during its war against Poland, Soviet Russia recognized the sovereignty of Lithuania. The treaty was a major milestone in Lithuania's struggle for international recognition and recognised Lithuania's eastern borders. Interwar Lithuania officially maintained that its de jure borders were those delineated by the treaty although a large territory, the Vilnius Region, was really controlled by Poland.
Ratification documents were exchanged in Moscow on October 14, 1920. The treaty was registered in the League of Nations Treaty Series on March 8, 1921.
Lithuania declared independence from the former Russian Empire on February 16, 1918. In March, the Bolsheviks signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and renounced any claims to the Baltic states, including Lithuania. Ober Ost, the German occupying authority, did not allow Lithuania to establish government institutions, organize military or police forces or attempt to define its borders. Lithuanian independence remained a largely-unrealized political declaration.
That changed when Germany surrendered in November 1918. Lithuanians hurriedly adopted a provisional constitution, formed a government and started to organise an army.
Soviet Russia denounced the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and renewed its interest in the Baltic region. In late December 1918, Lithuanian territory was invaded by Bolshevik forces, who were pursuing the retreating Germans. That marked the beginning of the Lithuanian Wars of Independence and the Polish–Soviet War. Within a month, Soviet forces controlled large portions of northern and eastern Lithuania. The advance was stopped only with help from German volunteers. In Vilnius, the Bolsheviks proclaimed a puppet Soviet government, led by Vincas Mickevičius-Kapsukas. In February 1919, the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic was merged with the Socialist Soviet Republic of Byelorussia, to form Litbel.The entity was short-lived, as Poland and Lithuania successfully counterattacked. Vilnius, the historic capital of Lithuania, was seized by the Poles in April. The last Bolsheviks were pushed from Lithuanian territory at the end of August. Litbel had its entire territory taken by September 1919 and ceased to exist.
As the Bolsheviks were pushed from the Baltic region, Lenin sought to arrange peace treaties to ease anti-Bolshevik tensions in Europe.The first Lithuanian–Russian attempt at negotiation took place on September 11, 1919, when the People's Commissar of Foreign Affairs of Soviet Russia, Georgy Chicherin, sent a note with a proposal for a peace treaty. It was a de facto recognition of the Lithuanian state. Similar proposals were delivered to Latvia and Estonia. On September 14 and 15, the Baltic states held a trilateral meeting in Tallinn and agreed to begin simultaneous peace talks with the Soviets.
However, Lithuania delayed contacting Moscow and the collective negotiations did not take place. [ citation needed ]Lithuanian feared that negotiations with communist Russia, which was isolated from European politics, would damage its relationships with the western powers that had not yet recognized Lithuania. While Lithuania was preparing for the first democratic elections to the Constituent Assembly of Lithuania, election campaigns urged the government to start negotiations. On March 31, 1920 Augustinas Voldemaras, the Lithuanian minister of foreign affairs, informed Soviet diplomats that Lithuania was ready to open the talks if Moscow recognized Lithuania within its ethnic lands and acknowledged Vilnius as its capital. The Soviets agreed to discuss the situation and suggested for preliminary negotiations to begin on April 15. The talks in Moscow did not begin until May 7.
The Lithuanian delegation, led by Tomas Naruševičius, demanded for Russia to recognise the independent Lithuania as a legal successor of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, but the Soviet delegation, led by Adolph Joffe, was prepared to recognize Lithuania only based on the self-determination principle.Territorial disputes were the most contentious issue. Lithuania demanded the territories of former Kovno, Vilna, Grodno and Suwałki Governorates. Those areas, according to the Lithuanians, were ethnically Lithuanian. M. Balinsky's census of 1857 was provided as evidence that the territory was inhabited primarily by Lithuanians. Lithuanians asserted that the large Jewish and Belarusian populations in the region, wanted to be part of Lithuania. They brought a representative of each group, Simon Rosenbaum and Dominyk Semashko, to support that case. It was agreed that the territory of Lithuania could be easily identified, as it was inhabited by Litvaks. The Second Polish Republic also laid claim to the territory and had actual control over it at the time, especially Vilnius Region, and a few years later, the Republic of Central Lithuania was established.</ref>
The Soviets agreed to recognize the territory to Lithuania if it agreed to form a military alliance against Poland, which was engaged in the Kiev Offensive against Soviet Russia.The Lithuanians were tempted by the opportunity to regain Vilnius but refused. Even though the Soviets seemed a natural ally against Poland, Lithuanians reasoned that staying on good terms with Poland and its allies, France and Britain, was a better long-term strategy. Lithuania informed Britain about Soviet plans on the hope that such a move would prove Lithuania's trustworthiness and would put indirect pressure on Poland to reach an agreement that was acceptable regarding to Vilnius. Those tactics did not prove successful sincr Poland was invariably backed by France and indirect British pressure was not strong enough to change Poland's foreign policy.
The negotiations were long and difficult. While the Russians were losing ground to the Poles, who took Kiev in May 1920, the Lithuanians sought to delay the talks. On May 22, 1920, the Lithuanian delegation even threatened to withdraw from the peace talks. However, as the situation changed, and Russia successfully counterattacked, the Lithuanians were pressured into signing the treaty on July 12. [ citation needed ]After some debate over whether the treaty was sincere, and the Soviets had assumed any real liability, the Constituent Assembly of Lithuania ratified it on August 8, 1920.
The treaty had 19 articles. Article 1 stipulated that Russia recognized Lithuania's independence without reservations and voluntarily abandoned any territorial claims.Article 2 described the Lithuanian territory. The Soviet Union acknowledged Lithuanian authority over the Vilnius Region, including Brasłaŭ, Hrodna, Lida, Pastavy and Vilnius. The fate of the Suvalkai Region was not determined by the treaty, as the line was drawn only to the village of Sztabin. The Bolsheviks also promised to pay war reparations in the amount of three million rubles and 107,000 hectares of timber. Lithuania was relieved of any debt obligations.
The treaty allowed refugees and prisoners of war to return to their homeland. Lithuania then held about 2,000 Russian prisoners, and Russia held about 150 Lithuanians.Russians in Lithuania could opt for either Lithuanian or Russian citizenship. Russia promised to return any cultural and historical property that was removed during the wars. A working commission was created, which evaluated the damage to Lithuania at about 816 million rubles, and 407 million rubles for damage to the territory that was controlled by Poland. Separate agreements would be made later to decide protection of the frontier, conventions of trade and transit and other details.
The treaty also contained a secret clause that allowed Soviet forces unrestricted movement within Soviet-recognized Lithuanian territory for the duration of Soviet hostilities with Poland; that clause would lead to questions regarding the issue of Lithuanian neutrality in the ongoing Polish-Soviet War.
Lithuania was to stop the activities of the "anti-Soviet organisations and groups" on its territory, including the activities of the exiled bodies of the Belarusian People's Republic.
While the treaty was being negotiated and signed, most of the territory granted by the treaty Lithuania was already controlled by Bolshevik forces.As the Poles were retreating from western Russia, Lithuania attempted to secure the borders outlined in the treaty. Lithuanian forces crossed the Foch line on July 19, seeking to take control of the territories granted to Lithuania by the Soviet Union, advancing rapidly despite Polish protests and, in several cases, fighting skirmishes with the retreating Polish forces. That led to clashes in southern Lithuania over the towns of Sejny, Augustów and Suwałki. According to historian Piotr Lossowski, the Lithuanians also provided the Soviets with logistical support.
The Bolshevik forces were the first to enter Vilnius on July 14, 1920 although the treaty did not transfer it to the Lithuanians.The Soviets installed a puppet government, the former Litbel, with the intent of fomenting a socialist revolution. Leon Trotsky and Mikhail Tukhachevsky were preparing the overthrow of the Lithuanian government. The plans never came to pass since Poland defeated Soviet forces in the Battle of Warsaw between August 13 and August 25. On August 26, as the Polish Army was approaching the southern borders of Lithuania, the Soviets finally transferred Vilnius to Lithuanian control and the Red Army retreated.
In September, when the Poles had gained an upper hand and were pursuing the Soviets back to the east, Soviet forces moved at will through Lithuanian-controlled territory, but Polish forces that tried to pursue them were arrested and interned.Lithuania's declared neutrality was challenged by Poland, which accused Lithuania of allowing free Soviet passage through its territory, which Lithuania could not deny. The treaty did not create a formal military alliance between the Soviets and the Lithuanians but it diminished Lithuania's standing as a neutral state. Łossowski wrote that Lithuania's lack of neutrality towards Poland was such that "the Polish government could have with full justification treated Lithuania as a country participating in the war on the other side, with all of its political and legal implications". Historian Alfred E. Senn wrote that "the Lithuanians cannot claim to have been 'strictly neutral'", and that "the Lithuanians should not have been surprised when, at the end of August, Warsaw refused to recognize Kaunas's neutrality".
In late August, Lithuanian and Polish missions met in Kaunas to negotiate the situation. While the talks were underway, Polish troops retook Sejny, Augustów, and Suwałki in the south.The Suwałki Region held great symbolic importance for the Lithuanians as a locus of their independence movement. Lithuania mounted military operations in the area. Poland also wanted to reclaim Vilnius, which it had been forced to abandon during the Soviet offensive in July. The clashes led to a war on a wide front between Poland and Lithuania in September. An intervention was made by the League of Nations, which brokered the Suwałki Agreement on October 7, 1920, which was to have taken effect on October 10. However, on October 9, Polish General Lucjan Żeligowski staged a mutiny, invaded Lithuania and took over Vilnius. Most of the Vilnius and Suwałki Regions would remain under Polish control during the interwar period, and interwar Polish–Lithuanian relations were described as "no war, no peace".
The treaty represented a major breakthrough in Lithuania's quest for international recognition. The provision that permitted the return of Lithuanian World War I refugees and prisoners was a welcomed development. However, the Soviet Union did not pay all its reparations and never seriously considered returning the cultural and historical property. [ citation needed ]Lithuanian politicians and historians continue to seek the return of those items, but the Russian government claims that they are lost.
Modern Belarusian historiography regards the treaty, especially the cession of [[ethnic Belarusia] territories to Lithuania (primarily Hrodna, Shchuchyn, Lida, Ashmyany, Smarhon, Pastavy, Braslaw but also the contemporary Vilnius Region with Vilna) as a unilateral act by the Soviet authorities that disregarded the national interests of the Belarusian people and was aimed at immediate military and political gains.
Some historians have asserted that if Poland had not prevailed in the Polish–Soviet War, Lithuania would have been invaded by the Soviets, and would never have experienced two decades of independence.Despite the Soviet–Lithuanian Peace Treaty Lithuania was very close to being invaded by the Soviets in summer 1920 and being forcibly incorporated into that state, and only the Polish victory derailed this plan.
The Polish–Soviet War was fought by the Second Polish Republic, the Ukrainian People's Republic and the proto-Soviet Union over a region comparable to today's westernmost Ukraine and parts of modern Belarus. Russia sought to cross Poland in order to stimulate a Europe-wide communist revolution.
The Republic of Central Lithuania or Middle Lithuania, or Central Lithuania, was a short-lived political entity which did not gain international recognition. The republic was created in 1920 following the rebellion of soldiers of the 1st Lithuanian–Belarusian Infantry Division of the Polish Army under Lucjan Żeligowski, supported by the Polish air force, cavalry and artillery.
Vincas Mickevičius (Mickiewicz), known under his pen name Kapsukas, was a Lithuanian communist political activist and revolutionary. As an active member of the Lithuanian National Revival, he wrote for and edited many Lithuanian publications and joined the Lithuanian Social Democratic Party. As his views turned from socialism to communism, he became one of the founders and leaders of the Lithuanian Communist Party and headed the short-lived Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic and Lithuanian–Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic (Litbel) in 1918–19. After the failure of these republics, Mickevičius left for Soviet Russia, where he continued to lead Lithuanian communists and worked for the Communist International (Comintern).
The Lithuanian–Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic or Litbel (Lit-Bel) was a Soviet socialist republic that existed within the territories of modern Belarus and eastern Lithuania for approximately five months during 1919. It was created after the merger of the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic and the Socialist Soviet Republic of Byelorussia. The republic was dissolved after the Polish Army took over its claimed territory of eastern Lithuania during the Polish–Soviet War.
The Polish–Lithuanian War was an armed conflict between newly independent Lithuania and Poland in the aftermath of World War I. The conflict primarily concerned territorial control of the Vilnius Region, including Vilnius, and the Suwałki Region, including the towns of Suwałki, Augustów, and Sejny. The conflict was largely shaped by the progress in the Polish–Soviet War and international efforts to mediate at the Conference of Ambassadors and later the League of Nations. There are major differences in Polish and Lithuanian historiography regarding treatment of the war. According to Lithuanian historians, the war was part of the Lithuanian Wars of Independence and spanned from spring 1919 to November 1920. According to Poland, the war included only fighting over the Suwałki Region in September–October 1920 and was part of the Polish-Soviet War.
Vilnius Region is the territory in the present-day Lithuania and Belarus that was originally inhabited by ethnic Baltic tribes and was a part of Lithuania proper, but came under East Slavic and Polish cultural influences over time.
The Lithuanian Wars of Independence, also known as the Freedom Struggles, refer to three wars Lithuania fought defending its independence at the end of World War I: with Bolshevik forces, Bermontians, and Poland. The wars delayed international recognition of independent Lithuania and the formation of civil institutions.
The Sejny Uprising or Seinai Revolt refers to a Polish uprising against the Lithuanian authorities in August 1919 in the ethnically mixed area surrounding the town of Sejny. When German forces, which occupied the territory during World War I, retreated from the area in May 1919, they turned over administration to the Lithuanians. Trying to prevent an armed conflict between Poland and Lithuania, the Entente drew a demarcation line, known as the Foch Line. The line assigned much of the disputed Suwałki (Suvalkai) Region to Poland and required the Lithuanian Army to retreat. While the Lithuanians retreated from some areas, they refused to leave Sejny (Seinai), because of its major Lithuanian population. Polish irregular forces began the uprising on August 23, 1919, and soon received support from the regular Polish Army. After several military skirmishes, Polish forces secured Sejny and the Lithuanians retreated behind the Foch Line.
Żeligowski's Mutiny was a Polish false flag operation led by General Lucjan Żeligowski in October 1920, which resulted in the creation of the Republic of Central Lithuania. Polish Chief of State Józef Piłsudski surreptitiously ordered Żeligowski to carry out the operation, and revealed the truth several years later. The area was formally annexed by Poland in 1922 and internationally recognized as Polish territory in 1923. Nevertheless, Lithuania continued to claim the Vilnius region.
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.
The 1938 Polish ultimatum to Lithuania was a demand delivered to Lithuania by Poland on March 17, 1938. The ultimatum was a result of tensions between Poland and Lithuania, mainly concerning the Vilnius Region.
Soviet–Lithuanian Non-Aggression Pact was a non-aggression pact, signed between the Soviet Union and Lithuania on September 28, 1926. The pact confirmed all basic provisions of the Soviet–Lithuanian Peace Treaty of 1920. The Soviet Union continued to recognize Vilnius and Vilnius Region to Lithuania, despite the fact that the territories were under Polish control since the Żeligowski's Mutiny in 1920. It also recognized Lithuania's interests in the Klaipėda Region. In exchange Lithuania agreed not to join any alliances directed against the Soviet Union, which meant international isolation at the time when Soviet Union was not a member of the League of Nations. Ratifications were exchanged in Kaunas on November 9, 1926, and the pact became effective on the same day. The pact was registered in League of Nations Treaty Series on March 4, 1927.
The Lithuanian–Soviet War or Lithuanian–Bolshevik War was fought between newly independent Lithuania and the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic in the aftermath of World War I. It was part of the larger Soviet westward offensive of 1918–1919. The offensive followed retreating German troops with intentions to establish Soviet republics in Ukraine, Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Poland and link up with the German Revolution. By the end of December 1918 Soviet forces reached Lithuanian borders. Largely unopposed, they took one town after another and by the end of January 1919 controlled about 2⁄3 of the Lithuanian territory. In February, the Soviet advance was stopped by Lithuanian and German volunteers, who prevented the Soviets from capturing Kaunas, the temporary capital of Lithuania. From April 1919, the Lithuanian war went parallel with the Polish–Soviet War. Poland had territorial claims over Lithuania, especially the Vilnius Region, and these tensions spilled over into the Polish–Lithuanian War. Historian Norman Davies summarized the situation: "the German army was supporting the Lithuanian nationalists, the Soviets were supporting the Lithuanian communists and the Polish Army was fighting them all." In mid-May, the Lithuanian army, now commanded by General Silvestras Žukauskas, began an offensive against the Soviets in northeastern Lithuania. By mid-June, the Lithuanians reached the Latvian border and cornered the Soviets among lakes and hills near Zarasai, where the Soviets held out until the end of August 1919. The Soviets and Lithuanians, separated by the Daugava River, maintained their fronts until the Battle of Daugavpils in January 1920. As early as September 1919, the Soviets offered to negotiate a peace treaty, but talks began only in May 1920. The Soviet–Lithuanian Peace Treaty was signed on July 12, 1920. Soviet Russia fully recognized independent Lithuania.
Suwałki Governorate was a governorate of Congress Poland which had its seat in the city of Suwałki. It covered a territory of about 12,300 km².
The Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic (LSSR) was a short-lived Soviet republic declared on December 16, 1918, by a provisional revolutionary government led by Vincas Mickevičius-Kapsukas. It ceased to exist on February 27, 1919, when it was merged with the Socialist Soviet Republic of Byelorussia to form the Lithuanian–Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic (Litbel). While efforts were made to represent the LSSR as a product of a socialist revolution supported by local residents, it was largely a Moscow-orchestrated entity created to justify the Lithuanian–Soviet War. As a Soviet historian described it as: "The fact that the Government of Soviet Russia recognized a young Soviet Lithuanian Republic unmasked the lie of the USA and British imperialists that Soviet Russia allegedly sought rapacious aims with regard to the Baltic countries." Lithuanians generally did not support Soviet causes and rallied for their own national state, declared independent on February 16, 1918, by the Council of Lithuania.
The Soviet–Lithuanian Mutual Assistance Treaty was a bilateral treaty signed between the Soviet Union and Lithuania on October 10, 1939. According to provisions outlined in the treaty, Lithuania would acquire about one fifth of the Vilnius Region, including Lithuania's historical capital, Vilnius, and in exchange would allow five Soviet military bases with 20,000 troops to be established across Lithuania. In essence the treaty with Lithuania was very similar to the treaties that the Soviet Union signed with Estonia on September 28, and with Latvia on October 5. According to official Soviet sources, the Soviet military was strengthening the defenses of a weak nation against possible attacks by Nazi Germany. The treaty provided that Lithuania's sovereignty would not be affected. However, in reality the treaty opened the door for the first Soviet occupation of Lithuania and was described by The New York Times as "virtual sacrifice of independence."
Lithuania–Russia relations refers to bilateral foreign relations between Lithuania and Russia. Lithuania has an embassy in Moscow and consulates in Saint Petersburg, Kaliningrad and Sovetsk. Russia has an embassy in Vilnius, with consulates in Klaipėda. The two countries share a common border through Kaliningrad Oblast.
The Polish coup d'état attempt in Lithuania refers to a failed attempt by Polish statesman Józef Piłsudski to overthrow the existing Lithuanian government of Prime Minister Mykolas Sleževičius, and install a pro-Polish cabinet that would agree to a union with Poland. The Polish intelligence agency, the Polish Military Organization (PMO) was to carry out the coup d'etat, planned to be implemented in August 1919. The coup was designed to seem to be an initiative by local Lithuanians aiming to free their government of German influence. The PMO hoped to rely on the assistance of sympathetic Lithuanian activists. They were thwarted by the lack of cooperation and the unwillingness of sufficient number of Lithuanians to support the Polish cause.
The Ministry for Belarusian Affairs was a short-lived interwar Lithuanian ministry. It was established in December 1918 to gain support of Belarusians in international negotiations over the borders of the newly independent Lithuania. However, the Lithuanian government did not support Belarusian autonomy and the ministry effectively competed with the Rada of the Belarusian Democratic Republic. Activities of the ministry were limited to publication of several books and two periodicals and other cultural work. The ministry was officially closed in January 1924.
The Lithuanian conferences during World War I refer to ten conferences held by Lithuanian activists during World War I in Switzerland and Sweden. They articulated the vision of independent Lithuanian state free of Russian, German, and Polish influence and as such were an important step towards the Act of Independence of Lithuania in February 1918.
The Lithuanian regions of Suwałki brought forth a large number of scholars, writers, poets and public figures of both a nationalist orientation and belonging to various social ideologies.