Soviet–Lithuanian Peace Treaty

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Map showing the eastern border of Lithuania, recognized by the treaty, in thick dashed line. Recognized eastern border of Lithuania was almost identical to ethnic Lithuanian lands of the 13-16th centuries, but disputed by Belarusians. Lithuania territory 1939-1940.svg
Map showing the eastern border of Lithuania, recognized by the treaty, in thick dashed line. Recognized eastern border of Lithuania was almost identical to ethnic Lithuanian lands of the 13–16th centuries, but disputed by Belarusians.

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 freely move its troops in the recognized territory 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. It also recognized Lithuania's eastern borders. Interwar Lithuania officially maintained that its de jure borders were those delineated by the treaty despite the fact that a large territory, the Vilnius Region, was in fact controlled by Poland.

Lithuania Republic in Northeastern Europe

Lithuania, officially the Republic of Lithuania, is a country in the Baltic region of Europe. Lithuania is considered to be one of the Baltic states. It is situated along the southeastern shore of the Baltic Sea, to the east of Sweden and Denmark. It is bordered by Latvia to the north, Belarus to the east and south, Poland to the south, and Kaliningrad Oblast to the southwest. Lithuania has an estimated population of 2.8 million people as of 2019, and its capital and largest city is Vilnius. Other major cities are Kaunas and Klaipėda. Lithuanians are Baltic people. The official language, Lithuanian, is one of only two living languages in the Baltic branch of the Indo-European language family, the other being Latvian.

Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic Republic in the USSR (1922–1991) and sovereign state (1917–1922 and 1990–1991)

The Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, previously known as the Russian Soviet Republic and the Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic, as well as being unofficially known as the Russian Federation, Soviet Russia, or simply Russia, was an independent state from 1917 to 1922, and afterwards the largest, most populous and most economically developed of the 15 Soviet socialist republics of the Soviet Union (USSR) from 1922 to 1990, then a sovereign part of the Soviet Union with priority of Russian laws over Union-level legislation in 1990 and 1991, during the last two years of the existence of the USSR. The Russian Republic comprised sixteen smaller constituent units of autonomous republics, five autonomous oblasts, ten autonomous okrugs, six krais and forty oblasts. Russians formed the largest ethnic group. The capital of the Russian SFSR was Moscow and the other major urban centers included Leningrad, Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg, Nizhny Novgorod and Samara.

In law and government, de jure describes practices that are legally recognised, regardless whether the practice exists in reality. In contrast, de facto describes situations that exist in reality, even if not legally recognised. The terms are often used to contrast different scenarios: for a colloquial example, "I know that, de jure, this is supposed to be a parking lot, but now that the flood has left four feet of water here, it's a de facto swimming pool". To further explain, even if the signs around the flooded parking lot say "Parking Lot" it is "in fact" a swimming pool.


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. [2]


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 organizing an army. [3]

Act of Independence of Lithuania Proclamation restoring an independent State of Lithuania

The Act of Reinstating Independence of Lithuania or Act of 16 February was signed by the Council of Lithuania on 16 February 1918, proclaiming the restoration of an independent State of Lithuania, governed by democratic principles, with Vilnius as its capital. The Act was signed by all twenty representatives of the Council, which was chaired by Jonas Basanavičius. The Act of 16 February was the result of a series of resolutions on the issue, including one issued by the Vilnius Conference and the Act of 8 January. The path to the Act was long and complex because the German Empire exerted pressure on the Council to form an alliance. The Council had to carefully maneuver between the Germans, whose troops were present in Lithuania, and the demands of the Lithuanian people.

Russian Empire former country, 1721–1917

The Russian Empire was an empire that extended across Eurasia and North America from 1721, following the end of the Great Northern War, until the Republic was proclaimed by the Provisional Government that took power after the February Revolution of 1917.

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.

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, 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 SSR was merged with the Byelorussian SSR, to form Litbel. [4] 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. [5] The entire territory of Litbel was taken by September 1919 and it ceased to exist. [4]

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.

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.

<i>Freikorps</i> German volunteer military or anti-communist paramilitary units

Freikorps were German military volunteer units that existed from the 18th to the early 20th centuries, which effectively fought as mercenary or private armies, regardless of their own nationality. In German-speaking countries, the first so-called Freikorps were formed in the 18th century from native volunteers, enemy renegades and deserters. These sometimes exotically equipped units served as infantry and cavalry, sometimes in just company strength, sometimes in formations up to several thousand strong; there were also various mixed formations or legions. The Prussian von Kleist Freikorps included infantry, jäger, dragoons and hussars. The French Volontaires de Saxe combined uhlans and dragoons.


Delaying the diplomatic talks

As the Bolsheviks were pushed from the Baltic region, Lenin sought to arrange peace treaties to ease anti-Bolshevik tensions in Europe. [5] The first Lithuanian–Russian attempt at negotiation took place on September 11, 1919, after 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. [6] Similar proposals were delivered to Latvia and Estonia. On September 14 and September 15, 1919, the Baltic states held a trilateral meeting in Tallinn and agreed to begin simultaneous peace talks with the Soviets. [7]

Georgy Chicherin Marxist revolutionary and Soviet politician

Georgy Vasilyevich Chicherin was a Marxist revolutionary and a Soviet politician. He served as People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs in the Soviet government from March 1918 to 1930.

Peace treaty agreement between two or more hostile parties which formally ends a state of war

A peace treaty is an agreement between two or more hostile parties, usually countries or governments, which formally ends a state of war between the parties. It is different from an armistice, which is an agreement to stop hostilities, or a surrender, in which an army agrees to give up arms, or a ceasefire or truce in which the parties may agree to temporarily or permanently stop fighting.

Latvia Republic in Northeastern Europe

Latvia, officially the Republic of Latvia, is a country in the Baltic region of Northern Europe. Since its independence, Latvia has been referred to as one of the Baltic states. It is bordered by Estonia to the north, Lithuania to the south, Russia to the east, and Belarus to the southeast, and shares a maritime border with Sweden to the west. Latvia has 1,957,200 inhabitants and a territory of 64,589 km2 (24,938 sq mi). The country has a temperate seasonal climate.

However, Lithuania delayed contacting Moscow and the collective negotiations did not take place. [7] 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. [7] While Lithuania was preparing for the first democratic elections to the Constituent Assembly of Lithuania, election campaigns urged the government to start negotiations. [7] On March 31, 1920 Augustinas Voldemaras, Lithuania's Minister of Foreign Affairs, informed Soviet diplomats that Lithuania was ready to open the talks on condition that Moscow recognized Lithuania within its ethnic lands and acknowledged that Vilnius was its capital. [8] The Soviets agreed to discuss the situation and suggested that preliminary negotiations begin on April 15. The talks in Moscow did not begin until May 7.[ citation needed ]

The Constituent Assembly of Lithuania was democratically elected in 1920 to draft and adopt the 1922 constitution of Lithuania.

Augustinas Voldemaras Prime Minister of Lithuania

Augustinas Voldemaras was a Lithuanian nationalist political figure. He briefly served as the country's first prime minister in 1918 and continued serving as the minister of foreign affairs until 1920, representing the fledgling Lithuanian state at the Versailles Peace Conference and the League of Nations. After some time in academia, Voldemaras returned to politics in 1926, when he was elected to the Third Seimas.

Negotiation positions

The Lithuanian delegation, led by Tomas Naruševičius, demanded that Russia recognize independent Lithuania as a legal successor of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, while the Soviet delegation, led by Adolph Joffe, was prepared to recognize Lithuania only based on the self-determination principle. [9] Territorial disputes were the most contentious issue. Lithuania demanded the territories of former Kovno, Vilna, Grodno, and Suwałki Governorates. [9] These 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 Jewish and Belarusian populations in the region, which were large, wished to be part of Lithuania. They brought a representative of each group, Simon Rosenbaum and Dominyk Semashko, to support this case. [9] It was agreed that the territory of Lithuania could be easily identified, as it was inhabited by Litvaks. [6] The Second Polish Republic also laid claim to this territory and had actual control over it at the time. [10]

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 the Soviet Russia. [9] 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 Great Britain, was a better long-term strategy. [9] Lithuania informed Britain about Soviet plans. They hoped such a move would prove Lithuania's trustworthiness and would put indirect pressure on Poland to reach an acceptable agreement in regards to Vilnius. [9] These tactics did not prove successful, as Poland was invariably backed by France and indirect British pressure was not strong enough to change Poland's foreign policy. [9]

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. [7] After some debate over whether the treaty was sincere, and whether the Soviets had assumed any real liability, the Constituent Assembly of Lithuania ratified it on August 8, 1920.[ citation needed ]

Treaty provisions

The treaty had 19 articles. Article 1 stipulated that Russia recognized Lithuania's independence without reservations and voluntarily abandoned any territorial claims. [11] Article 2 described 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. [11] Lithuania was relieved of any debt obligations.

The treaty allowed refugees and prisoners of war to return to their homeland. At the time, Lithuania held about 2,000 Russian prisoners, while Russia held about 150 Lithuanians. [9] Russians in Lithuania could opt for either Lithuanian or Russian citizenship. [11] Russia promised to return any cultural and historical property 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 then controlled by Poland. Separate agreements would be made later to decide protection of the frontier, conventions of trade and transit, and other details. [11]

The treaty also contained a secret clause allowing Soviet forces unrestricted movement within Soviet-recognized Lithuanian territory for the duration of Soviet hostilities with Poland; this clause would lead to questions regarding the issue of Lithuanian neutrality in the ongoing Polish-Soviet War. [12] [13]

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. [14]


Polish–Lithuanian conflict

While the treaty was being negotiated and signed, most of the territory by the treaty granted to Lithuania was already controlled by Bolshevik forces. [6] 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 retreating Polish forces. [13] This led to clashes in southern Lithuania over the towns of Sejny, Augustów, and Suwałki. [15] According to historian Piotr Lossowski, the Lithuanians also provided the Soviets with logistical support. [13]

The Bolshevik forces were the first to enter Vilnius on July 14, 1920, and despite the treaty did not intend to transfer it to the Lithuanians. [16] The Soviets installed a puppet government, the former Litbel, with the intent of fomenting a socialist revolution. Leon Trotsky and Mikhail Tukhachevsky were making preparations to overthrow the Lithuanian government. [12] The plans never came to pass as Poland defeated Soviet forces in the Battle of Warsaw between August 13 and August 25. [17] 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. [18] [19]

During September, when the Poles had gained an upper hand and were pursuing the Soviets back to the east, Soviet forces moved through Lithuanian-controlled territory at will, but Polish forces that tried to pursue them were arrested and interned. [13] Lithuania's declared neutrality was challenged by Poland, which accused Lithuania of allowing free Soviet passage through its territory. Lithuania could not deny this. [16] The treaty did not create a formal military alliance between the Soviets and Lithuanians, but diminished Lithuania's standing as a neutral state. [9] [13] Łossowski has written 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." [13] 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." [20]

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. [16] The Suwałki Region held great symbolic importance for Lithuanians as a locus of their independence movement. [21] 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. These clashes led to a war on a wide front between Poland and Lithuania in September. [15] [16] An intervention was made by the League of Nations, which brokered the Suwałki Agreement on October 7, 1920; it 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 Polish–Lithuanian relations during that time were described as "no war, no peace." [22]


The treaty represented a major breakthrough in the Lithuanian Republic'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 cultural and historical property. [11] Lithuanian politicians and historians continue to seek the return of those items, but the Russian government claims that they are lost.[ citation needed ]

Modern Belarusian historiography regards the treaty, especially the cession of ethnic Belarusian 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, aimed at immediate military and political gains. [23]

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. [24] 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. [24]

See also

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  7. 1 2 3 4 5 Skirius, Juozas (2002). "Lietuvos–Rusijos Sovietų Federacinės Socialistinės Respublikos taikos sutartis". Gimtoji istorija. Nuo 7 iki 12 klasės (in Lithuanian). Vilnius: Elektroninės leidybos namai. ISBN   9986-9216-9-4. Archived from the original on 2008-03-03. Retrieved 2008-03-30.
  8. Debo, Richard K. (1992). Survival and Consolidation: The Foreign Policy of Soviet Russia, 1918-1921. McGill-Queen's Press. p. 206. ISBN   0-7735-0828-7.
  9. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Eidintas, Alfonsas; Vytautas Žalys; Alfred Erich Senn (September 1999). Ed. Edvardas Tuskenis (ed.). Lithuania in European Politics: The Years of the First Republic, 1918-1940 (Paperback ed.). New York: St. Martin's Press. pp. 67–70. ISBN   0-312-22458-3.
  10. Especially Vilnius region: few years later, Republic of Central Lithuania was established.
  11. 1 2 3 4 5 Simas Sužiedėlis, ed. (1970–1978). "Moscow, Treaty of". Encyclopedia Lituanica . III. Boston, Massachusetts: Juozas Kapočius. pp. 554–555. LCC   74-114275.
  12. 1 2 Łossowski, Piotr (2001). Litwa (in Polish). Warszawa: TRIO. pp. 85–86. ISBN   83-85660-59-3.
  13. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Łossowski, Piotr (1995). Konflikt polsko-litewski 1918-1920 (in Polish). Warszawa: Książka i Wiedza. pp. 126–128. ISBN   83-05-12769-9.
  14. Гісторыя Беларусі: У 6 т. Т. 5. Беларусь у 1917—1945. — Мн.: Экаперспектыва, 2006. — 613 с.; іл. ISBN   985-469-149-7.
  15. 1 2 Simas Sužiedėlis, ed. (1970–1978). "Independence, Wars of". Encyclopedia Lituanica . II. Boston, Massachusetts: Juozas Kapočius. pp. 448–449. LCC   74-114275.
  16. 1 2 3 4 Eidintas, Alfonsas; Vytautas Žalys; Alfred Erich Senn (September 1999). Ed. Edvardas Tuskenis (ed.). Lithuania in European Politics: The Years of the First Republic, 1918-1940 (Paperback ed.). New York: St. Martin's Press. pp. 72–74. ISBN   0-312-22458-3.
  17. Senn, Alfred Erich (September 1962). "The Formation of the Lithuanian Foreign Office, 1918-1921". Slavic Review. The American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies. 3 (21): 500–507. doi:10.2307/3000451. JSTOR   3000451.
  18. Snyder, Timothy (2004). The Reconstruction of Nations: Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, 1569–1999 . Yale University Press. pp. 62–63. ISBN   0-300-10586-X.
  19. Senn, Alfred Erich (September 1962). The Formation of the Lithuanian Foreign Office, 1918–1921. Slavic Review. 3 (21): 500–507. doi:10.2307/3000451. ISSN 0037-6779.
  20. Senn, Alfred Erich (1966). The Great Powers, Lithuania and the Vilna question 1920-1928. Leiden. p. 34. OCLC   398265.
  21. Stražas, A. S. (Fall 1996). "Lithuania 1863–1893: Tsarist Russification and the Beginnings of the Modern Lithuanian National Movement". Lituanus . 3 (42). 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.
  22. Eidintas, Alfonsas; Vytautas Žalys; Alfred Erich Senn (September 1999). Ed. Edvardas Tuskenis (ed.). Lithuania in European Politics: The Years of the First Republic, 1918-1940 (Paperback ed.). New York: St. Martin's Press. p. 85. ISBN   0-312-22458-3.
  23. Ладысеў, У.Ф. (2006). "Станаўленне беларускай нацыянальнай дзяржаўнасці ў XX стагоддзі (метадалагічны аспект)". Заходні рэгіён Беларусі вачыма гісторыкаў і краязнаўцаў: зборнік навук (PDF) (in Belarusian). Гродна: ГрДУ. pp. 5–10. ISBN   985-417-834-X.
  24. 1 2 Alfred Erich Senn, The Formation of the Lithuanian Foreign Office, 1918–1921, Slavic Review, Vol. 21, No. 3. (Sep., 1962), pp. 500–507.: "A Bolshevik victory over the Poles would have certainly meant a move by the Lithuanian communists, backed by the Red Army, to overthrow the Lithuanian nationalist government... Kaunas, in effect, paid for its independence with the loss of Vilna."
    Alfred Erich Senn, Lietuvos valstybes... p. 163: "If the Poles didn't stop the Soviet attack, Lithuania would fell to the Soviets... Polish victory costs the Lithuanians the city of Wilno, but saved Lithuania itself."
    Antanas Ruksa, Kovos del Lietuvos nepriklausomybes, t.3, p. 417: "In summer 1920 Russia was working on a communist revolution in Lithuania... From this disaster Lithuania was saved by the miracle at Vistula."
    Jonas Rudokas, Józef Piłsudski – wróg niepodległości Litwy czy jej wybawca? (Polish translation of a Lithuanian article) "Veidas", 25 08 2005: [Piłsudski] "defended both Poland and Lithuanian from Soviet domination"