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Treaty of Riga

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Title: Treaty of Riga  
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Treaty of Riga

This article is about Polish–Soviet peace treaty of 1921. For Latvian–Soviet treaty of 1920, see Latvian–Soviet Peace Treaty.
Peace of Riga
(March 18, 1921)
Signed 1921 March 18
Location Riga, Latvia
Expiration 1939 September 17
  •  Poland
  • Russian SFSR
  • Ukrainian SSR

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.[1]

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.


World War I destabilized national borders in Europe. Poland established its independence in 1918, but its borders were not formally determined. The Russian Civil War presented an opportunity for Poland to regain the territories of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth lost to the Russian Empire during the late 18th century Partitions of Poland. Meanwhile, many in the Soviet leadership desired to export the revolution to the rest of Europe, by military force if necessary, and Poland was seen by them as a land bridge to the West. The Polish-Soviet War ensued, culminating in the 1920 Battle of Warsaw. Both sides were receptive to ending the conflict. After the military setbacks that followed their defeat near Warsaw, the Soviets were eager to begin peace treaty negotiations.[2] Likewise the Poles, pressured by the League of Nations, were willing to negotiate since its army controlled most of the disputed territories but was nearing exhaustion.

Preparations for the Treaty

Peace talks were started on August 17, 1920, in Minsk, but as the Polish counter-offensive drew near, the talks were moved to Riga, and resumed on September 21. The Soviets proposed two solutions, the first on September 21 and the second on the 28th. 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 October 12.[3] and went into effect on October 18. The chief negotiators were Jan Dąbski for Poland and Adolph Joffe for the RSFSR.

Due to their military setbacks, the Bolsheviks offered the Polish peace delegation 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. In fact, a special parliamentary delegation consisting of six members of the 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 Stanisław Grabski, the 100 km of extra territory was rejected, a victory for the nationalist doctrine and a stark defeat for Piłsudksi's federalism.

The National Democrats envisioned the Polish state containing a population of no more than a third of minorities, a prerequisite, in their eyes, for any successful attempts at Polonization. The National Democrats were also motivated by internal political concerns. While the National Democrats' base of support was among Poles in central and western Poland, many of the hundreds of thousands of Poles left by them to live under Soviet rule were supporters of Piłsudski. The elections within the territories of the Treaty of Riga were evenly split.

If the Poles and eastern Slavs in the territories given to the Soviet Union had remained in Poland, the National Democrats would have never won an election.[4] Public opinion in Poland also favored an end to the hostilities. Both sides were also under pressure from the League of Nations to make peace.

Regardless, the negotiations for the peace treaty dragged on for months due to Soviet reluctance to sign. However, the Soviet leadership had to deal with increased internal unrest. Between February 23 and March 17, the Kronstadt rebellion occurred in Kronstadt, which was suppressed; peasants were also rising up against the Soviet authorities, who were collecting grain in order to feed the Red Army and this was causing food shortages. As a result of this situation, Lenin ordered the Soviet plenipotentiaries to secure the peace treaty with Poland.[2] The Peace of Riga was signed on March 18, 1921, partitioning the disputed territories in Belarus and Ukraine between Poland and Russia and ending the conflict.


The Treaty consisted of 26 articles.[5] Poland was to receive monetary compensation (30 million rubles in gold) for its economic input into the Russian Empire during the times of partitions of Poland. Under Article XIV Poland was also to receive railway materials (locomotives, rolling stock, etc.) with a value of 29 million gold roubles.[6] 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.[5] Article 6 created citizenship options for persons on either side of the new border.[5] 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."[5]

Treaty aftermath

The Soviet-Polish peace treaty was registered in League of Nations Treaty Series on August 12, 1921.[7]

The Allied Powers were reluctant to recognize the treaty, which had been concluded without their participation.[5] Their postwar conferences 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.[8][9] French support led to its recognition in March 1923 by France, Great Britain, Italy, and Japan, followed by the US in April.[5]

In Poland, the Treaty of Riga was met with criticism from the very beginning. Some characterized 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. By 1921, General Jozef Piłsudski was no longer the head of state and had participated in the Riga negotiations only as an observer, which he called an act of cowardice.[10] Piłsudski felt the agreement was a shameless and short-sighted political calculation. Allegedly, having walked out of the room, he told the Ukrainians waiting there for the results of the Riga Conference: "Gentlemen, I deeply apologize to you".[11][12] In fact, Piłsudski apologized to the Ukrainian officers on a completely different occasion. His words, commonly associated with the Riga conference, were said on May 15, 1921, during Piłsudski's visit to the internment camp at Szczypiorno. The context however was clearly the same.

Belarussian and Ukrainian independence movements saw the treaty as a setback.[13] Four million Ukrainians and over one million Belarussians lived within areas ceded to Poland; in one estimate, only 15% of the population was ethnically Polish.[14][15] The Ukrainian People's Republic led by Symon Petliura had been allied with Poland by Treaty of Warsaw, but the Treaty of Riga abrogated it.[2] 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 Ukrainian nationalists and contribute to the growing tensions and eventual violence in the 1930s and 1940s. By the end of 1921, the majority of Poland-allied Ukrainian, Belarusian and White Russian forces had either crossed the Polish border and laid down their arms or had been annihilated by Soviet forces.


The treaty contributed to the failure of Józef Piłsudski's plans 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.[4] Lenin also considered the treaty unsatisfactory; he had to postpone his plans for exporting revolution to the West.[2]

While the Treaty of Riga led to a two-decade stabilization of the Soviet-Polish conflict, the conflict was renewed during World War II and the treaty's borders were overridden by decision of that war's Allied powers. In the view of some observers, the treaty's incorporation of significant minority populations into Poland did not serve Poland's best interests, since these minorities persistently pursued independence and borders passing through ethnically mixed areas would prove difficult to defend.[5][8]

The populations separated by the division suffered varying degrees of repressions under their respective governments, particularly in the 1930s. Ethnic Poles left within Soviet borders were subjected to persecution and repressions, their property confiscated.[16] Most Poles left in the Soviet Union by the Treaty of Riga would be deported to Siberia and Kazakhstan in the 1930s.[4] Belarussians and Ukrainians, having failed to create their own states, faced difficult situation or outright persecution on both sides of the border. Several hundred thousand Belorussians, Poles, Ukrainians and members of other minorities were executed or deported by the Soviet government during the 1930s.[16][17][18] The Polish portion of Belarus and Ukraine were in turn subjected to Polonization; the minorities, particularly Ukrainians, resisted, leading to the adoption of terrorist tactics by the Ukrainian extremists (OUN).[19][20] During government anti-guerrilla operations minority members were arrested or even executed, and cultural institutions lost much support.[17][21]

The Soviet Union, thwarted in 1921, would see its sphere of influence expand after World War II, with its control over the People's Republic of Poland and border changes that unified Belorussian and Ukrainian territory within the USSR. In 1989, however, Poland would regain its full sovereignty, and soon afterward, with the fall of the Soviet Union, Belarus and Ukraine would go on to become independent nations.

See also




  • Davies, Norman, White Eagle, Red Star: the Polish-Soviet War, 1919-20, Pimlico, 2003, ISBN 0-7126-0694-7. (First edition: New York, St. Martin's Press, inc., 1972.)
  • Traktat ryski 1921 roku po 75 latach, Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Mikołaja Kopernika, Toruń 1998, ISBN 83-231-0974-5 (Chapter summaries in English)

External links


  • Photocopies of the Polish version of the treaty
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