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.
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.
4 Treaty aftermath
5 Further consequences
6 See also
Further information: Polish–Soviet War
World War I
World War I removed former imperial borders across Europe. In 1918,
after the Russian Revolution had renounced Tsarist claims to
Treaty of Brest-Litovsk
Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and the war had ended with Germany's
Poland was able to re-establish its independence after a
century of foreign rule.
The Russian Civil War presented an opportunity for
Poland under the
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), after which both sides became receptive to
ending the conflict. Further military setbacks following their defeat
near Warsaw made the Soviets eager to begin peace treaty
negotiations, 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.
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. 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. The chief negotiators were
Jan Dąbski for Poland and
Adolph Joffe for the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic.
The Soviet side insisted, successfully, on excluding non-communist
Ukrainian representatives from the negotiations.
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
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. 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. War-weary public opinion in
Poland also favoured an end to
the negotiations and both sides remained under pressure from the
League of Nations
League of Nations to reach a deal.
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 ideologue, Stanisław Grabski, the
100 km of extra territory was rejected, a victory for the
nationalist doctrine and a stark defeat for Piłsudski's
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
Kronstadt rebellion against the Soviet authorities. As a result of
this situation, Lenin ordered the Soviet plenipotentiaries to finalise
the peace treaty with Poland. The Peace of
Riga was signed on 18
March 1921, partitioning the disputed territories in
Poland and the RSFSR, and ending the conflict.
The Treaty consisted of 26 articles.
Poland was to receive monetary
compensation (30 million rubles in gold) for its economic input into
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. 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
Article 3 stipulated that border issues between
Poland and Lithuania
would be settled by those states. Article 6 created citizenship
options for persons on either side of the new border. 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."
The Allied Powers were initially reluctant to recognise the treaty,
which had been concluded without their participation. 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. French support led to its
recognition in March 1923 by France, Great Britain, Italy and Japan,
followed by the US in April.
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
Riga negotiations only as an observer, and called the resulting
treaty "an act of cowardice". Piłsudski felt the agreement was a
shameless and short-sighted political calculation, with Poland
abandoning its Ukrainian allies. On 15 May 1921 he apologised to
Ukrainian soldiers during his visit to the internment camp at
Kalisz. The treaty substantially contributed to the
failure of Piłsudski's 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.
Lenin also considered the treaty unsatisfactory, as it forced him to
put aside his plans for exporting the Soviet revolution to the
The Belarusian and Ukrainian independence movements saw the treaty as
a setback. 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. 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. 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
anti-Polish violence which erupted in the 1930s and 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
Poland were too large to be ignored or assimilated, and too small
to win desired autonomy.
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
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
OUN engaged in terror and sabotage actions across ethnically mixed
areas to inflame conflict in the region. Nevertheless, many
groups representing national minorities welcomed Piłsudski's return
to power in 1926 providing opportunities to play a role in the Polish
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. Most of them (at least 111,000) were
summarily killed in the NKVD operation in 193738, genocide preceding
ones perpetrated during WW2, or exiled to different regions of the
Belarusians and Ukrainians, having failed to create their own states,
were subjects of extermination in the Soviet Union, e.g. during
Great Purge (of which Poles were also
victims). 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.
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.
Polish minority in the Soviet Union
Belarusian minority in Poland
Ukrainian minority in Poland
Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic
Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic
Aftermath of the Polish-Soviet War
Polish Operation of the NKVD (1937–38)
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Photocopies of the Polish version of the Treaty. Dziedzictwo.polska.pl
Polish truces and peace treaties
Kingdom of Poland
Brześć Kujawski (1435)
Niemieża / Vilna (1656)
Eternal Peace (1686)
With the Ottoman Empire
Bila Tserkva (1651)
Second Polish Republic