December 22

This Day in History

World War I

Dec 22, 1917:

Russian-German peace talks begin at Brest-Litovsk

A week after the armistice was signed between Russia and Germany and nearly three weeks after a ceasefire was declared on the Eastern Front, representatives of the two countries begin peace negotiations at Brest-Litovsk, near the Polish border in what is now the city of Brest, in Belarus.

The leader of the Russian delegation was Leon Trotsky, the Bolshevik People's Commissar for Foreign Relations. Max Hoffmann, the commander of German forces on the Eastern Front, served as one of the chief negotiators on the German side. The main difference of opinion in Brest-Litovsk was over cessation of Russian land to the Germans—the Russians demanded a peace without annexations or indemnities and the Germans were unwilling to concede on this point. In February 1918, Trotsky announced he was withdrawing the Russians from the peace talks, and the war was on again.

Unfortunately for Russia, with the renewal of fighting the Central Powers quickly took the upper hand, seizing control of most of Ukraine and Belarus. The Bolshevik hope that the workers of Germany and Austria, offended by their governments' naked territorial ambition, would rise up in rebellion in the name of the international proletariat soon vanished. On March 3, 1918, Russia accepted peace terms even harsher than those originally suggested, losing Poland, Lithuania, and the Baltic states of Estonia, Livonia, and Courland to Germany. Meanwhile, Finland and the Ukraine saw Russia's weakness as an opportunity to declare their independence. In all, Brest-Litovsk deprived Lenin's new state of one million square miles of territory and one-third of its population, or 55 million people.

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