The process of trying to end a war and bring peace between nations is a tricky one, and one that can end up being highly volatile, or even explode into further fighting!! The world was in the midst of World War I, and an armistice had been signed between Russia and Germany. The Soviet government had requested peace negotiations on Nov. 8, 1917. They began on December 22, 1917, nearly three weeks after a ceasefire was declared on the Eastern Front. Representatives of the two countries began peace negotiations at Brest-Litovsk, near the Polish border in what is now the city of Brest, in Belarus. They were divided into several sessions. During this time, the Soviet delegation tried to prolong the proceedings, so they could take full advantage of the opportunity to issue propaganda statements. Meanwhile, the Germans grew increasingly impatient with the delays.
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 the surrender of Russian land to the Germans. The Russians demanded a peace agreement 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. This would turn out to be one of the biggest, if no the biggest mistake of his career.
With the renewal of fighting, the Central Powers quickly took the upper hand. In a way, it was Russia against the world, and Russia was not likely to win that one. The Central Powers quickly seized control of most of Ukraine and Belarus. The Bolshevik hope that the workers of Germany and Austria, offended by their governments’ obvious territorial ambition, would rise up in rebellion in the name of the international working class people, soon vanished. Russia was fighting a losing battle, and they would have to surrender in the end.
The end came on March 3, 1918, when Russia accepted peace terms that were even more harsh than those originally suggested by Germany. Russia would lose Poland, Lithuania, and the Baltic states of Estonia, Livonia, and Courland to Germany. To further devastate Russia’s hopes, 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, about 55 million people. Sometimes, it’s better to settle, rather than risk a loss far more devastating.