March 01, 2018

Russian March

Russia’s participation in the First World War officially ended on March 3, 1918, with the signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk between the new Bolshevik government and the Central Powers. The treaty represented Germany’s last real hope for victory, and it soon launched an all-out offensive in Flanders and northern France. Despite a herculean effort and huge losses, the German Army was not able to turn the war’s tide. For Russia, this was no longer a matter of central concern – it had its own problems and a war of its own.

The Soviet delegation to Brest, which was headed by Grigory Sokolnikov, signed away vast territories, committed to pay massive reparations, and pledged to stop spreading revolutionary propaganda in the other signatories’ countries. These concessions were made with no negotiation whatsoever. As Sokolnikov put it, there was nothing to discuss, as Russia was compelled to accept the treaty’s terms “at gunpoint.”

By early March, negotiations were indeed pointless. Germany’s February offensive had shown that Russia no longer had a functioning army: it was disintegrating with each passing day, allowing the Germans to gobble up more and more territory. What had happened to the Russian Army that had fought bravely against Germany and Austria from 1914 to 1917 and begun making significant headway in 1916? By early 1918 it was utterly demoralized. Of course, trench fatigue and the extreme hardships of war played a role. Then again, the armies of Russia’s adversaries faced similar hardships and still soldiered on.

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