Primary Documents - Official Russian Announcement on Peace Negotiations at Brest-Litovsk, 23 January 1918

Leon Trotsky Reproduced below is the text of the official Bolshevik announcement published on 23 January 1918 concerning the progress of peace negotiations with the Central Powers at Brest-Litovsk.

Overseeing Russian negotiations at Brest-Litovsk was Leon Trotsky; he rapidly became disillusioned with what he regarded as annexationist demands posed by representatives of the Central Powers, led by Richard von Kühlmann, who acted both as German Foreign Secretary and as Chairman of the Brest-Litovsk conference.

Ultimately frustrated in his aim of securing peace without punitive terms Trotsky pulled out of the peace negotiations on 10 February 1918.  However he was obliged to return to the conference once German-led forces instigated military advances into Russian territory immediately after his withdrawal (and prodded by Lenin who feared ever worse peace terms).  Russia indicated its willingness to sign the treaty on 28 February; it was duly signed on 3 March 1918.

Click here to read the reaction of German Chancellor Count Georg von Hertling to news of the settlement.  Click here to read the reaction of Austro-Hungarian Foreign Minister Count Czernin.

Official Russian Announcement on Peace Negotiations at Brest-Litovsk, 23 January 1918

Leon Trotsky, the Bolshevist Foreign Minister, addressing the conference, declared that "the position of the Austro-Germans is now absolutely clear."  Continuing, the Foreign Minister said:

Germany and Austria seek to cut off more than 150,000 square versts from the former Polish Kingdom of Lithuania, also the area populated by the Ukrainians and White Russians, and, further, they want to cut into territory of the Letts and separate the islands populated by the Esthonians from the same peoples on the mainland.

Within this territory Germany and Austria wish to retain their reign of military occupation, not only after the conclusion of peace with Russia, but after the conclusion of a general peace.  At the same time the Central Powers refuse not only to give any explanation regarding the terms of evacuation, but also refuse to obligate themselves regarding the evacuation.

The internal life of these provinces lies, therefore, for an indefinite period in the hands of these powers.  Under such conditions any indefinite guarantees regarding the expression of the will of the Poles, Letts, and Lithuanians is only of an illusory character.  Practically it means that the Governments of Austria and Germany take into their own hands the destiny of these nations.

Trotsky declared that he was glad now that the Central Powers were speaking frankly, stating that General Hoffmann's conditions proved that the real aims were built on a level quite different from that of the principles recognized on December 25th, and that real or lasting peace was only possible on the actual principle of self-definition.

"It is clear," Trotsky declared, "that the decision could have been reached long ago regarding peace aims if the Central Powers had not stated their aims differently from those expressed by General Hoffmann."

Dr. Richard von Kuhlman, German Secretary for Foreign Affairs, replied to Trotsky, declaring in principle that General Hoffmann's aims were the same as those advanced at Christmas.  Throughout the negotiations, he said, the Germans had kept in view the ethnological boundaries, but also the actual boundaries of the old Russian Empire.

The Central Powers intended to permit free self-definition, and he scoffed at the theory that the presence of troops would prevent this.  Regarding evacuation, Dr. von Kuhlman said that it must be taken up with the newly born self-defined Governments.

"If General Hoffmann expresses the terms more strongly," said Dr. Kuhlman, "it is because a soldier always expresses stronger language than diplomats.  But it must not be deduced from this that there is any dissension between us regarding the principles, which are one whole and well thought out."

Dr. Kuhlman consented to Trotsky's request for a postponement of the conference, declaring, however, that it would be much pleasanter if they could finish the negotiations at once, as the former recess brought about many misunderstandings.

Source: Source Records of the Great War, Vol. VI, ed. Charles F. Horne, National Alumni 1923

The "linseed lancers" was the Anzac nickname assigned to members of the Australian Field Ambulance.

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