Poland in Soviet Foreign Policy from late 1919 to 16 July 1920
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Poland in Soviet Foreign Policy from late 1919 to 16 July 1920
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Gennadij Matveev 
Affiliation: Lomonosov Moscow State University
Address: Russian Federation, Moscow

At the end of 1919, the civil war in Russia was drawing to a close, and the leadership of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR) was concerned with the restoration of industry and the establishment of international economic relations, primarily with Great Britain. On December 5, 1919, the 7th Congress of Soviets invited the Entente countries to conclude a peace treaty, thus initiating the policy of “peaceful offensive” of the RSFSR. The Baltic republics were the first to respond to the appeal. On February 2, 1920, peace was signed with Estonia, and negotiations with Lithuania and Latvia began. Only Poland was in no hurry to respond, despite the direct appeal to it by the People's Commissariat for Foreign Affairs, Council of People’s Commissars, and All-Russian Central Executive Committee (VTsIK) and the promise of territorial concessions. Yu. Piłsudski was waiting for spring. On April 25, 1920, he resumed the offensive, which was stopped in October 1919. Yet, even after that, Moscow, which established direct contacts with London in May and June, hoped for peace with Warsaw. Even after the Red Army broke through the Polish front, the Soviet side did not abandon its course. Its policy changed after receiving a note from G. Curzon on the immediate commencement of peace negotiations on July 12, 1920. While discussing a response to it at the Plenum of the Central Committee of the RCP (b) on July 16, V. I. Lenin unexpectedly proposed “to help the proletariat and the working masses of Poland to free themselves from their bourgeoisie and landlords”. In making this decision, Moscow was moving away from the policy of “peaceful offensive”. Yet, it did so only in the Polish direction.

civil war in the USSR, foreign policy, RSFSR, Baltic states, Great Britain, Poland, V. I. Lenin, Yu. Piłsudski, diplomatic negotiations, Sovietization of Poland
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At the end of 1919, the Soviet leadership could finally breathe more freely. First, decisive victories were won over the armies of N. N. Yudenich, A. I. Denikin and A. V. Kolchak, and negotiations in Mikashevichi by Yu. Markhlevsky, a prominent figure in the international communist movement, speaking on behalf of the Russian Red Cross Society, with representatives of Yu. Pilsudsky led to the termination of major offensive operations of the Polish army — albeit without setting the time frame for this unspoken truce1. These changes instilled confidence in the imminent end of the civil war. Since the end of 1919, the country's leaders began to consider the restoration of the economy, primarily industry and transport, as the priority task facing the country. On January 10, 1920, Lenin wrote: “Now we are happily ending the civil war. The Soviet Republic is being strengthened by its victories over the exploiters. The Soviet republic can and must henceforth concentrate its forces ... on a bloodless war, on a war for victory over hunger, cold, and devastation”2. The change in priorities in the internal policy of the RSFSR is also evidenced by the transformation in the first half of April 1920 of the Council of Workers 'and Peasants' Defense into the Council of Labor and Defense.

1. Soviet — Polish relations in 1918—1945. T. 1. 1918—1926. M., 2017. S. 38.

2. Lenin V.I. In the bureau of the women’s congress of the Petrograd province // Complete Works. T. 40. M., 1974. S. 50. On January 27, 1920, he formulated the same thoughts as follows: “Before us is a task concerning the change of two lanes of our activity. The period that was entirely occupied by the war has not yet ended. A number of signs indicate that the Russian capitalists will not be able to continue the war. But that they will make attempts to invade Russia is beyond doubt. And we must be on our guard. But, in general, the war that they unleashed on us two years ago is over victoriously, and we are moving on to peaceful tasks” / Lenin V. I. Speech at the III All-Russian Congress of Soviets of the National Economy on January 27, 1920. Newspaper report // Ibid. T. 40. S. 78.

Secondly, in November 1919 there were some signs of a change for the better in the international position of the RSFSR. For the Soviet side, the establishment of trade with the West acquired paramount political and economic importance at that moment3. For the fastest economic recovery in 1920, labor service was introduced. The army was a large reserve of manpower, but they were in no hurry to demobilize it, since the war was not over yet; besides, the state of transport interfered with it4. Therefore, part of the armed forces, at the suggestion of L. D. Trotsky was transferred to the position of labor armies5. But the economic recovery was hampered not so much by the lack of workers as by the deplorable state of the fleet of machinery, machine tools, and equipment, mainly of Western production. Unable to solve this problem on its own, Soviet Russia was vitally interested in the earliest possible inclusion in international trade6. Germany, before the First World War, one of the main suppliers of machine tools and industrial equipment to Russia, was limited by the Entente in the freedom of its foreign policy actions, including in the Soviet direction. Due to the special involvement of France in the civil war in Russia on the side of the Whites, the main likely partner of Moscow could only be London, which at that moment was more conciliatory than Paris7.

3. From the report of the People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs G. V. Chicherin at a meeting of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee on the foreign policy of Soviet Russia [17.II.1920] // Documents and materials on the history of Soviet — Polish relations (hereinafter — DMISPO). T. III. M., 1965. S. 95.

4. “For the sake of restoring transport, we are creating labor armies, one of which has already begun the construction of the Aleksandrov Gai — Guryev road for the supply of oil ... Demobilization is also hampered by the destruction of transport. Therefore, we will use the army to restore transport” / Lenin V. I. Speech at a non-partisan conference of workers and Red Army men of the Presnensky District on January 24, 1920. Newspaper report // Complete Works. T. 40. S. 69.

5. Ibid. S. 567—569.

6. On February 3, 1920, V. I. Lenin’s deputy in the SNK A. I. Rykov said at the first session of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of the Soviets: “During the forthcoming exchange of goods, we must take from Western Europe in exchange for our raw materials what we need ... We must receive in return machine tools, machines and everything that is needed to renew our industry” // Izvestia. 4.II.1920.

7. Letter from the Minister of Foreign Affairs J. Curzon to the British envoy in Poland G. Rumboldt about the conversation of the Polish Minister of Foreign Affairs S. Patek with the Prime Minister D. Lloyd — George about the proposal of the Soviet government to Poland to start peace negotiations [27.I.1920] // DMISPO. T. II. M., 1964. S. 503.

In an effort to quickly end the state of war in which Russia had been since 1914, and proceeding from the current situation in the international arena, on December 5, 1919, the VII Congress of Soviets adopted a draft resolution prepared by Lenin, proposing that the Entente powers “all together and separately begin immediate negotiations on peace”8, thus initiating the policy of the so-called Soviet “peaceful offensive”. There is no reason to consider this policy as a purely tactical ploy or diplomatic game9 in order to obtain a temporary respite and prepare an offensive on the Polish front, so that through Poland, as V. I. Lenin dreamed in February 1919, “the torch lit in Russia of the world socialist revolution ... could be transferred ... to more advanced and generally to all countries”10. In fact, in his behavior, already from February 1919, an understanding began to be seen that in the near future a revolution in Europe was unlikely to begin, as a result of which it was necessary to look for opportunities for peaceful coexistence with the capitalist encirclement for a certain historical perspective11. Peace treaties with neighbors were supposed to thwart the French plans to encircle the RSFSR with “barbed wire” and create a kind of Soviet “cordon sanitaire” or security belt along the perimeter of its borders, making it difficult for the Western powers to use the countries that made it up against Russia.

8. 7th All-Russian Congress of Soviets of Workers, Peasants, Red Army and Cossack Deputies: verbatim report (December 5—9, 1919 in Moscow). M., 1920. S. 46—47.

9. Materski W. Tarcza Europy. Stosunki polsko — sowieckie 1918—1938. Warszawa 1994. S. 43, 46.

10. Lenin V. I. Draft program of the RCP (b) // Complete Works. T. 38. M., 1969. S. 89.

11. Matveev G. F. “Sovietization of Poland” in the foreign policy of the RSFSR in 1919—1920 // Centenary of the 1917 Revolution in Russia. T. 1. M., 2018. S. 416—417.

One of the priority goals of this policy was the Baltic states — limitrophes and the closest neighbors of the RSFSR. The first success was the peace treaty of February 2, 1920 with Estonia, whose ports were needed for Soviet sea trade. V. I. Lenin, assessing the significance of the Tartu Treaty for the RSFSR, stressed on the eve of its signing that it “gives us an actual breakthrough of the blockade, even if the formal lifting of the blockade is just a deception”12. The agreement of the Soviet side to territorial concessions and payment of 15 million rubles in gold to Estonia was not accidental13.

12. Lenin V. I. Speech at a non-partisan conference of workers and ... // Complete Works. T. 40. S. 68.

13. V. I. Lenin, answering a question about the conditions of peace with Estonia, said: “We have made many concessions, the main one of which is the concession of the disputed territory inhabited by a mixed — Russian and Estonian — population. But we do not want to shed the blood of workers and Red Army men for a piece of land”, and then expressed confidence that “the workers ... will soon overthrow this government and create Soviet Estonia, which will conclude a new peace with us” / Ibid. S. 71. If we take into account the fact that Soviet policy has a second priority goal, then this explanation can be interpreted as simply unwillingness to publicly name it.
5 Implementing the policy of a peaceful offensive, the RSFSR in 1920—1921 signed peace treaties not only with Estonia, but also with Lithuania, Latvia, Finland, Georgia, Armenia, Persia, Turkey, Afghanistan, went on to create the Far Eastern Republic. Of course, under favorable conditions, the Kremlin was not averse to extending Soviet power to adjacent territories, unless this threatened a full-scale war with the Entente. But no compromise with White Russia, as was the case in January 1919, was now impossible. When in these months V. I. Lenin talked about the civil war, he always had in mind only the victorious end of the war with Denikin, in whose hands still remained the south of Russia, Ukraine and the North Caucasus14.
14. Lenin V. I. Letter to the workers and peasants of Ukraine on the victory over Denikin [28.XII.1919] // Complete Works. T. 40. S. 41.

The British direction became another priority. The British, showing concern for their prisoners in the RSFSR, proposed as early as September 1919 to begin negotiations in Denmark on their return, as well as on the fate of Soviet prisoners of war in Great Britain. The significance of these negotiations for Moscow is evidenced by the appointment as the Soviet representative for the negotiations the Soviet plenipotentiary manque in London, a member of the board of the People’s Commissariat for Foreign Affairs, M. M. Litvinov15. Such a high status of the representative testified to the Kremlin's hopes for a significant expansion of the negotiating agenda due to economic and maybe even political issues16. The calculations are quite realistic, especially with regard to trade relations. The British were interested in Russian food and grain, the Soviet side in machinery and equipment for the revived industry and transport.

15. All the difficulties with the trip of M. M. Litvinov were overcome only in October 1919. On November 24, 1919, he was already in Copenhagen. December 19, 1919 V. I. Lenin enthusiastically told the participants of the mass meeting about this trip: when Litvinov “was in England as an ambassador, then ... the British tried to expel Comrade Litvinov. And now these, who hate Litvinov with all their hearts, gave him permission to travel to Copenhagen and not only permission, but also the opportunity to travel (Comrade Litvinov arrived there on an English cruiser)” (in fact, on the British naval hospital ship Princess Margarita) / Lenin V. I. Speech at a rally dedicated to the anniversary of the December uprising of 1905, in the Presnensky district on December 19, 1919 // Complete Works. T. 40. S. 30—31.

16. G. V. Chicherin in the report quoted above at a meeting of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee said: “We are ready for agreements, we want a political agreement, we are looking for a political agreement, we recognize that just trade agreement without a political one is impossible” // From the report of the People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs ... S. 98.
7 On November 20, 1919, Izvestia retold an article from the newspaper L'Humanité, the organ of the French socialists, telling about the “exposure” by the American diplomat W. Bullitt of the circumstances of the emergence of the idea of a conciliatory conference in the Princes’ Islands and the reasons for its failure, as well as his mission in Moscow in March 1919 and the reaction of the British to the consent of V. I. Lenin to begin negotiations on ways to end the war in Russia. It is hardly by chance that the reprint quoted D. Lloyd George’s words to General J. H. Smuts after receiving Soviet proposals: “Here, General, a document of extreme importance”.
8 It is significant that next to this article in the “Recently” section, they published a message about the British Prime Minister's speech in the House of Commons the day before, in which he outlined a new approach of Great Britain to the civil war in Russia. He said: “The British government is forced to refuse Denikin and Kolchak any material and moral support”, and added: “The French government also believes that it is impossible to burden France with further costs of conducting military operations in Russia”. Lloyd George explained the reasons for the turn by huge military debts, which did not allow England to “endlessly finance the civil war in Russia”17.
17. Izvestia. 19.XI.1919.
9 The next day, the plot of the turn was supplemented with new details taken from Lloyd George’s speech: “Although England considers it an honor to keep this word and provide the Eastern Front with military materials, but with the current state of its budget, England cannot commit itself to finance the civil war in Russia for an indefinitely long time”18.
18. Izvestia. 21.XI.1919.
10 The speech of the British Prime Minister in the House of Commons immediately became the focus of attention of both the head of the People’s Commissariat for Foreign Affairs G. V. Chicherin and V. I. Lenin. On November 22, 1919, Chicherin wrote to a prominent Soviet diplomat A. A. Ioffe: “As soon as I informed Vladimir Ilyich about Lloyd George’s last speech, he said: we must immediately send an interview on the radio that this turn of affairs could bring great benefits to England. I sent a long interview to Revel to Ransom and sent the interview to the Daily Express correspondent there today. In them I point out how contradictory to the real interests of England is its dependence on the absurd narrow policy of the French ruling circles and how much a more sensible policy towards us corresponds to the real interests of England, and to what extent economic rapprochement with us is necessary for both sides. Whether my interviews will reach the residents, I do not know, but they will undoubtedly reach the British ruling circles. It is desirable to develop the idea that economic ties with England are in the interests of both. It is necessary to point out to the British that the change in policy towards us is beneficial to them ... it is necessary to point out that it is beneficial for us to receive assistance from British capital and technology, as well as it is beneficial for them to provide this assistance”19.
19. Archive of the Foreign Policy of the Russian Federation (hereinafter referred to as the AFP RF). F. 04. Op. 32. Inv. No. 52412. P. 204. D. 10. L. 7.
11 The Declaration of the Entente Supreme Council of December 8, 1919 on the temporary eastern borders of Poland became important for Moscow’s foreign policy plans20. Although the powers at that time did not finally determine the Polish eastern border on the territory of the former Russian Empire, they created an international-legal precedent, which they themselves will later refer to (July 1920), as well as Soviet Russia (August—September 1920), and the USSR (September 1939). In other words, by adopting the Declaration, they, firstly, rejected Polish claims to the borders of 1772, and secondly, de-facto left Russia the right to decide on the further fate of the Ukrainian, Belarusian and Lithuanian lands of the First Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth.
20. Declaration of the Supreme Council of the Entente on the temporary boundaries of Poland [8.XII.1919] // DMISPO. T. II. S. 431—432.
12 The seriousness of the British government’s intentions in relation to the RSFSR and the desire to look for ways to normalize business ties was evidenced by the intention to lift the blockade from Soviet Russia announced at the end of December 1919. On January 16, 1920, the Entente announced this decision, simultaneously declaring the establishment of contacts with Russian cooperatives representing the interests of the entire peasantry of Russia. In addition, London and Rome announced their refusal to interfere in the internal affairs of the RSFSR.

Another eloquent confirmation of Lloyd George’s intention to restore economic ties with Red Russia is his conversation with the Polish Foreign Minister S. Patek on January 26, 1920. In it, he bluntly stated: “The Allies intend ... to restore trade relations with Russia ... in part because Russian sources of food and raw materials are needed to supply Europe and lower prices. The British government does not want Poland ... by its military actions to contribute to the creation of an economic barrier between itself and Russia, at a time when the allies seek to conduct extensive trade with the Russians”21.

21. Letter from the Minister of Foreign Affairs J. Curzon to the British envoy in Poland G. Rumbold ... // DMISPO. T. II. S. 504.
14 The Soviet leadership was also actively preparing for trade negotiations with Britain. On December 30, 1919 (and not June 11, 1920, as is customary in the literature), the People’s Commissariat for Foreign Trade was formed22, which was headed by L. B. Krasin. Knowing that the British cabinet does not intend to sign any formal agreements with the unrecognized Soviet government, but is ready to deal with Russian cooperation, the Centrosoyuz, which had a pre-war “pedigree” and is well known in Europe, and not the All-Russian Economic Center controlled by the Bolsheviks working branch of cooperation (Centrosektsiya) headed by A. M. Lezhava, was instructed to represent Soviet Russia. But preliminary the leadership of the Centrosoyuz was subjected to Bolshevization. December 23, 1919, A. M. Lezhava was appointed chairman of its presidium, created shortly before by a government decision. In January, a decision was made to Bolshevize the leadership and lower-level cooperation bodies23. Thus, at the turn of 1919—1920, Centrosoyuz was prepared to become a trading partner of British business before establishing bilateral diplomatic relations.
22. AFP RF. F. 69. Op. 5. P. 8. D. 25. L. 11.

23. On January 17 or 18, the Politburo of the Central Committee of the RCP (b), at the suggestion of V.I. Lenin adopted a resolution “On the question of the Entente’s attempt to begin trade relations with Russia through Russian cooperation”. In an attempt, they saw “an explicit calculation to use cooperatives as an apparatus for the restoration of capitalism” and ordered the concerned departments “to immediately develop measures to ensure our complete mastery of the cooperative apparatus, primarily at all those points through which trade can be established (Ukraine, the Far East)” / Lenin V. I. Complete Works. Vol. 40. P. 53.
15 Fulfilling the resolution of the VII Congress of Soviets, the Soviet leadership extended its peaceful offensive to other countries. Moreover, all addressees were offered specific material benefits in the event of a peace agreement. Here is what G. V. Chicherin wrote about it to M. M. Litvinov to Denmark on February 27, 2020: “The simultaneous appearance of our notes to America and Japan was extremely important ... In a note to America, we emphasized its impending gigantic role in reconstruction in our country, and in a note to Japan — special economic and trade interests in the Far East. In the note to Romania, we definitely hinted that territorial issues can be negotiated ... The note to Czechoslovakia is trying to sum up the previous tragedy and put an end to it, opening the prospect of an agreement beneficial to both”24.
24. AFP RF. F. 0168. Op. 1. P. 1. D. 1. L. 54.
16 General assessment by V. I. Lenin of the state of the international situation around the RSFSR at the turn of 1919—1920 sounded optimistic: due to the opposition of the foreign proletariat and irreconcilable competition, “the great powers of the Entente cannot unite to fight the Soviet regime, since they are too hostile to each other”. But at the same time he warned that it is too early to relax, because “we still have enemies like Poland”25. From the fact that in his speech Poland was mentioned twice and both times as a hostile state, it can be concluded that the Polish direction of Soviet foreign policy, along with the British and Baltic, will not be a priority (nevertheless, active military operations on the Polish-Soviet front were stopped indefinitely), but important.
25. Lenin V. I. Speech at a non-partisan conference of workers and ... / Complete Works. T. 40. S. 68—69.
17 There is no agreement between Russian and Polish researchers as to how the Soviet leadership intended to act in the Polish direction. Russian historians believe that Moscow sought peace with Poland even after Denikin's defeat. Modern Polish researchers argue that throughout the winter of 1920 the Soviet side was preparing for an attack on Polish troops in Belarus, and the Soviet so-called “peaceful offensive” policy served to disguise this preparation26.
26. See, for example: Materski W. Op. cit. S. 43—44; Nowak A. Pierwsza zdrada Zachodu. 1920 — zapomniany appeasement. Kraków, 2015. S. 134. It is quite pertinent to question whether it is possible to hope for an adjustment of these diametrically divergent estimates. It seems that rapprochement is possible only on condition that historians will take into account each other’s work in their works, as well as the data of new archival sources introduced into circulation. This is a sine qua non condition, without which researchers will never overcome the estimates of the 1920s, generated by the political needs of that time, and now raised to the category of almost axioms.
18 Almost 10 years ago, I already turned to the analysis of the Soviet policy of “peaceful offensive”27, relying mainly on the documents of the Archive of the Foreign Policy of the Russian Federation (AFP RF). Many of them then became part of the first volume of the collection of documents published in 2017, “Soviet-Polish relations in 1918—1945”. In the summer of 2020, I was lucky enough to get acquainted with another set of documents on the same topic from the Russian State Archive of Social and Political History (RSASPH)28. Their value is especially great, since it was the Central Committee of the RCP (b), and not the command of the Western Front and M. N. Tukhachevsky personally, according to Polish researchers29, who made decisions about the tasks and goals of the war with Poland.
27. Matveev G. F. The Polish direction of the Soviet peaceful offensive. January—April 1920 // Da 90 — goddzya prynyatsya Ryzhskaga mirnaga dagavoru 1921 Materyaly s history polska — Belarusian uzaemaadnosin at XX century. Zbornik navukovykh prats III mazhnarodnaya navukova — tearetychnaya kanferentsi. Minsk, 9—10 chervenya 2011. Minsk, 2012. S. 63—89.

28. See: Polish-Soviet War of 1919—1921. Riga Peace Treaty. Catalog of the historical and documentary exhibition. M., 2021.

29. Materski W. Op. cit. S. 54
19 It has already been said above that the Polish direction of Soviet foreign policy was considered by the Soviet leadership to be important, but not a priority. The previous Soviet peace proposals made in the first half of 1919, as well as secret diplomacy in the second half of the same year (Y. Markhlevsky’s negotiations in Bialowieza and Mikashevichi) did not bring results. Pilsudski ignored the peace proposals of the RSFSR in Mikashevichi and thus made it clear that he did not abandon plans for a war with the RSFSR over Belarus and Ukraine. The Soviet leadership should have started looking for new ways to peace, especially in circumstances when the behavior of the Entente showed an intention to distance itself from the internal Russian conflict. But at the same time, the Soviet leadership wanted peace negotiations not because of the fear of Poland. Of course, the Red Army could not boast of any victories on the Polish front in 1919, the Poles pushed it both in Belarus and in the Ukraine. But it was not defeated either, and Warsaw, despite the boast of Yu. Pilsudski, that “if somewhere and when I don’t beat you [the Reds — G. M.], it’s not because you don’t want it, but because I don't want it”30, could not dictate peace terms to Moscow. All the more so, in the conditions of an unambiguous turning point in the civil war in favor of Soviet Russia peace with Poland was necessary for Soviet Russia in order to supplement the buffer emerging on its western border with Poland, which in 1919 demonstrated its claims to the 1772 borders in the east.
30. Cit. Quoted from: Garlicki A. Józef Piłsudski 1867—1935. Warszawa, 1990. S. 229.
20 The resumption of active hostilities by the Soviet side on the Polish front would interfere with the achievement of strategic foreign policy goals for the RSFSR, primarily in relation to England, and thus would make it extremely difficult to restore industry and transport. To avoid this, peace with Poland was needed. To obtain it, as the experience of 1919 suggested, the Kremlin had only one way out: to cede to Poland the Belarusian and Ukrainian territories occupied by it in 1919. But the deal had to be formalized with an appropriate peace treaty. Since it was not Warsaw that was interested in peace, but Moscow, it initiated the peace negotiations.
21 The reason for this was the statement made on November 28, 1919 in the Sejm by the Vice-Minister of Foreign Affairs of Poland V. Skszyński that the RSFSR never offered the Polish government peace, but it would willingly agree to it, although it “does not think that at this moment the enemy agreed to conditions that meet our legal requirements and the principles of justice and humanism that we constantly defend”31. In Moscow, the words of the Polish deputy minister about “legal requirements” were understood as Poland's intention to obtain territorial acquisitions in the east within the borders of 1772, and also as evidence that the Polish Foreign Ministry did not know about the secret Soviet-Polish negotiations in Mikashevichi that were ending at that time.
31. From the answer of the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Poland Vl. Skszyński on the request of the Union of Polish Socialist Deputies in the Sejm regarding the proposal of the Soviet government to start peace negotiations with Poland // DMISPO. T. II. S. 404; In the note “The main points of diplomatic relations between Soviet Russia and Poland”, prepared by the People's Commissariat for Foreign Affairs of the RSFSR around May 1920, this particular speech by V. Skszynski was called the main reason for the next Soviet peace initiative // AFP RF. F. 0122. Op. 2. P. 101. D. 3. L. 22.
22 The Soviet response to V. Skszynski's statement followed on December 22, 1919, after the end of the negotiations in Mikashevichi, which did not bring true peace32. In his note G. V. Chicherin suggested that the Polish government immediately begin peace negotiations and expressed confidence that “any disagreement between them [Poland and Russia — G. M.] can be eliminated by a friendly agreement”. Chicherin granted the right to choose the time and place of negotiations to the Polish side33. Warsaw found itself in an awkward position. Making peace with the RSFSR at that moment did not suit Yu. Pilsudski. The strategic goal of his eastern policy was not the border of 1772, but the creation of buffer states between Poland and Russia, primarily out of Ukraine allied with Poland. But it was also difficult to ignore the call for negotiations, because not only the European public, but also governments, such as the British, advocated an early end to the war34. Under these circumstances, Warsaw chose the tactics of procrastination, finding out the agreed opinion of the Entente powers on the question of peace, etc.
32. AFP RF. F. 04. Op. 32. Inv. No. 52414. P. 204. D. 10. L. 34.

33. Note of the People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs of the RSFSR G. V. Chicherin to the Polish government with a proposal to immediately start peace negotiations // DMISPO. T. II. S. 446—447.

34. Nowak A. Op. cit. S. 128—129.
23 Having received no response to its proposal, the Kremlin decided to hurry things up. On January 28, 1920, the Soviet government addressed “the government and the people of Poland” outlining the foundations of its policy in the Polish direction35. The appeal was signed by V. I. Lenin, G. V. Chicherin and L. D. Trotsky. Once again confirming the recognition of the independence and sovereignty of the Polish Republic, the Council of People’s Commissars of the RSFSR solemnly promised on behalf of itself and on behalf of the Provisional Government of Ukraine not to conduct hostilities to the west of the front line established at that time, declared that it did not have any agreements or treaties with third countries, that were, directly or indirectl, against Poland, and also did not rule out certain concessions of a territorial, economic and other nature.
35. Appeal of the Council of People’s Commissars of the RSFSR to the government and the people of Poland, outlining the foundations of the Soviet government's policy towards Poland // DMISPO. T. II. S. 508—509.

In the appeal of the Council of People’s Commissars of the RSFSR, for the first time in the previous history of Soviet-Polish relations, a line was precisely defined (the Poles would later call it the line of Lenin, Lenin called it the line of Pilsudski), which Moscow pledged not to violate if Warsaw agreed to negotiations. The Polish side did not answer this time either. To confirm the seriousness of the peace proposals of the RSFSR, on February 2, 1920, the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of Soviets addressed the Polish people36. The appeal said that “the Central Executive Committee ..., the highest representation of the Russian working people, repeats the proposal made by the Soviet government to the Polish people”. Thus, within a few days, all the authorized agencies of the RSFSR made a proposal to enter the peace negotiations. In September 1920, V. I. Lenin outlined the reasons why the Soviet leadership was ready to agree to a peace that was unfavorable for the Soviet republics: “We agreed to make peace, considering peaceful economic work, to which we transferred the life of the army and the lives of tens of thousands of workers and peasants, much higher than military successes to liberate Belarus and part of Ukraine or Eastern Galicia”37. Only on February 4, 1919, S. Patek confirmed the receipt of the Soviet appeal of January 28 and promised to give an answer after a detailed acquaintance with this document. It took the Polish government a month to prepare a response, as well as the insistent demand of the Entente powers to Warsaw, primarily the British, to formulate the Polish peace terms38.

36. Appeal of the All-Russian Central Executive Committee of Soviets to the Polish people to establish good-neighborly relations between Poland and Soviet Russia // DMISPO. T. II. S. 511—513.

37. Political report of the Central Committee of the RCP (b) at the IX All-Russian Conference of the RCP (b) and a closing speech following the discussion of the report. September 22, 1920 Political report / Lenin V. I. Unknown documents 1891—1922. M., 2000. S. 371.

38. Materski W. Op. cit. S. 46—47.

Researchers explain in different ways why Warsaw in the winter of 1920 was in no hurry to respond with proposals to Soviet peace initiatives39, there is some truth in every explanation, but even taken together they do not create a complete picture. In addition to the list of reasons, one can name, for example, Pilsudski’s tendency to resolve territorial disputes with neighbors by force (Cieszyn Silesia, Eastern Galicia, Upper Silesia, Vilna region, Belarus, Volyn); actual lack of faith in the League of Nations, the statute of which provided for the protection of its members from unprovoked aggression; finally, the fear of Russia, which, despite the bravado of the Polish military and the successes at the front in 1919, existed and was cultivated by Polish propaganda. Pilsudski himself linked the timing of the renewal of the war with the arrival of spring40.

39. P. N. Olshansky considers the main reason being the preparations carried out by Poland at that moment for the spring campaign in the east with the aim of ousting Soviet Russia beyond the border line of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1772 // Olshansky P. N. Riga Peace. M., 1969. S. 44—46. A. Garlitsky makes a special emphasis on Pilsudski's intention to separate himself from the RSFSR with a belt of independent states allied with Poland, i.e. on the policy pursued by him, as they said at the time, of “buffering” / Garlitsky A. Op. cit. S. 223—224; E. Kumanetsky gives a more lengthy explanation of the tactics of the Polish side, naming both the difficult internal political situation in the country, and the military plans of Pilsudski, and the lack of a consolidated position on this issue among the great powers // Kumaniecki J. Pokoj polsko-radziecki 1921. Warszawa, 1985. S. 20—21; V. Materski declares that the Soviet peace initiatives of the late 1919 — early 1920 were just a diplomatic cover for the preparation of the Red Army for offensive operations in the Polish direction. Pilsudski promptly unraveled the Soviet aggressive plans and decided to thwart them with a preemptive strike // Materski W. Op. cit. S. 43—45; I. V. Mikhutina places the main blame on Pilsudski // Mikhutina I. V. Polish-Soviet War 1919—1920. M., 1994. S. 107—112; A. Khvalba avoided answering this question unambiguously, but nevertheless he had to admit that the refusal came from the Polish side: “Today it is difficult to say unequivocally whether the Soviet peace proposal was evidence of Moscow's sincere intentions or just a smokescreen, since it never passed practical testing. It was rejected by the Polish side, which predetermined the position of the Commandant [Yu. Pilsudski — G. M.], who did not trust Russia and wanted the Polish-Soviet dispute about who would be the master between the Bug, Neman, Dvina, Berezina and Dnieper, to be resolved in the armed way” / Chwalba A. Przegrane zwycięstwo. Wojna polsko-bolszewicka 1918—1920. Wołowiec, 2020. S. 127; A. Novak explains Pilsudski's reluctance to enter into peace negotiations with the RSFSR by the fact that he did not receive a firm promise from England and France to recognize the eventual peace treaty, which left Poland with vast territories in the east with a predominance of the non-Polish population / Nowak A. Op. cit. S. 115—135.

40. Nalencz D. and T. Jozef Pilsudski. Legends and facts. M., 1990. S. 283.

Among the most controversial is the problem of the responsibility of the parties for the resumption of active hostilities on the Soviet-Polish front in April 1920. Modern Polish historians are of the opinion that the Polish army’s offensive in Ukraine was just a preventive measure to forestall the impending Soviet strike. Since the authors of such an explanation proceed from an a priori statement about the “imperialist” nature of the RSFSR, the answer should be sought not in unfounded statements, but in the official correspondence of Soviet leaders. The telegram of V. I. Lenin of February 27, 1920 to L. D. Trotsky with a proposal to immediately start preparing for war with Poland, for “all the signs say that Poland will present us with absolutely impossible, even arrogant conditions. We must direct all our attention to the preparation and strengthening of the Western Front. I would consider it necessary to take emergency measures to quickly deliver everything that is possible from Siberia and the Urals to the Western Front. I am afraid that we were a little too hasty with the labor armies, if we do not use them entirely to speed up the delivery to the Western Front. We must give the slogan to prepare for war with Poland”41.

41. Lenin V. I. Telegram to L. D. Trotsky // Complete Works. T. 51. M., 1970. S. 146—147; V. I. Lenin spoke about the preparation of the RSFSR for a possible war with Poland, not only in official correspondence, but also publicly // See, for example: Lenin V. I. Report at the First All-Russian Congress of Labor Cossacks // Complete Works. T. 40. S. 181—182; Also: Speech at a meeting of the plenum of the Moscow Soviet of Workers, Peasants and Red Army Deputies on March 6, 1920 // Ibid. T. 40. S. 196.
27 The above telegram raises a number of questions that no one had asked before: 1) if all the actions of Soviet diplomacy indicate Moscow’s desire to conclude peace with Warsaw, how could this order from Lenin come about, which runs counter to the strategic foreign policy line of the RSFSR? 2) why does Lenin consider it necessary to strengthen only the Western Front? Why does he offer to bring to this front everything that is possible only from Siberia and the Urals, but does not demand to remilitarize the labor army that has just been created and have not lost their military skills?
28 RSASPH documents allow answering some of these questions. February 23, the chairman of the Council of Workers’ and Peasants’ Defense V. I. Lenin received requested by him “short report of the Revolutionary War Council (RWC) of the Western Front on the situation on the Western Front and the state of the latter in connection with the possibility of active operations of the Polish troops”. The report said that since the end of December 1919, “the ratio of the forces of the Polish troops and the opposing troops of the 16th Army did not change in our favor, but on the contrary, the Polish army was strengthened by the newly arrived reserves and in front of the 16th Army within its boundary line ... Polish troops have about 31,000 bayonets against 6 845 bayonets and 640 sabers of the 16th Army. In addition, at the junction of the 16th and 15th Armies against the left flank of the 15th Army in the Polotsk-Drissa area, there is a group of Polish troops from units of the 1st and 3rd legionary divisions and the 10th infantry division of about 15,000 bayonets and 1,200 sabers ...
29 Taking into account the obvious strengthening of the Polish forces on the border of our front ... it can be assumed that the Poles intend to undertake either an independent active operation or, in any case, they concentrated forces that are significantly superior to us in order to put pressure on the desired outcome of the peace negotiations, if they intend to actually start them”42.
42. Russian State Archive of Social and Political History (hereinafter referred to as the RSASPH). F. 2. Op. 1. D. 12971. L. 1—4.
30 The correlation between the order and the note is obvious. In the period from 23 to 27 February 1920 V. I. Lenin had reliable information about the approximately fourfold superiority of the Polish forces in Belarus. You didn’t have to be a military man to understand: the Poles have enough strength to attack Smolensk, and Moscow is nearby. Could any responsible politician have remained careless in such a situation? The answer is simple: he couldn’t. So the telegram of V. I. Lenin of February 27, 1920 — is an order not to prepare an offensive on the Polish front, but to such a strengthening of the Soviet grouping in Belarus that it would be possible to successfully repel the Polish army’s offensive in the direction of Moscow.

The situation on the South-Western Front looked no better. In the April offensive of the Polish army in Ukraine, 45 thousand bayonets and 7 thousand sabers were involved, and 11 thousand bayonets and 1.5 thousand sabers opposed them43. What aggressive plans of the Kremlin can we speak of with such a balance of forces on the Polish front? It is also important that the replacement of the commander of the Soviet Western Front V. M. Gittis, who was in charge of the command of the retreating army, by M. N. Tukhachevsky occurred only on April 29, 1920. He needed time to prepare the front for the offensive. The weakness of the Western Front was shown by the unsuccessful attempt to break through the Polish front in Belarus in May 1920. And the resource of the labor army was more important to use in the rebuilding of transport than at the front, because after victories over the Whites, the Polish army did not pose a mortal danger in the eyes of the leadership of the RSFSR44.

43. Materski W. Op. cit. S. 51; Polish-Soviet War 1919—1920 (Previously unpublished documents and materials). P. 1. M., 1994. S. 59—60.

44. V. I. Lenin spoke about this in public more than once. Thus, speaking at the congress of labor Cossacks on March 1, 1920, he said: “But if Poland responds to our peace proposal with silence… if the Polish imperialists threaten us that they will go to war against Russia, then we say: “Try it! You will learn such a lesson that you will never forget it” / Lenin V. I. Report at the First All-Russian Congress of Labor Cossacks on March 1, 1920 // Complete Works. T. 40. S. 181—182; Five days later, in another audience, he said this again: “If, in spite of all the efforts, the imperialists of Poland, supported by France, go to war against Russia and carry out their military adventure, then they must and will receive such a rebuff from which all their fragile capitalism and imperialism will crumble completely” // Lenin V. I. Speech at a meeting of the plenum of the Moscow Soviet of Workers, Peasants and Red Army Deputies on March 6, 1920 // Complete Works. T. 40. S. 196.
32 A letter from G. V. Chicherin to V. I. Lenin of April 22, 1920, i.e. written three days before the start of the Polish offensive in Ukraine, can be considered a weighty proof of the lack of a plan for the invasion of Poland by the Soviet leadership. Given the importance of this document, it is not superfluous to quote its entire text:

“Dear Vladimir Ilyich!

I would like to draw your attention to the report of the Polish Bureau of the Central Committee of the RCP dated April 21, in which the following conclusions are especially emphasized:

1) The situation requires, first of all, the continuation of our policy of peace proposals; we will achieve the point that not only the masses of the workers, but even the petty bourgeoisie cease to believe in the “conquest aspirations of the Bolsheviks” and begin to be skeptical of the defensist slogans; it is necessary to maintain this mood, and for this it is necessary to avoid everything that can harm in this respect.

2) At the same time, every effort must be made to keep the Red Army at the height of the situation. The further success of the Polish army will strengthen the influence of Pilsudski in Poland. Our partial successful offensive will help the disintegration of the Polish army; on the contrary, a major offensive with the invasion of Poland itself will poison even a significant part of the working class with defencism. “A remark on this letter from Chicherin: “I completely agree. Trotsky does too. Lenin”45.

45. RSASPH. F. 159. Op. 2. D. 37. L. 4.
34 It is clear from the letter that on April 22, 1920, the top Soviet leadership did not have a plan for a major strategic offensive operation against Poland, unless the chairman of the Сouncil of People’s Commissars of the RSFSR, leader of the RCP (b) V. I. Lenin and People’s Commissar for Military and Naval Affairs, Chairman of the Revolutionary Military Council of the Republic, member of the Politburo of the Central Committee of the RCP (b) L. D. Trotsky did not mislead the People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs, a member of the Central Committee of the RCP (b) G. V. Chicherin. It is hard to believe in this, or rather, it is not at all believable. At the same time, the possibility and relevance of an offensive in Belarus and Volyn was not ruled out, to which the Poles, according to the December 1919 declaration of the Entente powers, did not have an unconditional right.
35 On April 25, 1920, the rapid offensive of the Polish armies and a small Ukrainian contingent of S. V. Petliura under the general command of Yu. Pilsudski in Ukraine opened a new stage in the Polish-Russian war. The main forces of the Red Army were concentrated in Belarus, covering the shortest route to Moscow. The South-Western Front operated in two diverging directions: against Wrangel’s troops, entrenched in the Crimea and threatening from there with a resumption of a full-scale civil war in the European part of Russia, and against the Poles. To save manpower, the Soviet command chose the Kutuzov tactics of a quick retreat. On May 6, 1920, the Poles occupied Kiev, which was left by Soviet troops without a fight; on May 8, a parade of Polish and Petliura troops took place on Khreshchatyk. The May attempt at an offensive by the Red Army in Belarus, as already mentioned, failed. The Polish-Soviet front along the Berezina and Dnieper lines stabilized until June 1920, when the breakthrough of the Polish front by the 1st Cavalry Army initiated the offensive of the South-Western Front under the command of A. I. Egorov in the direction of Lviv. On July 4, troops of the Western Front broke through the Polish defenses in Belarus.
36 And even at this time, the Soviet leadership did not give up the idea of stopping the offensive and starting peace negotiations. So, on June 30, 1920, V. I. Lenin telegraphed I. V. Stalin: “We decided in the Politburo, contrary to Trotsky’s and your advice, to reject the peace proposal of Romania, for some intelligence indicates close steps towards peace on the part of Poland”46. That is, even when military happiness in Ukraine was on the side of the Red Army, V. I. Lenin was waiting for the Polish proposal to start peace negotiations and was ready to consider it. And again the question arises: why? It seems that the reason is again in the priorities. The Soviet trade delegation headed by L. B. Krasin was not only already in London — D. Lloyd George was about to agree to conduct political negotiations.
46. RSASPH. F. 2. Op. 1. D. 14557. L. 1.

The line of behavior of V. I. Lenin radically changed after the note of the British Foreign Minister Lord D. Curzon dated July 11, 1920 (it was received in Moscow on July 12), in which he, on the instructions of the Entente Supreme Council, invited the Soviet government to stop the advance of the Red Army and begin peace negotiations with Poland. Curzon also determined the future eastern border of Poland acceptable to the Western powers, which coincided in general with the December 1919 line of the Entente and the Kremlin’s ideas about a fair border between the Soviet republics and Poland. Moreover, quite unexpectedly for the Soviet leadership, he recognized the right of Soviet Russia to Eastern Galicia, which until 1918 belonged to Austria-Hungary, and in 1919 was captured by Poland. It was at this moment that Lenin again returned to the idea of transferring the revolution outside Russia, but only to Poland47. In favor of the fact that the departure from the policy of “peaceful offensive” in the Polish direction took place precisely on these days, say the notes of a member of the Central Committee of the RCP (b) E. A. Preobrazhensky on the course of the plenum of the Central Committee on July 16, 1920, which, at Lenin's insistence, adopted a resolution to “help the proletariat and working masses of Poland to free themselves from their landlords and capitalists”48. Preobrazhensky wrote that “Bukharchik [N. I. Bukharin — G. M.] noticed long ago that Ilyich «was preparing a new phase» in world politics, and now this has become quite obvious”. In addition, in a speech at the plenum, Preobrazhensky, in 1918 an active supporter of the idea of a world revolution, warned: “The British workers will not soon digest the change in our tactics. It is easy for us to turn the steering wheel, but it will be impossible to turn the millions, whom we have taught to the idea that we are only waging a defensive war and want peace as soon as possible”49. His words meant only one thing: there was some old tactic in Soviet foreign policy, and it was not the export of revolution. And Lenin himself in September 1920 defined this moment as “a major turning point in the history of the Polish war”50.

47. For more details on the discussion of Curzon’s note and the July 1920 plenum of the Central Committee of the RCP (b) see: G. F. Matveev. A turning point in Moscow’s policy towards the Polish direction in July 1920 // Międzycywilizacyjny dialog w świecie słowiańskim w XX and XXI wieku. Historia — religia — kultura — polityka. Kraków, 2012. S. 235—248.

48. Polish-Soviet War 1919—1920. Previously unpublished documents. P. I. M., 1994. S. 142.

49. Polish-Soviet relations 1918—1945. T. 1. S. 103.

50. Lenin V. I. Unknown documents ... S. 372.
38 Thus, archival documents that reliably reflect the positions of the highest party and state leaders of the RSFSR indicate that at least from the end of 1919 to July 16, 1920, in their policy in the Polish direction, they quite consistently adhered to the course of a peaceful settlement of the conflict. Including being ready for significant territorial concessions to Warsaw in Belarus and Ukraine. The reason for their departure from this course in relation to Poland should be sought not in their secret plans to export the revolution, but in the Kiev adventure of Yu. Pilsudski. By the way, this is how the leaders of the main Polish political parties also assessed the situation in Polish-Soviet relations after the failure of the Polish offensive. It was on the initiative of the national democrats that Yu. Pilsudski in July 1920 lost the monopoly leadership of eastern policy in favor of the State Defense Council, and the April 1920 Polish-Ukrainian political treaty was also disavowed.
39 As for the priority directions of the Soviet peaceful offensive, they had not changed. On July 12, 1920, a peace treaty was signed with Lithuania, on August 11 — with Latvia, and on August 1, political negotiations between D. Lloyd George and L. B. Kamenev began in London.


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