The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk
This photograph depicts a scene from the discussions held before the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed on 3 March 1918, acknowledging Soviet Russia’s official withdrawal from World War One. Russia’s involvement in the war had been thrown into question since the Bolshevik’s seizure of power in November 1917.
The peace treaty declared that the state of war between Russia and the Central Powers had ceased, and that Russia would demobilize its army in addition to forfeiting its control over 18 territories, including Finland, Estonia and Ukraine.
Prior to the signing of the treaty, Russia and the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria and the Ottoman Empire) spent over two months in negotiations. Split into three chapters, negotiations continued for days at a time, and on two occasions reached an impasse. This was caused by ideological differences between the Bolsheviks and the Central Powers: the socialist Bolshevik government opposed the traditional diplomacy used by the autocratic Central Powers.
What is happening in this photograph?
In this photograph, we join the first ‘sitting’ between the Central Powers and the Russian delegation (led by Adolf Joffe, second from right) in Brest-Litovsk, Poland (now Brest in Belarus). Seven days after signing an armistice, the nations entered into six days of ‘polite’ exchanges between 22–27 December 1917.
The Russians proposed that the negotiations be based on six points, most of which were founded on the right of national self-determination (the right of the people to choose who they are governed by). This largely concerned Russia’s empire within Europe, and disagreements arose when each side argued that the other must withdraw its troops from these regions. Talks failed in December when neither side was prepared to stand down. Despite this, Prince Leopold of Bavaria signed an extension to the armistice – captured in this photograph – which allowed negotiations to reopen in early 1918 while avoiding a return to warfare. Later discussions were led by Leon Trotsky and Grigori Sokolnikov.
Unusually for this period, a woman was present at the table. Recently liberated from exile, Anastasia Bizenko (or Bitsenko) was there to represent Russia’s Socialist Revolutionary party. The Russian delegation was assembled to directly reflect the foot soldiers of the Revolution and therefore included women, soldiers, sailors, workers and peasants.
 Schattenberg, S., ‘Brest-Litovsk, Treaty of’, 1914-1918-online. International Encyclopedia of the First World War, ed. by Ute Daniel, Peter Gatrell, Oliver Janz, Heather Jones, Jennifer Keene, Alan Kramer and Bill Nasson (30 November 2014), [https://encyclopedia.1914-1918-online.net/article/brest-litovsk_treaty_of, last accessed 01/03/2018].
 Washington Government Printing Office, Proceedings of the Brest-Litovsk Peace Conference. The peace negotiations between Russia and the Central Powers. 21 November, 1917-3 March, 1918, (Washington, 1918), pp. 39 – 44.
 Wheeler-Bennett, J W., Brest-Litovsk: the forgotten peace, March 1918 (New York, 1956), p. 85.
- Full title:
- 1394. Prins Leopold af Bayern, den Øverstbefalende paa Østfronten underskriver Vaabenstilstanden. [1394. Prince Leopold of Bavaria, the chief commander on the eastern front, signs the state of Vaab.]
- December 1917
- Photograph / Image
- unknown photographer
- © Det Konglige Bibliotek
- Usage terms:
- Some rights reserved
- Held by:
- Det Konglige Bibliotek
- ID: uh000463.tif
- Article by:
- Ekaterina Rogatchevskaia
- Civilians, Representation and memory
Lead Curator Dr Katya Rogatchevskaia draws on diaries, memoirs and other personal accounts to explore the experiences of Russian civilians and soldiers during World War One.