Central Powers intervention in the Russian Civil War

Central Powers intervention in the Russian Civil War consisted of a series of multi-national military expeditions starting in 1918. This was intervention was picking up from the Eastern Front against the newly set up Russian Republic. The main goals of the intervention were to maintain the territories received in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, prevent a re-establishment of the Eastern Front, and administer new conquered territories. After the defeat of the Central Powers, many armies that stayed mostly helped the White movement eradicate communists in the Baltics until their eventual withdrawal and defeat. In addition, pro-German factions fought against the newly independent Baltic states until their defeat by the Baltic States, backed by the victorious Allies

Central Powers intervention in the Russian Civil War
Part of the Russian Civil War
Date16 December 1917 (1917-12-16) – 10 January 1920 (1920-01-10)
(2 years, 3 weeks and 4 days)
Result Central Powers withdrawal
Defeat and collapse of the Russian White Movement
Baltic states gain and defend their independence
Central Powers:

Baltic States:
 Lithuania Supported by the Allied Powers:

Commanders and leaders
German Empire H. von Eichhorn
German Empire Max Hoffmann
Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic Vladimir Lenin
Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic Jukums Vācietis
Estonia Ernst Põdder
Latvia Jānis Balodis
Lithuania Silvestras Žukauskas

Prologue to the Central interventionEdit

The Central Powers had already been fighting Russia for three years. The Russian Empire had been in a mixed situation in the early stages of the war. While losing to the German Empire they had some victories against the Austrian and Ottoman Empires. However, by 1917 Russia was on its back foot with Germany and Austria having lost Poland, Lithuania and parts of West Belarus. Even with the entry of Romania into the war Russia could not push back. These conditions brought about the February Revolution and the creation of the Russian republic.The new republic did not fare any better and saw a continued stalemate. With the start of the Russian Civil War, the collapse of the Republic and the rise of Red Russia a vacuum on the eastern border was created. Several states broke free in the chaos which Germany decided to take advantage of.

Peace with the Central PowersEdit

Soviet delegation with Trotsky greeted by German officers at Brest-Litovsk, 8 January 1918

The Bolsheviks decided to immediately make peace with the German Empire and the Central Powers, as they had promised the Russian people before the Revolution.[1] Vladimir Lenin's political enemies attributed that decision to his sponsorship by the Foreign Office of Wilhelm II, German Emperor, offered to Lenin in hope that, with a revolution, Russia would withdraw from World War I. That suspicion was bolstered by the German Foreign Ministry's sponsorship of Lenin's return to Petrograd.[2] However, after the military fiasco of the summer offensive (June 1917) by the Russian Provisional Government, and in particular after the failed summer offensive of the Provisional Government had devastated the structure of the Russian Army, it became crucial that Lenin realize the promised peace.[3][4] Even before the failed summer offensive the Russian population was very skeptical about the continuation of the war. Western socialists had promptly arrived from France and from the UK to convince the Russians to continue the fight, but could not change the new pacifist mood of Russia.[5]

On 16 December 1917 an armistice was signed between Russia and the Central Powers in Brest-Litovsk and peace talks began.[6] As a condition for peace, the proposed treaty by the Central Powers conceded huge portions of the former Russian Empire to the German Empire and the Ottoman Empire, greatly upsetting nationalists and conservatives. Leon Trotsky, representing the Bolsheviks, refused at first to sign the treaty while continuing to observe a unilateral cease-fire, following the policy of "No war, no peace".[7]

In view of this, on 18 February 1918 the Germans began Operation Faustschlag on the Eastern Front, encountering virtually no resistance in a campaign that lasted 11 days.[7] Signing a formal peace treaty was the only option in the eyes of the Bolsheviks because the Russian Army was demobilized, and the newly formed Red Guard was incapable of stopping the advance. They also understood that the impending counterrevolutionary resistance was more dangerous than the concessions of the treaty, which Lenin viewed as temporary in the light of aspirations for a world revolution. The Soviets acceded to a peace treaty, and the formal agreement, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, was ratified on 6 March. The Soviets viewed the treaty as merely a necessary and expedient means to end the war. The German Empire created several short-lived satellite buffer states within its sphere of influence after the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk: the United Baltic Duchy, Duchy of Courland and Semigallia, Kingdom of Lithuania, Kingdom of Poland,[8] the Belarusian People's Republic, and the Ukrainian State. Following the defeat of Germany in World War I in November 1918, these states were abolished.[9][10]

Finland was the first republic that declared its independence from Russia in December 1917 and established itself in the ensuing Finnish Civil War from January–May 1918.[11] The Second Polish Republic, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia formed their own armies immediately after the abolition of the Brest-Litovsk Treaty and the start of the Soviet westward offensive in November 1918.[12]

After the ArmisticeEdit

After the eventual downfall of the Central Powers, the armies occupying the eastern territories could not be resupplied with the new German Army reduced to nothing more than 100,000 volunteers. This withdrawal would create a large power vacuum as nations that barely declared independent found it difficult to scrape up an army to defend itself from the Soviet advance. Several units turned into unofficial German units such as the Freikorps, Landeswehr and Bermotians. The main base of operations of these new armies was in the Baltics fighting in the Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian War of Independence with the goal of maintaining German supremacy in the region.


End of the interventionEdit

In late 1919 it became clear that the Baltic States were going to be independent and the Western Front was coming to a close. With the Baltic wars of Independence wrapping up the West Russian Volunteer Army was becoming obsolete. In mid-December 1919 a withdrawal was organized by Walter von Eberhardt from Lithuania to East Prussia, finally back on German soil.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ 1917–1918
  2. ^ 1917–1918
  3. ^ 1917–1918
  4. ^ 1918–20
  5. ^ 1918–19
  6. ^ 1918–20


  1. ^ Figes 1997, p. 258:quotes such comments from the peasant soldiers during the first weeks of the war: We have talked it over among ourselves; if the Germans want payment, it would be better to pay ten rubles a head than to kill people. Or: Is it not all the same what Tsar we live under? It cannot be worse under the German one. Or: Let them go and fight themselves. Wait a while, we will settle accounts with you. Or: 'What devil has brought this war on us? We are butting into other people's business.'
  2. ^ Lenin
  3. ^ Figes 1997, p. 416"As Brusilov saw it, the soldiers were so obsessed with the idea of peace that they would have been prepared to support the Tsar himself, so long as he promised to bring the war to an end."
  4. ^ Figes 1997, p. 419:"It was partly a case of the usual military failings: units had been sent into battle without machine-guns; untrained soldiers had been ordered to engage in complex maneuvers using hand grenades and ended up throwing them without first pulling the pins."
  5. ^ Figes 1997, p. 412:"This new civic patriotism did not extend beyond the urban middle classes, although the leaders of the Provisional Government deluded themselves that it did."
  6. ^ Mawdsley 2007, p. 42.
  7. ^ a b Smith & Tucker 2014, pp. 554–555.
  8. ^ Keith Bullivant, Geoffrey J. Giles and Walter Pape (1999). Germany and Eastern Europe: Cultural Identity and Cultural Differences. Rodopi. pp. 28–9. ISBN 90-420-0678-1.
  9. ^ Mieczysław B. Biskupski, "War and the Diplomacy of Polish Independence, 1914–18." Polish Review (1990): 5-17. online
  10. ^ Timothy Snyder, The Reconstruction of Nations: Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, Belarus, 1569–1999 (Yale UP, 2004)
  11. ^ David G. Kirby, "Revolutionary ferment in Finland and the origins of the civil war 1917–1918." Scandinavian Economic History Review 26.1 (1978): 15-35 online.
  12. ^ Anatol Lieven, The Baltic revolution: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and the path to independence (Yale UP, 1993) pp 54-61. excerpt