Tag Archives: Russian Civil War

Latvia and Ukrainian People’s Republic

unr

1920 map of claimed lands by Ukrainian People’s Republic. Note: Eastern Ukraine – Galicia and Lviv has been already to Poland.

Ukrainian People’s Republic (Українська Народна Республіка УНР or UNR) was first modern Ukrainian national statehood that existed between 1917 and 1921. Similarly to Belarusian People’s Republic (BNR) it did not survive the tides of war, however contrary to BNR, UNR received greater support and recognition from Latvia. Latvian officers also took part in UNR national forces and both sides had high hopes towards each other. On 1920 as Ukraine was divided between Soviet Russia and Poland in pursue for peace with Soviets, Latvia had to abandon its support for UNR. Article highlights Latvian – Ukrainian diplomatic relations and Latvian participation in UNR armed forces.

On March 17 1917 after the collapse of Russian Empire Central Council of Ukraine (Українська Центральна Рада UCR) was established in Kyiv. One of its main demands was national autonomy that was not supported by Russian Provisional Government in Petrograd. In response Ukrainian national forces under the command of General Pavlo Skoropadskyi started to assemble to defend Ukrainian sovereignty. On October 25 (November 7) Bolsheviks seized power in Petrograd and their supporters took over some areas in Ukraine. UCR managed to control much of Ukraine and on November 7 (November 20) the Ukrainian People’s Republic was proclaimed. Meanwhile in Kharkiv on December 11-12 1917 Ukrainian Soviet Republic was founded. Bolsheviks advanced and gained control over much of Ukraine and on February 8 captured Kyiv. Chief Otaman Symon Petliura who commanded UCR armed forces faced gruesome defeat at the battle of Kruty where Ukrainian 1st Student company and Cadet Corps suffered great casualties. On January 9 (22) UNR again proclaimed full independence and severed all ties with Russia. On February 9 in Brestlitovsk UNR signed peace treaty with Germany and Austria-Hungary gaining their military support in return for food provisions. German forces entered Ukraine and on March 1 captured Kyiv. On March 3 Soviet Russia ceded Ukraine to Germany in peace agreement in Brestlitovsk. UNR forces of 15 000 men entered Kyiv and Crimea. UNR was recognized by Germany, Bulgaria, Austria-Hungary, Turkey and Great Britain.

Ukraine was taken over by Germans and Austrians who came in early conflict with UCR who protested against German military courts. German authorities formally dissolved UCR. In response UCR proclaimed new leftist leaning UNR constitution. Ukrainian right-wing rushed to prevent Ukrainian-German confrontation and rise of left-wing on April 29 seized power. General Pavlo Skoropadskyi became dictator under the title of Hetman of Ukraine. UNR faced resistance from Bolsheviks and peasants lead by anarchist Nestor Makhno. More countries however recognized UNR such as Finland, Poland, Romania, Switzerland, Denmark, Netherlands, Norway and Persia. As of November 11 1918 when Germany and Austria-Hungary collapsed situation changed in Ukraine. UNR elites supporting Allied powers created Directory lead by Symon Petliura, who in December 14 deposed hetman Skoropadskyi and proclaimed second Ukrainian People’s Republic (during hetman’s dictatorship UNR was called “Ukrainian State”). Meanwhile in Western Part of Ukraine a Western Ukrainian People’s Republic on October 19 1918 was proclaimed in attempts to split from Austria- Hungary who controlled Lviv (Lemberg). On January 1919 it united with UNR. The Western Ukraine with Lviv in center was claimed by Poland and both sides engaged each other in battles until June 1919.

Soviet Russia immediately after German surrender to Allies canceled Brestlitovsk peace agreement and UNR had to declare war on them on January 16 1919. On February 5 Bolsheviks again captured Kyiv and reached Zbruch River west of Ukraine and entered Crimea. Ukrainian peasants and anarchist groups resisted Bolsheviks while un summer of 1919 the monarchist White Guard South Russian Volunteer army lead by general Anton Denikin attacked Bolsheviks and captured Kharkiv on the way to Moscow and on August 31 entered Kyiv. As his forces were defeated and chased away Bolsheviks again took over much of Ukraine in March 1920.

Situation demanded an alliance with Poland that was reached by Symon Petliura. On April 26 1920 Polish-Ukrainian forces attacked Bolsheviks on May 7 captured Kyiv. Polish forces reached river Dnipro. Bolsheviks ignited counter offensive and On June 12 Poles abandoned Kyiv, on July 4 Bolsheviks started attack in Belarus and reached Warsaw. On August 12-17 the Bolshevik offensive was finally stopped at the gates of Warsaw. On March 18 1920 in Riga Poland and Soviet Russia signed peace agreement dividing Ukraine in two. Central, South and East Ukraine was granted to Soviets while Western Part of Ukraine including Lviv (Lwov in Polish) was ceded to Poland. Recognized also by Ukrainian delegation the Riga peace agreement was death sentence to UNR. Symon Petliura dismissed Directory and withdraw his forces to Poland where he was interned. Rumania and Czechoslovakia also gained Ukrainian ethnic lands. Symon Petliura lead the UNR in exile until he was assassinated by Soviet agent on 1926. UNR continued to work in exile in Poland until 1939 and the moved to France where it ceased to exist after Nazi occupation. After the war in western exile Ukrainian National Council (Українська Національна Рада) that existed until 1991 when it recognized new Republic of Ukraine that formed in result of collapse of the Soviet Union.

During dramatic and fast changing events in Ukraine during Soviet-Ukrainian war many Latvians were involved army in state matters. Firs before the First World War and during the war some Latvians traveled to live and work in Ukrainian provinces of the Russian empire and secondly the Latvian officers who served the Russian army were sent on duty there. Large numbers of Latvians ended up in Ukraine as refugees during 1915-1916.  Also campaigners for Latvian independence were interested in Ukrainian independence movement and were seeking for cooperation. On September 8-15 (21-28) in Kyiv the UCR organized “congress of the minor nations” where 80 representatives took part along with 10 from Latvia. Latvians were represented by Zigfrīds Anna Meierovics from Vidzeme land council Kristaps Bahmanis from Kurzeme Land council and Staņislavs Kambala from Latgale land council. Z. A. Meierovics gave speech describing the history of Latvian history and present situation and voiced call for Latvian self-determination. Meierovics, Kambala, Bahmanis and lecturer at Kyiv University M Bruninieks were elected in All-Russia Council of Nations. On November 18 1917 in Valka the newly founded Latvian National Council (LNC) also discussed Ukraine and judged that Ukrainian politicians are generally friendly towards Latvians like rest of the small nations. On December the Council received telegram from UNR about their declaration of independence and replied back with warm greetings towards Ukraine and voiced support for Ukrainian freedom and federation of nations.

On January 1918 LNC decided to send representatives to Ukraine to gain support promised by UCR. At first Latvians wanted to travel to Brestlitovsk to take part in Ukrainian-German peace talks to gain things to their favor, however the idea was dropped and Latvian representative K Bahmanis went to Kyiv on February. There he contributed to the creation of Kyiv Latvian Central Committee and spread information about the work of LNC. Because of war activities he could not contact Latvia and his report about his activities was only reviewed in June. Bahmanis became the representative of the Latvian Provisional Government in Kyiv and since 1919 visited new governments in Georgia, Armenia, White Guard Armies in Crimea, Don and Kuban. He returned to Latvia in September 1920.

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Latvian General Pēteris Radziņš who served in UNR amy

Many Latvians who were at Ukraine decided to join Ukrainian national armed forces lead by General Pavlo Skoropadskyi. Latvian officers also served in Symon Petliura Directory army. Most known was colonel Pēteris Radziņš who was chief of organizational and training department of the General Staff. After hetman was deposed he served as deputy to the chief of General Staff Mykola Yunakiv. On September 1919 escaping UNR defeats against White Guards and Bolsheviks he got himself in Poland and then returned to Latvia. There he was appointed for the Chief of the Commander-in-Chief Staff of the Latvian army. From 1924 to 1928 he was commander-in-chief of the Latvian Army. He also was author of many military history books and died in age of 50 in 1930. Lieutenant Colonel Jānis Ceplītis served Skoropadsyi and then under Petliura was chief of the Operational department of the General Staff and returned to Latvia on December 1919. Captain Pēteris Miķelsons on 1918 voluntarily joined the hetman’s army in the Chief Artillery headquarters and was promoted to lieutenant colonel. In Petliura army he served as chief of Inspectional department of Chief Artillery headquarters. On January 1920 he was retired, but as Ukrainians started attack with Poles he was mobilized again. On 1921 he was promoted colonel and was retired few months later. Collegium  assessor  Vilhelms Klotiņš  joined the hetman’s army on June 1918 and served in Petliura army as administrative colonel the chief of the board of main intendancy money and payments. He returned to Latvia on Summer 1919. Aviator captain Nikolajs Jeske on December 1918 joined Petliura’s army as deputy for the chief 5th aviation division later chief of Proskuriv (now Khmelnytskyi) aviation school and commander of 1st aviation detachment. On 1920-1921 he was the head of UNR aircraft purchase commission.  Staff captain Hermanis Klīve on December 1918 served in hetmans army but after coup he was sent to court as hetmans officer but was found not guilty. He then served Poltava regiment until March 1920. Podporuchik Kārlis Drengeris served in UNR army 3th detached engineer battalion until September 1920. Podporuchik Arnolds Drukēvičs from December 18 to May 1919 served in UNR 7th artillery brigade and was captured by Poles. Adrejs Lejasslauss on 1918 took important posts in hetmans Provisions ministry and after coup served Provisions ministry in Galicia and Bukovina later in Ministry of Economics as vice-director Leather industry department and later director. Kārlis Brože served in most effective UNR unit the 1 Cavalry Regiment of Black Zaporizhians as commanders deputy, later in Latvia he served in police and municipalities.

As of diplomatic relations the first contacts between Latvia and UNR  emerged on spring 1919 in Paris Peace Conference. UNR as most politically unstable country of the time was mainly interested in gaining support from Latvia. The Latvian foreign minister Z. A Meierovics considered Ukraine as ally and wanted to include Belarus and Ukraine into Baltic entente that compromised Baltic Sates, Finland and Poland. Belarusian and Ukrainian delegations took part in Dorpat (Tartu) Baltic states conference as observers. In meetings with them it was agreed to create a common military alliance. On September 1 1919 UNR consul Nikifor Bederovsky arrived in Riga. The UNR consulate managed to get some Ukrainians in Latvian army to retire and join the UNR army. Along with new UNR citizens some were Germans as consul deputy Erich Fleisher who asked Latvian General staff to command him to Jelgava for “consulate affairs” on November 28 1919 (Jelgava was just liberated from Bermont-Avalov army) and was granted. His goal was to search for UNR citizen local German Heinnrich Brade who voluntary joined Baltic Landguard on July 14 during his duty in Riga Latvian soldiers confiscate his bicycle that became point of active communications between consulate and Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Fleisher himself was local German.

Latvia and UNR consulate sometimes entered situations of conflict during siege of Riga on October-November 1919. On October 24 UNR consulate filed a request to give back horse that was confiscated to consulate coachman Mykola Jukatch however was denied. In result UNR together with Belarus, Lithuania and Estonia filed nota to Foreign ministry where it protested against search-ins in one of the consular buildings and car confiscation by Latvian army and expulsions and mobilizations of their citizens.  The nota demanded to make assertive steps until 8 December 12:00 or else the consulates will inform the representatives of Etente and make similar steps towards Latvian citizens in their territory. UNR was concerned by significant flow of refugees of Ukrainian nationals from Russia into Latvia. Latvian Foreign Ministry mostly supported the consulate and even gave it a credit for refugee transit and organization of the courier service.

Latvia and UNR also had numerous contacts in other countries. In London, Great Britain Latvian representative Georgs Bisenieks and UNR counterpart Yaroslavl Olesnitsky made regular meetings informing each other of the military events in both countries. In Warsaw, Poland the Latvian representative Atis Ķeniņš considered an establishment with UNR a top priority. He reported to Prime Minister Kārlis Ulmanis that Ukrainians eagerly wants to make friends with Latvia from whom they want to receive support such as military instructors and aides for economic recovery. Ukrainians also hoped that after liberation of Daugavpils, Ukraine could receive a transit of clothing, shoes and ammunition for its army of 200 000 men. Atis Ķeniņš in talks with Ukrainian side suggested that Latvian Provisional government needs to send emissary to Kyiv. On December 10 1919 the head of UNR directory Symon Petliura with UNR foreign minter A.Lvicky gave nota to Keniņš in Poland where they recognized Latvian independence and their Provisional Government.

On January 2 1920 Volodomir Kedrosky arrived in Riga to establish UNR diplomatic mission. The diplomatic mission was located at Antonija iela 6 (presently within the territory of the Russian embassy). In spring a UNR press bureau was established that informed Latvian press about military and political events in UNR. UNR expected that Latvia will recognize their independence in return without delay. However, Latvian priority was to gain acceptance from Poland first as both countries shared important military ties and shared common border. Only after Latvian –Polish relations suffered brief deadlock after failed talks in Warsaw in March 1920 on March 25 Z. A. Meierovics sent nota to Symon Petliura where he recognized UNR independence. Polish emissary Bronislav Boufal expressed disappointment and call it a result of change in relations between Poland and Latvia. A. Meierovics explained his policy in People’s council on March 10 where he rejected Polish demand to restore the Polish borders of 1776 that would include Belarus and Ukraine. He instead accented the need for sovereign countries in Belarus and Ukraine and reviewed the UNR situation as difficult regarding its relations with Soviet Russia who is not looking for peace with UNR and instead has created a rival Ukrainian Soviet Republic. Polish society was generally against Ukrainian and Belarusian independence while Polish government including General Jozef Pilsudsky was cautiously supportive. Meanwhile UNR military representative in Poland colonel general Viktor Zelinsky asked Latvian military representative Mārtins Hartmanis to support the transfer of Ukrainian soldiers within former units of Yudenich White Guard army stationed in Alūksne to Ukraine including Belarusian general S. Bulak-Balahovich of whose 884 men 24% were Ukrainians. While Latvian side expressed support the UNR mission in Riga was not interested and did not make any contacts with Latvian General Staff. As joint Polish and Ukrainian offensive started Latvian side asked to find out if within soviet prisoners of war there are Ukrainians who could be sent to UNR and found 11 men. However, UNR diplomatic mission did not respond.

On June 2 1920 in Vinnytsia UNR governmental declaration stated that it’s in most importance to have good neighboring relations with Romania and gain most positive agreement with solidary Baltic States. For that reason on June 2 all Latvian citizens serving in UNR army were relieved of duty as both countries have recognized each other. In return Latvia promised to work on refugee re evacuation to Ukraine. Latvian government sent the representative of Refugee re-evacuation society to Ukraine Stulmanis who on June 1 arrived in Kovel and June 3 in Zhytomyr  to make talks with Polish military who was widely responsive and then planned to go to Kyiv, but as situation in front quickly changed he was forced to head back to Latvia.

In August 6 1920 in Bulduri the Baltic States conference was opened to discuss foreign affairs between Baltic countries. UNR tried to gain direct entry into conference. Ukrainian and Belarusian people’s republics sent applications and sent a delegation of journalist Alexander Sadikovsky, V, Kedrovsky, A, Shlugin, economist Mykola Dobrilovsky, businessman S, Frankfurt and L, Zadorzhnij. The head of Lithuanian delegation Jons Šaulis on August 19 issued declaration where he expressed concerns over Ukrainian participation as it would cause protest from Soviet Russia and also doubted the need of Ukrainian participation in the Baltic States conference. Lithuanians however, would still participate even if Ukrainians were admitted. On August 20 it was decided that Belarus cannot take part while UNR can take part as full-time member of the conference. UNR issued memorandum about their state history and current demands and interests. On August 31 UNR representatives signed the project for political convention where member states committed for joint de iure recognition and settle their quarrels in a peaceful way. Few days later a military council was made to create a joint military convention (Lithuania stepped out of it for political reasons) UNR representative colonel Danilchuk and lieutenant colonel Didkovsky. The project for military convention was concluded on October 18-30 that had to be approved by all five member states. Both these conventions were never realized.

Month later in September 21 1920 in Riga Poland and Soviet Union came to discuss peace agreement. Also Soviet Ukraine delegation took part. On October 5 a ceasefire was signed after which UNR senator present in Riga V. Sheluhin and chief of the diplomatic mission V. Kedrovsky gave nota to head of the Polish delegation Jan Dabski where they protested that UNR and Polish diplomatic relations were not taken into concern and UNR had to take part in peace talks. Same nota was also given to Latvian side. Meanwhile Latvia was concerned over the fate of thousands of Latvian refugees in Soviet controlled Ukraine and decided to start talks with Ukrainian Socialist Soviet Republic causing UNR protest that reminded of joint independence recognition and that Ukrainian Socialist Soviet Republic is just puppet regime by Soviet occupants. On February 19 1921 Latvia replied that it always supports the Ukrainian strive for freedom, but the real situation demands to hold talks with power presently in Ukraine. On February 21 1921 UNR diplomatic mission left Latvia and closed the consulate. On May 1921 both Latvian and Ukrainian Socialist Soviet representatives met and both recognized each other’s sovereignty. Thus the Latvian and UNR relations were completely canceled even if year later the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic ceased to exist as sovereign state and was included into Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics.

Latvian and Ukrainian relations during 1917-1921 was based on mutual sympathy even more than between Latvia and Belarus. Contrary to Belarussian People’s Republic the UNR had more chances to establish independent nation and therefore received more international support. However, similar to Belarus it could not survive the wars with Soviets, Poles and anarchist warlords. Plus it was disturbed by its own inner power struggle. Had the events for UNR inside Ukraine would be more fortunate the relations between Latvia and UNR would continue in positive environment as contrary to Belarus both countries had no territorial or ethno-political issues. However, Latvian foreign policy was based on realpolitik – after the Polish-Soviet peace agreement ­it was clear that UNR has no more possibility to exist and Latvia moved on to start talks with Soviet Ukraine. As Latvian top priority was to gain peace agreement with Soviets and settle the refugee question. Today Ukraine is top priority to Latvia foreign policy. Latvian policy is to support Ukraine in its struggle against Russia and it does not recognize Russian occupation of Crimea. Both sides supports each other in various way. However, one must always beware from times when fates of many are dictated by realpolitik and survival.

Selected Sources:

Jēkabsons Ēriks. Latvijas attiecības ar Ukrainas Tautas Republiku (1919-1921) Latvijas Vēsture  Jaunie un Jaunākie laiki 2003 4(52)

Miņins, Aldis (2015) Cīņa par varu Krievijas postimpērijas Rietumu perifērijā. 1917-1920

http://garnizonakauss54.blogspot.com/p/pradzins-fotgrafijas.html

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Latvia and the Belarusian Peoples Republic

Fragment of the map showing new Baltic republics and Belarusian People's Republic. Note the purported Belarusian state includes Latgale, eastern part of Latvia as her territory. Latgale is also shown as territory in dispute for Poland.

Fragment of the map showing new Baltic republics and Belarusian People’s Republic. Note the purported Belarusian state includes Latgale, eastern part of Latvia as her territory. Latgale is also shown as territory in dispute for Poland.

On March 25 1918 national and democratic forces representing the Belarusian nation proclaimed Belarusian Peoples Republic (Bielaruskaja Narodnaja Respublika BNR)  It was done in the spirit of other nations proclaiming independence from the collapsed Russian Empire. Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia were example for Belarusians and Ukrainians who strived for their own unified state. However, during the crucial years of 1918-1920 the BNR did not survive the tides of war and ceased to exist. At the time of its short existence it had established relations with new Republic of Latvia and for a period of time BNR government was stationed in Riga. BNR had military and diplomatic mission working in Riga and its leaders placed hope on Latvian support. Latvia itself was caught in the tough battle for survival in war against Soviet Russia and pro-German forces and had complex relations with Poland so its relations with BNR at start were generally positive, but as BNR went into oblivion Latvia abandoned its support. Latvian main goals was to establish peace with Soviet Russia and settle issues with Poland so in the end BNR was more a obstacle for Latvian foreign policy and its diplomatic mission left Riga forever. This article marks the anniversary of Belarusian Peoples Republic and tells the story of short and forgotten Latvian and Belarusian relations between 1918 and 1921.

Belarusian nation has deep roots from medieval times when its territory was part of Lithuanian Grand Duchy. According to many historians mostly Belarusian ones, the leading elite of the Duchy was not Lithuanians but Belarusian ancestors. Later when Lithuania united with Poland Belarusian lands were influenced by Polish culture. Only after Polish partitions in 1772, 1793 and 1795 Belarus was integrated in spiral of Moscow. During these long years a distinct Belarusian language and culture evolved but it had to survive under heavy Russification policies and also Polonization. On 1918 Russian Empire had collapsed and was forced to cede Belarusian lands to Germany according to Brest-Litovsk peace agreement. An agreement that allowed nations within German occupied lands to decide their own fate. Similar to Baltic nations, there were people among Belarusians who saw chance to establish a national democratic state.

On December 5 – 17 1917 in Minsk (Mensk in Belarusian language) in All-Belarus congress a Central Belarusian Rada was formed however the Russian Soviet of Peoples Commissars in Petrograd rejected the rights of Belarusian autonomy. On January 1918 the All Russia 3th Congress declared the Rada an illegitimate. No repressions followed as on February 1918 Germans stared major offensive and took control over all Belarusian lands.  On February 20 a Belarusian Peoples Secretariat was formed with J. Varonka in the lead. On March 9 Belarusian Rada issued the creation of democratic Belarusian Peoples Republic. On March 25 the BNR proclaimed independence.

Germany did not recognize BNR as it regarded it as a Russian territory. Rada nevertheless created a War Affairs Committee with Kastus (Kanstancin) Jezavitau, in charge. In April Germans banned the Peoples Secretariat. Meanwhile Belarusian Rada fragmented in many leftist parties and with some difficulties created coalition government. Right wingers also joined pleasing the Germans and trade, industry and social welfare was transferred to Peoples Secretariat. BNR was recognized only by Ukrainian Peoples Republic so action was taken to get more diplomatic recognition from its neighbors. On October BNR made white-red-white flag as its official symbol and knight Pahonia the symbol of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was made as coat of arms.

Situation became crucial after Germany stepped out of war and BNR had real chances for independence. However, the Bolsheviks were boosting up offensive to retake lost lands. BNR made agreement with Lithuania. Many members of Rada joined Lithuanian Council (Tariba) and Belarusian Affairs Ministry was made within Lithuanian government with J. Varonka as minister. On December 3 1918 BNR moved to Vilnius while Bolsheviks were approaching Mensk. Soon Bolsheviks headed for Vilnius and BNR moved to Hrodno (Grodno). BNR was in conflict with Poland who had territorial claims on Belarus and after deepening tensions its government moved to Berlin.

On May 1919 Polish forces captured Mensk and BNR leadership moved there. Polish leader Pilsudsky urged Belarusians to join in common union with Poland and make Rada an autonomous body with jurisdiction only in education and culture. BNR rejected and asked for full independence. BNR Rada was weakened by breakup into BNR Supreme Rada and BNR Peoples Rada. Both Rada’s were lead by rivaling leftist parties and Polish government suppressed Peoples Rada.  After major issues BNR government moved to Riga. Poland did not recognized BNR while all three Baltic States, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Germany, Finland and Turkey had formally recognized.

BNR territorial claims were issue on its own as its included territories claimed by Russia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. BNR would include Smolensk (Smolinsk), some small portions of Latvian Latgale and Sēlija regions and parts claimed by Lithuania and Poland. There were some maps that included whole Latgale as BNR territory. The BNR borders were drawn according to Belarusian ethnic borders that conflicted with all neighboring states. Ethnically diverse Latgale was also under dispute by Poland and Lithuania, while Vilnius was major hotspot between Poland and Lithuania. The western Belarus main centers Hrodna and Brest had large Polish populations that wished to be under Warsaw. While neither Bolsheviks nor White forces of Russia did recognize any national independence at all. This created a problematic situation for Belarusian independence.

On autumn 1920 Polish and Soviet peace agreement talks were underway in Riga. BNR government observed that Poles and Soviets are taking part in partition of the Belarusian lands and were not successful in breaking up these actions. This finally made BNR conflicting sides the socialist revolutionaries and socialist federalists  agreed to form unified government. A government led by V Lastovskau became official representative of BNR and BNR Peoples Rada was renamed the BNR Rada. BNR left Riga on November 11 and made agreement on common military union against Poland and started work in Kaunas. On 1923 BNR government and Rada left Kaunas and moved to Prague where it remains until this day still coordinating opposition efforts against Alexander Lukashenko (Lukashenka) authoritarian government in Republic of Belarus.

BNR Diplomatic and military mission in Riga

BNR Diplomatic and military mission in Riga

BNR had high interests in Latvia. First contacts were made on summer of 1919 when BNR Minister of Interior Affairs K Tereshchenko arrived in Riga to establish relations with Latvia. He was interview by local Russian newspaper Rizhkoe Slovo where he issued his plans of creating unified front with Latvians and Lithuanians against the Bolsheviks. BNR had a small armed force incapable defeating Bolsheviks alone. On July 24 he met Kārlis Ulmanis the Prime Minister of Latvian Provisional Government who granted his plea to open BNR consulate in Riga. On August the consulate begun its work with B Shmikovich in charge later replaced by R Kazyachi. Consulate was located in Old Riga at Pils street. BNR flag was raised and consulate begun looking for potential BNR citizens issuing calls in press for Belarusian nationals to apply. BNR tried to level down its territorial claims on Daugavpils district until arrival of military – diplomatic mission to resolve the issue.

 The mission arrived on October 1 1919 with Kastus Jezavitau in charge. He was born in Daugavpils on 1893. On October 3 his delegation met the Latvian Foreign Minister Zigfrīds Anna Meirerovics, to whom he assured BNR support for Latvian independence and wished to join the planned Baltic Union. During the siege of Riga on October-November 1919 by pro-German Army of Bermondt BNR consulate remained in Riga. After Estonia made peace agreement with Soviet Russia BNR wanted to move the armed units led by general S Bulak-Balahovich or so called Belarusian corps to Latvia and use as BNR attack force. BNR stared talks with Latvian side to mobilize men within Latvia for BNR army however the talks failed. Only way to enlist people in Latvia into BNR forces was to make them BNR citizens.

During Battle of Riga and afterwards there was a brief positive period of relations between Latvia and BNR because of BNR representatives supported Latvians in many ways. However, soon many became aware of BNR claims on Latvian border areas most prominently the Ilūkste district (it was also disputed by Poland and Lithuania) and started to question the relations with BNR. As most part of Belarus was under Polish or Soviet rule with active combat actions these good relations were declarative that could change if BNR would gain control over Belarus. BNR could not convince Latvians to station Bulak-Balahovich forces in Latvia or include them into Latvian armed forces; Latvians only agreed them to transit to their homeland. A conflict emerged between BNR consulate and Latvian Army command. BNR consulate was on drive to recruit as much BNR citizens as possible without looking much into their motivation and ethnicity. In result some Latvians and Jews applied for BNR citizenship simply to avoid enlisting in Latvian Armed Forces.

On early 1920 Bulak-Balahovich forces of 800 men entered Latvia and stationed near Alūksne at Estonian border. Jezavitau tried to convince Latvians to include them in to offensive against Bolsheviks in Latgale but talks again failed. On January his unit was included in BNR but soon general broke ties with BNR and moved to Poland to join their army. When Latvian and Polish forces liberated Latgale from the Bolsheviks BNR wished to establish consulates in Daugavpils and Rēzekne. However, the talks with Latvian authorities failed. The Latvian military was skeptical about BNR citizenship registers for they served as tools to avoid army and as BNR only existed on paper there was great doubts. At this time much of Belarus was overrun by Bolsheviks and Polish armies on the Western side.

Latvian side became more reserved to BNR claims and requests. To sort out the Latvian and BNR border issues Latvian foreign ministry offered to create a Latvian-Belarusian commission.   Jezavitau requested secretary J Charpulka and consul B Shimkovich to work in commission, meanwhile Latvians did not rush to name their delegates and the commission never begun work. BNR most success in Latvia was laying foundations for national Belarusian minority by creating Belarusian culture and education society “Batjkovschina” (Fatherland) in Riga. Also a journal in Belarusian “Na Chuzije” (In foreign land) was issued, but only made single issue that contained information about Belarusians in Riga and BNR goals.

Latvian authorities started to feel colder towards BNR and Latvian police started to check BNR citizens to see how valid their citizenship is and even made arrests. BNR authorities protested and checks were stopped. Even some official BNR officials were arrested for instance secretary of BNR Rada J Mamonka was arrested at the Latvian border and 14 600 Russian Imperial Rubles he brought to Riga was confiscated. Border guards disregarded his BNR passport and also his diplomatic papers and only after protests he was released and money returned. BNR was not allowed to take part in Baltic States conference in Bulduri, Finland, Estonia, Lithuania voted against, while Latvia abstained. Only Poland this time because of partial loss of the Belarusian territory had nothing against the BNR participation. On August 11 1920 Latvia made Peace agreement with Soviet Union and relations with BNR was now seen as disadvantageous. The Polish – Soviet peace talks also took place in Riga and both sides were splitting Belarus in half. On October 20 after much Latvian pressure BNR started to gather its bags to leave Latvia. On October 27 BNR leader V Lastovsky pledged Baltic States to support BNR both politically and financially and wished that request for BNR war bases in Baltic States would be considered sometime in future.

On November 11 after making successful talks with Lithuania, BNR moved to Kaunas. Last BNR armed units stationed in Latvia left it after Polish takeover of Vilnius. Most of the Belarusian active community left Riga excluding   Kastus (Kanstancin) Jezavitau who became leader of the Latvian Belarusian minority. Belarusian minority received autonomy in education, had their own societies however on 1924 because of false accusation in separatism many of the Belarusian leaders including Jezavitau were placed on trial greatly straining Latvian-Belarusian relations.

The situation in Belarus between 1918 and 1920 was greatly disadvantageous to Belarusian national independence. It was against the interest of both Bolsheviks and Poland who regarded Belarus as their territory. Latvian relations with BNR were based on realpolitics placing Latvian relations with Soviet Union and Poland above BNR interests. BNR certainly had high hopes in Latvian support, but their powers to defend their homeland were too short and in the end BNR became a state on paper. We can only speculate what would happen if Poland would support independent Belarus and ally with it against Soviets. In the result a fourth Baltic State was lost. The Republic of Belarus that was formed after dissolution of the Soviet Union at first tried to relive the legacy of BNR by using its flag as its national symbol. A few years later Alexander Lukashenko dropped all references to BNR and switched back to Soviet symbolism and turned Belarus into authoritarian nation with Russian tanks marching on the streets on Belarusian independence day. But, BNR is not dead. Its Rada still works in Prague. The BNR flag and its coat of arms has become a symbol of the democratic opposition and praised by the Belarusian democratic youth. If democratic Belarus has any future then ideas of BNR will be its guideline for Belarus to become a full fourth Baltic State and member of Europe.

Flag of BNR in Riga in April 2014

Flag of BNR in Riga in April 2014

Selected sources:

Jēkabsons, Ēriks. (1996) Latvijas un Baltkrievijas Tautas Republikas attiecības. (1919-1920) Latvijas Arhīvi. 1-2. 

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Latvia-Soviet Russia Peace Agreement August 11 1920

Latvia - Soviet Russia peace agreement on August 11 1920

Latvia – Soviet Russia peace agreement on August 11 1920

On August 11 1920 Latvia and Soviet Russia signed a historic landmark peace agreement. For Latvia it was a guarantee for the independence and sovereignty for years to come. For Soviet Russia, later Soviet Union it was only a temporally setback and 20 years later Latvians learned the deceitful nature of the Soviet diplomacy.   How this peace agreement took place and whats the story behind it – it will be discussed in this article.

On late 1918 the Bolshevik hopes for Worldwide Socialist Revolution were in upswing. Bolsheviks broke the Brestlitovsk peace agreement with Germany they signed themselves and now gathered troops to regain control over Baltic States and Poland. The ultimate goal was Berlin and beyond. Soviet offensive on January 1919 was successful at first – Riga and much of the Lithuania was captured and soviet republics were established there. However, their fight against Estonians and Poles were unsuccessful – on February 1919 Estonians already chased out Bolsheviks from their territory and moved in Northern Latvia. Polish forces pushed into Lithuania and Belarus. Therefore Bolsheviks were forced to ask for peace negotiations to Estonia first.  On March 22 Soviet Russia trough the Hungarian Soviet Government  Foreign Minister Bela Kun sent first peace proposal. The short-lived Hungarian Soviet Republic was used for contacts with the western countries and Hungarians as Estonian ethnic brothers were specially used for such matter. However, when Estonians received the peace proposal on April, it was turned down because of British interference. The Great Britain placed hopes on White Russian forces and therefore wanted Baltic states to support them by continuing war against soviets. Later on August 1919 Estonians again received peace proposals, but turned down because of further British resentment and being unsure about Latvia and Lithuania who did not receive any peace proposals yet.

On March 1919 the Latvian Socialist Soviet Republic still controlled large parts of Latvian territory. The Latvian Soviet government tried to realize fanatic communist ideas in even more radical way then their counterparts in Russia. As the regime begun to disintegrate the genocidal policies of the LSSR begun to affect the diplomatic scene. Soviets took hostages on retreat mainly Baltic Germans and German and Danish citizens. Danes and Germans were unable to contact the LSSR government so the question was undertaken by the soviet foreign commissar Georgy Chicherin. Danish Red Cross sent delegation to Petrograd to negotiate the hostage release. Doctor from Riga L T Lukyanov was sent by Latvian Provisional Government to find ways how to start peace negotiations with the soviets. He was instructed by foreign minister Zigfrīds Anna Meireovics and colonel Jānis Balodis. In Moscow he met the top member of the Soviet Foreign Peoples Commissariat Maxim Litvinov, showing that it was important for soviets to seek negotiations with Latvia.

Only on August 1919 three Baltic States and Finland received peace proposals. Soviets were endangered by the White Russian armies and wanted to stop the Baltic States supporting them. And Soviets were concerned about Poland of who they were afraid of gaining more power over Baltic States and attempting to organize a joint offensive against Moscow. None of this were correct, as Poland failed to establish full power over Lithuania and the attempt by the British General F  G Marsh to organize joint Polish, White guard and Baltic offensive were not approved by the British government. However, Vladimir Lenin took this seriously and wanted to isolate Baltic States from Poland by singing peace agreements.

On August 31 1919 Estonia received proposal for negotiations, then on September 11 Finland and Latvia. Lithuania was asked on the same day, but because the proposals were sent using  juzogramm( a special type of telegram) it reached them on September 15. While Estonia received promises to fully recognize their national borders which they were in control off, Latvia and Lithuania only received note that soviets are ready for talks. Latgale was still under the Soviet control and in Zemgale Pro-German forces were preparing for assault on Riga. Lithuanian borders were still in question. Estonia that fully controlled its territory and was pathway to Petrograd was in better position for full peace talks.

Soviets wanted to negotiate alone with every Baltic State to disallow united position. They wanted to negotiate with Estonia first as General Yudenich White forces approached Petrograd. Estonia rejected and asked to make negotiations with Soviet Russia and all three Baltic States together. A conference in Tallinn on September 14-15 was called to discuss this. Latvia was not sure about this as Latgale was still under Soviet control and Pro-German forces were preparing for attack.  As excuse to turn down such negotiations were the reaction of the UK and France that would dislike such talks. However, British cabinet was moving towards allowing Baltic States to allow peace negotiations  with the Soviets. However, all sides were convinced on signing only ceasefire as peace with Soviets seemed unreal at that time.

As Latvia was unable to gain guarantees on Latgale from other states and Finland suggested not to rush, but wait for UK and French acceptance the united stance on negotiations  with Soviets was not reached. On September 24-25 UK changed its policy and allowed Baltic States to organize negations with Soviets. Estonians who already foresaw this change of policy were impressed, while Latvia and Finland for their own reasons were still careful to start peace talks. On October 6 Latvian Peoples Council first discussed the peace negotiation possibility with the soviets. Foreign Minister Z A Meierovics was insisting on discussing peace only with democratic Russia, gaining wide neutral zone and compensations from Russia. Such way was impossible and was proposed to delay talks. Social Democrats proposed to start negotiations immediately, but on note that Latgale should be abandoned by the soviets and LSSR disbanded. In following days the discussions were halted by the pro-German offensive on the Latvian forces. So called West Russian Volunteer Army  commanded by General “count” Pavel Bermondt-Avalov and Rüdiger von der Goltz was formed from local Germans and ex imperial army German soldiers together with Russian army POWS. For two months Latvian government was caught up in fight with Bermontd army until ultimate victory on November.

On November 11-19 in Tartu all three Baltic States representatives including Poland and Finland met together and again discussed negotiations with the Soviets. Estonia now was ready to sign peace deal separately as Yudenich army was broken and Estonian army was tired. Latvia was still fighting Bermondt and Soviets in Latgale. Lithuania was rather concerned with war with Poland and even Latvia. Poland was unable to have any negotiations with Soviets at all. Finland was not in a hurry and disregarded the Baltic positions. The unity was broken, nor it was possible.

On November 6 Latvian delegation to Moscow including nationalist Arveds Bergs, social democrat Fricis Menders and others were instructed to note soviets that only united talks with all Baltic states are possible with support from UK and France.  This a principal yet unrealistic stance by Meireovics or an attempt to delay talks until Latgale is gained back my military means. On November 17 Litvinov insisted on signing peace agreement on spot and promised to leave Latgale. Despite Menders and Litvinov being old revolutionary comrades from 1905 revolutions talks went nowhere because of official Latvian stance. And also Arveds Bergs despite recognizing Litvinov as  “skillful and clever Jew” distrusted his intentions on leaving Latgale. Only thing reached by all Baltic States was the hostage exchange with the Soviet Russia.

On December 5 Estonians started separate talks with Soviets. Lenin and Chicherin were positive on peace agreement while communist hotheads Leon Trotsky and Grigory Zinoviev insisted on second invasion that was rejected by Lenin. Latvia sent their representatives to observe the talks and try to initiate talks with soviets. Estonians were hostile to Latvian delegation and tried to isolate them as much as possible. Menders again used his revolutionary past to approach his old Menshevik  comrade Yoffe and gained soviet confidence on starting secret peace   negotiations with Latvia. Using him Meierovics sent a secret letter to Moscow issuing demands for negotiations – Latgale must be abandoned and LSSR disbanded, and talks must be secret under the guise of Latvian Red Cross delegation. On December 19 Latvian envoy in secret meeting in Tallinn coffee stand gave the letter secretly to Yoffe. The Estonian Secret Police rushed in and arrested them. But message reached Moscow and on December 24 Moscow replied that they accept the Latvian therms.

Despite Soviet promise to leave Latgale, the leader of the Latvian Provisional government Kārlis Ulmanis was sure to regain Latgale by military means.    On December 13 last units of the defeated Bermontd army left the Lithuanian territory. Latvia had to ask either Lithuanian or Polish support for the military campaign in Latgale. Both new countries had ambitions to restore their past empires, that would include significant Latvian parts or Latvia as whole. Lithuanian demands were arrogant and unrealistic, they demanded Ilūkste district and even Daugavpils. Poland despite ambition to restore the borders of 1772 where more forthcoming because of coming military offensive towards the east. They needed Latgale secure from Soviets to aid their attack. On December 29 a Latvian-Polish military cooperation agreement was signed for the Latgale campaign. Some days later on December 31 Estonia and Soviet Russia signed ceasefire. Soviets recognized their independence and borders.

On January 2 1920 Latvia sent the Red Cross Delegation to Moscow and on January 3 Latvian – Polish armies started their assault on Latgale. Fricis Menders and Augusts Frīdenbergs reached Moscow despite going trough front lines and nearly getting killed on January 6. Chicherin was angry about the Latvian-Polish offensive and turned down his old Menshevik comrade. On January 11 Soviets gave unreasonable demands to neutralize Latgale and give it self-determination rights. On January 14 Soviets no longer demanded the Latgale autonomy, but demanded to give a month to leave Latgale and asked Latvians to leave Pytalovo  that was taken by Latvian army. They also refused to disband the Latvian Red Riflemen. Meanwhile on January 15-16 another joint conference by the new states in Helsinki took place bringing no results. Unity was impossible as Lithuania wanted war with Poland and Latvia, they already seized some Latvian border lands they refused to leave. Meirovics were afraid of the Baltic balkanization – driving region to ethnic border wars and proposed a wide alliance. Finland and Estonia were not interested and talks went nowhere.

On January 30 at 3:00 in the night the ceasefire between Latvia and Russia was reached. Latvian army had taken over all Latgale. Parts of the ceasefire regarding the disbanding the Latvian Communist Party in Moscow and halting anti-Latvian propaganda were never realized. Ceasefire should had started on February 1, however Poland insisted to capture the city of Drisa (Verkhnyadzvinsk) for strategic purposes. That was done and new ceasefire on  February 1 was signed making new demarcation line. The ceasefire took effect on 12:00 at February 1.

On February 2 Estonia signed peace agreement with Soviet Russia first of the three Baltic States to do so. Estonians in return for recognizing independence agreed on not demanding financial compensations and allowed full rights for Soviet transit in Estonia. Estonia received 15 millions of gold as reward for being the first to allow such transit privileges.  Estonia also received the territories of Eastern Narva and Pechori (Petseri). Same as later Pytalova they were mainly Russian inhabited regions.

Latvia was reluctant to give such privileges for the soviets and wanted compensations from Russia. Large numbers of factories and equipment were moved to Russia from Riga on 1915 and Latvia wanted it back. And still Meierovics hoped on joint Latvian, Polish and Lithuanian talks despite being completely impossible. Poland insisted on  delaying the talks, Finland too. Meanwhile  UK was now moving towards reconciliation with Soviet Russia and was hostile towards Polish will to fight further. Britain insisted Latvia to stop siding with Poles for it will do no good. Latvians hoped for conference in Riga as follow up for Helsinki conference but it never took place. Poland started marching towards Belarus and Ukraine.

Because of these reasons the talks on peace agreement started two months later. Latvia was issuing high demands on compensations 37,5 million golden rubles were demanded and 72 million rubles for injured soldier families. Latvians were also skeptical on soviet transit rights. Also commissions in Riga demanded to give 40 year concession for Volga -Daugava canal. Such canal has never been built until this day. Such fantastic demands made by commissions in Riga were made in disregard of the real situation in Russia. Soviets were either unable or unwilling to fulfill such demands. Also as the first election took place the peace talks now became part of the party battle. Latvian Green Farmers combated Social Democrats. Menders was removed from leading the talks, A Zēbergs the deputy of the foreign minister was appointed as the head of the negotiations.

On April 10 the delegation finally traveled to Moscow. 34 people delegation in Sebezh, met the first group of Latvian hostages including social democrat V Bastjānis and doctor V Mintz who treated Lenin’s assassination attempt injuries. As all demanded hostages were gathered the exchange took place on April 16. On this day the delegation reached Moscow and was “greeted” by angry Latvian communists who protested against the peace agreement. Despite all attempts to preserve the LSSR in Latgale and convince Lenin to keep fighting, the LSSR was disbanded. LCP despite being still active part of Commnintern was lost and confused. Zēbergs was unsuitable for leading the talks the Yoffe got better of him and rejected all kinds of demands for compensations. Soviets also wanted Drisa and Pytalovo back. Zēbergs who wanted fast talks was angry about this and demanded Meireovics to come to Moscow himself which Meirovics rejected. He was caught up in forming the new government and did not feel no need to head to Moscow.

Then talks went to halt as Poland started major offensive towards Kyiv. While Latvians believed this will make Soviets to sign peace agreement with Latvia faster, soviets regarded Latvians and Polish allies and made aggressive statements. As soviets pushed Poles back they hoped to capture Warsaw and make a difference in Baltic-Soviet relations. Soviets however gave up Pytalova and surrounding areas, but did not want to give up Drisa. In the end Verkhnyadzvinsk a mostly a Belarusian city was given up to Soviet Russia. Pytalova was gave up by Soviets because of war of Poland and Latvian reluctance to give it back. On May 22 Zēbergs unsatisfied with his work left Moscow and later resigned from delegation. He was replaced by Jānis Veismanis.

Talks again were brought to halt after Meierovics was cited in Latvian Russian newspaper about plans about Baltic state military convention against Soviet Russia. Such convention was in plans on this time, but made Soviets halt the talks. On June 17 Soviets rejected Latvian demands on compensating or returning the lost pre WWI industrial equipment. On July 9 the sick and exhausted Latvian delegation asked to head back to Riga and resume talks there. Reluctant soviets worried by the strain on propaganda agreed, but noted that the final agreement must be signed in Moscow. On July 12 after peace agreement with Lithuania soviet delegation arrived in Riga and were met with hostility from the press.

As soviets pushed offensive towards Warsaw that would lead to ultimate capture of Berlin, the soviets openly rejected any economical demands from Latvia.  Lithuania meanwhile signed dubious peace agreement with Soviets, where Lithuania acquired Vilnius, Belarusian Hrodna, Polish Augstowa and Suvalki and in secret protocol allowed to use its territory for soviets against their war on Poland. However, as soon a soviets captured Vilnius instead of giving it to Lithuania they installed a soviet government there. It took month for Lithuanians to convince Russians to evict from Vilnius. During the final faze on Soviet war against Poland the Soviet delegation became even more reluctant and hostile towards Latvian counterparts. Meireovics included multi-party representatives including social democrats that soviets disliked. Social Democrats rejected to take part in the first Commitern congress. Soviets were running out of patience – battle for Warsaw was close. Latvians also had enough. Soviets at least returned a half amount of  locomotives and train wagons taken away during WWI. On August 7 Soviet representative Ivans Lorencs sent message to Moscow that Latvian demands are unbearable and that we need to organize a local invasion, dress up Red Army men as “green partisans”, kill some nobles, kulaks and priests. That was not necessary on August 9 the agreement was reached, Soviets finally agreed to compensate 4 million golden rubles in two months. Latvia gave up Drisa but kept Pytalova later called Abrene.

On August 11 12:40 the peace agreement took place. It was signed in Riga not Moscow as originally intended. On August 12-15 the Polish army sealed this agreement by defeating the Soviets near Warsaw and chasing them away. The peace agreement between Poland and Soviet Russia was signed in Riga on March 18. Without Polish victory the Baltic States would be in danger. Soviets stated in the agreement that “for eternal times to come they will respect and will not endanger the Latvian independence”.   The first article stated that “The state of war existing between the Parties shall be ended as of the effective date of this Peace Treaty.”Article 2 declared the independence and sovereignty of Latvia and Article 3 set the borders of the State of Latvia, while also creating deadlines by which foreign troops should leave. Articles 4-6 dealt with military affairs and war damage, Article 7 with provisions for the return of prisoners of war, should they desire to return. Articles 8 through 9 concerned citizenship, repatriation of refugees, and property claims. Adults aged 18 or older were free to choose either Latvian or Russian citizenship, the default being that individuals were citizens of the state in which they resided at the time the treaty was signed. Articles 11 through 16 dealt with reparations Russia was to make to the Latvian state and its citizens. Articles 17 and 18 dealt with commercial, transit, postal and navigation arrangements and Article 19 with diplomatic relations. Article 20 address nationality issues and Article 21 established a commission to handle issues of mutual interest. Articles 22 and 23 deal with treaty technicalities such as language and ratification. August 11 was celebrated as Victory day.

Latvia could not gain its lost infrastructure, that was however technically belonged to Russian Empire on 1915, but was on Latvian soil. For next 20 years the agreement was guarantee for Latvian independence and sovereignty. German statesman Otto von Bismark stated many years before that its pointless to believe that Russia will fulfill its signed treaties. For next 20 years Soviet Union under Lenin and Stalin plotted the next world war. When the chance finally came on 1939 Stalin had no problem breaking the peace treaty of 1920. The “eternal times” lasted only 20 years after Latvia was occupied and annexed. On 1944 Soviet Union took away Abrene and joined back to Russia. Russia only fulfills agreements as long as its up to its imperial interests. The Budapest Memorandum on Ukraine on 1994 was advantageous for Russia as its removed nuclear weapons from Ukraine and also guaranteed its borders.   On 2014 the borders of Ukraine and its sovereignty was no   longer advantageous for Russia, it was advantageous now to violate it. The Latvian – Soviet Russia peace agreement with Russia shows that only agreement Russia accepts is made by blood   and iron  not by paper. Diplomacy is weakness for Russia, the only diplomacy Russia understands is force.

Selected Sources:

Stranga, Aivars. (2000) Latvijas – Padomju Krievijas Miera līgums. 1920. gada 11. augusts. Rīga. Fonds “Latvijas Vēsture”

http://www.mfa.gov.lv/en/policy/peace-treaty/

 

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Soviet Latvia 1918-1920

The emblem of the Latvian Socialist Soviet Republic

The emblem of the Latvian Socialist Soviet Republic

During the 1918-1920 War for Freedom, Latvia had three alternatives- the Republic of Latvia, Baltic German Duchy and Latvia as the Soviet Republic. From the end of 1918 to early 1920 in the various parts of Latvia a communist regime called Latvian Socialist Soviet Republic existed. Despite being dependent on communist government in Moscow and part of the Soviet plan for the Worldwide socialist revolution, it was formed by local Latvian Bolsheviks or lielinieki as Latvians called them. It was a harsh totalitarian regime that could serve as prototype for future totalitarian regimes. In its short time of existence the  regime attempted to make a Stalinist style collectivization and organize its own army. This article will attempt to explain this seldom researched topic in detail.

The roots of Latvian Marxism begun in late 19th century during rapid modernization and industrialization. Socialism became very popular among the working class Latvians and middle class educated circles. On 1904 the Latvian Social Democratic Workers Party (LSDWP) was founded gathering around a wide spectrum of socialists, from anarchists to radical Marxists. The revolution of 1905 was crucial for LSDWP as it took the main role in local activities and lead the uprising against the tsarist regime. However, the failure of the revolution weakened and split the party. Many active leaders were exiled or sent to Siberia. One small faction by the lead of Peter the Painter took the anarchist route, others moved towards Russian Socialists lead by Vladimir Lenin. The democratic and national minded politicians fell out and were called mensheviks or mazinieki in Latvian and lost the in the power struggle. On 1906 LSDWP joined the Russian Social Democratic Workers Party (RSDWP) becoming an autonomous territorial entity called Latvian Social Democracy (LSD). LSD became more and more Bolshevik and formed the most part of the  RSWDWP.

The First World war was calamity for Latvia. The German invasion on 1915 caused a large masses of refugees to go to Russia. The evacuation of industrial objects lead to the rise of poverty. And Latvian lands were divided in German -Russian front line for two years. The right-wing politicians used to war to raise patriotic feelings among Latvians and convinced Tsar Nicholas II to form a Latvian Rifleman Regiments within the Russian army to defend Riga. Tsar had his doubts about it, he remembered the 1905. Meanwhile LSD took the anti-war position that proved successful. Latvian Rifleman were torn in bloody battles Christmas battles on 1917 January and were angered by the lack of support from Russian army formation and the incompetence of the Russian leadership.

After the February revolution the Bolsheviks managed to  take over the Latvian Rifleman. The LSD despite made legal was weakened by the repressions and the fact that many were forced to emigrate to Russia and Europe. In Russian controled Vidzeme and Riga, Bolsheviks started to organize various soviets that were beyond the Russian Provisional government control. Riga City Workers Soviet and Landless Peasant Soviet were the main Bolshevik ruling organs. On April 29 – May 1 1917 in Valmiera Landless Peasant Congress elected Bolshevik lead Vidzeme Landless Peasant Soviet and were formed in every parish in the region. Soviets issued order to confiscate the lands of church and estates. Since Latvian peasants owned a small portion of land compared to noble estates and church the move was supported.

Similar soviets were organized within the Latvian Rifleman. The Russian Provisional Government was unable to step out of the war. That many Latvian soldiers to protest, however, most still wanted to defend their homeland. Slowly the LSD took over Latvian Executive Rifleman Committee (Iskolatstrel) and gained the rifleman support. LSD promised to end war, gain back lost lands of Courland and Semigalia and give land to everyone. Right wing politician realistic goal to continue war had no real political gains and could not favor the masses.  However, it was a political delusion  that was impossible to achieve. Despite being a totalitarian party LSD took part in four democratic elections, town council, Vidzeme Land Council, regional council, and in the Constituent Assembly. LSD won in all of them achieving a landslide victories. However, the voter activity was only above 30% showing that most people did not understand the point of these elections.

Germans started a grand offensive on September 1917 and captured Riga. Latvian Rifleman in the Battles of Jugla took the most hit, while cowardly and disorganized Russian army units retreated. Germans were unable to move swiftly to take over all Vidzeme. So after the communist coup in November 7 (October) Vidzeme were taken over by Bolsheviks. On November 21-22 in Valka the Soviet power was issued. The Executive Committee (Iskolat) was led by Fricis Roziņš. Iskolat fired all governing bodies – the land councils and town councils. Many democratic newspapers were banned. Revolutionary Tribunals were formed and Red Guard was organized. The Iskolat in Vizdeme and Latgale managed to rule only few months until February 1918. However, the Iskolat was ready to nationalize all rural and industrial property.

Germans resumed their offensive and on February 1918 captured all Vidzeme and Latgale. On they way of retreat the Red Guards took hostages many of them did not survive. LSD was shaken by the events and split in two parts. Fricis Menders and Pauls Kalniņš formed Latvian Social Democratic Workers Party. Others were either deported to Russia by Germans or escaped themselves. The LSD now was directed from Moscow. Iskolat was a prelude to future Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic.

As discussed in other articles Latvians took significant posts in Soviet government, army and secret police. Latvian Rifleman despite weakened by the loss of their homeland were still ready to fight and helped to form the Red Army. Despite the peace agreement with Germany that gave Baltic provinces, Belarus and Ukraine away, Bolsheviks waited for Germany to lose against the Western Allies and prepared for war. Latvia was to be taken back. On November 18 1918 the time struck when revolution in Germany brought down the Imperial government and forced Germany to end war. Soviets were convinced that socialist takeover in Germany is imminent and canceled the Brest-Litiosvk peace agreement. However, the German communists were too weak to take over alone. The Red Army had to lead the Red Crusade towards Berlin.

For this Bolsheviks needed first to re-conquer Latvia and form a national soviet republic dependent on Moscow. However, the LSD only wanted to restore Iskolat style government – an autonomous Latvia within Soviet Russia. They wanted to form a “United Latvian Commune”, that would include Courland, Vidzeme,Latgale and Riga Commune. The man leading this idea was Pēteris Stučka. He did not want an independent Latvia, nor a formally sovereign soviet republic. Moscow meanwhile pushed for national soviet republic that would fit the popular self-determination doctrine issued by US president Woodrow Wilson. Of course such national soviet republic would be completely dependent on Moscow and annexed in to World Socialist State.

One of the pushers for Latvian Socialist Soviet Republic was Joseph Stalin, he condemned the LSD intentions and November 23 demanded to form revolutionary Latvian provisional government, declare its foundation on of the close border posts like Toroshina. He did this on behalf of Lenin, the national question was also Stalin’s prime responsibility. LSD was forced to submit to Stalin’s commands and made a list government members and committee to form manifest.

On December 4 the Latvian Provisional Soviet Government was formed. Red Army had already crossed Latvian borders on November 22-23, on November 29 Rēzekne was captured by the soviet troops. Meanwhile the Estonian Soviet Government was declared already after taking of Narva on November 29. Despite Stalin orders to form the government on spot, Latvian communists delayed and tried to avoid the forming the Soviet Latvia. LSD members in Latvia were surprised by this move as the order to proclaim the republic came from Moscow and was against LSD ideology that denied national sovereignty.

On December 17 1918 the Soviet Power was declared in Latvia. There is common misconception that declaration power in Valka, although it was  captured day later. The Soviet government entered Valka only on December 22. In reality the declaration was issued in press and radio and many received these news many days later. This was done reluctantly while Estonian communists showed great enthusiasm.

Invasion towards west begun on November 15 1918. On November 18 in Riga the Latvian Republic was proclaimed. Supported by right-wing parties like Latvian Farmers Union it was also supported by LSDWP who however, declared Latvian Republic as temporary solution for their goals. Remaining German army and authorities also saw Latvian Provisional Government this way and formed a temporary alliance with them against Bolsheviks. Their goal of  forming the Baltic Duchy failed and now on behalf of UK and France they had to cooperate with Latvians to defend their possessions.

 Latvian Red Riflemen took part in invasion despite Moscow being reluctant to move them to Western Front. Most Latvian units were scattered all across Civil War front and were vital in struggle against White Guards. However, Red Army clearly lacked enough forces to lead a wide offensive towards Baltic region, Belarus and Poland. On December 18 Valka was captured. Then it was ordered to pursue attack towards Riga. However, the Latvian red regiments should instead attack Parnu and then Tallinn, while other Soviet forces lead the attack from Ogre and Pļaviņas from Latgale side. That was a crucial mistake, since the Red Army was unable to defeat the Estonian National Forces that later turned crucial for the Soviet Latvia.

Latvian communist ambitions took over strategic considerations as  they rushed towards Riga. On December 30 crucial victory was held at Inčukalns. Red Rifleman defeated the German formed Landeswerh (Land Guard), Latvian Company loyal to Latvian Provisional government refused to take part in the battle. On January 2 1919 Latvian Provisional Government left Rīga and head to Liepāja. Next day Landeswerh and German Iron Brigade along with few remaining Latvian units evacuated from Riga. On January 3 Riga was taken by Soviets. Massive arrests started and Riga Soviet Militia was formed to keep order.

Pēteris Stučka and his soviet government in Riga

Pēteris Stučka and his soviet government in Riga

With German and Latvian units in retreat the Soviet power was established in Latgale, Vidzeme, Rīga and Zemgale. Soviets sent Latvians back to Latvia to take part in the new soviet state. Russian Bolsheviks were reluctant against massive Latvian will to head towards their homeland in risk of loosing valuable workforce. On January 13 1919 the United Latvia workers, rifleman and landless peasant congress took place. Congress continued until   January 15 and made the constitution and many resolutions. With Lev Kamenev and Yakov Sverdlov as special guests the LSSR Constitution was proclaimed. Since Pēteris Stučka the leader of the Soviet government had helped to write the Constitution of Russian Socialist Federal Soviet Republic the LSSR constitution was very similar. The United Latvian Workers Soviet Congress became the highest governing body. It elected Latvian Central Executive Committee that served as legislative body.  LCEC elected the 11 member Soviet Government.

Similar to Russia all main sectors were guided by commissariats and corresponding departments. LSSR had no Foreign Commissariat, only Foreign Secretariat showing that Latvian communists had no interest in diplomacy. All power was in LSD and republic was in fact a single party dictatorship.   In resolution about relations with Russia it was proposed that after war Latvian proletariat should unite with their Russian brothers and live in brotherly union. It was according to original reluctance  of forming soviet republic. The flag, coat of arms and even the name of the republic was formed in the same way as RSFSR.

Latvian communists were convinced in their quest for worldwide socialist revolution and saw Latvia as flaming torch against the revolutionary enemy powder tower. Pēteris Stučka declared a steadfast move to socialism. To start this a Red Terror was initiated. At first it was chaotic, made towards former governmental workers and keeping the order. Special local investigative commissions were formed and first revolutionary tribunal in Vecgulbene on December 18. After realizing all these institutions were working independently beyond government control the LSSR Commissariat of Justice   begun to take direct control over them. Revolutionary Tribunals were made in every district. The goal was the struggle and extermination of bourgeoisie.

Armed Latvian communist women. Many women took part in the soviet atrocities

Armed Latvian communist women. Many women took part in the soviet atrocities

The class war started with the removal of political rights for everyone except  workers. Next step was struggle against private property. To assist front line  confiscations of personal belongings  were issued by force. After that the people considered bourgeoisie started were forced to take part in social work. Nobles, land and real estate owners, tradesman, businessman and intellectuals were sent to work on streets and heavy works. Those who resisted were threatened with revolutionary tribunal and concentration camp.

As the front line reports became more threatening, the enslavement was no longer enough. On the frontline communist groups took hostages and cleared the prisons on retreat.  On March 14 first mass execution in Riga took place.  57 prisoners were shot. Next day in Riga Female Prison 30 people were killed. At the end of March 200 people were shot in Riga main prions. Executions took place in country side and in Daugavpils far from frontlines. 98 people were shot there on March 26-27. If that was not enough an order was issued to forcibly move people from Riga Central Districts to remote places such as Zaķusala, Kundziņslala and Sarkandaugava.Hundreds of thousand people were moved, the exact number is unknown. People were sent to ghetto like envoriments

One of the main sufferers of the terror were Baltic Germans. As front came closer soviets begun to take hostages 91% of imprisoned hostages were Germans. More than thousand people were taken hostage. Nationalistic hate towards Germans was clearly present in soviet Latvian ideology and was seen as revenge for the events of 1905 and beyond.

The main terror institutions were Interior affairs commissariat and commissariat of Justice. In contrary to Russia, own Latvian Emergency Commission the Latvian version of Cheka was not made. As Cheka in Russia was autonomous from other state institutions causing problems, Latvian soviets made secret police within Interior Affairs commissariat called Political Department. The “trials” were made by revolutionary tribunals. Soviets managed to build concentration camps  in various parts of Latvia. Largest one was in city of Pļaviņas.

The amount of victims by the Red Terror is not precisely known. One account names 3632 of them 1549 murdered in Riga. Pēteris Stučka later himself claimed to have killed 1000 people during his rule. Various documents deny us to make precise calculations. The Latvian Soviet government had genocidal character as it was clear attempt to exterminate completely various  social and ethnic groups. The terror was disproportional to actual resistance and increased because  of front line problems. The terror only boosted the resistance against the regime.

The reason for this was also radical economic reforms. Steps were taken to completely destroy the private property. First drastic emergency tax was instituted against bourgeoisie and confiscation of the capital. Then in February banks were nationalized. Then on March 1 1919 major step was done to begin nationalization of all rural lands. Land owners became renters and had to sign contract to use the land further. It was done according to teachings of Karl Marx that expropriation and land rent would ensure state income. However, Stučka was planning to create soviet collective farms.  This was the move that made people against the soviet power. Instead of giving land to landless peasants everything was taken by the state and gathered in collective farms. On March 8 last decree was made to confiscate all industrial, trade and agricultural enterprises in value of 10 0000 ruble. Only thing that soviets were unable to ban was money, but they hoped to ban it sometime later.

First of May parade in Riga where now stands Monument of Liberty

First of May parade in Riga where now stands Monument of Liberty

To defend this “paradise” from foreign threat on January 4 a Soviet Latvian Army was founded. While strategically such formation was not needed as it would be made from Red Army units it was a political display to “prove” the sovereignty of the LSSR. First commander was Jukums Vācietis also the Commander in Charge of the Red Army. Formed mainly from Latvian Riflemen it was controlled by the Latvian soviets. More than 7000 people joined voluntarily. Then the mobilization was issued. It took place on many occasions when front line was in danger. Despite large influx of soldiers contributed by mobilization the army soon break apart following military collapse  of the Soviet Latvia.

This long story was ultimately ended by the Estonian army and after that by the Latvian – German forces. While soviets were holding congress in Riga on January, the Estonian army effectively resisted the Red forces. South Estonia was lost and Estonian army headed towards Valka. On January 31 Estonians captured Valka and moved into Latvian Northern Vidzeme. Then Soviet Latvian Army faced troubles in Courland. Soviets captured Jelgava and moved towards river Venta. Despite German – Latvian forces weakened and divided, the offensive stopped as soviets moved forces to Vidzeme against Estonians. On January 29 1919 battles erupted at Skrunda along river Venta.  On February German Iron Division and Landeswerh captured Kuldīga and Vetspils. On March 3 anti-soviet forces begun offensive towards Jelgava. On March 18 Landeswerh captured Jelgava.

One of the ships in the Soviet Latvian War Fleet. Slogan on side says Death to Capitalism!

One of the ships in the Soviet Latvian War Fleet. Slogan on side says Death to Capitalism!

The taking of Riga was imminent, few defeated and in rush formed units defended city for a week. Large masses of soviet soldiers, deserters, officials begun to leave the city. Prison populations were executed. Soviets held Riga all April while trying to push away Estonians facing miserable defeat against smaller enemy force. As in May German and Polish forces chased away soviets from Latvia. Then on May 12 Estonian forces and White Guards marched   towards Petrograd. On May 26 Pskov was captured. Soviet Latvia was effectively in siege from two sides. Soviet High command demanded to leave Riga, however Latvian communists resisted for loosing Riga would mean the breakup of the regime. The Soviet Latvian Army was deserting, the partisan activity on the rise. Because of harsh economic policies the soviets lost their support.

On May 22 at early morning anti-soviet forces begun offensive towards Riga. Latvia 1st Special Brigade, Landeswerh, Iron Divison broke trough the LRA lines and rolled in Riga. Soviet government escaped towards Latgale. As German forces entered Riga a new wave of terror – the White Terror was made against remaining soviet supporters. Germans took their revenge once again. LRA was broken and retreated to Latgale. 60-70% soldiers deserted the soviet ranks. On July 7 it was disbanded and renamed to 15th Army. LSD now known as Latvian Communist Party was in disarray and the question was raised of liquidation of the LSSR. Officially the LSSR still formally existed until January 1920 when Polish – Latvian forces liberated Latgale. Until then the LSSR was under Moscow dictate and its government was powerless. After Latvia was liberated and signed peace agreement, LCP worked in Latvia in underground while old LSSR leaders worked in Latvia and were erased by Stalin’s purges.

The Soviet Latvia on 1918-1920 was a totalitarian regime, that tried to realize the Marxist ideals at full-scale. Its terror and actions were mostly dictated by  ideological beliefs rather than strategical considerations. In its short time of existence this regime managed to realize a limited genocide against middle and high-class members and local German population. If such regime managed to survive and be victorious against its rivals, Latvia would suffer major social and ethnic changes and today would be comparable to Belarus. The Latvian Socialist Soviet Republic is also comparable to present day “Donetsk Peoples Republic” and “Peoples Republic of Luhansk” both a fake puppet terror states conducting genocidal policy on behalf of Moscow.

Selected Sources:

Šilinš, Jānis. (2013) Padomju Latvija 1918-1920. Rīga. Vēstures Izpētes un popularizēšanas biedrība.

Popoff, George (1932). The City of the Red Plague: Soviet Rule in a Baltic Town. London; New York: George Allen & Unwin; E.P. Dutton & Co

Pētersone, Inga. (Ed) (1999) Latvijas Brīvības cīņas, 1918-1920 : enciklopēdija. Riga: Preses Nams.
Bērziņš, Valdis. (2000) 20. gadsimta Latvijas vēsture. I, Latvija no gadsimta sākuma līdz neatkarības pasludināšanai, 1900-1918. Riga: Latvijas vēstures institūta apgāds.

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The Latvian Red Rifleman in the Russian Civil War 1917-1922

The Monument of the Latvian Red Rifleman

The Monument of the Latvian Red Rifleman

The formation of the Latvian Rifleman regiments had national causes. Latvian land was invaded by the German army, and large numbers of Latvians applied to make national armed forces in the Russian army. The Czar Nicholas II had doubts about that – he remembered the revolution of 1905 where Latvians took active role. After three years of war his fears became true – Latvian rifleman joined the Bolshevik revolution. Latvian red rifleman is one of the controversial subjects in Latvian history. Praised by Lenin, doomed by Stalin and hated by nationalist Latvians, Latvian rifleman had made their place in Russian history. Their role in the Russian Civil war are often overestimated and filled with many myths. Only in last twenty years we are able to discover who these men really were.

As mentioned the Latvian rifleman regiments were originally formed in 1915 to defend Riga from the Germans and liberate rest of the Latvian land. Latvian rifleman fought in heavy frontline for two years. In the outcome, Germans could not capture Riga, but Russian army also was unable to chase Germans away. Latvian rifleman suffered heavy losses in battles of Island of Death (1916) and the Christmas Battles (1917). Latvians were angered by the incompetence and hypocrisy of the Russian high command. Also the Russian supporting divisions were not much of a help.

On 23-27 February (8-12 March) Czar Nicolay II resigned. Russia was now ruled both by Provisional government and by the Petrograd Soviet. The two government situation led to confusion and rivalry. The armed forces now became center of political fight arena.

The Interim government was ready to continue war, while Bolsheviks promised peace and bread. The leadership of 12th army where Latvians fought tried to establish loyal executive committee called Iskosol. However, Latvians had no interest about it. On 26 March representatives of the rifleman first met at Valmiera and decided that they must continue to fight and support the Petrograd Soviet. They also asked for autonomous Latvia in democratic Russia. Soon the rifleman circles were entered by the Bolshevik agitators. From 9 to 11 April in Riga 1st rifleman congress took place deciding to organize united officer and soldier executive committee or Iskolatsrel.

The Iskolatsrel was ruled by far left-wing majority, however there were calls for Latvian national autonomy. The leading figure was staff captain Ozols. Despite the presence of right wing views among Latvians, the Bolsheviks started to gain upper hand. They were superbly organized and experienced. Their sympathizers were mainly low rank soldiers, while officers were more nationally minded. Also there so-called Mensheviks that fell out with the Bolsheviks and asked to support the Provisional Government. On 29 May at Second rifleman congress conducted a resolution that disapproved the Provisional government and asked the handover of power to the workers, soldiers and peasants.

On spring 1917 the German general staff decided to finally capture Riga and encircle the 12th army. The attack was set at 1 September and Russians were aware of this. However, the army was demoralized and could not withstood the German cannonade and fell back. However, Latvian rifleman continued to resist faced Germans at Mazā Jugla. Facing German majority, Latvian rifleman held of the offensive rescuing the Russian army units who retreated in panic.  Even despite Bolshevik sentiments the Latvian riflemen were ready to defend their homeland. In same time loyal to Russian government units fled without a fight. Latvians managed to hold for 26 hours and then retreated with the rest of the 12th army. The army was saved but Riga was lost.

Meanwhile in Petrograd (Petersburg) the Provisional government started to lose its power. Bolshevik uprising in July and Kornilov Affair in August made Lenin stronger.

When 12th army was in disarray on 25 October (7-8 November) Bolsheviks seized the power by coup and called it an international revolution. Majority of the Latvian rifleman supported this. Only small circle of Latvian officers and nationally minded soldiers gathered in Latvian National Soldiers Union. The Iskolatsrel lead by Bolsheviks turned down the right wing Latvian National Provisional Council.

For a short time a Soviet power was established in Latgalia and much of Vidzeme. Meanwhile in Petrograd it was decided that Red Guards and Sailors are not enough to defend the city. So first Latvian rifleman 6th Tukums regiment was sent to defend the Bolshevik headquarters in Smolny institute. Many Latvians were against this. The new arrived Latvians took part in disbanding the Constituent Assembly 19 January 1918.

Lenin could not legitimize his seizure of power. The Russian army had collapsed and the new Red Guards were poorly disciplined. So Latvian rifleman who still kept relative unity and discipline were summoned to help the Bolshevik revolution. A Latvian revolutionary corpus was made. On 19 February 1918 Germans launched a full-scale attack to capture all parts of Latvia and Estonia. Latvians retreated this time. On March Latvia rifleman marched in Moscow. Russia was already full of Latvian refugees from WWII. Latvian riflemen were forced to abandon their homeland, but their will was still strong and hopes for returning were high.

Latvian Red Rifleman in Red Square at Moscow

Latvian Red Rifleman in Red Square at Moscow

On 3 March Soviet Russia signed peace agreement with Germany. The Russian military command was reorganized; all high command posts were disbanded and staffs were fired. It turned out that of destroyed multi-million Czar army only Latvian rifleman were left intact. At Moscow 5700, at Petrograd, Toroshin and Bologoje – 6000 Latvian man still were ready to fight. Initially an order came to disband the Latvian regiments, however with the lead of commander Jukums Vācietis the order was disputed. While Soviets officially declared that they have an international army, they were forced to include national division in their ranks. Latvians had great reputation and still ready to fight. Also Estonian divisions in the Red Army were formed.

On 13 April 1918 the Soviet Wartime and people’s commissariat issued an order to form Latvian Soviet rifleman division. The commander in charge was Vācietis, and commissars were Pētersons and Dozīte. It was one of the first divisions in the Red Army. Nearly all remaining Latvian men joined, all believed in coming defeat of Germany and the liberation of Latvia. Most of them took the rifleman regiment as their family and had nowhere to go since the border was closed. At the end of 1918 there were 23-24 thousand man in the division along with 400 machine guns, 80 cannons and 20 airplanes.

 One of the first serious Latvian battles in the Russian civil war was the uprising of the Czech legion May 1918. The legion of Czech and Slovak nationals was formed from prisoners of war and included in the Russian army. Soviets initially promised to transport them over Vladivostok to France. However, Soviet war commissar Leon Trotsky ordered to disarm them. A legion of size of 51 000 man revolted and too over large areas from Volga to Far East. After first incidental encounter between Latvians and Czechs, that proved successful for Latvians, more regiments were sent to deal with the enemy.

On 6 July at Moscow the anti-Soviet leftist movement the Socialist Revolutionary Party of so-called Esers, launched a coup against the Soviet government. Latvians took the most important part in defeating the Eser uprising that crushed this important movement completely. Latvians also crushed the Esers at Yaroslavl, where ex Latvian rifleman officer Kārlis Goppers was one of the anti-Soviet leaders. Also another Latvian officer Fridrihs Briedis was arrested by Cheka.

As the situation in the Eastern front was critical Latvian officer Vācietis was appointed as the commander in chief of the whole Red Army. At night between 16 and 17 July Soviets murdered the whole family of Czar Nicholas II. It has been speculated for many years that Latvians took part in the murder. While Latvian historians drastically denies that any Latvian took part in the shooting, Russian historians name at least one Latvian named Celms and claims that five other Latvians refused to fire at the Czar’s children.

Jukums Vācietis - the High commander of the Red Army

Jukums Vācietis – the First Main commander of the Red Army

Latvians took the most part in defending the Kazan. On September British Secret service agent’s ambassador R. H. Bruce Lockhart and Sidney Rielly was provoked by Latvian rifleman in to plot to depose the Soviet government. British believed that the Latvian rifleman will help them to stage a coup, however it was a trap by Cheka and the ambassador was arrested.

Latvians were sent to Southern front to face the Don Cossacks. Latvians remembered the actions done by Cossacks in Latvia in 1905-1907. However in 11 November 1918 Germany surrendered ending the WWI. On 13 November Soviet Russia annulled the Brest-Litovsk peace treaty. Latvians were ready to go back to homeland and make it as Soviet republic. On 18 November in Riga the right-wing Peoples Council proclaimed the Republic of Latvia as national independent state. Soviets saw this as an obstacle. On 23 November the Commissar in the National issues Joseph Stalin ordered to form a provisional soviet Latvian government. That was done in 4 December. Soviets needed the puppet republics to justify the occupation of the Baltic States.

On November Red Army Pskov division entered Latvia. Latvians were still far behind caught up in other sectors of the whole civil war front. Latvian riflemen were told that the democratic Latvian provisional government is actually ruled by German barons and whole idea of sovereign Latvia is just a German trick to annex Latvia. Latvian government was forced to cooperate with Germans and ask for their armed assistance. However, both sides knew that is a temporary union dictated by the Soviet offensive. Latvian government issued a call to Latvian rifleman to join the ranks of the new Latvian army. Rifleman never heard this and it would not change much. On 18 December first red rifleman entered Latvia.

While the Latvian government had issues forming their own army, red rifleman defeated Germans at Inčukalns. On 3 January 1919 red rifleman brought Soviet power to Riga. A Latvian Soviet Army was formed with Vācietis in charge. The head of the Latvian Soviet government was Pēteris Stučka. Latvian army along with Germans were chased away to Courland and held small strip of land from Ventspils to Liepāja.

However, soon troubling news came from Estonia. Estonian army had defeated the Red Army and head into Northern Latvia. Red riflemen were sent to face the Estonians but were beaten. Estonians had effectively defeated the red rifleman along Valka.

The Soviet plans for communist revolution in Germany crumbled. Latvian Soviet government carried out nationalization angering the peasants who at first believed that Soviets will give them land. Soviets issued a mobilization and gathered a force of 250 000 man – young, untrained without any will to fight. Red rifleman in the end managed to stop Estonians from taking all of Vidzeme. Meanwhile Germany sent a large force of auxiliary forces of the so-called “Iron Divison”.

Germans along with Latvians started the offensive on February. Soviets were defeated in all fronts also Estonians continued to attack at northern Latvia. In April Estonians formed the 1 Valmiera infantry regiment made of Latvians, many of them deserters from the Soviet army. The mobilized Latvians refused to fight and joined the Estonian ranks.

Latvian Soviet republic crumbled. On 22 May Germans captured Riga. Latvian army followed behind but met their fellow Latvians in the battlefield of Kaugurciems. Soviets were chased away from Vidzeme and retreated in Latgalia. After Germans and Latvians turned against each other in the battle of Cesis, the situation stabilized. Meanwhile Moscow was unsatisfied with the red rifleman and renamed the Latvian Soviet Rifleman division to 53 Rifleman Division removing its national status. At last a communist fraction was made within division to suppress any anti-soviet activity.

On July red rifleman were sent to Belorussian front to fight Lithuanians and Poles. Disappointed Latvian rifleman left their homeland for the last time. On September they were sent to fight of White Guard offensive to Moscow. Latvians now fought on the fields of Orla and Kursk. After finishing Denikin Latvians were sent against Yudenich at Tula region. While other Red Guards run off from approaching White Guard tanks, Latvians did not lost courage and stood against them. Latvian rifleman entered Eastern Ukraine and encountered Anarchists lead by Nestor Makhno.

Meanwhile in Latvia at the winter months Latvian army liberated Latgalia. On 1920 news came to faraway rifleman about peace talks between Latvian Republic and the Soviet Russia. It now came to Latvian rifleman that their cause for free Latvia was lost and those who they stood against were the real heroes.  There was no way back they were trapped in Soviet Russia.

The Insignia badge of the Latvian Red Rifleman

The Insignia badge of the Latvian Red Rifleman

Despite that the remaining Latvian forces fought battles in Crimea. After a year of hard battles the remaining Latvian rifleman divisions were finally disbanded. Large numbers of Latvian rifleman choose to move to independent Latvia. Others however stayed. Many of them like Vācietis, Bērziņš, Pētersons and others stayed in Soviet Russia and took high governmental posts. In the purges of 1937-1938 the remaining elite of the Latvian rifleman was eliminated. Soviet leadership disliked the Latvian rifleman from the start, but was forced to relay on them.

Stalin destroyed most of the top Latvian red rifleman. After the occupation of Latvia, the Soviet propaganda remembered about them and used to justify the Soviet power. Monument commemorating them was placed in center of Old Riga. Museum dedicated to them was built nearby which now serves as a museum of occupation.

The reason why the Latvian Red Rifleman is sometimes called the core of the Red Army and the rescuers of communist revolution was their great discipline and will power. The Red Army units were often unorganized and cowardly. The Soviet commanders lacked talent. So the Soviet leadership sent Latvians to the most troublesome spots of the front where other Red Army units could not handle. The main dream of the Latvian rifleman was to liberate Latvia from the Germans. The fate made to fight for Soviets that did not want any independent Latvia. Undoubtedly many really believed the Soviet propaganda, but seeing how many left Russia for Latvia in disappointment shows that real ideal for them was their fatherland. Latvians did took part in many Soviet atrocities, however in overall Latvians were one of the most disciplined in the Red Army. The fate of the Latvian Red rifleman is one of the greatest tragedies of the Latvian nation. 20 years later Latvians again were forced to fight in the Soviet ranks where they met their Latvian brothers in Nazi ranks. Latvians must never again fight in ranks of the totalitarian armies. The main army for Latvia is our National Armed Forces that is a pride of our nation.

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