World War I (1914–1919)

by: History SparkNotes

Russia Exits the War

Although the Russian advances initially showed promise against Austrian forces in Galicia, the Russian troops fled quickly when German reinforcements arrived. Sporadic fighting along the eastern front continued throughout July and August, but growing desertions, infighting, and general disorder throughout the Russian military greatly diminished its effectiveness over time.

The Bolshevik Revolution

Russia’s position in the war remained in question throughout the summer and fall of 1917. Officially, the country was still at war, and fighting did continue. However, there was intense disagreement in the country over whether or not Russia should remain at war, and if not, under what conditions it should leave the conflict.

The provisional government, under the leadership of Alexander Kerensky, favored remaining in the war until Germany and Austria-Hungary were defeated. The more radical Petrograd Soviet, a loose conglomeration of labor unions with a largely Socialist/Communist leadership, felt that Russia should get out of the war as soon as possible but also recognized that pulling out immediately would likely mean a loss of territory and heavy reparations. A third group, the Bolsheviks, who had even more radical leanings than the Petrograd Soviet, wanted the country to exit the war immediately, no matter the cost.

The debate continued throughout the summer and fall until November 6, 1917 (October 24 by the Russian calendar). On that day, the Bolsheviks seized total control of the country with the help of the military. The next day, Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin issued his first decree, declaring Russia to be at peace. Though he ordered the Russian military to cease all hostilities, the country’s formal exit from the war would be somewhat more complicated.

Russia’s Cease-Fire

On November 26, 1917, the Bolsheviks issued a call for a halt to hostilities on all fronts and requested that all sides immediately make arrangements to sign an armistice. This idea was not well received by France and Britain, who still intended to push the Germans out of their lands. When Russia received no response, it made another call, warning that if no one responded, Russia would make a separate peace. When there still was no response, the Bolsheviks, in an effort to embarrass the Allied forces, published a series of secret treaties that Russia had made with the Allies.

After several days of negotiations, a cease-fire was declared on December 15, 1917. A formal peace treaty, however, proved more difficult to achieve. It took months of negotiations, and Russia lost an enormous amount of territory. Russia’s land losses included Finland, Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, the Ukraine, Belarus, Bessarabia, and the Caucasus region, along with some of the coal-mining regions of southern Russia.