Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Wednesday, January 18, 2023

The Surprising Postwar German–Soviet Accommodation

Foreign Ministers Georgy Chicherin and Walter Rathenau

Germany as well as Soviet Russia were isolated in the international arena by 1921. Germany, because it had caused a devastating war, and was only reluctantly fulfilling the peace conditions; Russia, because it was a socialist state with a revolutionary agenda that aimed to overthrow all capitalist states. Whereas the Russians tried to approach Germany many times, the Germans were reluctant and aimed instead to establish good relations with the West first and not to antagonize them by an early recognition of the Bolsheviks. It owed much to circumstances and foresight of some individuals on the German side that relations began to develop.

The joint German-Russian concerns first led to the signing in May 1921 of a treaty under which Germany recognized the Soviet regime as the only legitimate government of Russia and agreed to suspend relations with all other Russian groups that still claimed power. The treaty paved the way for future German-Russian cooperation.

1928 Photo of German Staff at a Chemical Weapons Facility at Tomka, Soviet Union

The Treaty of Rapallo was an agreement signed on 16 April 1922 between the German Republic and the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic under which both renounced all territorial and financial claims against each other after the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and the First World War.

Both governments also agreed to normalize their diplomatic relations and to "co-operate in a spirit of mutual goodwill in meeting the economic needs of both countries." Secretly, both established elaborate military cooperation but publicly denied it.

As a way to circumvent the treaty, German leaders found Soviet territory a useful place to train military staff and develop armament projects. German companies constructed military aircraft as well as tanks and produced all kinds of materiel, including chemical weapons. In return, the Red Army supported the German military and shared technological know-how.

Sources: German Foreign Policy, 1918-1945

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