April 16th in German History: The Signing of The Treaty of Rapallo

Treaty of Rapallo (1922) - Wikipedia
Members of the delegations from the two nations meet. Image Credit: Wikipedia

The study of history focuses to a great extent on the wars that have so often defined it. This focus may be justified, wars are certainly important, but it can give the impression that human history is nothing but a series of wars and ignores the many attempts at creating peace between nations. One of these attempts was made on April 16th, 1922 when the Treaty of Rapallo was signed by the Weimar Republic and the Russian Soviet Federative Republic, which would soon become the USSR.

In 1918, the Bolshevik government and the Central Powers signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. In the span of a year the Tsarist government and the Russian provisional government had been overthrown and Russia had suffered yet more crushing defeats at the hands of the German and Austro-Hungarian Empires. As such, the Russian people and the Russian government were both tired of conflict, and so Lenin, seeking to focus his efforts on securing Russia and lacking in any allegiance to the Allied Powers, signed away much of Russia’s western territory in a peace agreement. This treaty was, of course, nullified when the Central Powers were defeated and Lenin was able to retake much of the territory he lost, although Poland and the Baltic states were not retaken. After WWI, both Germany and Russia were diplomatically isolated and both desired economic and territorial gains. German businessmen sought economic opportunity in Russia, and Lenin desired European investment to spur industrial growth in his undeveloped nation. However, cooperation between the two nations was made more difficult by existing territorial grievances between the two nations and memories of the First World War. In order to facilitate cooperation and rebuild diplomatic relations, Germany first agreed in May of 1921 to sign a treaty recognizing the Soviet government as the only legitimate government of Russia and promising to end relations with any other body claiming to be the Russian government. To further their cooperation, the Treaty of Rapallo was negotiated and signed. In it, the two sides renounced any territorial claims on each other and promised to normalize diplomatic relations. An additional agreement extended the Treaty to all other Soviet Republics. Secretly, the two nations also initiated military cooperation that, in Germany’s case, violated the Treaty of Versailles. Specifically, Germany began the development and testing of new tanks in Russian territory.

While peace between the Soviet Union and Germany would only last for 19 years after the Rapallo Treaty was signed, it still shows how nations can attempt to work together to achieve common goals rather than continue previous hostilities. Only a few years before the Treaty was signed, German troops had been rampaging across Russian territory and the Kaiser had been carving up the Empire of the Tsar. Just four years later the two nations were renouncing claims and normalizing relations, and even promising secret military cooperation. While the Treaty of Rapallo may have been cooperation born out of mutual enemies, that does not negate the fact that it was still diplomatic rapprochement between former enemies. That Russia and Germany, two nations with such opposed ideologies and histories, could cooperate shows that nations with much less fundamental animosity should be able to cooperate to a far greater extent and with a goal more benevolent than striking at their common enemies.

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