Polish-Soviet War

conflict between Poland and Soviet Russia following the First World War (February 1919 - March 1921)

The Polish-Soviet War (14 February 1919 – 18 October 1920), also known as the Polish-Bolshevik War, was an armed conflict fought primarily between the Second Polish Republic and the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic in the aftermath of World War I, on territories formerly held by the Russian Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The war was the result of conflicting expansionist attempts.

Polish defences with a machine gun position near Miłosna, in the village of Janki, August 1920.

Quotes edit

  • As a result of the Soviet hopes of world revolution or, at least, ideological expansion into Central Europe, the Polish victories near Warsaw between 16 and 25 August 1920 were a key incident in the Cold War. The Battle of Warsaw ended the drive west by the Soviets, a drive which had already led them to capture the cities of Minsk and Vilnius the previous month. Had the Soviets succeeded in 1920 and established a sister republic in Poland, on the model of the French Revolutionaries in Italy, Switzerland and the Netherlands, then Communism would have had an opportunity to become more strongly grounded.
  • In this episode, as with the post-1945 conflicts more classically seen as part of the Cold War, the struggle between the Great Powers was indirect: even in the Korean War (1950–3), there was no declaration of war or full-scale conflict. In 1920, the French provided the Poles with useful supplies and military advice, but there was no commitment of troops. Instead, the Poles benefited from their ability to gain the initiative, and then defeat separately the Soviet forces whose coordination was handicapped by mutually-distrustful Communist generals and by lengthy supply lines. Advancing over a very wide front and reliant on long supply lines, the tired Soviet forces lacked depth and nearby reserves. This was a very different situation to their successful fighting advance across this territory against the Germans in 1944. Prior to the Battle of Warsaw in 1920, Soviet strength seemed particularly potent and threatening, and it was unclear whether it would be possible for the Western powers to stop Soviet expansion short of full-scale war. What containment (to employ a later term) could mean in practice was unclear. In the event, after the battle, the Poles, in turn, advanced to within ninety miles of Kiev, before agreeing an armistice. The eventual Treaty of Riga, in March 1921, left Poland with some territory in modern Lithuania, Ukraine and Belarus, and with a frontier far to the east of modern Poland.
  • If Charles Martel had not checked the Saracen conquest at the Battle of Tours, the interpretation of the Koran would be taught at the schools of Oxford, and her pupils might demonstrate to a circumcised people the sanctity and truth of the revelation of Mahomet. Had Pilsudski failed to arrest the advance of the Soviet Bolshevik Army at the Battle of Warsaw, not only would Christianity have experienced a dangerous reverse, but the very existence of Western civilisation would have been imperilled. The Battle of Warsaw saved Central and most parts of Europe from a more subversive danger – the fanatical tyranny of the Communist Soviet. All of Europe at this time, after World War I, was in ruin, and a strong conqueror could have imposed a tyrannical system from Russia in the East to France, and possible Britain in the west. The army that had marched on Warsaw was over a million strong and was nearing the gates of Warsaw when the Polish Cavalry attacked at the Bolshevik hind-quarter. The Bolsheviks were so surprised by a viable and active military response to their sure victory that the Bolshevik army in shock routed and fled in complete disarray. The Polish western boundary stood until 1939 and World War II. On the essential point, there can be little room for doubt; had the Soviet forces overcome Polish resistance… Bolshevism would have spread throughout Central Europe and might well have penetrated the whole continent.
  • (this war) largely determined the course of European history for the next twenty years or more.[...] Unavowedly and almost unconsciously, Soviet leaders abandoned the cause of international revolution.
  • That was the time when everyone in Germany, including the blackest reactionaries and monarchists, declared that the Bolsheviks would be their salvation.
  • (this war allows us) ...to probe Europe with the bayonets of the Red Army.
  • We must direct all our attention to preparing and strengthening the Western Front. A new slogan must be announced: Prepare for war against Poland.
  • Lenin’s great disappointment with spreading Communism abroad occurred in the summer of 1920. In April of that year, Poland, eager to forestall the reemergence of a strong and imperialist Russia, had made common cause with Ukrainian nationalists and invaded the Soviet Ukraine with the aim of detaching it from Russia. The invasion failed to ignite an uprising in the Ukraine, and the Polish armies soon found themselves in full retreat. As the Red Army approached the borders of ethnic Poland, the Politburo, the directing organ of the Communist Party, had to decide whether to stop or to continue advancing westward. Opinions were divided but Lenin insisted on offensive operations, and as by now was always the case, he had his way. He felt certain that both Germany and England were ripe for revolution, which the appearance of Communist armed forces on their borders would help ignite. In the summer of 1920, the Red Army, accompanied by Soviet commissars of Polish origin, entered Poland. It broadcast appeals calling on Polish workers and peasants to seize properties of the bourgeois and landlords—slogans that had proven very effective in Russia. But the Poles of all classes rallied to defend newly won Polish sovereignty. In the battle for Warsaw, one of the decisive battles of modern history, they repulsed and scattered the Communist army. Lenin could not conceal his bitterness at this outcome.
  • Under the rule of Catherine the Great, Russia reclaimed all of its historical lands, including in the south and west. This all lasted until the Revolution. Before World War I, the Austrian General Staff, relying on the ideas of Ukrainianization, started to actively promote the ideas of Ukraine and the Ukrainianization. Their motive was obvious. Just before World War I, they wanted to weaken the potential enemy and secure themselves favourable conditions in the border area. So this idea which had emerged in Poland that people residing in that territory were allegedly not really Russians, but rather belonged to a special ethnic group, the Ukrainians, started to be promoted by the Austrian General Staff too. As far back as the 19th century, theorists calling for Ukrainian independence appeared. All those, however, claimed that Ukraine should have a very good relationship with Russia. They insisted on that. After the 1917 Revolution, the Bolsheviks sought to restore the statehood, and the Civil War began, including the hostilities with Poland. In 1921, peace with Poland was proclaimed, and under that treaty, the right bank of the Dnieper River once again was given back to Poland.
  • To the West! Over the corpse of White Poland lies the road to world-wide conflagration. March on Vilno, Minsk, Warsaw!

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