Jozef Pilsudski in Minsk. 1919 year
“Crusade” of the West against Russia. No one in Poland removed the slogan of the return of the 1772 borders. The Polish lords wanted to plunge Europe into a big war again. The First World War returned statehood to Poland, part of the former lands of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Therefore, Warsaw believed that a new big war in Europe would give Poland the territories it claimed.
After three partitions of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (1772, 1793 and 1795), which were caused by the complete disintegration of the pansko-gentry elite, the Polish statehood was liquidated. Poles lived on the territory of three empires: Austrian. German and Russian. In World War I, all these powers were defeated and dismembered by Western democracies – England, the United States and France. The Entente in November 1918 separated the Polish regions from the fallen Austria-Hungary and Germany, and united them with the Kingdom of Poland, a region that belonged to Russia before the war, but was then occupied by German troops.
In December 1919, the Supreme Council of the Entente determined the eastern border of the Polish Republic (Second Rzeczpospolita) according to the so-called. “Curzon Line” (named after the British Foreign Secretary Lord Curzon). This line ran where the eastern border of Poland is now approximately located. This line generally corresponded to the ethnographic principle: to the west of it there were lands with a predominance of the Polish population, to the east – territories with a predominance of the Nepolian (Lithuanian, Western Russian) population. But the historical border of the Kingdom of Poland and Russia passed on average 100 km west of the Curzon line, so some ancient Russian cities remained in Poland (Przemysl, Kholm, Yaroslavl, etc.).
The New Rzeczpospolita was surrounded by the lands of the newly defeated empires and their fragments, which took a course towards “independence”. Therefore, Warsaw closed its eyes to the proposal of the Entente and tried to capture as much as possible, to recreate its empire “from sea to sea” (from the Baltic to the Black Sea). The Poles got access to the Baltic kill: the Versailles Peace Treaty in 1919 transferred to Poland most of the German province of Posen (Poznan), part of West Prussia, part of Pomerania, which gave the country access to the Baltic. Danzig (Gdansk) received the status of a “free city”, but the Poles claimed it until the defeat by Germany in 1939. In addition, the Poles seized part of Silesia (Eastern Upper Silesia) from the Germans.
The Poles captured part of the Teshin region from Czechoslovakia. In October 1920, Polish troops chopped off part of Lithuania with its capital, Vilno (Vilnius). But most of all, the Polish elite hoped to profit in the east, where Russia was torn apart by the Troubles. In 1919, the Polish army defeated the West Ukrainian People’s Republic (ZUNR) and occupied Galicia. In 1923, the League of Nations recognized the entry of the Galician lands into Poland.
Poland “from sea to sea” at the expense of Russian lands
At the beginning of 1919, Poland started a war with Soviet Russia (Creation of the Second Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth). The goal was the borders of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1772. Polish troops occupied a significant part of Lithuania, Belarus and Little Russia (Ukraine) without any problems. The Poles took advantage of the favorable moment – the best forces of the Red Army were associated with the struggle with the White Guards. Then Warsaw stopped the offensive for a while. The Polish government did not want the victory of the White Army with its slogan “one and indivisible Russia.” The months-long negotiations in Taganrog between Denikin and Pilsudski’s representative, General Karnitsky, ended in vain. This was a major mistake of the Polish elite, which showed its limitations. A simultaneous blow from the powerful Polish army, which was supported by the Entente, and the army of Denikin, could lead to the fall of the Soviet Republic or to a sharp reduction in its territory. In addition, the Polish head Pilsudski underestimated the Red Army, believed that the Polish army itself would be able to enter Moscow without the White Guards.
The Soviet-Polish negotiations were also unsuccessful. Both sides used the ceasefire to prepare a new round of confrontation. In 1920, the Polish army renewed its offensive. In the spring, the Poles achieved new successes in Belarus and Little Russia, took Kiev. However, the Red Army regrouped its forces, pulled up reserves and launched a powerful counter-attack. In June, Budyonny’s 1st Cavalry Army recaptured Kiev. Polish troops tried to counterattack, but were defeated. In July 1920, the Red Western Front under the command of Tukhachevsky again went on the offensive. The Poles quickly retreated, losing the previously captured lands and cities. In a short period of time, the Red Army advanced more than 600 km: on July 10, Polish troops left Bobruisk, on July 11 – Minsk, on July 14 – Vilno. On July 26, in the Bialystok area, Soviet troops crossed directly into Polish territory. On August 1, Brest was surrendered by the Reds almost without resistance.
The quick victory turned my head. In their revolutionary romanticism, the Bolsheviks lost their sense of proportion. In Smolensk, the Provisional Revolutionary Committee of Poland (Polrevkom) was established, which was to assume full power after the capture of Warsaw and the overthrow of Pilsudski. This was officially announced on August 1, 1920 in Bialystok. The committee was headed by Julian Markhlevsky. Lenin and Trotsky were convinced that when the Red Army entered Poland, a proletarian uprising would break out there, and Poland would become socialist. Then the revolution will be carried out in Germany, which will lead to the victory of the Soviets throughout Europe. Only Stalin tried to sober up the Soviet government with calls to stop on the Curzon Line and make peace with Warsaw.
However, Moscow decided to continue the offensive. It ended in defeat. The Red Army lost the August battle for Warsaw. The hopes for the support of the Polish proletariat did not justify themselves. The troops were tired of the previous battles, the communications of the Red Army were stretched, the rear was not secured. The enemy was underestimated. The Polish army, on the contrary, had a strong rear, the front line was reduced, which allowed the Poles to concentrate their efforts on the defense of the capital. It may be that the Red Army had a chance of success, but the Tukhachevsky factor played. The Soviet Western Front was commanded by Tukhachevsky, an extremely ambitious commander, an adventurer who dreamed of the glory of Napoleon. The front commander sprayed the armies of the Western Front, sending them in diverging directions.
As a result, Pilsudski, who called this war a “comedy of mistakes”, inflicted a crushing defeat on the troops of Tukhachevsky (“Miracle on the Vistula”). The troops of the Western Front suffered heavy losses. This led to the fact that the Polish army was able to recapture part of the previously lost territories in the fall. Both sides were exhausted by the struggle and went to peace. On March 18, 1921, the Riga Peace Treaty was signed between Poland and the RSFSR (whose delegation also represented the Byelorussian SSR) and the Ukrainian SSR in Riga. Large territories – Western Ukraine and Western Belarus – were transferred to Poland.
Polish troops enter Kiev. 1920 year
Having swallowed such a large booty, Warsaw spent all the time before the Second World War trying to “digest” it. The Polish gentry, having appropriated the rights of the highest race, tried to colonize Western Russian and Lithuanian lands by the most cruel methods. The Polish authorities tried to pollinate almost a third of the population. All Catholics and Uniates were considered Poles. “Dissidents” were persecuted – that is how non-Catholics were called in Poland. Uniate churches were destroyed or turned into churches. Entire villages in Volyn became Polish.
Warsaw pursued a policy of “sedition”. Siegemen were Polish colonists-settlers, retired soldiers, members of their families, as well as civilian settlers who, after the end of the war with Soviet Russia, and later received land allotments in the territories of Western Ukraine and Western Belarus for the purpose of active polonization (polonization) of the territories. Despite the fact that the Little Russian lands were already densely populated, the Polish colonists here received allotments of the best lands and generous monetary subsidies. The Polish authorities at a time gave the siege from 15 to 40 hectares of land. So in the period 1921 – 1939. from the ethnic Polish lands about 300 thousand people moved to Belarus, to Eastern Galicia and Volyn – about 200 thousand people.
This led to resistance from the West Russian population. In 1930, attacks on the houses of Polish landowners and siege workers in Ukraine became more frequent. In the summer of 1930 alone, 2,200 Polish houses were burned down in Eastern Galicia. The authorities brought in troops, burned and plundered about 800 villages. More than 2 thousand people were arrested, about a third received long prison terms.
Since the early 1920s, Polish diplomats have been creating in the West the image of Poland as a barrier to Bolshevism, a defender of “enlightened Europe.” In 1921, an alliance treaty was signed with France. True, the Poles once again completely forgot their own history and did not remember that although France was a traditional ally of Poland, but usually at a dangerous moment left the “partner”. Except for the period 1807 – 1812, when Napoleon fought with Russia.
In the 1920s and 1930s, the Polish elite could not give the country any economic or social reforms that led the people to prosperity. As a result, only the old slogan remained: “From mozha to mozha” (“from sea to sea”). No one in Warsaw was going to forget about the return of the 1772 borders. The Polish lords wanted to plunge Europe into a big war again. The First World War returned statehood to Poland, part of the former lands of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Therefore, Warsaw believed that a new big war in Europe would give Poland the territories it claimed.
The main conductor of this course towards war was the Polish Foreign Minister in 1932-1939. Jozef Beck. After Piłsudski’s death in 1935, power in Poland fell into the hands of a ruling group of three – Marshal Rydz-Smigla, President Moscicki and Beck, while Beck actually determined Warsaw’s foreign policy. Therefore, until September 1939, the Western press called the Polish government the Beck government.
Poland was not the main aggressor in Europe, but Pilsudski and the heirs of his political course were no worse or better than Mussolini or Mannerheim. In Rome, they dreamed of restoring the greatness of the new Roman Empire, turning the Mediterranean into an Italian Sea, subjugating countries and peoples in the Balkans and Africa. In Helsinki, they planned to create a “Greater Finland” with Karelia, the Kola Peninsula, Leningrad, Arkhangelsk and Arkhangelsk provinces (The myth of the aggression of the “criminal Stalinist regime” against “peaceful” Finland; Which prompted the USSR to start a war with Finland). In Warsaw, they dreamed of Ukraine.
Thus, in Warsaw, they still licked their lips on the Russian lands. The Polish lords did not abandon their plans for the seizure and colonization of Russian lands, access to the Black Sea. The Poles sought to capture most of the Ukrainian SSR. This, until the very Second World War, predetermined the persistently bad relations between the USSR and Poland. Moreover, Poland was the initiator of the enmity. Warsaw stubbornly rejected all attempts by Moscow to establish good-neighborly relations. Already in the early 1930s, the USSR had trade agreements with all countries of the world, only Poland refused to sign such an agreement, and met the Russians halfway only in 1939, a few months before its death.
The Polish border was a dangerous destination. Here in the 1920s, skirmishes and shootings constantly took place. Various White Guard and Petliura detachments were based on the territory of the Polish Republic, which, with the aiding of the Polish authorities and the military, periodically attacked the territory of the RSFSR and the Ukrainian SSR. This forced the Soviet government to keep large forces in the Polish direction. At the same time, Soviet Russia, due to its weakness, behaved extremely cautiously in the 1920s and 1930s. Soviet border guards had very strict instructions to restrict the use of weapons at the border. The Poles behaved insolently, like conquerors. It is not surprising that Moscow during this period considered Poland the most likely enemy in Europe (along with Germany) and was preparing for a defensive war.
Polish Foreign Minister Jozef Beck’s official visit to Berlin. The year is 1935.
To be continued…