Why was a Russian peasant at the Treaty Negotiations with Germany in World War One?

Russian Peasant in ww1 treaty
The Treaty of Brest Litovsk :1917: Read time - 2 minutes 57 seconds

World War One was not a fun time

The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. The separate treaty that ended the fighting between the Central Powers and Russia in the First World War. 

For the Central Powers, this treaty would free up a lot of manpower and resources that could shift the balance of power on the Western Front

For Russia, this would end by far the deadliest conflict in its history with over 2.8 million deaths. Yeah, this treaty was a pretty big deal.

Treaty of Brest-Litovsk: A separate peace Russia signed with the Central Powers during World War One.

Central Powers: The powers consisting mainly of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire during World War One.

Western Front: The front that stretched from the North Sea to Switzerland. Primarily fought between Germany and France, Britain0, and later the United States.

So why the hell was there some old Russian peasant at the treaty negotiations downing expensive wine like his wife left him and took the kids? We’ll get there, but first some context.

Revolutions are not a fun time

In early 1917, Russia was not having a fun time. The war wasn’t going great and was becoming increasingly unpopular. 

The economy was crashing, food was in short supply, and this new trendy thing called communism was catching on. Germany noticed this – specifically the communist call to end the war. 

Having Russia exit the war would be a blessing to the Germans who were struggling against Britain and France.

It looked like that would happen when on March 8th, 1917, the poorly named February Revolution rolled around. The Tsarist regime was overthrown, establishing a new provisional government. 

Much to the dismay of the masses, this new government kept Russia in the war. Germany was getting a bit impatient as well, so they sent over the most communist person they knew – Vladimir Lenin, who was living in exile in Switzerland. 

February Revolution: The revolution that overthrew the Tsarist regime and established a provisional government.

Tsars: The Russian monarchy that held near absolute power. The entire Tsar family would be executed a year later.

Vladimir Lenin: A Russian revolutionary who spearheaded the October Revolution and served as the head of state.

Nine months later, Lenin helped spark another poorly named revolution – the October Revolution which actually happened in November. 

This saw the Bolsheviks overthrow the provisional government, establishing communism once and for all. This time, Russia would exit the war for good – which means it’s treaty time😎

*The reason for these wrongly named revolutions is because the Soviets made their calendar in 1918, replacing the standard Gregorian calendar. 

October Revolution: The revolution that saw Vladimir Lenin’s Bolshevik Party take control of Russia.

Bolsheviks: Refers to the members of Vladimir Lenin’s communist Bolshevik Party

Russian Peasant in ww1 treaty

When you feel like a main character

As you all know, communism is all about being equal and what better way is there to show this comradery than to bring people from all facets of your society to negotiate the peace for the deadliest conflict in your country’s history. Yep, this new Bolshevik government would invite a worker, sailor, soldier, and a peasant to tag along in the negotiations.

Of course this was only a symbolic representation and they wouldn’t actually do any negotiating. Nonetheless, they would be present with some of the highest ranking officials in both Germany and the new Bolshevik Government.

The Russian delegation set off for Germany, but forgot one important thing – a peasant. Peasants made up a huge chunk of the population and it’d be a bad look if they went without one. 

Luckily some old, long haired, gray bearded man happened to be walking by – the stereotypical Russian peasant. 

The delegation stopped and asked where the man was going to which he replied the train station. The delegation then offered him a ride. Stranger danger wasn’t a thing back then, so in he hopped and off they went.

A bit into the ride the old man realized that they weren’t going to the train station that he was going to and became suspicious. 

It wasn’t helping that the delegation asked him questions like “what party do you belong to” and “how communist are you.” The old man passed with flying colors, proclaiming that he was as communist as you can get. That’s when they broke the news to him.

“We’re going to negotiate peace with the Germans.”

This man was named Roman Stashkov. He was a bit hesitant at first, but all it took was a bit of money for him to agree. How communist.

Russian Peasant in ww1 treaty

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Once the negotiations got underway, Stashkov was the center of attention. He was of course, raised as a peasant and didn’t quite have the table manners expected of people who, you know – were expected to negotiate the peace treaty for the deadliest conflict in human history. It took him a bit to learn how to use a fork, but after that he had a blast.

When a German waiter asked him if he’d like red or white wine, he turned to the German Prince Ernst von Hohenlohe who was sitting next to him and asked “Which is the stronger? Red or white? it makes no difference to me which I drink, I’m only interested in the strength.” It goes without saying that Stashkov got absolutely wasted. 

While Stashkov had a great time, the new Bolshevik government did not. The treaty saw Russia lose nearly all of Ukraine, parts along the Baltic coast, and influence in various regions. It also ceded the province of Kars to the Ottoman Empire.

Moral of the story: If anyone asks if you need a ride to the train station, it’s always worth the risk.

The land ceded in the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.

Timeline - Terms - Sources

July 28, 1914: Russia joins the First World War.

March 8, 1917 – March 16, 1917: The Tsarist regime is overthrown and a provincial government is established in what is called the February Revolution.

April 16, 1917: Lenin arrives in Russia.

November 7-8: Vladimir Lenin and the Bolshevik Party take control of Russia in what is called the October Revolution.

March 3, 1918: The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk is signed.

Bolsheviks: Refers to the members of Vladimir Lenin’s communist Bolshevik Party.

Central Powers: The powers consisting mainly of Germany, Austria-Hungary, and the Ottoman Empire during World War One.

February Revolution: The revolution that overthrew the Tsarist regime and established a provisional government.

October Revolution: The revolution that saw Vladimir Lenin’s Bolshevik Party take control of Russia.

Treaty of Brest-Litovsk: A separate peace Russia signed with the Central Powers during World War One.

Tsars: The Russian monarchy that held near absolute power. The entire Tsar family would be executed a year later.

Vladimir Lenin: A Russian revolutionary who spearheaded the October Revolution and served as the head of state.

Western Front: The front that stretched from the North Sea to Switzerland. Primarily fought between Germany and France, Britain, and later the United States.

Sources:

A People’s Tragedy: The Russian Revolution: 1891-1924. Orlando Figes. 1997.

Brest-Litovsk the Forgotten Peace, March 1918. John W. Wheeler-Bennet. 1971.

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