8. Russia/Latvia (1905-1920)

 

Crisis Phase (January 1, 1905-November 18, 1918): Latvian nationalists, particularly members of the Latvian Social Democratic Labour Party (LSDLP), initiated an uprising against the Russian Empire in January 1905.  Russian government police fired on some 10,000 Latvian demonstrators along the Daugava River in Riga on January 13, 1905, resulting in the deaths of 73 individuals.  Latvian nationalists destroyed the property of Baltic German landowners in Latvia, and some 40 ethnic-Germans (Baltic Germans) were killed during the violence in 1905.  Emperor Nicholas II granted political rights to citizens of the Russian empire on October 22, 1905.  The Russian government imposed martial law in Kurland (southern Latvia) on August 6, 1905 and Livland (northern Latvia) on November 22, 1905.  Some 2,500 Latvians were killed during the revolution of 1905, and several hundred Latvians were executed by the Russian government in 1906.  German troops occupied southwestern Latvia between May 1915 and October 1915.  Emperor Nicholas II abdicated the throne of the Russian empire on March 2, 1917, and the Russian provisional government recognized Latvia’s provisional council as the autonomous regional government on July 5, 1917.  Latvian nationalists demanded political autonomy from the Russian provisional government on August 12, 1917.  Elections to the Livonian Provincial Council were held in August 1917, and the Bolsheviks won a majority of the seats on the council.  German troops captured Riga on September 3, 1917.  Bolshevik Russian troops occupied the province of Livonia between November 9 and November 20, 1917.  Latvian nationalists established the Provisional National Council (PNC) on November 16, 1917, and Baltic Germans in Latvia established the Latvian Provisional National Council (LPNC) on November 30, 1917.  Bolsheviks declared an autonomous Latvian Soviet government on December 29, 1917.  German troops occupied the entire territory of Latvia on February 18-22, 1918.  Baltic Germans in Courland declared the independence of the Duchy of Courland on March 8, 1918, and the German Empire recognized the duchy on March 18, 1918.  Meanwhile, Baltic Germans in Livonia, Estonia, Riga, and Osel declared the independence of the Baltic State (Baltischer Staat) on April 12, 1918.  The two German Baltic states merged, and the United Baltic Duchy was recognized by Kaiser Wilhelm II of the German Empire on September 22, 1918.  A regency council for the United Baltic Duchy was established on November 8, 1918 (but the council was dissolved on November 28, 1918).  Britain provided de facto recognition of Latvia’s independence from Russia on November 11, 1918.  The Latvian People’s Council (LPC), which was chaired by President Janis Cakste, appointed a provisional government headed by Prime Minister Karlis Ulmanis of the Farmer’s Union (FU) on November 17, 1918.  The LPC formally declared the Republic of Latvia’s independence from Russia on November 18, 1918.  Some 3,000 individuals were killed, and some 800,000 individuals were displaced during the crisis.

Conflict Phase (November 19, 1918-February 1, 1920):  Bolshevik (“Red”) Russian troops invaded Latvia beginning on November 19, 1918.  Germany recognized the de facto independence of the Republic of Latvia on November 25, 1918.  The Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic (LSSR) was declared by Bolsheviks in opposition to the provisional government of the Republic of Latvia on December 17, 1918, and the Soviet Union recognized the LSSR on December 22, 1918.  British naval ships provided military assistance and intervened in support of the government of Prime Minister Ulmanis between December 18, 1918 and January 3, 1919.  The Latvian provisional government appointed Colonel Oskars Kalpaks as commander of the Latvian national army on January 1, 1919.  Bolshevik Russian troops captured Valka in northern Latvia on December 18, 1918, and captured Riga on January 3-4, 1919.  Bolshevik Russian troops killed thousands of Latvians (“Red Terror”) between January and May 1919.  The Bolshevik Russians established a communist government in Latvia headed by Peteris Stucka on January 15, 1919.  Estonia troops intervened in support of the Latvians, and liberated Valka from Bolshevik Russian troops on February 1, 1919.  General Rudiger von der Goltz arrived in Latvia to assume command of some 9,000 German troops in the 6th German Rerserve Corps, including several Freikorps units commanded by Major Josef Bischoff, and the 1st Reserve Guard Division in Latvia on February 1, 1919.  Britain provided military assistance (5,000 rifles and 50 automatic rifles) to the Latvian national army on February 9, 1919.  German troops commanded by General Goltz and Baltic German militia (Baltische Landeswehr) commanded by Major Alfred Fletcher, as well as Latvian nationalist troops, launched a military offensive against Bolshevik Russian troops in Latvia on February 12, 1919.  Colonel Oskars Kalpaks was killed near Zirni on March 6, 1919.  German troops and Latvian nationalist troops re-captured Tukums on March 15, 1919.  General Goltz and German (Landeswehr) troops overthrew the provisional government of Prime Minister Ulmanis on April 16, 1919, and established a German “puppet” government headed by Prime Minister Andrievs Niedra on April 26, 1919.  German (Landeswehr) troops liberated Riga from Bolshevik Russian troops on May 22-23, 1919.  German troops killed some 3,600 Latvians in Riga and other cities throughout Latvia (“White Terror”) beginning on May 23, 1919.  Latvian nationalist troops and Estonia troops commanded by General Andres Podder captured Cesis on May 30, 1919.  German (Landeswehr) troops attacked Latvian nationalist troops and Estonian troops near Cesis beginning on June 5, 1919.  Lt. Colonel Warwick Greene of the US mediated a ceasefire agreement between the German troops and Latvian nationalist troops on June 10, 1919.  German (Landeswehr) troops resumed their attack against Latvian nationalist troops and Estonians troops near Cesis on June 19, 1919.  Latvian nationalist troops and Estonian troops defeated the German troops on June 23, 1919.  Latvian nationalists and German troops agreed to a ceasefire mediated by the Allied Powers (Britain, France, Italy, and the US) on July 3, 1919, and Latvian nationalist troops entered Riga on July 4, 1919.  The government of Prime Minister Ulmanis returned to Riga on July 8, 1919, and the Landeswehr was integrated into the Latvian national army in July 1919.  On September 25, 1919, the German government announced that General Goltz would be replaced by General Walther von Eberhardt, who arrived in Latvia on October 3, 1919.  Anti-Bolshevik (“White”) Russian troops, known as the West Russian Army, commanded by General Pavel Bermondt-Avalov attacked Latvian nationalist troops near Riga on October 8, 1919.  The West Russian Army included several former German (“Iron Division”) troops.  British and French naval ships commanded by Admiral Sir Walter Cowan intervened in support of Latvian nationalists by blockading German shipping in the Baltic Sea beginning on October 10, 1919, and Estonia provided military assistance to the Latvian nationalists.  Latvian nationalist troops counter-attacked the anti-Bolshevik Russian troops on October 11, 1919.  British and French naval ships bombarded the German troops on October 15, 1919.  Latvian nationalist troops largely defeated the anti-Bolshevik Russian troops near Riga on November 10-11, 1919, and General Bermondt-Avalov resigned as commander of the West Russian Army on November 16, 1919.  Anti-Bolshevik Russian troops completed their withdrawal from Latvia on November 29, 1919, and German (Freikorps) troops commanded by General Walther von Eberhardt completed their withdrawal from Latvia on December 13, 1919.  Latvian nationalist troops launched a military offensive against the remaining Bolshevik Russian troops in Latvia on January 3, 1920, and the Latvian troops captured Rezekne on January 21, 1920.  Latvian and Bolshevik Russian representatives signed a ceasefire agreement on February 1, 1920.

Post-Conflict Phase (February 2, 1920-August 11, 1920): Elections for the Constitutional Assembly (Satversme) were held on April 17-18, 1920.  France granted de facto recogition of Latvia’s independence from Russia on April 28, 1920.  The 150-member Constituent Assembly convened and adopted a constitution on May 1, 1920, and Janis Cakste was elected president by the Constituent Assembly.  Latvian and Bolshevik Russian representatives signed the Treaty of Riga on August 11, 1920, which provided for Bolshevik Russian recognition of Latvian independence.

[Sources: Bilmanis 1951; Langer, 1972, 1041-1042; Laserson, 1943, 233-247; Pabriks and Purs, 2002; Page 1959, Rauch 1974; Raun, 1984, 453-467; Raun, 2006, 48-59.]