7. Russia/Estonia (1905-1920)


Crisis Phase (January 1, 1905-November 21, 1918): Estonian nationalists demonstrated against the Russian government beginning on January 12, 1905.  Government troops fired on demonstrators in Reval (Tallinn), Estonia on October 16, 1905, resulting in the deaths of 150 individuals.  Emperor Nicholas II granted political rights to citizens of the Russian empire on October 22, 1905.  The Russian government imposed martial law in Livland (southern Estonia) on November 22, 1905, Reval (Tallinn) on December 10, 1905, and Estland (northern Estonia) on December 26, 1905.  An Estonian congress of people’s representatives was held in Tallinn on November 27-29, Estonian nationalists rioted against Baltic German landowners in Estonia on December 12-20, 1905.  Some 300 individuals were killed in political violence in Estonia in 1905, and several hundred Estonians were executed by the Russian government in 1906.  Some 100,000 Estonian men were conscripted into the Russian military during World War I, including some 10,000 Estonian men killed during the war.  Following the Russian Revolution in February 1917, the Russian provisional government appointed Jaan Poska as governor-general of Estonia.  Some 40,000 Estonians demonstrated for autonomy in Petrograd (St. Petersburg) on March 26, 1917.  Elections to an Estonian provincial assembly (Maapaev) were held on May 23, 1917, and the Agrarian League (AL) won 13 out of 62 seats in the assembly.  The Labour Party (LP) headed by Otto Strandmann won eleven seats, and the Democratic Party (DP) headed by Jaan Tonisson won seven seats in the assembly.  The Estonian provincial assembly convened in July 1917.  Bolsheviks seized power in Tallinn (Estonia) on October 27, 1917.  Bolshevik Russian troops invaded Estonia on November 29, 1917.  The first round of elections to the Estonian constituent assembly was held in January 1918, but the Bolshevik government cancelled the elections after two-thirds of voters supported Estonian independence.  German troops occupied Estonia (Operation Faustschlag) beginning on February 18, 1918.  The Committee of Elders of the Land Council (executive body of the Estonian government) proclaimed Estonia’s independence from Russia on February 24, 1918, and Konstantin Paets formed a provisional government as prime minister on February 24, 1918.  Britain, France, and Italy provided de facto recognition of Estonian independence in May 1918.  German troops began their withdrawal from Estonia on November 11, 1918, and Estonian nationalists established a new provisional government headed by Prime Minister Konstantin Paets on November 19, 1918.  Some 1,000 Estonians were killed, and some 100,000 individuals were displaced during the crisis.

Conflict Phase (November 22, 1918-January 3, 1920): Bolshevik (“Red”) Russian troops invaded Estonia on November 22, 1918, and Bolshevik Russian troops captured Narva on November 28, 1918.  Finland agreed to provide military assistance (weapons and ammunition) to the Estonians on November 25, 1918.  Bolsheviks took control of the local government in Narva on November 29, 1918.  Twelve British naval ships commanded by Admiral E. Alexander Sinclair intervened in support of Estonian troops on December 12, 1918.  General Johann Laidoner was appointed as commander of the Estonian military on December 23, 1918.  British naval ships captured two Russian naval ships, Spartak and Avtroil, near Tallinn on December 28, 1918.  Some 3,500 volunteers from Finland (“Sons of the North”) commanded by Major Martin Ekstrom of Sweden and Lt. Colonel Hans Kalm of Estonia intervened in support of the Estonians beginning on December 30, 1918.  Britain provided military assistance (6,500 rifles, 200 machine guns, and two cannons) to the Estonians in December 1918.  France and the US also provided military and non-military assistance to the Estonians in December 1918.  Estonian troops and Finnish volunteer troops commanded by General Laidoner launched a military offensive against Bolshevik Russian troops on January 7, 1919.  Estonian troops liberated Tartu on January 14, 1919 and Narva on January 18, 1919.  Bolshevik Russian troops were forced out of Estonia in February 1919.  Finnish volunteer troops completed their withdrawal from Estonia in April 1919.  Some 185 Danish volunteer troops, as well as Swedish volunteer troops, intervened in support of the Estonians beginning on April 4, 1919.  Elections for the Constituent Assembly were held on April 7-8, 1919, and the Social Democratic Party (SDP) won 41 out of 120 seats in the assembly. The LP won 30 seats in the assembly.  The Constituent Assembly convened on April 23, 1919, and approved a provisional constitution on June 4, 1919.  Estonian troops commanded by General Laidoner launched a second military offensive against Bolshevik Russian troops on May 13, 1919, and Bolshevik Russian troops launched a counter-offensive against Estonian troops in July 1919.  Danish volunteer troops withdrew from Estonia on September 2, 1919.  Estonian troops launched a third military offensive against Bolshevik Russian troops on September 28, 1919.  The Constituent Assembly approved the Land Reform Act on October 10, 1919, which abolished Baltic German land ownership in Estonia.  Estonian and Bolshevik Russian representatives began negotiations in Tartu on December 5, 1919, and the representatives agreed to a cessation of military hostilities on January 3, 1920.  Some 5,600 Estonians and allied soldiers, as well as several thousand Bolshevik Russian soldiers, were killed during the conflict.

Post-Conflict Phase (January 4, 1920-February 2, 1920): Estonian and Bolshevik Russian representatives signed the Treaty of Dorpat (Treaty of Tartu) on February 2, 1920, which provided for Soviet Russian recognition of Estonian independence.

[Sources: Langer, 1972, 1042; Page, 1959; Raun, 1991; Smith, 2002.]