greatwar-1914: January 10, 1918 – Internationa…


January 10, 1918 – International Support Comes for Independent Finland, Poland, and Ukraine as Russia Continues to Fall Apart

Pictured – Russia and its discontents, a map from the New York Times, February 1918.

The general chaos of Russia’s First World War broke down the bureaucracy that held the empire together, and when Kerensky fell, most semblance of a Russian state east of Petrograd ceased to exist. Semi-autonomous Finland soon declared its independence in December 1917. Its neighbor Sweden gave recognition in January, and on the 10th Norway and Denmark followed.

Finland had been untouched by the war. Not so Poland and Ukraine, which had been battled over and now were held by the Central Powers. A German-supported government had been established in Poland, with view to creating an anti-Russian client state in Warsaw, much as Napoleon had done one hundred years before. Yet to many Poles a king who kowtowed to the Kaiser was no better than being part of the Russian Empire. The Polish Legions, groups of Polish soldiers who fought in the German and Austrian armies, had refused to swear an oath of loyalty to the Kaiser and been imprisoned, while an independence army gathered in France to fight on the Western Front. Polish independence was now an official Entente war aim; Britain gave its support on January 10. American President Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points offered more hope to Polish freedom fighters with their promise of a Europe bounded by ethnic self-determination.

The most chaotic new nation in Europe was Ukraine, where a People’s Republic had made its bid for independence in July 1917. On January 10, both Germany and the Bolsheviks agreed to recognize Ukraine as a free nation. Of course, what each side defined as “independent” is not what Ukrainians would have agreed to. A Bolshevik soviet had been established in Kharkov, and was already busy fighting against the Kiev-based nationalists, while the Germans planned to do as they had done in Poland and set up their own vassal fief. It was easy for the Germans to promise independence because they hoped to be the Great Power of Europe in no short time. It was easy for the Bolsheviks too to promise independence to Ukrainians when they believed a continent-wide socialist revolution would soon sweep all these nations from the earth.