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Tartu Peace Treaty 2 February 1920

After difficult negotiations, the peace treaty between the Republic of Estonia and Soviet Russia was signed on 2 February 1920. The treaty ended the Estonian War of Independence that had lasted for nearly a year and a half, and was one of the first major achievements in the field of international relations for the young Estonian state. The treaty established Estonia’s eastern border, and Soviet Russia recognised the independence of the Republic of Estonia in perpetuity. The instruments of ratification of the treaty were exchanged in Moscow on 30 March 1920 and the treaty entered into force.

The delegation of the Tartu Peace Treaty. From the left: Ants Piip, Major General Jaan Soots, Chairman of the peace delegation Jaan Poska, Julius Seljamaa, Mait Püüman

 

Jaan Poska: “Today is the most important day of the past 700 years for Estonia, because today, for the first time, Estonia alone will determine the future fate of its people.”

 

 

  • Signings of Tartu Peace Treaty. Photo: National Archives of EstoniaThe Treaty of Tartu is written in Estonian and Russian, registered with the League of Nations and published with a French and English translation in Volume XI of the League of Nations Treaty Series in 1922.
  • The treaty comprises 20 articles and in addition to ending the state of war it also includs articles on the recognition of the Estonian state, covering border, security, economic, social and traffic policies.
  • As a result of the negotiations, hostilities actually ceased before the treaty was signed. Guns fell silent on 3 January at 10.30, when the truce between Estonia and the Soviet Union, signed on 31 December 1919, took effect. To demonstrate the importance of this day and to honour those who fought for Estonia’s freedom, a day of remembrance was introduced on 3 January to commemorate those who fought in the War of Independence.
  • According to the treaty, Russia recognised Estonian independence de jure, renouncing voluntarily “for ever all rights of sovereignty formerly held by Russia over the Esthonian people and territory”. The Treaty of Tartu was also the first international act recognising the Soviet government. Diplomatic relations were established between the two states.
  • Estonia was freed from all obligations towards Russia, while Russia was obligated to return the property that had been evacuated from Estonia; Estonia was also granted 15 million gold roubles from the Russian gold fund.
  • According to the treaty, every Estonian living in Russia had the right to move to Estonia. Based on the treaty, 38000 Estonians opted for Estonian nationality (at the end of the War of Independence, there were about 320 Estonian settlements or centres and around 190 000 Estonians in Russia).
  • On the Estonian side, the treaty was signed by members of the Constituent Assembly Jaan Poska, Ants Piip, Julius Seljamaa, Mait Püüman and Major-General Jaan Soots. The signatories on the Russian side were Adolph Joffe, member of the Central Executive Committee of the Soviet of Workmen, Peasants, Soldiers of the Red Army and Cossacks, and Isidore Gukovsky, member of the College of the Popular Commissariat of State Control.
  • Estonia’s peace treaty with Russia was the first international act that mentioned the right of peoples to decide their own destiny. Therefore, both the Treaty of Tartu as well as other treaties between Russia and its western neighbours that were modelled on it constituted an important step towards enshrining the nations’ right to self-determination in international law.
  • Although we had de facto diplomatic relations with many countries before the Tartu Peace Treaty, it was only after it was concluded that Estonia could assume its position in the international community. The signing of the Tartu Peace Treaty on 2 February 1920 and the end of the War of Independence opened the way for the international recognition of Estonia as an independent state.
 

Jaan Poska signing the Tartu Peace Treaty. Photo: National Archives of Estonia.

At the time, the Treaty of Tartu was, above all, a peace treaty, ending the carnage that began with the First World War.

The memoirs of William Tomingas, the secretary of the Estonian delegation, describe the solemn reception the delegation of the Treaty of Tartu received in Tallinn. Many people who had come to the streets to greet them took off their hats despite the bitter cold.

The head of the Estonian delegation Jaan Poska later remembered that for him, the greatest recognition for his work came from a woman standing on a street; she crossed herself and told him, “You saved our sons”…

 
 
 
Last updated: 3 February 2020

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