Egils Levits
Valsts prezidenta Egila Levita uzruna Latvijas–Krievijas miera līguma parakstīšanas 100. gadadienas pasākumā Rīgas pilī


Ladies and gentlemen,

Dear participants,



Warm welcome to the Riga Castle and today’s event marking the centenary of Latvian-Soviet Peace Treaty.

This treaty bore special significance for Latvia and its people when it was signed a hundred years ago, and its political, symbolic and legal significance only rose over the past century.



Peace treaty with Russia, signed on 11 August 1920, was much more than an international agreement. It signified so much for us here in Latvia: the end of the war, peace and victory over those who opposed the idea of independent Latvian State.

By signing Peace Treaty, Russia officially recognised national independence of Latvia and irrevocably renounced all sovereign rights of the Russian State over the Latvian people and Latvia's territory.

20 years later, when the Soviet Union broke internal law, the conditions of the agreement and annexed Latvia, Peace Treaty became even more important.

Latvian State continuity doctrine and occupation non-recognition policy makes clear references to Latvian-Soviet Peace Treaty as one of the international agreements violated by Soviet Union. Throughout five decades of occupation, we constantly reminded of this breach of international law and demanded restoration of Latvia’s independence based on state continuity doctrine.

And it is only logical that the 4 May 1990 Declaration on the Restoration of Independence of the Republic of Latvia was built on Peace Treaty of 11 August 1920.

I believe there are no similar cases in international law. Estonia and Lithuania, of course, are two other examples, and there has also been a similar case in Asia, even in the 21st century. I am talking about restoration of West Timor’s independence after an extended occupation, which lasted less than 30 years instead of 50 years. International law is extremely resilient. It can withstand and ensure continued supremacy of international law until circumstances change and international law can be applied again. That is why these treaties were so important not only for us, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, but also international law itself as proof and assurance of sustainability of international law.



Political, symbolic and legal significance of the 11 August 1920 Peace Treaty has contributed to it being the most well-known and researched international agreement in Latvia.

Let me, however, stress that today’s official position of the other signatory party, Russia, renounces the power and binding nature of Latvian-Soviet Peace Treaty. Looking at Russia’s official position, we see no hint of a real desire to admit violations of international law against Latvia (and other countries in the region) and provide reliable assurances that it will prevent similar events from occurring in future.

Instead, Russia keeps perpetuating history myths about inter-war period and clearly demonstrates its unwillingness to accept the truth about actual history.

It is rather baffling and worrying to see Stalin-era political ideology still being used in modern international system.



That is why Peace Treaty is not just a document of the past, a history. As long as past wrongdoings remain uncorrected and historic justice is not restored, and there is no proof that our neighbour has really changed and is committed to ensure full adherence to international law, Peace Treaty will not become a historical document because of its current contentious nature.

Russia believes that because of fundamental change of circumstances agreement became void in 1940 when Peace Treaty became inapplicable.

However, as the doctrine of international law suggests, fundamental change of circumstances cannot be basis for unilateral termination of the agreement if such change, referred to by the party, has resulted from violation of obligations under such agreement or any other international norms against other contractual parties (in our case, Latvia).

Let me reiterate, according to the doctrine of fundamental change of circumstances, or clausula rebus sic stantibus, a contractual party may terminate the agreement only in the case of bona fide (good faith) changed circumstance. But this was not the case of Latvia, and that is why we, as principles of international law suggest, are, of course, fully convinced that this treaty is still in force.

Russia as legal successor of the Soviet Union should not be referring to clausula rebus sic stantibus. Contractual parties did not come to an agreement to terminate the Peace Treaty in good faith, so the treaty is still in force.

However, I do not wish to dwell on these legal principles of international law today. Our national position is absolutely clear and supported by the whole international community.



Back then, hundred years ago, Peace Treaty was concluded after intense and extremely complicated negotiations, which started in Moscow and were finalised in Riga.

Latvia was the main proponent of Peace Treaty. Neither Soviet Russia nor Bolsheviks led by Pēteris Stučka who were forced to retreat from Latvia or Entente Powers who had won the World War I had any interest in such treaty.

Entente powers wanted to keep one solid line of defence against Bolsheviks as long as possible and hoped to prompt Lenin’s demise, whereas Soviet Russia viewed such peace treaties as a temporary political measure allowing them to focus of their main goal, the World revolution.

Due to complex political context, as chair of the Latvian delegation, Jānis Vesmanis, later recalled, negotiations resembled an ‘endurance race’: success required persistence. And our diplomats successfully achieved what we needed and hoped for.



In a broader European context, Latvian-Soviet Peace Treaty was part of the so-called Versailles-Riga system, which established the political structure of Europe after the World War I.

Treaty of Versailles between Allied and associated powers and Germany that had lost the World War I, signed on 29 June 1919, became the first element of this system, which was completed upon signing of peace treaty between Poland and Soviet Russia on 18 March 1921 right her, in Riga.

Treaty of Versailles and Riga Treaty established borders that existed until the outbreak of the World War II.



Initial negotiations in Moscow on content of the treaty were especially difficult due to opposition from Latvian Bolsheviks who had been forced to retreat to Russia. Negotiations were on the brink of collapse several times.

Unfortunately, Latvian delegates soon realised that Russian negotiators are stalling and trying to back out of previous agreements. Latvia approached these fierce negotiations from a purely rational point, claiming that Russia attacked Latvia in December of 1918, thus Soviet Russia should be held accountable for starting war.

However, Moscow completely dismissed these claims. It refused to pay reparations for war damages. Chair of Russian delegation, Adolph Joffe insisted that Bolsheviks never officially declared war on Latvia and any claims to indemnify war damages by paying some kind of reparations are groundless. It seems that at this stage of negotiations Russian delegation was convinced that Russia’s attack on another country without declaration of war justifiable and no reparations have to be paid.

Experts had estimated that Latvian economy lost more than 3 billion golden roubles during the World War I. So, it would only be fair if Latvia received at least a part of this amount from Russia.

But Soviet delegation turned down Latvia’s requests for a piece of Russian Empire’s gold reserve, claiming that ‘these assets should not be dissolved at whim’.

Russia felt it could force its opinion on Latvia because resistance of White Movement had already been almost broken down by socialist government by the time negotiations began in Moscow. Only Wrangel’s army still fought near Crimea, but it was obvious that it’s defeat is inevitable and everyone understood that.

According to Professor Aivars Stranga, ‘Each party had different intentions regarding peace talks: Russians wanted a quick deal, no concessions; Latvia sought a peace deal that would guarantee maximum possible economic gains’. In other words, Latvia wanted maximum reparations or war damage compensation.

Although members of the Constitutional Assembly, parliament of Latvia at the time, who constantly followed the progress of negotiations in Moscow and Riga voiced different opinions, people of Latvia and political parties elected to the parliament had no doubt about the common goal, everyone sought only one thing: immediate peace for Latvia. A good working relationship between Latvia and Soviet Russia would allow Latvia to get back to what it had longed for so long: to build the Latvian state.

The only advantage Latvian negotiators had was Latvian soldiers who stood on the Latvia-Russia front line, a fact Russia had to reckon with. Chair of the Latvian delegation, Jānis Vesmanis, later wrote: ‘Although small, our units did not move an inch from their positions. These men were the only support and real help our delegation could get.’

However, it was difficult for Latvia could not continue to supply such a big wartime force, which had grown to 60 thousand men by then, for long.

Another important point for Latvia was refugees of World War I who had escaped to Russia, and Latvian and Russian negotiators managed to find settlement suitable for both sides. Agreement facilitating return of refugees was signed on 12 June 1920, allowing more than 225 thousand refugees to leave Russia and return home to Latvia in subsequent years.



In July, when negotiations moved to Riga, negotiators got back to fierce discussions on each point. Eventually, on 11 August, Peace Treaty was ready to be signed in an official ceremony that took place in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a building on 3 Krišjāņa Valdemāra Street. Latvian-Soviet Peace Treaty was signed on behalf of Latvia by Chair of Latvian Delegation, Jānis Vesmanis, lawyers Pēteris Berģis, Ansis Buševics, Kārlis Pauļuks and Colonel Eduards Kalniņš, and Adolph Joffe and Jacob Hanetski for Soviet Russia.

Fate of the chair of the Latvian delegation, Jānis Vesmanis, was also very symbolic. In 1920 he was the chief negotiator, however, when Soviet Russia occupied Latvia, he was arrested and deported to the Soviet Union where he died behind bars.

Following the signing, during the Constitutional Assembly debate on ratification of the Peace Treaty on 2 September 1920, Latvia’s Foreign Minister Zigfrīds Anna Meierovics underlined that this is economically not the best peace deal, but it definitely is the best agreement Latvian delegation could have made under the circumstances.

Vote of members of Constitutional Assembly on ratification of Latvian-Soviet Peace Treaty was unanimous.



Peace Treaty has 23 articles. It’s scope covers all areas of relationship between Latvia and Russia. Treaty has four separate sections. Each of them has its own purpose and specific obligations.

Firstly, Article 1 ended the state of war between the countries and established peaceful relations between Latvia and Russia.

Secondly, Article 2 stated that Latvia and its people no longer belong to Russia and Russia recognises the right of self-determination for Latvian people. This is the core provision of the Treaty that is why I would like to quote in full:

‘Russia unreservedly recognises the independence and sovereignty of the Latvian State and voluntarily and irrevocably renounces all sovereign rights over the Latvian people and territory which formerly belonged to Russia under the then existing constitutional law as well as under international Treaties, which, in the sense here indicated, shall in future cease to be valid. The previous status of subjection of Latvia to Russia shall not entail any obligation towards Russia on the part of the Latvian people or territory.’

Thirdly, Article 3 established border between Latvia and Russia.

And finally, or fourthly, other articles of the Peace Treaty that contained provisions regarding post-war relationship between the parties, settling remaining disputes resulting from World War I and Latvian War of Independence. Peace Treaty provided for release of war prisoners and their return home, and that persons who resided, or whose parents, resided in Latvia before 1 August 1914, or the outbreak of World War I, are recognised as Latvian citizens.

Peace Treaty contained numerous economic provisions because Latvia really hoped to restore its prior trade ties with Russia that existed before World War I. However, as Latvia soon painfully realised, these hopes were in vain.

It must be noted that Russia fulfilled only a few of its obligations under the Treaty. For example, before the war the amount of deposits of Latvian citizens in Russian banks reached 80 million golden roubles and none of this money was ever recovered.

By the way, today we can often hear Russian propaganda shaming us for Red Latvian Riflemen who fought for Soviet Russia during the Russian Civil War, as if Latvian State would have any power over what these men did. In this regard, it is very interesting to read the special note of Article 4 of the Peace Treaty, which says that ‘in spite of their name, ‘divisions of Latvian Chasseurs’ shall have no connection either with the people or with the State of Latvia’.



Despite all circumstances, Peace Treaty was a welcome relief that finally ended the war and established peaceful coexistence. For people of Latvia it was an essential legal document, necessary for recognition of Latvian State, a document that defined the citizenry and the Eastern border of Latvia.

Russia, however, regarded peace treaties signed with other countries after the World War I and Russian Civil War as a political and military necessity, temporary measure that can be reversed as soon as odds turn in Moscow’ s favour. Russia was still holding on to its World revolution plans. Russia cared little for obligations it signed up to under such agreements and international commitments they entailed.

Democratic Republic of Georgia is one of such tragic examples. Georgia declared its independence on 26 May 1918. On 7 May 1920, it signed a peace treaty with Soviet Russia. On 11 January 1921, European powers de-jure recognised the Georgian State. And, on 12 February 1921, Soviet Russia launched an attack on Georgia without declaring war. Georgian Bolsheviks from Russia were appointed to Georgian Revolutionary Committee with seat in captured Tbilisi. Committee formed the Georgian Soviet Socialist Republic, which was later incorporated unto the Soviet Union.

Let me recall that, although outnumbered, Polish army defeated Russian forces near Warsaw only a couple of days after the signing of Latvian-Soviet Peace Treaty. Victory of Polish army under the command of Marshal Piłsudski over attacking Russian forces became the Miracle of the Vistula.

It is deeply symbolic that after the victory of our Polish friends Soviet-Polish Peace Treaty was signed here, in Riga, in the House of the Blackheads, on 18 March 1921.

Poland’s victory stopped Russia’s military expansion in Europe and gave Poland, and other newly formed countries that emerged from the ruins of Russian Empire, including Latvia, opportunity to exercise their rights to self-determination.

In four days from now Poland will celebrate the 100 years of this historic victory and we, Latvians, will mark this day together with Poland and other allies.



Let me thank the representatives of our neighbouring countries, foreign ministers of Finland and Poland, and ambassador of Lithuania, for joining us today for a celebration of historic day for all of us, all the countries of the region. Each of them committed their troops to help Latvia win the War of Independence and eventually sign this Peace Treaty. Latvian War of Independence is part of our common struggle for self-determination of all of our people.

History teaches us to be vigilant and cautious. Story of a century of various peace treaties is also the one of international obligations and parties that have never intended to adhere to and respect them, about lack of goodwill in international relations, ambition to redraw the map of the region and compromise peace and stability as soon as opportunity presents itself.

That is why centenary of Latvian-Soviet Peace Treaty is a historical day to remember. It constantly reminds us that we need to keep strengthening the rules-based international order, monitoring of adherence to international law, and never stop enhancing our internal and external security.

Right now, in recent days, we have been observing worrying developments in our neighbouring country Belarus. We hope that situation there will be resolved democratically and according to international law.

Like our friends in Finland, Estonia, Lithuania and Poland, and other European Union and NATO countries whose ambassadors are with us here today, we believe that international law, international security safeguards rooted in international law and constant, meaningful collective efforts to ensure our own security and security of our partners are crucial for our peace, peace in the region, peace in Europe and the whole world.

Thank you for your attention!

11.08.2020. Rīgas pilī svinīgi atzīmē Latvijas–Krievijas miera līguma parakstīšanas 100. gadadienu