100 Years Treaty of Rapallo

In view of the war in Ukraine and the lack of diplomatic and political efforts to achieve a ceasefire and a peace agreement, FIR recalls a treaty that 100 years ago made possible a form of neighborly normality in Europe after the First World War.

On April 16, 1922, the German Empire and the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR) concluded a treaty on the sidelines of the Genoa Conference in which they agreed to establish diplomatic relations. German Foreign Minister Walther Rathenau and Soviet Russian Foreign Minister Georgi Chicherin signed the treaty. Named after its place of origin, Rapallo, this treaty was a striking break in German foreign policy at the time.

The treaty not only normalized relations between the two former wartime adversaries, but also broke the respective international isolation to which both states were subjected by the then hegemonic powers of England, France and the United States. Their political interest was to isolate revolutionary Russia after the failure of the Civil War and to eliminate the German Reich as a potential power in Central Europe with the stipulations of the Treaty of Versailles.

For Soviet Russia, this treaty averted the danger that Germany might become part of an international anti-Soviet alliance, albeit as a weakened partner.

An important basis of the treaty was the clarification of economic-political interests, whereby a mutual renunciation of reparations by both states from the damages of the First World War or the socializations within the framework of the revolution was agreed upon.

The framework conditions of future trade were also clarified, which bridged the lack of access to the foreign exchange market for both states with the help of compensation contracts (goods against goods). Surrounding the treaty was an agreement to supply Soviet Russia with industrial equipment that would have enabled it to operate the Baku oil fields without the support of Western companies. In addition, the German Reich undertook to set up storage facilities and gas stations to market Russian oil products. In this way, the German Reich planned to reduce its dependence on British and American oil cartels, which dominated the market. Indirectly, this treaty also legitimized military-technical cooperation with private-law agreements paid by the Reichswehr Ministry’s budget not to affect the Versailles Treaty’s conditions of demilitarization. This involved an aircraft factory and a secret flying school, as well as other facilities. Soviet Russia and later the Soviet Union received, in part, modern weapons technology in return.

The opponents of this treaty were found in the German nationalist and fascist groups, who rejected any rapprochement with Soviet Russia. This went so far that members of the German fascist organization Consul on June 24, 1922, assassinated Walther Rathenau a few months after the treaty was signed.

For anti-fascists, the Treaty of Rapallo is interesting for three reasons:

  1. With the will to diplomacy, it was possible at that time to reach a treaty agreement even between states of diametrically different orientation.
  2. Such agreements were possible if the interests of both sides were seriously taken into account in the stipulations and if military or hegemonic threats were dispensed with.
  3. The main enemies of such balancing solutions were the nationalist and fascist forces, which had no interest in cooperation and peace.

The lesson of 100 years of the Rapallo Treaty for today is therefore:

No further fueling of the war in Ukraine with „hold-out“ slogans, arming with NATO weapons or promulgation of further sanctions, which not least harm the own countries, but beginning of serious diplomatic talks on the intergovernmental and international level to end the war and create a contractual agreement.