The Treaty of Rapallo
Dr. Sabine Mangold-Will / History
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The Treaty of Rapallo... or the Tactical Solo Operation of Two Outlawed States

The Academic senior councillor Dr. Sabine Mangold-Will about a contractual perspective revision of the German eastern and the Russian western borders, which were signed on April 16, 1922.

Where is Rapallo located?

Mangold-Will: Rapallo is one of the cities worth seeing on the coast of Liguria. It is located
about 30 km from Genoa, on the upper shaft of the Italian boot.

On Easter Sunday, April 16, 1922, the Treaty of Rapallo was signed. What was it all about?

Mangold-Will: It was a treaty under international law between Germany and Russia, signed on the fringes of the Genoa Conference, an international financial and economic conference to settle German reparations. Accordingly, the content of the treaty was the mutual waiver of reparations and compensation payments, as well as the organization of future economic cooperation. In addition, it was agreed that diplomatic relations would be established between two states newly created after World War I: the German Reich, which had become a republic, and the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. 

Why was this treaty so important for Russia and the German Reich?

Mangold-Will: The treaty developed a very fundamental function in the public justification for both sides: two states internationally ostracized by the Western victorious powers - namely the losing power of World War I and the Bolsheviks - concluded a treaty with each other, to the horror of the Western powers, thus opposing the political interests of the Allies. They worked tactically by going it alone, which was supposed to expand their room for maneuver.
In practical terms, as research that only emerged after the opening of Russian archives after 1990 shows, it was primarily a matter of flanking talks that had already been going on for some time and were aimed at German-Russian cooperation in military policy and armaments. For Germany, the aim was to revise the Treaty of Versailles; for Russia, it was to obtain financial resources and technical support to rebuild or expand its military capacity. The common denominator was a perspective revision of Germany's eastern and Russia's western borders. 

The treaty also contained military aspects with which the Germans could circumvent the Treaty of Versailles. What were these, for example?

Mangold-Will: Contrary to contemporary rumors, the treaty did not contain a secret additional protocol on military cooperation. Rather, as I said, this was negotiated in advance and in the surrounding area. Consequently, the economic cooperation agreed in the treaty mainly concerned activities that de facto circumvented the military restrictions of the Versailles Treaty. A well-known example is the construction of an aircraft factory by Junkers-Werke and the establishment of a flight school in Russia, where not only aircraft were built with German assistance, but German and Russian pilots were also trained for military use. Thus, in practice, the buildup of a German air force, which was expressly forbidden by the Treaty of Versailles, took place in Russia between 1925 and 1933.

The Western powers and also representatives of the German Reich were critical of the signing of the treaty. Why?

Mangold-Will: The interest of the Western powers is obvious: They feared Germany as an active political actor and therefore criticized the diplomatic "go-it-alone" approach, especially since they were not unaware of the secret background of the treaty. The British fear of a strengthening of the Bolsheviks and an anti-British Russia-Germany alliance, possibly including Turkey, can be found in the files of the Foreign Office.
In Germany, criticism of the Treaty of Rapallo was based on two main aspects: The treaty with Soviet Russia was seen as a portent, but not so much of the ideological victory of communism in Germany; rather, it was criticized as a provocation of the victorious Western powers, with whom it was hoped that negotiations would lead to a mitigation of the Versailles Treaty. Significantly, Rapallo was welcomed by the opponents of the Weimar Republic precisely because of its military-political background.

Can the Treaty of Rapallo also be interpreted as the first step out of the isolation of World War I?

Mangold-Will: One can interpret the treaty as an attempt to overcome the international marginalization after the defeat in World War I, especially if the idea of integrating Turkey into the military cooperation between the Reichswehr and the Red Army had been realized. Then a separate, anti-Western alliance system could have emerged from it. De facto, however, the treaty with Soviet Russia fueled the distrust of the world's leading Western powers, especially Great Britain, and at the very least inhibited the international recognition and integration of the Weimar Republic. The acute consequence for Germany was the failure to settle the reparations issue at the Genoa Conference and, indirectly, the occupation of the Ruhr by France in January 1923.

Whenever Germany moves too much towards Russia, i.e. Adenauer's trip to Moscow in 1955, Brandt's Ostpolitik after 1970 or Schröder's alleged Berlin-Paris-Moscow axis, people talk about the Rapallo complex. Is this a permanent European fear of a possible repetition of the events of 1922?

Mangold-Will: No, this is not a real fear of a unilateral tie between Germany and Russia (because Rapallo was not that), but the political instrumentalization of an alleged permanent fear. The Rapallo complex is, after all, always held by those who reject Russia's integration into the international system in a particular historical situation, and these political actors therefore work with the imagined fear that Germany could harm itself by breaking the international ostracism and isolation of Russia - be it Soviet Russia or "Putin"-Russia. The only ones who could point to Rapallo with justified fear usually do not, because the memory of the Hitler-Stalin Pact overrides the memory of Rapallo: the real victim of the German-Soviet-Russian merger was to be, in perspective, the newly founded state of Poland, whose dissolution was in the interest of both sides.

The so-called Pajama Conference shortly before the signing of the treaty was a curious event. What was it all about?

Mangold-Will: Curious is unfortunately a completely inappropriate word. In retrospect, the term "pajama conference" was used to defame Walter Rathenau in particular, the foreign minister in office in 1922, because he was the man in the pajamas. Rathenau was deeply skeptical of the agreement with Soviet Russia, but on the night of Easter Sunday he was put under massive pressure to sign the treaty by two diplomats from the Foreign Office, Ago von Maltzan and Ernst von Simson, as well as Reich Chancellor Josef Wirth. One of Maltzan's associates, Moritz Schlesinger, spoke more accurately in his memoirs of a "nocturnal conspiracy." Rathenau was assassinated a few months later, in June 1922, partly because of the drafting of the Rapallo Treaty by members of the anti-Republic Consul organization.

Uwe Blass (Interview from 03.03.2022)

Dr. Sabine Mangold-Will studied history, political science and Islamic studies at Saarland University. She is an adjunct professor of modern and contemporary history at Bergische Universität in Wuppertal.

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