Treaty of Rapallo

Germany and the Soviet Union, two countries isolated by the Western powers victorious in World War I, entered into a treaty that settled a number of postwar issues and signaled that both countries were willing to alter the terms of the Treaty of Versailles.

Summary of Event

In 1919 the government of the newly formed Weimar Republic in Germany was forced to sign the Treaty of Versailles, Versailles, Treaty of (1919) which officially ended World War I. Germany was required to pay significant reparations for war damages to the Allies; the governments of Britain, France, Italy, and the United States wanted to be sure that Germany would never be able to recover its military might and pose another threat to peace in Europe. At the same time, the Allies were systematically working to isolate the new Communist regime in Russia, whose draconian moves to nationalize industries and eliminate internal opposition had met with international opprobrium. The stage was set for the Soviet Union and Germany, once enemies, to seek some form of mutual cooperation as a means of returning to prominence in world affairs. Rapallo, Treaty of (1922)
German-Soviet alliance (1922)[German Soviet alliance]
[kw]Treaty of Rapallo (Apr. 16, 1922)
[kw]Rapallo, Treaty of (Apr. 16, 1922)
Rapallo, Treaty of (1922)
German-Soviet alliance (1922)[German Soviet alliance]
[g]Italy;Apr. 16, 1922: Treaty of Rapallo[05570]
[c]Diplomacy and international relations;Apr. 16, 1922: Treaty of Rapallo[05570]
[c]Government and politics;Apr. 16, 1922: Treaty of Rapallo[05570]
Wirth, Joseph
Rathenau, Walther
Chicherin, Georgy Vasilyevich
Seeckt, Hans von
Lloyd George, David

That opportunity arose three years later. In late 1921, the Germans found themselves unable to meet their obligations, and they informed the Allies that they would be defaulting on scheduled payments. While the French government wished to exercise immediate reprisals against Germany, British prime minister David Lloyd George convinced the Allies to hold a conference in Genoa, Italy, beginning on April 10, 1922. Previous meetings to discuss Germany’s obligations had been held without that nation’s active participation; however, despite the strong reservations of French premier Raymond Poincaré, Poincaré, Raymond the Allies invited both Germany and Russia to be full participants in what was called the European Economic Conference. Lloyd George hoped that his attempt to reach out would improve political relations among European nations and promote more lasting economic stability on the Continent.

The invitations surprised leaders in both Germany and Russia, whose political and military strategists had been discussing the feasibility of signing a bilateral agreement that would benefit both nations. Not convinced that the Allies would ever temper their harsh treatment of Germany, Chancellor Joseph Wirth allowed subordinates to convince him that a treaty with Germany’s traditional enemy to the east was necessary if his country were to recover from economic ruin.

Nothing had been concluded between the two countries, however, when the German delegation left for Genoa. Wirth headed the delegation, which included Walther Rathenau, Germany’s foreign minister. During the first week at the conference, while Germany was treated with polite neglect, representatives of the Allies held secret meetings with Russia’s commissar for foreign affairs, Georgy Vasilyevich Chicherin, to discuss a potential treaty between the Soviet government and the Allies that would exclude the Germans. Chicherin informed the Germans of the Allies’ offer and signaled his country’s willingness to enter into an agreement with Germany rather than sign a pact with the Allies. Armed with this information, on Easter Sunday of 1922, Rathenau met with the Soviets at the Italian city of Rapallo, near Genoa, to sign a treaty binding the two countries in a pact that stressed economic cooperation.

By the terms of the Treaty of Rapallo, both countries renounced each other’s wartime reparations requirements and the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (1918). Brest-Litovsk, Treaty of (1918)[Brest Litovsk, Treaty of] Germany also agreed not to seek reparations from Russia for losses suffered by German citizens when the Communist government nationalized or expropriated a number of private industries after the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. This agreement was contingent on the Soviet government’s agreement to refuse to make such payments to citizens of other nations. Each country named the other a most favored nation for all commercial and trade relations. Most important, however, the treaty assured the resumption of diplomatic relations, a move that was especially important for the Communist government of Russia. German-Soviet relations had been severely strained in 1918, when the German ambassador was murdered in Moscow.

The Allies were less alarmed by the public provisions of the treaty than by the rumors that the two countries had secretly agreed to engage in joint military operations. Even though both Chicherin and Wirth denied the existence of any secret agreements, the Allies were certain that such provisions existed. Technically, the two statesmen were accurate; there were no military codicils in the treaty signed at Rapallo. The truth, however, was that a separate secret agreement covering military cooperation had been drafted, and that document, known as the Provisional Trade Agreement, was signed in July of 1922. The chief advocate of this pact was General Hans von Seeckt, commander of the German army, who felt that Germany’s return to international prominence depended on his country’s ability to reconstitute its military forces. Under the terms of this agreement, the Soviets began to help Germany in two important ways: by providing clandestine assistance as Germany rebuilt its army beyond the limits established by the Treaty of Versailles and by assisting the Germans as they re-created their air force, which had been eliminated by the treaty.

The Allies were furious when they learned of the Treaty of Rapallo. Lloyd George felt he had been betrayed by the Soviets, and Poincaré immediately launched a tirade against the Germans, warning that France was ready to impose the terms of the Treaty of Versailles unilaterally if necessary. Poincaré followed through on his threat a year later, when he ordered French troops to occupy the Rhineland (in western Germany) after the Germans defaulted on payments for the second time. For their part, German politicians were pleased with their ability to stand up to the Allies, but German distrust for Russia ran strong in the country, and the populace expressed dismay at their government’s actions. Within months, a group of right-wing extremists used the treaty as an excuse to assassinate Rathenau, who was portrayed as the principal figure behind this rapprochement.


The immediate significance of the Treaty of Rapallo was the further strain it caused in relationships between the Germans and the Allies (who were already distrustful of the Weimar government). Officials in France were particularly bitter; they had felt all along that Germany was making excuses for not paying reparations agreed to under the terms of the Versailles treaty. For the signatories of the treaty, the new pact gave both a chance to show the world that they could conduct international relations in defiance of the Allies, which Germany and Russia viewed as the sources of draconian, isolating measures. The most important long-term impact of this treaty was to permit the two countries to operate as allies on commercial and military levels; without the Treaty of Rapallo, Germany would not have been able to sign the secret military agreements with Russia that allowed it to begin to rebuild its armed forces. That buildup continued steadily, if somewhat modestly, for a decade until Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany. Under his leadership, rearmament became a public matter. Rapallo, Treaty of (1922)
German-Soviet alliance (1922)[German Soviet alliance]

Further Reading

  • Eyck, Erich. A History of the Weimar Republic. Vol. 1. Translated by Harlan P. Hanson and Robert G. L. Waite. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1967. Extensive discussion of the events that drove Germany to enter into a bilateral treaty with Russia; analyzes motives of German politicians and military leaders influential in approving the document.
  • Feuchtwanger, E. J. From Weimar to Hitler: Germany, 1918-33. 2d ed. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995. Stresses the economic reasons behind Germany’s decision to sign the treaty and the treaty’s impact on the German economy after Western retaliation against the pact between Russia and Germany.
  • Heiber, Helmut. The Weimar Republic. Translated by W. E. Yuill. Oxford, England: Blackwell, 1993. Concentrates on political maneuverings of the countries involved in settling issues related to Germany’s postwar reparations and on motives of British and French politicians who wished to keep Germany isolated and weak.
  • Jacobson, Jon. When the Soviet Union Entered World Politics. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994. Examines the treaty from the Soviet perspective, citing advantages Lenin gained at home and on the international stage through this bilateral agreement.
  • London, Kurt, ed. The Soviet Union: A Half Century of Communism. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1965. Offers different assessments of the short- and long-term significance of the treaty for German-Soviet relations.
  • Mommsen, Hans. The Rise and Fall of Weimar Democracy. Translated by Elborg Forster and Larry Eugene Jones. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1996. Examines the political and economic background that led Germany and Russia to enter into the treaty and briefly examines its impact on world politics in the 1920’s.
  • Nicholls, A. J. Weimar and the Rise of Hitler. 4th ed. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000. Surveys events leading up to the signing of the treaty and offers extensive analysis of its impact in Germany.

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