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Russia sought to cross Poland in order to stimulate a Europe-wide communist revolution. Vladimir Lenin saw Poland as the bridge the Red Army had to cross to assist other Communist movements and bring about more European revolutions.
By , Polish forces had taken control of much of Western Ukraine , emerging victorious from the Polish—Ukrainian War. In the Russian part of Ukraine Symon Petliura tried to defend and strengthen the Ukrainian People's Republic but as the Bolsheviks began to win the Russian Civil War , they started to advance westward towards the disputed Ukrainian territories, causing Petliura's forces to retreat to Podolia.
The Polish offensive was met by a successful Red Army counter-attack. The Soviet operation pushed the Polish forces back westward all the way to the Polish capital, Warsaw , while the Directorate of Ukraine fled to Western Europe.
Western fears of Soviet troops arriving at the German frontiers increased the interest of Western powers in the war. In mid-summer, the fall of Warsaw seemed certain but in mid-August, the tide had turned again, as the Polish forces achieved an unexpected and decisive victory at the Battle of Warsaw. In the wake of the Polish advance eastward, the Soviets sued for peace and the war ended with a cease-fire on 18 October The war largely determined the Soviet—Polish border for the Interbellum.
Poland gained a territory of around kilometers east of its former border, the Curzon Line , which had been defined by an international commission after World War I. The war is known by several names.
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In some Polish sources it is also referred as the "War of " Polish: Wojna roku. There is disagreement over the dates of the war. The ending date is given as either or ; this confusion stems from the fact that while the cease-fire was put into force on 18 October , the official treaty ending the war was signed months later, on 18 March While the events of can be described as a border conflict, and only in early did both sides engage in all-out war, the conflicts that took place in were an inevitable escalation of fighting that began in earnest a year earlier.
In the end, the events of were a logical, though unforeseen, consequence of the prelude. The war's main territories of contention lie in present-day Ukraine and Belarus; until the middle of the 13th century they formed part of the medieval state of Kievan Rus'. After a period of internecine wars and the Mongolian invasion of , these lands became objects of expansion for the Kingdom of Poland and for the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. In , in accordance with the terms of the Union of Lublin between Poland and Lithuania, some of the Ukrainian lands passed to the Polish Crown.
Between and , much of the Eastern Slavic territories became part of the Russian Empire in the course of the Partitions of Poland. After the Congress of Vienna of —, much of the territory of the Duchy of Warsaw Poland transferred into Russian control. Several small nations of the region saw a chance for real independence and seized the opportunity to gain it;  Soviet Russia viewed its lost territories as rebellious provinces, vital for its security,  but did not have the resources to react swiftly.
With the success of the Greater Poland Uprising — , Poland had re-established its statehood for the first time since the partition.
Forming the Second Polish Republic , it proceeded to carve out its borders from the territories of its former partitioners.
Many of these territories had long been the object of conflict between Russia and Poland. Poland was not alone in its new-found opportunities and troubles.
Ukrainians , Belarusians, Lithuanians , Estonians and Latvians fought against each other and against the Russians, who were just as divided.
Winston Churchill commented sarcastically: "The war of giants has ended, the wars of the pygmies begin. The Polish—Soviet war likely happened more by accident than design, as it seems unlikely that anyone in Soviet Russia or in the new Second Republic of Poland would have deliberately planned a major foreign war.
Revolutionary Russia, meanwhile, focused on thwarting counter-revolution and the intervention by the Allied powers to While the first clashes between Polish and Soviet forces occurred in February , it would take almost a year before both sides realised that they had become engaged in a full-scale war. As early as late the leader of Russia's new Bolshevik Government, Vladimir Lenin , inspired by the Red Army's civil-war victories over White Russian anti-Communist forces and their Western allies, began to see the future of the revolution with greater optimism.
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The Bolsheviks proclaimed the need for the dictatorship of the proletariat , and agitated for a worldwide Communist community. They had an avowed intent to link the revolution in Russia with an expected revolution in Germany and to assist other Communist movements in Western Europe; Poland was the geographical bridge that the Red Army would have to cross to provide direct physical support in the West.
This government was very unpopular due to terror and the collection of food and goods for the army. Officially, however, the Soviet Government denied charges of trying to invade Europe. As Polish-Soviet fighting progressed, particularly around the time Poland's Kiev Offensive had been repelled in June , the Soviet policy-makers, including Lenin, increasingly saw the war as a real opportunity to spread the revolution westwards.
On the other hand, Poland had no intention of joining the Western intervention in the Russian Civil War  or of conquering Russia itself. Closed within the boundaries of the 16th century, cut off from the Black Sea and Baltic Sea, deprived of land and mineral wealth of the South and South-east, Russia could easily move into the status of second-grade power.
Poland as the largest and strongest of new states, could easily establish a sphere of influence stretching from Finland to the Caucasus. As a result, in July he was transferred [ by whom? During the war, Polish decryption of Red Army radio messages made it possible to use small Polish military forces efficiently against the Soviet Russian forces and to win many individual battles, most importantly the Battle of Warsaw.
The first serious armed conflict of the war took place around 14 February   — 16 February, near the towns of Manevychi and Biaroza in Belarus. Both Polish and Soviet forces had also been engaging the Ukrainian forces , and active fighting was going on in the territories of the Baltic countries cf. Estonian , Latvian and Lithuanian Wars of Independence.
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In early March , Polish units started an offensive, crossing the Neman River , taking Pinsk , and reaching the outskirts of Lida. Both the Soviet and Polish advances began around the same time in April Polish forces started a major offensive on 16 April  , resulting in increasing numbers of troops arriving in the area.
That month the Red Army had captured Grodno , but was soon pushed out by a Polish counter-offensive. Unable to accomplish its objectives and facing strengthening offensives from the White forces, the Red Army withdrew from its positions and reorganised. Soon the Polish—Soviet War would begin in earnest. Polish forces continued a steady eastern advance.
After heavy fighting, the town of Babruysk near the Berezina River was captured. Polish success continued until early In early summer , the White movement had gained the initiative, and its forces under the command of Anton Denikin were marching on Moscow. At the same time, Lenin offered Poles the territories of Minsk , Zhytomyr , Khmelnytskyi , in what was described as mini " Brest "; Polish military leader Kazimierz Sosnkowski wrote that the territorial proposals of the Bolsheviks were much better than what the Poles had wanted to achieve.
In , several unsuccessful attempts at peace negotiations were made by various Polish and Russian factions. The Warsaw Treaty , an agreement with the exiled Ukrainian nationalist leader Symon Petlura signed on 21 April , was the main Polish diplomatic success.
Petlura, who formally represented the Government of the Ukrainian People's Republic by then de facto defeated by Bolsheviks , along with some Ukrainian forces, fled to Poland, where he found asylum. His control extended only to a sliver of land near the Polish border.
In exchange, he was promised independence for Ukraine and Polish military assistance in reinstalling his government in Kiev. Yet both of them were opposed at home. Petlura, in turn, was criticised by many Ukrainian politicians for entering a pact with the Poles and giving up on Western Ukraine.
The alliance with Petlura did result in 15, pro-Polish allied Ukrainian troops at the beginning of the campaign,  increasing to 35, through recruitment and desertion from the Soviet side during the war. Norman Davies notes that estimating strength of the opposing sides is difficult — even generals often had incomplete reports of their own forces. By early , the Red Army had been very successful against the White armies.
The Polish front became their most important war theater and a plurality of Soviet resources and forces were diverted to it. By the time the Poles launched their Kiev offensive, the Red South-western Front had about 82, soldiers, including 28, front-line troops. The Poles had some numerical superiority, estimated from 12, to 52, personnel.
During , Red Army personnel numbered , at the Western front and ,  for the South-west Front in Galicia. Grigoriy Krivosheev gives similar numbers, with , personnel for the Western Front and , personnel for the South-western Front between July and August. Norman Davies shows the growth of Red Army forces on the Polish front in early .
The Polish forces grew from approximately , in to over , in early Given Soviet losses, there was rough numerical parity between the two armies; and by the time of the battle of Warsaw , the Poles might have even had a slight advantage in numbers and logistics.
Logistics, nonetheless, were very bad for both armies, supported by whatever equipment was left over from World War I or could be captured. The Polish Army, for example, employed guns made in five countries, and rifles manufactured in six, each using different ammunition. Still, they suffered a shortage of arms; both the Red Army and the Polish forces were grossly underequipped by Western standards.
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Since March , Polish intelligence was aware that the Soviets had prepared for a new offensive and the Polish High Command decided to launch their own offensive before their opponents.
Until April, the Polish forces had been slowly but steadily advancing eastward. The new Latvian Government requested and obtained Polish help in capturing Daugavpils. The city fell after heavy fighting at the Battle of Daugavpils in January and was handed over to the Latvians.
On 24 April, Poland began its main offensive, Operation Kiev.
Poland's forces were assisted by 15, Ukrainian soldiers under Symon Petlura , representing the Ukrainian People's Republic. Subsequently, the combined Polish—Ukrainian forces entered an abandoned Kiev on 7 May, encountering only token resistance.
This Polish military thrust was met with Red Army counter-attacks on 29 May. In the north, Polish forces had fared much worse. The Polish 1st Army was defeated and forced to retreat, pursued by the Russian 15th Army, which recaptured territories between the Western Dvina and Berezina rivers.
Polish forces attempted to take advantage of the exposed flanks of the attackers but the enveloping forces failed to stop the Soviet advance.
At the end of May, the front had stabilised near the small river Auta River , and Soviet forces began preparing for the next push. By 10 June, Polish armies were in retreat along the entire front. Lenin also spotted the use of Russian patriotism.
Thus, the Central Committee appealed to the "respected citizens of Russia" to defend the Soviet republic against a Polish usurpation. The historians recalled the Polish invasions of the early 17th century. Polish forces in Ukraine managed to withdraw relatively unscathed, but were unable to support the northern front and reinforce the defences at the Auta River for the decisive battle that was soon to take place there.
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Due to insufficient forces, Poland's kilometre-long mi front was manned by a thin line of , troops backed by some artillery pieces with no strategic reserves.
This approach to holding ground harked back to the World War I practice of "establishing a fortified line of defense". It had shown some merit on the Western Front saturated with troops, machine guns, and artillery. Poland's eastern front, however, was weakly manned, supported with inadequate artillery, and had almost no fortifications. Their numbers exceeded , infantry and 11, cavalry, supported by artillery pieces and 2, machine guns.