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« Tuna 2 / 2020

Maxim Litvinov & William Tomingas

Starting in the summer of 1919, Great Britain and Soviet Russia prepared for negotiations regarding an exchange of prisoners of war and interned civilians. An agreement was arrived at in November that the discussions in question would take place in a neut­ral location, namely Copenhagen, and that Maxim Litvinov, a member of the chamber of the Russian People’s Commissariat for Foreign Affairs, would be sent there for those discussions. It was also found that the most suitable route for Litvinov’s trip would pass through Estonia.

At the same time, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were seeking opportunities to end the ongoing war and to sign an armistice with Russia. Using Litvinov’s forthcoming passage through Estonia, it was proposed to him that he stop for a few days in Tartu, where the 3rd conference of the Baltic states was taking place. Negotiations regarding the release of prisoners of war and internees became the pretext for his visit. Problems associated with the upcoming peace negotiations, however, stood at the actual focus of the meetings.

Maxim Litvinov crossed the front line together with three escorting attendants on 16 November in the sector of the front between Irboska and Pskov, and arrived in Tartu on that same evening. There he held negotiations with representatives of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania until 20 November. He stayed in Tallinn on 21–22 November, where among other things he met with Estonia’s Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs. He set sail for Copenhagen on board a British warship on the evening of 22 November.

The Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs William Tomingas was assigned to receive Litvinov at the front. He was also given the task of looking after the Russian delegation during the time when it was in Estonia. A few days after successfully completing his mission, William Tomingas submitted two reports to the Minister of Foreign Affairs. In the first report he provided an overview of the stay of Russia’s representatives in Estonia, and in the second one he reported on his conversations with Maxim Litvinov. The fact that William Tomingas wrote his memoirs 50 years later, where among other things he described those events as well, makes these reports particularly interesting. Since several historians have related to his memoirs with rather considerable reservations, now there is the opportunity to compare the reports of that time with later memories.