In the chaos that engulfed eastern Europe in the wake of the abrupt end of World War I, the conflict between newly re-established Poland and newly Soviet Russia happened almost by accident. The Soviets were preoccupied with their own civil war but, in early 1919, sent forces to suppress rebellions seeking self-determination in Vilnius and Minsk. Polish militias went to support the rebels, and the pugnacious Polish premier, Józef Pilsudski, saw the chance to avenge Russia’s many previous aggrandizements at Poland’s expense. Forming an alliance with Ukrainian nationalists, the Polish army captured Vilnius and Minsk and marched on Kiev. However, by June 1920, the Soviets had largely neutralized their internal opposition, and were freed to counterattack, devastatingly. Within weeks, the Russian army was converging on Warsaw, only to be caught off-guard by the Poles and routed at the ‘Miracle of the Vistula’. The seesaw swung again, and with the Poles charging forward, Russia sued for peace.
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