In the treaty, Bolshevik Russia ceded the Baltic States to Germany; they were meant to become German vassal states under German princelings. Russia also ceded its province of Kars Oblast in the South Caucasus to the Ottoman Empire and recognized the independence of Ukraine. According to Spencer Tucker, a historian of World War I, "The German General Staff had formulated extraordinarily harsh terms that shocked even the German negotiator." Congress Poland was not mentioned in the treaty, as Germans refused to recognize the existence of any Polish representatives, which in turn led to Polish protests. When Germans later complained that the Treaty of Versailles of 1919 was too harsh on them, the Allies (and historians favorable to the Allies) responded that it was more benign than Brest-Litovsk.
The treaty was effectively terminated in November 1918, when Germany surrendered to the Allies. However, in the meantime, it did provide some relief to the Bolsheviks, already fighting the Russian Civil War, by the renunciation of Russia's claims on modern-day Poland, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Ukraine and Lithuania.
By 1917, Germany and Imperial Russia were stuck in a stalemate on the Eastern Front of World War I and the Russian economy had nearly collapsed under the strain of the war effort. The large numbers of war casualties and persistent food shortages in the major urban centers brought about civil unrest, known as the February Revolution, that forced Tsar Nicholas II to abdicate. The Russian Provisional Government that replaced the Tsar (initially presided by prince Georgy Lvov, later by Alexander Kerensky), decided to continue the war on the Entente side. Foreign Minister Pavel Milyukov sent the Entente Powers a telegram, known as Milyukov note, affirming to them that the Provisional Government would continue the war with the same war aims that Imperial Russia did.
The pro-war Provisional Government was opposed by the self-proclaimed Petrograd Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies, dominated by leftist parties. Its Order No. 1 called for an overriding mandate to soldier committees rather than army officers. The Soviet started to form its own paramilitary power, the Red Guards, in March 1917.
The continuing war led the German Government to agree to a suggestion that they should favor the opposition Communist Party (Bolsheviks), who were proponents of Russia's withdrawal from the war. Therefore, in April 1917, Germany transported Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin and thirty-one supporters in a sealed train from exile in Switzerland to Finland. Upon his arrival in Petrograd, Lenin proclaimed his April Theses, which included a call for turning all political power over to workers' and soldiers' soviets (councils) and an immediate withdrawal of Russia from the war. Throughout 1917, Bolsheviks called for the overthrow of the Provisional Government and an end to the war. Following the disastrous failure of the Kerensky Offensive, discipline in the Russian army deteriorated completely. Soldiers would disobey orders, often under the influence of Bolshevik agitation, and set up soldiers' committees to take control of their units after deposing the officers. Russian and German soldiers occasionally fraternized.