Relevant events began regarding the Baltic states and the Soviet Union when, following Bolshevist Russia's conflict with the Baltic states—Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia—several peace treaties were signed with Russia and its successor, the Soviet Union. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, the Soviet Union and all three Baltic States further signed non-aggression treaties. The Soviet Union also confirmed that it would adhere to the Kellogg–Briand Pact with regard to its neighbors, including Estonia and Latvia, and entered into a convention defining "aggression" that included all three Baltic countries.
In 1939, the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany entered the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, which included secret protocols dividing eastern Europe into "spheres of influence", with Latvia and Estonia falling within the Soviets' sphere. A later amendment to the secret protocols placed Lithuania within the Soviets' sphere. In June 1940, the Soviet Union invaded the Baltic countries and annexed those countries as the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic, Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic and Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic. In 1941, as part of Operation Barbarossa, Germany invaded the Baltic countries, subsequently administered under Germany's Ostland until 1944. In 1944, the Soviet Union re-invaded the Baltic states.
The territories of Baltic states remained under Soviet control as Soviet Socialist Republics until 1991. A majority of Western world governments did not recognise the Soviet annexations of the Baltic states de jure, though some countries did recognize them de facto. In July 1989, following the dramatic events in East Germany, the Supreme Soviets of the Baltic countries stated their intention to restore full independence. In 1991, the Baltic countries reclaimed independence and restored their sovereignty upon the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
- 1 Russian Revolution and treaties affecting USSR–Baltic relations
- 2 Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact and 1939 ultimatum
- 3 The Pacts of Mutual Assistance
- 4 1940 Soviet invasions and annexations
- 5 1941–1944 German invasions and occupations
- 6 1944 Soviet invasions and occupations
- 7 Treaties the USSR signed between 1940 and 1945
- 8 Independence of the Baltic states
- 9 Footnotes
- 10 Notes
- 11 References
- 12 External links
Russian Revolution and treaties affecting USSR–Baltic relations
Bolsheviks took power following the Russian Revolution of 1917. After the Baltic states proclaimed independence following the signing of the Armistice, Bolshevist Russia invaded at the end of 1918. Известия (Izvestia) published in its December 25, 1918 issue that "Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are directly on the road from Russia to Western Europe and therefore a hindrance to our revolutions. ... This separating wall has to be destroyed." Bolshevist Russia, however, did not gain control of the Baltics and in 1920 concluded peace treaties with all three states.
- Estonia, Treaty of Tartu on 2 February 1920
- Lithuania, Soviet–Lithuanian Peace Treaty on 12 July 1920
- Latvia, Treaty of Riga on 11 August 1920
In these treaties, Bolshevist Russia renounced "for eternity" all sovereign rights over these three peoples and territories which formerly belonged to Russia. In 1922, the Russian SFSR, Ukraine SSR, Byelorussian SSR and Transcaucasian SFSR were officially merged as republics creating the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or Soviet Union.
Subsequently, at the initiative of the Soviet Union, additional non-aggression treaties were concluded with all three Baltic States:
The contracting parties undertook to refrain from acts of aggression against one another, and from any acts of violence directed against the territorial integrity and inviolability or the political independence of the other contracting party. Furthermore, they agreed to submit all disputes regardless of origin which could not be settled diplomatically to a formal conciliation in a joint committee.
Kellogg-Briand Pact and Litvinov's Pact
On August 27, 1928 the Kellogg-Briand Pact renouncing war as an instrument of national policy was adopted by the United States, Germany, Belgium, France, Great Britain, India, Italy, Japan, Poland, and the Czechoslovak Republic. Following this adoption, the Soviet Union signed a protocol confirming adherence to the terms of the Pact with its neighbors: Estonia, Latvia, Poland, and Romania on February 9, 1929. (See also Litvinov's Pact). Lithuania declared its adherence to the pact and protocol soon thereafter, on April 5, 1929. In signing, the contracting parties agreed:
- to condemn war as a recourse to solving conflict and to renounce it as an instrument of policy, and
- that all conflicts and disputes be settled only by peaceful means.
With this confirmation of adherence to these protocols (while not yet having ratified the Pact) and associated filings of instruments of adherence to the Pact, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and the USSR (listed as Russia) became signatories to the Kellogg-Briand Pact itself the day it came into effect, on July 24, 1929.
The Convention for the Definition of Aggression
On July 3, 1933, for the first time in history aggression was defined in a binding treaty signed at the Soviet Embassy in London by USSR and among others, Baltic countries. Article II defines forms of aggression "There shall be recognized as an aggressor that State which shall be the first to have committed one of the following actions:
- First—a declaration of war on another State.
- Second—invasion by armed forces of the territory of another State even without a declaration of war.
- Third—attack by its land, sea or air forces, even without declaration of war upon the territory, on the vessels or flying machines of another State.
- Fourth—a naval blockade of coasts or ports of another State.
- Fifth—support accorded armed bands which are organized on its territory and which shall have invaded the territory of another State; or refusal, in spite of the demand of the invaded State, to take on its own territory all steps in its power to deprive the bandits aforesaid of all aid or protection."
The Convention for the Definition of Aggression Article II then states that "no political, military, economic or other considerations may serve as an excuse or justification for the aggression referred to in Article II." And while the annex to Article III lists conceivable reasons for intervention in a neighboring state, it also stipulates that "the High Contracting Parties further agree to recognize that the present convention can never legitimate any violations of International Law that may be implied in the circumstances comprised in the above list."
Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact and 1939 ultimatum
On August 24, 1939, the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany signed the Molotov–Ribbentrop pact, which contained a secret protocol dividing the states of Northern and Eastern Europe into German and Soviet "spheres of influence". Finland, Estonia and Latvia were assigned to the Soviet sphere. Lithuania would be in the German sphere of influence, although a second secret protocol agreed in September 1939 assigned majority of Lithuania to the USSR.
Bowing to Soviet pressure, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were given no choice but to sign a so-called Pact of defence and mutual assistance which permitted the Soviet Union to station troops in them. These pacts affirmed the sovereign rights of the Baltic states. For example, the Pact of Mutual Assistance with Latvia (signed on October 5, 1939) declares: "The enforcement of the present Pact may in no way impair the sovereign rights of the Contracting Parties, more especially with regard to their political structure, economic and social systems, and military measures."
The Pacts of Mutual Assistance
The Pacts of Mutual Assistance affirmed the sovereign rights of the Baltic states. Using the Pact of Mutual Assistance with Latvia as an example, signed on October 5, 1939, Article V of the Pact declares: "The enforcement of the present Pact may in no way impair the sovereign rights of the Contracting Parties, more especially with regard to their political structure, economic and social systems, and military measures."
1940 Soviet invasions and annexations
In mid-June 1940, when international attention was focused on the German invasion of France, Soviet NKVD troops raided border posts in Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia. State administrations were liquidated and replaced by Soviet cadres, Elections were held with single pro-Soviet candidates listed for many positions, with resulting peoples assemblies immediately requested admission into the USSR, which was granted by the Soviet Union.
1941–1944 German invasions and occupations
Germany invaded and occupied the territories of Baltic states in 1941 during Operation Barbarossa. At the beginning the Lithuanians, Latvians and Estonians hoped that the Germans would reestablish Baltic independence. Such political hopes soon evaporated and Baltic cooperation became less forthright or ceased altogether. From 1941 to 1944, following Operation Barbarossa, the Baltic countries were a part of Germany's Ostland.
In September 1941, the Soviet Union joined the Atlantic Charter which affirmed, among other things, the "desire to see no territorial changes that do not accord with the freely expressed wishes of the peoples concerned" and to "respect the rights of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live; and they wish to see sovereign rights and self-government restored to those who have been forcibly deprived of them. ..."
1944 Soviet invasions and occupations
The Soviet Union reoccupied the Baltic states as part of the Baltic Offensive in 1944. In 1945, the Soviet Union signed the Yalta Declaration declaring for the reestablishment of order in Europe according to the principle of the Atlantic Charter "the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live, the restoration of sovereign rights and self-government to those peoples who have been forcibly deprived of them by the aggressor nations." The Yalta declaration further states that "to foster the conditions in which the liberated peoples may exercise these rights, the three governments will join ... among others to facilitate where necessary the holding of free elections."
After the Soviet re-invasion, the Baltic countries remained the Soviet Socialist Republics of the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic, the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic and the Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republic. On 12 January 1949 the Soviet Council of Ministers issued a decree "on the expulsion and deportation" from Baltic states of "all kulaks and their families, the families of bandits and nationalists", and others. Ten percent of the entire adult Baltic population was deported or sent to labor camps. After World War II, as part of the goal to more fully integrate Baltic countries into the Soviet Union, mass deportations were concluded in the Baltic countries and the policy of encouraging Soviet immigration to the Baltic states continued.
The majority of States refused to recognize the Soviet incorporation of the Baltic states. Hopes on the part of the Baltic states for any active intervention on their behalf were quashed when the United States, European states and Soviet Union signed the Helsinki Accords of 1975 which committed its parties to respecting the established frontiers—avoiding use of the term "borders"—of postwar Europe. Countries such as the United States continued to maintain nonrecognition of the Soviet annexation of the Baltic states. In retrospect, the Baltic states' eventual reestablishment of their independence and borders has been interpreted as vindicating the Accords, which supported human rights and self-determination.
Treaties the USSR signed between 1940 and 1945
- "First, their countries seek no aggrandizement, territorial or other;
- "Second, they desire to see no territorial changes that do not accord with the freely expressed wishes of the peoples concerned;
- "Third, they respect the rights of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live; and they wish to see sovereign rights and self-government restored to those who have been forcibly deprived of them. ..."
Most importantly, Stalin personally reaffirmed the principles of the Atlantic Charter on November 6, 1941:
We have not and cannot have any such war aims as the seizure of foreign territories and the subjugation of foreign peoples whether it be peoples and territories of Europe or the peoples and territories of Asia....
We have not and cannot have such war aims as the imposition of our will and regime on the Slavs and other enslaved peoples of Europe who are awaiting our aid.
Our aid consists in assisting these peoples in their struggle for liberation from Hitler's tyranny, and then setting them free to rule on their own lands as they desire. No intervention whatever in the internal affairs of other nations.
Soon thereafter, the Soviet Union signed the Declaration by United Nations of January 1, 1942, which again confirmed adherence to the Atlantic Charter.
The Soviet Union signed the Yalta Declaration on Liberated Europe of February 4–11, 1945, in which Stalin, Churchill, and Roosevelt jointly declare for the reestablishment of order in Europe according to the principle of the Atlantic Charter "the right of all peoples to choose the form of government under which they will live, the restoration of sovereign rights and self-government to those peoples who have been forcibly deprived of them by the aggressor nations." The Yalta declaration further states that "to foster the conditions in which the liberated peoples may exercise these rights, the three governments will join ... among others to facilitate where necessary the holding of free elections."
Finally, the Soviet Union signed the Charter of the United Nations on October 24, 1945, which in Article I Part 2 states that one of the "purposes of the United Nations is to develop friendly relations among nations based on respect for the principle of equal rights and self-determination of peoples."
Independence of the Baltic states
In July 1989, following the dramatic events in East Germany, the Supreme Soviets of the Baltic countries adopted a "Declaration of Sovereignties" and amended the Constitutions to assert the supremacy of their own laws over those of the USSR. Candidates from the pro-independence party Popular Fronts gained majority in the Supreme Councils in 1990 democratic elections. The Councils declared their intention to restore full independence. Soviet political and military forces tried unsuccessfully to overthrow the governments. In 1991, Baltic countries claimed de facto independence. International recognition, including that of the USSR, followed. The United States, which had never recognized forcible annexation of the Baltic countries by the USSR, resumed full diplomatic relations with the republics.
Five decades of almost unbroken Soviet occupation of the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania ended in 1991. The sovereignties of the countries were restored, accelerating to the eventual break-up of the Soviet Union later that year after the three states had seceded. Subsequently, Russia started to withdraw its troops from all three Baltic states. Lithuania was the first to have the Russian troops withdrawn from its territory in August 1993. The last Russian troops withdrew from the Baltic States in August 1994. Russia officially ended its military presence in the Baltics in August 1998 following the decommissioning of the Skrunda-1 radar station in Latvia, which was the last active Russian military radar in the Baltics. The last Russian troops withdrew from the station the following year.
In the reassessment of Soviet history that began during perestroika in 1989, the USSR condemned the 1939 secret protocol between Nazi Germany and itself. However, the USSR never formally acknowledged its presence in the Baltics as an occupation, and considered the Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republics as its constituent republics. The Russian government and state officials maintain that the Soviet annexation of the Baltic states was legitimate.[nb 1][nb 2] A distinction was often drawn between de jure and de facto recognition of the states' status as either Soviet Socialist Republics or independent entities.
- The Putin administration has stubbornly refused to admit the fact of Soviet occupation of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia following World War II, although Putin has acknowledged that in 1989, during Gorbachev's reign, the Soviet parliament officially denounced the Molotov-Rippentrop Pact of 1939, which led to the forcible incorporation of the three Baltic states into the Soviet Union.
- Russian officials persistently claim that the Baltic states entered the USSR voluntarily and legally at the close of World War II and failed to acknowledge that Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were under Soviet occupation for fifty years.
- http://web.ku.edu/~eceurope/communistnationssince1917/ch2.html at University of Kansas, retrieved January 23, 2008
- League of Nations Treaty Series, Vol. XI, pp. 29–71.
- Recueil de traités conclus par la Lithuanie avec les pays étrangers, Vol. I, Kaunas, 1930, pp. 30-45.
- League of Nations Treaty Series, 1920–21, No. 67, pp. 213–231.
- the Peace Treaty with Estonia and Latvia, para. 2., Peace Treaty with Lithuania, para. 1.
- Julian Towster. Political Power in the U.S.S.R., 1917-1947: The Theory and Structure of Government in the Soviet State Oxford Univ. Press, 1948. p. 106
- Prof. Dr. G. von Rauch "Die Baltischen Staaten und Sowjetrussland 1919-1939", Europa Archiv No. 17 (1954), p. 6865.
- Recueil des traités conclus par la Lithuanie avec les pays étrangers, Vol. I, Kaunas, 1930, pp. 429–435.
- League of Nations Treaty Series, 1934, No. 3408, pp. 123–125 and 127
- League of Nations Treaty Series, Vol. CXXXI, pp. 297–307.
- Arts. I and IV of the Non-Aggression Treaties with Latvia and Estonia, and Arts. III and V of the Non-Aggression Treaty with Lithuania.
- League of Nations Treaty Series, 1929, No. 2028.
- League of Nations Treaty Series, 1928, No. 2137.
- Kellogg-Briand Pact at Yale University
- Aggression Defined at Time Magazine the Convention for the Definition of Aggression.
- League of Nations Treaty Series, 1934, No. 3391.
- Text of the Nazi–Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, executed August 23, 1939
- Christie, Kenneth, Historical Injustice and Democratic Transition in Eastern Asia and Northern Europe: Ghosts at the Table of Democracy, RoutledgeCurzon, 2002, ISBN 0-7007-1599-1
- Wettig, Gerhard, Stalin and the Cold War in Europe, Rowman & Littlefield, Landham, Md, 2008, ISBN 0-7425-5542-9, page 20-21
- League of Nations Treaties Series No. 4656/39, pp. 385-387.
- Senn, Alfred Erich, Lithuania 1940 : revolution from above, Amsterdam, New York, Rodopi, 2007 ISBN 978-90-420-2225-6
- Baltic states German occupation at Encyclopædia Britannica
- Taagepera 1993, pp. 69–70
- Smith et al. 2002, p. 55
- B. Meissner, Die Sowjetunion, die Baltischen Staaten und das Volkerrecht, 1956, pp. 119-120
- Louis L. Snyder, Fifty Major Documents of the Twentieth Century, 1955, p. 92.
- Foreign Relations of the United States, The Conference at Malta and Yalta, Washington, 1955, p. 977.
- The Baltic States: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania (Postcommunist States and Nations) David J. Smith from Front Matter ISBN 0-415-28580-1
- Estonia: Identity and Independence: Jean-Jacques Subrenat, David Cousins, Alexander Harding, Richard C. Waterhouse on Page 246. ISBN 90-420-0890-3
- Lieven, Anatol, The Baltic Revolution: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and the Path to Independence, Yale University Press, 1993, ISBN 0-300-06078-5, page 61 & 94
- Stephane Courtois; Werth, Nicolas; Panne, Jean-Louis; Paczkowski, Andrzej; Bartosek, Karel; Margolin, Jean-Louis & Kramer, Mark (1999). The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression. Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-07608-7.
- Background Note: Latvia at US Department of State
- Talmon, Stefan (2001), Recognition of Governments in International Law, Oxford University Press, p. 103, ISBN 978-0-19-826573-3
- Union of Soviet Socialist Republics :: Foreign policy - Britannica Online Encyclopedia
- Interview with Gerald Ford, August 4, 1997—"You have to recognize that the terms of that agreement said those boundaries have to be maintained peacefully. In other words, the Helsinki accords ruled out military action to change those borders. Now as long as those borders were re-defined peacefully, that was okay under the Helsinki Accords. Well what happened when you had the human rights provisions, and the dissidents rose up against their dictators, they changed those borders the Baltic nations and even Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary, they took advantage of the human rights provision, to re-define what the borders meant."
- B. Meissner, Die Sowjetunion, die Baltischen Staaten und das Volkerrecht, 1956, pp. 119-120.
- Embassy of the U.S.S.R., Soviet War Documents (Washington, D.C.: 1943), p. 17 as quoted in Karski, Jan. The Great Powers and Poland, 1919-1945, 1985, on 418
- Russia and Estonia agree borders, BBC News, 18 May 2005, retrieved April 29, 2009
- Country Profiles: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania at UK Foreign Office
- The World Book Encyclopedia ISBN 0-7166-0103-6
- The History of the Baltic States by Kevin O'Connor ISBN 0-313-32355-0
- Saburova, Irina (1955), "The Soviet Occupation of the Baltic States", Russian Review, Blackwell Publishing, 14 (1): 36–49, doi:10.2307/126075, JSTOR 126075
- See, for instance, position expressed by European Parliament, which condemned "the fact that the occupation of these formerly independent and neutral States by the Soviet Union occurred in 1940 following the Molotov/Ribbentrop pact, and continues." European Parliament (January 13, 1983), "Resolution on the situation in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania", Official Journal of the European Communities, C 42/78
- "After the German occupation in 1941-44, Estonia remained occupied by the Soviet Union until the restoration of its independence in 1991." KOLK AND KISLYIY v. ESTONIA (European Court of Human Rights 17 January 2006). Text
- Baltic Military District globalsecurity.org
- "Latvia takes over the territory of the Skrunda Radar Station". Embassy of the Republic of Latvia in Copenhagen. 21 October 1999. Archived from the original on February 29, 2012. Retrieved 15 June 2013.
- The Forty-Third Session of the UN Sub-Commission at Google Scholar
- Combs, Dick (2008), Inside The Soviet Alternate Universe, Penn State Press, pp. 258, 259, ISBN 978-0-271-03355-6
- Bugajski, Janusz (2004), Cold peace, Greenwood Publishing Group, p. 109, ISBN 0-275-98362-5
- Smith, David James; Pabriks, Artis; Purs, Aldis; Lane, Thomas (2002), The Baltic States: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, Routledge, ISBN 0-415-28580-1
- Taagepera, Rein (1993), Estonia: Return to Independence, Westview Press, ISBN 0-8133-1703-7
- Wettig, Gerhard (2008), Stalin and the Cold War in Europe, Rowman & Littlefield, ISBN 0-7425-5542-9
- Oleg Ken and Alexander Rupasov, Moscow and the Baltic States: Experience of Relationship, 1917–1939. In: Great Power Policies Towards Central Europe, 1914-1945 (Bristol: e-International Relations, 2019), pp. 43-75. 
- Magnus Ilmjärv, The Soviet Union, Lithuania and the Establishment of the Baltic Entente
- Magnus Ilmjärv, "Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and the Eastern Pact Project", Acta Historica Tallinnensia, vol. 10(2006) pp. 69–120