The occupation of the Baltic states involved the military occupation of the three Baltic states—Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania—by the Soviet Union under the auspices of the 1939 Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact in June 1940. They were then incorporated into the Soviet Union as constituent republics in August 1940, though most Western powers never recognised their incorporation. On 22 June 1941, Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union and within weeks occupied the Baltic territories. In July 1941, the Third Reich incorporated the Baltic territory into its Reichskommissariat Ostland. As a result of the Red Army's Baltic Offensive of 1944, the Soviet Union recaptured most of the Baltic states and trapped the remaining German forces in the Courland pocket until their formal surrender in May 1945. The Soviet "annexation occupation" (German: Annexionsbesetzung) or occupation sui generis of the Baltic states lasted until August 1991, when the three countries regained their independence.
The Baltic states themselves, the United States and its courts of law, the European Parliament, the European Court of Human Rights and the United Nations Human Rights Council have all stated that these three countries were invaded, occupied and illegally incorporated into the Soviet Union under provisions of the 1939 Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. There followed occupation by Nazi Germany from 1941 to 1944 and then again occupation by the Soviet Union from 1944 to 1991. This policy of non-recognition has given rise to the principle of legal continuity of the Baltic states, which holds that de jure, or as a matter of law, the Baltic states had remained independent states under illegal occupation throughout the period from 1940 to 1991.
In its reassessment of Soviet history that began during perestroika in 1989, the Soviet Union condemned the 1939 secret protocol between Germany and itself. However, the Soviet Union never formally acknowledged its presence in the Baltics as an occupation or that it annexed these states and considered the Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian Soviet Socialist Republics as three of its constituent republics. On the other hand, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic recognized in 1991 the events of 1940 as "annexation". Nationalist-patriotic Russian historiography and school textbooks continue to maintain that the Baltic states voluntarily joined the Soviet Union after their peoples all carried out socialist revolutions independent of Soviet influence. The post-Soviet government of the Russian Federation and its state officials insist that incorporation of the Baltic states was in accordance with international law and gained de jure recognition by the agreements made in the February 1945 Yalta and the July–August 1945 Potsdam conferences and by the 1975 Helsinki Accords, which declared the inviolability of existing frontiers). However, Russia agreed to Europe's demand to "assist persons deported from the occupied Baltic states" upon joining the Council of Europe in 1996. Additionally, when the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic signed a separate treaty with Lithuania in 1991, it acknowledged that the 1940 annexation as a violation of Lithuanian sovereignty and recognised the de jure continuity of the Lithuanian state.
Most Western governments maintained that Baltic sovereignty had not been legitimately overridden and thus continued to recognise the Baltic states as sovereign political entities represented by the legations—appointed by the pre-1940 Baltic states—which functioned in Washington and elsewhere. The Baltic states recovered de facto independence in 1991 during the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Russia started to withdraw its troops from the Baltics (starting from Lithuania) in August 1993. The full withdrawal of troops deployed by Moscow ended in August 1994. Russia officially ended its military presence in the Baltics in August 1998 by decommissioning the Skrunda-1 radar station in Latvia. The dismantled installations were repatriated to Russia and the site returned to Latvian control, with the last Russian soldier leaving Baltic soil in October 1999.
Early in the morning of August 24, 1939, the Soviet Union and Germany signed a ten-year non-aggression pact, called the Molotov–Ribbentrop pact. The pact contained a secret protocol by which the states of Northern and Eastern Europe were divided into German and Soviet "spheres of influence". In the north, Finland, Estonia and Latvia were assigned to the Soviet sphere. Poland was to be partitioned in the event of its "political rearrangement"—the areas east of the Narev, Vistula and San Rivers going to the Soviet Union while Germany would occupy the west. Lithuania, adjacent to East Prussia, would be in the German sphere of influence, although a second secret protocol agreed in September 1939 assigned the majority of Lithuanian territory to the Soviet Union. According to this secret protocol, Lithuania would regain its historical capital Vilnius, previously subjugated during the inter-war period by Poland.
Following the end of Soviet invasion of Poland on 6 October, the Soviets pressured Finland and the Baltic states to conclude mutual assistance treaties. The Soviets questioned the neutrality of Estonia after the escape of an interned Polish submarine on 18 September. A week later on 24 September, the Estonian foreign minister was given an ultimatum in Moscow. The Soviets demanded the conclusion of a treaty of mutual assistance to establish military bases in Estonia. The Estonians had no choice but to accept naval, air and army bases on two Estonian islands and at the port of Paldiski. The corresponding agreement was signed on 28 September 1939. Latvia followed on 5 October 1939 and Lithuania shortly thereafter, on 10 October 1939. The agreements permitted the Soviet Union to establish military bases on the Baltic states' territory for the duration of the European war and to station 25,000 Soviet soldiers in Estonia, 30,000 in Latvia and 20,000 in Lithuania from October 1939.
In September and October 1939, the Soviet government compelled the Baltic states to conclude mutual assistance pacts which gave it the right to establish Soviet military bases. In May 1940, the Soviets turned to the idea of direct military intervention, but still intended to rule through puppet regimes. Their model was the Finnish Democratic Republic, a puppet regime set up by the Soviets on the first day of the Winter War. The Soviets organised a press campaign against the allegedly pro-Allied sympathies of the Baltic governments. In May 1940, the Germans invaded France, which was overrun and occupied a month later. In late May and early June 1940, the Baltic states were accused of military collaboration against the Soviet Union by holding meetings the previous winter.:43 On 15 June 1940, the Lithuanian government had no choice but to agree to the Soviet ultimatum and permit the entry of an unspecified number of Soviet troops. President Antanas Smetona proposed armed resistance to the Soviets but the government refused, proposing their own candidate to lead the regime. However, the Soviets refused this offer and sent Vladimir Dekanozov to take charge of affairs while the Red Army occupied the state.
On 16 June 1940, Latvia and Estonia also received ultimata. The Red Army occupied the two remaining Baltic states shortly thereafter. The Soviets dispatched Andrey Vyshinsky to oversee the takeover of Latvia and Andrey Zhdanov to oversee the takeover of Estonia. On 18 and 21 June 1940, new "popular front" governments were formed in each Baltic country, made up of Communists and fellow travelers. Under Soviet surveillance, the new governments arranged rigged elections for new "people's assemblies." Voters were presented with a single list, and no opposition movements were allowed to file and to get the required turnout to 99.6% votes were forged.:46 A month later, the new assemblies met, with their sole item of business being resolutions to join the Soviet Union. In each case, the resolutions passed by acclamation. The Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union duly accepted the requests in August, thus giving legal sanction to the takeover. Lithuania was incorporated into the Soviet Union on 3 August, Latvia on 5 August, and Estonia on 6 August 1940. The deposed presidents of Estonia (Konstantin Päts) and Latvia (Kārlis Ulmanis) were imprisoned and deported to the USSR and died later in the Tver region and Central Asia respectively. In June 1941, the new Soviet governments carried out mass deportations of "enemies of the people". It is estimated that Estonia alone lost 60,000 citizens.:48 Consequently, many Balts initially greeted the Germans as liberators when they invaded a week later.
The Soviet Union immediately started to erect border fortifications along its newly acquired western border — the so-called Molotov Line.
On 22 June 1941 the Germans invaded the Soviet Union. The Baltic states, recently Sovietized by threats, force, and fraud, generally welcomed the German armed forces when they crossed the frontiers. In Lithuania, a revolt broke out and an independent provisional government was established. As the German armies approached Riga and Tallinn, attempts to reestablish national governments were made. It was hoped that the Germans would reestablish Baltic independence. Such political hopes soon evaporated and Baltic cooperation became less forthright or ceased altogether. The Germans aimed to annex the Baltic territories to the Third Reich where "suitable elements" were to be assimilated and "unsuitable elements" exterminated. In actual practice, the implementation of occupation policy was more complex; for administrative convenience the Baltic states were included with Belorussia in the Reichskommissariat Ostland. The area was ruled by Hinrich Lohse who was obsessed with bureaucratic regulations. The Baltic area was the only eastern region intended to become a full province of the Third Reich.
Nazi racial attitudes to the Baltic people differed between Nazi authorities. In practice, racial policies were directed not against the majority of Balts but rather against the Jews. Large numbers of Jews were living in the major cities, notably in Vilnius, Kaunas and Riga. The German mobile killing units slaughtered hundreds of thousands of Jews; Einsatzgruppe A, assigned to the Baltic area, was the most effective of four units. German policy forced the Jews into ghettos. In 1943 Heinrich Himmler ordered his forces to liquidate the ghettos and to transfer the survivors to concentration camps. Some Latvians and Lithuanian conscripts collaborated actively in the killing of Jews, and the Nazis managed to provoke pogroms locally, especially in Lithuania. Only about 75 percent of Estonian and 10 percent of Latvian and Lithuanian Jews survived the war. However, for the majority of Baltic people, German rule was less harsh than Soviet rule had been, and it was less brutal than German occupations elsewhere in eastern Europe. Local puppet regimes performed administrative tasks and schools were permitted to function. However, most people were denied the right to own land or businesses.
The Soviet administration had forcefully incorporated the Baltic national armies at the wake of the occupation in 1940. Most of the senior officers were arrested and many of them murdered. During the German invasion, the Soviets conducted a forced general mobilisation that took place in violation of the international law. Under the Geneva Conventions, this act of violence is seen as a grave breach and war crime, because the mobilised men were treated as arrestants from the very beginning. In comparison with the general mobilisation proclaimed in the Soviet Union, the age range was extended by 9 years in the Baltics; all reserve officers were also taken. The aim was to deport all men capable to fight to Russia, where they were sent to convict camps. Almost half of them perished because of the transportation conditions, slave labour, hunger, diseases, and the repressive measures of the NKVD. In addition, destruction battalions were formed under the command of the NKVD. Hence, Baltic nationals fought in both German and Soviet army ranks. There was the 201st Latvian Rifle Division. The 308th Latvian Rifle Division was awarded the Red Banner Order after the expulsion of the Germans from Riga in the autumn of 1944.
An estimated 60,000 Lithuanians were drafted into the Red Army. During 1940, on the basis of disbanded Lithuanian Army, Soviet authorities organized 29th Territorial Rifle Corps. Decrease in quality of life and service conditions, forceful indoctrination of Communist ideology, caused discontent of recently Sovietized military units. Soviet authorities responded with repressions against Lithuanian officers of the 29th Corps, arresting over 100 officers and soldiers and subsequently executing around 20 in Autumn 1940. By that time allegedly near 3,200 officers and soldiers of 29th Corps were considered "politically unreliable". Due to high tensions and soldiers' discontent the 26th Cavalry Regiment was disbanded. During the 1941 June deportations over 320 officers and soldiers of 29th Corps were arrested and deported to concentration camps of executed. The 29th Corps collapsed with the German invasion into Soviet Union: on June 25–26 a rebellion broke in its 184th Rifle Division. The other division of the 29th Corps, the 179th Rifle Division lost most of its soldiers during the retreat from Germans mostly to deserting of its soldiers. A total of less than 1,500 soldiers from initial strength of around 12,000 reached the area of Pskov by August 1941. By the second part of 1942, most of Lithuanians remaining in the Soviet ranks as well as male war refugees from Lithuania were organized into 16th Rifle Division during its second formation. 16th Rifle Division, despite officially called "Lithuanian" and mostly commanded by officers of Lithuanian origin, including Adolfas Urbšas, a former Chief of Staff of Lithuanian Army, was ethnically very mixed, with up to 1/4 of its personnel made of Jews and thus being the largest Jew formation of Soviet Army. Popular joke of those years said that 16th Division is called Lithuanian, because there are 16 Lithuanians among its ranks.
The 7000-strong 22nd Estonian Territorial Rifle Corps got heavily beaten in the battles around Porkhov during the German invasion in summer 1941, as 2000 were killed or wounded in action, and 4500 surrendered. The 25,000—30,000 strong 8th Estonian Rifle Corps lost 3/4 of its troops in the battle for Velikiye Luki in winter 1942/43. It participated in the capture of Tallinn in September 1944. About 20,000 Lithuanians, 25,000 Estonians, and 5000 Latvians died in the ranks of the Red Army and labor battalions.
The Nazi administration also conscripted Baltic nationals into the German armies. The Lithuanian Territorial Defense Force, composed of volunteers, was formed in 1944. The LTDF reached the size of about 10,000 men. Its goal was to fight the approaching Red Army, provide security and conduct anti-partisan operations within the territory, claimed by Lithuanians. After brief engagements against the Soviet and Polish partisans (Armia Krajowa), the force self-disbanded, its leaders were arrested and sent to Nazi concentration camps, and many of its members were executed by the Nazis. Latvian Legion, created in 1943, consisted of two conscripted divisions of the Waffen-SS. On July 1, 1944 the Latvian Legion had 87,550 men. Another 23,000 Latvians were serving as Wehrmacht "auxiliaries". Among other battles they participated in the battles in the Siege of Leningrad, in Courland Pocket, in Pomeranian Wall defences, in Velikaya River for Hill "93,4" and in the defence of Berlin. 20th Waffen Grenadier Division of the SS (1st Estonian) was formed in January 1944 through conscription. Consisting of 38,000 men they took part in the Battle of Narva, the Battle of Tannenberg Line, the Battle of Tartu, and Operation Aster.
There were several attempts to restore independence during the occupation. On 22 June 1941 the Lithuanians overthrew Soviet rule two days before the Wehrmacht arrived in Kaunas, where the Germans then allowed a Provisional Government to function for over a month. The Latvian Central Council was set up as an underground organisation in 1943, but it was destroyed by the Gestapo in 1945. In Estonia in 1941, Jüri Uluots proposed restoration of independence; later, by 1944, he had become a key figure in the secret National Committee. In September 1944, Uluots briefly became acting president of independent Estonia. Unlike the French and the Poles, the Baltic states had no governments in exile located in the West. Consequently, Great Britain and the United States lacked any interest in the Baltic cause while the war against Germany remained undecided. The discovery of the Katyn massacre in 1943 and callous conduct towards the Warsaw uprising in 1944 had cast shadows on relations; nevertheless, all three victors still displayed solidarity at the Yalta conference in 1945.
By 1 March 1944 the siege of Leningrad was over and Soviet troops were on the border with Estonia. The Soviets launched the Baltic Offensive, a twofold military-political operation to rout German forces, on 14 September. On 16 September the High Command of the German Army issued a plan in which Estonian forces would cover the German withdrawal. The Soviets soon reached the Estonian capital Tallinn, where the NKVD's first mission was to stop anyone escaping from the state; however, many refugees did manage to escape to the West. The NKVD also targeted the members of the National Committee of the Republic of Estonia. German and Latvian forces remained trapped in the Courland pocket until the end of the war, capitulating on 10 May 1945.
After reoccupying the Baltic states, the Soviets implemented a program of sovietization, which was achieved through large-scale industrialisation rather than by overt attacks on culture, religion or freedom of expression. The Soviets carried out massive deportations to eliminate any resistance to collectivisation or support of partisans. Baltic partisans, such as the Forest Brothers, continued to resist Soviet rule through armed struggle for a number of years.
The Soviets had previously carried out mass deportations in 1940–41, but the deportations between 1944–52 were even greater. In March 1949 alone, the top Soviet authorities organised a mass deportation of 90,000 Baltic nationals.
The total number deported in 1944–55 has been estimated at over half a million: 124,000 in Estonia, 136,000 in Latvia and 245,000 in Lithuania.
The estimated death toll among Lithuanian deportees between 1945 and 1958 was 20,000, including 5,000 children.
The deportees were allowed to return after Nikita Khrushchev's secret speech in 1956 denouncing the excesses of Stalinism, however many did not survive their years of exile in Siberia. After the war, the Soviets outlined new borders for the Baltic republics. Lithuania gained the regions of Vilnius and Klaipėda while the Russian SFSR annexed territory from the eastern parts of Estonia (5% of prewar territory) and Latvia (2%).
The Soviets made large capital investments for energy resources and a manufacture of industrial and agricultural products. The purpose was to integrate the Baltic economies into the larger Soviet economic sphere. In all three republics, manufacturing industry was developed resulting in some of the best industrial complexes in the sphere of electronics and textile production. The rural economy suffered from the lack of investments and the collectivization. Baltic urban areas had been damaged during wartime and it took ten years to recuperate housing losses. New constructions were often of poor quality and ethnic Russian immigrants were favored in housing. Estonia and Latvia received large-scale immigration of industrial workers from other parts of the Soviet Union that changed the demographics dramatically. Lithuania also received immigration but on a smaller scale.
Ethnic Estonians constituted 88 percent before the war, but in 1970 the figure dropped to 60 percent. Ethnic Latvians constituted 75 percent, but the figure dropped 57 percent in 1970 and further down to 50.7 percent in 1989. In contrast, the drop in Lithuania was only 4 percent. Baltic communists had supported and participated the 1917 October Revolution in Russia. However, many of them died during the Great Purge in the 1930s. The new regimes of 1944 were established mostly by native communists who had fought in the Red Army. However, the Soviets also imported ethnic Russians to fill political, administrative and managerial posts.
The period of stagnation brought the crisis of the Soviet system. The new Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in 1985 and responded with glasnost and perestroika. They were attempts to reform the Soviet system from above to avoid revolution from below. The reforms occasioned the reawakening of nationalism in the Baltic republics. The first major demonstrations against the environment were Riga in November 1986 and the following spring in Tallinn. Small successful protests encouraged key individuals and by the end of 1988 the reform wing had gained the decisive positions in the Baltic republics. At the same time, coalitions of reformists and populist forces assembled under the Popular Fronts. The Supreme Soviet of the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic made the Estonian language the state language again in January 1989, and similar legislation was passed in Latvia and Lithuania soon after. The Baltic republics declared their aim for sovereignty: Estonia in November 1988, Lithuania in May 1989 and Latvia in July 1989. The Baltic Way, that took place on 23 of August 1989, became the biggest manifestation of opposition to the Soviet rule.
On 11 March 1990 the Lithuanian Supreme Soviet declared Lithuania's independence. Pro-independence candidates had received an overwhelming majority in the Supreme Soviet elections held earlier that year. On 30 March 1990, the Estonian Supreme Soviet declared the Soviet Union an occupying power and announced the start of a transitional period to independence. On 4 May 1990, the Latvian Supreme Soviet made a similar declaration. The Soviet Union immediately condemned all three declarations as illegal, saying that they had to go through the process of secession outlined in the Soviet Constitution of 1977. However, the Baltic states argued that the entire occupation process violated both international law and their own law. Therefore, they argued, they were merely reasserting an independence that still existed under international law.
By mid-June the Soviets started negotiations with the Baltic republics. The Soviets had a bigger challenge elsewhere, as the Russian federal republic proclaimed sovereignty in June. Simultaneously the Baltic republics also started to negotiate directly with the Russian federal republic. After the failed negotiations the Soviets made a dramatic but failed attempt to break the deadlock and sent in military troops killing twenty and injuring hundreds of civilians in what became known as the "Vilnius massacre" and "The Barricades" in Latvia during January 1991. In August 1991, the hard-line members attempted to take control of the Soviet Union. A day after the coup on 21 August, the Estonians proclaimed full independence. The Latvian parliament made similar a declaration on the same day. The coup failed but the collapse of the Soviet Union became unavoidable. After the coup collapsed, the Soviet government recognised the independence of all three Baltic states on 6 September 1991.
The Russian Federation assumed the burden and the subsequent withdrawal of the occupation force, consisting of about 150,000 former Soviet, now Russian, troops stationed in the Baltic states. As of 1992 there were still 120,000 Russian troops there, as well as a large number of military pensioners, particularly in Estonia and Latvia.
During the period of negotiations, Russia hoped to retain facilities such as the Liepaja naval base, the Skrunda anti-ballistic missile radar station and the Ventspils space-monitoring station in Latvia and the Paldiski submarine base in Estonia, as well as transit rights to Kaliningrad through Lithuania.
Contention arose when Russia threatened to keep its troops where they were. Moscow's linkage to specific legislation guaranteeing the civil rights of ethnic Russians was seen as an implied threat in the West, in the U.N. General Assembly and by Baltic leaders, who viewed it as Russian imperialism.
Subsequent agreements to withdraw troops from Latvia were signed on April 30, 1994, and from Estonia on July 26, 1994. Continued linkage on the part of Russia resulted in a threat by the U.S. Senate in mid-July to halt all aid to Russia in case the forces were not withdrawn by the end of August. Final withdrawal was completed on August 31, 1994. Some Russian troops remained stationed in Estonia in Paldiski until the Russian military base was dismantled and the nuclear reactors suspended operations on September 26, 1995. Russia operated the Skrunda-1 radar station until it was decommissioned on August 31, 1998. The Russian Government then had to dismantle and remove the radar equipment; this work was completed by October 1999 when the site was returned to Latvia. The last Russian soldier left the region that month, marking a symbolic end to the Russian military presence on Baltic soil.
In the years following the reestablishment of Baltic independence, tensions have remained between indigenous Balts and Russian speaking settlers in Estonia and Latvia. While requirements for getting citizenship in the Baltic states are relatively liberal, a lack of attention to the rights of Russian-speaking and stateless individuals in the Baltic states has been noted by some experts, whereas all international organisations agree that no forms of systematic discrimination towards the Russian-speaking and often stateless population can be observed.
In 1993 Estonia was noted for having problems concerning the successful integration of some who were permanent residents at the time Estonia gained independence. According to a 2008 report of Special Rapporteur on racism to United Nations Human Rights Council the representatives of the Russian speaking communities in Estonia saw the most important form of discrimination in Estonia is not ethnic, but rather language-based (Para. 56). The rapporteur expressed several recommendations including strengthening the Chancellor of Justice, facilitating granting citizenship to persons of undefined nationality and making language policy subject of a debate to elaborate strategies better reflecting the multilingual character of society (paras. 89-92). Estonia has been criticized by the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination strong emphasis on Estonian language in the state Integration strategy; usage of punitive approach for promoting Estonian language; restrictions of the usage of minority language in public services; low level of minority representation in political life; persistently high number of persons with undetermined citizenship, etc.
According to Israeli author Yaël Ronen, of the Minerva Center for Human Rights at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, illegal regimes typically take measures to change the demographic structure of the territory held by the regime, usually via two methods: the forced removal of the local population and transfer their own populations into the territory. He cites the case of the Baltic states as an example of where this phenomenon has occurred, with the deportations of 1949 combined with large waves of immigration in 1945-50 and 1961-70. When the illegal regime transitioned to a lawful regime in 1991, the status of these settlers became an issue.
The Baltic claim of continuity with the pre-war republics has been accepted by most Western powers. As a consequence of the policy of non-recognition of the Soviet seizure of these countries, combined with the resistance by the Baltic people to the Soviet regime, the uninterrupted functioning of rudimentary state organs in exile in combination with the fundamental legal principle of ex injuria jus non oritur, that no legal benefit can be derived from an illegal act, the seizure of the Baltic states was judged to be illegal thus sovereign title never passed to the Soviet Union and the Baltic states continued to exist as subjects of international law.
The official position of Russia, which chose in 1991 to be the legal and direct successor of the USSR, is that Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania joined freely of their own accord in 1940, and, with the dissolution of the USSR, these countries became newly created entities in 1991. Russia's stance is based upon the desire to avoid financial liability, the view being that acknowledging the Soviet occupation would set the stage for future compensation claims from the Baltic states.
Soviet historians saw the 1940 incorporation as a voluntary entry into the USSR by the Balts. Soviet historiography inherited the Russian concept from the age of Kievan Rus carried through the Russian Empire. It promoted the interests of Russia and the USSR in the Baltic area, and it reflected the belief of most Russians that they had moral and historical rights to control and to Russianize the whole of the former empire. To Soviet historians, the 1940 annexation was not only a voluntary entry but was also the natural thing to do. This concept taught that the military security of mother Russia was solidified and that nothing could argue against it.
Prior to Perestroika, the Soviet Union denied the existence of the secret protocols and viewed the events of 1939-40 as follows: The Government of the Soviet Union suggested that the Governments of the Baltic countries conclude mutual assistance treaties between the countries. Pressure from working people forced the governments of the Baltic countries to accept this suggestion. The Pacts of Mutual Assistance were then signed which allowed the USSR to station a limited number of Red Army units in the Baltic countries. Economic difficulties and dissatisfaction of the populace with the Baltic governments' policies that had sabotaged fulfilment of the Pact and the Baltic countries governments' political orientation towards Germany led to a revolutionary situation in June, 1940. To guarantee fulfilment of the Pact additional military units entered Baltic countries, welcomed by the workers who demanded the resignations of the Baltic governments. In June under the leadership of the Communist Parties political demonstrations by workers were held. The fascist governments were overthrown, and workers' governments formed. In July 1940, elections for the Baltic Parliaments were held. The "Working People's Unions", created by an initiative of the Communist Parties, received the majority of the votes. The Parliaments adopted the declarations of the restoration of Soviet powers in Baltic countries and proclaimed the Soviet Socialist Republics. Declarations of Estonia's, Latvia's and Lithuania's wishes to join the USSR were adopted and the Supreme Soviet of the USSR petitioned accordingly. The requests were approved by the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. The Stalin-edited Falsifiers of History, published in 1948, states regarding the need for the June 1940 invasions that "[p]acts had been concluded with the Baltic States, but there were as yet no Soviet troops there capable of holding the defences". It also states regarding those invasions that "[o]nly enemies of democracy or people who had lost their senses could describe those actions of the Soviet Government as aggression."
There was relatively little interest in the history of the Baltic states during the Soviet era, which were generally treated as a single entity owing to the uniformity of Soviet policy in these territories. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, two general camps have evolved in Russian historiography. One, the liberal-democratic (либерально-демократическое), condemn Stalin's actions and Molotov-Ribbentrop pact and do not recognize the Baltic states as having joined the USSR voluntarily. The other, the national-patriotic (национально-патриотическое), contend the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was necessary to the security of the Soviet Union, that the Baltics' joining the USSR was the will of the proletariat—both in line with the politics of the Soviet period, "the 'need to ensure the security of the USSR,' 'people's revolution' and 'joining voluntarily'"—and that supporters of Baltic independence were the operatives of western intelligence agencies seeking to topple the USSR.
Soviet-Russian historian Vilnis Sīpols argues that Stalin's ultimatums of 1940 were defensive measures taken because of German threat and had no connection with the 'socialist revolutions' in the Baltic states.
The arguments that the USSR had to annex the Baltic states in order to defend the security of those countries and to avoid German invasion into the three republics can be found in the college textbook "The Modern History of Fatherland".
Sergey Chernichenko, a jurist and vice-president of the Russian Association of International Law, argues there was no declared state of war between the Baltic states and the Soviet Union in 1940, and that Soviet troops occupied the Baltic states with their agreement—nor did violation by the USSR of prior treaty provisions constitute occupation. Subsequent annexation was neither an act of aggression nor forcible and was completely legal according to international law as of 1940. Accusations of "deportation" of Baltic nationals by the Soviet Union is therefore baseless, as individuals cannot be deported within their own country. He characterizes the Waffen-SS as being convicted at Nuremberg as a criminal organization and their commemoration in the "openly encouraged pro-Nazi" (откровенно поощряются пронацистские) Baltics as heroes seeking to liberate the Baltics (from the Soviets) an act of "nationalistic blindness" (националистическое ослепление). With regard to the current situation in the Baltics, Chernichenko contends the "theory of occupation" is the official thesis used to justify the "discrimination of Russian-speaking inhabitants" in Estonia and Latvia and prophesies the three Baltic governments will fail in their "attempt to rewrite history".
According to the revisionist historian Oleg Platonov "from the point of view of the national interests of Russia, unification was historically just, as it returned to the composition of the state ancient Russian lands, albeit partially inhabited by other peoples." The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact and protocols, including the dismemberment of Poland, merely redressed the tearing away from Russia of its historical territories by "anti-Russian revolution" and "foreign intervention."
On the other hand, Professor and Dean of the School of International Relations and Vice-Rector of Saint Petersburg State University, Konstantin K. Khudoley views the 1940 incorporation of the Baltic states as not voluntary, he considers the elections were not free and fair and the decisions of the newly elected parliaments to join the Soviet Union cannot be considered legitimate as these decisions were not approved by the upper chambers of the parliaments of the respective Baltic states. He also contends that the incorporation of the Baltic states had no military value in defence of possible German aggression as it bolstered anti-Soviet public opinion in the future allies Britain and the USA, turned the native populations against the Soviet Union and the subsequent guerrilla movement in the Baltic states after the Second World War caused domestic problems for the Soviet Union.
With the advent of Perestroika and its reassessment of Soviet history, the Supreme Soviet of the USSR in 1989 condemned the 1939 secret protocol between Germany and the Soviet Union that had led to the division of Eastern Europe and the invasion and occupation of the three Baltic countries.
While this action did not state the Soviet presence in the Baltics was an occupation, the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic and Republic of Lithuania affirmed so in a subsequent agreement in the midst of the collapse of the Soviet Union. Russia, in the preamble of its July 29, 1991, "Treaty Between the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic and the Republic of Lithuania on the Basis for Relations between States," declared that once the USSR had eliminated the consequences of the 1940 annexation which violated Lithuania's sovereignty, Russia-Lithuania relations would further improve.
However, Russia's current official position directly contradicts its earlier rapprochement with Lithuania as well as its signature of membership to the Council of Europe, where it agreed to the obligations and commitments including "iv. as regards the compensation for those persons deported from the occupied Baltic states and the descendants of deportees, as stated in Opinion No. 193 (1996), paragraph 7.xii, to settle these issues as quickly as possible...." The Russian government and state officials maintain now that the Soviet annexation of the Baltic states was legitimate and that the Soviet Union liberated the countries from the Nazis. They assert that the Soviet troops initially entered the Baltic countries in 1940 following agreements and the consent of the Baltic governments. Their position is that the USSR was not in a state of war or engaged in combat activities on the territories of the three Baltic states, therefore, the word "occupation" cannot be used. "The assertions about [the] 'occupation' by the Soviet Union and the related claims ignore all legal, historical and political realities, and are therefore utterly groundless."—Russian Foreign Ministry.
This particular Russian viewpoint is called the "Myth of 1939–40" by David Mendeloff, Associate Professor of International Affairs who states that the assertion that Soviet Union neither "occupied" the Baltic states in 1939 nor "annexed" them the following year is widely held and deeply embedded in Russian historical consciousness.
After the Baltic states proclaimed independence following the signing of the Armistice, Bolshevik Russia invaded at the end of 1918. Izvestia said in its December 25, 1918, issue: "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." Bolshevik Russia, however, did not gain control of the Baltic States and in 1920 concluded peace treaties with all three of them. Subsequently, at the initiative of the Soviet Union, additional non-aggression treaties were concluded with all three Baltic States:
Most Western countries had not recognised the incorporation of the Baltic States into the Soviet Union, a stance that irritated the Soviets without ever becoming a major point of conflict.
The forcible military occupation and subsequent annexation of the Baltic States by the Soviet Union remains to this day (written in 1972) one of the serious unsolved issues of international law
For Estonia, World War II did not end, de facto, until 31 August 1994, with the final withdrawal of former Soviet troops from Estonian soil.
On March 26, 1949, the US Department of State issued a circular letter stating that the Baltic countries were still independent nations with their own diplomatic representatives and consuls.
From Sumner Wells' declaration of July 23, 1940, that we would not recognize the occupation. We housed the exiled Baltic diplomatic delegations. We accredited their diplomats. We flew their flags in the State Department's Hall of Flags. We never recognized in deed or word or symbol the illegal occupation of their lands.
The Court said: (256 N.Y.S.2d 196) "The Government of the United States has never recognized the forceful occupation of Estonia and Latvia by the Soviet Union of Socialist Republics nor does it recognize the absorption and incorporation of Latvia and Estonia into the Union of Soviet Socialist republics. The legality of the acts, laws and decrees of the puppet regimes set up in those countries by the USSR is not recognized by the United States, diplomatic or consular officers are not maintained in either Estonia or Latvia and full recognition is given to the Legations of Estonia and Latvia established and maintained here by the Governments in exile of those countries
The Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact in 1939 assigned Estonia to the Soviet sphere of influence, prompting the beginning of the first Soviet occupation in 1940. After the German defeat in 1944, the second Soviet occupation started and Estonia became a Soviet republic.
Five decades of almost unbroken Soviet occupation of the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania ended in 1991
The forcible incorporation of the Baltic states into the Soviet Union in 1940, on the basis of secret protocols to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, is considered to be null and void. Even though the Soviet Union occupied these countries for a period of fifty years, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania continued to exist as subjects of international law.
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-Ribbentrop 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.
The background of the occupation of the Baltic states covers the period before the first Soviet occupation on 14 June 1940, stretching from independence in 1918 to the Soviet ultimatums in 1939–1940. The Baltic states gained their independence during and after the Russian revolutions of 1917; Lenin's government allowed them to secede. They managed to sign non-aggression treaties in the 1920s and 1930s. Despite the treaties, the Baltic states were forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1940 in the aftermath of the German–Soviet pact of 1939.Baltic Legations (1940–1991)
The Baltic Legations were the missions of the exiled Baltic diplomatic services from 1940 to 1991. After the Soviet occupation of the Baltic states in 1940, the Baltic states instructed their diplomats to maintain their countries' legations in several Western capitals. Members of the Estonian diplomatic service, the Latvian diplomatic service and the Lithuanian diplomatic service continued to be recognised as the diplomatic representatives of the independent pre-World War II states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, whose annexation by the Soviet Union was not recognised by the United States, the United Kingdom, or France. The legations provided consular services to exiled citizens of the Baltic states from 1940 to 1991.Baltic Offensive
The Baltic Offensive, also known as the Baltic Strategic Offensive, denotes the campaign between the northern Fronts of the Red Army and the German Army Group North in the Baltic States during the autumn of 1944. The result of the series of battles was the isolation and encirclement of the Army Group North in the Courland Pocket and Soviet re-occupation of the Baltic States.Baltic states under Soviet rule (1944–91)
This Baltic states were under Soviet rule from the end of World War II in 1945, from Sovietization onwards until independence was regained in 1991. The Baltic states were occupied and annexed, becoming the Soviet socialist republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. After their annexation by Nazi Germany, the USSR reoccupied the Baltic territories in 1944 and maintained control there until the Baltic states regained their independence nearly 50 years later in the aftermath of the Soviet coup of 1991.Estonian International Commission for Investigation of Crimes Against Humanity
The Estonian International Commission for Investigation of Crimes Against Humanity (also known as the History Commission or Max Jakobson Commission) was the commission established by President of Estonia Lennart Meri in October 1998 to investigate crimes against humanity committed in Estonia or against its citizens during the Soviet and German occupation, such as Soviet deportations from Estonia and the Holocaust in Estonia.
It held its first session in Tallinn in January 1999. To promote independent inquiry and avoid conflict of interest, there were no Estonian citizens among its members. Finnish diplomat Max Jakobson was appointed chairman of the commission.
Research of the Commission has been relied on by the European Court of Human Rights, for example in its decision to not grant certiorari to review a complaint by August Kolk and Pyotr Kislyy, who had been convicted of crimes against humanity due to their roles in the Soviet deportations from Estonia.The Commission fulfilled its purpose by 2007 and was succeeded by the Estonian Institute of Historical Memory.Estonian government-in-exile
The Estonian government-in-exile was the formally declared governmental authority of the Republic of Estonia in exile, existing from 1944 until the reestablishment of Estonian sovereignty over Estonian territory in 1991–92. It traced its legitimacy through constitutional succession to the last Estonian government in power prior to the Soviet invasion of 1940. During its existence, it was the internationally recognized government of Estonia.Finnish Democratic Republic
The Finnish Democratic Republic (Finnish: Suomen kansanvaltainen tasavalta, also Finnish: Suomen kansantasavalta, Swedish: Demokratiska Republiken Finland, Russian: Финляндская Демократическая Республика) was a short-lived puppet government created and recognised only by the Soviet Union. Headed by Finnish-born politician Otto Wille Kuusinen, the Finnish Democratic Republic was Joseph Stalin's planned means to conquer Finland. It nominally operated in the parts of Finnish Karelia that were occupied by the Soviet Union during the Winter War.
The Soviet Union argued that it was the only rightful government for all of Finland that was capable of ending the Winter War and restoring peace; however, before the end of the war, the Soviets gave up this interpretation to make peace with the preexisting government of Finland, which was still recognized by the rest of the world.German occupation of Latvia during World War II
The occupation of Latvia by Nazi Germany was completed on July 10, 1941 by Germany's armed forces. Latvia became a part of Nazi Germany's Reichskommissariat Ostland—the Province General of Latvia (German: Generalbezirk Lettland). Anyone not racially acceptable or who opposed the German occupation, as well as those who had cooperated with the Soviet Union, were killed or sent to concentration camps in accordance with the Nazi Generalplan Ost.German occupation of the Baltic states during World War II
The occupation of the Baltic states by Nazi Germany occurred during Operation Barbarossa from 1941 to 1944. Initially, many Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians considered the Germans as liberators from the Soviet Union. The Balts hoped for the restoration of independence, but instead the Germans established a provisional government. During the occupation the Germans carried out discrimination, mass deportations and mass killings generating Baltic resistance movements.Guerrilla war in the Baltic states
The Guerrilla war in the Baltic states or the Forest Brothers resistance movement was the armed struggle against Soviet rule that spanned from 1940 to the mid-1950s. After the occupation of the Baltic territories by the Soviets in 1944, an insurgency started. According to some estimates, 10,000 partisans in Estonia, 10,000 partisans in Latvia and 30,000 partisans in Lithuania and many more supporters were involved. This war continued as an organised struggle until 1956 when the superiority of the Soviet military caused the native population to adopt other forms of resistance. While estimates related to the extent of partisan movement vary, but there seems to be a consensus among researchers that by international standards, the Baltic guerrilla movements were extensive. Proportionally, the partisan movement in the post-war Baltic states was of a similar size as the Viet Cong movement in South Vietnam.June deportation
The June deportation (Estonian: Juuniküüditamine, Latvian: Jūnija deportācijas, Lithuanian: Birželio trėmimai) was a mass deportation by the Soviet Union of tens of thousands of people from the territories occupied in 1940–1941: Baltic states, occupied Poland (mostly present-day West Belarus and western Ukraine), and Moldavia.Latvian Diplomatic Service
The Latvian Diplomatic Service maintained representation of independent Latvia during the Soviet occupation of their homeland (1940–1991).Operation Jungle
Operation Jungle was a program by the British Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) early in the Cold War (1948–1955) for the clandestine insertion of intelligence and resistance agents into Poland and the Baltic states. The agents were mostly Polish, Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian exiles who had been trained in the UK and Sweden and were to link up with the anti-Soviet resistance in the occupied states (the Cursed soldiers, the Forest Brothers). The naval operations of the program were carried out by German crewmembers of the German Mine Sweeping Administration under the control of the Royal Navy. The American-sponsored Gehlen Organization also got involved in the draft of agents from Eastern Europe. The KGB penetrated the network and captured or turned most of the agents.Orzeł incident
The Orzeł incident occurred at the beginning of World War II. The Polish submarine ORP Orzeł escaped from Tallinn in then-neutral Estonia to the United Kingdom. The Soviet Union used the incident as a pretext to justify the eventual occupation of Estonia.Semyon Timoshenko
Semyon Konstantinovich Timoshenko (Russian: Семён Константи́нович Тимоше́нко, Semën Konstantinovič Timošenko; Ukrainian: Семе́н Костянти́нович Тимоше́нко, Semen Kostiantynovych Tymoshenko) (18 February [O.S. 6 February] 1895 – 31 March 1970) was a Soviet military commander and Marshal of the Soviet Union.Soviet occupation of the Baltic states (1940)
The Soviet occupation of the Baltic states covers the period from the Soviet–Baltic mutual assistance pacts in 1939, to their invasion and annexation in 1940, to the mass deportations of 1941.
In September and October 1939 the Soviet government compelled the much smaller Baltic states to conclude mutual assistance pacts which gave the Soviets the right to establish military bases there. Following invasion by the Red Army in the summer of 1940, Soviet authorities compelled the Baltic governments to resign. The presidents of Estonia and Latvia were imprisoned and later died in Siberia. Under Soviet supervision, new puppet communist governments and fellow travelers arranged rigged elections with falsified results. Shortly thereafter, the newly elected "people's assemblies" passed resolutions requesting admission into the Soviet Union. In June 1941 the new Soviet governments carried out mass deportations of "enemies of the people". Consequently, at first many Balts greeted the Germans as liberators when they occupied the area a week later.Soviet occupation of the Baltic states (1944)
The Soviet Union occupied most of the territory of the Baltic states in its 1944 Baltic Offensive during World War II. The Red Army regained control over the three Baltic capitals and encircled retreating Wehrmacht and Latvian forces in the Courland Pocket where they held out until the final German surrender at the end of the war. The German forces were deported and the leaders of Latvian collaborating forces were executed as traitors. After the war, the Soviet Union reestablished control over the Baltic territories in line with its forcible annexations as communist republics in 1940.Soviet–Estonian Mutual Assistance Treaty
The Soviet–Estonian Mutual Assistance Treaty, also known as the Bases Treaty was a bilateral treaty signed in Moscow on 28 September 1939. The treaty obliged both parties to respect each other's sovereignty and independence, and allowed the Soviet government to establish military bases in Estonia. These bases facilitated the Soviet takeover of the country in June 1940.
It was signed by Estonian Minister of Foreign Affairs Karl Selter and Soviet Commissar of Foreign Affairs Vyacheslav Molotov. Ratifications were exchanged in Tallinn on 4 October 1939 and the treaty became effective on the same day. It was registered in League of Nations Treaty Series on 13 October 1939. The treaty of mutual assistance included the establishment of military bases in Estonia.Timeline of the occupation of the Baltic states
Timeline of the occupation of the Baltic States lists key events in the military occupation of the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania by the Soviet Union and by Nazi Germany during World War II.
Occupation of the Baltic states
|Diplomatic treaties in 1939|
|Massacres and repressions|
|Research and investigation|
|Art and media|
Italics indicate countries occupied while Soviet Union was a member of the Allies of World War II.
Administrative divisions in Nazi Germany and German occupations
|Nazi occupation and organizations|
|War crimes investigations and trials|
|Righteous Among the Nations|
|Nazi occupation and organizations|
|Ghettos and camps|
|War crimes investigations and trials|
|Righteous Among the Nations|