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Baltic Military District

The inclusion of the Baltic Military District within the area of application of the Treaty ensures that the Treaty's provisions apply comprehensively to all soviet forces within the area. This inclusion does not represent any change in the long-standing policy of the United States with respect to the non-recognition of the forcible incorporation of the Baltic States into the Soviet Union.

The fate of the Baltic republics was sealed on August 23, 1939, when the foreign ministers of the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, Vyacheslav Molotov and Joachim von Ribbentrop, respectively, signed a secret protocol giving Estonia and Latvia to the Soviet Union and Lithuania to Germany. Within five weeks, however, Lithuania was added to the Soviet roster of potential possessions in exchange for other territories and sizable sums of gold.

The Nazi-Soviet Nonaggression Pact (also known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact) was not acknowledged by the Soviet Union until it was forced to do so, fifty years later, by the Baltic delegation to the Congress of People's Deputies in Moscow in 1989. The pact was seen by Latvian and other Baltic independence supporters as the Achilles' heel of the carefully constructed myth by Moscow propagandists of how the Baltic countries had joyfully embraced the Soviet Union and had voted to become new Soviet republics.

On October 5, 1939, soon after the Nazi-Soviet Nonagression Pact was signed, the Soviet Union coerced Latvia into signing the Pact of Defense and Mutual Assistance. It then forced Latvia to accept occupation by 30,000 Soviet troops. Similar treaties were imposed on Estonia and Lithuania, whose forces also were vastly outnumbered by Soviet forces. (The Baltic states' northern neighbor, Finland, refused to accept such a demand, however, and, after it was attacked on November 30, 1939, valiantly fought the Red Army in what became known as the Winter War. The Soviet Union was expelled from the League of Nations for this unprovoked attack on Finland.)

Stalin made his next move in the Baltics when world attention was riveted on the imminent surrender of France to the Nazis in June 1940. An ultimatum was sent to each one of the Baltic countries demanding replacement of their existing governments by those capable of ensuring the proper fulfillment of the previously signed pacts of mutual assistance. Moscow also demanded the free entry of unlimited troops to secure strategic centers. With no hope of external support, all three countries capitulated to these demands.

The reestablishment of Soviet control in the mid-1940s was not welcomed. Many Latvians joined the guerrilla movement, which fought the occupying power for close to a decade. To break this resistance and also to force peasants into collective farms, new deportations to Siberia, involving more than 40,000 people (10,590 of them children under sixteen years of age), were completed on March 25, 1949. This date was to become a focal point of demonstrations in 1988.

On 21 December 1990, the Soviet Union collapsed as a legal entity, and on December 24 Yeltsin informed UN secretary general Javier Prez de Cuellar that the Russian Federation had assumed "all rights and obligations of the USSR." Thus, Russia still was, for all practical purposes, the Soviet Union, only under different leadership.

Once Lithuania joined the UN, President Landsbergis indicated the next priorities of Lithuania's foreign policy: to join all accessible international organizations, and to legally strengthen the status of the new state while working toward the withdrawal of Russian troops, regarded by Lithuanians as an occupying force, from Lithuania. The Russian military strongly opposed this demand, claiming that the troops had no place to go. The commander of the Baltic Military District believed the troops would leave only after several years. Russian foreign minister Andrey Kozyrev suggested a "status of forces" agreement to legalize the Russian troop presence. In June 1992, the Baltic Council, a consultative body of Baltic leaders, appealed to the CSCE, the UN, and the Group of Seven (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Britain, and the United States). The Group of Seven, the CSCE, and the UN, as well as NATO, counseled the Russians to set a definite withdrawal date. After protracted negotiations, Russia agreed to withdraw its troops from Lithuania. An agreement was signed in Moscow on September 8, 1992, setting the deadline for withdrawal at August 31, 1993, a year earlier than expected. The withdrawal of Russian troops was completed on time, opening a new chapter between Russia and Lithuania and encouraging closer economic and other relations.

Immediately after independence, Estonia began pressing the Soviet Union, and later Russia, for a speedy withdrawal of Soviet troops from its territory. Estonia insisted that the process be completed by the end of the year. The Soviet government, citing a lack of available housing for its troops, said not before 1994. In January 1992, some 25,000 troops were reported left in Estonia, the smallest contingent in the Baltic states. Still, more than 80,000 hectares of land, including an inland artillery range, remained in the Russian military's hands. More than 150 battle tanks, 300 armored vehicles, and 163 battle aircraft also remained. The last troops did not leave until August 1994.

Latvia was occupied by the Soviet Union for half a century. This occupation left serious demographic, economic, and psychological legacies, whose burdens will be borne by the inhabitants of Latvia for the foreseeable future. In spite of these burdens, however, Latvia and the other two Baltic republics have made greater progress toward Westernization than any of the other former Soviet republics.

Latvia lies "in the middle," not merely geographically but also in a cultural sense. It has been suggested that average Estonians are cool, rational, and somewhat aloof, whereas Lithuanians are warm, emotional, and gregarious. Latvians incorporate a mixture of these traits. Although they have much in common with Estonians and Lithuanians, on most questions--whether in economics, politics, or social policies--the Latvian people have chosen a slightly different path of development.

There is a widespread perception that Latvia is a "tiny" country. Its actual size, however, surprises most first-time travelers. It is only slightly smaller than Ireland and is larger than many other European countries, such as the Netherlands, Switzerland, Belgium, and Denmark. Its significant contribution to history, especially in the dissolution of the tsarist and Soviet empires, belies its comparatively limited geographical dimensions beside its giant and unpredictable neighbor to the east.

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Page last modified: 09-07-2011 13:24:39 ZULU