Soviet troops enter Riga
80 years ago, in June 1940, units of the Red Army entered the Baltic States and occupied the primordially Russian lands lost during the collapse of the Russian Empire and the intervention of the great powers of the West. The Baltic outskirts became Russian again. This event was of military-strategic importance: on the eve of a great war, the USSR strengthened its northwestern borders.
Preparing for war
In the midst of a major war in Europe, the Baltic states were of strategic importance. It was a bridgehead from which the Third Reich could deliver a quick and crushing blow to Leningrad. The security of Leningrad-Petrograd since the time of the Russian Empire depended on the situation in Finland and the Baltic states. The Russian army shed a lot of blood so that these lands were included in the Russian state. Moscow solved the Finnish problem in the winter of 1939-1940. It’s time for the Baltics.
It is worth noting the non-independent, borderline and buffer nature of the Baltic states: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. After the collapse of the Russian Empire, the nationalist liberal-bourgeois regimes that seized power in them pursued a policy hostile to Russia. These states in their foreign and military policies were guided by the Western powers: Germany, England, France and Finland. With a tough confrontation with the West approaching, the Soviet Union could no longer tolerate their hostile policy. A possible enemy bridgehead had to be eliminated one way or another.
In order to prevent the threat of the capture of the Baltic states by the Nazis and an attack on the USSR through their territory, the Soviet government in the fall of 1939 negotiated with the governments of these republics on the issue of mutual security. The negotiations ended successfully. Agreements on mutual assistance were signed: on September 28 – with Estonia, on October 5 – with Latvia and on October 10 – with Lithuania. Moscow pledged to provide assistance to the Baltic states, including military assistance, in the event of an attack or threat of attack from any European state. In turn, the Baltic countries promised assistance to the USSR if it was attacked through their territory or from the Baltic direction. The treaties contained obligations not to conclude any alliances and not to participate in coalitions directed against one of the parties to the agreement.
Immediately after the conclusion of the mutual security treaties, contingents of Soviet troops were brought into the Baltic states. The 65th Special Rifle Corps began to be based in Estonia, the 2nd Special Rifle Corps in Latvia, and the 16th Rifle Corps in Lithuania. Soviet aviation bases and bases of the Baltic Fleet appeared in the Baltic States.
Parts of the Soviet army in Vilnius
Accession of the Baltic States
Stalin acted very carefully, preferring to be sure. However, the situation in the world, Western Europe and the Baltics was difficult. The Baltic authorities have repeatedly violated the newly signed agreements with Moscow. Many local government officials, who often held nationalist positions, were hostile to the Russians. When in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania began to equip Soviet military bases, various provocations were committed. Secret consultations took place between the governments of the three Baltic republics, united in a union within the framework of the Baltic Entente. Attempts to lie under the Third Reich did not stop. In Moscow they knew about this (including from the Germans, who so far benefited from an alliance with the Russians), but for the time being, these antics were tolerated.
The right moment to settle the Baltic issue came in the summer of 1940. In conditions of aggravation of the military-political situation in Western Europe, the ruling circles of the Baltic states were actively looking for an opportunity to join the strong, that is, Nazi Germany. France and England could not intervene. Germany needed the support of Russia in conditions when almost all divisions were on the French front. Immediately after the fall of Paris, the Baltic regimes were presented with official lists of violations of treaties on their part, and ultimatums were attached to them. Moscow raised the issue of removing from the government persons hostile to the USSR, lifting the bans on the activities of communist parties and their access to parliaments and governments. All three republics were to deploy additional contingents of the Red Army. At the same time, the Soviet government, under the guise of exercises, brought the troops of the Leningrad, Kalinin and Belorussian Special Military Districts to full readiness. Soviet troops began to advance to the borders of the Baltic States.
The Baltic limitrophes panicked and rushed to beg for help from the Nazis. However, Berlin was not up to them. Ribbentrop did not even receive the ambassadors of the Baltic countries and their appeals to Germany. Lithuanian President Smetona wanted to resist, but most of the government and parliament opposed him. He fled to Germany, then to the United States. In Estonia and Latvia, the ultimatum was accepted unconditionally. On June 15-17, 1940, additional Soviet troops entered the Baltics.
The republics were quickly Sovietized. The representatives of the Soviet government were responsible for this process: Zhdanov (Estonia), Vyshinsky (Latvia) and Dekanozov (Lithuania). In the new parliamentary elections on July 14, 1940, the pro-communist Unions of the Working People won. They received an overwhelming majority of votes – over 90%. On July 21-22, the new parliaments proclaimed the establishment of the Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian SSRs and adopted Declarations on joining the USSR. On August 3-6, 1940, the Baltic republics became part of the Soviet Union.
Berlin was well aware of the upcoming accession to the Soviet Union of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Ribbentrop and the German ambassador to Moscow, Schulenburg, corresponded about this. By agreement with the Reich, the repatriation of the Baltic Germans to their historical homeland began in the fall of 1939. And in the spring in Germany they hurried a little and published maps where the Baltic States were shown as part of Russia. The British head of the Admiralty Churchill in October 1939, after the fall of Poland and before the Red Army entered the Baltic States, noted that the actions of the Russians were caused by the prevention of the Nazi threat by Russia. Moscow is forced to stop the existing plans of the Reich in relation to the Baltic States and Ukraine.
Thus, Moscow, in the face of the approaching war, very skillfully used a temporary alliance with Germany. While Hitler was bound in the West, and France and England were defeated, Stalin was able to regain the Russian outskirts that had been torn away from Russia during the Troubles. Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania did not have autonomy before the revolution in Russia. By the way, the French, British and Americans consolidated this rejection at the Versailles Conference. Moscow has solved the most important national task, restoring the unity of the state. Russia has returned its historically owned lands, for which the Russians have paid hundreds of thousands of lives over the centuries. The military and economic potential of the country was strengthened.
It should be noted that in the future, most of the population of the Baltics has only benefited from this. Only small groups of nationalists and the bourgeoisie, who benefited from the dependent position of their countries, lost. The region from the backward agrarian periphery of Europe became an industrially developed part of the Soviet state, a “showcase” of the USSR. And after the collapse of the USSR, the Baltics returned to the past: they became a backward unnecessary outskirts of Western Europe. Without industry, a future and a rapidly dying out population.
Communist demonstration in Riga street
Celebration in Riga on the occasion of the admission of the Republic of Latvia to the USSR. August 6, 1940