Occupation of the Baltic states

The Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were invaded and occupied in June 1940 by the Soviet Union, under the leadership of Stalin and auspices of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that had been signed between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union in August 1939, immediately before the outbreak of World War II.[1][2] The three countries were then annexed into the Soviet Union (formally as "constituent republics") in August 1940. The United States and most other Western countries never recognised this incorporation, considering it illegal.[3][4] 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.[5]

Occupation of the Baltic states
Part of World War II and the Cold War
Date15 June 1940 – 6 September 1991 (1940-06-15 1991-09-06)
LocationEstonia, Latvia, and Lithuania

Latvian plenipotentiary Kārlis Zariņš first described the Soviet takeover of Latvia as occupatio bellicara and occupatio pacifica in his 27 October 1943 memorandum to the British Foreign Ministry.[6] The Soviet "annexation occupation" or occupation sui generis[7] of the Baltic states lasted until the three countries restored sovereignty in August 1991.

The Baltic states themselves,[8][9] the United States[10][11] and its courts of law,[12] the European Parliament,[13][14][15] the European Court of Human Rights[16] and the United Nations Human Rights Council[17] have all stated that these three countries were invaded, occupied and illegally incorporated into the Soviet Union under provisions[18] 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.[19][20][21][22][23][24][25][26] 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.[27][28][29]

In its reassessment of Soviet history that began during perestroika in 1989, the Soviet Union condemned the 1939 secret protocol between Germany and itself.[30][need quotation to verify] However, the Soviet Union never formally acknowledged its presence in the Baltics as an occupation or that it annexed these states[31] 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".[32] Historically revisionist[33] 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.[34] The post-Soviet government of Russia and its state officials insist that incorporation of the Baltic states was in accordance with international law[35][36] 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,[37][38] which declared the inviolability of existing frontiers.[39] However, Russia agreed to Europe's demand to "assist persons deported from the occupied Baltic states" upon joining the Council of Europe in 1996.[40][41][42] 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.[43][44]

Most Western governments maintained that Baltic sovereignty had not been legitimately overridden[45] 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.[46][47] 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.[48] 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.[49][50]

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