Soviet occupation of Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina

The Soviet occupation of Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina took place from June 28 to July 4, 1940, as a result of the ultimatum by the Soviet Union to Romania on June 26, 1940, that threatened the use of force.[1] Bessarabia had been part of the Kingdom of Romania since the time of the Russian Civil War and Bukovina since the dissolution of Austria-Hungary, and Hertza was a district of the Romanian Old Kingdom. Those regions, with a total area of 50,762 km2 (19,599 sq mi) and a population of 3,776,309 inhabitants, were incorporated into the Soviet Union.[2][3] On October 26, 1940, six Romanian islands on the Chilia branch of the Danube, with an area of 23.75 km2 (9.17 sq mi), were also occupied by the Soviet Army.[4]

Soviet occupation of Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina
Part of the military occupations by the Soviet Union

Soviet parade in Chișinău
DateJune 28 – July 3, 1940 (1940-06-28 1940-07-03)
Location
Result Moldavian SSR established
Belligerents
 Romania  Soviet Union
Strength
  • 55-60 infantry divisions
  • 1 tank battalion
  • 32 infantry divisions
  • 2 mechanized divisions
  • 6 cavalry divisions
  • 11 armored brigades
  • 3 airborne brigades
  • 34 artillery regiments
Casualties and losses
  • 40,000 deserters
  • 29 killed
  • 69 wounded

The Soviet Union had planned to accomplish the annexation with a full-scale invasion, but the Romanian government, responding to the Soviet ultimatum delivered on June 26, agreed to withdraw from the territories to avoid a military conflict. The use of force had been made illegal by the Conventions for the Definition of Aggression in July 1933, but from an international legal standpoint, the new status of the annexed territories was eventually based on a formal agreement through which Romania consented to the retrocession of Bessarabia and cession of Northern Bukovina. As it was not mentioned in the ultimatum, the annexation of the Hertza region was not consented to by Romania, and the same is true of the subsequent Soviet occupation of the Danube islands.[1] On June 24, Nazi Germany, which had acknowledged the Soviet interest in Bessarabia in a secret protocol to the 1939 Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, had been made aware prior to the planned ultimatum but did not inform the Romanian authorities and was willing to provide support.[5] On June 22, France, a guarantor of Romanian borders, fell to Nazi advances. This is considered to be an important factor in the Soviets' decision to issue the ultimatum.[6] The Soviet invasion of Bukovina in 1940 violated the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, since it went beyond the Soviet sphere of influence that had been agreed with the Axis.[7]

A column of Soviet armored vehicles entering Bessarabia, June 1940

On August 2, 1940, the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic was proclaimed as a constituent republic of the Soviet Union, encompassing most of Bessarabia and part of the Moldavian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, an autonomous republic of the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic on the left bank of the Dniester (now the breakaway Transnistria). The Hertza region and the regions inhabited by Slavic majorities (Northern Bukovina, Northern and Southern Bessarabia) were included in the Ukrainian SSR. A period of political persecution, including executions, deportations to labour camps and arrests, occurred during the Soviet administration.

In July 1941, Romanian and German troops occupied Bessarabia, Northern Bukovina and Hertza during the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union. A military administration was established, and the region's Jewish population was executed on the spot or deported to Transnistria, where large numbers were killed. In August 1944, during the Soviet Second Jassy–Kishinev Offensive, the Axis war effort on the Eastern Front collapsed. The coup of 23 August 1944 caused the Romanian army to cease resisting the Soviet advance and to join the fight against Germany. Soviet forces advanced from Bessarabia into Romania, captured much of its standing army as prisoners-of-war and occupied the country.[8] On September 12, 1944, Romania signed the Moscow Armistice with the Allies. The Armistice and the subsequent peace treaty of 1947 confirmed the Soviet-Romanian border as it was on January 1, 1941.[9][10]

Bessarabia, Northern Bukovina and Hertza remained part of the Soviet Union until it collapsed in 1991, when they became part of the newly independent states of Moldova and Ukraine. The Declaration of Independence of Moldova of August 27, 1991, declared the Soviet occupation illegal.[11]