Wednesday, June 17, 2020

Moscow Marks 80th Anniversary of Occupation of Baltic States by Celebrating Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 15 – 80 years ago this week, Soviet forces occupied Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania annexing them to the USSR, as allowed by the secret protocols of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.  But instead of acknowledging this crime, the Russian authorities praise this deal between Hitler and Stalin and call the occupation voluntary and legal, Boris Sokolov says.

            The pact and the occupation and annexation of the Baltic countries, “along with the war against Finland,” the Moscow commentator says, “are obvious crimes of Stalin.” But despite that, many Russians continue to claim that the former was an act of diplomatic brilliance and the latter a legitimate move (

            And they do so even though this action “both by form and in essence is in no way different from the Anschluss of Austria by Nazi Germany in March 1938, the occupation of Czechoslovakia and the annexation … of the Czech Republic by Germany in March 1939 and the German occupation and annexation … of Denmark in April 1940.”

            Even Russians who don’t speak about this process having been voluntary argue that it was “vitally necessary to the security of the USSR and that in general ‘then everybody did this.” Neither of those claims is true.

            The first is based on the assumption that the same act when done by Nazi Germany is bad but when done by Stalin’s USSR is good and the latter on a claim that simply isn’t true. Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union occupied other countries, but the Western powers did nothing of the kind even as they pursued the mistaken policy of appeasement.

            By arguing that “everybody did it,” something that the Russian foreign ministry now regularly insists, Moscow is putting “in the same dock Nazi Germany and the Communist Soviet Union, which by the way completely corresponds to historical truth.”

            Yet another argument Russians still make is that the annexation of the Baltic countries couldn’t have been an occupation because the USSR and the three of them were not in a state of war with the other. But that was true of the countries Hitler occupied, and Nuremberg listed them alongside those where there was a state of war as victims of Nazi aggression.

            “The Soviet occupation and annexation of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania differs from the Soviet occupation of Eastern Poland, Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina only by the fact that in the latter cases, the annexation concerned only part of the territory of the state” and not all of it as was the case with the Balts.

            Their seizure and annexation was in no way different “from the point of international law than the seizure by Nazi Germany of Austria, Czechoslovakia and Denmark. And if there was a difference, the Nazis come out the better since for example, until August 1943 in Denmark, they retained the authorities who had capitulated to them in April 1940.”

            The thesis that the seizure of the Baltic countries was necessary for Soviet national security is equally problematic. People in the Baltic countries were no more sympathetic to Nazi Germany than to Communist USSR. Had Stalin protected their neutrality, Sokolov suggests, they might have fought Germany alongside the Soviets when Hitler turned east.

            All of this needs to be said because now, on this anniversary, “more than 40” Duma deputies are calling for the passing of a law that would annul the December 1989 declaration by the USSR Congress of Peoples Deputies which denounced the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and its secret protocols.

            Those behind this move say, the commentator continues, that the deputies of 1989 acted “unjustly” and incorrectly and that “the countries of the Baltic voluntarily joined the USSR on the basis of a vote of their citizens.” Consequently, they insist, “there was no occupation of the Baltic countries.”   

            For some reason, however, “in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, in the European Union as whole, the overwhelming majority of the population does not share this point of view … [but] on the other hand, it is practically indistinguishable from the position of the ministry of foreign affairs of Russia.”

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