Staunton, May 12 – Many in the West believe that however valuable US non-recognition of the forcible annexation and occupation of the Baltic countries was in the past and may be in the present as a model for how the West should respond to Russia’s Anschluss of Crimea, it is no longer the case for the Baltic countries.
In this, the centenary year of US recognition of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, they could not be more wrong because Russian propagandists are now seeking to deny that non-recognition policy meant what it clearly did, that Moscow’s occupation of the three Baltic states was illegal and had to be ended.
They are insisting instead that the basis of the claim that the Soviet Union occupied Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania was either statements by Nazi leaders or the product of Cold War propaganda and had no standing in international law. Such claims are simply wrong and must be dismissed. Otherwise, some in the Russian capital may use them as a new basis for aggression.
The most recent example of this comes in an article by Russian propagandist Viktor Gushchin who ways that Hitler’s Germany and then the West during the Cold War talked about the occupation but that “at the level of international law,” this was never recognized (ritmeurasia.org/news--2022-05-14--latvija-nikogda-ne-byla-tak-blizka-k-gorjachej-faze-mezhetnicheskogo-konflikta-59848).
That statement is false because it is based on a false conception of international law, which exists not somewhere in a code like the laws of individual countries but as a summary of the practices and declarations of members of the international community that gain general if not universal approbation.
And it is dangerous because Gushchin and others like him now invoke this argument to insist that the current regime in Latvia is based on an illegitimate principle and that as a result “Latvia has never been as close to a hot phase of inter-ethnic conflict” as it is today, the kind of threatening language from Moscow that in the wake of Ukraine no one can afford to ignore.
In 1991, when Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania recovered their de facto independence – they had been in the view of the US and most of the West, they had been de jure independent countries since the 1920s – some in Washington spoke about the triumph of non-recognition policy, implying that it had done its duty and that everyone should look to the future.
The author of these lines at that time argued that this was a mistake, that non-recognition policy in fact was a kind of “birth certificate” for the three countries that had recovered their de facto independence, a declaration that made possible their decisions on citizenship and much else, including their inclusion in the Western alliance.
This policy remains important. Indeed, with statements like Gushchin’s, it may now be more important than ever for the international community to affirm it lest their failure to do so lead Moscow to conclude that it can engage in militaristic revisionism in the Baltic region as it has in Georgia and Ukraine.
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