July 4th, 2007 09:05 EST
U.S-Baltic Relations Mark 85 Years of Turmoil
Washington -- July marks the 85th anniversary of continuous U.S. diplomatic relations with the Baltic nations, and American officials say their support for the hard-earned freedom of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in no way is meant to intimidate modern-day Russia.
“Their democratic ideals and their democratic success is not a threat to anyone, least of all their great neighbor Russia,” U.S. diplomat Daniel Fried said in mid-June. Fried is assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs.
“The United States stood by the Baltic people even when the days seemed very dark,” Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in a June 14 meeting with the foreign ministers of the Baltic nations.
For just more than half a century – from 1940 to 1991 – the Baltic nations were a focal point of U.S. relations with the former Soviet Union.
Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia became independent countries after World War I, and the United States formally began diplomatic relations July 28, 1922. However, in 1940, the countries were annexed by the Soviet Union under a secret protocol of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, a Nazi-Soviet nonaggression pact signed in 1939.
The United States never recognized their annexation. On July 23, 1940 – shortly after Soviet forces entered the countries – Under Secretary of State Sumner Welles issued a statement describing the “devious processes” by which the countries’ freedoms “were to be deliberately annihilated.”
When Germany invaded Russia in 1941, the three Baltic countries fell under German occupation before being returned to Soviet control in 1944. The German and Soviet control resulted in the deaths and deportations of thousands of people. For decades, the United States maintained diplomatic relations with exiled Baltic officials who continued to represent their prewar governments.
In March 1990, as part of the democratic revolutions in Eastern Europe, Lithuania became the first Soviet republic formally to declare its renewed independence. Latvia declared renewed independence in May 1990, and Lithuania declared renewed independence in August 1991 during the Soviet coup attempt in Moscow.
In 2004, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were granted membership in the European Union and in NATO.
Speaking in Washington on June 14, the State Department’s Fried acknowledged that the United States and other Western nations could have done more to defend Eastern Europe from Soviet domination.
“We in the West allowed ourselves to accept promises that we knew or should have known would never be kept, and thus, too, we were compromised,” Fried said at the Heritage Foundation, a policy research center in Washington.
On the other hand, “neither did we abandon the Baltic states,” he said. “We promised that we would not recognize their forcible incorporation into the Soviet Union, and we did not. … We housed exiled Baltic diplomatic delegations. We accredited their diplomats. We flew their flags at the State Department’s Hall of Flags. We never recognized in deed or word or symbol the illegal occupation of their lands.”
Throughout the Cold War, U.S. relations with the Baltic countries inspired democratic reformers throughout the communist world. “We helped, as best we could, the self-liberation of these countries,” Fried said.
Fried acknowledged that Russia has been uneasy about the transformation of the Baltic nations into EU members and NATO allies.
“The Russians sometimes say that we are trying to surround them, encircle them,” Fried said. “But is it not in the best interest of Russia to be ‘surrounded’ by peaceful, prospering democracies?”
The European Union, he said, “is many things. But a threatening, rabidly nationalistic super state it is not.”
Fried also acknowledged “deep and difficult issues in Russia’s relations with the Baltic states.” Differing views of history fed the “bitterness” surrounding a recent decision by Estonia to move a memorial tomb for Red Army soldiers from a central Tallinn park to a nearby cemetery. Protests and rioting took place in Estonia as well as outside the Estonian Embassy in Moscow. Estonians also have blamed Russia for intensive computer-network attacks against the Estonian government after the memorial incident.
“There are many Russians, including many Russians in Estonia, some of them citizens of Estonia, who have strong feelings and believe that the Soviet Army victory over Hitler is a victory to be honored,” Fried said. “Those feelings, let us be fair and honest, do have some validity. The Soviet Army did defeat Hitler. Not on its own. But it did. And their courage and tenacity is worth remembering and respecting. And those feelings must be taken into account.”
However, Fried said he hopes “Russia and the Russian government will come to understand the feelings of the Baltics as well, which are obviously no less valid and rooted in a very different memory of what happened in 1940 and 1944.”
These different views “should be discussed in an honest and civilized way,” Fried said. “The past is not forgotten. But it need not determine the future.”
The full text of Sumner Welles’ statement to the press on July 23, 1940, is available on the Web site of the U.S. Embassy in Tallinn.
(USINFO is produced by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)