By signing the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk on March 3, 1918 the Soviet Russia gave up its territorial claims to the Baltic region, Ukraine, and other parts of Eastern Europe to formally end its participation in World War I. As previously stated in my second blog post, this allowed for the Bolshevik leadership to focus on their domestic issues without having to concern itself with a two-sided war, thus allowing them to solidate their leadership and authority within the Soviet Union. It was not until the eve of World War II in 1939 that the question of regaining the lands they had previously lost entered the minds of the Soviet leadership, and it was only because of the influence that they decided to align themselves with Germany, the nation that forced them to give up their territories 20 years prier.
This Non-Aggression Pact between Germany and the Soviet Union began in late August of 1939 with the goal of territorial expansion in the lands of Poland. This Pact allowed for Germany and the Soviet Union to both invade and then divide the lands between themselves for the purpose of expanding their borders and increasing their economic and farming capabilities (Siegelbaum). This same idea led to the Soviet Union invading and occupying the Baltic states of Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, which had only recently achieved their independence later that same year. With the invasion and quickly following annexation of the Baltics, the Soviet Union had regained most of the territory it had lost during the World War I.
German and Soviet Soldiers (1939). September 20, 1939. Soviethistory.
In the beginning, the Soviet Union used the pretext of housing soldiers during World War II in the Baltic states as an excuse for being there with large amounts of soldiers. The Soviet Union had forced the Baltic nations to sign in late 1939 a treaty permitting it to establish and house military garrisons, naval bases, and air bases in their lands (Kochavi, 173). A year later in August 1940, Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania were officially annexed by the Soviet Union and proclaimed as Soviet Socialist Republics. It is important to note that with these annexations, the territory of Bessarabia, and with the eastern part of Poland gained in the 1939 partition, that the Soviet Union added around 150 to 300 kilometers to its western border (Freeze, 378). This is significant as it shows that the Soviet Union had built up its eastern front and strengthen its western border against potential invaders, who would ultimately be Nazi Germany in 1941, its former pact-mate. With this act, Germany violated the Treaty of Non-Aggression by directly attacking the USSR, despite pledging not to do so (Treaty of Non-Aggression).
Baltic Sea- Map and Details. Worldatlas. Web. 25. March. 2018.
As the Soviet was annexing these territories, World War II was occurring with the Soviets posed to side with the Allies after it was invaded by Nazi Germany. The alliance between the United States, the Soviet Union, and Great Britain almost did not happen because of the surrounding controversy of the Baltic states being part of the Soviet Union. British foreign minister Eden had met with the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin in December 1941 to discuss their alliance against Germany with the official recognition of the Baltic states also being a central topic. Foreign Minister Eden was in favor of accepting the Baltics as Soviet republics as it would give support to their alliance with the Soviet Union. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, was of the opposite opinion, until he came to the conclusion that doing so would risk alienating the Soviet Union (Kochavi, 173).
The real political opposition to the Soviet demand was from the United States and its President Roosevelt, who did not want to recognize the Soviet annexation of the Baltics as being official and legal because of the Atlantic Charter. They objected to the forceful annexation with the Atlantic Charter, which proscribed territorial changes, “that do not accord with the freely expressed wishes of the peoples concerned (Kochavi, 173).” With this refusal by the United States, Great Britain was not forced to accept the Baltics as legal territories of the Soviet Union. The power of the United States kept the Soviet Union from receiving the official international recognition of its territorial gains, which it had long since desired to signify that the international community viewed it as valid (Kochavi, 174-175).
The entire issue and question of the Allied forces accepting the Soviet annexation of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia as truly being new satellite states of the Soviet Union could have potentially cost them an alliance. The United States and the other Allies did not approve of the Soviet Union’s forced territorial gains in the Baltics and other parts of Eastern Europe, but were forced to deal with it to appease Stalin and keep the USSR as an ally during World War II.
Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History, Third Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2009.
German and Soviet Soldiers (1939). September 20, 1939. German soldiers treat Red Army Soldiers to cigarettes during a meeting on the line of demarcation in Poland. Soviethistory. http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1939-2/soviet-territorial-annexations/soviet-territorial-annexations-images/#bwg102/639
Kochavi ,Arieh J. “BRITAIN, THE SOVIET UNION, AND THE QUESTION OF THE BALTIC STATES IN 1943.” Journal of Baltic Studies. Vol. 22, No. 2. 1991: 173-182. http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.lib.vt.edu/stable/pdf/43211682.pdf?refreqid=excelsior:8313e82bb70124b6bc5acd7e7d5040a2
“Baltic Sea- Map and Details.” Worldatlas. Web. 25. March. 2018. https://www.worldatlas.com/aatlas/infopage/balticsea.htm
Siegelbaum, Lewis. “Soviet territorial Annexations.” Soviethistory. Web. 25. March. 2018. http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1939-2/soviet-territorial-annexations/
“Treaty of Non-Aggression: Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Treaty of Non-Aggression. August 23, 1939.” Soviethistory. Web. 25. March. 2018. http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1939-2/soviet-territorial-annexations/soviet-territorial-annexations-texts/treaty-of-non-aggression/