Publication: Monitor Volume: 7 Issue: 63

Russia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry has reaffirmed in stark terms the Soviet thesis on the events of 1940 and their consequences regarding the Baltic states. In a statement issued on March 27-28 and directed at Lithuania, but applicable in every detail to the three Baltic states, Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Ivan Sergeev declared that “the Soviet troops entered Lithuania in 1940 by agreement with that state’s leadership, in accordance with the international law of the time,” that the country was “duly admitted into the USSR after Lithuania’s highest representative body had applied to the USSR Supreme Soviet” and that “state power during the Soviet period in Lithuania was being exercised by national authorities. Consequently, there is no justification for claiming that Lithuania’s move to join the Soviet Union was a result of unilateral actions by the latter. Assertions about Soviet ‘annexation’ or ‘occupation’ ignore the political, historic and legal realities.”

Inasmuch as the three Baltic states were invaded simultaneously, and incorporated collectively and according to identical procedures, the Russian Foreign Affairs Ministry’s statement covers the three of them. The same statement named Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania as “laying claims” to the pre-1940 embassy buildings of those states in Paris and Rome. “After the three states joined the USSR,” the statement went on, those buildings housed Soviet and now Russian diplomatic missions (Itar-Tass, March 27-28).

The Soviet thesis about the Baltic states having “joined” the Soviet Union “voluntarily” and “legally” made its reappearance in Russian government statements during Yevgeny Primakov’s tenure as foreign affairs minister and prime minister. With Vladimir Putin’s ascent to the prime ministership and then the presidency, the Russian government grew more outspoken in resurrecting the old view. That dynamic was in evidence well before the Lithuanian parliament’s June 2000 vote to appoint a commission for assessing the damages of the occupation period and to initiate negotiations with Russia about compensation.

Moscow’s latest defense of the occupation is timed to Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus’ March 29-31 official visit to Russia. If intended to rebut compensation claims, the statement would have been wholly unnecessary. The Lithuanian side had made clear in advance of the visit that it was not going to raise the compensation issue. In mid-March, Lithuania’s Foreign Affairs Minister Antanas Valionis had suggested that consideration of the matter be delayed until the Russian-Lithuanian intergovernmental cooperation commission holds a meeting, which is tentatively envisioned for the autumn. Valionis’ Russian counterpart as co-chairman of that commission, Transport Minister Sergei Frank, rejected any discussion of the issue; and the Lithuanian side let the matter rest in order to remove any possible irritant in advance of Adamkus’ visit.

The Lithuanian government and parliament attach top priority to improving relations with Russia and therefore approach the compensation issue with the maximum possible flexibility. Their leeway is constrained by two legally valid acts: the 1992 national referendum–which stipulates Lithuania’s right to seek compensation for occupation-era damages–and the June 2000 legislation, which is binding on the successor parliament and governments. Both branches appear, however, to seek ways around the problem–for example, by deferring negotiations and relegating any discussion of the issue to lower-level forums. The recently elected parliament’s chairman, Arturas Paulauskas, announced last week that the legislation “might be revised in ways acceptable to both Russia and Lithuania.”

The issue of the embassy buildings is distinct from the general issue of compensation. The three Baltic states seek restitution by Russia of the buildings or their value. Moscow agrees in principle to discuss that issue, but wants certain demands met prior to a negotiated setttlement. In essence, the demands involve large housing premises and building grounds in the three Baltic capitals at little or no rent for expanded Russian missions there.

In advance of Adamkus’ visit, Moscow publicly chided Lithuania for its unwillingness to enter into special arrangements with Russia on military transit. Russian government officials under cover of anonymity told Moscow media that “Lithuania, without any reason, is taking a nonconstructive position on [Russian] transit to the Kaliningrad Region, primarily the transit of troops. Lithuania is showing the same stubbornness on matters related to the security architecture of Europe.”

For his part, Russian ambassador Yury Zubakov warned in Vilnius that the Baltic states’ accession to NATO would “produce mistrust and inevitable destabilization in the Baltic region.” In an interview with local media, Zubakov recalled “other ways” that Moscow has suggested for guaranteeing the Baltic states’ security. He appeared to be referring to Moscow’s proposal for “cross-guarantees” to be extended to the Baltic states by Russia and NATO under some kind of regional security pact.

That proposal has, however, proved a nonstarter both in the Baltic states and in the West since first issued by Moscow three years ago. Primakov is one of the originators of that proposal. Zubakov is a former senior aide to Primakov and, like him, a high-ranking former KGB officer (BNS, ELTA, LETA, March 22, 27-28; Izvestiya, March 24; Itar-Tass, RIA, March 27-28; see the Monitor, June 13, 16, 19, 27, October 4, 2000, January 8, March 22; The Fortnight in Review, October 6, 2000, January 19, March 30).