Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 2 Issue: 140

In a news conference for Baltic journalists on July 18 in Moscow, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Vladimir Chizhov added an innovative nuance to Russia’s official thesis that the 50-year occupation of the Baltic states had been legal. While rejecting the term “occupation,” Chizhov asked the three Baltic states to distinguish between the concept of occupation and that of annexation.

As successor to the Soviet Union, he said, Russia “does not dispute” the fact that the Baltic states were annexed, but “annexation and occupation are two different things.” The annexation was legal, Chizhov claimed, and therefore the ensuing period cannot be called an occupation. In carrying out the annexation, “All the formalities of international law that were in effect during the Second World War were observed.” Thus, he concluded, the annexation of the Baltic states “legitimized the entry of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia into the Soviet Union.”

Chizhov went on to pronounce the 1920 peace treaties between Soviet Russia (from 1922 on the Soviet Union) and the Baltic states as “void,” on the grounds that the Baltic states had “joined” the Soviet Union in the “legal” way he described. While familiar, this assertion directly bears on the ongoing controversy caused by Moscow’s refusal to ratify the border agreements that it recently signed (after a decade’s delay) with Estonia and Latvia. Interpretative statements, made by those two countries in the course of their internal ratification procedures, cite the 1920 peace treaties and their uninterrupted validity in international law during the occupation period. Those treaties are cornerstones to the Baltic states’ title to legal continuity and their 1991 restoration of sovereignty.

Moscow, however, avoids recognizing the Baltic states’ title as continuation states, so as to disclaim responsibility for the Soviet Union’s actions on the Baltic states’ territories during the occupation era. Chizhov’s remarks portrayed those actions as a Soviet internal affair: “The history of the Soviet Union is a common property of all the peoples that were part of it.”

The thesis that anti-Soviet armed resistance was criminal seems a logical corollary to the claim that the annexation was legal. On July 19, Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement condemning the annual commemorative gathering in Tartu, Estonia, of veterans of the armed resistance as “extremist” and “fascist.” While assailing the Estonian division that fought alongside German forces against the Red Army in 1944, the MFA statement also denounced the Forest Brothers — who resisted unaided for years after the war — as “bandit formations.” The July 16 event in Tartu actually brought together some of the surviving Estonian veterans from Estonia itself, Finland, and Sweden, as well as members of the Memento Society of victims of Soviet repression.

On July 19, the Russian Federation Council’s International Affairs Committee chairman, Mikhail Margelov, held another news conference for Baltic journalists. While calling for improved relations between Russia and the Baltic states, Margelov seemed to undermine his own case somewhat by diagnosing Baltic governments with “political schizophrenia.” Flanking him, the head of Russia’s Foreign and Defense Policy Council, Sergei Karaganov, termed the occupation question a “trivial issue” (BNS, July 19).

In Vilnius, the chairman of the International Commission to Evaluate the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes, Emanuelis Zingeris, issued a statement in response to Chizhov’s assertions. Zingeris observes that those assertions contravene international law as well as casting doubt on the repudiation of the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact by the Soviet Union in 1989. (That resolution, by the USSR Congress of People’s Deputies, stopped short of questioning the annexation of the Baltic states as a consequence of the pact). Zingeris, who is also one of the leaders of Lithuania’s Jewish community, announced in the same statement that Lithuania would shortly host a large-scale international conference to evaluate the consequences of the Yalta system of division of Europe 1945-91.

(BNS, Interfax, July 16-19)