Presidents and prime ministers of the Baltic states, meeting in Vilnius and Riga on October 4, responded to Russia’s recent claims for compensation of Soviet occupation costs. The claims, presented by Russia’s Audit Chamber in a report published September 30, bring a new dimension to Russian political pressures on the three Baltic states.
The Chamber’s report formally contends that Russia, as the legal successor to the Soviet Union, is entitled to compensation for having vacated the three Baltic states. The report asserts that the legal status of former Soviet property located there is an unresolved issue, necessitating “mutual recognition of property,” and that Russia can claim “compensation for assets that were left on the territories of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.” The compensation claims extend to military property that remained there after Russian troops withdrew. The report cites a 1993 Russian government decision, never implemented, to seek compensation for abandoned military bases in order to finance new troops accommodations in Russia and pensions for demobilized officers.
The Audit Chamber further proposes that Russia ask Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania to assume proportionate repayment obligations on the Soviet Union’s debts that post-1991 Russia assumed as its external debt. In agreement with Russia’s Central Bank and Foreign Trade Bank, the Chamber’s report postulates an “indebtedness” of the Baltic states on that account, assessing their aggregate share at $3.06 billion.
Russia’s Duma had originally requested the report in February 2003. The Audit Chamber has now forwarded the completed report to both chambers of Russia’s parliament, to the Cabinet of Ministers, and to President Vladimir Putin’s administration. Approved by the Chamber’s president Sergei Stepashin (a political ally of Putin), the report recommends that “all necessary measures” be taken to resolve the “disputed property and financial issues” with the Baltic states. (Interfax, September 30).
Meeting on October 4 in Vilnius, Presidents Valdas Adamkus of Latvia and Arnold Ruutel of Estonia reminded Russia that its compensation claims have no legal basis, inasmuch as the occupation of the Baltic states was legally invalid and never recognized internationally. Conversely, “We can submit claims for the broken lives, the destroyed state, the material losses we suffered . . . . If anyone were to make compensation claims, it would be us presenting a bill for the entire occupation period,” Adamkus warned. Ruutel, recalling that Estonia’s 1939 standard of living had equaled Finland’s, pointed out that the occupation held back Estonia’s development for five decades. Ruutel urged Russia to focus on its internal democratic and economic development.
Lithuania’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Antanas Valionis termed Moscow’s claims “an attempt to deny the facts of occupation and annexation,” and an “unheard-of demand by an aggressor for compensation.” While Valionis dismissed Moscow’s move as “absurd propaganda,” Latvia’s Prime Minister Indulis Emsis interpreted it as a signal that Russia is prepared to advance counter-claims if the Baltic states seek Russian reparations for the occupation. Advising against any such Baltic move, Emsis suggested seeking instead a political acknowledgment by Moscow of the fact of its forcible annexation of the Baltic states.
European Parliament deputy Vytautas Landsbergis, who was the first head of the restored Lithuanian state (1990-92), recalled that the Kremlin at that time was similarly threatening to bill the Baltic republics for Soviet assets there and to impose on them a share of Soviet debts. The Lithuanian parliament in 2000 (with Landsbergis as speaker, and acting on the basis of a 1992 referendum) passed a law on seeking reparations for damages suffered during the occupation. A Lithuanian government-appointed commission in 2000 estimated the damages at 80 billion litas (some 23 billion Euros or approximately $30 billion).
Emanuelis Zingeris, who is one of the leaders of Lithuania’s Jewish community and chairman of the International Commission to Evaluate the Crimes of the Nazi and Soviet Occupation Regimes, issued a statement noting that Moscow’s demands fly in the face of the Commission’s findings and ignore international law. Moreover, “by ruining the Baltic nations’ market economy and attempting to colonize them, the occupation brought disaster to millions of Baltic citizens. Our countries are to this day suffering from the consequences.” The statement urged Russia’s authorities to demonstrate, on this and other issues, “a critical, instead of a justificatory, attitude toward the Soviet regime. This could make both Russia and its neighboring countries safer” (BNS, ELTA, October 4).