Soviet occupation of Latvia in 1940

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Red Army BT-7 tank and ZIS-5 truck in Riga (1940) Riga 1940 Soviet Army.jpg
Red Army BT-7 tank and ZIS-5 truck in Riga (1940)

The Soviet occupation of Latvia in 1940 [1] [2] [3] refers to the military occupation of the Republic of Latvia by the Soviet Union under the provisions of the 1939 Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact with Nazi Germany and its Secret Additional Protocol signed in August 1939. [4] The occupation took place according to the European Court of Human Rights, [5] the Government of Latvia, [6] the United States Department of State, [7] and the European Union. [8] [9] [10] In 1989, the USSR also condemned the 1939 secret protocol between Nazi Germany and herself that had led to the invasion and occupation of the three Baltic countries, including Latvia.

Military occupation effective provisional control of a certain power over a territory

Military or belligerent occupation is effective provisional control by a certain ruling power over a territory, which is not under the formal sovereignty of that entity, without the violation of the actual sovereign. The territory is then known as the occupied territory and the ruling power the occupant. Occupation is distinguished from annexation by its intended temporary nature, by its military nature, and by citizenship rights of the controlling power not being conferred upon the subjugated population.

Soviet Union 1922–1991 country in Europe and Asia

The Soviet Union, officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), was a Marxist-Leninist sovereign state in Eurasia that existed from 1922 to 1991. Nominally a union of multiple national Soviet republics, its government and economy were highly centralized. The country was a one-party state, governed by the Communist Party with Moscow as its capital in its largest republic, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. Other major urban centers were Leningrad, Kiev, Minsk, Tashkent, Alma-Ata, and Novosibirsk. It spanned over 10,000 kilometers (6,200 mi) east to west across 11 time zones, and over 7,200 kilometers (4,500 mi) north to south. It had five climate zones: tundra, taiga, steppes, desert and mountains.

Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact Non-aggression pact

The Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, officially known as the Treaty of Non-aggression between Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, was a neutrality pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union signed in Moscow on August 23, 1939, by foreign ministers Joachim von Ribbentrop and Vyacheslav Molotov, respectively.


In July 1989 the country stepped on the road of the restoration of its independence, and after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Latvia's sovereignty was fully restored in 1991. On August 22, 1996, the Latvian parliament adopted a declaration which stated that the Soviet occupation of Latvia in 1940 was a military occupation and an illegal incorporation. [11]

On the Restoration of Independence of the Republic of Latvia

The Declaration "On the Restoration of Independence of the Republic of Latvia" was adopted on 4 May 1990, by the Supreme Soviet of the Latvian SSR. The Declaration stated that, although Latvia had de facto lost its independence in 1940, when it was annexed by the Soviet Union, the country had de jure remained a sovereign country as the annexation had been unconstitutional and against the will of the people of Latvia. Therefore it resolved that the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact and the Soviet occupation of Latvia in 1940 were illegal, and annulled the declaration on the accession of Latvia to the Soviet Union of 21 July 1940, re-instituted the Constitution of Latvia of 1922, which was thereupon partly suspended, and set a period of transition to de facto independence, which would end upon the first session of Saeima. It also ruled that during the transitional period the Constitution of the Latvian SSR and other laws would remain applicable as long as they did not contradict articles 1, 2, 3, and 6 of the Constitution of Latvia, which were reinforced by the declaration. It was provided that a committee to elaborate a new edition of the Constitution of Latvia should be created. Social, economic, cultural, and political rights were granted to citizens and residents of Latvia in accordance with international human rights. The declaration also stated that Latvia would form its relationship with the Soviet Union on the basis of the Latvian–Soviet Peace Treaty of 1920, in which the Soviet Union had recognized the independence of Latvia as inviolable "for all future time". The 4th of May is a national holiday in Latvia.


1918–1939: Historical background

In the aftermath of the Russian Revolution of 1917, Latvia declared its independence on November 18, 1918. After a prolonged War of Independence, Latvia and Soviet Russia (the predecessor of the Soviet Union) signed a peace treaty on August 11, 1920. In its Article 2 Soviet Russia "unreservedly recognises the independence and sovereignty of the Latvian State and voluntarily and forever renounces all sovereign rights (...) to the Latvian people and territory." The independence of Latvia was diplomatically recognised by the Allied Supreme Council (France, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Belgium) on January 26, 1921. Other states followed the suit. On September 22, 1921 Latvia was admitted to membership in the League of Nations and remained a member until the formal dissolution of the League in 1946. On February 5, 1932, a Non-Aggression Treaty with the Soviet Union was signed, based on the August 11, 1920 treaty whose basic agreements inalterably and for all time form the firm basis of the relationship of the two states.

Russian Revolution 20th-century revolution leading to the downfall of the Russian monarchy

The Russian Revolution was a period of political and social revolution across the territory of the Russian Empire which started with the abolishment of monarchy and concluded with the establishment of the Soviet Union by the bolsheviks and the end of the civil war.

Latvian War of Independence fought against Russian SFSR

The Latvian War of Independence, sometimes called the Latvia's freedom struggles or the Latvian War of Liberation, was a series of military conflicts in Latvia between 5 December 1918, after the newly proclaimed Republic of Latvia was invaded by Soviet Russia, and the signing of the Latvian-Soviet Riga Peace Treaty on 11 August 1920.

Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic Republic in the USSR (1922–1991) and sovereign state (1917–1922 and 1990–1991)

The Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, previously known as the Russian Soviet Republic and the Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic, as well as being unofficially known as the Russian Federation, Soviet Russia, or simply Russia, was an independent state from 1917 to 1922, and afterwards the largest, most populous and most economically developed of the 15 Soviet socialist republics of the Soviet Union (USSR) from 1922 to 1990, then a sovereign part of the Soviet Union with priority of Russian laws over Union-level legislation in 1990 and 1991, during the last two years of the existence of the USSR. The Russian Republic comprised sixteen smaller constituent units of autonomous republics, five autonomous oblasts, ten autonomous okrugs, six krais and forty oblasts. Russians formed the largest ethnic group. The capital of the Russian SFSR was Moscow and the other major urban centers included Leningrad, Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg, Nizhny Novgorod and Samara.

Relevant treaties between USSR and Latvia

Before World War II, the Republic of Latvia and USSR had both signed and ratified following treaties:

Kellogg–Briand Pact
August 27, 1928 Kellogg–Briand Pact renouncing war as an instrument of national policy [12]
Non-aggression treaty
Latvia, USSR on February 5, 1932 [13]
The Convention for the Definition of Aggression
On July 3, 1933 for the first time in the history of international relations, aggression was defined in a binding treaty signed at the Soviet Embassy in London by USSR and among others, Latvia. [14] [15]
Article II defines forms of aggression. There shall be recognized as an aggressor that State which shall be the first to have committed one of the following actions:
Relevant chapters:
  • Second — invasion by armed forces of the territory of another State even without a declaration of war.
  • Fourth — a naval blockade of coasts or ports of another State.

1939–1940: The road to loss of independence

Signing of German-Estonian and German-Latvian nonaggression pacts. Sitting from the left: Vilhelms Munters, Latvian MFA, Joachim von Ribbentrop, German MFA; Karl Selter, Estonian MFA. Bundesarchiv Bild 183-E07261, Berlin, Nichtangriffspakt mit Estland und Lettland.jpg
Signing of German–Estonian and German-Latvian nonaggression pacts. Sitting from the left: Vilhelms Munters, Latvian MFA, Joachim von Ribbentrop, German MFA; Karl Selter, Estonian MFA.

German–Latvian non-aggression pact

The German–Latvian non-aggression pact was signed in Berlin on June 7, 1939. In light of the German advance in the east, the Soviet government demanded an AngloFrench guarantee of the independence of the Baltic states, during their negotiations for an alliance with the Western Powers. The Latvian and Estonian governments, ever suspicious of Soviet intentions, decided to accept a mutual non-aggression pact with Germany. The GermanEstonian and GermanLatvian Non-aggression pacts were signed in Berlin on June 7, 1939 by Latvian foreign minister Vilhelms Munters and Joachim von Ribbentrop. On the next day Adolf Hitler received the Estonian and Latvian envoys, and in course of this interviews stressed maintaining and strengthening commercial links between Germany and Baltic states. Ratifications of the German-Latvian pact were exchanged in Berlin on July 24, 1939 and it became effective on the same day. It was registered in League of Nations Treaty Series on August 24, 1939. [16]

Berlin Capital of Germany

Berlin is the capital and largest city of Germany by both area and population. Its 3,748,148 (2018) inhabitants make it the second most populous city proper of the European Union after London. The city is one of Germany's 16 federal states. It is surrounded by the state of Brandenburg, and contiguous with Potsdam, Brandenburg's capital. The two cities are at the center of the Berlin-Brandenburg capital region, which is, with about six million inhabitants and an area of more than 30,000 km², Germany's third-largest metropolitan region after the Rhine-Ruhr and Rhine-Main regions.

Baltic states Countries east of the Baltic Sea

The Baltic states, also known as the Baltic countries, Baltic republics, Baltic nations or simply the Baltics, is a geopolitical term, typically used to group the three sovereign states in Northern Europe on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea: Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. The term is not used in the context of cultural areas, national identity, or language, because while the majority of people in Latvia and Lithuania are Baltic people, the majority in Estonia are Finnic. The three countries do not form an official union, but engage in intergovernmental and parliamentary cooperation. The most important areas of cooperation between the three countries are foreign and security policy, defence, energy and transportation.

German–Estonian Non-Aggression Pact

German–Estonian Non-Aggression Pact was signed in Berlin on June 7, 1939, by the Estonian and German Ministers of Foreign Affairs Karl Selter and Joachim von Ribbentrop. German–Latvian Non-Aggression Pact was also signed on the same day. Ratifications of the German-Estonian pact were exchanged in Berlin on July 24, 1939 and it became effective on the same day. It was registered in League of Nations Treaty Series on August 12, 1939. The pact was intended for a period of ten years.

Molotov signing the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact MolotovRibbentropStalin.jpg
Molotov signing the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact

German–Soviet non-aggression pact

The Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, signed August 23, 1939 contained secret protocols to split up territories between Germany and the Soviet Union. According to these protocols, Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Bessarabia were within the Soviet sphere of interest, and Poland and Lithuania fell into the German sphere of interest. The Soviet Union did not officially admit the existence of these protocols until, under pressure from the Baltic SSRs, on December 24, 1989, the Congress of the USSR People's Deputies officially recognized the secret deals and condemned them as illegal and invalid from their inception. [17]

Estonia Republic in Baltic Region of Northern Europe

Estonia, officially the Republic of Estonia, is a country on the eastern coast of the Baltic Sea in Northern Europe. It is bordered to the north by the Gulf of Finland with Finland on the other side, to the west by the Baltic Sea with Sweden on the other side, to the south by Latvia (343 km), and to the east by Lake Peipus and Russia (338.6 km). The territory of Estonia consists of a mainland and 2,222 islands in the Baltic Sea, covering a total area of 45,227 km2 (17,462 sq mi), water 2,839 km2 (1,096 sq mi), land area 42,388 km2 (16,366 sq mi), and is influenced by a humid continental climate. The official language of the country, Estonian, is the second-most-spoken Finnic language.

Bessarabia Historical region in present-day Moldova and Ukraine

Bessarabia is a historical region in Eastern Europe, bounded by the Dniester river on the east and the Prut river on the west. About two thirds of Bessarabia lies within modern-day Moldova, with the Ukrainian Budjak region covering the southern coastal region and part of the Ukrainian Chernivtsi Oblast covering a small area in the north.

Lithuania Republic in Northeastern Europe

Lithuania, officially the Republic of Lithuania, is a country in the Baltic region of Europe. Lithuania is considered to be one of the Baltic states. It is situated along the southeastern shore of the Baltic Sea, to the east of Sweden and Denmark. It is bordered by Latvia to the north, Belarus to the east and south, Poland to the south, and Kaliningrad Oblast to the southwest. Lithuania has an estimated population of 2.8 million people as of 2019, and its capital and largest city is Vilnius. Other major cities are Kaunas and Klaipėda. Lithuanians are Baltic people. The official language, Lithuanian, is one of only two living languages in the Baltic branch of the Indo-European language family, the other being Latvian.

Invasion of Poland

Nazi Germany invaded Poland on 1 September 1939. [18] France and Britain, which were obligated by treaty to protect Poland, responded with notes of protest requesting the Germans withdraw. Following French-British indecision, Britain acted alone moving forward with a two-hour ultimatum at 9:00am on September 3, which France was then forced to follow, issuing its own ultimatum. Nevertheless, despite declarations that a state of war now existed with Germany, the inter-Allied military conferences of September 4–6 determined there was no possibility of supporting an eastern front in Poland. France subsequently requested Britain not bomb Germany, fearing military retaliation against the French populace. It was determined to do nothing, so as to not provoke a transfer of German forces to the western front. Chamberlain declared on September 12 "There is no hurry as time is on our side." [19] The abandonment of Poland was complete.

A joint parade of Wehrmacht and Red Army in Brest at the end of the invasion of Poland. On the tribune are Major General Heinz Guderian (centre) and Brigadier Semyon Krivoshein (right) Armia Czerwona,Wehrmacht 22.09.1939 wspolna parada.jpg
A joint parade of Wehrmacht and Red Army in Brest at the end of the invasion of Poland. On the tribune are Major General Heinz Guderian (centre) and Brigadier Semyon Krivoshein (right)

Stalin then moved forward with his part of the Pact, ordering the Red Army on September 17 to cross the Soviet-Polish frontier under the claimed necessity to protect the Belarusians and Ukrainians in the territory of Poland, which Soviets argued "ceased to exist" in the wake of German successes. [20] Stalin then suggested a "trade" to Hitler to solve the "Baltic problem." [21] On September 28, 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union having partitioned Poland signed a border agreement, including a second secret protocol, handing Lithuania to Stalin in exchange for two Polish provinces. Shortly thereafter, on October 3, 1939, the German ambassador to the Soviet Union, Friedrich Werner von der Schulenburg, had also suggested to Molotov that various changes in the borders of the Lithuanian territory wait until the "Soviet Union incorporates Lithuania, an idea on which, I believe, the arrangement concerning Lithuania was originally based." [22] Subsequently, the Soviet Union further agreed to compensate Nazi Germany 7,500,000 gold dollars (or 31,500,000 Reichsmarks) for the Reich renouncing its "claims" on the Lithuanian territory it was to originally possess based on the September 28th agreement. [23]

The Soviet Union now occupied just over half of all Polish territory, and the Allied powers had demonstrated themselves incapable of military intervention on the Eastern front. There were no impediments remaining to Stalin, in concert with Hitler, achieving his aims in the Baltics.

Baltic–Soviet relations in autumn 1939

On September 24, 1939, warships of the Red Navy appeared off Latvia's northern neighbour, Estonian ports, Soviet bombers began a threatening patrol over Tallinn and the nearby countryside. [24] USSR then violated the air space of all three Baltic states, flying massive intelligence gathering operations on September 25. Moscow demanded that Baltic countries allow the USSR to establish military bases and station troops on their soil for the duration of the European war. [25]

During talks in Moscow, on October 2, 1939, Stalin told Vilhelms Munters, the Latvian foreign minister: "I tell you frankly, a division of spheres of interest has already taken place. As far as Germany is concerned we could occupy you." [26] The Baltics took this threat seriously.

The government of Estonia accepted the ultimatum signing the corresponding agreement on September 28. 1939; Latvia following on October 5, 1939; and Lithuania shortly thereafter, on October 10, 1939. In Latvia's case it was signed by Latvian Minister of Foreign Affairs Vilhelms Munters and Soviet Commissar of Foreign Affairs Vyacheslav Molotov. Ratifications were exchanged in Riga on October 11, 1939, and the treaty became effective on the same day. It was registered in League of Nations Treaty Series on November 6, 1939. [27] Articles of the treaty were:

As Latvian National Foundation says the agreement called for Latvia to:

At face value, this pact did not impinge upon Latvian sovereignty. Section 5 of the Pact reads as follows: "The carrying into effect of the present pact must in no way affect the sovereign rights of the contracting parties, in particular their political structure, their economic and social system, and their military measures. The areas set aside for the bases and airfields remain the territory of the Latvian Republic." [28]

With Baltic Sovietization imminent, Hitler issued a "call home" to ethnic Germans. [29] Latvia entered into agreement with Nazi Germany on the repatriation of citizens of German nationality on October 30, 1939. [28] In spring 1940, 51,000 left Latvia for resettlement in Poland. A second call a year later brought out another 10,500. [30] :46

Publicly, on October 31, 1939, the Soviet Supreme Council called fears of Baltic Sovietization "all nonsense." [31] Privately, this stationing of Soviet troops in Latvia under the terms of the mutual assistance pact marked the beginning of the fruition of long-standing Soviet desires to gain control of the Baltics. [32] [33]

Soviet invasion of Finland

Winter War: Finland's concessions Finnish areas ceded in 1940.png
Winter War: Finland's concessions

Similar demands were forwarded to Finland. On October 5, 1939, the Finns had been invited to Moscow to "discuss mutual problems." The Finns refused to sign a pact of mutual assistance, [34] [35] and on November 30, the Soviet Union attacked Finland, launching the Winter War. Because the Soviet attack was judged as illegal, the Soviet Union was expelled from the League of Nations on December 14. [36] Finland mounted a skilful defensive effort and managed to stall the Soviet offensive until February 1940, when its primary defensive line finally collapsed. On March 12, 1940, faced with the prospect of a complete Soviet takeover, Finland signed the Moscow Peace Treaty with the Soviet Union. Finland retained its independence, but was forced to cede 11% of its territory and lease the Hanko Peninsula to the Soviet Union as a naval base for 30 years. In June 1941, hostilities between Finland and USSR resumed in the Continuation War.

1940–1941: The first Soviet occupation

Political background

Apparent escape from Finland's fate may have led to a false sense of security for Latvia. Four months before the arrival of Soviet troops in Latvia, Vilhelms Munters, addressing an audience at the University of Latvia on February 12, 1940, stated, "We have every reason to describe the relations existing between Latvia and the Soviet Union as very satisfactory. There are people who will say that these favourable conditions are of a temporary nature only, and that sooner or later we shall have to reckon with internal-political and foreign-political pressure on the part of the Soviet Union. The foundation on which they base these prophesies is a secret of the prophets themselves. The experience of our Government certainly does not justify such forebodings." [37]

With Soviet failure in Finland sealed for the moment, it was little more than a month after Munters' positive expressions that Molotov, speaking on March 25, 1940, essentially announced Soviet intentions to annex the Baltic States, stating, "... the execution of the pacts progressed satisfactorily and created conditions favourable for a further improvement of the relations between Soviet Russia and these States." Improvement of the relations being a euphemism for Soviet takeover.

In March and April 1940, immediately after Molotov's speech, the Soviet press commenced attacks on the Latvian government. Next, the NKVD orchestrated a series of strikes in Riga and Liepāja. When those failed to develop into a general strike, the Soviets blamed that failure on the "irresponsible element which spoils the good neighbourly relations."

Fearing Soviet action, on May 17, 1940, the Latvian government secretly issued emergency powers to the Latvian minister in London, Kārlis Reinholds Zariņš, designating Alfreds Bilmanis, the Latvian minister in Washington, as his substitute.[ citation needed ]

Soviet invasion

Schematics of the Soviet naval military blockade of Estonia and Latvia in 1940. (Russian State Naval Archives) SovietBlockade1940.jpg
Schematics of the Soviet naval military blockade of Estonia and Latvia in 1940. (Russian State Naval Archives)
Soviet-organized rally in Riga, 1940 Demonstration in Riga. 1940 in Latvia. 013.jpg
Soviet-organized rally in Riga, 1940
Parade in Riga. November 7, 1940 Riga. Parade. November-7-1940.jpg
Parade in Riga. November 7, 1940
Soviet-organized first May Day rally in Riga, 1941 Demonstration in Riga. 1st of May 1941. (010).jpg
Soviet-organized first May Day rally in Riga, 1941

On May 28, 1940, the Lithuanian Minister in Moscow received a note from Molotov which dealt with the alleged kidnapping of two Soviet soldiers in Vilna. The Lithuanian government sought to clear up this matter by a Soviet-Lithuanian commission under the terms of the mutual assistance pact. Moscow rejected this proposal and cut off further discussion, soon showing and rapidly playing their hand:

Loss of independence

Soviet orchestration of events continued following the invasion, complete with protestors, who had arrived with the Red Army troops, organizing mass marches and meetings in order to create the impression of popular unrest:

Accurate numbers for the losses the Soviets inflicted on Latvia are not available. They have been estimated at 35,000 dead from military action, executions, or deportation. [30] :48 Many more found refuge abroad. These losses all began during the first Soviet occupation. This has also been referred to, in Latvian, as "Baigais Gads" (Year of Terror). (This term was also used in anti-Soviet propaganda of the period—these two uses should not be confused or allied in purpose. "Baigais Gads" is also a title of an openly antisemitic, false account of the events of the year penned by Pauls Kovalevskis, a Nazi sympathiser, in 1942.) Further mass deportations and killing were planned, however the German invasion of Soviet territory, brought a halt to this. A Lithuanian government official claims to have seen a document envisaging the removal of 700,000 from Lithuania. [30] :48

Soviet terror

Plaque commemorating the Victims of Soviet NKVD in Bauska, Latvia. Plaque at Bauska Cheka.jpg
Plaque commemorating the Victims of Soviet NKVD in Bauska, Latvia.

The Soviet authorities, having gained control over Latvia, immediately imposed a regime of terror. Hundreds of men were arrested, including many leaders of the Republic of Latvia. Tribunals were set up to punish "traitors to the people."

Under arrest and liable to prompt liquidation were Latvia's President Kārlis Ulmanis and Foreign Minister Vilhelms Munters. Immediate confiscation of property and execution within 24 hours was decreed for diplomats abroad who refused to recognize the new regimes and return to Latvia. [42] Later orders expanded the list of repressions, including anyone related to someone in hiding from the government or who had fled abroad—which act made them a traitor to the state.

On June 22, 1940, all three Baltic parliaments passed initial resolutions on the nationalization of land, followed in Latvia by a Bill of Land Reform a week later. Initially, a maximum of 30 hectares of land could be used by a family, reduced during the second Soviet occupation to 15–20 hectares.

The June deportation took place on June 13 and June 14, 1941, estimated at 15,600 men, women, and children, and including 20% of Latvia's last legal government. Approximately 35,000 total (1.8% of Latvia's population) were deported during the first Soviet occupation. Stalin's deportations also included thousands of Latvian Jews. (The mass deportation totalled 131,500 across the Baltics.)

According to the Serov Instructions, the deportations were swift and efficient and came in the middle of the night. Deportees were given an hour or less to get ready to leave. They were allowed to take with them their belongings not exceeding 100 kg in weight (money, food for a month, cooking appliances, clothing). The families would then be taken to the railway station. That was when they discovered that the men were to be separated from the women and children: "In view of the fact that a large number of deportees must be arrested and distributed in special camps and that their families must proceed to special settlements in distant regions, it is essential that the operation of removal of both the members of the deportee's family and its head shall be carried out simultaneously, without notifying them of the separation confronting them ... The convoy of the entire family to the station shall be effected in one vehicle and only at the station of departure shall the head of the family be placed separately from his family in a car specially intended for heads of families."

The trains were escorted by a NKVD officer and military convoy. Packed into barred cattle cars, with holes in the floor for sanitation, the deportees were taken to Siberia. Many died before even reaching their final destination because of harsh conditions. Many more perished during their first winter.

A number of Latvians who managed to avoid deportations decided to hide in the forests, where anti-Soviet units were organized. When Nazi Germany attacked Soviet Union, those rebels immediately went into collaboration with Nazi Germany. [43]


Occupation of Latvia by Nazi Germany 1941–1944

Residents of Riga welcome the arrival of Nazi troops Riga 1941 Nazi Welcome.jpg
Residents of Riga welcome the arrival of Nazi troops

The Soviet-German war cut short this first year of Soviet occupation. The Nazi offensive, launched June 22, 1941, just over a week after the mass deportations were executed, entered Riga on July 1, 1941. This disrupted documented NKVD plans to deport several hundred thousand more from the Baltic states on June 27 and 28, 1941.

With memories of the mass deportations of a week before still fresh, the German troops were widely greeted at their arrival by the Latvians as liberators. The Latvian national anthem played on the radio, and, as Chris Bellamy wrote: "the [anti-Soviet] rebellion broke out immediately after the news of Barbarossa". [43] The majority of ethnic Latvians who had been forced to serve in the Red Army deserted from their units, and soon afterwards attacked the NKVD. On July 2, 1941, a unit of Latvian deserters captured the town of Sigulda, and three days later, Latvian rebels took control over another town, Smiltene, also blocking the strategic road to Pskov. Latvians did not only desert en masse from regular Red Army units, they also escaped from military training camps, which were part of the Soviet mobilization plan. Among other battles with retreating Soviet units, Bellamy mentions Limbaži (July 4), Olaine (July 5), and Alūksne (July 9). All these locations were captured by Latvian rebels before the first Wehrmacht units appeared in the area. [43]

Nazi Germany, however, had no plan or desire to restore autonomy to Latvia, even though they ordered Colonel Alexander Plesners to oversee formation of the Latvian Defence Forces. On July 8, the Germans announced that wearing of non-German uniforms was banned. Also, rebel units were ordered to disarm. Jewish fears of the Nazis—which had led some to look upon the Soviet occupation as a measure of security—were to prove tragically well founded.

By July 10, 1941, German armed forces had occupied all of Latvia's territory. Latvia became a part of Nazi Germany's Reichskommissariat Ostland – the Province General of Latvia (Generalbezirk Lettland). Anyone who was disobedient to the German occupation regime as well as those who had co-operated with the Soviet regime were killed or sent to concentration camps.

In 1939 Generalplan Ost was drawn up by Nazi Germany covering eastern countries. As regards Latvia, it was determined that the population of around 2,000,000 should be reduced by 50%, those remaining being considered worthy of "Germanisation". Accordingly, Jews, Romani people, communists, army officers, politicians, and other intellectuals all found themselves being rounded up. [30] :54–56 Further reductions in the civilian population would be achieved through the creation of food shortages, resulting in mass starvation. [30] :56

Soviet troops in Riga, October 1944 BALTICO RIGA.jpg
Soviet troops in Riga, October 1944

Second Soviet occupation 1944–1991

Soviet propaganda poster in Latvia, 1945 Plakats.Latvijas PSR gerbonis.Himnas vardi.jpg
Soviet propaganda poster in Latvia, 1945

The Riga Offensive was part of the larger Baltic Offensive on the Eastern Front during World War II. It took place late in 1944, and drove German forces from the city of Riga.

Latvia was again occupied by the Soviet Union from 1944–91[ citation needed ]. Under the Soviet occupation thousands of Latvians were deported to Siberian camps, executed or forced into exile.

Many Latvians fled in fishermen's boats and ships to Sweden and Germany, from where until 1951 they drifted to various parts of the Western world (mostly Australia and North America). Approximately 150,000 Latvians ended up in exile in the West.

According to approximate estimates, as a result of World War II the population of Latvia decreased by half a million (25% less than in 1939). In comparison with 1939 the Latvian population had diminished by about 300,000. The war also inflicted heavy losses on the economy – many historic cities were destroyed, as well as industry and the infrastructure.

In July 1989, following the dramatic events in East Germany, the Latvian Supreme Soviet adopted a "Declaration of Sovereignty" and amended the Constitution to assert the supremacy of its laws over those of the USSR.

On August 23, 1989 political demonstration Baltic Way took place. Approximately two million people joined their hands to form an over 600 kilometre long human chain across the three Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania).This demonstration was organized to draw the world's attention to the common historical fate which these three countries suffered.

In March 1990 Candidates from the pro-independence party Latvian Popular Front gained a two-thirds majority in the Supreme Council in democratic elections.

On May 4, 1990, the Latvian Council declared its intention to restore full Latvian independence. Soviet political and military forces tried unsuccessfully to overthrow the Latvian government. On August 21, 1991, Latvia claimed de facto independence. International recognition, including that of the USSR, followed. The United States, which had never recognized Latvia's forcible annexation by the USSR, resumed full diplomatic relations with Latvia on September 2, 1991. [44]

In February 1992, Russia agreed to start withdrawing its troops from Latvia. [45]

In August 1994 the last Russian troops withdrew from the Republic of Latvia. [46]

Russia officially ended its military presence in Latvia in August 1998 following the decommissioning of the Skrunda-1 radar station, which was the last active Russian military radar in the Baltics. The last Russian troops withdrew from the station the following year. [47]

Historical Soviet version of events

"The Spirit of Great Lenin and his victorious banner inspire us for the Great Patriotic War" (Stalin) Stalin Lenin jk.jpg
"The Spirit of Great Lenin and his victorious banner inspire us for the Great Patriotic War" ( Stalin )

Up to the reassessment of Soviet history that began during the Perestroika, which led to the official condemnation of the 1939 secret protocol by the Soviet government, the Soviet position on the events of 1939–1940 is summarised as follows:

The Government of the Soviet Union suggested to the Government of the Republic of Latvia that they conclude a treaty of mutual assistance between the two countries. Pressure from the Latvian working peoples forced the Latvian government to accept this offer. A Pact of Mutual Assistance was signed [48] allowing the USSR to station a limited number of Red Army units in Latvia. Economic difficulties, dissatisfaction with the Latvian government policies "that had sabotaged fulfillment of the Pact and the Latvian government" and political orientation towards Nazi Germany led to a revolutionary situation culminating in June 1940. To guarantee fulfillment of the Pact, additional Soviet military units entered Latvia, welcomed by the Latvian workers who demanded the resignation of the bourgeoisie Latvian government and its fascist leader, Kārlis Ulmanis. [49] That same June, under the leadership of the Latvian Communist Party, the Latvian workers held demonstrations, and on that day, the fascist government was overthrown, and a People's Government formed. Elections for the Latvian Parliament were held shortly thereafter in July 1940. The "Working People's Union", created by an initiative of the Latvian Communist Party, received the vast majority of the votes. [50] The Parliament adopted the declaration of the restoration of Soviet power in Latvia and proclaimed the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic. The parliament then declared Latvia's wish to freely and willingly join the USSR, adopting a resolution to that effect. That request was approved by the Supreme Soviet of the USSR and Latvia became a constituent republic of the USSR.

Conflicting versions of history

Welles Declaration, condemning the 1940 occupation by the Soviet Union of Latvia and the two other Baltic states, and refusing to recognize their annexation as Soviet Republics Welles declaration.jpg
Welles Declaration, condemning the 1940 occupation by the Soviet Union of Latvia and the two other Baltic states, and refusing to recognize their annexation as Soviet Republics

The issue of the Soviet occupation, its motives and consequences, remains a bone of contention between the Baltic states and Russia. At the core lie different versions of the historical events during World War II and after: the Latvian (shared also by Estonia and Lithuania and widely espoused by Western historical scholarship) and the Soviet one, which continues to be supported and defended by the government of Russia.

According to the European Court of Human Rights, [5] the Government of Latvia, [6] the United States, [7] and the European Union, [8] [9] [10] the occupation of Latvia by the USSR in 1940, and its subsequent re-incorporation in the Soviet Union in 1944, was illegal. According to this account, the lawful government of Latvia was overthrown in 1940 and Soviet rule was imposed by force. Subsequently, the Soviet Union conducted large-scale and systematic actions including murder and mass deportations against the Latvian population. Rigged elections were organized in which only Soviet-supported candidates were permitted to run; [51] results were accidentally released to the Western press in London before the elections were even complete. As reported by Time in 1940, those who had failed to have their passports stamped for voting Latvia into the USSR were allowed to be shot in the back of the head by Soviet NKVD, [42] The country remained occupied by the Soviet Union until restoration of its independence in 1991. The 48 years of Soviet occupation and annexation of the Baltic States was never recognized as legal by the Western democracies. The United States especially applied the earlier-adopted Stimson Doctrine to the issue of the Baltic states, leading to its becoming an established precedent in International Law.

While the Congress of People's Deputies of the Soviet Union condemned the annexation of Latvia and the other Baltic states prior to the dissolution of the USSR, [52] the Russian Federation, the legal successor state of the USSR, does not recognize the forcible occupation of Latvia by the Soviet Union. Specifically in reference to Latvia, the Russian Duma passed a resolution to "remind the deputies of the Latvian Saeima that Latvia's being a part of the Soviet Union was grounded by fact and by law from the international juridical point of view. [53] " The government of Russia further maintains that the Soviet Union liberated Latvia from the Germans in 1944.


In 2000, Soviet Occupation Day — June 17 — became a remembrance day in Latvia. [54] [55]

See also


  1. The World Book Encyclopedia ISBN   0-7166-0103-6
  2. "Soviet occupation of the Baltic States" at Encyclopædia Britannica
  3. The History of the Baltic States by Kevin O'Connor ISBN   0-313-32355-0
  4. "The Soviet occupation and incorporation of Latvia" at Encyclopædia Britannica
  5. 1 2 European Court of Human Rights cases on Occupation of Baltic States
  6. 1 2 3 4 The Occupation of Latvia Archived 2007-11-23 at the Wayback Machine at Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Latvia
  7. 1 2 "U.S.-Baltic Relations: Celebrating 85 Years of Friendship" at
  8. 1 2 Motion for a resolution on the Situation in Estonia by EU
  9. 1 2 Dehousse, Renaud (1993). "The International Practice of the European Communities: Current Survey" (PDF). European Journal of International Law. 4 (1): 141. Retrieved 2011-01-28.
  10. 1 2 European Parliament (January 13, 1983). "Resolution on the situation in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania". Official Journal of the European Communities. C 42/78.
  11. CASE OF KONONOV v. LATVIA European Court of Human Rights. May 17, 2010. Retrieved June 15, 2013.
  12. Kellogg-Briand Pact at Yale University
  13. League of Nations Treaty Series, 1934, No. 3408, pp. 123–125 and 127
  14. Aggression Defined at Time magazine
  15. League of Nations Treaty Series, 1934, No. 3391.
  16. League of Nations Treaty Series, vol. 198, pp. 106-109.
  17. Jerzy W. Borejsza, Klaus Ziemer, Magdalena Hułas. Totalitarian and Authoritarian Regimes in Europe. Berghahn Books, 2006. Page 521.
  18. Per Hitler's request, the Soviets transmitted coded messages to support the invading German airforce. Karski, Jan (1985). The Great Powers and Poland 1919–1945. University Press of America. ISBN   0-8191-4398-7.
  19. Karski, pages 373–392; Chamberlain quote confirmed in two original sources cited in Karski.
  20. Moscow dispatched a telegram of congratulations to Berlin on the premature news that Warsaw had fallen to the Nazis. Karski, Jan. The Great Powers and Poland 1919–1945. 1985. University Press of America. Lanham, MD.
  21. These Names Accuse. 1982. Stockholm. "Having learned that Germany after the defeat of the Polish army planned to create the State of Little Poland, Stalin suggested the exchange of Lithuania for two Polish voyevodstva (provinces) with the view of immediately 'solving the Baltic problem' with Hitler's consent. Thus, the second secret protocol, which was signed on September 28 in Moscow, came into being."
  22. Telegram transmitted October 3, 1939. Documents presented to U.N. General Assembly, September 1948
  23. Secret Protocol, signed Moscow, January 10, 1941 by Schulenburg and Molotov. Documents presented to U.N. General Assembly, September 1948
  24. Moscow's Week at Time on Monday, October 9, 1939
  25. The Baltic States: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania by David J. Smith, Page 24, ISBN   0-415-28580-1
  26. The Story of Latvia: The Tragedy of 1940
  27. League of Nations Treaty Series, vol. 198, pp. 382-387.
  28. 1 2 3 These Names Accuse: Historical Introduction, Part 2
  29. Central Europe Review : "A Brief History of Estonia" by Mel Huang
  30. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Buttar, Prit. Between Giants. ISBN   9781780961637.
  31. These Names Accuse: Historical Introduction, Part 3
  32. Berzins, Alfreds. The Unpunished Crime, introduction by Senator Thomas J. Dodd, (1963), New York, Speller & Sons. quoting Izvestia , December 25, 1918: "Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania are directly on the road from Russia to Western Europe and are therefore a hindrance to our revolution because they separate Soviet Russia from Revolutionary Germany. ... This separating wall must be destroyed. The Russian red proletariat should find an opportunity to influence Germany. The conquest of the Baltic Sea would make it possible for Soviet Russia to agitate in favor of the social revolution in the Scandinavian countries so that the Baltic Sea would be transformed into the Sea of Social Revolution."
  33. Stalin ordered the Estonian Communist party to organize a putsch in Tallinn on December 1, 1924, which, should it succeed, would lead to the proclamation of the Estonian Soviet Republic.
  34. Baltic states :: Soviet occupation Britannica Online Encyclopedia:
  35. "Finnish Finish" at Time on Monday, Nov. 20, 1939
  36. "Minus a Member" at Time magazine on Monday, Dec. 25, 1939
  37. Zalts, Alberts Zalts (ed.). Latvian Economic Review, No. 2(18) April 1940. Latvian Chamber of Commerce and Industry. Riga.
  38. (in Finnish) Pavel Petrov at Finnish Defence Forces home page
  39. (in Russian) documents published from the State Archive of the Russian Navy
  40. The Last Flight from Tallinn Archived 2009-03-25 at the Wayback Machine at American Foreign Service Association
  41. 1 2 Five Years of Dates at Time magazine on Monday, Jun. 24, 1940
  42. 1 2 3 Justice in The Baltic at Time magazine on Monday, Aug. 19, 1940
  43. 1 2 3 Chris Bellamy. The Absolute War. Soviet Russia in the Second World War, page 196. Vintage Books, New York 2008. ISBN   978-0-375-72471-8
  44. Background Note: Latvia at US Department of State
  45. RUSSIA, LATVIA AGREE ON TROOP WITHDRAWAL Deseret News. February 3, 1992. Retrieved January 8, 2013.
  46. Baltic Military District
  47. "Latvia takes over the territory of the Skrunda Radar Station". Embassy of the Republic of Latvia in Copenhagen. 21 October 1999. Retrieved 15 June 2013.
  48. (in Russian) 1939 USSR-Latvia Mutual Aid Pact (full text)
  49. Concise Encyclopedia of the Latvian SSR
  50. Great Soviet Encyclopedia
  51. A Historical Dictionary of European National Groups; p238 ISBN   0-313-30984-1
  52. The resolution passed December 24, 1989, stated the annexation had been "in conflict with the sovereignty and independence of a number of third countries." Kohen, M. Secession: International Law Perspectives, Cambridge University Press, 2006
  53. Reported in Pravda on Friday, November 19, 1999. This declaration states the incorporation of Latvia into the USSR was legal according to the laws of the Soviet Union and according to international law (de jure).
  54. Latvia still occupied today Archived 2012-08-01 at
  55. Netīrā diena

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