While the non-recognition de jure of the Soviet annexation of the Baltic states was clearly delineated in practice by countries such as the USA and Canada, it didn’t get consistent implementaion throughout the diplomatic landscape.
All post-war USA governments held firmly to the principle. While not maintaining a deliberate “in-your-face” resolve that Washington favoured toward Moscow, Canada also did not waiver, though observers have described Ottawa’s stance as being more subdued. At the 1975 CSCE (Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe – Helsinki Accords) session, the USA stated that their policy will not change even though the CSCE Final Act stresses the immutability of Europe’s existing borders. The Act specifically states that borders cannot change as a result of military aggression. When Canadian authorities were asked about their interpretation of this and the possibility of it being honoured retroactively, answers were usually non-committal and vague.
In the day-to-day implementation of the policy, Estonian passports issued by the consulate general in New York were recognized as valid documents by many western governments. Representatives of various western nations declined to attend the 1980 Olympic regatta competition in Tallinn stating that the Games should not have been organized on the territory of an occupied country. Similarly the diplomats of some Western countries never did on an official basis enter the territory of the occupied Baltic states for the same reason.
In the 1970s, when the USSR and some other Warsaw Pact regimes declared that all refugees from these various republics who had fled to the west must consider themselves to be citizens of those totalitarian states, Western countries simply ignored the claim even though it caused deep consternation among the ex-patriot communities. One had to be reminded of the fact that soldiers from the Baltic states who had been incarcerated in Western prisoner of war camps were not as a general rule repatriated back to the Soviet Union while Russian and Ukrainian soldiers were, recognized as being citizens of the USSR. (As mentioned earlier, Sweden who had ostensibly recognized the annexation acted likewise relinquished Estonian, Latvian and Lihtuanian soldiers to the USSR.)
Even some communist states declared their adherence to the non-recognition of the Soviet annexation. Yugoslavia’s Tito in 1951 stated that the Soviet deportations in the Baltic states were illegal. The constitutional court of West Germany handed down a decision which made Hitler’s decision non-binding on Germany and therefore imposed on Germany the non-recognition policy. In 1967 China stated their opposition to the annexation of the Baltic states. In 1990 government officials of Poland and Czechoslovakia insisted that their countries had never recognized the annexation, but added that Moscow had also never queried them about it.
The non-recognition principle resulted also in some galring inconsistencies. The pre-war Estonian gold deposists that were held in Great Britain were used in 1967 to compensate British businesses who had lost assets during the Russian revolution – in practicality handed over to Moscow. (Their value was returned to Estonia upon the restoration of independence.) The same year France gave the Estonian embassy buildings to the Soviets. In 1974 Australia recognized as legal the annexation of the Baltic states, but world-wide protests and a change to a conservative government resulted in the decision being reversed. Most maps of the USSR in published atlases had the Baltic states as being constituent parts of the Soviet Union.
Post war Baltic diplomacy can be characterized as fulfilling the goals of a principle-driven mission with caution and patience guiding behaviour. Since the status and fate of the Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian peoples were rarely front page coverage (until the late 1980s) nor were they items during election campaigns, Baltic diplomats had difficulty in instilling Baltic issues with a sense of urgency in Western corridors of power. To the uninformed, Baltic diplomats sometimes seemed too passive in raising the visibility of their captive countries. But the unwavering resolve, daily vigilance and a dedication to a just cause undeniably helped the West in their quick reaffirmation of the right of Lithuania’s, Estonia’s and Latvia’s return to independence.
Estonian diplomacy before 1991, a boost for restoration of independence (III)