July 23, 2015
Seventy-five years ago today, on July 23 1940, the Acting Secretary of State Sumner Welles issued a statement condemning the Soviet occupation of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania as something the United States government would neither recognize nor tolerate.
The moves to assert control over Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were possible because of the political marriage of convenience and connivance between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany via the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939. In that agreement between Stalin and Hitler, Germany agreed to allow Soviet Russia to annex the Baltic countries along with half of Poland, Finland, and Bessarabia. It led directly to the outbreak of World War II.
For half a century, that U.S. policy of non-recognition of Soviet legitimacy over the Baltic countries was in place and served as a powerful message to the Kremlin that indiscriminate land grabs and disregard of international borders was illegal and reprehensible. It also stood as a shining light for the Baltic nations, as they struggled under the oppressive weight of foreign occupation and terror.
The Baltic flags continued to be displayed at the U.S. Department of State, and diplomatic missions were accredited, much to Moscow’s displeasure. America took a consistent responsibility in standing for justice and sovereign rights. For the Baltic-American community, these measures also provided an ever-burning ray of hope and confidence that the countries of their heritage would again be free one day.
Twenty-five years after the restoration of Baltic freedom and independence, we are reminded daily that the burdens of the past can still haunt us, and that the support of the United States and the international community are still vital and necessary. We see that Moscow continues to obfuscate and fabricate lies in recognizing the facts of its take-over and occupation of the Baltic countries in 1939-40. The white-washing must stop. We see a revanchist Russia, which has occupied and annexed Crimea, terrorizing the local population and native Tatar communities. We see Moscow’s direct ties as not just an accomplice but invader and aggressor in Ukraine’s Donbas, and its recent actions to further move and violate borders within Georgia’s sovereign territory.
The Joint Baltic American National Committee, Inc. (JBANC), representing Americans of Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian heritage, expresses thanks to the United States government and all the other nations that also upheld the principles of international law and order in standing up for the Baltic countries. We also share our hope that Russia’s aggression and moves against its neighbors, particularly in Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova, will be pushed back and righted.
JBANC represents the Estonian American National Council, Inc., the American Latvian Association, Inc., and the Lithuanian American Council.
JBANC Statement on 75th Anniversary of Welles Declaration