August 09, 2015

Caught in the Crossfire: The Annexation of Estonia


Caught in the Crossfire: The Annexation of Estonia

Seventy-five years ago today, on August 9, 1940, the newly formed Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic joined the USSR. Not willingly, mind you. Brought into being by the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, shaken by Stalinist deportations and guerilla warfare, Soviet-occupied Estonia met its first birthday in a literal trial by fire: the invasion by Nazi Germany. One Estonian writer recalls the fall of independent Estonia.

The Republic of Estonia, which had declared its independence on February 24, 1918, and fought for it in the War of Independence (1918-1920), was doomed by the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact (August 23, 1939). In a secret addendum to the pact, the two powers divided up Eastern Europe, and the neutral Baltic states were placed in the Soviet sphere of influence. Immediately after the German occupation of Poland, the Soviets issued an ultimatum to the Estonian government, demanding that Estonia form a military alliance (thereby abandoning neutrality), provide bases for the Soviet navy and air force, and allow 25,000 Soviet troops onto their territory (the Estonian reserve army counted just 17,000 people). It was an offer Estonia was unable to refuse.

A mutual aid treaty was signed on September 28, 1939, which stressed that the Tartu Peace Treaty (1920) and the Soviet-Estonian Nonaggression Pact (1932) remained in force, and that the Soviet Union would not in any way attempt to change the political or economic order in Estonia. These promises lasted nine months. For Stalin, June 1940 – just as Hitler was finishing off France – felt like an appropriate time to take the next step. On June 15, an ultimatum was issued to Lithuania, and on June 16 Latvia and Estonia received theirs. On June 16 and 17, overwhelming Soviet armies invaded the Baltic states without declaring war. A series of political decrees followed, resulting in three new republics joining the USSR by early August.

In Estonia, this “revolution” (here led by Andrei Zhdanov) failed to maintain even the pretense of legality: there were blatant violations of the Constitution, and of all the key laws on transfer of power, elections, parliamentary authority, and so on. The year that followed this prelude also introduced Estonians to the other “wonders” of Stalinism, including a mass deportation on the night of June 13, 1941, when nearly 10,000 people were arrested (men were sent to the camps, women and children – into exile).

Given these circumstances, it comes as no surprise that once the war began many Estonians expected the Germans to arrive as liberators. They hoped that Germany would restore the Baltic states’ sovereignty as its allies. For them, war had started before the arrival of German troops. Many cities (including much of Tartu), towns, and villages were freed of Soviet invaders by the so-called “Forest Brothers” – guerilla groups that had formed spontaneously as early as June 1940. Many of the soldiers and officers of the 22nd Territorial Rifle Corps (the former Estonian army), which had been withdrawn from Estonia at the start of the war, defected near Pskov (July 1941) and were ready to continue their ongoing war against the USSR on the German side.

But their hopes were soon dashed. Hitler’s Germany was not establishing alliances on equal terms: it sought “ancient German lands,” ideally with no natives. Estonia was incorporated into the German colony of Ostland (December 1941) and administered by a pro-German puppet government led by Hjalmar Mäe. There was no way a legitimate government could be restored.

Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

Translated by Eugenia Sokolskaya.

Source: http://www.sakharov-center.ru/asfcd/auth/?t=page&num=5744

Like this post? Get a weekly email digest + member-only deals

Some of Our Books

A Taste of Chekhov

A Taste of Chekhov

This compact volume is an introduction to the works of Chekhov the master storyteller, via nine stories spanning the last twenty years of his life.
White Magic

White Magic

The thirteen tales in this volume – all written by Russian émigrés, writers who fled their native country in the early twentieth century – contain a fair dose of magic and mysticism, of terror and the supernatural. There are Petersburg revenants, grief-stricken avengers, Lithuanian vampires, flying skeletons, murders and duels, and even a ghostly Edgar Allen Poe.
The Samovar Murders

The Samovar Murders

The murder of a poet is always more than a murder. When a famous writer is brutally stabbed on the campus of Moscow’s Lumumba University, the son of a recently deposed African president confesses, and the case assumes political implications that no one wants any part of.
Murder at the Dacha

Murder at the Dacha

Senior Lieutenant Pavel Matyushkin has a problem. Several, actually. Not the least of them is the fact that a powerful Soviet boss has been murdered, and Matyushkin's surly commander has given him an unreasonably short time frame to close the case.
Driving Down Russia's Spine

Driving Down Russia's Spine

The story of the epic Spine of Russia trip, intertwining fascinating subject profiles with digressions into historical and cultural themes relevant to understanding modern Russia. 
22 Russian Crosswords

22 Russian Crosswords

Test your knowledge of the Russian language, Russian history and society with these 22 challenging puzzles taken from the pages of Russian Life magazine. Most all the clues are in English, but you must fill in the answers in Russian. If you get stumped, of course all the puzzles have answers printed at the back of the book.
Fish: A History of One Migration

Fish: A History of One Migration

This mesmerizing novel from one of Russia’s most important modern authors traces the life journey of a selfless Russian everywoman. In the wake of the Soviet breakup, inexorable forces drag Vera across the breadth of the Russian empire. Facing a relentless onslaught of human and social trials, she swims against the current of life, countering adversity and pain with compassion and hope, in many ways personifying Mother Russia’s torment and resilience amid the Soviet disintegration.
Jews in Service to the Tsar

Jews in Service to the Tsar

Benjamin Disraeli advised, “Read no history: nothing but biography, for that is life without theory.” With Jews in Service to the Tsar, Lev Berdnikov offers us 28 biographies spanning five centuries of Russian Jewish history, and each portrait opens a new window onto the history of Eastern Europe’s Jews, illuminating dark corners and challenging widely-held conceptions about the role of Jews in Russian history.
The Pet Hawk of the House of Abbas

The Pet Hawk of the House of Abbas

This exciting new trilogy by a Russian author – who has been compared to Orhan Pamuk and Umberto Eco – vividly recreates a lost world, yet its passions and characters are entirely relevant to the present day. Full of mystery, memorable characters, and non-stop adventure, The Pet Hawk of the House of Abbas is a must read for lovers of historical fiction and international thrillers.  
Life Stories: Original Fiction By Russian Authors

Life Stories: Original Fiction By Russian Authors

The Life Stories collection is a nice introduction to contemporary Russian fiction: many of the 19 authors featured here have won major Russian literary prizes and/or become bestsellers. These are life-affirming stories of love, family, hope, rebirth, mystery and imagination, masterfully translated by some of the best Russian-English translators working today. The selections reassert the power of Russian literature to affect readers of all cultures in profound and lasting ways. Best of all, 100% of the profits from the sale of this book are going to benefit Russian hospice—not-for-profit care for fellow human beings who are nearing the end of their own life stories.
Murder and the Muse

Murder and the Muse

KGB Chief Andropov has tapped Matyushkin to solve a brazen jewel heist from Picasso’s wife at the posh Metropole Hotel. But when the case bleeds over into murder, machinations, and international intrigue, not everyone is eager to see where the clues might lead.

About Us

Russian Life is a publication of a 30-year-young, award-winning publishing house that creates a bimonthly magazine, books, maps, and other products for Russophiles the world over.

Latest Posts

Our Contacts

Russian Life
73 Main Street, Suite 402
Montpelier VT 05602

802-223-4955