Russian Front Commenter mab asked about a recent document release from Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) on the Baltics in World War II.
I’ve finally had time to do a first read of the documents to see what I think they’re intended to show and what they actually do show. The collection is entitled “The Baltics and Geopolitics” (Pribaltika i geopolitika), available in three parts on the SVR website, at present only in Russian.
No question that this release is connected to the 70th anniversary of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact (early in the morning of August 24, 1939), and not surprisingly Russia’s SVR is releasing this document collection in an effort to shape interpretations of the events of 1939-1941. This fits quite well, at least in the SVR’s public spin on the documents, with Russian President Dmitrii Medvedev’s efforts to fight what he sees as falsification of the Soviet Union’s role in World War II, efforts that I’ve discussed extensively at the Russian Front, most recently here and here.
According to the SVR, the documents reveal that the Soviet Union had no choice but to enter Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, that Britain and France had abandoned any possible alliance with the USSR, and the alliance with Hitler was necessary to prevent German takeover of the Baltic states.
The document collection is quite interesting, but what it tells us is not what we’re told it tells us. The conclusion that the Soviet Union was forced into an alliance with Nazi Germany simply does not follow from the evidence presented. It reminds me of Emile Faguet’s parody of Plato (hilariously funny if you’re read the Republic–trust me):
“The whole is greater than the part?”
“And the part is less than the whole?”
“Therefore clearly philosophers should rule the state.”
“It is evident; let us go over it again.” (Hat tip: Will Durant)
While the documents don’t quite hold up to the weight put upon them, what we do learn is nonetheless quite significant.
Most of the pre-war documentation is either Soviet intelligence reports on the policies of the Baltic states, or actual government documents from the Baltic states. It’s not surprising that the Soviets would have Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian documents, since they occupied those states and could comb their archives at leisure. What’s striking, though, is that the Soviets seem to have had a VERY good agent in the Finnish foreign ministry, who got them lots of Finnish diplomatic documents in something like real time. The actual Finnish documents include Soviet cover letters from the time; the Estonian documents, by contrast, have no accompanying covers that would indicate that the Soviets had access to them in 1938-1939 (doc. 26, for example), and so the Estonian documents were likely obtained after occupation.
The actual content of those early documents hits on a number of themes, many but not all of which fit comfortably with current Russian political priorities. These include German commercial penetration of the Baltic, pro-German attitudes among large segments of the population, and anti-Soviet views, at least in Estonia and Latvia. The implicit message here that the SVR would like us to take away is that Soviet occupation of the Baltics prevented them from becoming German satellites. Maybe–one could just as easily argue that the Soviet threat pushed the Baltics toward Germany.
The oddity here is Lithuania–Russia today would probably prefer to paint all the Baltics with a single Nazi-sympathizer brush, but Lithuania followed a somewhat different line. It shared no border with the Soviet Union, and was quite nervous about Poland, both of which made it more friendly to the USSR. That didn’t make any difference–it got swallowed up like the others.
There’s an awful lot of documentation of the sovietization of the Baltics. Two things strike me here. First, we have a mental picture of the Soviet takeover as a sharp break: the Soviets move in, and everything changes instantaneously. The process was, in fact, longer and more complex, as the documents show. Second, the fact that the process of sovietization was not instantaneous makes it much like the later sovietization of Eastern Europe. A comparative analysis of the process of Soviet takeover in the Baltics 1939-1941 and the Soviet takeover in Eastern Europe 1945-1948 would be quite interesting–twisting and complex paths to a foreordained outcome.
One of the things that’s most striking to me about the documents is what’s not included. Nearly two-thirds of the documentation comes AFTER 22 June 1941, when the really significant part of the story is over. There’s much less than I would have liked to see on the key 1939-1941 period.
Most strikingly, and I find this utterly staggering, is that there are NO documents on the period from July 1940 to November 1941. One or two important things happen in there, but this publication tells us nothing. If I were Viktor Suvorov (though I’m not), I would be jumping up and down and pointing to this omission as evidence of something to hide: namely Soviet intent to launch aggressive war in 1941.