Soviet Occupation and Annexation of Latvia 1939-1940

16.08.2004. 19:43

History of the Occupation of Latvia (1940-1991)

Briefing papers of the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia

BRIEFING PAPER 02

Soviet Occupation and Annexation of Latvia 1939-1940

Historical Background 

Latvia declared its independence on 18 November 1918.  After a prolonged War of Independence, Latvia and Soviet Russia (the predecessor of the Soviet Union) signed a Peace Treaty on 11 August 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 recognised de jure by the Allied Supreme Council (France, Great Britain, Italy, Japan, Belgium) on 23 January 1921. Other states followed suit. On 22 September 1921, Latvia was admitted to membership in the League of Nations.  Latvia remained a member until the formal dissolution of the League of Nations in 1946. On 5 February 1932, a Non-Aggression Treaty with the Soviet Union was signed, based on the 11 August 1920 treaty whose basic agreements "inalterably and for all time form the firm basis" of the relationship of the two states.  On 1 September 1939, Latvia declared its neutrality. 

Latvia fell prey to the collaborative realpolitik of Nazi Germany and Communist Soviet Union.  They concluded a Non-Aggression Treaty on 23 August 1939, known as the Hitler-Stalin or, after the signatories, Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact.  The Pact allowed Germany to invade Poland on 1 September 1939.  Among the provisions in a secret protocol attached to the Treaty was the establishment of a Soviet Sphere of Influence in Eastern Europe, which included Latvia.  After the fall of Poland to the invading German and, from 17 September on, Soviet forces, the German-Soviet relationship was further cemented by a Friendship and Border Treaty signed on 28 September 1939.  At this time the final division of Poland was agreed on, further provisions were made concerning the division of "Spheres of Influence" in Eastern Europe and the emigration of ethnic Germans from areas claimed by the Soviet Union, including Latvia.  This collaboration of the two totalitarian powers allowed the Soviet Union by application of force and under various political pretexts to invade Latvia on 17 June 1940 and annex the country on 5 August 1940.  The take-over was never recognised de jure by the major Western powers.  Nazi Germany not only recognised the annexation but during its occupation 1941–45 treated Latvia as occupied Soviet territory – in accord with the secret protocols of the Treaties of 1939.

The Occupation and Annexation

Mutual Assistance Treaty of 5 October 1939 and Soviet Military Bases in Latvia.  The Soviet Union did not hesitate to establish its hegemony in its "Sphere of Influence."  Under threats of military intervention, the Baltic states were compelled to sign treaties of "mutual assistance," which for all intents and purposes meant that they had become military and political dependents of the USSR.  The treaty with Latvia provided for the establishment of Soviet Air Force, Naval and Army bases in Western Latvia and the stationing of up to 25,000 troops, more than the peacetime strength of the Army of Latvia.  The threat of force was meant seriously.  When Finland was called upon to sign a similar treaty and refused, the Red Army attacked Finland.  The Winter War with Finland lasted until March 1940.

A Bloody Soviet Provocation in Latvia 15 June 1940.  In the early morning hours of 15 June, Soviet operatives attacked three Latvia border posts in Eastern Latvia, killing three guards, the wife and the son of one guard.  They took 10 border guards and 27 civilians as hostages to the USSR.

Soviet Ultimatum of 16 June 1940.  Without factual basis, the Soviet ultimatum accused Latvia of breaching the Mutual Assistance Treaty and demanded within six hours time to admit an unlimited number of Soviet troops to Latvia and to form a new government.  Knowing that Lithuania had been invaded by the Red Army a day before, that its troops were massed along the eastern border and mindful of the Soviet military bases in Western Latvia, the government acceded to the demands. 

The Military Occupation of Latvia 17 June 1940.  The Red army started the occupation operation in the early morning of 17. June.  About noon, Soviet tanks entered Riga.  The military take-over took place three days after Paris fell to the troops of Nazi Germany and the world's attention was directed to the collapse of France.

One-Party "Elections" of the Latvian Parliament Saeima 14/15 July 1940.  The election was democratic in name only.  Only one pre-approved list of candidates was allowed.  Alternate lists prepared in a hurry were turned down.  The instructions read: "Only the list of the Latvian Working People's Bloc must be deposited in the ballot box