The case of the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania is in a number of respects different from that of the other Eastern European countries which found themselves with Communist regimes by the end of the 1940s. The Communist 'takeover', if such it was, occurred before the entry of the Soviet Union into the war: all three countries lost their sovereign independence in return for membership of the family of Soviet Socialist Republics: the Soviet Union played an all-important role in the events of 1939-40, to the extent that the term 'Soviet takeover' would be far more appropriate in the context of the Baltic States.
The three States had all gained their independence as a result of the disintegration of the Russian Empire. It was widely held in the Soviet Union that they had been 'snatched' (to use Zinoviev's word) from Russia with German aid, and maintained by the forces of the Entente, which had been active in suppressing the Communist regimes established in the winter of 1918-19 in the wake of German withdrawal. Relations between the Soviet Union and the three republics during the 1920s were cool, but on the whole, correct. There were some attempts at subversion, culminating in the abortive Communist coup in Estonia in 1924, but with the demise of the Comintern as a leading agent of Soviet foreign policy, the Soviet Union posed no immediate or evident threat to the integrity of the Baltic States. The resurgence of Germany in the 1930s altered the political scene in the Baltic area. In the event of conflict with Germany, the Soviet Union could not afford to have its front door opened by the defection of pro-German States on its very doorstep. This was clearly spelled out by Andrei Zhdanov to the VIIIth Congress of Soviets in November 1936. According to the Latvian chargé d'affaires, Zhdanov warned the governments of neighbouring States that if they drifted too far in the direction of Fascism 'they might feel the strength of the Soviet Union, and the window of the Soviet Union might well be widened'.1 In a major policy statement to the XVIIIth Party Congress in March 1939, Stalin spoke of the Soviet government's desire for peaceful relations with neighbouring countries, but warned that any attempt to infringe directly or indirectly upon the interests and territorial integrity of the U.S.S.R. would alter that attitude.2 Litvinov gave a further gloss to this statement by warning the Latvian Minister to Moscow that any agreement concluded with foreign powers by the Latvian government which infringed upon the independence of the