U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton is marking the 70th anniversary of the Welles Declaration, the document that declared the United States would not recognize the incorporation of the Baltic states into the Soviet Union.
In a July 20 announcement, Clinton said the anniversary of the declaration reaffirms the strong bond between the U.S. and Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania.
The Welles Declaration was signed July 23, 1940, by the acting U.S. secretary of state, Sumner Welles. It followed the June 1940 military occupation of the three countries by the Soviet Union. On July 21, a new but undemocratically elected Latvian parliament voted to seek admission into the Soviet Union.
“During these past few days,” the Welles Declaration began, “the devious processes whereunder the political independence and territorial integrity of the three small Baltic republics—Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania—were to be deliberately annihilated by one of their more powerful neighbors, have been rapidly drawing to their conclusion.”
The Baltic states were accepted into the Soviet Union in early August.
The declaration paved the way for other nations not to recognize Soviet power in the Baltics. Estonian historian Eero Medijainen, in an essay in The Baltic Question During the Cold War, suggested that U.S. policy toward the Baltics was lukewarm through the 1920s and 1930s, but changed markedly with the Welles Declaration. Clinton’s announcement, posted on the State Department’s website, noted the importance of the document.
“This milestone document supported the Baltic States as independent republics at a critical moment to ensure their international recognition and facilitate the continued operation of their diplomatic missions during 50 years of occupation,” Clinton said. The Latvian and Lithuanian embassies in Washington, D.C., and the Estonian consulate in New York became the diplomatic missions in exile.
“The Welles Declaration is a testament to our longstanding support of the Baltic states and a tribute to each of our countries’ commitment to the ideals of freedom and democracy,” Clinton added. “As Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania celebrate nearly 20 years of fully restored independence, we honor our Baltic friends as valued NATO allies, strong partners in Europe and on the international stage, and living proof of all that democracy and good governance can achieve.”
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