The Independence of the Baltic Countries: Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia

The Independence of the Baltic Countries: Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia
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In the early 1900s, Europe experienced significant transformations. Several powerful empires collapsed, leading to the emergence of new nations. Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia in the Baltic region gained their independence after World War I. This marked a pivotal moment in their history, as they had been under foreign rule for an extended period.

Now, they are part of NATO, the European Union, the Eurozone, and the OECD (The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development). These countries are known for their strong economies and high living standards. They work closely together on various issues like foreign policy, defense, energy, and transportation.

In this article, by maintaining a chronological approach, we will trace the journey toward independence of these Baltic nations.

Historical Background:

To understand the struggle for independence in the Baltic countries, we need to know their history. For a long time, they were ruled by foreign powers like the Russian Empire, the German Empire, and the Swedish Empire. The people of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia had to deal with cultural suppression, economic exploitation, and political control.

It is notable that huge parts of the Baltic countries were controlled by the Russian central government until the 1917 Russian Revolution and the final stages of World War I in 1918.

The Independence of the Baltic Countries: Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia
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During World War I, from 1915 to 1918, Germany occupied these nations briefly, which gave them some relief from Russian influence, but they still faced challenges.

In World War II, there was a second Russian invasion, and the Baltic countries were taken over by the Soviet Union. This made the people there very anxious because they had just become independent in the 1920s.

Soviet rule lasted until 1989-1991 when the newly elected parliaments of these three nations declared the Soviet occupation illegal. Finally, in August 1991, the Baltic countries fully regained their independence.

World War I and the Russian Revolution:

World War I and the Russian Revolution in 1917 were very important for the Baltic countries. The war escorted in chaos on the Eastern Front, and as the Russian Empire suffered a revolution, the Baltic territories saw an opportunity to break free.

In February 1917, Estonia and Latvia said they could run their own governments under the Russian Provisional Government. Lithuania did the same in September 1917. But, it's important to know that these weren't official declarations of independence just yet.

The Independence of the Baltic Countries: Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia
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German Occupation:

However, the path to independence had its own set of challenges. During World War I, German forces took control of some parts of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. While they were initially seen as freeing the region from Russian rule, the German occupation soon turned oppressive. Though, it gave the Baltic nations a chance to start building their own states, including setting up national councils and armed forces.

After World War I, Germany didn't take back the Baltic States, but these countries had to navigate a complex geopolitical situation with their neighboring powers. It was during World War II, particularly at the beginning of Operation Barbarossa in 1941, that German forces once again occupied the Baltic States. This happened as part of Nazi Germany's attack on the Soviet Union and lasted until 1944-1945 when the Red Army regained control of the region.

Treaty of Brest-Litovsk:

The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was a very important agreement during World War I. It was signed in 1918 between Soviet Russia and the Central Powers (Germany, Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, and the Ottoman Empire). This treaty marked the end of Russia's involvement in the war. In simple terms, Russia gave up a lot of its land to Germany and its allies. This included parts of Ukraine, Belarus, and the Baltics. It was a big loss of territory for Russia.

The Independence of the Baltic Countries: Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia
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The treaty showed how powerful Germany was at that time, but it didn't last long because Germany later lost in World War I. But ultimately, The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was a key event in the complex history of that war.

The Emergence of Nationalism:

The process of gaining independence for the Baltic countries began in the late 19th and early 20th centuries when there was a growing sense of nationalism in the region. This means that people in the Baltic countries started feeling a strong connection to their own nation and culture.

Intellectuals, writers, and political leaders played a big part in this movement. They started talking about the importance of having their own identity and the ability to govern themselves. They wanted to defend their country from external enemies.

To make this happen, there was also a focus on preserving and promoting their native languages and cultures. This helped to strengthen the feeling of being a unique and separate nation among the people in the Baltic countries. So, the seeds of independence were planted during this time, and they eventually led to these nations becoming independent.

Declaration of Independence:

Following Germany's defeat in World War I and the dissolution of its empire, the Baltic nations saw an opportunity to establish their independence. Estonia led the way by officially declaring independence on February 24, 1918. Latvia followed suit on November 18, 1918, and Lithuania proclaimed its independence on February 16, 1918.

The Independence of the Baltic Countries: Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia
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While these were significant moments, it did not signify complete independence. They still needed to put in considerable effort to gain recognition from other countries and achieve full sovereignty over their own affairs.

The War of Independence:

The Baltic countries fought bravely to defend their freedom from different enemies like Russia, Germany, and later, the Soviet Union that all wanted to control the Baltic region.

The Treaty of Tartu is an agreement that was signed in Tartu on February 2, 1920, between Estonia and Soviet Russia. It ended the Estonian War of Independence, which had been going on since 1918. In this treaty, Russia agreed that Estonia could be its own country and be independent.

Latvia also had a hard war for independence from 1918 to 1920, and they secured their freedom with the Riga Peace Treaty in 1920. Lithuania's War of Independence began in 1918 and finished with the Moscow Peace Treaty in 1920, which made Lithuania a recognized country.

Russia’s Second Invasion:

The Second Russian Invasion of the Baltic Countries occurred during World War II. At that time, Russia was part of the Soviet Union, and they took over Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. This caused a lot of worry and fear among the people there because these countries had only recently become independent in the 1920s.

The Soviets ruled over these nations for nearly 50 years, and they brought in many changes in how things were run. People had to follow strict rules and couldn't freely express their thoughts. It was a tough period for the Baltic people.

The Second Russian Invasion came to an end in 1944 and 1945 when the Soviets defeated the Germans in World War II. After that, the Baltic countries once again became part of the Soviet Union until they finally regained their independence in the early 1990s.

Diplomatic Struggles:

Although the Baltic countries achieved their independence through warfare, they had to navigate the complexities of international diplomacy. This involved seeking recognition from significant Western nations that valued democracy.

The Independence of the Baltic Countries: Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia
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After World War I, the Baltic countries actively pursued diplomatic efforts to secure recognition. In the early 1920s, the United Kingdom, France, and other Western powers officially recognized their independence. Their membership in the League of Nations also strengthened their position on the global stage.

Final Recognition of Independence:

On the 6th of September 1991, the Soviet Government officially acknowledged the independence of all three Baltic states. This was then followed by the complete withdrawal of Russian troops from each of the Baltic States. The process was completed initially in Lithuania on the 31st of August 1993, and subsequently in Estonia and Latvia on the 31st of August 1994.


The Baltic countries' journey to independence was marked by a long history of foreign rule and oppression. They faced significant challenges, including wars, occupations, and diplomatic struggles, but their determination and the support of Western nations eventually led to their recognition as independent states. Today, they are thriving members of the international community, known for their strong economies and cooperation on various global issues.