Tag Archives: Latvian Foreign Relations

Latvia and Ukrainian People’s Republic


1920 map of claimed lands by Ukrainian People’s Republic. Note: Eastern Ukraine – Galicia and Lviv has been already to Poland.

Ukrainian People’s Republic (Українська Народна Республіка УНР or UNR) was first modern Ukrainian national statehood that existed between 1917 and 1921. Similarly to Belarusian People’s Republic (BNR) it did not survive the tides of war, however contrary to BNR, UNR received greater support and recognition from Latvia. Latvian officers also took part in UNR national forces and both sides had high hopes towards each other. On 1920 as Ukraine was divided between Soviet Russia and Poland in pursue for peace with Soviets, Latvia had to abandon its support for UNR. Article highlights Latvian – Ukrainian diplomatic relations and Latvian participation in UNR armed forces.

On March 17 1917 after the collapse of Russian Empire Central Council of Ukraine (Українська Центральна Рада UCR) was established in Kyiv. One of its main demands was national autonomy that was not supported by Russian Provisional Government in Petrograd. In response Ukrainian national forces under the command of General Pavlo Skoropadskyi started to assemble to defend Ukrainian sovereignty. On October 25 (November 7) Bolsheviks seized power in Petrograd and their supporters took over some areas in Ukraine. UCR managed to control much of Ukraine and on November 7 (November 20) the Ukrainian People’s Republic was proclaimed. Meanwhile in Kharkiv on December 11-12 1917 Ukrainian Soviet Republic was founded. Bolsheviks advanced and gained control over much of Ukraine and on February 8 captured Kyiv. Chief Otaman Symon Petliura who commanded UCR armed forces faced gruesome defeat at the battle of Kruty where Ukrainian 1st Student company and Cadet Corps suffered great casualties. On January 9 (22) UNR again proclaimed full independence and severed all ties with Russia. On February 9 in Brestlitovsk UNR signed peace treaty with Germany and Austria-Hungary gaining their military support in return for food provisions. German forces entered Ukraine and on March 1 captured Kyiv. On March 3 Soviet Russia ceded Ukraine to Germany in peace agreement in Brestlitovsk. UNR forces of 15 000 men entered Kyiv and Crimea. UNR was recognized by Germany, Bulgaria, Austria-Hungary, Turkey and Great Britain.

Ukraine was taken over by Germans and Austrians who came in early conflict with UCR who protested against German military courts. German authorities formally dissolved UCR. In response UCR proclaimed new leftist leaning UNR constitution. Ukrainian right-wing rushed to prevent Ukrainian-German confrontation and rise of left-wing on April 29 seized power. General Pavlo Skoropadskyi became dictator under the title of Hetman of Ukraine. UNR faced resistance from Bolsheviks and peasants lead by anarchist Nestor Makhno. More countries however recognized UNR such as Finland, Poland, Romania, Switzerland, Denmark, Netherlands, Norway and Persia. As of November 11 1918 when Germany and Austria-Hungary collapsed situation changed in Ukraine. UNR elites supporting Allied powers created Directory lead by Symon Petliura, who in December 14 deposed hetman Skoropadskyi and proclaimed second Ukrainian People’s Republic (during hetman’s dictatorship UNR was called “Ukrainian State”). Meanwhile in Western Part of Ukraine a Western Ukrainian People’s Republic on October 19 1918 was proclaimed in attempts to split from Austria- Hungary who controlled Lviv (Lemberg). On January 1919 it united with UNR. The Western Ukraine with Lviv in center was claimed by Poland and both sides engaged each other in battles until June 1919.

Soviet Russia immediately after German surrender to Allies canceled Brestlitovsk peace agreement and UNR had to declare war on them on January 16 1919. On February 5 Bolsheviks again captured Kyiv and reached Zbruch River west of Ukraine and entered Crimea. Ukrainian peasants and anarchist groups resisted Bolsheviks while un summer of 1919 the monarchist White Guard South Russian Volunteer army lead by general Anton Denikin attacked Bolsheviks and captured Kharkiv on the way to Moscow and on August 31 entered Kyiv. As his forces were defeated and chased away Bolsheviks again took over much of Ukraine in March 1920.

Situation demanded an alliance with Poland that was reached by Symon Petliura. On April 26 1920 Polish-Ukrainian forces attacked Bolsheviks on May 7 captured Kyiv. Polish forces reached river Dnipro. Bolsheviks ignited counter offensive and On June 12 Poles abandoned Kyiv, on July 4 Bolsheviks started attack in Belarus and reached Warsaw. On August 12-17 the Bolshevik offensive was finally stopped at the gates of Warsaw. On March 18 1920 in Riga Poland and Soviet Russia signed peace agreement dividing Ukraine in two. Central, South and East Ukraine was granted to Soviets while Western Part of Ukraine including Lviv (Lwov in Polish) was ceded to Poland. Recognized also by Ukrainian delegation the Riga peace agreement was death sentence to UNR. Symon Petliura dismissed Directory and withdraw his forces to Poland where he was interned. Rumania and Czechoslovakia also gained Ukrainian ethnic lands. Symon Petliura lead the UNR in exile until he was assassinated by Soviet agent on 1926. UNR continued to work in exile in Poland until 1939 and the moved to France where it ceased to exist after Nazi occupation. After the war in western exile Ukrainian National Council (Українська Національна Рада) that existed until 1991 when it recognized new Republic of Ukraine that formed in result of collapse of the Soviet Union.

During dramatic and fast changing events in Ukraine during Soviet-Ukrainian war many Latvians were involved army in state matters. Firs before the First World War and during the war some Latvians traveled to live and work in Ukrainian provinces of the Russian empire and secondly the Latvian officers who served the Russian army were sent on duty there. Large numbers of Latvians ended up in Ukraine as refugees during 1915-1916.  Also campaigners for Latvian independence were interested in Ukrainian independence movement and were seeking for cooperation. On September 8-15 (21-28) in Kyiv the UCR organized “congress of the minor nations” where 80 representatives took part along with 10 from Latvia. Latvians were represented by Zigfrīds Anna Meierovics from Vidzeme land council Kristaps Bahmanis from Kurzeme Land council and Staņislavs Kambala from Latgale land council. Z. A. Meierovics gave speech describing the history of Latvian history and present situation and voiced call for Latvian self-determination. Meierovics, Kambala, Bahmanis and lecturer at Kyiv University M Bruninieks were elected in All-Russia Council of Nations. On November 18 1917 in Valka the newly founded Latvian National Council (LNC) also discussed Ukraine and judged that Ukrainian politicians are generally friendly towards Latvians like rest of the small nations. On December the Council received telegram from UNR about their declaration of independence and replied back with warm greetings towards Ukraine and voiced support for Ukrainian freedom and federation of nations.

On January 1918 LNC decided to send representatives to Ukraine to gain support promised by UCR. At first Latvians wanted to travel to Brestlitovsk to take part in Ukrainian-German peace talks to gain things to their favor, however the idea was dropped and Latvian representative K Bahmanis went to Kyiv on February. There he contributed to the creation of Kyiv Latvian Central Committee and spread information about the work of LNC. Because of war activities he could not contact Latvia and his report about his activities was only reviewed in June. Bahmanis became the representative of the Latvian Provisional Government in Kyiv and since 1919 visited new governments in Georgia, Armenia, White Guard Armies in Crimea, Don and Kuban. He returned to Latvia in September 1920.


Latvian General Pēteris Radziņš who served in UNR amy

Many Latvians who were at Ukraine decided to join Ukrainian national armed forces lead by General Pavlo Skoropadskyi. Latvian officers also served in Symon Petliura Directory army. Most known was colonel Pēteris Radziņš who was chief of organizational and training department of the General Staff. After hetman was deposed he served as deputy to the chief of General Staff Mykola Yunakiv. On September 1919 escaping UNR defeats against White Guards and Bolsheviks he got himself in Poland and then returned to Latvia. There he was appointed for the Chief of the Commander-in-Chief Staff of the Latvian army. From 1924 to 1928 he was commander-in-chief of the Latvian Army. He also was author of many military history books and died in age of 50 in 1930. Lieutenant Colonel Jānis Ceplītis served Skoropadsyi and then under Petliura was chief of the Operational department of the General Staff and returned to Latvia on December 1919. Captain Pēteris Miķelsons on 1918 voluntarily joined the hetman’s army in the Chief Artillery headquarters and was promoted to lieutenant colonel. In Petliura army he served as chief of Inspectional department of Chief Artillery headquarters. On January 1920 he was retired, but as Ukrainians started attack with Poles he was mobilized again. On 1921 he was promoted colonel and was retired few months later. Collegium  assessor  Vilhelms Klotiņš  joined the hetman’s army on June 1918 and served in Petliura army as administrative colonel the chief of the board of main intendancy money and payments. He returned to Latvia on Summer 1919. Aviator captain Nikolajs Jeske on December 1918 joined Petliura’s army as deputy for the chief 5th aviation division later chief of Proskuriv (now Khmelnytskyi) aviation school and commander of 1st aviation detachment. On 1920-1921 he was the head of UNR aircraft purchase commission.  Staff captain Hermanis Klīve on December 1918 served in hetmans army but after coup he was sent to court as hetmans officer but was found not guilty. He then served Poltava regiment until March 1920. Podporuchik Kārlis Drengeris served in UNR army 3th detached engineer battalion until September 1920. Podporuchik Arnolds Drukēvičs from December 18 to May 1919 served in UNR 7th artillery brigade and was captured by Poles. Adrejs Lejasslauss on 1918 took important posts in hetmans Provisions ministry and after coup served Provisions ministry in Galicia and Bukovina later in Ministry of Economics as vice-director Leather industry department and later director. Kārlis Brože served in most effective UNR unit the 1 Cavalry Regiment of Black Zaporizhians as commanders deputy, later in Latvia he served in police and municipalities.

As of diplomatic relations the first contacts between Latvia and UNR  emerged on spring 1919 in Paris Peace Conference. UNR as most politically unstable country of the time was mainly interested in gaining support from Latvia. The Latvian foreign minister Z. A Meierovics considered Ukraine as ally and wanted to include Belarus and Ukraine into Baltic entente that compromised Baltic Sates, Finland and Poland. Belarusian and Ukrainian delegations took part in Dorpat (Tartu) Baltic states conference as observers. In meetings with them it was agreed to create a common military alliance. On September 1 1919 UNR consul Nikifor Bederovsky arrived in Riga. The UNR consulate managed to get some Ukrainians in Latvian army to retire and join the UNR army. Along with new UNR citizens some were Germans as consul deputy Erich Fleisher who asked Latvian General staff to command him to Jelgava for “consulate affairs” on November 28 1919 (Jelgava was just liberated from Bermont-Avalov army) and was granted. His goal was to search for UNR citizen local German Heinnrich Brade who voluntary joined Baltic Landguard on July 14 during his duty in Riga Latvian soldiers confiscate his bicycle that became point of active communications between consulate and Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Fleisher himself was local German.

Latvia and UNR consulate sometimes entered situations of conflict during siege of Riga on October-November 1919. On October 24 UNR consulate filed a request to give back horse that was confiscated to consulate coachman Mykola Jukatch however was denied. In result UNR together with Belarus, Lithuania and Estonia filed nota to Foreign ministry where it protested against search-ins in one of the consular buildings and car confiscation by Latvian army and expulsions and mobilizations of their citizens.  The nota demanded to make assertive steps until 8 December 12:00 or else the consulates will inform the representatives of Etente and make similar steps towards Latvian citizens in their territory. UNR was concerned by significant flow of refugees of Ukrainian nationals from Russia into Latvia. Latvian Foreign Ministry mostly supported the consulate and even gave it a credit for refugee transit and organization of the courier service.

Latvia and UNR also had numerous contacts in other countries. In London, Great Britain Latvian representative Georgs Bisenieks and UNR counterpart Yaroslavl Olesnitsky made regular meetings informing each other of the military events in both countries. In Warsaw, Poland the Latvian representative Atis Ķeniņš considered an establishment with UNR a top priority. He reported to Prime Minister Kārlis Ulmanis that Ukrainians eagerly wants to make friends with Latvia from whom they want to receive support such as military instructors and aides for economic recovery. Ukrainians also hoped that after liberation of Daugavpils, Ukraine could receive a transit of clothing, shoes and ammunition for its army of 200 000 men. Atis Ķeniņš in talks with Ukrainian side suggested that Latvian Provisional government needs to send emissary to Kyiv. On December 10 1919 the head of UNR directory Symon Petliura with UNR foreign minter A.Lvicky gave nota to Keniņš in Poland where they recognized Latvian independence and their Provisional Government.

On January 2 1920 Volodomir Kedrosky arrived in Riga to establish UNR diplomatic mission. The diplomatic mission was located at Antonija iela 6 (presently within the territory of the Russian embassy). In spring a UNR press bureau was established that informed Latvian press about military and political events in UNR. UNR expected that Latvia will recognize their independence in return without delay. However, Latvian priority was to gain acceptance from Poland first as both countries shared important military ties and shared common border. Only after Latvian –Polish relations suffered brief deadlock after failed talks in Warsaw in March 1920 on March 25 Z. A. Meierovics sent nota to Symon Petliura where he recognized UNR independence. Polish emissary Bronislav Boufal expressed disappointment and call it a result of change in relations between Poland and Latvia. A. Meierovics explained his policy in People’s council on March 10 where he rejected Polish demand to restore the Polish borders of 1776 that would include Belarus and Ukraine. He instead accented the need for sovereign countries in Belarus and Ukraine and reviewed the UNR situation as difficult regarding its relations with Soviet Russia who is not looking for peace with UNR and instead has created a rival Ukrainian Soviet Republic. Polish society was generally against Ukrainian and Belarusian independence while Polish government including General Jozef Pilsudsky was cautiously supportive. Meanwhile UNR military representative in Poland colonel general Viktor Zelinsky asked Latvian military representative Mārtins Hartmanis to support the transfer of Ukrainian soldiers within former units of Yudenich White Guard army stationed in Alūksne to Ukraine including Belarusian general S. Bulak-Balahovich of whose 884 men 24% were Ukrainians. While Latvian side expressed support the UNR mission in Riga was not interested and did not make any contacts with Latvian General Staff. As joint Polish and Ukrainian offensive started Latvian side asked to find out if within soviet prisoners of war there are Ukrainians who could be sent to UNR and found 11 men. However, UNR diplomatic mission did not respond.

On June 2 1920 in Vinnytsia UNR governmental declaration stated that it’s in most importance to have good neighboring relations with Romania and gain most positive agreement with solidary Baltic States. For that reason on June 2 all Latvian citizens serving in UNR army were relieved of duty as both countries have recognized each other. In return Latvia promised to work on refugee re evacuation to Ukraine. Latvian government sent the representative of Refugee re-evacuation society to Ukraine Stulmanis who on June 1 arrived in Kovel and June 3 in Zhytomyr  to make talks with Polish military who was widely responsive and then planned to go to Kyiv, but as situation in front quickly changed he was forced to head back to Latvia.

In August 6 1920 in Bulduri the Baltic States conference was opened to discuss foreign affairs between Baltic countries. UNR tried to gain direct entry into conference. Ukrainian and Belarusian people’s republics sent applications and sent a delegation of journalist Alexander Sadikovsky, V, Kedrovsky, A, Shlugin, economist Mykola Dobrilovsky, businessman S, Frankfurt and L, Zadorzhnij. The head of Lithuanian delegation Jons Šaulis on August 19 issued declaration where he expressed concerns over Ukrainian participation as it would cause protest from Soviet Russia and also doubted the need of Ukrainian participation in the Baltic States conference. Lithuanians however, would still participate even if Ukrainians were admitted. On August 20 it was decided that Belarus cannot take part while UNR can take part as full-time member of the conference. UNR issued memorandum about their state history and current demands and interests. On August 31 UNR representatives signed the project for political convention where member states committed for joint de iure recognition and settle their quarrels in a peaceful way. Few days later a military council was made to create a joint military convention (Lithuania stepped out of it for political reasons) UNR representative colonel Danilchuk and lieutenant colonel Didkovsky. The project for military convention was concluded on October 18-30 that had to be approved by all five member states. Both these conventions were never realized.

Month later in September 21 1920 in Riga Poland and Soviet Union came to discuss peace agreement. Also Soviet Ukraine delegation took part. On October 5 a ceasefire was signed after which UNR senator present in Riga V. Sheluhin and chief of the diplomatic mission V. Kedrovsky gave nota to head of the Polish delegation Jan Dabski where they protested that UNR and Polish diplomatic relations were not taken into concern and UNR had to take part in peace talks. Same nota was also given to Latvian side. Meanwhile Latvia was concerned over the fate of thousands of Latvian refugees in Soviet controlled Ukraine and decided to start talks with Ukrainian Socialist Soviet Republic causing UNR protest that reminded of joint independence recognition and that Ukrainian Socialist Soviet Republic is just puppet regime by Soviet occupants. On February 19 1921 Latvia replied that it always supports the Ukrainian strive for freedom, but the real situation demands to hold talks with power presently in Ukraine. On February 21 1921 UNR diplomatic mission left Latvia and closed the consulate. On May 1921 both Latvian and Ukrainian Socialist Soviet representatives met and both recognized each other’s sovereignty. Thus the Latvian and UNR relations were completely canceled even if year later the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic ceased to exist as sovereign state and was included into Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics.

Latvian and Ukrainian relations during 1917-1921 was based on mutual sympathy even more than between Latvia and Belarus. Contrary to Belarussian People’s Republic the UNR had more chances to establish independent nation and therefore received more international support. However, similar to Belarus it could not survive the wars with Soviets, Poles and anarchist warlords. Plus it was disturbed by its own inner power struggle. Had the events for UNR inside Ukraine would be more fortunate the relations between Latvia and UNR would continue in positive environment as contrary to Belarus both countries had no territorial or ethno-political issues. However, Latvian foreign policy was based on realpolitik – after the Polish-Soviet peace agreement ­it was clear that UNR has no more possibility to exist and Latvia moved on to start talks with Soviet Ukraine. As Latvian top priority was to gain peace agreement with Soviets and settle the refugee question. Today Ukraine is top priority to Latvia foreign policy. Latvian policy is to support Ukraine in its struggle against Russia and it does not recognize Russian occupation of Crimea. Both sides supports each other in various way. However, one must always beware from times when fates of many are dictated by realpolitik and survival.

Selected Sources:

Jēkabsons Ēriks. Latvijas attiecības ar Ukrainas Tautas Republiku (1919-1921) Latvijas Vēsture  Jaunie un Jaunākie laiki 2003 4(52)

Miņins, Aldis (2015) Cīņa par varu Krievijas postimpērijas Rietumu perifērijā. 1917-1920



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The Foreign Aspect during the Latvian Restoration of Independence 1987-1991


In 1945 the Soviet Army occupied Latvia for the second time. Despite the fact that the Republic of Latvia did not exist, its annexation by the USSR was not legally recognized by the most Western powers. During the long Cold Wars in US and UK Latvian diplomats in exile still continued their work. Also the Latvian organizations in exile did everything in its power to put pressure on the Western governments to keep its non recognition of the Soviet occupation policy. However, the exiles themselves were not strong enough to achieve the restoration of independence. The main impulse had t0 come from Latvia, and with the western support. When the political changes begun in the Soviet Union after 1985 that lead to independence movement the local leaders had to find ways for their own foreign policy. They had many tasks: first make contact with the Latvians in exile, gain the western support and start direct talks with Moscow. Later when the juridical and practical process for restoration of independence had started, Latvia had to restore its Foreign Ministry and build its diplomatic service from the scratch. It was a hard and complicated work knowing the experience and knowledge of the independence activists.

Before we start to talk about the Latvian diplomatic activities we must take a look at the global diplomatic situation from late 70’s to the end of the 80’s. The Cold War a stiff competition between the Western Block and the Soviet Union and its satellite states. The political and ideological struggle erupted in conflicts within the so called Third World Countries, Middle East and Asia. Soviets spent enormous resources for their diplomatic and military activities, but the results were questionable at best. The Soviet centralized economy was unfit to survive this arms race and that eventually lead to its collapse. However, the Western powers lacked proper knowledge about the exact scale of the Soviet problems and they could not predict the Soviet collapse. However, there was a hope to win the Cold war or at least peacefully end it.

To do this a great powerful leaders were needed. And coincidentally at the same time both opposing countries USA and USSR  got two such men. Ronald Reagan and Michael Gorbachev. Both remarkable men with a  great will power. The goal of the Ronald Reagan was to restore the lost greatness of US during the Democrat rule. Gorbachev wanted to make grand reforms to end stagnation and restore the greatness of the USSR.  At first Reagan challenged the USSR with strong remarks like “The Empire of Evil” speech that heated up the arms race. However, at the same time he hoped to make equal dialogue with Gorbachev. And the pressure made by US against the Soviets achieved this. Gorbachev who himself started a cardinal reforms in his interior policy also wanted to make a change in the Soviet foreign policy. His goal was to reach strategic balance between the West and East to ensure the survival of the Soviet state. To achieve this he had to cut down the arms race and end the ideological rivalry. By such means Gorbachev gave up his positions one by one that lead to the ultimate breakdown of the USSR.

The Baltic States were not top priority for the Western powers. The main goal was to make the Soviet Union harmless. The collapse of the communist system was a wild desire for the West, however they were afraid of the consequences that may come. However, already in 1986 in Jurmala, Latvia during The Chautauqua Conference the US ambassador Jack F. Matlock openly declared that US still does not recognize the annexation of the Baltic States. However, the main support from US only begun in 1989 and lasted till 1991 when it was clear that the USSR has no future and the restoration of the Baltic States independence is  technically possible. This support was realized as warnings to Gorbachev not to realize any aggressive actions against the Baltic States. On 1989 the new US president George Bush in the Malta conference stated his support for the Baltic independence and made Gorbachev promise not to use any force, but make talks with the Baltic leaders to settle the question. Gorbachev kept his promise until  January 1991 and after the worldwide condemnation he was unable to make any more aggressive steps. 

In 1989 New York Times published a supportive statement for the Baltic States independence. Soon after that the US Secretary of State sent a letter to Latvian envoy in exile Anatols Dinsberģis where he promised to support the Latvian efforts to restore full power over their future and with the help of the emotional protests he wished Latvians to restore freedom in a peaceful way. Also the British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher expressed her support. In 1991 president Bush again pressed on Gorbachev to fulfill the Baltic States demands, however he pointed out that the Baltic States they have to resolve this process with Moscow leadership. US had no intention to escalate the relations with the USSR because of the Baltic States. The US and other Western countries feared that the Baltic States are pushing for the independence too fast and may halt the process of liberalization within the USSR and endanger the international balance. The fear that living space of the Soviet Union may turn into “black hole” made many to watch the Baltic efforts with suspicion and weariness.

During the 1991 August coup the US decided to wait for the outcome of this coup was unclear. However, the outcome was so favorable that Latvia finally restored its independence and almost every country rushed to officially recognize Latvia as a sovereign state. From these facts however, we cannot make an equivalent conclusion that it was only the US position that decided the Baltic States independence. The position by the US and its allies were greatly affected by Latvian load demands and foreign lobby. If there were no active struggle for independence within the Baltic States and no active communication with the Western powers, their position would be just as neutral as regards the question of the independence of the Central Asian Republics.

So we must pay attention to Latvian attempts of making foreign diplomacy during the restoration of independence. The first ones who tried to approach the West was the Helsinki – 86 human rights group founded in Liepaja 1986 by nationally minded individuals. Their acts of commemoration on June 14 and August 23 in 1987 sparked a start for the national awakening. They sent letters to US delegation in Jurmala on 1986 and also to the UN. They expressed anger over the worse social and political situation in the occupied Latvia. It has been a an act of courage since until then no such letters came from Latvia itself, but from Latvians in exile. Sadly the Helsinki-86 movement was soon repressed by the KGB and their leaders exiled.

In 1988 the Latvian Popular Front was established as a mass political movement. One of its goals was to establish contacts with Latvian organizations in exile. In every country with a significant Latvian population there were active organizations that may help to get LPF to appeal to western governments. The main Latvian exile organization was the Worlds Free Latvian Organization. Some Latvian exiles were suspicious of the LPF and feared the KGB involvement.  But, most representatives of WFLO expressed support. The head of the Latvian writers union Jānis Peters made a first LPF foreign visit to Canada. LPF made its first foreign support group in Sweden with the help of exile Atis Lejiņš. After that LPF made its groups in USA, UK, Canada and Australia. The first congress of the LPF was only speaking about the need for Latvian autonomy since the prospects for full independence seemed practically impossible.

The head of the LPF delegation Pēteris Laķis speaks to Latvian exiles in the castle of Abrene France May 1989

The head of the LPF delegation Pēteris Laķis speaks to Latvian exiles in the castle of Abrene France May 1989

On 1989 a Baltic Assembly was made that gathered LPF along with its Lithuanian and Estonian counterparts under a common goal. The WFLO and American Latvian Union expressed full support. On May 1989 in the castle of Abrene, France the WFLO and LPF made a meeting. The talks were led by Pēteris Laķis, Eduards Berklavs, Juris Rozenvalds and Juris Golde. In these talks a path to restoration of Latvian independence was set. From this point the cooperation between LPF and WFLO became frequent. LPF leaders made occasional visits to US and Europe. During the 1991 August coup the leader of LPF Dainis Īvāns was in the US with his exile friends. Also the Latvian National Independence Movement made similar contacts with Latvian exiles. These contacts were essential; if in the case of Soviet repressions the exiles had to support LPF and inform the world.

The successful talks with Latvian exiles helped to spread the word of LPF across the world. Exiles made lobbies in their governments. LPF also sent its envoys to other Soviet republics like Ukraine and Georgia. A petition of 700 000 sign ups was gathered to propose changes in the USSR Constitution to achieve greater freedoms for Soviet republics. In a clandestine way this petition was sent to Moscow to bypass KGB. However, what happened to these petitions reminds a mystery.

On 1990 the first free elections took place and the LPF managed to achieve a majority in the Latvian Supreme Soviet. With communists in opposition the LPF now could slowly transform the Latvian Soviet Socialist Republic into the independent Republic of Latvia. On May 4 1990 a Declaration of restoration of independence was passed. The declaration made Latvia to start its own foreign policy. The will for good relations with neighboring states by using democracy and justice was expressed. Latvia declared its support of the Universal Declaration of the Human rights and 27 other international documents. Since the Latvian independence was not yet juridically and practically ensured no state rushed to recognize it. On May 16 Latvia received a document where the King of Sedang David Gil Mayréna II recognizes the Latvian independence and sovereignty. After the first moments of positive surprise, it soon turned out that this kingdom exists only on paper with no chance of recognition for herself.

To get recognition from real countries, Latvia had to make direct talks with the USSR. The president of the USSR Mikhail Gorbachev was against the Baltic States independence and Latvia was still full of Soviet armed forces and KGB waiting for takeover. A Latvian Foreign Ministry was restored. The LSSR had its own Foreign Ministry, but it was made for symbolic functions and had only few active workers. Thus it was not recognized by anyone outside the USSR. On July 9 the Latvian government made a statement that the goal of the LR Foreign Ministry is to achieve the restoration of the Latvian independence -de facto. Jānis Jurkāns had become the first Latvian Foreign Minister since 1940.

On May 14 1990 Gorbachev outlawed the Latvian declaration of independence. Instead he proposed the formation of Soviet confederation and after that the Union of Sovereign States.  While some Latvian leaders like Ilmārs Bišers was ready to support this the majority of the national leaders stood against it. Soviets did not even start any talks about their proposal. On July 10 1990 Latvian Supreme Soviet proposed talks about the restoration of the Sovereign Republic of Latvia according to July 16 1940. Andrejs Skrastiņš was nominated as the chief of negotiations along with Jānis Peters who became the main representative of the Latvian Council of Ministers in Moscow. However, Gorbachev was still reluctant and hoped for his New Union Treaty. At the same time his rival Boris Yeltsin the leader of the Russian Federal Soviet Socialist republic took the chance and visited Latvia and expressed his support.

With no chances for peacefully stopping the Baltic breakaway, Gorbachev now looked ways to install presidential order over the Baltic States. It would mean the beginning of repressions and the removal of the national governments. However, such acts needed an internationally approved reason and failure to do so caused a massacre on January 13 in Vilnius, Lithuania and the Barricade movement in Riga. Soviet army and KGB was unable to make a provocation that would justify Gorbachev’s actions. With the Western media on the spot and even despite the Gulf War crisis Gorbachev received worldwide condemnation. He also lost his support from hardliners in the party, army and KGB.

On January 13 the Chief of  the Latvian Supreme Soviet Anatolijs Gorbunovs signed treaty with Boris Yeltsin is regarding the foundations in bilateral relations with the Republic of Latvia and Russian Soviet Socialist Republic. It was ratified by the Latvian Supreme Soviet and acknowledged the sovereignty of  the both states. However, it also asked Latvia to grant citizen rights to all people within its territory. This would mean that large masses of the Soviet migrants also may become citizens. That sparked protests within society.

However, this treaty limited the Gorbachev chances to affect Latvia. After the January crisis he met Gorbunovs and agreed on talks. It was achieved not without the help of US president George Bush who in congress speech declared that the soviets have promised to withdraw its forces and stop violence. On February 19 new delegation was sent to Moscow with Ilmārs Bišers and Jānis Dinēvičš. The first set of talks was about the Soviet Army, the Latvian property conversion, the state enterprises and the Latvian intellectual property. The next set of talks on March 17 failed because the Soviets were unable to accept the Latvian demands.

Lithuania and Estonia were also unable to reach common ground with Moscow. On May 12 1990 in Tallinn the tree Baltic States leaders Anatolijs Gorbunovs, Vytautas Landsbergis and Arnold Rüütel restored the Baltic States Council originally made in 1934. On December 1990 in Vilnius all three Supreme Soviets came together in joint session. All three governments made a common demand to stop the Soviet aggressive policy and allow the Baltic States representation in the international institutions.

The Baltic Council

The Baltic States Council

Letters were sent to the Parliamentary Assembly of the European Union to make an inter-parliamentary delegation speed up the restoration process. Also EU Parliamentary Assembly received plea to make special status for the Baltic States. EU institutions in fear from USSR reaction denied every such proposal. On November 19 1990 the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe asked the Baltic delegation to leave the conference room after receiving complaints from USSR. Only on June 1991 the OSCE finally discussed the Baltic question.

On July 10 1990 the chief of the Latvian Council of Ministers Ivars Godmanis and the Foreign minister Jānis Jurkāns went to Washington DC on a private visit. They managed to hold a meeting with president of US George Bush, and the Secretary of State James Baker.  Baker again expressed his support for Baltic States independence and said that Latvia has legal rights with the help of negotiations to restore their freedom. The President was much more reserved in his expressions.

The Sweden was the only state that recognized Latvia as legal soviet part and handed over the Latvian soldiers fighting in German ranks. However, now the Swedish government was more sympathetic towards Latvia. In 1989 Sweden opened Consular branch in Leningrad with diplomat Lars Freden  in charge. He was supportive towards Latvia and achieved official visit of the Swedish ambassador in Riga. The Swedish government made apologies to veterans and their families who were handed over to the Soviets in 1945.  Meanwhile the Eastern European countries who also looked to get rid of the Moscow yoke were quite reserved in talks with Latvians.

The August coup of 1991 suddenly halted all the talks for a short time. On August 21 the coup had failed and Latvia declared full independence. The first country to recognize Latvia as an independent country was Iceland. All others followed. The last country that was little “late” was Rwanda on 1993.  The US herself only officially recognized Latvian independence on September 2 after the Soviet Union had agreed to recognize it too. It was done by Moscow on December 6.

Baltic States leaders visiting George Bush at the White House

Baltic States leaders visiting George Bush at the White House

Just like in 1917-1921 when Latvia was fighting its war for freedom, Latvian diplomats had to make their message to the world. Only this time Latvians had support from exile compatriots and historical legacy. The US non recognition policy was essential to US position on the Latvian independence. The diplomatic activity from Latvian freedom fighters played the most important part in convincing the US and other western powers to keep this favorable position.  If the US position would be neutral Latvia may regain independence in the same way as Belarus and remain within the Moscow sphere of interest. The Latvian will of democratic western society is what achieved our independence. And this achievement must not be undiminished as there are many other far larger nations without their own country.

Selected Sources:

Latvijas valsts atjaunošana, 1986.-1993. : autoru veltījums Latvijas Republikas proklamēšanas 80. gadadienai. Universitātes žurnāla “Latvijas Vēsture” fonds, Latvijas Zinātņu akadēmijas Baltijas stratēģisko pētījumu centrs. Rīga : Latvijas Universitātes žurnāla “Latvijas Vēsture” fonds, 1998

Lapsa,Lato Metuzāls Sandris, Jančevska, Kristīne  Mūsu vēsture, 1985-2005 Rīga : Atēna, 2008 1. sēj.

Īvāns, Dainis LTF Rietumos  Rīga 2001

Argita, Daudze. Latvija Zviedrijas ārpolitikā 1945.-1991. Rīga. Zvaigzne ABC 2011

Matlock, Jack F, Jr.Reagan and Gorbachev: How the Cold War Ended. Random House (NY), 2004

Fredēns, Pēters, Larss. Baltijas brīvības ceļš un Zviedrijas diplomātija 1989-1991 Atēna, c2007

Mille, Astra.  Te un citadelē. Jānis Peters : tumšsarkanā.Rīga : Atēna, c2006.

Lejiņš, Atis,  Mūra drupinātājs jeb Ceļš atpakaļ uz mājām Rīga : Jumava, 2002

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The International Recognition of Latvian Independence 1918-1921

Zigfrīds Anna Meierovics the first Minster of the Foreign Affairs.

Zigfrīds Anna Meierovics the first Minster of the Foreign Affairs.

On January 8 1919 the president of United States of America Woodrow Wilson issued his fourteen points where he declared his vision that every nation has their rights of self sovereignty. However, the new state of Latvia for long years had a hard time to achieve international recognition. The leaders of Entente were skeptical about the stability of this new state and still hoped for the Bolshevik defeat in the Russian civil war. After the international recognition was achieved Latvia struggled to find its place in the European diplomatic arena. The process of gaining official recognition of Latvian independence was long and interesting story. Before we begin discussing an important explanation of juridical and diplomatic terms are needed. The de facto recognition means the country or government is recognized as existing legitimate body that can make legal contacts with other officially recognized nations. However, it means the borders of this country are not legally determined and it lacks full diplomatic rights. The de iure or de jure recognition means the country and its borders are fully recognized and the country has equal rights in the international affairs.

The first attempts of foreign diplomacy were made by Latvian Provisional National Council in 1918. It had its own chamber of foreign relations and its goal was to contact western powers to seek support for desired independence. The contacts were made with the western embassies in Petrograd (Petersburg). It was harder task to send delegates to allied countries. First Latvian delegate to London was Zigfrīds Anna Meierovics. His mission was to introduce everyone with the prospect of sovereign and indivisible Latvia. Before arriving in London Meierovics established an information bureau, that made important work by spreading the news and opinions about Latvia and it’s strive for independence.

In the mean time Germany and Soviet Russia had signed the Brest-Litovsk peace agreement, giving Germany full power over the Baltic region. It was now fully possible for Germany to annex the Baltic region. However, the German government was caught up with the troubled Western front and left the Baltic question behind. German Kaiser Wilhelm II even called the Baltic region as “free and sovereign region”. Although he possibly meant that local Baltic Germans can establish their own country, for Latvians such position was also promising.

Meierovics mission in London was successful. He could persuade the British about the need of the Latvian independence. On October 23 1918, the British Foreign Secretary Arthur James Balfour informed Meierovics that the British government has decided to temporary recognize the Latvian Provisional National Council as the Latvian government until the future peace conference would fully decide the Latvian question. Latvian politicians understood this as a de facto recognition. Meierovics asked Balfour to make a written resolution to confirm the British position. This was done in November 11 that again confirmed British support for the LPNC.

Latvians made contacts with the German government, however no direct answer came because of the revolution of the November 9 and the German capitulation changed everything. Allies instructed Germans to keep their forces in the Eastern front as long as necessary to fight of the Bolsheviks.

New German social democratic government decided to abandon all plans for desired “BalticState” and accepted the Latvian Provisional Government that was formed on November 18. The first Minister of Foreign affairs was Meierovics.

German-Latvian relations worsened in spring 1919 when Latvian army together with German Landeswehr and Iron Division fought off the Bolshevik invasion. The anti-Latvian coup in April 16 and forming of pro-German government clearly showed that Germany support for independent Latvia was only temporary.

Latvians sent their representatives on Paris Peace conference on January 1919. There they discovered the British inflexibility in the support for Latvia. Great Britain and France thought that the Bolshevik revolution in Russia soon will collapse and therefore was no longer interested in supporting Latvians. The Latvian delegation consisting Meierovics, Jānis Čakste, Jānis Seskis and others could not participate directly in the Peace conference. Instead Latvian representatives worked in background, keeping contacts with the leaders and gave many proposals. The western diplomats and leaders replied that Russia needs to decide the Baltic question. However the Treaty of Versailles concluded that Germany respects the independence of territories of the former Russian Empire and gives up all claims for them. Also Germany was allowed to keep its army in the Baltic region but not interfere the Baltic national governments. It was small but significant achievement.

The German-White Russian joint attempt in destroying the Latvian independence in November 1919 resulted the declaration of war against Germany. After the initial defeat of the army of Bermont, Latvia received German radio message that the Army of Bermont is now under the command of the State of Germany. Previously it was supposed to be under command of the White Russian general Yudenich. After Latvian received the confirmation from the German Foreign ministry; the Latvian government concluded that Latvia is at the state of war with Germany. On November 25 Latvia issued a note to Germany of entering the state of war and cancelation of all diplomatic relations. Ironically the German government did not understand the reason for this declaration of war and replied that Germany is in no means in the state of war with Latvia.

After the final defeat of German reactionary forces in 1919 things started to brighten up. Finland, Poland, Lithuania, Estonia, Belgium and France recognized Latviade facto. At the first half of 1920 the western powers discussed the de iure recognition of the Baltic independence. Italy and Japan was supportive, France was elusive about it, but the US was strictly against it. US were skeptical about the long lasting of the Baltic States and feared that other territories in Far East may break away from Russia favoring Japan.  Also Poland was quite hesitant of the de iure recognition since it would mean that it had to give up its claims for Latgalian region.

After complete defeat of the Soviet forces the peace talks with Germany and the Soviet Russia begun. Latvian side presented documents proving German extended support for the Bermot army. Germans became more compliant and promised to acknowledge Latvia as de iure after the Entente powers do this. Germans also gave indefinite promise to compensate the war losses done by German military formations. Germans also proposed not to call the coming agreement as Friedensvertag (peace agreement) but simply Vertag (agreement) since they still did recognized that they are in the state of war with Latvia.

The Agreement for restoring of contacts between Latvia and Germany was signed in July 15 1920. The formal state war was cancelled and issued the German formula of de iure recognition. However, Germany failed to take any responsibility for the Bermont army and the anti-Latvian actions. Therefore the Latvian declaration of war against Germany lost it meaning. Ironically Germany was the only country that Latvia has ever declared war and no real peace agreement was ever signed, because the other side did not recognized the Latvian declaration of war.

While neither Soviet Russia nor Latvia had ever declared war on each other, they had to sign a peace agreement. That was done in August 11 1920 and Soviet Russia promised to recognize the sovereignty and independence of Latvia and voluntary for ever gives up all claims against Latvia.

The peace agreement with Soviet Russia now paved way for full recognition of Latvian independence. Since the Bolshevik revolution had won and its government had recognized Latvia there was no other option for the western powers.

However, the new founded international body the League of Nations was hesitant to join all three Baltic nations in their ranks, since they were still not fully recognized. International diplomats and lawyers could not decide whether the joining the League of Nation mean the full de iure recognition. That was crucial for the state of Georgia that also submitted the application for joining the League of Nations since the lack of the international support made it vulnerable to the Soviet occupation.

At the end of 1920, Meierovics visited Italy, France and Great Britain. Italy was generally supportive to Latvian juridical recognition, since it had no interests in Russia and also was disappointed with the Treaty of Versailles. Meanwhile in France the political circles were more and more convinced that there is no way how to topple the Bolsheviks. This was crucial for France, since it was old-time supporter of Czarist Russia and had given large credits to it. The president of France Alexandre Millerand promised to support de iure recognition of Latvia. On 29 December France issued proposal to other partner states to recognize the Baltic States de iure. The British were however, still hesitant, the Foreign Secretary George Curzon was strictly against, but Prime Minister David Lloyd George wavering, however at the last moment he managed to persuade his Foreign Secretary to support Latvia.

On January 26 1921 the Higher commission of Entente (Great Britain, France, Belgium, Japan and Italy) unanimously decided to recognize Latvia and Estoniade iure. Entente now wanted to empower the newly founded national states in Eastern Europe to prevent any Soviet expansion. Soon Poland and Finland recognized Latvia. After that came Germany, Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Persia, Austria, Portugal and Romania. United States of America was the last of the superpowers to recognize Latvia de iure – on July 28 1922. It was because of American new emerging isolationist policies and loss of general interest in European affairs. During the inter war period 42 countries officially recognized Latvia. On September 1921 Latvia joined the League of Nations. Latvia was no ready to play active role in international politics.

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