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The fate of the Republic of Estonia before the World War II was decided by the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact and the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact#Secret Additional Protocol of August 1939.
On September 24, 1939 warships of the Soviet Navy appeared off Estonian ports and Soviet bombers began a threatening patrol over Tallinn and the nearby countryside. Moscow demanded that Estonia allow the USSR to establish military bases and station 25,000 troops on Estonian soil for the duration of the European war. The government of Estonia accepted the ultimatum signing the corresponding agreement on September 28. 1939.
On June 12, 1940, according to the director of the Russian State Archive of the Naval Department Pavel Petrov (C.Phil.), the order for total military blockade of Estonia to the Soviet Baltic Fleet was given.
On June 14 the Soviet military blockade of Estonia went into effect while the world’s attention was focused on the fall of Paris to Nazi Germany. Two Soviet bombers downed a Finnish passenger airplane "Kaleva" flying from Tallinn to Helsinki carrying three diplomatic pouches from the U.S. legations in Tallinn, Riga and Helsinki.
On June 16, the Soviet Union invaded Estonia. the Soviet Union presented an ultimatum, demanding the replacement of the Estonian government and free access for Soviet troops. The Red Army emerged from the military bases in Estonia and, aided by an additional 90,000 Soviet troops, took over the country, occupying the territories of Republic of Estonia,, and organizing and supporting communist protests all over the country.
On June 17, Estonia accepted the ultimatum. The Estonian government decided according to the Kellogg-Briand Pact not to defend themselves; given the overwhelming Soviet force both on the borders and inside the country, the order was given not to resist, to avoid bloodshed and open war.
Most of the Estonian Defence Forces and the Estonian Defence League surrendered according to the orders and were disarmed by the Red Army. Only the Estonian Independent Signal Battalion stationed in Tallinn at Raua Street showed resistance. As the Red Army brought in additional reinforcements supported by six armoured fighting vehicles, the battle lasted several hours until sundown. There was one dead, several wounded on the Estonian side and about 10 killed and more wounded on the Soviet side. Finally the military resistance was ended with negotiations and the Independent Signal Battalion surrendered and was disarmed.
On July 14-15 the rigged, extraordinary single-party parliamentary election were held where all but pro-Communist candidates were outlawed. People were forced to vote under the threat of prosecution, and those who didn't were later arrested on charges of treason and executed. Tribunals were set up to punish "traitors to the people." those who had fallen short of the "political duty" of voting Estonia into the USSR. The communist "Union of the Estonian Working People" "won" an absolute majority of seats. On July 21 the parliament (Riigivolikogu) proclaimed the formation of the Estonian SSR, and, despite the promises given before the election, petitioned to join the Soviet Union on July 22. In response the Estonian SSR was formally incorporated into the Soviet Union (USSR) on August 6, 1940, and nominally became the 16th constituent republic of the USSR. (On July 16, 1956, the Karelo-Finnish SSR was demoted to the Karelian ASSR; from then on until 1991, the Estonian SSR was considered the 15th constituent republic.)
According to Estonian and Western accounts the Republic of Estonia was occupied by the Soviet Union in June 1940, and forcibly incorporated as a result of a communist Coup d'état supported by the Soviet troops. The United States, United Kingdom and other western powers considered the annexation of Estonia by USSR illegal following the Stimson Doctrine — a stance that made the doctrine an established precedent of international law. Although the US and the UK, the allies of the USSR against Germany during the World War II recognized the occupation of the Baltic states by USSR at Yalta Conference in 1945 de facto, they retained diplomatic relations with the exiled representatives of the independent Republic of Estonia, never formally recognized the annexation of Estonia de jure.
During the first year of Soviet occupation (1940-1941) over 8,000 people, including most of the country's leading politicians and military officers, were arrested. About 2,200 of the arrested were executed in Estonia, while most others were moved to prison camps in Russia, from where very few were later able to return alive. On July 19, 1940, the Commander-in-chief of the Estonian Army Johan Laidoner was captured by the NKVD and deported together with his wife to the Town of Penza. Laidoner died in the Vladimir Prison Camp, Russia on March 13, 1953. President of Estonia, Konstantin Päts was arrested and deported by the Soviets to Ufa in Russia on July 30, he died in a psychiatric hospital in Kalinin (currently Tver) in Russia in 1956.
800 Estonian officers, about half of the total, were executed, arrested or starved to death in prison camps.
"In order to carry out demolition works, 15 Party activists and 275 persons from the Destruction Battalion must be mobilised. 15 workers are needed for the execution of each demolition and 10 people are needed for protection.... In order to carry out demolition works, 225 kg of TNT, 150 metres of rope/fuse and 100 primers are needed, since there is no demolition material on the spot. 11 lorries, which are available but which lack petrol, are needed for carrying the ruins away."
Other ethnic Russians in Estonia arrested and executed by different Soviet War Tribunals in 1940-1941: Ivan Salnikov, Pavel Mironov, Mihhail Arhipov, Vassili belugin, Vladimir Strekoytov, Vasili Zhilin, Vladimir Utekhin, Sergei Samennikov, Ivan Meitsev, Ivan Yeremeyev, Konstatin Bushuyev, Yegor Andreyev, Nikolai Sausailov, Aleksandr Serpukhov, Konstatin Nosov, Aleksandr Nekrasov, Nikolai Vasilev-Muroman, Aleksei Sinelshikov, Pyotr Molonenkov, Grigory Varlamov, Stepan Pylnikov, Ivan Lishayev, Pavel Belousev, Nikolai Gusev, Leonid Sakharov, Aleksander Chuganov, Fyodor Dobrovidov, Lev Dobek, Andrei Leontev, Ivan Sokolov, Ivan Svetlov, Vladimir Semenov, Valentin Semenov-Vasilev, Vasili Kamelkov, Georgi Lokhov, Aleksei Forlov, Ivan Ivanov, Vasili Karamsin, Aleksandr Krasilnikov, Aleksandr Zhukov, etc. Full list at:
This decline in percentage was especially severe among the urban and young populations, which made it difficult for Estonians to maintain their ethnic identity. Within 11 years between 1959 and 1970 the proportion of Estonians in Tallinn declined by as much as 4%, from 60% to 56% of the total population. Population growth throughout the existence of the Estonian SSR was mainly due to immigration from other regions of the Soviet Union. Although the percentage of Estonians in the total population of the Estonian SSR declined due to Soviet migration policies, the total number of ethnic Estonians increased over the Soviet period as a whole. This was due to a positive natural growth rate of some 1 or 2 thousand per year. As an example, in 1970, the number of live births of Estonians was 14,429 and the number of deaths was 12,356, giving natural increase of 2,073 ethnic Estonians.
In 1940-1941 and 1944-1951 during the Soviet deportations from Estonia tens of thousands of Estonian citizens were forcibly resettled to Siberia. During the first year of occupation, 1940-1941, alone, an estimated 43,900 lives were irrecoverably lost, not counting refugees. The following three-year Nazi occupation brought with it a loss of 32,740 lives, again not counting refugees. Another 16,000 people deaths were caused through Soviet repressions in the years following 1944.
Soviet forces re-occupied Estonia in the autumn of 1944 after fierce battles in the northeast of the country on the Narva river and on the Tannenberg Line (Sinimäed). In 1944, faced with the country being re-occupied by the Soviet Army, 80,000 people fled from Estonia by sea to Finland and Sweden. 25,000 Estonians reached Sweden and a further 42,000 Germany. During the war about 8,000 Estonian Swedes and their family members had emigrated to Sweden. After the retreat of the Germans, about 30,000 partisans remained in hiding in the Estonian forests, initiating a massive guerrilla war.
In 1949 27,650 Soviet troops were still fighting against the ethnic Estonian guerrilla "forest brothers". The 1949 mass deportation when about 21,000 people were removed from Estonia broke the back of the partisan movement. 6,600 partisans gave themselves up in November 1949. Later on, the failure of the Hungarian uprising broke the morale of 700 men still remaining under cover. According to the Soviet data, up until 1953 20,351 partisans were defeated. Of these, 1,510 perished in the battles. During that period, 1,728 members of the Red Army, NKVD and the militia were killed by the "forest brothers". August Sabbe, the last surviving Forest Brother in Estonia, was discovered and killed by KGB agents in 1978.
During the first post-war decade of Soviet rule, Estonia was governed by Moscow via Russian-born Estonian governors. Born into the families of native Estonians in Russia, the latter had obtained their education in the Soviet Union during the Stalinist admnistration at the end of the 1930s. Many of them had fought in the Red Army (in the Estonian Rifle Corps), few of them had mastered the Estonian language.
Although the United States and the United Kingdom, the allies of the USSR against Germany during World War II, recognized the occupation of the Republic of Estonia by USSR at Yalta Conference in 1945 de facto, the governments of the rest of the western democracies did not recognize the seizure of Estonia by the USSR in 1940 and in 1944 de jure according to the Sumner Welles' declaration of July 23, 1940 Such countries recognized Estonian diplomats who still functioned in many countries in the name of their former governments. These consuls persisted in this anomalous situation until the ultimate restoration of Estonia's independence in 1991.
The first freely elected parliament during the Soviet era in Estonia had passed independence resolutions on May 8, 1990, and renamed the Estonian SSR the Republic of Estonia. On August 20, 1991 the Estonian parliament issued a Declaration of Independence from the Soviet Union. On September 6, 1991, the USSR Supreme Council recognized the independence of Estonia., immediately followed by the international recognitions of the Republic of Estonia.
In 1992, Heinrich Mark, the Prime Minister of the Republic of Estonia in exile, presented his credentials to the newly elected President of Estonia Lennart Meri. On February 23, 1989 The flag of the Estonian SSR was lowered on Pikk Hermann, and replaced with the blue-black-white flag of Estonia on February 24, 1989.
The last Soviet troops withdrew from Estonia in August 1994.
The events in 1939 according to the pre-Perestroika Soviet sources were following: in a former province of the Russian Empire, the Province of Estonia (Russian: Эстляндская губерния), Soviet power was established in the end of October 1917. The Estonian Soviet Republic was proclaimed in Narva on November 29, 1918 but fell to counter-revolutionaries and the White Armies in 1919. In June 1940 Soviet power was restored in Estonian as workers overthrew the fascist dictatorship in the country.
According to Soviet sources the Soviet government suggested that the Government of the Republic of Estonia conclude a mutual assistance treaty between the two countries. Pressure from Estonian working people forced the Estonian government to accept this suggestion. On September 28, 1939 the Pact of Mutual Assistance was signed which allowed the USSR to station a limited number of Soviet Army units in Estonia. Economic difficulties, dissatisfaction with the Estonian government's policies "sabotaging fulfillment of the Pact and the Estonian government", and political orientation towards Nazi Germany lead to a revolutionary situation in June 1940. A note from the Soviet government to the Estonian Government suggested that they stuck strictly to the Pact of Mutual Assistance. To guarantee fulfillment of the Pact additional military units entered Estonia, welcomed by the Estonian workers who demanded the resignation of the Estonian government. On June 21 under the leadership of the Estonian Communist Party political demonstrations by workers were held in Tallinn, Tartu, Narva and other cities. On the same day the fascist government was overthrown, and the People's government lead by Johannes Vares was formed. On July 14-15 1940 elections for the Estonian Parliament, the State Assembly(Riigikogu) were held. The "Working People’s Union", created by an initiative of the Estonian Communist Party received with 84.1% turnout 92.8% of the votes.. On July 21 1940 the State Assembly adopted the declaration of the restoration of Soviet power in Estonia and proclaimed the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic. On July 22 the declaration of Estonia's wish to join the USSR was ratified and the Supreme Soviet of the USSR was petitioned accordingly. The request was approved by the Supreme Soviet of the USSR on August 6, 1940. On July 23 the State Assembly proclaimed all land to be People's Property while banks and heavy industry were nationalized. On August 25 the State Assembly adopted the Constitution of the Estonian SSR, renamed itself the Supreme Soviet of the Estonian SSR and approved the Council of People's Commissars of the Estonian SSR.
While views diverge on history of Estonia, the core of the controversy lies in the different interpretations of the historical events during World War II and after.
During the time of glasnost and the reassessment of Soviet history in USSR, the USSR condemned the 1939 secret protocol between Nazi Germany and itself that had led to the invasion and occupation of the three Baltic countries. The collapse of the Soviet Union led to the restoration Republic of Estonia's sovereignty. (See History of Estonia: Regaining independence).
According to the European Court of Human Rights, Government of Estonia, EU, USA Estonia remained occupied by the Soviet Union until restoration of its independence in 1991 and the 48 years of Soviet occupation and annexation was never recognized as legal by the Western democracies.
At the same time revisionism in Russia has begun to raise fears among some historians that the Kremlin is trying to rewrite history in a way that risks playing down some of the less palatable events in the history of the Soviet Union.
Although it is evident from documentary evidence at the time that in all three Baltic States those who did not turn out to vote in the 1940 referendums were later summarily tried and executed on charges of treason, the Russian government continues to maintain that the Soviet annexation of the Baltic states was legitimate and that the Soviet Union liberated the countries from the Nazis. It is commonly stated that the Soviet troops had entered the Baltics in 1940 following the agreements and with the consent of the then governments of the Baltic republics. They maintain that the USSR was not in a state of war and was not waging any combat activities on the territory of the three Baltic states, therefore, the argument goes, the word 'occupation' can not be used. "The assertions about [the] 'occupation' by the Soviet Union and the related claims ignore all legal, historical and political realities, and are therefore utterly groundless." (Russian Foreign Ministry)
144th Guards Motor Rifle Division, (Tallinn); 182nd Guard Motorized Rifle Regiment, (Klooga)
188th Guard Motorized Rifle Regiment, (Klooga); 254th Guard Motorized Rifle Regiment, (Tallinn)
148th Independent Recon-Battalion, (Klooga); 295th Independent Engineer-Battalion, (Klooga)
228th Tank Regiment, (Keila); 450th Artillery Regiment, (Klooga)
170th Naval Shturmovik Aviation Regiment, (Ämari); 321th Naval Shturmovik Aviation Regiment, (Ämari)
366th Interceptor Aviation Regiment, (Pärnu); 384th Interceptor Aircraft Regiment, (Tallinn)
425th Interceptor Aviation Regiment, (Haapsalu); 655th Interceptor Aviation Regiment, (Pärnu)
656th Interceptor Aviation Regiment, (Tapa); 66th Soviet Attack Air Regiment, (Kunda)
192th Military Transport Aviation Regiment, (Tartu); 196th Military Transport Aviation Regiment, (Tartu)
132nd Heavy Bomber Aviation Regiment, (Tartu); 2nd Air-Defence Army
On July 23, 1940, the Estonian SSR nationalized all land, banks and major industrial enterprises in Estonia. Peasants were only allotted small plots of land during the land reforms. Small businesses were also later nationalized. The occupation brought with it colonisation According to some Western scholars, relations between the Soviet Union and Estonian SSR were those of internal colonialism.
All banks and accounts were essentially nationalized; a lot of industrial machinery was disassembled and relocated to other Soviet territories. Before retreating in 1941, Red Army, following the scorched earth policies, burnt most industrial constructions, destroying power plants, vehicles and cattle. Millions of dollars worth of goods were also moved from Estonia to Russia under the pretext of "evacuation" without providing any compensation.
Immediately after the war, major immigration projects were undertaken, labelled "brotherly aid under Stalinist nationality policies". For postwar reconstruction, hundreds of thousands of Russophones were relocated into Estonia, mainly the cities. For example, during the years of 1945-1950, the total urban population count grew from 267,000 to 516,000; over 90% of the increase being fresh immigrants.
A special care was taken to change the ethnic structure of population, especially in Northeastern Estonia. For example, a policy of prioritising immigrants before returning war refugees in assigning dwelling quarters was adopted.
One of the important goals in this reformation of Estonia's economy was providing economic support to Leningrad. To this end, 40% of the total capital investments of the fourth Five Year Plan to be spent in Estonia were intended for investments in oil shale mining infrastructure. Gas-rich oil shale was delivered to Leningrad via a specially built pipeline starting from 1948; gas from this very same source did not reach Tallinn until 1953. In 1961, 62.5% of the gas produced was still delivered to Leningrad.
By the end of 1954, 227,000 apartments in Leningrad were supplied with using the gas output of Kohtla-Järve; only about three percent of that, or 6,041 apartments, had been supplied in Tallinn.
Despite the immense needs for research, the Faculty of Medicine at Tartu State University (now University of Tartu) suffered from major purges, culminating after March 1950. Altogether, 56 staff of the university were purged; in the Faculty of Medicine, 12 professors of 17 were removed from their positions. They were replaced with less skilled but politically reliable staff.
Only after the Khrushchev Thaw period of 1956 did healthcare networks start to stabilise. Due to natural development, science and technology advanced and popular welfare increased. All demographic indicators improved; birth rate increased, mortality decreased. Healthcare became freely available to everybody during the Soviet era.
Alcoholism became a growing health issue. Up until 1985 and the beginning of glasnost, it was illegal to publish statistical data on alcohol sales. It is estimated that alcoholism peaked in 1982-1984, when consumption reached 11.2 litres of absolute alcohol per person per annum. (In comparison, in Finland during the same period consumption only 6-7 litres per person per annum).
Tallinn was selected the host of the sailing events which led to controversy since Western countries had not de jure recognized ESSR as part of USSR. In preparations, a number of sports and general infrastructure buildings were built, including Tallinn TV Tower, Pirita Yachting Centre and Linnahall.