Churchill and the Baltic

Churchill and the Baltic

The Baltic States (mappery.com)

Wal­ter Rus­sell Mead in The Amer­i­can Inter­est Online fine­ly describes the Muse­um of the KGB, estab­lished in the Lithuan­ian cap­i­tal of Vil­nius to doc­u­ment the vic­tims of Sovi­et occu­pa­tion of the Baltic States from 1940 through 1991:

Yet those poor Lithuan­ian par­ti­sans who fought a hope­less guer­ril­la cam­paign against the Sovi­et occu­pa­tion after 1945 kept wait­ing for us to show up,” Mead cointin­ues. “Appar­ent­ly they made the mis­take of believ­ing all those fine words that Franklin Roo­sevelt and Win­ston Churchill wrote in The Atlantic Char­ter.

I have no doubt that Roo­sevelt and Tru­man were right to avoid war with the Sovi­et Union after World War Two…But war over east­ern Europe in 1945 was unthink­able; con­tain­ment was the best we could do.

North of Lithua­nia is Latvia, home of some of my ances­tors, where three friends and I bicy­cled in 1995 on the 50th anniver­sary of V-E Day. The osten­si­ble rea­son was to cel­e­brate the ongo­ing bat­tle waged by Baltic par­ti­sans against the renewed Sovi­et occu­pa­tion, fol­low­ing the “lib­er­a­tion of Europe,” as we all com­fort­ably referred to it in the West back in 1945.

Two of us were rep­re­sent­ing The Churchill Cen­tre, and our way had been made smooth by the late Richard Ralph, then Her Majesty’s Ambas­sador to Latvia, who arranged for us to stay at the British Embassy in Riga , and to meet var­i­ous func­tionar­ies on our 410-mile ride from the Lithuan­ian to the Eston­ian bor­der.

Churchill, Roo­sevelt and Stal­in at Yal­ta.

Our first stop was the port city of Liepa­ja, where with the rain pelt­ing down out­side, we break­fast­ed with the May­or of Liepa­ja, Teodors Enins, who has also since died (1934-2008). When we said “Churchill,” Mr. Enins said “Yal­ta,” and the con­ver­sa­tion imme­di­ate­ly moved into “a frank exchange of views,” as the diplo­mats put it.

“You should have nuked them in 1945,” May­or Enins said of the Rus­sians, telling us about the fifty-year Sovi­et occu­pa­tion, in the midst of which he had grown up. He had strafe marks on his bel­ly, where, as a young lad ven­tur­ing onto the beach after dark, he had been wound­ed by Sovi­et sol­diers, who sealed off every inch of the Baltic coast every night.

I said of course that there was no chance of the Anglo-Amer­i­cans attack­ing Rus­sia in 1945. We had just clawed down Hitler with them. They were our allies. We had left Yal­ta in Feb­ru­ary 1945 hold­ing cer­tain guar­an­tees with respect to Pol­ish self-deter­mi­na­tion, which were all we could hope for.

Yal­ta con­firmed post­war Sovi­et rule in the Baltic States and much of East­ern Europe. With the Red Army occu­py­ing half the con­ti­nent, there were few alter­na­tives except war, which no West­ern states­man would have launched in those cir­cum­stances.

More­over, we told Mr. Enins, “Things could have been worse. Greece—thanks to Churchill’s oft-denounced ‘spheres of influ­ence’ agree­ment with Stal­in in 1944—was lib­er­at­ed. So in the end was Aus­tria. Stal­in agreed to enter the war against Japan. All these were promis­es he kept.”

Teodors Enins receives the Lat­vian Order of the Three Stars from Pres­i­dent Vaira Viķe-Freiber­ga, 2008 (wiki­me­dia).

“But the Pol­ish guar­an­tees proved worth­less, didn’t they?” said the May­or. True. Churchill and Roo­sevelt were in com­mu­ni­ca­tion about what to do next when FDR died in April 1945. Pres­i­dent Tru­man, ill-briefed as vice-pres­i­dent, moved with cau­tion, unwill­ing to upset an impor­tant ally. Churchill lost the July elec­tion and was replaced at Pots­dam, the last wartime con­fer­ence, by Clement Attlee.

I told May­or Enins how Churchill had writ­ten in Tri­umph and Tragedy that had he returned to Pots­dam, he would have forced a “show­down” over Poland. What the result would have been is a mat­ter for con­jec­ture. “Much of East­ern Europe, giv­en harsh real­i­ty, had no chance for lib­er­ty,” I said, “but this is not be an excuse to denounce the efforts Churchill made.”

Teodors Enins lis­tened polite­ly, but then he just shook his head. “No. You should have fought them any­way,” he said sad­ly. “Think of how much blood and trea­sure you would have saved yourselves—not to men­tion us.”

As in many things, what you think often depends on where you grew up.

One thought on “Churchill and the Baltic

  1. The sad­dest thing is that short­ly after WW2 thou­sands of peo­ple believed in help from West and kept resist­ing Sovi­ets thus sac­ri­fic­ing their lives. This sense­less belief was fed by west­ern radio sta­tions and even Churchill’s “Iron Cur­tain” speech.

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