Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and Soviet military bases

​The biggest problem for the winning countries of WW I and the League of Nations in the second half of the 1930s was the unchecked military build-up in Germany. To oppose this, cooperation with the Stalinist Soviet Union was increased, but the latter’s foreign policy demands regarding Eastern Europe did not allow any agreements. East-European states were caught between the aggressive and totalitarian Germany and the Soviet Union. The Munich agreement of 1938 between France, Great Britain, Germany and Italy allowed Germany to invade the areas of Czechoslovakia populated by Germans. At the beginning of 1939 Germany annexed the whole of Czechoslovakia.

​After failed talks with the Western countries, the Soviet Union began approaching Germany, culminating, in August 1939, in the Treaty of Non-Aggression (the Molotov-Ribbentrop or Hitler-Stalin pact). The secret protocol of the treaty created spheres of influence in Eastern Europe. The Baltic countries, Finland, eastern Poland and Bessarabia were to belong to the Soviet Union, and the majority of Poland to Germany. On 1 September 1939 Germany attacked Poland, and on 17 September the Soviet Union did the same. The supposedly militarily powerful Poland was crushed in less than one month; Poland as a country was eliminated and divided between Germany and the Soviet Union. Poland’s allies France and Great Britain declared war on Germany, although there was no immediate active warfare on the Western front.

​Estonia declared itself neutral, and did not take any defensive measures. At the end of September 1939, the Soviet Union forced the Baltic countries to sign pacts of mutual assistance. With the fate of Poland only too obvious, the governments of the Baltic countries gave in to the pressure exerted by the Soviet Union, despite the willingness of the army and the civil population to fight. Soviet military bases were subsequently established in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Twenty-five thousand Soviet soldiers were brought into Estonia. Although de jure independent, de facto the Baltic countries were controlled by the Soviet Union in 1939–1940, and became its unwilling allies. Finland ignored the Soviet pressure and in November 1939 the Soviet Union attacked, thus starting the Winter War. Estonia also declared itself neutral in that war. The Soviet Union used Estonian airfields to bomb Finland, thus violating Estonian neutrality. On the basis of its neutrality, Estonia did not officially allow volunteers to fight in the Winter War, but dozens of them still managed to travel across the gulf and fight for Finland.

​The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact also led to demographic changes – the German minority was resettled from Eastern European countries to Germany and became German citizens. During the 1939–1940 Umsiedlung, over 14,000 people moved from Estonia to Germany. In spring 1941, as agreed by the Soviet Union and Germany, another 7000 people were resettled from Estonia to Germany.

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