The road to independence

​The two trends came together in spring 1990, when the Estonian SSR Supreme Soviet declared the authority of the Soviet Union in Estonia illegal. A transition period was announced, which in cooperation with the Estonian Congress, would lead to the restoration of the Republic of Estonia. In May, the name Estonian SSR was abolished and replaced by the Republic of Estonia. However, independence had not yet been achieved. The Soviet Union still considered Estonia and the other Baltic republics to be Union republics subordinated to Moscow, and was prepared to use extreme force to maintain its power, as seen in the violent events in January 1991 in Vilnius and Riga. In both capitals, Soviet special troops tried to seize the media centres controlled by national forces, and dozens of people were killed. Estonia was spared violence. An important role in the January events was the support of the central Soviet Union republic, the Russian Soviet Federal Socialist Republic, for the Baltic states. On 13 January, the chairman of the Russian SFSR Supreme Soviet, Boris Yeltsin, arrived in Tallinn, and with the leaders of the Baltic countries he signed a joint declaration, recognising one another’s sovereignty.

​After the January crisis, Mikhail Gorbachev tried to keep the Baltic countries in the Soviet Union. Moscow planned a referendum to preserve the Soviet Union. Estonia refused to take part. In an independence referendum in Estonia, 77.8% voted in favour of Estonian independence.

​The restoration of Estonian independence was de facto boosted by the attempted coup d’état (the ‘August putsch’) in Moscow in August 1991. On 20 August 1991 the Estonian Supreme Soviet, in agreement with the Estonian Committee (the executive organ of the Estonian Congress) proclaimed Estonian independence, thus restoring the Republic of Estonia, which had been legally established in 1918 and illegally occupied in 1940 by the Soviet Union. This decision was quickly followed by the restoration of diplomatic relations and recognition of the Republic of Estonia by many countries. Russia and the Soviet Union recognised Estonia as a new country within the Estonian SSR borders, which differed from the borders established by the Tartu Peace Treaty in 1920. This border issue has ever since caused constant disagreement between Estonia and Russia.

​Responding to the failure of the August putsch, all Union republics achieved independence. The Soviet Union essentially ceased to exist, and at the end of the year, this became official. Earlier that year, the Council of Mutual Economic Assistance and the Warsaw Pact Organisation, had been disbanded. Thus ended the fifty-year struggle in Eastern Europe and in the world.

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