The process of occupying Estonia in 1940

​According to the mutual assistance pact (agreement on bases) signed in September 1939, the Soviet Union had the right to install its military bases, with 25,000 men, in Estonian territory. Estonia’s own army was considerably smaller, about 15,000 men, which meant that the Soviets established de facto military control over Estonia. However, from the point of view of international law, Estonia was still an independent country and a member of the League of Nations.

In spring 1940, the Soviet Union started preparations for the occupation of the Baltic states and incorporating them into the Soviet Union. In late May and early June, extensive armed forces were massed at the borders of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – the 8th, 3rd and 11th armies of the Leningrad, Kalinin and Belarussian military districts, with a total of seven rifle and two cavalry corps, nine tank brigades and one air assault brigade. Together with the troops already at the bases, the Baltic states were facing an army of 435,000, six times bigger than the Baltic armies. Minor border incidents occurred, and problems with the troops on the bases became more frequent. On 14 June, the Red Army’s Baltic navy and its air force began the blockade of the Estonian coast; the regular Helsinki-Tallinn plane Kaleva was shot down on the same day. The base troops were also placed on battle readiness. On 16 June, the Foreign Minister of the Soviet Union, Vyacheslav Molotov, presented an ultimatum to August Rei, the Estonian ambassador to Moscow. Threatening a military invasion, the document demanded more Red Army troops in Estonia, and also a change of government. The Estonian government acceded to the ultimatum. The Red Army began marching in at 6 a.m. Estonian time, on 17 June. On the same morning in Narva, General Johan Laidoner and the head of the Leningrad military district, Kirill Meretskov, agreed on the conditions of the relocation of the Soviet troops in Estonia (Dictate of Narva). Another process began on the same day – expropriating buildings and property in order to accommodate the Soviet troops. Estonia’s army units were also evicted from their barracks. Beginning on 18 June, on the orders of the representatives of the Soviet Union, the Estonian police began detaining the Polish farm hands who worked in Estonia under employment contracts, in order to find out whether there were any officers or non-commissioned officers among them. After Estonia was occupied, most of them were taken to the Soviet Union. The White Russian emigrants were arrested as well. On the basis of the Dictate of Narva, the commander of the armed forces, Laidoner, banned public demonstrations and the members of the Defence League were forced to give up their weapons.

In addition to the existing troops on the bases, many other Red Army units were brought to Estonia, including six rifle regiments, a tank brigade, naval and air force units, KGB border guard troops etc. The number of the additional soldiers was over 100,000. Thus, on 21 June, when demonstrations were staged and a change of government was instituted in Estonia, the country was already fully controlled by the Red Army.

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