By 1920 nationalist forces had won independent statehood for Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. But they owed their victory to a propitious sequence of world-shaking events: first, the German defeat of Russia followed by the Entente defeat of Germany; second, the subsequent assistance the Entente rendered nationalist Estonians, Latvians, and Lithuanians in beating back the Red tide. Peter the Great's “window on Europe” was thereby reduced to a Soviet aperture on Europe. Only the narrow Gulf of Finland, flanked by a “White” Finland and a “White” Estonia, afforded the USSR direct access to the Baltic Sea.
The resurgence of Germany under Hitler and Soviet Russia under Stalin overturned the configuration of world power that had attended the birth of the Baltic Republics. In treating the fate that befell the Baltic States confronted by the resurgence of German and Soviet power in 1939, this article has three aims: first, to give due attention to German policy towards the Baltic States; second, to assess the efficacy and wisdom of the policies pursued by the Baltic States to avoid being ground between the Hitler and the Stalin millstones; and third, to incorporate pertinent new information published in the USSR since 1989. Even under the “Gorbachev Revolution,” publication of newly declassified diplomatic papers in the USSR has been conducted, so far, by dozirovka; i.e., the measuring out of information in small doses. This previously unpublished material, though exiguous, can at least begin to fill certain glaring “blank spots” in the history of the Baltic Question in 1939.