Soviets Admit Pact With Nazis to Gain Baltics

Times Staff Writer

Reversing decades of Kremlin denials, a senior Politburo member Friday conceded for the first time that Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union under dictator Josef Stalin signed a secret pact on the eve of World War II that cleared the way for the Soviet annexation of the Baltic states.

But Alexander N. Yakovlev, while arguing that the secret protocol to the 1939 nonaggression accord should be “unequivocally condemned,” denied that it had any legal impact on the Baltic states’ current status as members of the Soviet federation.

The timing of Yakovlev’s admission, only days before demonstrations are planned to mark the 50th anniversary of the signing of the protocol, appeared to be a calculated risk on Moscow’s part.


Emotional Issue

Apparently the Soviet leadership hopes that by admitting the existence of the secret protocol--but arguing that it has no legal bearing--it will reduce to an emotional issue the contention of the Baltic states that they were forced to join the Soviet Union.

But instead, the acknowledgment that the Soviet Union and Germany clandestinely conspired to carve up Eastern Europe into areas of control could backfire and further fuel independence drives in Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia.

Yakovlev is the chairman of a parliamentary panel formed under pressure from the Baltic states and charged with finding the truth about the so-called Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. Soviet sources privately had predicted the commission would admit that the Soviet Union had signed a secret pact.

But Yakovlev’s statement, published in the Communist Party daily Pravda, was the first official acknowledgment. The commission has not yet released its findings.

Baltic activists have challenged the Soviet Union’s right to annex the then-independent region in 1940, arguing that the protocol in the Soviet-German pact, which the Kremlin previously denied existed, violated treaties the Soviet Union signed in the 1920s and 1930s with the then-independent states of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia.

The United States supports the contention that the Baltic states were forced into the union by the occupying Red Army and does not recognize the annexations.


However, Yakovlev argued that even though Moscow was now acknowledging the existence of the protocol, it was a vote by each of the republic’s legislatures in July, 1940, that led to the annexation of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia. At the time, the three republics were occupied by Soviet Army troops.

A Week Before Invasion

The nonaggression pact was signed by German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop and his Soviet counterpart, Vyacheslav M. Molotov, on Aug. 23, 1939, one week before Germany invaded Poland. The secret protocol attached to the pact gave Hitler most of Poland, while Stalin got the Baltic states and eastern Poland.

The republics of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia plan a series of protests Wednesday to mark the anniversary of the pact. Citizens intend to form a human chain 370 miles long stretching from Estonia to Lithuania.

Yakovlev, who himself fought in World War II for the Soviet Union and lost a leg as a result of wounds, stressed in his statement to Pravda that even while he conceded the secret protocol existed, “it is necessary to admit that neither the treaty nor the protocol determined the legal and political status of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.”

He added, “It is even more farfetched to seek some kind of interrelation between the present status of the three republics and the nonaggression treaty.”

Although he dismissed the nationalistic claims of the Baltic states, Yakovlev nevertheless broke new ground when he conceded to Pravda: “There was, without doubt, a collusion” between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany.


‘We’ll Be Acting Responsibly’

“I believe that we’ll be acting responsibly and in a politically principled way by having unequivocally condemned the prewar Soviet leadership’s deviation from Leninist principles of foreign policy,” he added.

Also Friday, ethnic Russian workers in Estonia ended a 10-day-old strike after Moscow intervened and persuaded Estonian authorities to agree to reconsider a controversial voting law by Oct. 1.

The law, passed by the Estonian Parliament on Aug. 8, deprives recent Russian immigrants of the right to vote. It requires a minimum residency of two years in a single district or five years in the republic for persons to exercise the right to vote.

Estonian activists said the law was intended to ensure that ethnic Estonians were elected to positions of power. They fear they will become a minority in their own republic as increasing numbers of Russians move to the Baltics.