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Comments by YACCS
Saturday, May 07, 2005

You liberated who?

We liberated the Baltics

Out friend Armando at Kos is wondering what this is all about. I will explain and Jen, whose father is Estonian, will be more than glad to comment on.

What is BushCo Doing in the Baltics?

by Armando
Fri May 6th, 2005 at 21:01:38 PDT

In a clear and deliberate act, the Bush Administration has decided to step into a neighborhood quarrel between Russia and the Baltic republics:

President Bush stepped into the middle of an escalating feud between Russia and the Baltic nations on Friday night as he arrived here in the capital of Latvia at the start of a five-day trip to Europe.

Mr. Bush's trip, to observe the 60th anniversary of the Allies' victory over Nazi Germany in World War II with more than 50 other leaders in Red Square on Monday, has sparked an angry exhumation of wartime politics in the region. The now independent Baltic nations see the anniversary as the resumption of their unlawful annexation by the Soviet Union, and on Friday Latvia stepped up demands that Russia apologize for decades of occupation. ... The Russians have furiously responded that the three Baltic countries were allies and that the Russian military was invited to march in.

President Bush added fuel to the fire on Friday night. In an interview with the Lithuanian state television network that the White House released shortly before Air Force One landed in Riga, Mr. Bush said that he had spoken to Mr. Putin about the Baltics at their last meeting in February. Mr. Bush also complained at the time about what he considered Mr. Putin's retreat from democracy. "I said, 'do you understand, friend, that you've got problems in the Baltics'?" Mr. Bush recounted, adding that he told Mr. Putin that "the remembrances of the time of Communism are unpleasant remembrances and you need to work with these young democracies." Mr. Bush added, "I don't know if I made any progress with him or not, but I have made my position clear."

... The White House first publicly inserted itself into the quarrel when Mr. Bush sent a letter ahead of his trip to the Baltic leaders that noted that he was coming to celebrate the defeat of Hitler, but that the end of World War II "also marked the Soviet occupation and annexation of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and the imposition of Communism." The letter provoked the angry response from the Russians on Thursday, which in turn prompted the retort from the Latvian president on Friday.

... In a May 4 interview with the CBS program "60 Minutes," to be broadcast on Sunday, Mr. Putin also reiterated complaints that America should not be lecturing him about rollbacks on democracy when "four years ago your presidential election was decided by the court."

Now, let's be clear -- the Russian position is ludicrous. Simply nonsense. But the more interesting question to me is what is BushCo up to here? What are they trying to accomplish? Why get in the middle of this? Is this supposed to be part of the "democracy offensive"? Something else? Anybody have a clue? I sure don't.

The Balts side of the story goes something like this:

But the decision by the presidents of Estonia and Lithuania not to attend Russian celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II on May 9 shows that Europe's bloody past has yet to be consigned to the history books in some parts of the continent.

"The sufferings of the people of Estonia caused by World War II and those of the following years have not yet died away from the memory of the people," said Estonian President Arnold Ruutel Monday, explaining why he would not be joining other world leaders in Moscow. "We cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that, after the end of German occupation, the chance to restore their own state was forcibly taken away from the people of Estonia."

Valdas Adamkus, the President of Lithuania, said he would be celebrating the 60th anniversary of the defeat of Nazism, but not in the Russian capital. Recounting how over 350,000 people -- one tenth of the country's population -- were imprisoned, deported to Russian gulags or massacred inside Lithuania, he said: "The perpetration of such crimes continued in our country when the cruelest war in the history of mankind was officially over. The name of Lithuania disappeared from the map of Europe for five decades. And we probably would not find a single family in Lithuania who had escaped losses and terror."

Earlier this year, Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga said she would attend the commemoration in Moscow's Red Square, along with U.S. President George W. Bush and over 60 other heads of state. But the Latvian leader, who was brought up in a refugee camp in Germany, launched a blistering broadside against Russia. "Under Soviet rule, the three Baltic countries experienced mass deportations and killings, the loss of their freedom, and the influx of millions of Russian-speaking settlers," she said, recalling how the victory over fascism led to "brutal occupation by another foreign, totalitarian empire, that of the Soviet Union."

In 1940, Stalin invaded the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. These people are closely related to the Finns and Swedes and have little, culturally or ethnically to do with the Russians.

The people in these states, for the most part, were happy when Army Group North showed up. So the modern Balts like to leave this part out:

In Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, the Russians (Soviets) had few friends considering their treatment of the Baltics from 1939 to 1941. Bottom-line, just as the Germans mis-treated their occupied nations/peoples, so did the Soviets mis-treat the Balts (and the Poles and the Ukrainians and many other peoples as well). Things were analogous in the Ukraine. The decimation and starvation of millions of Ukrainian nationals in the 1920’s and 1930’s by Russians certainly did little to aid in the Ukrain supporting Moscow.

Heeresgruppe Nord (HGrN) probably had the easiest of times with regards to its rear-area security situation. Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian anti-German and anti-Soviet partisan elements wanted to see their nations’ freedoms restored while at the same time they did not wish to see a return of the Soviets to their lands. Thus, for the overwhelming majority of of WWII, they really did not interfere with German military supply efforts. To do so would risk hastening a return of Soviet forces. Some actions were taken against German civilian administration interests though.

Similarly, Heeresgruppe Süd (HGrS) also did not encounter major partisan problems in the Ukraine. This situation can be attributed to the well-known political conditions in existence in the Ukraine at the time. This is not to say that partisan units did not operate in the Ukraine - they certainly did. It is just that when viewed from the German perspective, the rear-area security problem in the Ukraine was a far more manageable one for most of the German occupation period.
When Germany crossed the Eastern frontier during the Invasion of the Soviet Union on June 21st, 1941, the people of the Baltic regions were quick to take up arms against the fleeing Communist forces. The Soviets had exacted a bloody toll from the Baltics, and the Lithuanians suffered as much as their northern neigbors, Lativa and Estonia. In the face of such brutual treatment, and with the German invasion providing an impetus for revolt, the Baltics erupted as thousands of freedom-fighters rose up to fight off and liberate entire portions of their nations. It is estimated that at least 125,000 Lithuanians rose up to fight the retreating Soviets during the time between the initial German crossing of the eastern frontier and the final evacuation of all Russian troops. At least 4,000 are said to have been killed during this period, and another 10,000 wounded in action. Numerous Lithuanian cities were also liberated even before the Germans arrived, a sign of the fierceness with which the Lithuanians were willing to fight for their homeland.

Unlike her Estonian and Latvian neighbors though, Lithuania never provided Germany with a National Legion during WWII, although from the very start of the German occupation quite a few volunteers came forward. It is estimated that as many as 50,000 eventually served in German sponsered units during 1941-45. In fact, many volunteers were initially deserters from the Soviet 29th light Infantry Corps - a unit which the Soviets formed enmasse from the entire Lithuanian ground forces after their occupation of the country in 1939. The other major source of volunteers and conscripts during the initial stage of German occupation were the numerous ad-hoc units formed as the Soviets were fleeing. For the most part, as in the other Baltic nations, these Lithuanian ad-hoc units were disbanded once the German occupation was complete. In some case though select units provided the basis for new self defense formations formed by the Germans for security operations. It is from these origins that the organizational history of Lithuanian units under Axis occupation begins.

As mentioned above, Lithuanians were for the most part formed into auxiliary support units for security operations.

So the Russians feel they are polite in not mentioning the large scale collaboration with the Nazis, and the Balts do not feel the Russians liberated them. They also forget how eager they were to help the Germans kill Jews as well, with the Riga Ghetto being one of the largest in Europe. To be fair, many Balts also fought in the Red Army as well. But those who fought with the Nazis are now feeling emboldened, under the rubric of nationalism, to commemorate their struggle. The Russians, who like to pretend that hundreds of thousands of their soldiers didn't defect to the Nazis, need no reminder, of that or how those soldiers were executed on the spot when captured.

So why would Bush jump in?

Because Eastern Europeans have been lavish contributors to the GOP since WWII. While Poles may have trended Democratic because of workplace issues, Ukranians and Balts have long supported the GOP because of their anti-communist stands. Then of course, there was the blind eye which allowed former members of these Pro-Nazi groups to enter the US as refugees after the war. Membership in the SS just got forgotten as the CIA's needs for people who understood Eastern Europe expanded.

So there are people in the White House, and State, who have a vested interest in working over the Russians on this issue. Except for one thing: The Russians take this seriously.

Putin isn't kidding when he says they liberated the Baltic States. The battles for them and East Prussia were especially bloody and didn't end until Germany surrended in 1945. When Putin was a little Chekist he was taught this by the survivors of the NKVD battalions which shot soldiers who didn't fight.

So everyone is engaging in historical amnesia here, and Bush is blundering into this mess because of, basically, money. If Bush understood the issue, he would avoid it like the plague, but since some neocons want to stick a shiv in the Russians, they do this, pissing both sides off. The Balts aren't likely to get an apology from the Russians, who feel they have nothing to apologize for, and the Russians don't drag up how they collaborated with the Nazis.

posted by Steve @ 9:24:00 AM

9:24:00 AM

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