Foreign Policies Of The Baltic States

Eight countries border the Baltic Sea, the body of water that separates the Scandinavian Peninsula from the northern European mainland. Those countries are Finland, Norway, Sweden, Russia, Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. The last three of those countries are known as the Baltic States, and until 20 years ago, their history has been dominated by the foreign policies of powerful neighbors seeking to annex them or dominate them politically and economically.


Lithuania was an independent state throughout much of its history. By the beginning of the 15th century, the Duchy of Lithuania was one of the largest countries in all of Europe, containing much of the territory presently allocated to Belarus and Ukraine, as well as parts of Poland and Russia. Lithuania lost its sovereignty, first to Sweden in the mid-17th century, and then to Russia in the early part of the 18th century. Thereafter, except for a brief period of independence between the two great World Wars, Russia dominated Lithuania until the closing years of the 20th century.

The secret 1939 Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact between Joseph Stalin and Adolph Hitler enabled Russia to occupy Lithuania during World War II, and set the groundwork for Lithuania’s ultimate annexation as a satellite nation in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics during the Cold War era. Lithuania declared its independence from the USSR in 1991 although the last Soviet troops didn’t leave its borders until 1993. In 2004, Lithuania became a member of the United Nations and of the European Union.


Estonia is culturally and ethnographically distinct from Lithuania and Latvia. Estonia’s citizens consider themselves Nordic rather than Baltic, and they speak a language that’s more closely related to Finnish than it is to the language of their Latvian and Lithuanian neighbors.

Despite Estonia’s strong cultural sense of national identity, however, the nation was dominated by foreign neighbors all throughout the Middle Ages and modern era, except for the brief interlude between World War I and World War II. Estonia became part of the USSR following the end of World War II although many European countries refused to recognize that relationship. In 1988, Estonian nationalists issued the Estonian Sovereignty Declaration; two years later, Estonia held its first free elections. In 2004, Estonia joined the European Union.


In the Middle Ages, Latvia and the southernmost portions of Estonia were known as Livonia, a crusader state that was subjugated German rule. In the middle of the 16th century, however, Livonia came under the joint domain of Poland and the Duchy of Lithuania. Like Lithuania and Estonia, its Baltic neighbors, Latvia subsequently came under first Swedish and then Russian control, but achieved independent statehood for a brief time during the period between the two great World Wars.

Latvia was forcibly occupied by Russia at the beginning of World War II. During the War, it was briefly retaken by Nazi Germany, but reoccupied again by the Soviets in 1944. In 1991, Latvia won its independence from the USSR. Latvia, which had been a member of the original League of Nations during its brief window of independence, joined the United Nations the year after the nation achieved independence. Latvia is also a member of the European Union.

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