Today, 75 years ago, the United States made a crucial decision regarding the recognition of the continuing existence of Estonia and the other Baltic states.
As we know, the 1939 Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact contained a secret protocol by which the states of Northern and Eastern Europe were divided between Germany and Soviet Union.
As a result of this, Estonia was occupied on June 17, 1940, by the Soviet Army and was forcibly incorporated into the Soviet Union on August 6, 1940. The United States never recognized the illegal occupation and annexation of the Baltic states, in accordance with the principles of the Stimson Doctrine and U.S. Undersecretary of State Sumner Welles’s Declaration of July 23, 1940. More than 50 countries followed this position.
The forcible annexation of Estonia to the Soviet Union was an illegal act under both customary and conventional international law. The legal recognition of Baltic incorporation on the part of the U.S. and other Western countries was withheld, based on the fundamental legal principle of ex injuria jus non oritur, since the annexation of the Baltic states by force was found to be illegal. And the continued recognition, and ultimately the restoration of the Baltic States’ de facto independence, has in itself confirmed the relevance of the international law.
As a consequence of the U.S. policy of non-recognition of the Soviet seizure of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, combined with the resistance of our peoples to the Soviet regime and the uninterrupted functioning of our diplomatic missions in exile, the Baltic states continued to exist as subjects of international law, and remained de jure independent states under illegal occupation throughout the period from 1940 to 1991.
The principled U.S. non-recognition policy was of invaluable help to the Estonian people during our fight for restoring our independence. On March 30, 1990, the Estonian Supreme Council adopted the resolution on the state status of Estonia. The resolution announced that the independence of Estonia de jure had never been suspended, because of the illegal occupation since 1940. A resolution of the restoration of the Republic of Estonia was adopted on August 20, 1991, confirming the restoration of Estonia’s independence on the basis of legal continuity.
Today, we face the situation in Europe, that for the first time since the Second World War, one country has illegally occupied and annexed the territory of another state. I’m referring to the Russian occupation and illegal annexation of the internationally recognized Ukrainian territory of Crimea in March of 2014.
This act, not recognized by the international community, reminds us that the need to uphold the principles of international law and to resist power politics and spheres of influence logic is as important today, as it was 75 years ago.
It is necessary, as was stated in the Sumner Welles declaration, to continue to oppose “predatory activities, whether they are carried out by the use of force or by the threat of force”.
It is important to continue to reiterate our collective condemnation of the illegal annexation of Crimea and to forcefully implement the non-recognition policy. The EU’s Crimea-related sanctions are in place. We also remain concerned about the continuing fragile situation in eastern Ukraine.
Ukraine should be able to regain control of its internationally recognized borders. We welcome the message from the G7, that any further escalation by Russia will bring further consequences.
To conclude, we in Estonia will always remember that by virtue of the Sumner Welles’ declaration, the U.S. continued to recognize our independence and the exiled Estonian diplomatic mission, accredited our diplomats and flew the Estonian flag in the State Department’s Hall of Flags. And today, we commemorate this principled U.S. stance of upholding the principles of international law, which as I pointed out, has as great a relevance in our present day, as it had 75 years ago.
The U.S. non-recognition policy has laid the foundation for a cooperative relationship between our countries based on mutual trust. As partners, Estonia and the U.S. work together to uphold and develop international law. And as allies in NATO, we cooperate to enhance the security of the transatlantic area. And as an EU member, Estonia contributes to developing the relationship between the EU and U.S., including the conclusion of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.