RIGA - U.S. Congressmen put forth a strongly worded resolution on April 12, calling on Russia to admit that the Soviet Union had illegally occupied the Baltic states in 1940 until the fall of communism in 1991.
The resolution, which has yet to be voted on by the House of Representatives, was greeted with cheers by Baltic supporters and blasted by Russian politicians. The memorandum was timed purposefully 's nearly a month before the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe and U.S. President George W. Bush's visit to Moscow.
John Shimkus, a republican of Lithuanian dissent from Illinois, and Denis Kucinich, a democrat from Ohio, along with seven other members of Congress, sponsored the resolution.
"Expressing the sense of Congress that the Government of the Russian Federation should issue a clear and unambiguous statement of admission and condemnation of the illegal occupation and annexation by the Soviet Union from 1940 to 1991 of the Baltic countries of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania," the resolution begins.
President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, who is currently embroiled in a propaganda battle with the Kremlin over the aftermath of World War II, said on public television that regardless of whether the resolution is adopted, the fact that it was put forward is an "important signal."
"I find the process itself to be even more interesting than the result. It means that Congress is going to debate the issue, and the American nation will be reminded about what happened then, and what it meant. To me, such discussion seems very valuable, regardless of the resolution passed at the end of it," Vike-Freiberga said.
The resolution comes at a thorny time in relations between both the United States and Russia and the Baltics and Russia. President George W. Bush will attend the Victory Day ceremonies on May 9 in Moscow, and few doubt that he will mention the terrible costs of the Soviet Union's victory and the half-century legacy of totalitarianism it created in Eastern Europe and the Baltics.
Like the resolution, any such statement is bound to raise the ire of the Kremlin.
Russia should not "make any excuses to provincial historians from Riga. However, it is strange that the U.S. Congressmen have drafted such a resolution. The United States was our ally, and no Americans fought in SS units," Mikhail Margelov, chairman of the Russian Federation Council international affairs committee, was quoted by the Russian news agency Ria Novosti as saying.
"I assume that politics becomes a hostage of history in the Baltic States, and history becomes a hostage of politics with American congressmen," he said.
But the resolution speaks for itself. "Whereas the illegal occupation and annexation of the Baltic counties is one of the largest remaining unacknowledged incidents of oppression in Russian history," it reads, going on to state that acknowledgement of the occupation would improve relations between the Baltic states and Russia.
Other representatives that signed the resolution are Christopher Cox (R-CA), Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), David Dreier (R-CA), Jack Kingston (R-GA), Thaddeus McCotter (R-MI), James McGovern (D-MA) and Michael Rogers (R-MI).
To be sure, demands for Russia's recognition of history are not confined to the Baltics. Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski voiced harsh words this week for Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"We expect the Russians to speak about the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and say that World War II did not bring freedom to all," he said on Polish television.
The Baltic states and Poland want Russia to recognize the consequences of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, the agreement between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany in 1939 whose secret protocols handed the Baltic states to the U.S.S.R. and part of Poland to Germany.
"It is very important what Mr. Putin says," Kwasniewski added. "We are not asking him to reassess history. We expect the truth."
The United States never recognized the incorporation of the Baltic states into the Soviet Union. U.S. influence over Eastern Europe's new member states has caused friction among some older members, such as France and Germany, during the run-up to the war in Iraq.
"What if America adopts the resolution? It would show that the U.S. is closer to the views of the Balts and Poles then West Europeans," Atis Lejins, head of the Latvian Institute of International Affairs, said. He pointed out that some MEPs from the Baltic states were having trouble getting their counterparts in the European Parliament to take the issue seriously.