Papers Relating to the Foreign Relations of the United States, 1921, Volume II
The Russian Ambassador ( Bakhmeteff ) to the Assistant Secretary of State ( Dearing )
My Dear Mr. Dearing: Referring to our recent conversation I take pleasure in forwarding herewith an Aide Memoire on the problem of the Baltic States. The point of view expressed therein is typical of Russian constructive opinion. The basic conceptions [Page 756] found expression as early as March, 1919, in a communication addressed to the President of the Peace Conference by the Russian Delegation in Paris which unofficially represented national opinion during the negotiations of peace.
I am [etc.]
Aide Mémoire by the Russian Embassy
1. The fundamental feature of the problem of the so-called Baltic States is the temporary character of their present orientation. Their actual tendency to sever relations with Russia and gain complete independence is not based on permanent economic factors or deep-rooted historical traditions. These aspirations are but a consequence of the Bolsheviki success in Russia. Thus the case of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, as well as of the Caucasian republics, is essentially different from that of Poland and Finland. In the past the Baltic nationalities never exhibited any desire to separate from Russia. Their aspirations were directed toward national autonomy within a federated Russia. The justice and expedience of such a course was fully shared by Russian liberal and democratic opinion.
Shortly after the downfall of the Czar a temporary autonomous regime was established in the Caucasus and in those parts of the Baltic provinces which were not occupied by German armies. During the period of the Provisional Government the leaders of the Baltic nationalities asserted on repeated occasions their allegiance to a democratic Russia. The Constituent Assembly was to embody the idea of a Federal Russia in enactments of organic law. Accordingly soon after the elections, in which the peoples of the Baltic provinces participated on equal terms with the population of other parts of Russia, a special commission was formed of the elected members of the Constituent Assembly to formulate the clauses of the Constitution of Russia pertaining to federation. Among the members of this commission were representatives of the Baltic nations, who later became prominent leaders of the self-dependent States. The following formula was presented by the commission to the first and only meeting of the Assembly on January 18, 1918:
“The Russian State is hereby proclaimed to be a democratic federal republic which unites in insoluble union peoples and territories, sovereign within the limits established by the Federal Constitution.”
2. The prospect of a peaceful consummation was swept away by the advent of the Bolsheviki. The Constituent [Assembly] was dispersed and militant communism triumphed practically over the [Page 757] whole of Russia. Rather early in the Bolsheviki period the peoples of the Baltic succeeded in freeing themselves from the communist yoke. Under the conditions of the moment the institution of self-dependent states was the only alternative. There was no Russia to deal and cooperate with. Thus, establishment of local government and resumption of economic activities was to be followed unavoidably by assertion of independence. Events in the Baltic regions differ but little from developments in the Caucasus, in the Cossack regions, Crimea, Ukraine and Siberia. Early in 1919 Bolsheviki Russia was surrounded by politically independent bodies. In the course of time these governments were swept away by the communists. Siberia and South Russia succumbed first. The Caucasian republics, in the interim recognized by the Powers, followed.
The Baltic States survived. But obviously it was not their military power which saved them from Bolsheviki onslaught. Neither, in the light of events in the Caucasus, was it respect for principle which prevented Moscow from overrunning these weak bodies. The survival of the Baltic republics reposes on expedience which actuated the Bolsheviki to use these buffer states as a means of communicating with the outside world. Moreover, Lenin’s policy to establish relations with Great Britain naturally held him out of regions where British activities were supreme and where interference might jeopardise higher accomplishments.
3. The future will undoubtedly bring a reunion of the Baltic States with restored Russia. This reunion will probably materialize in the form of a broad federation, something like the United States of Russia, with the constituent parts possessing the largest measure of autonomy. Powerful economic factors will actuate such reunion. The Baltic seaboard is the natural outlet for the vast Russian hinterland; for the export of Russia’s timber, grain, flax and dairy products. Psychologically there is nothing to interfere with such a reunion. There existed no animosity between the Baltic nationalities and the Russian people as such. The grievances of the Letts, Estonians and Lithuanians were directed against the autocratic regime and the landlord privileges which were just as obnoxious to the great majority of Russians themselves.
The independence of the small states could be maintained only artificially through the political and economic support of an outside power, actuated by a purpose of jeopardising the economic freedom of Russia and interferring with the liberty of her commercial intercourse. This would be a factor working against peace and the open-door and would pave the way to disturbance and contest.
4. Russian constructive opinion fully realizes the circumstances which caused the temporary severance of the Baltic States from [Page 758] Russia. There is no hard feeling borne by the Russians toward these States. On the contrary, consolidation of self-government and development of economic activities is considered as a victory of democracy and law over tyranny and anarchy. Russian opinion, therefore, regards with satisfaction any assistance given to these States and would only welcome the establishment of such relations between these temporarily self-dependent States and the Powers as are customary between civilized nations.
The only point to which Russian opinion strongly objects is the recognition of the States in a form which would legalize their separation from Russia and grant them an international status of complete sovereignty and independence. Such a course, qualified as “dismemberment of Russia”, has called for most emphatic protests from Russian bodies of all shades of political thought. The integrity of Russia is especially cherished by the new democratic nationalism which has sprung from the calamities and sufferings of the recent years. This nationalism, which with all certainty will continue to prevail in the forthcoming reconstruction, has expressed its deep and sincere appreciation of the noble and friendly attitude of the United States.
5. The Russians consider their country to be in a state of temporary illness. The triumph of the Bolsheviki is primarily the result of the incommensurable effort and sacrifice of the Russian people in the world war. The withdrawal of Russia was not an act of treason but a tragedy resulting from physical and moral fatigue. The Russians wish to feel that Russia’s contribution is remembered and their country treated accordingly.
It would be a flagrant violation of the principle of political morality if advantage would be taken of the temporary disability of Russia for settlements which would prejudice Russia’s position as a political and economic entity. It would evidence the fact that force and not law and justice continues to govern in international relations. The Russians maintain that Russia’s rights should be kept in trust by the community of nations and that final settlements should be deferred until a time when decisions can be made with Russia’s participation and consent.
Such a procedure can be opposed on the ground that the time of Russia’s recovery is uncertain. Obviously it would be unfortunate if trusteeship of Russia’s interest would materially interfere with actual settlements or would jeopardise the needs of living people. Fortunately in the case of the border provinces this problem can be practically solved without violating the principle.[Page 759]
Practical relations could be established between the Powers and the small nationalities to the extent of granting them all the privileges, which customarily follow recognition, with the express understanding, however, that such a measure is introduced as a provisional accomodation. A regime of this kind could be maintained for a period indefinite; it would answer practical requirements without questioning the time of Russia’s recovery. The interests of Russia would be safeguarded provided it was made clear that the regime was provisional, that it did not imply recognition of sovereignty or the sanction of severance from Russia and that the final decision is to take place when circumstances will permit the participation of Russia.
6. As a matter of fact, should the status of the small States be established at this time on the basis of unreserved recognition, such solution would possess only a semblance of permanency and would last only while Russia remained inarticulate. Even now the Baltic States might be swept away if circumstances would warrant the expedience of an aggression by the Moscow Soviet. In the future a recovered Russia will not accept a situation established on an ex parte decision. So, in order to arrive at a peaceful solution, the Powers will have to retract their decision granting sovereignty or a situation will be created, whereby Russia will be returned to the problems of the past centuries with all the consequences of eventual political and military disturbances.
Unreserved recognition, moreover, is pregnant with complications of formal character. In this case reunion with Russia would mean a fusion of sovereign states. It would not remain a question between the Baltic States and Russia. It would become a case of international concern requiring international sanction. The case of reunion of Russia would be similar in this event to a presumable fusion of the Balkan States or to an union of Belgium and Holland. A Power, desirous of perpetuating the dismemberment of Russia, would have simply to oppose the change of the status quo.
7. In order to maintain avenues for a peaceful and natural consummation, Russia must be certain of an unhampered course towards fair and just solutions. Forms of “conditional” recognition have no precedents in diplomatic practices. But precedents were established in the past by settlements of problems of permanent character. The situation in Russia is unprecedented in its very essence. It is a process, unparalleled in magnitude, consequence and duration. It calls for methods and instruments singular and unusual.