HELSINKI — The top U.S. diplomat says the Soviet occupation and annexation of the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in 1940 was "a criminal act" and draws parallel with present-day Russia's military maneuvers in Ukraine and Georgia.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement issued by the State Department on Wednesday that "just as the United States never recognized the Baltic States' forced incorporation into the Soviet Union, so it will never accept Russia's attack on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine and Georgia," which also are former Soviet republics.
The statement and Pompeo's separate video message posted Thursday on the Twitter page of the U.S. Embassy in Tbilisi, Georgia, marked the 80th anniversary of the Welles Declaration, named after its initiator, the U.S Acting Secretary of State Sumner Welles.
In the declaration, signed on July 23, 1940, the United States condemned the occupation and annexation of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania by Soviet leader Josef Stalin. Soviet Red Army troops had invaded the three small European nations just a week before that date.
Pompeo pointed out that the Welles Declaration is "no mere historical artifact."
"All through the Soviet occupation, the flags of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania flew at State Department headquarters in Washington, D.C. America still holds true to the principles of sovereignty articulated in the Welles Declaration," Pompeo said in his video message.
The document holds utmost importance to the governments in Tallinn, Riga and Vilnius — the respective capitals of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania — as the three nations remained occupied for nearly 50 years until independence in 1991 amid the collapse of the Soviet Union.
All three Baltic states are now NATO and European Union members.
In a separate joint statement, Pompeo, Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Reinsalu, Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics and Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevicius condemned Moscow's actions "to rewrite history in order to justify the 1940 occupation and annexation of the Baltic states by the Soviet Union."
The Soviet occupation of the Baltic nations took place in 1940-1941 and 1944-1991. From 1941-44 the three countries were occupied by Nazi Germany.
The street where the U.S. Embassy in Riga, Latvia, is currently located is named after Sumner Welles, who was an influential Foreign Service diplomat and major foreign policy adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.