The Baltic States in World War 1 I THE GREAT WAR SPECIAL

The Baltic States in World War 1 I THE GREAT WAR SPECIAL


Before the First World War, what are today
Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia were part of the Russian Empire. As that empire fought and fell, so too fought
the soldiers of the Baltic States, first during the war, and then in their struggles for eventual
independence. I’m Indy Neidell; welcome to a Great War
Special Episode about the Baltic States during World War One. The region was important for international
trade and Riga, in Latvia, with a population of over 500,000, had become an important industrial
center. Now, going back to the mid 19th century, Russia
had been pursuing a policy of “Russification” in the Baltics that encouraged Russian speakers
to settle there and made Russian the primary language of education. Estonia and Latvia did have a certain degree
of autonomy from the empire at this time, but participation in this limited self-government
was restricted to the Russian elite and a minority of Baltic Germans, who made up around
5% of the population. They had ruled the area as traders, artisans,
and landowners since the 12th century and traditionally treated the indigenous people
as serfs. They also tried to convince more German speakers
to settle the region. Lithuania, on the other hand, had strong historic
ties with Poland, and the Poles had been the dominant of the two, so many Lithuanians were
hesitant of dealing with Poland, while many Poles couldn’t imagine a new Polish nation
without including Lithuania. During the 1905 Revolution, Baltic socialist
and social democratic organizations struck in all major cities, and several hundred manor
houses belonging to Baltic Germans were burned down. When the Tsar promised to introduce a Duma,
Lithuanian, Latvian, and Estonian nationalists joined the congresses, which clearly expressed
a desire for cultural self-determination, but in December that year, St. Petersburg
took action against supposed revolutionary excesses in the Baltic. Martial law was proclaimed and the Russian
army captured or even outright murdered those who had participated in the revolution. Those army units worked together with hastily
assembled Baltic German militias, who sometimes used their position to settle old scores. Many revolutionaries went into hiding, including
Karlis Ulmanis and Konstantin Päts, who would become prominent leaders of Latvia and Estonia
after the war. When the Great War broke out, the Latvian,
Estonian, and Lithuanian press, and the Baltic delegates to the Duma declared their solidarity
with the Empire. This might seem unlikely, but there was a
lot of anti-German sentiment there, there was the initial war euphoria we saw everywhere
in Europe, and some thought that by showing themselves as patriots, they would earn some
self-government. But the resentment of the Russian government
remained quite strong, and the Baltic Germans also announced solidarity with the Empire. Just to throw some numbers out, 60,000 Latvians,
120,000 Lithuanians, and 100,000 Estonians were drafted during the war. Although Russia had some initial successes
in the north, the disasters at Tannenberg and Masurian Lakes set the stage for the German
occupation, by summer 1915, of all of Lithuania and half of Latvia. The occupied territories became a military
state under the leaderships of Oberbefehlshaber Ost – Ober Ost. This state was concerned with supporting the
German war effort, and force-requisitioned livestock and grain, used forced labor, and
kept tight control of the local people. In 1916, Germany announced that it would annex
a big chunk of Lithuania and Latvia as part of any peace agreement. There were plans for a Kulturpolitik that
would Germanize the region through resettlement of Germans to the Baltics. Germany never fully committed to this vision
so it remained a fantasy; wartime realities prevented the funding of any such programs. As for the unoccupied Baltic territories,
things weren’t a whole lot better for them. For fear of losing it to invasion, all industrial
equipment had been transported eastward in 1915, so that part of life slowed to a crawl. Also, 700,000 refugees fled the German occupied
territories and border regions, and many of them fled to the unoccupied regions, crowding
them. One thing, though, many Latvian refugees went
to Petrograd where there soon were over 260 support organizations for them, with a newspaper
and a refugee school system. This flight gave the Latvians a sense of unity
and gave them established organizations outside the Russian administration. Another factor that contributed to the sense
of unity was the Latvian Rifles. The Russian government was skeptical of “national”
units, but nevertheless, in August 1915, after the Latvian militia had proved itself in combat,
the government gave in to Latvians who argued that men defending their homes would fight
better than those who may not know what they were fighting for. Soon, 8,000 volunteers were trained for service
in two Latvian Rifle battalions, to be part of the Russian 12th Army. These displayed excellent morale and their
communications weren’t hurt by the common language and the near 100% literacy rate,
rare for the Russian army then. The Latvian press did present them as heroes
defending “our homeland”, and intimating an independence from the Russian army that
didn’t actually exist. They followed orders from Russian officers. The Latvian Rifles soon expanded. By 1916, there were 40,000 of them in eight
battalions. They fought in the Christmas battles on the
Riga Front, taking German positions in temperatures of -40 and then losing them in January. They took nearly 9,000 casualties and became
increasingly hostile to Tsarist officers whom they thought incompetent, and more and more,
the Latvian Rifles would become a nucleus for socialist opposition to the Tsarist regime. Estonia didn’t establish a “national”
unit because activists were not united on the issue, and anyhow, Estonia was already
defended. In Lithuania, where activists had become radicalized
and united under German occupation, they established the Taryba, a national council, and publicly
declared their desire for self-government in spring 1916. The Germans actually tolerated this, and that
council would be vital in later establishing an independent Lithuania. Such institutions could only be established
in Estonia and Latvia after the February Revolution and the abdication of the Tsar in 1917. An Estonian national assembly, Maapäev, was
elected in June with the Mayor of Tallinn at its head despite Bolshevik efforts to postpone
the election, and it managed to retain influence, primarily in the country. A Latvian provincial council was elected in
March but immediately challenged by a rival socialist council. The socialists would soon become the dominant
power there, and would establish the Executive Committee of Soviet of the Workers, Soldiers,
and the Landless in Latvia in August, but the struggle in both nations between the conservative
and socialist factions prevented progress on the question of whether they should be
independent nations, autonomous regions within Russia, or part of a Soviet state. They were unable to provide stable political
structures. And then things got heavy. In the face of war, uncertainty, and all the
shortages of everything, there was a general shift to the left. The Bolsheviks, who had not been affiliated
with any of the governments responsible for the state of affairs, became increasingly
popular, especially among sailors of the Baltic Fleet and in the army. When the Bolsheviks staged their coup in Petrograd
that fall, they got a lot of support from the Latvian Bolsheviks and the Latvian Rifles,
and a Bolshevik government was established as the sole authority in Latvia. I should point out that though non-Bolshevik
newspapers were shut down and non-Bolshevik parties banned, violence there was rare. This government would have to flee from the
invading Germans, though, who had taken Riga and would take all of Latvia early in 1918. Those Latvian Bolsheviks who fled to Russia
played a big part in constructing the Russian Soviet Government, the Red Army, and the Cheka
– the secret police. Historian Andrew Ezergailis went so far as
to say, “If any sector of the Russian Empire’s population can be designated as a vanguard
of Bolshevism, I think the Latvians would qualify. I am persuaded that the Latvians, and here
I mean mainly the Latvian Riflemen, were the main support for Lenin, especially in the
first year of Soviet power.” A Soviet government took power in Estonia
as well. Here, though, the Bolsheviks managed to alienate
a big chunk of the population fairly quickly. In contrast to Latvia, they had no base in
the countryside, and the Maapäev had, as 1917 rolled on, begun to see itself not as
a provincial assembly, but as a sovereign entity representing all Estonians. The Bolsheviks refused even to discuss the
question of independence, which further hurt their position. The Maapäev too, though, had to withdraw
from the advancing Germans. The peace Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, signed
on March 3, 1918 between Soviet Russia and the German Empire, laid out the German plans
for the conquered territories. They were to be Baltic States, but closely
affiliated with Germany and governed by an aristocratic elite of Baltic Germans. In Latvia and Estonia, a new Landesrat, composed
of 35 Germans, 13 Estonians, and 10 Latvians, met in April and petitioned the Kaiser to
put the Baltic States under his protection. The immediate concern, though, was supporting
the German war effort and so conditions similar to those of Ober Ost were established. German forces in Latvia and Estonia were tasked
with suppressing nationalism and socialism. This was all pretty unrealistic, though, and
it’s unlikely that the German vision for the region would have been realized even had
they won the war. This was now an age of nationalism and political
movements, and the Baltic German population was small, unorganized, and played no part
in the events of 1917. Keeping the enormous socialist and nationalist
movements in check would have been really costly, if even possible. In Lithuania, German civil administration
had recognized a declaration of independence by the Taryba on condition that it would seek
a firm and permanent alliance with Germany. A proclamation in February 1918 stated that
Lithuania was to become a constitutional monarchy – a continuation of the medieval Grand Duchy
of Lithuania. The German Wilhelm von Urach was elected as
King Mindaugas II. His election, though, deepened the divide
between the Catholic right and socialist left, even though Urach – who accepted the invitation
– never set foot on Lithuanian soil. The German occupying army also prevented the
Taryba from establishing a police force and other state institutions, because the military,
unlike the civil admin, did not favor a semi-independent Lithuania and favored complete annexation. It was only when it became clear that Germany
could not win the war that a new approach was possible. In October, German Chancellor Max von Baden
promised to allow Lithuanians to take over the administration. The invitation for Urach to be king was suspended
November 2nd, and a constitution that was not monarchic was adopted that day. All future propositions of Lithuania as an
independent state would be democratic. And here we stand in November 1918. Although there is optimism, confusion and
uncertainty are still the orders of the day. All three of the Baltic States still faced
enormous obstacles on the road to independence, and you can bet your boots I’ll cover that
in another special, because I personally think it’s some of the most fascinating history
of the whole era, and if you though the wartime situation in Greece was confusing and complicated,
wait till you hear this. But wait you will have to do, for today was
just a brief look at the Baltic states during the war itself, invaded or oppressed, but
still possessing the indomitable courage that would one day lead to independence. Thank you Maximilian Rose, for the research
on this episode. If you want to learn more about the CzechLegions
in World War One,you can click right here for our episode about them. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Instagram
for all sorts of cool stuff that Flo puts up there all the time. Don’t forget to subscribe. See you next time

100 Comments on "The Baltic States in World War 1 I THE GREAT WAR SPECIAL"


  1. What are the two videos on this playlist that were deleted?
    Also: would you consider doing a video on Finland during the War? I just read something recently about the Kaiser wanting to set up a monarchy there during the Finnish Civil War (which began during the Great War, once Lenin took charge of Russia and Finland was able to leave).

    Reply

  2. The final year of the WW1 is a realy intersting period, not just in the Baltics. This was a breaking momen when Europe reformed itself,

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  3. Indy, you and the crew are doing a fantastic job. I have a question for OOTT. I was visiting Wolfstein a few years ago and came across a WW1 memorial. Knowing that WW2 Nazi remembrances are prohibited in Germany, how are WW1 memorials, graves and other relics of that time treated. I have a picture of the memorial but I can't determine how to attach here in this post.

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  4. Tomas Mateo Claudio
    Soldier

    Private Tomas Mateo Claudio was a Filipino soldier who enlisted in the U.S. Army. He was considered as the first Filipino to die overseas in the midst of an international conflict. Wikipedia
    Born: 7 May 1892, Morong, Rizal
    Died: 29 June 1918, Château-Thierry, France
    Place of burial: Manila North Cemetery, Manila
    Battles and wars: World War I
    Rank: Private
    Service/branch: United States Army

    Reply

  5. At 1:58 there are a lot of writings in Hebrew and Yiddish along Cyrillic ones. May I know what's the story of that particular picture?

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  6. Can you make a special episode of Finland to celebrate the 100th birthday of our nation, please?

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  7. I hope you make a video about the Soviet westward offensive since it was in some ways both caused by WWI and was a continuation of WWI and also set the stage for WWII. The topic is rarely talked about but I find it to be an important part of modern European history. Had the new Eastern European republics not stopped the spread of the bolsheviks they might've snowballed out of control and even consumed Germany and France. As an Estonian I take great pride in our nations struggle for freedom together with our Latvian brothers and find it to be extremely interesting, the baltics had so many combatants it was like a micro world war. So I hope you delve deeper into the baltic states or maybe you will make a WWII series with the Soviet offensives as a precursor. Anyways, great video.

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  8. Finally! Thank you for the episode from Latvia. 12min for 3 states is impossible time. If you could compare state differences when the front line is in you home (Latvia) with being in Russian empire (Estonia) or German (Lithuania) almost all the time of the war. What changed in perception during those days. Also interesting question is- did GBR created Baltic states as buffer zone?

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  9. i dont kno bout others but Latvian Rifle divison alone banished german invasion and also russian invasion….. im talking about ww1 🙂

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  10. Here's a fun fact. One french general of WWI was asked how much is one Latvian rifleman worth. He answered "as much as he weighs in gold".

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  11. Thanks for great episode. It's really interesting to see how things were back then and how the world viewed us, the Baltic region.

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  12. He didnt mention how estonians went to help latvians who were demolished by baltix germans and soviets and then together estonians and latvians saved riga and whole latvia 🙂 long live latvia leithveinia (sorry i dont now how to write) and estonia

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  13. Very interesting topic,knew little about the Baltic states or Finland in the great war,know a bit more now.

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  14. I'm from Estonia, how Baltic states land have been raped and people murdered is just criminal, look how many Russians are in all of Baltic states!

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  15. Hey buddy! Have you ever considered making a video on Ukraine in WW1 as well as its short independence during that time? It would be really interesting.

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  16. It turns out I am genetically a male Balt! We thought my dad was Polish! So, I'm German/Saxon, Polish and Balt. Quite a stew it seems.

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  17. So… the soviet revolution was German money and Latvian soldiers helping a Jewish Mongol criminal to destroy Russia?

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  18. Funny how socialists everywhere, in any historical period, are working against the interests of their nation.

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  19. From 1918-1920 took place Estonian Independence War and Estonians were in desperate need of tanks so they asked Latvians for help

    – Latvians, help us we are in desperate need of tanks
    – No problem Estonians. How many should we send? One or both?

    Estonian joke bout Latvian military:)

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  20. My college roommate was Latvian. I had a chance to talk to his parents and let me tell you they had nothing good to say about the Russians who by his parents time were communists. His parents moved with the Germans as my roommate's dad was a mechanical engineer so he was a prized worker that was sought out. After World War Two his parents elected to move south to the American sector of occupied Germany and as displaced people they were allowed to immigrate to the United States or the then USSR. It didn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that their homeland Latvia was occupied by the Russians that they come to the US where oddly enough he did become a rocket scientist. The real irony is that my roommate's dad worked as a subcontractor for NASA from the 1960s until he retired. The last project he worked on was the landing gear on the Space Shuttle Transport, and he was able o take he kids to see the launch and landings of the SST. How's that for a side note in history. I helped my room mate one weekend and went to his parent's house, and his dad had all these awards and recognitions, framed images of photos that he worked or designed so this isn't some bull story.

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  21. Hmm, 40,000 in 8 battalions that's a lot, about 5,000 men each. Isn't usually a battalion consists of 300-1,000 men in particular? I notice it's in wartime.

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  22. well few units of tsar army that majority of enlisted men was Lithuanians was in Lithuania from Napoleonic era, also in Vilnius (regional capital of Lithuania province at the time) there was tsar army officers school, because of such background during Russian revolution there was Lithuanian units that supported anti-bolshevik movement during 1918.

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  23. Just want to add a note. Antanas Smetona (the President of Lithuania) removed the democracy in our country, by making The Democratic Republic of Lithuania into Republic of Lithuania.

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  24. Indy, what are the big curvy knife and a scabbard on your table? where did you get them from?

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  25. The so-called "Latvian Rifles" were always a conundrum; thanks, for your clarification. Without them and the Kronstadt "sailors," Lenin might have been exposed to a deserved assassination (effective) in 1918 or 1919. Yes, fewer rounds than in a ordinary bandileer (sp?) of 7.62 cartridges, could have sundered MOST of the Bolshevic menace……

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  26. Latvians fought for soviets bcouse they promised free latvia and germans lied to uss too im a latvian and i know that the baltic states hates beeing pushed into war and beeing used

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  27. The right to self-determination is a thing all too often ignored – even by the likes of the UN. Taiwan being a great example. Everyone would much rather prefer to do business with China rather than recognize Taiwan as an independent nation which it has been since 1950. Humans rights will seemingly always take a second place to money, and I think their primary purpose is to really just keep the masses docile and productive. It worries me because I believe the 'post-national' ideas of today to be just a way of turning the common people against their own interests.

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  28. For those who have studied the character of the Russian government, knows that Russian government is governed by mobs and gangs, where power is concentrated in a few hands. And wherever such a concentration of power exists, there you shall find great crimes and great criminals – that is to say, psychopaths.
    This is the character of the Russian government.
    In 1991, when the Soviet Union collapsed, a power remained concentrated in a few hands. The government was not really accountable to anyone.
    Despite this underlying reality, everything was arranged so that it all appeared to be moving in the direction of democratic capitalism and proper checks and balances, but nothing of the kind ever happened. The objective of making the changes in the first place was to fool the West.
    The problem of today’s Russia goes back to 1917 when the country was taken over by gangsters who called themselves “communists.” We must not be naive about the idealistic terms the Russian communists used to describe their “mission.”
    They murdered, they stole, and they oppressed the Baltic people and the Ukrainian people, and the people of Central Asia and the Caucasus, etc. The communists made themselves into a new ruling class under Stalin and his successors.
    As such, the system was an enormous criminal enterprise in which tens of millions of innocent people were killed.

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  29. Wilhelm Karl von Urach (1864-1928), Count of Württemberg. 2nd Duke of Urach, was offered the throne of Lithuania. The years you have here are for his son, an automotive production engineer for Daimler-Benz.

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  30. Actually what are today Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia were part of the Russian and German empires not just the Russian one. Memel, in Lithuania was part of Germany

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  31. When my g grandfather suddenly showed up in Canada, he wrote his and his parents birthplace as Russia. But he told everyone he was German! Brickwalled me on genealogy but my DNA test showed 7% south Balt and 11% Volga/Ural.
    Was Lithuania actually called Russia in 1890 when he wrote that? Thx

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  32. Why?!? No battles, victorys and losses mentioned?! Not mentioned, brothers fighting on different sides, not mentioned fight under petrograd and Võnnu battle, not mentioned victory over landeswehr not mentioned how students practically saved the young country??

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  33. Historically weak video. If you do not know the Polish history in this region, do not talk about what you do not know or do not want to know. Read about the state of both Polish and Lithuanian nations, Lithuanians and Poles formed a community proud and with a sense of pride. Lithuania, Latvia was the common part of the Commonwealth of Poland before the Partitions of Poland by germans and russia and austria at the end of the century XIX . The Baltic nations have always had as enemies of the Russians. No novelty that in this situation they voted in favour of Germans . And regard to the German minority in these countries , read from age XIII as it was in this part of europe.

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  34. Wilhelm von Urach lived 1864-1928, the dates you've superimposed on the picture of his family were those of his son (another Wilhelm von Urach).

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  35. Great video, but some of the pictures you showed wasn't of latvian riflemen, instead they were soldiers from troick batallion.

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  36. My maternal grandparents with my Mother and uncle lived on the outskirts of Rokiskis,
    Lithuania. German soldiers were billeted in their home after Rokiskis was occupied. This was
    near the front. My Mother then a little girl remembered presenting flowers to a German general,
    possibly Ludendorff or Hindenburg. My Mother said she sang Deutschland uber Alles along with
    Polish and Lithuanian girls representing the three ethnicities. My Mother and uncle had no bad memories
    of the German soldiers living in their house.

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  37. Nobody mentioned "Death island" battle in Latvia, in which germans used gas against them and a lot of people died from poisoning. Witnesses said that the sight was horrible.

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  38. Ironic…the Baltic peoples could be found in 6 Waffen SS Divisions some decades later.

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  39. what a great commercial! before the video started I saw this soap ad and I watched until the end.

    not related to the video but you know.

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  40. Funny though, when in Lithuania we want to express some prerequisite for the order (Ordnung in German), we always say that ”limp German with a stick” (šlubas vokietYs su lazda – more likely, Prussian war veteran) is needed.

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  41. It's fascinating how much did I not know as a Lithuanian about my and my neighboring countries' history.

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  42. Had to post this here.Why is comment section disabled in Croatia in ww1?Maybe because its some kind of weird propaganda,because they didnt even participate in ww1,if they did they had to go on Serbia side,and we all know that didnt happen,only mistake in those videos,and i think its intentional

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  43. The paradox of history is that while it is sad that many Latvian Riflemen were involved with guarding Lenin and in the early days and months of Bolshevism to keep it afloat, the Red victory was the only way how Baltic countries could be free at least for those 20 years… If the Whites would have won, there would be no support internationally for Baltic cause and the Russian Empire or Republic or how it would be called, could just take them back with force. It's similar to the times when USSR collapsed. Contrary to what many Russians think, Americans were not eager to see the empire collapse (it's easier to control all the weapons and nuclear arsenal if there is one central government, not when you have to worry how governments in Ukraine, Latvia, Belarus etc. will react, whom they will sell weapons and won't they use them on each other – won't there be some wars like later in Balkans). They were just eager to see it become an ally of the US and reform. So while Perestroika was chugging along, they were kind of cool to Baltic independence movements. Only when things got hot and some people got shot and it was clear the empire will collapse, they started to openly support independence.

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