I was browsing through the Singing Revolution website — which is getting amazing reviews in the United States I am happy to say — and found this interesting transcript of the meeting between representatives of the Republic of Estonia and the Soviet Union in 1939.
In it you get to follow Estonian Foreign Minister Karl Selter, Prime Minister Jüri Uluots, Ambassador to the USSR August Rei, and Multitasker Ants Piip as they try to negotiate with Soviet demands for military bases on Estonian soil.
The best part is the encounters with Stalin, which give you insight to how he, like many bullies, used the combination of the threat of violence together with patronizing humor to massage his partners into giving in to his demands.
Russian Foreign Minister Molotov: Estonia is to give to the Soviet Union the right to keep in various places in Estonia for the duration of the present European war up to 35,000 of infantry, cavalry and air force, in order to prevent Estonia and the Soviet Union to be drawn into war, as well as to protect the internal order in Estonia.
Selter: Because this proposal is new and is presented for the first time, the Estonian government, of course, has not been able to take its position in respect to such wishes of the Soviet government. But without needing to consult my government about them, I can reply to you that this new proposal is unacceptable to Estonia. By form and substance the measures indicated in this proposal would mean a military occupation of Estonia by the Soviet Union, to which neither the Estonian people nor the government could agree under any circumstances. I find that our negotiations will become very difficult, if we do not confine ourselves to the limits, which both sides themselves so far had drawn for their position.
Molotov: The government of the Soviet Union insists upon this proposal. If you wish, Stalin himself can tell you that, as well as explain the proposal. Do you want to talk to him?
Selter: Yes, we do.
Molotov: (into the telephone) Comrade Stalin, come here. Mr. Selter and the other Estonian gentlemen are here with me. He and his associates argue against our new proposal. They call it occupation and other dreadful names. Come and help me to persuade them of the necessity of our proposal.
The minutes then go to Ants Piip’s diary:
“In about 3 minutes Stalin enters the room with firm steps, clad in his garment of the well-known cut. He quickly shakes the hands of the Estonians, sits down at the place previously taken by Molotov, who changes over to another seat at the side of the table opposite to us.
Stalin gives permission to smoke.12 Selter introduces me to Stalin, mentions good humoredly that my name, Piip, means “tobacco pipe” in Russian and that I took part in the Estonian-Soviet peace conference.
Stalin remarks: “That’s good. Let us’ light the peace pipe again at this table. Or, maybe you prefer Russian cigarettes?” Molotov informs Stalin in greater detail of our arguments against the new Soviet proposals. Stalin cuts him short by saying impatiently: “What is there to argue about. Our proposal stands and that must be
Then back to the minutes:
Selter: Your new proposal would mean a military occupation, because in accordance with it a foreign army of 35,000 men would be brought to Estonian territory and this foreign army would be stationed “in various places in Estonia” to protect the internal order in Estonia, i.e. it would engage itself with interfering in the international affairs of Estonia. In conjunction with that, all assurances about the preservation of Estonia’s sovereignty, the form of government and the economy would be only a dead letter.
The military occupation of an independent country, based on your motives, cannot be regarded anything else but punishment, in the present case a groundless and unjust punishment.
Stalin: Our new proposal is not intended to serve as a punishment. It is a measure of prevention. We do not know who helped the Polish submarine to escape from Tallinn. We, of course, are not guilty of that. Also we believe, that the Estonian government, too, is free of the guilt, but evidently there are certain international forces nestling in Estonia who are engaged in such matters. Also they have influence with the masses of the Estonian people.
You have General Laidoner who hates us. But he is a good general, brave general, a clever man of the old Russian school. He has great influence with your people. If you sign a treaty with us, some people will find such an act insufficient. Others will say, the government sold the country. Out of such a controversy troubles and diversions may follow. Such kind of danger must be prevented. It is for this purpose that a strong unit of the Red Army must be placed in Estonia. Then nobody would dare to undertake any trouble making.
The placing of Red Army units into Estonia as stipulated in today’s proposal is absolutely necessary. Otherwise the Soviet naval and air bases cannot be considered secure in the present time of war. This is a temporary war-time measure only. As soon as the war comes to an end we will take back all the troops mentioned in our proposal of today.
On the way out of the meeting with Stalin, he is quoted as saying:
“I used to have many Estonians working in my archives. Estonians are tough people, good workers. I remember, at the time when I was Commissar of Nationalities, in the Commissariat there was an Estonian girl-secretary. Wonderful worker. But Anvelt cheated me and swindled badly.”
After some deliberation and putting feelers out to Germany about procuring military supplies — which are rejected — the Estonian leadership agrees to a bases pact with the USSR.
After they sign the pact in the Kremlin, Stalin says:
Stalin: (turning to Selter) The agreement has been achieved. I can tell you that the Estonian government acted well and wisely in the interests of the Estonian people by concluding the agreement with the Soviet Union. It could have happened to you what happened to Poland.
Poland was a great country. Yet, where is Poland now? Where is Moscicki, Rydz-Smigly, Beck? Yes, I am telling you frankly—you acted well and in the interests of your people.
Piip notes in his diary:
Back at home, talks among ourselves lasted until 3. Talking about the outcome of the negotiations we found that there was no other way out. Though we had been drawn into the orbit of Soviet Russia, our people were saved from massacre. The future alone will show.
Ants Piip died in a prison camp in Perm Oblast on October 1, 1942.