1945 - 1991 IV Soviet occupation - timeline

During the decades of Cold War, the Baltic countries found themselves on the boundary of opposing powers. Large number of Red Army forces were located in Latvia and Estonia, airports, military ports and bases for nuclear weapons were installed, etc. The Iron Curtain isolated people from the rest of the world. Latvia and Estonia restored their independence in 1990 and 1991 respectively as the Soviet Union collapsed.

June 1945
People from Estonia and Latvia try to escape from the USSR

The USSR started to strengthen its new western border so as to prevent people from fleeing and to defend itself from a possible attack by Western powers.  Massive forces were brought to Latvia.  Riga was home to the headquarters of the Baltic Military District, while Liepāja became the main naval base, just as had been the case during the tsarist era.  It is an ice-free port and cannot be blockaded like ports in the Bay of Finland by "closing" the entry into the bay.  The territory of Estonia, together with Leningrad, Novgorod and the Pskov region, belonged to the Leningrad Military District.


The age of Stalinism and the strengthening of the Soviet Union's external boundary

The concepts of an Iron Curtain and the Cold War appeared after a speech by former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in Fulton, Missouri, on March 5, 1946.  The Soviet Latvian and Estonian border was the western border of the Soviet Union, and the USSR placed many border guard facilities and army bases along it.  There were regular patrols along the seashore, and the sea and the coast were lit with powerful floodlights in specific places.  The coastline area was closed, and people needed special passes to enter it.  Barriers and border guard facilities were posted on local roads.  People in populated areas and city beaches were allowed to be there only during the daytime, and many places had signs to warn people about the time that they had to leave.  During the night, the sand on the beach was smoothed so as to notice any foreign agents who might disembark.  People were banned from taking photographs in many places, and that particularly applied to coastline objects and lighthouses.  Those who were carrying a camera or taking pictures were treated with much suspicion.


March 25,1949
Deportations of Latvian and Estonian residents

42,125 people from Latvia and 20,480 from Estonia were deported to Siberia, mostly from the countryside.  The formal reason was that they were members of the so-called kulak class of wealthy farmers.  Others were deported because they had taken part in or supported national partisan movements.  Family members of such people were also deported.  The aim was to threaten people into joining kolkhozes, the collective farms.  Deportees were sent to the regions of Irkutsk, Omsk, Tomsk, Krasnoyarsk, Novosibirsk and Amur.  Some 12% of deportees died in exile.


August 29, 1949
The USSR tests its first nuclear bomb

An arms race began between East and West to see which side could manufacture more powerful nuclear weapons and endlessly increase their number.


March, 1953
Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin dies

Mirst PSRS diktators Josifs Staļins.


The Khrushchev period with increased military industry

Nikita Khrushchev took power after the death of Stalin, and he softened national policies, criticised Stalin's rule, and created a political process which became known as the "Khrushchev thaw."  People in Siberian labour camps were gradually rehabilitated and allowed to return home.  Money earned from the export of oil products and raw materials was invested in military manufacturing, and corn became a favoured crop.  Grain shortages were addressed by importing grain from Western countries, including Canada.  From 1956-1958 the Soviet Army dismantled kilometres of old stone walls from and around the village of Juminda to build a quay in the area between the villages of Virve and Hara that was hundreds of metres long. This was a submarine base which covered nearly 100 hectares. The Hara naval base was one of only three vessel demagnetisation facilities in the world. Its underwater structures and cable system covered all of Hara Bay and stretched 18 km out from Juminda Peninsula into neutral waters.


May 14, 1955
Warsaw Pact

Establishment of the Warsaw Pact of Eastern-bloc countries on mutual military aid and collective security.  The Warsaw Pact lasted  until 1991 after being a counterweight to NATO and an important component of the Cold War.

1957 - 1962
Preparing for a nuclear war

The Soviet Union launches its first intercontinental ballistic missile, with the United States following suit one year later.  This class of missiles is the main way to transport nuclear warheads, and it is developed rapidly.  During the 1960s, short and long-range missile firing shafts are installed in Latvia at Alūksne, Bārta, Vaiņode, Mārciena, Tirza, Ēmbūte, Ķekava, etc.  In 1989, there were 185 nuclear warheads in Latvia which could be fired from these shafts and to the West.  There are also nuclear weapons at the Tukums military airfield and in a special and very secret warehouse.

The Cuban Missile Crisis, which almost provokes a nuclear war between the Soviet Union and the United States.  The US decision to post missiles in Turkey provokes the Soviet Union into trying to place missiles and submarines in Cuba.  Fortunately, diplomacy manages to settle the crisis between the two superpowers, but only after two weeks during which the world was on the edge of catastrophe. Of all the strategic missiles, only R-12 Dvina theatre ballistic missiles were deployed in Estonia. Missile launch facilities operated in pairs: Lintsi-Piirsalu, Kadila-Rohu, Uniküla-Rooni and Nursi-Sänna. The underground R-12U facility in Vilaski in Valga County was an exception. It was the only facility in which the missiles were stored in vertical underground silos.

 A total of 70 anti-aircraft systems and theatre missiles operated from different control centres were located in Estonia.

In 1962, the Soviet Army’s Nuclear Submarine Training Centre No. 93 was opened in the town of Paldiski (the Military Unit 56190 Atomic Submarine Training Centre).


The Brezhnev era, with the arms race and secret objects

The Brezhnev era was one of increased political and economic stagnation.  It became clear that the promise of achieving full Communism, which had been made in 1961, would not be achieved, and so the government instead proposed the idea of "developed Socialism."  There were food and other shortages, and the result was a coupon system.  A big problem for the Soviet economy was the arms race with the United States, which the USSR could not really afford.  Secret underground bunkers were built to protect government and communist party functionaries and service personnel in the case of war so that they could continue to run the country and the war processes.  There was a communications system linked to the Kremlin.  The largest underground bunker for the Soviet Latvian government and military commanders in Latvia was at Līgatne.  Equally guarded and secret was a territory around Lake Valgums in the Smārde Parish, where a holiday facility was built in 1968 for the leaders of the Soviet Council of Ministers. In 1964, Paldiski and the Pakri islands were closed off to outsiders and classified. Even the total population of the town (around 14,000) was classified information.


Establishment of Irbene radar and army town

In 1967, work began on a secret radioelectric spy antenna complex on the shores of the Baltic Sea in Courland. It is known as "Little Star." Work on the secret object was completed around 1971, and there are three parabolic antennas of different sizes.  Alongside the facility is a small town for military officials with a cultural centre, hospital, store, and everything else that is needed to live in secrecy.  Some 2,000 military personnel lived there. The place today is known as the "Irbene Locator," and it is used by international scientists who observe the space.  The telescope there is the 8th largest one in the world.

Paldiski became a Soviet Navy nuclear submarine training centre

Employing some 16,000 people, and with two land-based nuclear reactors (at 70 MW and 90 MW power, respectively), it was the largest such facility in the Soviet Union. Because of its importance, the whole city was closed off with barbed wire until the last Russian warship left in August 1994, when the city ceased to be a closed city.

Mutiny on the Storzhevoy anti-submarine ship

A mutiny occurred on the Soviet naval ship Storzhevoy, and it was organised by a senior officer Valery Sablin from the ship's political unit.  His plan was to head for Leningrad and do something similar to what the Aurora cruiser did during the Soviet Revolution - create a new and better society in the name of the future.  The ship was intercepted on its way to Leningrad, and its organiser was sentenced to death.


War in Afghanistan

The war in Afghanistan began with the Soviet Union supporting the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan against the mujaheddin, who were supported by the United States.  The war ended in 1989, during the era of Mikhail Gorbachev and with the full withdrawal of Soviet forces.  Some 3,600 soldiers were sent to Afghanistan from occupied Latvia, and more than 60 of them perished there.The respective numbers for Estonia are 1652 and 36. The war in Afghanistan and the continuous russification caused growing resentment with the Soviet power. In September 1980, when the concert of a popular punk-band Propeller was partly banned by the authorities, some 500 youngsters marched in Tallinn, chanting anti-Soviet slogans and pulling down Soviet regalia.

Brezhnev falls

Brezhnev falls and was replaced by Andropov and Chernenko until 1985.

Andropov, Chernenko and the final military buildings

The two rulers were old men and did not stay in power long. There was a struggle over power at the top of the Soviet government structure. 

The long-distance radar station Dnestr-M was installed at Skrunda in 1968, and in the 1970s, it was modernised and became the Dnepr station. In 1984 work began on a new and modern radar station -Darjal, at the secret facility in Skrunda - nicknamed “Kombinat”.  The aim was to identify and track Western ballistic missiles that were fired.  The building was demolished with a controlled explosion on May 4, 1995.  Known as the Skrunda radar, the complex was never switched on.  The old radar stations kept on working in accordance with a bilateral agreement until the spring of 1998.

The age of Gorbachev and the beginning of the end for the Soviet Union

The age of Perestroika and Glasnost led to massive economic changes and rebuilding. Perestroika (restructuring) meant reforms in the political and economic system and Glasnost (transparency) meant more public information about different issues, backgrounds to political systems etc. The Soviet army lost its might, status and financing. Co-operatives emerged as the first sprouts of private business. The next decade would be known as the "Wild 90-ties."

April 1986
The Chernobyl disaster and mobilisation of Latvian residents for rescue work

An explosion at the Chernobyl Nuclear Plant occurred, but the information about the accident was hidden for several days until massively increased radiation levels were spotted as far away as in Sweden.  More than 6,000 people were drafted in Latvia and more than 4700 in Estonia and shipped off to Chernobyl to help with rescue operations.

23 June 1988
The Supreme Council declares the blue, black & white tricolour the official flag of the Republic of Estonia
August 2, 1988
Establishment of the Latvian People's Front

The political struggle for the restoration of Latvia's independence begins.

16 November 1988
The Supreme Soviet adopts the Declaration of Sovereignty

The Supreme Soviet adopts the Declaration of Sovereignty, granting itself the highest authority in legislature in the Estonian SSR and confirmed the primacy of the legislation of the Estonian SSR over the laws of the USSR.

23 August 1989
Baltic Way

23 August 1989 A mass demonstration called the Baltic Way was held to demonstrate to the world Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania’s wish for freedom and to draw attention to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact signed by the Soviet Union and Germany half a century previously, the secret protocols of which led to the occupation and annexation of the Baltic States by the Soviet Union. The Baltic Way was a human chain of approximately two million people standing hand-in-hand in a line that stretched for more than 600 kilometres.

17 February 1990
The Estonian Defence League is restored
February 27, 1990
The Supreme Council declares the red-white-red the official flag of the Republic of Latvia
1 March 1990
Treaty of Tartu

The Congress of Estonia adopts a manifesto outlining the will of the Estonian people to see the Republic of Estonia restored on the basis of de jure continuity and the Treaty of Tartu.

May 4, 1990
The declaration on the restoration of the independence of the Republic of Latvia

The Soviet Latvian Supreme Council approved the declaration "On the restoration of the independence of the Republic of Latvia" with 138 votes in favour, and Latvia began to work toward the full restoration of its independence.

January 13-27, 1991
The Barricades in Riga

After the Soviet Army used weapons and tanks to crush independence efforts in Lithuania, people in Latvia began to build barricades in Riga, on Zaķusala island on the River Daugava, at the Cabinet of Ministers and elsewhere.  Farmers from all over Latvia brought their heavy equipment to help.  On January 20, the OMON (Special Purpose Police Squad) unit that was under the direct control of Moscow attacked the Interior Ministry.  Five people died.  After an agreement with Mikhail Gorbachev, the barricades were gradually dismantled.

August 19-21, 1991
The August putsch and full independence of Latvia and Estonia

Reactionary forces from the Communist party, army and security services set up a National Emergency Commission in an attempt to overthrow the government of Mikhail Gorbachev and to put a halt to his attempts to modernise the Soviet Union.  OMON forces and the army took over the key communication facilities in Riga.  As armoured transport vehicles were entering Dome Square in Riga, the Supreme Council of Latvia approved a constitutional law on the statehood of the Republic of Latvia, specifying that the 1922 Constitution was fully reinstated and in force.  

Iceland recognised Latvia's independence on August 22, followed by Russia and Denmark on August 24, the European Communities on August 27, the United States on September 2, and the USSR on September 6. Late on the evening of 20 August, the Supreme Soviet of the Republic of Estonia decreed the restoration of the Republic of Estonia and called upon the people to defend strategic locations, such as Tallinn’s TV tower.

December 26, 1991
The official demise of the USSR

The Russian Federation became the economic and legal heir of the USSR, and Soviet military forces in Latvia and Estonia became Russian military forces.