In a move likely to inflame tensions ahead of next week's Nato summit in Latvia, Russia's foreign intelligence service, the SVR, yesterday declassified documents claiming that Britain and the US had approved of the Soviet occupation of the Baltic states a year before Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union.
Received wisdom has it that the British prime minister, Winston Churchill, was deeply ambivalent about Moscow taking control of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in 1940. But the editor of the 400-page dossier, Major General Lev Sotskov, told the Guardian it demonstrated that the UK and US "perfectly understood" that the region was needed as a buffer zone for the inevitable moment when Nazi Germany would break its non-aggression pact with Moscow and attack the Soviet Union.
Gen Sotskov said the documents proved that American and British leaders were often divided over their position on Soviet troop movements and their "public declarations clashed with internal assessments". But Soviet intelligence showed that Churchill decided it was a pragmatic move not to confront Moscow's occupation of neighbouring territory, which ended with the Nazi invasion of the Baltics in 1941. "Churchill realised this was the only way," he said. "He saw it as a not very pleasant but necessary step to prevent Germany from further intrigues and advance."
The fact that Germany's strike at the Soviet Union ran out of steam later in the war was partly because it had to cross the Baltics, thus justifying Churchill's reasoning, Gen Sotskov said.
(T)he NKVD documents - (were) almost certainly compiled with material uncovered by spies such as Donald MacLean and Kim Philby.