Places in World Most Likely to Secede Estonia
About Estonia a place in the world likely to secede from Russia, size, population, and history of conflict.
MOST LIKELY TO SECEDE
Size: 17,413 sq. mi. (45,000 sq. km.), about 3/4 the size of West Virginia.
Population: 1.5 million.
The first stirrings of Estonian independence took place in the late 19th century, following centuries of rule under first Denmark, then Sweden, Poland, and, beginning in 1710, Russia. But czarist Russia was in no mood to permit its western provinces to secede, and thus it seemed that only a miracle would liberate the region. The miracle came in the form of the Bolshevik Revolution. With Mother Russia paralyzed by internal conflict, Estonia seized the opportunity to declare its independence in November, 1917, and looked to Germany to check any future Russian invasion. After Germany lost W.W.I, Soviet troops tried to retake the republic, but they were driven back by armed Estonians and the ominous presence of the British fleet in the Baltic. In 1920 the U.S.S.R. finally recognized Estonian independence.
For a while, it appeared that Estonia would survive. Land long held in grand estates by German barons was divvied up among the peasantry, Estonia joined the League of Nations, and the Russians promised to leave it alone. But Communist elements in the country grew stronger and began pressing for reunion with the U.S.S.R. A Communist revolt in December, 1924, although unsuccessful, so alarmed the moderates that they delegated more and more authority to Pres. Konstantin Pats to deal with the problem, until, by 1934, Pats had assumed full dictatorial powers. Democracy was restored two years later with the Communists still a potent force.
Meanwhile, Stalin and Hitler drafted a mutual nonaggression pact which divided Europe into German and Russian spheres of influence. In 1939, shortly after Poland fell to the Nazi blitz, Stalin demanded that Estonia, as well as Latvia and Lithuania, permit the installation of Soviet military bases in the Baltic. Estonia ran to Hitler for help, but the German dictator upheld his pact with Stalin and ordered the Baltic states to comply. While watching the Soviet army, navy, and air force set up operations on their soil, Estonians took some comfort in Stalin's pledge to honor Estonian sovereignty. Stalin did honor it-for another eight months; then he announced dissatisfaction with the Baltic regimes, sent more Russian troops to overthrow them, and incorporated all three Baltic states into the U.S.S.R. When Germany later declared war on Russia, many Estonians fought alongside the Nazis in hopes of regaining their homeland. But the Germans lost again, and with their defeat went the dream of an Estonian republic. Since then an Estonian government in exile has maintained legations in some countries, most notably the U.S., which do not recognize Soviet authority over the Baltic states.
The prospects of independence anytime soon are bleak. Moscow maintains a firm grip on this largely agricultural and dairy land. Before W.W. II, nearly 90% of the population was Estonian. Federally sponsored Russian settlement of the region has cut that figure to 68% in recent years. High-grade shale deposits in the northeast supply natural gas to many communities, including Leningrad. And the rich peat bogs generate much of the electricity in the area.
Although the U.S. has long insisted that Estonia ought to be free, there are signs that Washington is ready to face up to the inevitable. In ratifying the Helsinki Pact of 1975, the U.S. for the first time gave de facto recognition to Soviet claims in the Baltic. And as the aging members of the government in exile die off, it is likely that some future American president will formally recognize Russian authority in the area. Just as it took a revolution in Russia to create an independent Estonia, it likely will take a similar upheaval to re-create it.
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