Latvia at the Commencement of the Second World War

Latvia at the Commencement of the Second World War
On 1 September 1939, one week after signing of the USSR-Germany agreement, the Second World War commenced with the German invasion of Poland. The Government of Latvia, under Prime Minister Kārlis Ulmanis, declared its neutrality but was unable to enforce this either militarily or politically. Already by 5 October 1939 the USSR, by means of real and implied threats, had pressured the Government of Latvia to sign a mutual defence agreement allowing for the deployment of 25,000 Soviet military personnel into Latvia. This was almost twice the size of the Latvian Army. Despite the Soviet promise not to interfere in the governance of the Republic, Latvia in effect became a protectorate of the USSR.

In the futile hope of retaining at least a limited sovereignty and in trying to prevent civil panic, the Ulmanis government presented the Soviet bases and foreign military presence to the people as a necessary improvement to State security. As a result of this, a large part of the civilian population did not realise the gravity of the situation.

Even when faced with the threat of losing its sovereignty de facto, Latvia did not make use of all possible means to protect its independence de iure. However, on 17 May 1940, the Government of Latvia granted emergency powers to Minister Kārlis Zariņš in Great Britain, with full authority to represent the Government in the event that the Government in Riga was no longer able to carry out its duties. This Act of Law helped guarantee the later legal succession of Latvia's statehood and facilitated the renewal of independence.