At the initiative of Jón Baldvin Hannibalsson, Minister for Foreign Affairs, Iceland was the first country to recognize the regained independence of the three Baltic Republics, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and to establish full diplomatic relations. This was confirmed at Höfdi House in Reykjavik on 26 August 1991 in the presence of Ministers for Foreign Affairs of the three Baltic Republics. From left: Algirdas Saudargas, Foreign Minister of Lithuania, Janis Jurkans, Foreign Minister of Latvia, Lennart Meri, Foreign Minister of Estonia and Jón Baldvin Hannibalsson, Foreign Minister of Iceland. Standing are Chief of Protocol Sveinn Björnsson and Legal Advisor Guðmundur Eiríksson.


Did Iceland suffer any backlash from Russia when it recognized the regained independence of the three Baltic Republics? The article mentions that Iceland, despite being close to Russia, chose to recognized the regained independence of the three Baltic Republics, and also chose to establish full diplomatic relations with those countries. Did Iceland suffer any backlash from Russia for doing so?

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    Russia did not exist as a separate political entity at the time...
    – alamar
    Commented Mar 7 at 16:40

2 Answers 2


The Soviet Union recalled its ambassador to Iceland:

Lithuania remains one of the union republics of the Soviet Union. Ignoring this fundamental fact is an attempt to interfere in the Soviet Union’s internal affairs” (...) Such abuses on the part of Iceland may entail very grave circumstances.


Actually Russia recognized their independence, even if Russia formally didn't yet exist as a fully independent country at the time.

on July 29, 1991, Boris Yeltsin - by then the popularly elected president of Russia - signed a treaty of friendship and cooperation with his Lithuanian counterpart, Vytautas Landsbergis, officially recognizing what the Kremlin leadership had been denying for decades: Lithuania (and, by implication, the other two Baltic republics) had been annexed by the Soviet Union, against its will, in June 1940. "We met with Yeltsin face-to-face, and he agreed to my formula that mentioned Soviet annexation of Lithuania," Landsbergis told me recently, recalling the 1991 talks. "When the full delegations met to sign the treaty, he suddenly announced that people in his government wanted to remove that clause. I said, 'Boris Nikolayevich, you are a decent man. We have made an agreement.' At that moment he turned to members of his delegation them abruptly: 'Yes, we have made an agreement. This matter is over.' He was a man who had a sense of honor. He was a true friend of Lithuania - and an intelligent one."

On August 24, 1991 - three days after he led Muscovites in successful popular resistance to a KGB-led coup d'état - Yeltsin signed a decree recognizing the national independence of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania on behalf of the Russian Federation. He had no formal right to do so, since the Soviet Union was still in existence, and Russia was only a constituent part of it - but after the democrats' victory against the coup, no one could have questioned the Russian president's decision. It took the United States until September 2nd to follow suit. The Soviet government finally accepted the inevitable and recognized Baltic independence on September 6, 1991. Within four months, Russia itself was an independent state, with the Soviet Union discarded onto the ash heap of history.

(The point about the US in that quote is slightly misleading. The US always held that the Baltics should be independent. What happened on Sep 2 is that the US "recognized the restoration of Latvia’s independence". [Emphasis mine.] And they re-established normal diplomatic relations on Sep 5, via some memorandum. The US embassy in Riga then reopened on October 2.)

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    I believe this snippet highlights the tragic mismatch: Yeltsin believed that in the course of liberalization everybody has a right to be independent if so they want, with no priors. Little did he know that everybody else actually saw their assumed borders as sacred and immutable.
    – alamar
    Commented Mar 8 at 18:05
  • @alamar there was no independence movement in either Donbas or Crimea before the Russian troops moved in. A foreign country taking over your territory under the guise of assisting some phantom independence movement is not the same as an actual independence movement. Furthermore, each republic's right to exit the union, was spelled out, in no uncertain terms, in the Constitution of the USSR. Commented Mar 9 at 17:46
  • @RadicallyReasonable I'm talking about stuff like Abkhazia, which is also being discussed as we speak.
    – alamar
    Commented Mar 9 at 18:06

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