Early U.S. Listening Posts in the Baltic States, 1919-1922

Eero Medijainen (University of Tartu)

In the historiography of U.S. relations with the Soviet Union, an interesting debate can be found that bears particular relation to the so-called Baltic question.  According to one view, a hard line emerged due to U.S. diplomats who had begun their careers in the U.S. representations in Riga and Tallinn in the 1920s, who then rose to become top players and decision-makers in U.S.-Soviet relations in the 1930s.  This hard-line approach is known as the “Riga circle” or “Riga outlook.”  The culmination of such a way of thinking was the Truman Doctrine, which championed a vision of a bipolar world.  A different line of thought was represented by the so-called Yalta axioms, which constituted a more pragmatic approach to foreign policy.

This paper examines the prelude period, when the first “listening posts” were established in Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in 1919-1922 for the gathering and analysis of information about Soviet Russia. The greatest contribution to the development of Russian studies within the State Department was that of Robert F. Kelley.  He was sent first to Finland and then on to Riga in 1919 to serve for a time under the US commissioner to work in the field of information gathering (intelligence).   Kelley rose to lead the State Department’s Russian Division in 1922.  In addition to Kelley, a long line of U.S. representatives played an important role in the relations with Russia and the Baltic states before de iure recognition of the Baltic states came in July 1922.

Comments are closed.