This map is part of a series of 19 animated maps showing the history of Europe and nations, 1918-1942.
Previously part of the Russian Empire, the Baltic countries became sovereign nations at the end of the First World War. Estonia and Latvia had never before existed as political entities, while Lithuania had been a powerful grand duchy during the Middle Ages prior to becoming part of the Polish-Lithuanian Union between the 16th and 18th centuries.
After rebuffing Bolshevik attempts to conquer them, all three acquired independence and established parliamentary regimes at the end of 1918. Russia recognized their independence and formalized its frontiers with Estonia in the Treaty of Tartu and with Latvia in the Treaty of Riga in 1920. However, Lithuania became the subject of Poland’s territorial ambitions when Vilnius was annexed in 1922. Loss of its capital could not be compensated by the acquisition, in 1923, of Memel, a German city administered by the League of Nations since 1919.