Revealed: Why the US delayed recognition of Lithuania for over four years after WWI
Lithuania declared independence from Russia on February 16, 1918; Estonia declared February 24, Latvia November 18. None were invited to attend the peace process in Versailles, but 30 countries, including Poland, were. The US would not recognize Baltic States' independence for more than four years, until July 28, 1922. Meanwhile, Poland declared independence from Russia November 11, 1918, nearly nine months after Lithuania did; the US recognized it a little over two months later, on January 22, 1919.
Why did it take so long for the Baltics to be recognized by the US, especially when Poland was almost immediately recognized? The answer is carefully explained in the Summer 2023 issue of Lituanus (https://www.lituanus.org/, to which I have subscribed for many years) in "The Issue of Lithuania’s International Recognition by the USA in 1922," by Juozas Skirius, historian, professor in Humanities at Vytautas Magnus University, and researcher at the Martynas Mažvydas National Library of Lithuania.
I urge you to read the entire article, but here, in bulleted points according to Skirius, are the reasons for the delay:
Recognition of Lithuania’s independence depended on the probable outcome of Russia's civil war -- the struggle between the White and the Red forces in Russia. The hoped-for victory of the White Russians meant autonomy -- within Russia -- for Lithuania. The Russian civil war (November 7, 1917 – June 16, 1923) began with the overthrowing of the social-democratic Russian Provisional Government (which existed for only eight months in 1917) in the October Revolution, with "Reds" fighting for a Bolshevik-led socialist state headed by Vladimir Lenin, versus the "Whites," a loose conglomeration of right- and left-wing opposition to Bolshevik rule.
May 26, 1919: a letter initiated by the US, and signed by the leaders of the US, Great Britain, France, Italy and Japan to Admiral Aleksandr Kolchak recognized him as the leader of a future democratic Russia wherein non-Russian peoples, including Lithuanians, would be granted wide autonomy. Lithuania, in their opinion, must also be a part of the Russian State. Even in the eventual declaration of recognition of July 28, 1922, the Americans recognized that the autonomous governments would automatically and painlessly “return” into a democratic Russian state.
June 1919: a personal letter by Augustinas Voldemaras, chairman of the Lithuanian delegation at the Peace Conference in Paris (as well as the country's first prime minister in 1918 and Minister of Foreign Affairs until 1920) to British politician Prof. D. Simpson, Voldemaras intimated that if a democratic system were restored in Russia, Lithuania could become an autonomous part of the Russian Federation. While he did not, himself, believe that a democratic system in Russia would happen anytime soon, his letter was accepted by the politicians of the Entente countries and the USA as the official position of the Government of Lithuania.
October 15, 1919: in letter by US Secretary of State Robert Lansing, he recommended that Lithuanians get into agreement with Admiral Kolchak to become part of Russia with autonomous rights. Only with such circumstances, he said, would the US be able to maintain relations with the Lithuanian Government.
May 11, 1921: US Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes said “the recognition of the Baltic States is possible if the old Russia comes to the normal state of affairs again.”
The White Russian ambassador to the US, Boris Bakhmeteff, had a strong influence on the Washington administration by intimating that he represented the interests of all the peoples of pre-war Russia. Historian A. Tarulis proved that until mid-1921, leadership of the US Department of State consulted and coordinated their actions with Bakhmeteff on all important issues of the Baltic States. The political White Russian forces in Paris, Berlin and Washington were hostile to the efforts of Polish politicians to annex Lithuania. Ambassador Bakhmeteff’s position: it will be more difficult to recover Lithuania if, after the overthrow of the Bolsheviks in Russia, it will have been annexed by Poland. It is therefore better to recognize Lithuania’s, as well as Latvia’s and Estonia’s, temporary independence. As it was becoming clear that Bolshevik rule in Russia had established itself for a long time, with no material political changes expected in the near future, Bakhmeteff’s status in Washington diminished.
July 1, 1921: Bakhmeteff resigned, and presented an official "Memorandum on the Baltic States" to the US State Department which included the proposal that the states be “recognized conditionally,” i.e., temporarily.
By early 1922, Admiral Kolchak's army, then in Siberia, was disintegrating; traveling towards Irkutsk without protection, he was arrested along with his Prime Minister, Victor Pepelyaev and turned over to the Irkutsk socialist Political Center. Six days later, that regime was replaced by a Bolshevik-dominated Military-Revolutionary Committee. Kolchak and Pepelyaev were shot, and their bodies thrown through the ice of the frozen Angara River. As civil war in Russia continued to rage, the US government was less sure of a "White Russian" win, but even though they felt they could no longer delay recognizing the Baltic states, their recognition included the possibility of an eventual return to democracy in Russia.
Early 1922: The authorized representative of the Lithuanian Government in Washington, Voldemaras Čarneckis, sought connections with prominent US politicians, trying to win them over. He also urged Lithuanian-Americans to get more actively involved in the political activities of Lithuania’s recognition.
July 24, 1922: four days before official recognition was announced, US Secretary of State Charles Evans Hughes sent a letter to US President Warren G. Harding, asking his approval to give recognition to the governments of the Baltic States. According to him, the “time has come” for this, and “this step is consistent with our general policy towards Russia.” The President approved.
In that July 24 letter, Hughes noted that intended recognition of the Baltic States had been delayed in order to consider conditions related to the general issue of Russia, especially due to the need at the time to oppose the tendency of some European states (like Great Britain) to incite the breakup of Russia. The US still felt that its interests required a future strong, united, and democratic Russia.
July 28, 1922 (more than four years after Lithuania declared independence): the U.S. establishes diplomatic ties with all three Baltic States. The US Commissioner in Riga, Evan Young, informed the Foreign Office of Lithuania of the United States' decision granting de jure -- legal -- recognition.
How does the U.S. State Department website (https://www.state.gov/u-s-relations-with-lithuania/) characterize its recognition of Lithuania after WWI? "The United States established diplomatic relations with Lithuania in 1922, following its declaration of independence during World War I."