Having been forcefully occupied and integrated by the Soviet Union as per the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of 1939, the Baltic nations of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania were not incredibly loyal to the Soviet Union. From 1940 onward, Moscow underwent Sovietization policies similar to old Tsarist Russification policies. They suppressed Baltic languages and culture as well as migrating ethnic Russians into the region to quicken the pace of homogenization. This was obviously not popular among natives of the Baltic and these policies combined with Soviet disregard for the environment and private property prevented any reconciliation between the natives and the Soviet government. The 1980’s saw a massive rise in pro-independence protests and movements in the Baltic region. These protests were primarily sparked by Gorbachev’s reforms, specifically Glasnost, which allowed criticism of the government. With criticism of the government now allowed, the authority of the communist parties in Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia crumbled.
From 1987 to 1991 a period of civil protest and resistance against Soviet authority known affectionately now as the “Singing Revolution” saw millions of Latvians, Lithuanians, and Estonians peacefully fight for their Independence and civil autonomy. The greatest demonstration of these protests came on August, 23rd 1989 during a protest called “The Baltic Way”. “The Baltic Way” saw a human chain of over 2 million people stretching 600 km or about 372 miles from Tallinn, Estonia to Vilnius, Lithuania. Eventually after almost four years of protests and peaceful resistance the Gorbachev regime recognized privately that they were going to lose the Baltic States. The Baltic revolutions were a major part of the breakup of the Soviet Union.
On September, 6th 1991 the Soviet Union recognized the Independence of all three Baltic States and three months later, the rest of the Soviet Union would separate. The reaction in the West was positive with Iceland being the first nation to recognize the newly freed Baltic. Since their occupation in June 1940 by the Soviets, the US, UK, Canada, and NATO had maintained representatives for the Baltic States and always maintained that those countries were rightfully independent from the start. The Singing Revolution was a major step towards the fall of the Soviet Union and the end of the cold war. It was, ironically, Soviet imperialism that saw the demise of the Union. If Stalin had left the Baltic alone, they may have not later inspired other Soviet Republics to leave.