Lithuania proclaims its independence from the USSR, the first Soviet republic to do so. The Soviet government responded by imposing an oil embargo and economic blockade against the Baltic republic, and later sent troops.
Lithuanians have lived along the Nemen River and the Baltic Sea for some 3,000 years, and during the medieval period Lithuania was one of the largest states in Europe, stretching from present-day European Russia to as far as the Black Sea. In the late 14th century, Lithuania united with Poland in forming a commonwealth, and with the third partition of Poland in 1795, Lithuania was absorbed into Russia.
In the 19th century, a Lithuanian linguistic and cultural revival began, and with the signing of the Treaty of Brest-Levost between Russia and Germany in 1918, Lithuania achieved independence. For the next two decades, however, Poland, Germany, and the USSR all interfered with Lithuania’s affairs. In 1940, Soviet forces occupied the country, but in 1941 the Nazis replaced them. During World War II, many Lithuanians fought alongside the Germans against the Soviet Union, but by 1944 the country was liberated and a pro-Soviet communist regime was installed.
In the late 1980s, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s policy of glasnost, or “openness,” led Lithuania to reassert its identity, and on March 11, 1990, formal independence was proclaimed. Sajudis, a non-communist coalition established in 1988, subsequently won control of the Lithuanian parliament and Vytautas Landsbergis became Lithuania’s first post-Soviet head of state. In January 1991, Soviet paratroopers and tanks invaded Vilnius, the Lithuanian capital, beginning a standoff that lasted until September 6, 1991, when the crumbling Soviet Union agreed to grant independence to Lithuania and the other Baltic republics of Estonia and Latvia.