Operation Priboi
Operation Priboi was the code name for the Soviet mass deportation
Population transfer in the Soviet Union
Population transfer in the Soviet Union may be classified into the following broad categories: deportations of "anti-Soviet" categories of population, often classified as "enemies of workers," deportations of entire nationalities, labor force transfer, and organized migrations in opposite...

 from the Baltic states
Baltic states
The term Baltic states refers to the Baltic territories which gained independence from the Russian Empire in the wake of World War I: primarily the contiguous trio of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania ; Finland also fell within the scope of the term after initially gaining independence in the 1920s.The...

 on March 25–28, 1949, called March deportation by Baltic historians. Some 90,000 Estonia
Estonia , officially the Republic of Estonia , is a state in the Baltic region of Northern Europe. It is bordered to the north by the Gulf of Finland, to the west by the Baltic Sea, to the south by Latvia , and to the east by Lake Peipsi and the Russian Federation . Across the Baltic Sea lies...

ns, Latvia
Latvia , officially the Republic of Latvia , is a country in the Baltic region of Northern Europe. It is bordered to the north by Estonia , to the south by Lithuania , to the east by the Russian Federation , to the southeast by Belarus and shares maritime borders to the west with Sweden...

ns and Lithuania
Lithuania , officially the Republic of Lithuania is a country in Northern Europe, the biggest of the three Baltic states. It is situated along the southeastern shore of the Baltic Sea, whereby to the west lie Sweden and Denmark...

ns, labeled as enemies of the people
Enemy of the people
The term enemy of the people is a fluid designation of political or class opponents of the group using the term. The term implies that the "enemies" in question are acting against society as a whole. It is similar to the notion of "enemy of the state". The term originated in Roman times as ,...

, were deported to inhospitable areas of the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

. It was one of the most complex deportation operations engineered by the Soviets in the Cold war
Cold War
The Cold War was the continuing state from roughly 1946 to 1991 of political conflict, military tension, proxy wars, and economic competition between the Communist World—primarily the Soviet Union and its satellite states and allies—and the powers of the Western world, primarily the United States...


While portrayed as "dekulakization
Dekulakization was the Soviet campaign of political repressions, including arrests, deportations, and executions of millions of the better-off peasants and their families in 1929-1932. The richer peasants were labeled kulaks and considered class enemies...

", the operation was intended to facilitate the forced collectivisation
Collective farming
Collective farming and communal farming are types of agricultural production in which the holdings of several farmers are run as a joint enterprise...

 of rural households and to eliminate the support base for the insurgency by the Forest Brothers
Forest Brothers
The Forest Brothers were Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian partisans who waged a guerrilla war against Soviet rule during the Soviet invasion and occupation of the three Baltic states during, and after, World War II...

 against Soviet occupation. Thus the Soviets specifically targeted anti-Soviet nationalists, supporters and kin of the Forest Brothers
Forest Brothers
The Forest Brothers were Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian partisans who waged a guerrilla war against Soviet rule during the Soviet invasion and occupation of the three Baltic states during, and after, World War II...

, veterans who served in the German
Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany , also known as the Third Reich , but officially called German Reich from 1933 to 1943 and Greater German Reich from 26 June 1943 onward, is the name commonly used to refer to the state of Germany from 1933 to 1945, when it was a totalitarian dictatorship ruled by...

 military and relatives of those already held in the Soviet Gulag
The Gulag was the government agency that administered the main Soviet forced labor camp systems. While the camps housed a wide range of convicts, from petty criminals to political prisoners, large numbers were convicted by simplified procedures, such as NKVD troikas and other instruments of...

 for alleged anti-Soviet activities. The deportation fulfilled its purposes: within a few weeks the majority of the rural households accepted collectivisation and organized themselves into kolkhoz
A kolkhoz , plural kolkhozy, was a form of collective farming in the Soviet Union that existed along with state farms . The word is a contraction of коллекти́вное хозя́йство, or "collective farm", while sovkhoz is a contraction of советское хозяйство...

es (collective farms).

Due to the high death rate of deportees during the first few years of their Siberian exile, caused by the failure of Soviet authorities to provide suitable clothing or housing at the destination, whether through neglect or premeditation, some sources consider these deportations an act of genocide
Genocide is defined as "the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group", though what constitutes enough of a "part" to qualify as genocide has been subject to much debate by legal scholars...

. Based on the Martens Clause
Martens Clause
The Martens Clause was introduced into the preamble to the 1899 Hague Convention II – Laws and Customs of War on Land.The clause took its name from a declaration read by Fyodor Fyodorovich Martens, the Russian delegate at the Hague Peace Conferences 1899 and was based upon his words:The...

 and the principles of the Nuremberg Charter, the European Court of Human Rights
European Court of Human Rights
The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg is a supra-national court established by the European Convention on Human Rights and hears complaints that a contracting state has violated the human rights enshrined in the Convention and its protocols. Complaints can be brought by individuals or...

 has held that the March deportation constituted a crime against humanity
Crime against humanity
Crimes against humanity, as defined by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court Explanatory Memorandum, "are particularly odious offenses in that they constitute a serious attack on human dignity or grave humiliation or a degradation of one or more human beings...



In response to the activities of various resistance groups such as the Forest Brothers and their supporters, Alexsandr Mishutin, Procurator of the Latvian SSR wrote a secret report to Moscow
Moscow is the capital, the most populous city, and the most populous federal subject of Russia. The city is a major political, economic, cultural, scientific, religious, financial, educational, and transportation centre of Russia and the continent...

 on September 21, 1948, in which he reported that "counter-revolutionary" elements—including "kulaks", underground resistance groups, and other "enemies of the people"—were rife in Soviet Latvian society. The top secret decision, No. 390-1388ss, was taken by the USSR Council of Ministers on January 29, 1949, approving the deportation of "kulaks", "nationalists", "bandits", their supporters, and their families from Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. On February 28, 1949, Viktor Abakumov, the minister of State Security (MGB
Ministry for State Security (USSR)
The Ministry of State Security was the name of Soviet secret police from 1946 to 1953.-Origins of the MGB:The MGB was just one of many incarnations of the Soviet State Security apparatus. Since the revolution, the Bolsheviks relied on a strong political police or security force to support and...

), signed the USSR MGB order No. 0068 for the preparation and execution of the mass deportations by the USSR MGB Interior Forces
Internal Troops (Russia)
Internal Troops, full name Internal Troops of the Ministry for Internal Affairs is a paramilitary national guard like force in the now-defunct Soviet Union and its successor countries, particularly, in Russia and Ukraine. Internal Troops are subordinated to Internal Affairs Ministries of the...

 under Lieutenant-General Burmak's command. From this, additional orders were drafted--USSR MGB order No. 00225 that ordered various branches of the USSR Interior Ministry (MVD) to assist the MGB, as well as republic level orders, for example, the Latvian SSR Council of Ministry decision No. 282ss and 297ss of March 24 (one day before the deportations began) authorizing the confiscation of the properties of the deportees.


Due to the immense scale Operation Priboi, which spanned three Soviet republics, considerable resources were involved.
The following command staff were assigned with the task of deporting 30,000 families from the Baltic states:
  1. Chief of Staff Lieutenant-General Burmak (head of the USSR MGB Interior Forces Chief Administration);
  2. Lieutenant-General Golovko (head of Interior Forces Baltic District);
  3. Major-General Leont'ev (commander of Interior Forces stationed in Riga);
  4. Head of Communications Lieutenant-Colonel Kotov;
  5. Head of Transportation Lieutenant-Colonel Spektor;
  6. Quartermaster Colonel Sakharov;
  7. Colonel Rizhov (special representative of the USSR MGB Interior Forces Chief Administration).

In addition to the troops already stationed in Latvia and Estonia, an additional 8850 soldiers were deployed to Estonia and Latvia from other parts of the Soviet Union to take part in the operation, 4350 to Estonia:
Additional MGB Interior troops
USSR MGB Interior Forces Unit To Estonia To Latvia
1st Motorised Infantry Division (Moscow) 850 2,000
13th Motorised Infantry Division (Leningrad
Leningrad is the former name of Saint Petersburg, Russia.Leningrad may also refer to:- Places :* Leningrad Oblast, a federal subject of Russia, around Saint Petersburg* Leningrad, Tajikistan, capital of Muminobod district in Khatlon Province...

), one regiment
7th Division (Minsk
- Ecological situation :The ecological situation is monitored by Republican Center of Radioactive and Environmental Control .During 2003–2008 the overall weight of contaminants increased from 186,000 to 247,400 tons. The change of gas as industrial fuel to mazut for financial reasons has worsened...

), one regiment
4th Division (Lithuania), one regiment   1,000
Officers' Corp Training School (Sortavala
Sortavala is a town in the Republic of Karelia, Russia, located at the northern tip of Lake Ladoga. Population: It is an important station of the Vyborg-Joensuu railroad.-History:...

, Karelia
Karelia , the land of the Karelian peoples, is an area in Northern Europe of historical significance for Finland, Russia, and Sweden...

Military Specialised Secondary School (Saratov
-Modern Saratov:The Saratov region is highly industrialized, due in part to the rich in natural and industrial resources of the area. The region is also one of the more important and largest cultural and scientific centres in Russia...

Security Corps sergeants 1,400 500
Total 4,350 4,500

Telecommunications was a vital component to ensure smooth running of the operation, thus the MGB commandeered all civilian telephone exchanges for the duration. Due to the scope of the operation an extra 2,210 MGB communications personnel were brought in. A total of 8,422 trucks were organised. 5,010 civilian trucks were commandeered and the remaining vehicles were military origin, including 1,202 imported from the Leningrad Military District
Leningrad Military District
The Leningrad Military District was a military district of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation. In 2010 it was merged with the Moscow Military District, the Northern Fleet and the Baltic Fleet to form the new Western Military District.-History:...

, 210 from the Byelorussian Military District and 700 from MGB Interior Forces. Some 1,250 tons of fuel was stockpiled for use in the operation. These additional vehicles were stationed just outside the border of the Baltic Republics in advance so as not to raise suspicion and sent in at the start of the operation.


Personnel involved Number Proportion (%)
State security personnel 8,215 10.8
USSR MGB Interior Forces troops 21,206 27.8
Republican MGB Destruction Battalion
Destruction battalions
Destruction battalions, colloquially destroyers or strybki was a paramilitary organisation in the western Soviet Union, which fulfilled tasks of internal security in the Eastern Front and after it.-Background:...

18,387 24.1
Communist Party activists 28,404 37.1
Total 76,212 100.0

Deportation was to be physically performed by small nine–ten man operative teams, which included three USSR MGB agents ("troika"), two republican MGB Extermination Battalion soldiers and four or five local Communist Party activists who were armed by the MGB.

Additional 5,025 submachine guns and 1,900 rifles were brought in to ensure that these operative teams were sufficiently armed to carry out the operation. Unlike the June deportation
June deportation
June deportation was the first in the series of mass Soviet deportations of tens of thousands of people from the Baltic states, Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova starting June 14, 1941 that followed the occupation and annexation of the Baltic states. The procedure for deporting the "anti-Soviet...

 in 1941, the families deported in 1949 were not separated. Since the people had already experienced mass deportations, they looked out for arrival of fresh troops, vehicles, trains and attempted to hide. Therefore, the Soviets later organized smaller actions to locate those that escaped the first Operation Priboi in March.


Some 72% of the 94,000 deportees were women and children under the age of 16. Kruglov, the USSR Interior Minister, reported to Stalin on May 18 that 2,850 were "decrepit solitary old people", 1,785 children without parents to support them and 146 disabled.
Summary of results of Operation "Priboi"
Republic Families People Freight trains
Estonian SSR 7,702 19,827 15
Latvian SSR 13,537 41,811 31
Lithuanian SSR 8,012 25,951 20
Total 29,251 87,589 66
Gender and age of deportees
Absolute number Proportion (%)
Men 25,708 27.1
Women 41,987 44.3
Children (16 or under) 27,084 28.6
Total 94,779 100.0


The deportees were required to sign a document upon their arrival, officially designating them with the status of "special settlers" with no right of return to their home, with the penalty of twenty years' hard labour for attempted escapes. Deportees were not permitted to leave their designated area and were required to report to the local MVD commandant once a month, failure of which was a punishable offense. The following table shows the locations the deportees were sent.
Location of "special settlements" for deported Balts
Region of USSR Number of families Number of people Average family size % of total deportees
Amur Oblast
Amur Oblast
Amur Oblast is a federal subject of Russia , situated about east of Moscow on the banks of the Amur and Zeya Rivers. It shares its border with the Sakha Republic in the north, Khabarovsk Krai and the Jewish Autonomous Oblast in the east, People's Republic of China in the south, and Zabaykalsky...

2,028 5,451 2.7 5.8
Irkutsk Oblast
Irkutsk Oblast
Irkutsk Oblast is a federal subject of Russia , located in southeastern Siberia in the basins of Angara River, Lena, and Nizhnyaya Tunguska Rivers. The administrative center is the city of Irkutsk. Population: -History:...

8,475 25,834 3.0 27.3
Krasnoyarsk Krai
Krasnoyarsk Krai
Krasnoyarsk Krai is a federal subject of Russia . It is the second largest federal subject after the Sakha Republic, and Russia's largest krai, occupying an area of , which is 13% of the country's total territory. The administrative center of the krai is the city of Krasnoyarsk...

3,671 13,823 3.8 14.6
Novosibirsk Oblast
Novosibirsk Oblast
Novosibirsk Oblast is a federal subject of Russia located in southwestern Siberia. Its administrative and economic center is the city of Novosibirsk. Population: -Overview:...

2,028 5,451 2.7 5.8
Omsk Oblast
Omsk Oblast
Omsk Oblast is a federal subject of Russia , located in southwestern Siberia. The oblast has an area of and a population of with the majority, 1.15 million, living in Omsk, the administrative center....

8,475 25,834 3.0 27.3
Tomsk Oblast
Tomsk Oblast
Tomsk Oblast is a federal subject of Russia . It lies in the southeastern West Siberian Plain, in the southwest of the Siberian Federal District. Its administrative center is the city of Tomsk. Population:...

3,671 13,823 3.8 14.6
Total 30,630 93,779 3.1 99.0


By decree of the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet, orders and medals for the successful completion of Operation Priboi were to be granted. 75 people were awarded the Order of the Red Banner
Order of the Red Banner
The Soviet government of Russia established the Order of the Red Banner , a military decoration, on September 16, 1918 during the Russian Civil War...

, their names published in Pravda
Pravda was a leading newspaper of the Soviet Union and an official organ of the Central Committee of the Communist Party between 1912 and 1991....

on 25 August 1949. On 26 August, Pravda published the names of 17 people awarded the Order of the Great Patriotic War, First Class for courage and heroism displayed during the operation.

Further reading

  • Eesti rahva inimohvrid Nõukogude ja Saksa okupatsioonide ajal 1940–1953 by Peep Varju. Tartu
    Tartu is the second largest city of Estonia. In contrast to Estonia's political and financial capital Tallinn, Tartu is often considered the intellectual and cultural hub, especially since it is home to Estonia's oldest and most renowned university. Situated 186 km southeast of Tallinn, the...

    , 1997.
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