Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact negotiations

Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact negotiations

The Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact was an August 23, 1939 agreement between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany colloquially named after Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov and German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop. The treaty renounced warfare between the two countries. In addition to stipulations of non-aggression, the treaty included a secret protocol dividing several eastern European countries between the parties.

Before the treaty's signing, the Soviet Union conducted negotiations with the United Kingdom and France regarding a potential "Tripartite" alliance. Long-running talks between the Soviet Union and Germany over a potential economic pact expanded to include the military and political discussions, culminating in the pact, along with a commercial agreement signed four days earlier.



After World War I

After the Russian Revolution of 1917, Bolshevist Russia ended its fight against the Central Powers, including Germany, in World War I by signing the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.[1] Therein, Russia agreed to cede sovereignty and influence over parts of several eastern European countries.[2] Most of those countries became ostensible democratic republics following Germany's defeat and signing of an armistice in the autumn of 1918. With the exception of Belarus and Ukraine, those countries also became independent. However, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk lasted only eight and a half months, when Germany renounced it and broke off diplomatic relations with Russia.

Before World War I, Germany and Russia had long shared a trading relationship.[3] Germany is a relatively small country with few natural resources. It lacks natural supplies of several key raw materials needed for economic and military operations.[4][5] Since the late nineteenth century, it had relied heavily upon Russian imports of raw materials.[3] Germany imported 1.5 billion Rechsmarks of raw materials and other goods annually from Russia before the war.[3]

In 1922, the countries signed the Treaty of Rapallo, renouncing territorial and financial claims against each other. The countries pledged neutrality in the event of an attack against one another with the 1926 Treaty of Berlin. While imports of Soviet goods to Germany fell after World War I, after trade agreements signed between the two countries in the mid-1920s, trade had increased to 433 million Reichsmarks per year by 1927.[6]

In the early 1930s, this relationship fell as the more isolationist Stalinist regime asserted power and the abandonment of post-World War I military control decreased Germany's reliance on Soviet imports,[6] such that Soviet imports fell to 223 million Reichsmarks in 1934.[7]


In the mid-1930s, the Soviet Union made repeated efforts to reestablish closer contacts with Germany.[8] The Soviet Union chiefly sought to repay debts from earlier trade with raw materials, while Germany sought to rearm, and the countries signed a credit agreement in 1935.[9] The rise to power of the Nazi Party increased tensions between Germany, the Soviet Union and other countries with ethnic Slavs, which were considered "untermenschen" according to Nazi racial ideology.[10] The Nazis were convinced that ethnic Slavs were incapable of forming their own state and, accordingly, must be ruled by others.[11] Moreover, the anti-semitic Nazis associated ethnic Jews with both communism and international capitalism, both of which they opposed.[12][13] Consequently, Nazis believed that Soviet untermenschen Slavs were being ruled by "Jewish Bolshevik" masters.[14] Two primary goals of Nazism were to eliminate Jews and seek Lebensraum ("living space") for ethnic Aryans to the east.[11] In 1934, Hitler spoke of an inescapable battle against "pan-Slav ideals", the victory in which would lead to "permanent mastery of the world", though he stated that they would "walk part of the road with the Russians, if that will help us."[15]

Despite the political rhetoric, in 1936, the Soviets attempted to seek closer political ties to Germany along with an additional credit agreement, while Hitler rebuffed the advances, not wanting to seek closer political ties,[9] even though a 1936 raw material crisis prompted Hitler to decree a Four Year Plan for rearmament "without regard to costs."[16]

Tensions grew further after Germany and Fascist Italy supported the Fascist Spanish Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War in 1936, while the Soviets supported the partially socialist-led Spanish Republic opposition.[17] In November 1936, Soviet-German relations sank further when Germany and Japan entered the Anti-Comintern Pact, which was purportedly directed against the Communist International, though it contained a secret agreement that either side would remain neutral if the other became involved with the Soviet Union.[18] In November 1937, Italy also joined the Anti-Comintern Pact.[19]

Late 1930s

The Moscow Trials of the mid-1930s seriously undermined Soviet prestige in the West.[20] Soviet purges in 1937 and 1938 made a deal less likely by disrupting the already confused Soviet administrative structure necessary for negotiations and giving Hitler the belief that the Soviets' were militarily weak.[21]

The Soviets were not invited to the Munich Conference regarding Czechoslovakia . The Munich Agreement that followed[22] marked the dissolution of Czechoslovakia in 1938 through a partial German annexation, part of an appeasement of Germany.[23]

After German needs for military supplies after the Munich Agreement and Soviet demand for military machinery increased, talks between the two countries occurred from late 1938 to March 1939.[24] The Soviet Third Five Year Plan would require massive new infusions of technology and industrial equipment.[4][25] An autarkic economic approach or an alliance with England were impossible for Germany, such that closer relations with the Soviet Union were necessary, if not just for economic reasons alone.[4] At that time, Germany could supply only 25 percent of its petroleum needs, and without its primary United States petroleum source in a war, would have to look to Russia and Romania.[4] Germany suffered the same natural shortfall and supply problems for rubber and metal ores needed for hardened steel in war equipment ,[4] for which Germany relied on Soviet supplies or transit using Soviet rail lines.[4] Finally, Germany also imported 40 per cent of its fat and oil food requirements, which would grow if Germany conquered nations that were also net food importers,[26] and, thus, needed Soviet imports of Ukrainian grains or Soviet transshipments of Manchurian soybeans.[26] Moreover, an anticipated British blockade in the event of war and a cutoff of petroleum from the United States would create massive shortages for Germany regarding a number of key raw materials[26]

Following Hitler's March 1939 denunciation of the 1934 German–Polish Non-Aggression Pact,[27] Britain and France had made statements guaranteeing the sovereignty of Poland, and on April 25, signed a Common Defense Pact with Poland, when that country refused to be associated with a four-power guarantee involving the USSR.[28]

Initial talks

Potential for Soviet-German talk expansion

Germany and the Soviet Union discussed entering into an economic deal throughout early 1939.[29] For months, Germany had secretly hinted to Soviet diplomats that it could offer better terms for a political agreement than could Britain and France.[30][31][32] On March 10, Hitler in his official speech proclaimed that directly.[33][34] That same day, Stalin, in a speech to the Eighteenth Congress of the All-Union Communist Party, characterized western actions regarding Hitler as moving away from "collective security" and toward "nonintervention," with the goal being to direct Fascist aggression anywhere but against themselves.[35] After the Congress concluded, the Soviet press mounted an attack on both France and Great Britain.[35]

On April 7, a Soviet diplomat visited the German Foreign Ministry stating that there was no point in continuing the German-Soviet ideological struggle and that the countries could conduct a concerted policy.[36] Ten days later, the Soviet ambassador met the German Deputy Foreign Minister and presented him a note requesting speedy removal of any obstacles for fulfillment of military contracts signed between Czechoslovakia and the USSR before the former was occupied by Germany.[37] According to German accounts,[38] at the end of the discussion, the ambassador stated "'there exists for Russia no reason why she should not live with us on a normal footing. And from normal the relations might become better and better."[4][39] though other sources admit that it could be an exaggeration or inaccurate recounting of the ambassador's words.[40] Immediately after that, the Soviet ambassador had been withdrawn to Moscow and never returned to Germany.[37] According to Ulam, future conversations on the topic in Berlin were believed to continue with lower level officials working under the cover of a Soviet trade mission.[41]

Tripartite talks begin

Starting in mid-March 1939, the Soviet Union, Britain and France traded a flurry of suggestions and counterplans regarding a potential political and military agreement.[28] The Soviet Union feared Western powers and the possibility of a "capitalist encirclements", had little faith either that war could be avoided or in the Polish army, and wanted guaranteed support for a two-pronged attack on Germany.[42][43] Britain and France believed that war could still be avoided and that the Soviet Union, weakened by purges,[44] could not serve as a main military participant.[42] France, as a continental power, was more anxious for an agreement with the USSR than Britain, which was more willing to make concessions and more aware of the dangers of an agreement between the USSR and Germany.[45] On April 17, Soviet foreign minister Maxim Litvinov outlined a French–British–Soviet mutual assistance pact between the three powers for five to 10 years, including military support, if any of the powers were the subject of aggression.[28]

May changes

Litvinov Dismissal

On May 3, Stalin replaced Foreign Minister Litinov with Vyacheslav Molotov, which significantly increased Stalin's freedom to maneuver in foreign policy.[46] The dismissal of Litvinov, whose Jewish ethnicity was viewed disfavorably by Nazi Germany, removed an obstacle to negotiations with Germany.[41][47][48][49][50][51][52][53] Stalin immediately directed Molotov to "purge the ministry of Jews."[50][54][55] Given Litvinov's prior attempts to create of an anti-fascist coalition, association with the doctrine of collective security with France and Britain, and pro-Western orientation[56] by the standards of the Kremlin, his dismissal indicated the existence of a Soviet option of rapprochement with Germany.[57][58] Likewise, Molotov's appointment served as a signal to Germany that the USSR was open to offers.[57] The dismissal also signaled to France and Britain the existence of a potential negotiation option with Germany.[28][59] One British official wrote that Litvinov's disappearance also meant the loss of an admirable technician or shock-absorber, while Molotov's "modus operandi" was "more truly Bolshevik than diplomatic or cosmopolitan."[60] But Stalin sent double message: Molotov appointed Solomon Lozovsky, a Jew, as one of his deputies.[61]

May tripartite negotiations

Although informal consultations started in late April, the main negotiations between the Soviet Union, Britain and France began in May.[28] At a meeting in May 1939, the French Foreign Minister told the Soviet Ambassador to France that he was willing to support turning over all of eastern Poland to the Soviet Union, regardless of Polish opposition, if that was the price of an alliance with Moscow.[62]

German supply concerns and potential political discussions

In May, German war planners also became increasingly concerned that, without Russian supplies, Germany would need to find massive substitute quantities of 165,000 tons of manganese and almost 2 million tons of oil per year.[63] In the context of further economic discussions, on May 17, the Soviet ambassador told a German official that he wanted to restate "in detail that there were no conflicts in foreign policy between Germany and Soviet Russia and that therefore there was no reason for any enmity between the two countries."[64] Three days later, on May 20, Molotov told the German ambassador in Moscow that he no longer wanted to discuss only economic matters, and that it was necessary to establish a "political basis",[65] which German officials saw an "implicit invitation."[64]

On May 26, German officials feared a potential positive result to come from the Soviets talks regarding proposals by Britain and France.[66] On May 30, fearing potential positive results from a British and French offer to the Soviets,[66] Germany directed its diplomats in Moscow that "we have now decided to undertake definite negotiations with the Soviet Union."[41] The ensuing discussions were channeled through the economic negotiation, because the economic needs of the two sides were substantial and because close military and diplomatic connections had been severed in the mid-1930s, leaving these talks as the only means of communication.[66]

Baltic sticking point and German rapprochement

Mixed signals

The Soviets sent mixed signals thereafter.[66] In his first main speech as Soviet Foreign Minister on May 31, Molotov criticized an Anglo-French proposal,[67] stated that the Soviets did not "consider it necessary to renounce business relations with countries like Germany" and proposed to enter a wide-ranging mutual assistance pact against aggression.[68] However, Soviet Commissar for Foreign Trade Mikoyan argued on June 2 to a German official that Moscow "had lost all interest in these [economic] negotiations' as a result of earlier German procrastination."[66]

Tripartite talks progress and Baltic moves

On June 2, the Soviet Union insisted that any mutual assistance pact should be accompanied by a military agreement describing in detail the military assistance that the Soviets, French and British would provide.[69] That day, the Soviet Union also submitted a modification to a French and British proposal[69] that specified the states that would be given aid in the event of "direct aggression", which included Belgium, Greece, Turkey, Romania, Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Finland.[70] Five days later, Estonia and Latvia signed non-aggression pacts with Germany,[71] creating suspicions that Germany had ambitions in a region through which it could attack the Soviet Union.[72]

British attempt to stop German armament

On June 8, the Soviets had agreed that a high ranking German official could come to Moscow to continue the economic negotiations, which occurred in Moscow on July 3.[73] Thereafter, official talks were started in Berlin on July 22.[74]

Meanwhile, hoping to stop the German war machine, in July, Britain conducted talks with Germany regarding a potential plan to bail out the debt-ridden German economy, at the cost of one billion pounds, in exchange for Germany ending its armaments program.[75] The British press broke a story on the talks, and Germany eventually rejected the offer.[75]

Tripartite talks regarding "indirect aggression"

After weeks of political talks that began after the arrival of Central Department Foreign Office head William Strang, on July 8, the British and French submitted a proposed agreement, to which Molotov added a supplementary letter.[76] Talks in late July stalled over a provision in Molotov's supplementary letter stating that a political turn to Germany by the Baltic states constituted "indirect aggression",[77] which Britain feared might justify Soviet intervention in Finland and the Baltic states or push those countries to seek closer relations with Germany (while France was less resistant to the supplement).[69][78] On July 23, France and Britain agreed with the Soviet proposal to draw up a military convention specifying a reaction to a German attack.[69]

Soviet-German political negotiation beginnings

Joachim Ribbentrop

Only July 18, Soviet trade representative Yevgeniy Barbarin visited Julius Schnurre, saying that the Soviets would like to extend and intensify German-Soviet relations.[79] On July 25, the Soviet Union and Germany were very close to finalizing the terms of a proposed economic deal.[80] On July 26, over dinner, the Soviets accepted a proposed three stage agenda which included the economic agenda first and "a new arrangement which took account of the vital political interests of both parties."[80][81][82] On July 28, Molotov sent a first political instruction to the Soviet ambassador in Berlin that finally opened the door to a political detente with Germany.[83]

Germany had learned about the military convention talks before the July 31 British announcement[69] and were skeptical that the Soviets would reach a deal with Britain and France during those planned talks in August.[84] On August 1, the Soviet ambassador stated that two conditions must be met before political negotiations could begin: a new economic treaty and the cessation of anti-Soviet attacks by German media, with which German officials immediately agreed.[80] On August 2, Soviet political discussions with France and Britain were suspended when Molotov stated they could not be restarted until progress was made in the scheduled military talks.[85]

Addressing past hostilities

On August 3, German Foreign Minister Joachim Ribbentrop told Soviet diplomats that "there was no problem between the Baltic and the Black Sea that could not be solved between the two of us."[30][86][87] The Germans discussed prior hostility between the nations in the 1930s. They addressed the common ground of anti-capitalism, stating "there is one common element in the ideology of Germany, Italy and the Soviet Union: opposition to the capitalist democracies,"[86][88] "neither we nor Italy have anything in common with the capitalist west" and "it seems to us rather unnatural that a socialist state would stand on the side of the western democracies."[89] They explained that their prior hostility toward Soviet Bolshevism had subsided with the changes in the Comintern and the Soviet renunciation of a world revolution.[89] Astakhov characterized the conversation as "extremely important."[89]

Final negotiations

Finalizing the economic agreement

In August, as Germany scheduled its invasion of Poland on August 25 and prepared for war with France, German war planners estimated that, with an expected British naval blockade, if the Soviet Union became hostile, Germany would fall short of their war mobilization requirements of oil, manganese, rubber and foodstuffs by huge margins.[80] Every internal German military and economic study had argued that Germany was doomed to defeat without at least Soviet neutrality.[90] On August 5, Soviet officials stated that the completion of the trading credit agreement was the most important stage that could be taken in the direction of further such talks.[90]

By August 10, the countries worked out the last minor technical details to to make all but final the their economic arrangement, but the Soviets delayed signing that agreement for almost ten days until they were sure that they had reached a political agreement with Germany.[90] The Soviet ambassador explained to German officials that the Soviets had begun their British negotiations "without much enthusiasm" at a time when they felt Germany would not "come to an understanding", and the parallel talks with the British could not be simply broken off when they had been initiated after 'mature consideration.'[91] On August 12, Germany received word that Molotov wished to further discuss these issues, including Poland, in Moscow.[92]

Tripartite military talks begin

The Soviets, British and French began military negotiations in August. They were delayed until August 12 because the British military delegation, which did not include Strang, took six days to make the trip traveling in a slow merchant ship, undermining the Soviets' confidence in British resolve.[93] On August 14, the question of Poland was raised by Voroshilov for the first time, requesting that the British and French pressure the Poles to enter into an agreement allowing the Soviet army to be stationed in Poland.[94] The Polish government feared that the Soviet government sought to annex disputed territories, the Eastern Borderlands, received by Poland in 1920 after the Treaty of Riga ending the Polish–Soviet War. The British and French contingent communicated the Soviet concern over Poland to their home offices and told the Soviet delegation that they could not answer this political matter without their governments' approval.[95]

Meanwhile, Molotov spoke with Germany's Moscow ambassador on August 15 regarding the possibility of "settling by negotiation all outstanding problems of Soviet–German relations."[96] The discussion included the possibility of a Soviet-German non-aggression pact, the fates of the Baltic states and potential improvements in Soviet-Japanese relations.[97] Molotov stated that "should the German foreign minister come here" these issues "must be discussed in concrete terms."[97] Within hours of receiving word of the meeting, Germany sent a reply stating that it was prepared to conclude a 25 year non-aggression pact, ready to "guarantee the Baltic States jointly with the Soviet Union", and ready to exert influence to improve Soviet-Japanese relations.[97] The Soviets responded positively, but stated that a "special protocol" was required "defining the interests" of the parties.[98] Germany replied that, in contrast to the British delegation in Moscow at that time without Strang, Ribbentrop personally would travel to Moscow to conclude a deal.[98]

In the Soviet-British-French talks, the Anglo-Franco military negotiators were sent to discuss "general principles" rather than details.[94] On August 15, the British contingent was instructed to move more quickly to bring the military talks to a conclusion, and thus, were permitted to give Soviet negotiators confidential British information.[95] The British contingent stated that Britain currently only possessed six army divisions but, in the event of a war, they could employ 16 divisions initially, followed by a second contingent of 16 divisions—a sum far less than the 120 Soviet divisions.[94] French negotiators stated that they had 110 divisions available.[99] In discussions on August 18–19, the Poles informed the French ambassador that they would not approve Red Army troops operating in Poland.[100]

Delayed commercial agreement signing

After Soviet and German officials in Moscow first finalized the terms of a seven year German-Soviet Commercial Agreement, German officials became nervous that the Soviets were delaying its signing on August 19 for political reasons.[101] When Tass published a report that the Soviet-British-French talks had become snarled over the Far East and "entirely different matters", Germany took it as a signal that there was still time and hope to reach a Soviet-German deal.[101] Hitler himself sent out a coded telegram to Stalin stating that because "Poland has become intolerable," Stalin must receive Ribbentrop in Moscow by August 23 at the latest to sign a Pact.[102] Controversy surrounds a related alleged Stalin's speech on August 19, 1939 asserting that a great war between the Western powers was necessary for the spread of World Revolution.[103] Historians debate whether that speech ever actually occurred.[103]

At 2:00 a.m. on August 20,[104] Germany and the Soviet Union signed a commercial agreement, dated August 19, providing for the trade of certain German military and civilian equipment in exchange for Soviet raw materials.[104][105] The agreement covered "current" business, which entailed a Soviet obligation to deliver 180 million Reichsmarks in raw materials in response to German orders, while Germany would allow the Soviets to order 120 million Reichsmarks for German industrial goods.[104][106][107] Under the agreement, Germany also granted the Soviet Union a merchandise credit of 200 million Reichsmarks over 7 years to buy German manufactured goods[108] at an extremely favorable interest rate.[106]

Soviets adjourn tripartite military talks and strike a deal with Germany

After the Poles' resistance to pressure,[30][109] on August 21, Voroshilov proposed adjournment of the military talks with the British and French, using the excuse that the absence of the senior Soviet personnel at the talks interfered with the autumn manoeuvres of the Soviet forces though the primary reason was the progress being made in the Soviet-German negotiations.[109]

That same day, August 21, Stalin has received assurance would approve secret protocols to the proposed non-aggression pact that would grant the Soviets land in Poland, the Baltic states, Finland and Romania.[110] That night, with Germany nervously awaiting a response to Hitler's August 19 telegram, Stalin replied at 9:35 p.m. that the Soviets were willing to sign the pact and that he would receive Ribbentrop on August 23.[111] The Pact was signed sometime in the night between August 23–24.[112]

Pact signing

Ribbentrop and Stalin at the signing of the Pact

On August 24, a 10-year non-aggression pact was signed with provisions that included: consultation; arbitration if either party disagreed; neutrality if either went to war against a third power; no membership of a group "which is directly or indirectly aimed at the other." Most notably, there was also a secret protocol to the pact, according to which the states of Northern and Eastern Europe were divided into German and Soviet "spheres of influence".[113]

Poland was to be partitioned in the event of its "political rearrangement".[113] The USSR was promised an eastern part of Poland, primarily populated with Ukrainians and Belarusians, in case of its dissolution, and additionally Latvia, Estonia and Finland.[113] Bessarabia, then part of Romania, was to be joined to the Moldovan ASSR, and become the Moldovan SSR under control of Moscow.[113] The news was met with utter shock and surprise by government leaders and media worldwide, most of whom were aware only of the British-French-Soviet negotiations that had taken place for months.[30]

Ribbentrop and Stalin enjoyed warm conversations at the signing, exchanging toasts and further discussing the prior hostilities between the countries in the 1930s.[114] Ribbentrop stated that Britain had always attempted to disrupt Soviet-German relations, was "weak", and "wants to let others fight for her presumptuous claim to world dominion."[114] Stalin concurred, adding "[i]f England dominated the world, that was due to the stupidity of the other countries that always let themselves be bluffed."[114] Ribbentrop stated that the Anti-Comintern Pact was directed not against the Soviet Union, but against Western democracies, "frightened principally the City of London [i.e., the British financiers] and the English shopkeepers" and stated that Berliners had joked that Stalin would yet joint the Anti-Comintern Pact himself.[112] Stalin proposed a toast to Hitler, and Stalin and Molotov repeatedly toasted the German nation, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and Soviet-German relations.[112] Ribbentrop countered with a toast to Stalin and a toast the countries' relations.[112] As Ribbentrop left, Stalin took him aside and stated that the Soviet Government took the new pact very seriously, and he would "guarantee his word of honor that the Soviet Union would not betray its partner."[112]

Events during the Pact's operation

Immediate dealings with Britain

The day after the Pact was signed, the French and British military negotiation delegation urgently requested a meeting with Voroshilov.[115] On August 25, Voroshilov told them "[i]n view of the changed political situation, no useful purpose can be served in continuing the conversation."[115] That day, Hitler told the British ambassador to Berlin that the pact with the Soviets prevented Germany from facing a two front war, changing the strategic situation from that in World War I, and that Britain should accept his demands regarding Poland.[116] Surprising Hitler, Britain signed a mutual-assistance treaty with Poland that day, causing Hitler to delay the planned August 26 invasion of western Poland.[116]

Division of eastern Europe

On September 1, 1939, the German invasion of its agreed upon portion of western Poland started World War II.[37] On September 17 the Red Army invaded eastern Poland and occupied the Polish territory assigned to it by the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, followed by co-ordination with German forces in Poland.[30][117] Eleven days later, the secret protocol of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was modified, allotting Germany a larger part of Poland, while ceding most of Lithuania to the Soviet Union.[118]

After a Soviet attempt to invade Finland faced stiff resistance, the combatants signed an interim peace, granting the Soviets approximately 10 per cent of Finnish territory.[119] The Soviet Union also sent troops into Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia.[118][120] Thereafter, governments in all three Baltic countries requesting admission to the Soviet Union were installed.[121]

Further dealings

Germany and the Soviet Union entered an intricate trade pact on February 11, 1940 that was over four times larger than the one the two countries had signed in August of 1939,[105] providing for millions of tons of shipment to Germany of oil, foodstuffs and other key raw materials, in exchange for German war machines and other equipment.[105] This was followed by a January 10, 1941 agreement setting several ongoing issues, including border specificity, ethnic migrations and further commercial deal expansion.[122][123]

Discussions in the fall and winter of 1940-41 ensued regarding the potential entry of the Soviet Union as the fourth members of the Axis powers.[124][125] The countries never came to an agreement on the issue.[126]


German invasion of the Soviet Union

Nazi Germany terminated the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact with its invasion of the Soviet Union in Operation Barbarossa on June 22, 1941.[127] After the launch of the invasion, the territories gained by the Soviet Union due to the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact were lost in a matter of weeks. In the three weeks following the Pact's breaking, attempting to defend against large German advances, the Soviet Union suffered 750,000 casualties, and lost 10,000 tanks and 4,000 aircraft.[128] Within six months, the Soviet military had suffered 4.3 million casualties[129] and the Germans had captured three million Soviet prisoners, two million of which would die in German captivity by February 1942.[128] German forces had advanced 1,050 miles (1,690 kilometers), and maintained a linearly-measured front of 1,900 miles (3,058 kilometers).[130]

Post-war commentary regarding Pact negotiations

The reasons behind signing the pact

There is no consensus among historians regarding the reasons that prompted the Soviet Union to sign the pact with Nazi Germany. According to Ericson, the opinions "have ranged from seeing the Soviets as far-sighted anti-Nazis, to seeing them as reluctant appeasers, as cautious expansionists, or as active aggressors and blackmailers".[131] Edward Hallett Carr argued that it was necessary to enter into a non-aggression pact to buy time, since the Soviet Union was not in a position to fight a war in 1939, and needed at least three years to prepare. He stated: "In return for non-intervention Stalin secured a breathing space of immunity from German attack." According to Carr, the "bastion" created by means of the Pact, "was and could only be, a line of defense against potential German attack."[132][133] An important advantage (projected by Carr) was that "if Soviet Russia had eventually to fight Hitler, the Western Powers would already be involved." [134][135]

However, during the last decades, this view has been disputed. Historian Werner Maser stated that "the claim that the Soviet Union was at the time threatened by Hitler, as Stalin supposed, a legend, to whose creators Stalin himself belonged." (Maser 1994: 64). In Maser's view (1994: 42), "neither Germany nor Japan were in a situation [of] invading the USSR even with the least perspective [sic] of success," and this could not have been unknown to Stalin.

Some critics, such as Viktor Suvorov, claim that Stalin's primary motive for signing the Soviet–German non-aggression treaty was Stalin's calculation that such a pact could result in a conflict between the capitalist countries of Western Europe. This idea is supported by Albert L. Weeks.[136] It must be noted, however, that other claims by Suvorov, such as the Stalin's planning to invade Germany in 1941, have remained under debate among historians, with some like David Glantz opposing, and others like Mikhail Meltyukhov supporting it.

The extent to which the Soviet Union's post-Pact territorial acquisitions may have contributed to preventing its fall (and thus a Nazi victory in the war) remains a factor in evaluating the Pact. Soviet sources point out that the German advance eventually stopped just a few kilometers away from Moscow, so the role of the extra territory might have been crucial in such a close call. Others postulate that Poland and the Baltic countries played the important role of buffer states between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, and that the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact was a precondition not only for Germany's invasion of Western Europe, but also for the Third Reich's invasion of the Soviet Union. The military aspect of moving from established fortified positions on the Stalin Line into undefended Polish territory could also be seen as one of the causes of rapid disintegration of Soviet armed forces in the border area during the German 1941 campaign, as the newly constructed Molotov Line was unfinished and unable to provide Soviet troops with the necessary defense capabilities.

Documentary evidence of early Soviet-German rapprochement

In 1948, the U.S. State Department published a collection of documents recovered from the Foreign Office of Nazi Germany,[137] that formed a documentary base for studies of Nazi-Soviet relations.[138] This collection contains the German State Secretary's account on a meeting with Soviet ambassador Merekalov. This memorandum[139] reproduces the following ambassador's statement: "'there exists for Russia no reason why she should not live with us on a normal footing. And from normal the relations might become better and better."[4][39] According to Carr, this document is the first recorded Soviet step in the rapprochement with Germany.[140]
The next documentary evidence is the memorandum on the May 17 meeting between the Soviet ambassador and German Foreign Office official,[141] where the ambassador "stated in detail that there were no conflicts in foreign policy between Germany and Soviet Russia and that therefore there was no reason for any enmity between the two countries."[64]
The third document is the summary of the May 20 meeting between Molotov and German ambassador von der Schulenburg.[142] According to the document, Molotov told the German ambassador that he no longer wanted to discuss only economic matters, and that it was necessary to establish a "political basis",[65] which German officials saw as an "implicit invitation."[64]
The last document is the German State Office memorandum on the telephone call made on June 17 by Bulgarian ambassador Draganov.[143] In German accounts of Draganov's report, Astakhov explained that a Soviet deal with Germany better suited the Soviets than one with Britain and France, although from the Bulgarian ambassador it "could not be ascertained whether it had reflected the personal opinions of Herr Astakhov or the opinions of the Soviet Government".[142]

This documentary evidence of an early Nazi-Soviet rapprochement were questioned by Geoffrey Roberts, who analyzed Soviet archival documents[144] that had been de-classified and released on the eve of 1990s.[145] Roberts found no evidence that the alleged statements quoted by the Germans had ever been made in reality, and came to the conclusion that the German archival documents cannot serve as evidence for the existence of a dual policy during first half of 1939. According to him, no documentary evidence exists that the USSR responded to or made any overtures to the Germans "until the end of July 1939 at the earliest".[146]

Litvinov's dismissal and Molotov's appointment

Many historians note that the dismissal of Foreign Minister Litvinov, whose Jewish ethnicity was viewed unfavorably by Nazi Germany, removed a major obstacle to negotiations between the them and the USSR.[41][47][48][49][50][51][52][53]
Carr, however, has argued that the Soviet Union's replacement of Litvinov with Molotov on May 3, 1939 indicated not an irrevocable shift towards alignment with Germany, but rather was Stalin’s way of engaging in hard bargaining with the British and the French by appointing a tough negotiator, namely Molotov, to the Foreign Commissariat.[147] Albert Resis argued that the replacement of Litvinov by Molotov was both a warning to Britain and a signal to Germany.[148] Derek Watson argued that Molotov could get the best deal with Britain and France because he was not encumbered with the baggage of collective security and could more easily negotiate with Germany.[149] Geoffrey Roberts argued that Litvinov's dismissal helped the Soviets with British-French talks, because Litvinov doubted or maybe even opposed such discussions.[150]

See also

  • Timeline of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact


  1. ^ George F. Kennan Soviet Foreign Policy 1917-1941, Kreiger Publishing Company, 1960.
  2. ^ Text of the 3 March, 1918 Peace Treaty of Brest-Litovsk
  3. ^ a b c Ericson 1999, pp. 11–12
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Ericson 1999, pp. 1–2
  5. ^ Hehn 2005, p. 15
  6. ^ a b Ericson 1999, pp. 14–5
  7. ^ Hehn 2005, p. 212
  8. ^ Ericson 1999, pp. 17–18
  9. ^ a b Ericson 1999, pp. 23–24
  10. ^ Bendersky,Joseph W., A History of Nazi Germany: 1919-1945, Rowman & Littlefield, 2000, ISBN 0-8304-1567-X, page 177
  11. ^ a b Wette, Wolfram, Deborah Lucas SchneiderThe Wehrmacht: History, Myth, Reality, Harvard University Press, 2006 ISBN 0-674-02213-0, page 15
  12. ^ Lee, Stephen J. and Paul Shuter, Weimar and Nazi Germany, Heinemann, 1996, ISBN 0-435-30920-X, page 33
  13. ^ Bendersky, Joseph W., A History of Nazi Germany: 1919-1945, Rowman & Littlefield, 2000, ISBN 0-8304-1567-X, page 159
  14. ^ Müller, Rolf-Dieter, Gerd R. Ueberschär, Hitler's War in the East, 1941-1945: A Critical Assessment, Berghahn Books, 2002, ISBN 157181293, page 244
  15. ^ Rauschning, Hermann, Hitler Speaks: A Series of Political Conversations With Adolf Hitler on His Real Aims, Kessinger Publishing, 2006,ISBN 142860034, pages 136-7
  16. ^ Hehn 2005, p. 37
  17. ^ Jurado, Carlos Caballero and Ramiro Bujeiro, The Condor Legion: German Troops in the Spanish Civil War, Osprey Publishing, 2006, ISBN 1-84176-899-5, page 5-6
  18. ^ Gerhard Weinberg: The Foreign Policy of Hitler's Germany Diplomatic Revolution in Europe 1933-36, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970, pages 346.
  19. ^ Robert Melvin Spector. World Without Civilization: Mass Murder and the Holocaust, History, and Analysis, pg. 257
  20. ^ Piers Brendon, The Dark Valley, Alfred A. Knopf, 2000, ISBN 0-375-40881-9
  21. ^ Ericson 1999, pp. 27–28
  22. ^ Text of the Agreement concluded at Munich, September 29, 1938, between Germany, Great Britain, France and Italy
  23. ^ Kershaw, Ian, Hitler, 1936-1945: Nemesis, W. W. Norton & Company, 2001, ISBN 0-393-32252-1, page 157-8
  24. ^ Ericson 1999, pp. 29–35
  25. ^ Hehn 2005, pp. 42–3
  26. ^ a b c Ericson 1999, pp. 3–4
  27. ^ Manipulating the Ether: The Power of Broadcast Radio in Thirties America Robert J. Brown ISBN 0-7864-2066-9
  28. ^ a b c d e Watson 2000, p. 698
  29. ^ Ericson 1999, pp. 23–35
  30. ^ a b c d e Roberts 2006, p. 30
  31. ^ Tentative Efforts To Improve German–Soviet Relations, April 17 – August 14, 1939
  32. ^ "Natural Enemies: The United States and the Soviet Union in the Cold War 1917–1991" by Robert C. Grogin 2001, Lexington Books page 28
  33. ^ Zachary Shore. What Hitler Knew: The Battle for Information in Nazi Foreign Policy. Published by Oxford University Press US, 2005 ISBN 0-19-518261-8, 9780195182613, p. 109
  34. ^ Nekrich, Ulam & Freeze 1997, p. 107
  35. ^ a b Karski, J. The Great Powers and Poland, University Press, 1985, p.342
  36. ^ Nekrich, Ulam & Freeze 1997, pp. 108–9
  37. ^ a b c Roberts (1992; Historical Journal) p. 921-926
  38. ^
  39. ^ a b Ericson 1999, p. 43
  40. ^ Biskupski & Wandycz 2003, pp. 171–72
  41. ^ a b c d Ulam 1989, p. 508
  42. ^ a b Watson 2000, p. 695
  43. ^ In Jonathan Haslam's view it shouldn't be overlooked that Stalin's adherence to the collective security line was purely conditional. [Review of] Stalin's Drive to the West, 1938–1945: The Origins of the Cold War. by R. Raack; The Soviet Union and the Origins of the Second World War: Russo-German Relations and the Road to War, 1933–1941. by G. Roberts. The Journal of Modern History > Vol. 69, No. 4 (Dec., 1997), p.787
  44. ^ D.C. Watt, How War Came: the Immediate Origins of the Second World War 1938-1939 (London, 1989), p. 118. ISBN 0-394-57916-X, 9780394579160
  45. ^ Watson 2000, p. 696
  46. ^ Resis 2000, p. 47
  47. ^ a b Israeli?, Viktor Levonovich, On the Battlefields of the Cold War: A Soviet Ambassador's Confession, Penn State Press, 2003, ISBN 0-271-02297-3, page 10
  48. ^ a b Nekrich, Ulam & Freeze 1997, pp. 109–110
  49. ^ a b Shirer 1990, pp. 480–1
  50. ^ a b c Herf 2006, pp. 97–98
  51. ^ a b Osborn, Patrick R., Operation Pike: Britain Versus the Soviet Union, 1939-1941, Greenwood Publishing Group, 2000, ISBN 0-313-31368-7, page xix
  52. ^ a b Levin, Nora, The Jews in the Soviet Union Since 1917: Paradox of Survival, NYU Press, 1988, ISBN 0-8147-5051-6, page 330. Litvniov "was referred to by the German radio as 'Litvinov-Finkelstein'-- was dropped in favor of Vyascheslav Molotov. 'The emininent Jew', as Churchill put it, 'the target of German antagonism was flung aside . . . like a broken tool . . . The Jew Litvinov was gone and Hitler's dominant prejudice placated.'"
  53. ^ a b In an introduction to a 1992 paper, Geoffrey Roberts writes: "Perhaps the only thing that can be salvaged from the wreckage of the orthodox interpretation of Litvinov's dismissal is some notion that, by appointing Molotov foreign minister, Stalin was preparing for the contingency of a possible deal with Hitler. In view of Litvinov's Jewish heritage and his militant anti-nazism, that is not an unreasonable supposition. But it is a hypothesis for which there is as yet no evidence. Moreover, we shall see that what evidence there is suggests that Stalin's decision was determined by a quite different set of circumstances and calculations", Geoffrey Roberts. The Fall of Litvinov: A Revisionist View Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 27, No. 4 (Oct., 1992), pp. 639-657 Stable URL:
  54. ^ Resis 2000, p. 35
  55. ^ Moss, Walter, A History of Russia: Since 1855, Anthem Press, 2005, ISBN 1-84331-034-1, page 283
  56. ^ Gorodetsky, Gabriel, Soviet Foreign Policy, 1917-1991: A Retrospective, Routledge, 1994, ISBN 0-7146-4506-0, page 55
  57. ^ a b Resis 2000, p. 51
  58. ^ According to Paul Flewers, Stalin’s address to the eighteenth congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union on March 10, 1939 discounted any idea of German designs on the Soviet Union. Stalin had intended: "To be cautious and not allow our country to be drawn into conflicts by warmongers who are accustomed to have others pull the chestnuts out of the fire for them." This was intended to warn the Western powers that they could not necessarily rely upon the support of the Soviet Union. As Flewers put it, “Stalin was publicly making the none-too-subtle implication that some form of deal between the Soviet Union and Germany could not be ruled out.” From the Red Flag to the Union Jack: The Rise of Domestic Patriotism in the Communist Party of Great Britain 1995
  59. ^ Resis 2000, pp. 33–56
  60. ^ Watson 2000, p. 699
  61. ^ Montefiore 2005, p. 312
  62. ^ Imlay, Talbot, "France and the Phony War, 1939-1940", pages 261-280 from French Foreign and Defence Policy, 1918-1940 edited by Robert Boyce, London, United Kingdom: Routledge, 1998 page 264
  63. ^ Ericson 1999, p. 44
  64. ^ a b c d Ericson 1999, p. 45
  65. ^ a b Nekrich, Ulam & Freeze 1997, p. 111
  66. ^ a b c d e Ericson 1999, p. 46
  67. ^ Biskupski & Wandycz 2003, p. 179
  68. ^ Watson 2000, p. 703
  69. ^ a b c d e Shirer 1990, p. 502
  70. ^ Watson 2000, p. 704
  71. ^ Roberts 1995, p. 1995
  72. ^ J. Haslam, The Soviet Union and the Struggle for Collective Security in Europe, 1933-39 (London, 1984), pp. 207, 210. ISBN 0-333-30050-5, 9780333300503
  73. ^ Ericson 1999, p. 47
  74. ^ Nekrich, Ulam & Freeze 1997, p. 114
  75. ^ a b Hehn 2005, p. 218
  76. ^ Biskupski & Wandycz 2003, p. 186
  77. ^ Watson 2000, p. 708
  78. ^ Hiden, John, The Baltic and the Outbreak of the Second World War, Cambridge University Press, 2003, ISBN 0-521-53120-9, page 46
  79. ^ Shirer 1990, p. 447
  80. ^ a b c d Ericson 1999, pp. 54–55
  81. ^ Fest 2002, p. 588
  82. ^ Ulam 1989, pp. 509–10
  83. ^ Roberts 1992, p. 64
  84. ^ Shirer 1990, p. 503
  85. ^ Shirer 1990, p. 504
  86. ^ a b Fest 2002, pp. 589–90
  87. ^ Vehviläinen, Olli, Finland in the Second World War: Between Germany and Russia, Macmillan, 2002, ISBN 0-333-80149-0, page 30
  88. ^ Bertriko, Jean-Jacques Subrenat, A. and David Cousins, Estonia: Identity and Independence, Rodopi, 2004, ISBN 90-420-0890-3 page 131
  89. ^ a b c Nekrich, Ulam & Freeze 1997, p. 115
  90. ^ a b c Ericson 1999, p. 56
  91. ^ Erickson 2001, p. 539-30
  92. ^ Shirer 1990, p. 513
  93. ^ Watson 2000, p. 713
  94. ^ a b c Shirer 1990, pp. 533–4
  95. ^ a b Shirer 1990, p. 535
  96. ^ Taylor and Shaw, Penguin Dictionary of the Third Reich, 1997, p.246.
  97. ^ a b c Shirer 1990, p. 521
  98. ^ a b Shirer 1990, pp. 523–4
  99. ^ Murphy 2006, p. 22
  100. ^ Shirer 1990, p. 536
  101. ^ a b Shirer 1990, p. 525
  102. ^ Shirer 1990, pp. 526–7
  103. ^ a b Murphy 2006, pp. 24–28
  104. ^ a b c Ericson 1999, p. 57
  105. ^ a b c Shirer 1990, p. 668
  106. ^ a b Wegner 1997, p. 99
  107. ^ Grenville & Wasserstein 2001, p. 227
  108. ^ Ericson 1999, p. 61
  109. ^ a b Watson 2000, p. 715
  110. ^ Murphy 2006, p. 23
  111. ^ Shirer 1990, p. 528
  112. ^ a b c d e Shirer 1990, p. 540
  113. ^ a b c d Text of the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, executed August 23, 1939
  114. ^ a b c Shirer 1990, p. 539
  115. ^ a b Shirer 1990, pp. 541–2
  116. ^ a b Nekrich, Ulam & Freeze 1997, p. 123
  117. ^ Sanford, George (2005). Katyn and the Soviet Massacre Of 1940: Truth, Justice And Memory. London, New York: Routledge. ISBN 0415338735. 
  118. ^ a b Wettig, Gerhard, Stalin and the Cold War in Europe, Rowman & Littlefield, Landham, Md, 2008, ISBN 0-7425-5542-9, page 20
  119. ^ Kennedy-Pipe, Caroline, Stalin's Cold War, New York : Manchester University Press, 1995, ISBN 0-7190-4201-1
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  122. ^ Ericson 1999, pp. 150–3
  123. ^ Johari, J.C., Soviet Diplomacy 1925-41: 1925-27, Anmol Publications PVT. LTD., 2000, ISBN 81-7488-491-2 pages 134-137
  124. ^ Roberts 2006, p. 58
  125. ^ Brackman, Roman, The Secret File of Joseph Stalin: A Hidden Life, London and Portland, Frank Cass Publishers, 2001, ISBN 0-7146-5050-1, page 341
  126. ^ Roberts 2006, p. 59
  127. ^ Roberts 2006, p. 82
  128. ^ a b Roberts 2006, p. 85
  129. ^ Roberts 2006, pp. 116–7
  130. ^ Glantz, David, The Soviet-German War 1941–45: Myths and Realities: A Survey Essay, October 11, 2001, page 7
  131. ^ Edward E. Ericson, III. Karl Schnurre and the Evolution of Nazi-Soviet Relations, 1936-1941. German Studies Review, Vol. 21, No. 2 (May, 1998), pp. 263-283
  132. ^ Carr, Edward H., German–Soviet Relations between the Two World Wars, 1919–1939, Oxford 1952, p. 136.
  133. ^ E. H. Carr., From Munich to Moscow. I., Soviet Studies, Vol. 1, No. 1, (Jun., 1949), pp. 3–17. Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd.
  134. ^ Taylor, A.J.P., The Origins of the Second World War, London 1961, p. 262–3
  135. ^ Max Beloff. Soviet Foreign Policy, 1929-41: Some Notes Soviet Studies, Vol. 2, No. 2 (Oct., 1950), pp. 123-137
  136. ^ Stalin's Other War: Soviet Grand Strategy, 1939–1941 ISBN 0-7425-2191-5
  137. ^ Nazi-Soviet relations 1939-1941. : Documents from the Archives of The German Foreign Office. Raymond James Sontag and James Stuart Beddie, ed. 1948. Department of State. Publication 3023 [1]
  138. ^ Geoffrey Roberts.The Soviet Decision for a Pact with Nazi Germany. Soviet Studies, Vol. 44, No. 1 (1992), pp. 57-78
  139. ^ Memorandum by the State Secretary in the German Foreign Office - Weizsacker[2]
  140. ^ E. H. Carr. From Munich to Moscow. II Soviet Studies, Vol. 1, No. 2 (Oct., 1949), pp. 93-105
  141. ^ Foreign Office Memorandum : May 17, 1939
  142. ^ a b Memorandum by the German Ambassador in the Soviet Union (Schulenburg) May 20, 1939 [3]
  143. ^ Nekrich, Ulam & Freeze 1997, pp. 112–3
  144. ^ God krizisa: 1938-1939 : dokumenty i materialy v dvukh tomakh.By A. P. Bondarenko, Soviet Union Ministerstvo inostrannykh del. Contributor A. P. Bondarenko. Published by Izd-vo polit. lit-ry, 1990. Item notes: t. 2. Item notes: v.2. Original from the University of Michigan. Digitized Nov 10, 2006. ISBN 5-250-01092-X, 9785250010924
  145. ^ Roberts 1992, pp. 57–78
  146. ^ Geoffrey Roberts. On Soviet-German Relations: The Debate Continues. A Review Article Europe-Asia Studies, Vol. 50, No. 8 (Dec., 1998), pp.1471-1475
  147. ^ Carr, E.H. German-Soviet Relations Between the Two World Wars, Harper & Row: New York, 1951, 1996 pages 129-130
  148. ^ Albert Resis. The Fall of Litvinov: Harbinger of the German-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact. Europe-Asia Studies, Vol. 52, No. 1 (Jan., 2000), pp. 33-56 Published by: Taylor & Francis, Ltd. Stable URL: "By replacing Litvinov with Molotov, Stalin significantly increased his freedom of maneuver in foreign policy. Litvinov's dismissal served as a warning to London and Paris that Moscow had another option: rapprochement with Germany. After Litvinov's dismissal, the pace of Soviet-German contacts quickened. But that did not mean that Moscow had abandoned the search for collective security, now exemplified by the Soviet draft triple alliance. Meanwhile, Molotov's appointment served as an additional signal to Berlin that Moscow was open to offers. The signal worked, the warning did not."
  149. ^ Derek Watson. Molotov's Apprenticeship in Foreign Policy: The Triple Alliance Negotiations in 1939, Europe-Asia Studies, Vol. 52, No. 4 (Jun., 2000), pp. 695-722. Stable URL: "The choice of Molotov reflected not only the appointment of a nationalist and one of Stalin's leading lieutenants, a Russian who was not a Jew and who could negotiate with Nazi Germany, but also someone unencumbered with the baggage of collective security who could obtain the best deal with Britain and France, if they could be forced into an agreement."
  150. ^ Geoffrey Roberts. The Fall of Litvinov: A Revisionist View. Journal of Contemporary History Vol. 27, No. 4 (Oct., 1992), pp. 639-657. Stable URL: "the foreign policy factor in Litvinov's downfall was the desire of Stalin and Molotov to take charge of foreign relations in order to pursue their policy of a triple alliance with Britain and France - a policy whose utility Litvinov doubted and may even have opposed or obstructed."


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