German–Soviet Axis talks

German–Soviet Axis talks
AxisTalks Pent.png

In October and November 1940, German–Soviet Axis talks occurred concerning the Soviet Union's potential entry as a fourth Axis Power. The negotiations included a two day Berlin conference between Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov, Adolf Hitler and German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, followed by both countries trading written proposed agreements. Germany never responded to a November 25, 1940, Soviet proposal leaving the negotiations unresolved. Germany broke the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact in June 1941 by invading the Soviet Union.



Ribbentrop and Stalin at the signing of the Pact
German and Soviet soldiers during the official transfer of Brest to Soviet control in front of picture of Stalin
Soviet and German generals waving at parade during the official transfer of Brest to Soviet control, September 23, 1939

Soviet-German 1939 agreements and past hostilities

During the summer of 1939, after conducting negotiations with both a British-French group and Germany regarding potential military and political agreements,[1] the Soviet Union chose Germany, resulting in an August 19 German–Soviet Commercial Agreement providing for the trade of certain German military and civilian equipment in exchange for Soviet raw materials.[2][3] Four days later, the countries signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which contained secret protocols dividing the states of Northern and Eastern Europe into German and Soviet "spheres of influence."[4]

Just before the signing of the agreements, the parties had addressed past hostilities, with German Foreign Minister Joachim Ribbentrop telling Soviet diplomats that "there was no problem between the Baltic and the Black Sea that could not be solved between the two of us."[5][6][7] Diplomats from the two countries 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,"[6][8] "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."[9] A German official explained that their prior hostility toward Soviet Bolshevism had subsided with the changes in the Comintern and the Soviet renunciation of a world revolution.[9] A Soviet official characterized the conversation as "extremely important."[9]

At the signing, Ribbentrop and Stalin enjoyed warm conversations, exchanging toasts and further discussing the prior hostilities between the countries in the 1930s.[10] 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."[10] 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."[10] Ribbentrop stated that the Anti-Comintern Pact was directed not against the Soviet Union, but against Western democracies, and "frightened principally the City of London [i.e., the British financiers] and the English shopkeepers." He added that Berliners had joked that Stalin would yet join the Anti-Comintern Pact himself.[11] Stalin proposed a toast to Hitler, and Stalin and Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov repeatedly toasted the German nation, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, and Soviet-German relations.[11] Ribbentrop countered with a toast to Stalin and a toast the countries' relations.[11] 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."[11]

Relations while dividing Poland

One week after the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact's signing, the partition of Poland commenced with the German invasion of western Poland.[12] The Soviet Comintern suspended all anti-Nazi and anti-fascist propaganda, explaining that the war in Europe was a matter of capitalist states attacking each other for imperialist purposes.[13] When anti-German demonstrations erupted in Prague, Czechoslovakia, the Comintern ordered the Czech Communist Party to employ all of its strength to paralyze "chauvinist elements."[13] Moscow soon forced the French Communist Party and the Communist Party of Great Britain to adopt an anti-war position.

Two weeks after the German invasion, the Soviet Union invaded eastern Poland, coordinating with German forces.[14] On September 21, the Soviets and Germans signed a formal agreement coordinating military movements in Poland, including the "purging" of saboteurs.[15] A joint German-Soviet parade was held in L'vov and Brest.[16] Stalin had decided in August that he was going to liquidate the Polish state, and a German-Soviet meeting in September addressed the future structure of the "Polish region."[16] Despite a warming by the Comintern to Germany, German tensions increased when the Soviet Union stated in September that it must enter Poland to "protect" their ethnic Ukrainian and Belorussian brethren therein from Germany, though Molotov later admitted to German officials that this excuse was necessary because the Soviets could find no other pretext for the Soviet invasion.[17]

Three Baltic States described by the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, were given no choice but to sign a so-called 'Pact of defense and mutual assistance' which permitted the Soviet Union to station troops in them.[18]

Expansion of raw materials and military trading

Hitler's pressing for a German invasion of Poland in 1939 placed tremendous strain on the German war machine, which had been gradually gearing up for total war in 1942 or 1943.[19] Germany's lack of raw materials meant that it had to seek increased supply from outside.[19] However, a British blockade occurred, leaving it increasingly desperate for materials.[19] The only remaining state capable of supplying Germany with the oil, rubber, manganese, grains, fats and platinum it needed was the Soviet Union.[19] At the same time, the Soviets' demands for manufactured goods, such as German machines, were increasing while its ability to import those goods from outside decreased when many countries ceased trading relations after the Soviet entry into the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.[20]

Accordingly, 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.[2] The trade pact helped Germany to circumvent the British blockade.[2] In the first year, Germany received hundreds of thousands of tons of cereals, oil, and other vital raw materials, transported through Soviet and occupied Polish territories.[2] In addition, the Soviets provided Germany with access to the Northern Sea Route for both cargo ships and raiders (though only the raider Komet used the route before June 1941), which forced Britain to protect sea lanes in both the Atlantic and the Pacific.[21]

Deterioration of relations in mid-1940

Nazi-Soviet 1941.png

Finland, the Baltics and Romania

In November 1939, the Soviet Union invaded Finland,[22] resulting in stiff losses and the entry of an interim peace treaty in March 1940 granting the Soviet Union the eastern region of Karelia (10% of Finnish territory).[22] In mid-June 1940, when international attention was focused on the German invasion of France, Soviet NKVD troops raided border posts in Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia,[18][23] replacing each government with pro-Soviet politicians who requested entry for their respective countries into the Soviet Union.[18][24] In June, the Soviets issued an ultimatum demanding Bessarabia, Bukovina, and the Hertza region from Romania.[25] After the Soviets agreed with Germany that they would limit their claims in Bukovina to northern Bukovina, Germany urged Romania to accept the ultimatum.[26] Two days after the Soviet entry, the Romanians caved to the Soviet demands and the Soviets occupied the territory.[25]

The Soviet invasion of Finland, which had been covertly ceded to it under the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact secret protocols, created domestic problems for Hitler.[27] The German populace did not know about the secret protocols dividing up spheres of influence.[26] Many Germans opposed the Soviet invasion of fellow Nordic peoples, and Finland possessed close ties with Germany.[27][28] Hitler had to deflect opposition to Germany's pro-Soviet policies, including that by even Nazi party stalwarts.[27] Supporting the Soviet invasion became one of the most ideologically difficult aspect of the countries' relationship.[29]

The secret protocols caused Hitler to be in the humiliating position of having to hurriedly evacuate ethnic German families, the Volksdeutsche, who had lived in Finland and the Baltic countries for centuries, while officially condoning the invasions.[28][30] While the three Baltic countries, not knowing about the secret protocols, sent letters protesting the Soviet invasions to Berlin, Ribbentrop returned them.[31] In August, Molotov told the Germans that, with the government change, they could close down their Baltic consulates by September 1.[31] The Soviet annexations in Romania caused further strain.[31] While Germany had given the Soviets Bessarabia in the secret protocols, it had not given them Bukovina.[31] Germany wanted the 100,000 tons of grain for which they had previously contracted with Bessarabia, guarantees of German property safety, guarantees for 125,000 Volksdeutsche in Bessarabia and Bukovina, and reassurance that the train tracks carrying Romanian oil would be left alone.[30]

Increasing German raw material dependence

In the summer of 1940, Germany grew even more dependent on Soviet imports.[32] German occupations of France, the Netherlands, and Belgium created additional demand while decreasing avenues for indirect supply.[32] Compared to 1938 figures, the expanded Greater Germany and its sphere of influence lacked, among other items, 500,000 tons of manganese, 3.3 million tons of raw phosphate, 200,000 tons of rubber and 9.5 million tons of oil.[32] Meanwhile, the Baltic invasions resulted in the Soviet occupation of states on which Germany had relied for 96.7 million Reichsmarks of imports in 1938[33] at blackmailed favorable economic terms, but from which they now had to pay Soviet prices.[30] An eventual invasion of the Soviet Union increasingly looked like the only way in which Hitler believed that Germany could solve that resource crisis.[32] While no concrete plans were yet made, Hitler told one of his generals in June that the victories in western Europe "finally freed his hands for his important real task: the showdown with Bolshevism",[34] though German generals told Hitler that occupying Western Russia would create "more of a drain than a relief for Germany's economic situation."[35]

Suspension of Soviet raw materials to Germany

In August 1940, the Soviet Union briefly suspended its deliveries under their commercial agreement after their relations were strained following disagreement over policy in Romania, the Soviets war with Finland, Germany falling behind in its deliveries of goods under the pact, and with Stalin worried that Hitler's war with the West might end quickly after France signed an armistice.[36] The suspension created significant resource problems for Germany.[36] By the end of August, relations improved again as the countries had redrawn the Hungarian and Romanian borders, settled some Bulgarian claims and Stalin was again convinced that Germany would face a long war in the west with Britain's improvement in its air battle with Germany and the execution of an agreement between the United States and Britain regarding destroyers and bases.[37]

However, in late August, Germany arranged its own annexation of part of Romania, targeting oil fields.[38] The move raised tensions with the Soviets, who responded that Germany was supposed to have consulted with the Soviet Union under Article III of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.[38]

The Axis Pact

Before entering a deal with Italy and Japan, German officials had discussed the feasibility of including the Soviet Union as a fourth member to direct Soviet focus southward, to the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf, both of which were currently in the British sphere of influence.[39] German officials indicated that they would be willing to give the Soviet Union freedom to operate east of the Dardanelles.[39]

Just before the signing of the agreement, Germany informed Molotov that it would enter the pact, and that while it was not explicitly stated, it was effectively directed against "American warmongers" by demonstrating to them the folly of war with three great powers aligned against them.[40] Moscow had actually been aware of the proposed pact terms from Soviet intelligence sources in Japan.[39]

On September 27, 1940, Germany, Italy and Japan signed the Axis Pact, which divided the world into spheres of influence and was implicitly directed at the United States.[39] The pact contained an explicit provision (Article 5) stating that it did not concern relations with the Soviet Union.[39] Molotov, worried that the pact contained a secret codicil pertaining specifically to the Soviet Union, attempted to extract information on from the Japanese ambassador in Moscow, Togo.[41]

On a home visit, German Moscow military attache Ernst Kostring stated on October 31 that "the impression is steadily growing in me that the Russians want to avoid any conflict with us."[41]

Meanwhile, from August to October, Germany conducted a massive air campaign against Britain to prepare for "Operation Sea Lion", the invasion of Britain.[42]

War or a higher level pact

Throughout the summer, Hitler vacillated between plans to attack the Soviet Union, or to offer them part of a deal like the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, except looking south, where the Soviets would receive ports only on the west side of the Black Sea, or they might be given the Bosporus if Germany maintained a friendly third party state with access, such as Bulgaria.[43]

German ambassador to Moscow Friedrich von Schulenburg had been contemplating a potential four power pact since the collapse of France in June.[44] After he covertly learned about Hitler's potential Soviet invasion plans, which he opposed, von Schulenberg and others began attempting to sway Hitler and his contingent to at least extend their agreement so long as Russia's claims remained in the areas of Turkey and modern day Iran.[45] He even concealed in his reports to Berlin the Soviets' doubts about Germany's good faith after the annexations in Romania.[45]

Kostring, von Schulenberg and others drafted a memorandum on the dangers of a Soviet invasion, including why the Ukraine, Belorussia and the Baltic States would end up only being a further economic burden for Germany.[43] German Foreign Office State Secretary Ernst von Weizsäcker argued that the Soviets in their current bureaucratic form were harmless, the occupation would not produce a gain for Germany and "why should it not stew next to us in its damp Bolshevism?"[43]

The October Stalin–Ribbentrop exchange

In October 1940, Stalin requested that Molotov be permitted to discuss with Hitler the countries' future relations.[46] Ribbentrop responded to Stalin in a letter that "in the opinion of the Führer ... it appears to be the historical mission of the Four Powers -- the Soviet Union, Italy, Japan and Germany -- to adopt a long range-policy and to direct the future development of their peoples into the right channels by delimitation of their interests in a worldwide scale."[47]

The delivery of Ribbentrop's letter was delayed to Stalin, resulting after earlier press stories in the ideas no longer seeming "fresh", causing Ribbentrop to furiously lash out at the German Moscow embassy personnel.[46][48] When delivering the letter, von Schulenberg stated that the Berlin conference would be a preliminary meeting preceding a convening of the four powers.[48]

Stalin was visibly pleased by the invitation for talks in Berlin.[49] Stalin wrote a letter responding to Ribbentrop about entering an agreement regarding a "permanent basis" for their "mutual interests."[50]

On November 6, Kostring wrote, "since Goering has now put our military deliveries in balance with the Russian deliveries, one may hope that the negotiations will end in peace and friendship."[41] During the first two weeks in November, German and Soviet economic negotiators in Moscow enjoyed moderate success.[51] German military economic negotiators had hoped for success in the negotiations, in part, because they felt this would strengthen their arguments against Hitler's then increasingly anti-Soviet policy.[52]

On November 1, Army General Staff head Franz Halder met with Hitler and wrote "[t]he Führer hopes he can bring Russia into the anti-British front."[53] After Franklin D. Roosevelt won the presidential election four days later after promising there would be no foreign wars were he elected, Goebbels noted "after his statement, Roosevelt will hardly be able to enter the war in an active capacity."[53] In meetings with Mussolini, Ribbentrop explained the German view of the meetings, that the acid test would be the Soviets' stand on the Balkans.[43] With the Balkans and the Bosporus a potential "dangerous overlapping of interests", if the Soviets backed away from it, it would be a peaceful and even preferable alternative to an invasion.[43] Hitler revealed to Mussolini that he did not expect to accommodate the Soviets beyond forcing Turkey to yield to some guarantees on the Bosporus.[43] Nor did he want Stalin taking a Romanian entry point to the Bosporus, stating "one Romanian bird in the hand is worth more than two Russians in the bush."[48] But Hitler stated that he was skeptical because he believed that Stalin was obsessed with the Danube and Bulgaria.[48] Germany was aware, however, that the Soviets had attempted to extend guarantees to Bulgaria to become its ally, and that Bulgaria had turned them down.[54]

Molotov travels to Berlin

Joachim von Ribbentrop welcoming Vyacheslav Molotov in Berlin, November 1940
Molotov just after arrival at the Reichskanzlei at noon
New Reichskanzlei

November 12

Stalin sent Molotov to Berlin to negotiate the terms for the Soviet Union to join the Axis and potentially enjoy the spoils of the pact.[55] Molotov spent much of the trip to Berlin searching his rail car for listening devices.[56] Molotov's train arrived at 11:05 a.m. on November 12.[57][58] It was a bad omen for success that von Schulenberg, the architect of the meeting, was excluded.[43] Molotov was greeted by Ribbentrop at the train station decorated with Soviet and Nazi flags above a large basket of flowers, with a band playing The Internationale for the first time since 1933.[59] After a brief breakfast, the talks started immediately that day at the Schloss Bellevue Hotel.[57] After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, a Moscow journal published certain selected correspondence revealing that Stalin was closely supervising Molotov's talks via telegram, though some of those telegrams remain unpublished.[60]

At the outset, Ribbentrop stated that "England is beaten and it is only a question of time when she will admit her defeat . . . The beginning of the end has now arrived for the British empire."[58] He further stated that "the entry of the United States into the war is of no consequence at all for Germany. Germany and Italy will never again allow an Anglo-Saxon to land on the European Continent . . . This is no military problem at all . . . The Axis Powers are, therefore, not considering how they can win the war, but rather how rapidly they can end the war which is already won."[58] He further stated that Germany and the Soviet Union had together "done some good business."[58]

Accordingly, Ribbentrop concluded that the time had come for the four powers (Germany, the Soviet Union, Italy and Japan) to define their "spheres of interest."[58][61] He stated that Hitler had concluded that all four countries would naturally expand "in a southerly direction."[58] Ribbentrop said he wondered if the Soviets might turn southward toward the sea, and when Molotov inquired "which sea?", Ribbentrop stated that "in the long run the most advantageous access to the sea for Russia could be found in the direction of the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea."[58][61]

Regarding the division of the world into four spheres of influence, Molotov stated the new idea was "very interesting" and worthy of a discussion in Moscow with Ribbentrop participating.[62] Stalin became annoyed with a telegram to him from Molotov stating that the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was "exhausted" with the exception of the Finnish issue, with Stalin stating that any future agreements would merely be added to it because it served as a fundamental basis for Soviet-German relations.[62]

In the afternoon, Molotov visited Hitler at the Reichskanzlei.[57][58] Hitler also spoke of striking that "final blow against England." Hitler stated that "it is time to think about division of the world after our victory."[57] Regarding the "problem of America" he stated that it could not "endanger the freedom of other nations before 1970 or 1980."[58] He and Molotov agreed that the United States had no business in Europe, Africa or Asia.[58] Hitler stated that there were no fundamental differences between the two countries in their pursuit of aspiring for "access to the ocean."[58] Molotov expressed his agreement with Hitler about the role of America and Britain and Soviet participation in the Axis Pact in principle, but only if the Soviets could participate as an active partner.[62][63] That same day, Germany also postponed until the following year its plans to invade Britain because of failures in the air campaign against Britain.[42]

Molotov agreed with Hitler that there were no unresolved problems between the countries, except about Finland.[62] When Molotov returned to his hotel, he stated that he was "relieved at Hitler's amiability."[54] In a telegram to Molotov that night, Stalin insisted that the security of the USSR cannot be ensured "without securing tranquility in the area of the Straits", referring the Bosporus straits for entry into the Black Sea.[64] That was linked directly with the Soviet-Bulgarian agreement for passage of Soviet troops for "the defense of entry into the Black Sea."[64] Stalin added that "this question still bears current importance and does not allow any procrastination."[64]

November 13

The Bosporus intersects Istanbul in the southwest corner of the Black Sea. Bulgaria is to its north.

Molotov and Hitler resumed their discussions the next morning.[65] Molotov demanded to know why German troops were occupying Finland, while Hitler replied that they were traveling through Finland to Norway and wondered whether the Soviets intended to go to war over Finland.[65] While Hitler agreed that Finland was within the Soviets' sphere of influence, he also stressed that Germany had a legitimate wartime interest in Finland's nickel and wood supply and that any new conflict in the Baltics would lead to a severe strain in relations.[62] Molotov concluded that nothing good could come from further talks about Finland and stated that he saw no signs of any resumption of a Soviet-Finland conflict.[66]

Molotov conveyed Stalin's interest in reviewing the status of the Bosporus, and pressed for a guarantee for Bulgaria, at least in principle.[66] Molotov later noted that Hitler became "markedly agitated" at the request to revoke guarantees to Romania.[54] Molotov stated Stalin's wish to grant a guarantee to Bulgaria similar to the one that Germany and Italy had granted to Romania.[54] Hitler pointed out that the Soviets had entered Bukovina in Romania, which went beyond the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.[67] Hitler stated the parties had prior made an oral agreement that the former Austrian territories, such as the Balkan states within the Austro-Hungarian empire, were to fall within the German sphere of influence.[61] Hitler pointed out that a primary goal of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was to restore the old empires of the countries.[61] Stalin, still hopeful to get a draft agreement, was monitoring the conversations by telegram and sent a telegram to Molotov to remind Hitler of the importance of securing the Bosporus, explaining the events of the Crimean War.[54] Hitler stated that he could not make decisions regarding Bulgaria without conversing first with Italian leader Benito Mussolini.[66]

Hitler changed the subject to the larger matter of the opportunities available after the conquest of England.[61][65] Hitler told Molotov that:[68]

After the conquest of England, the British Empire would be apportioned as a gigantic world-wide estate in bankruptcy of forty million square kilometers. In this bankrupt estate there would be for Russia access to the ice-free and really open ocean. Thus far, a minority of forty-five million Englishmen had ruled six hundred million inhabitants of the British Empire. He was about to crush this minority . . . Under these circumstances there arose world-wide perspectives . . . All the countries which could possibly be interested in the bankrupt estate would have to stop all controversies among themselves and concern themselves exclusively with the partition of the British Empire. This applied to Germany, France, Italy, Russia and Japan.

Molotov told Hitler that "the time has now come to discuss a broader agreement between the USSR and Germany", but first the Soviets wanted to know the precise meaning of "the New Order in Europe" regarding participating countries and the basic ideas of the pact.[66] Molotov then was scheduled to meet with Ribbentrop that afternoon.

A telegram Molotov sent to Stalin on the meeting with Hitler underscored "Hitler's great interest in reaching an agreement and strengthening friendly relations with the USSR with respect to spheres of influence."[66] Molotov stated that his talk with neither Hitler nor Ribbentrop produced the desired results, as the issues with Turkey and the Balkans had not been answered.[64]

Because of British aerial bombardment, Ribbentrop and Molotov conducted talks that night in an air raid shelter.[69] Ribbentrop reiterated that the chief goal was to define the four powers' interests and reach an agreement with Turkey on Bosporus issue.[64] Ribbentrop proposed several parallel steps the parties should then take including that Molotov should discuss the issues raised in Berlin with Stalin while Ribbentrop discussed them with Japan.[64] Germany, Italy and the USSR would also pressure Turkey to acquiesce to Soviet demands on the Bosporus.[66] Thereafter, the parties would negotiate and draft confidential documents bearing mind that the final accord would be a Soviet entry into the Axis pact.[64] What Molotov did not know is that, that night, Hitler issued secret "Instruction No. 18", directing his forces to continue to prepare for war in the east "irrespective of the results yielded by these discussions."[70][71]

German proposed draft agreement

In the air raid shelter, Ribbentrop gave Molotov a draft agreement with two parts.[64] As had become the practice between the parties, one part was of the agreement that would eventually be made public, while the other contained the secret agreement.[64] The public portion contained an agreement with a ten year term whereby the parties would respect each others natural spheres of interests, while Germany, Italy and Japan would affirm their recognition of existing Soviet borders.[64]

The draft of the secret agreement included the obligation not to join any alliance directed at the four signatories and to assist each other in economic matters.[64] The secret agreement contained a protocol defining the territorial objectives of the four signatories, with Germany laying claims to central Africa, Italy in northern and northeast Africa, Japan in southeast Asia and the Soviet zone to the to ”center south of the national territory of the Soviet Union in the direction of the Indian Ocean.”[69][72] A second secret protocol provided that Germany, Italy and the Soviet Union would "liberate" Turkey from its international obligations with Britain to guarantee its borders.[72]

Molotov stated that the Soviet Union was concerned with several European issues, such as Turkey and Bulgaria, but also the fates of Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia and Greece.[69] In addition, the Soviets were also interested in the question of Swedish neutrality and passage out of the Baltic sea.[69] Molotov also sarcastically remarked about why, if England's fate was sealed, they were talking in an air raid shelter.[69]

Reaction to Molotov trip

The news that Molotov held talks in Berlin initially stunned world media, with the British press endeavoring to determine whether the Soviets were preparing to join the Axis pact.[72] When Molotov returned, he noted that the meeting produced "nothing to boast about", that Ribbentrop's projected trip to Moscow was no longer mentioned but that the German draft proposal led to a complacent, rather than crisis, approach of continuing negotiations through "diplomatic channels."[73]

The pro-"Continental Bloc" Germans in Ribbentrop's entourage expected that Stalin would eventually yield given the weakness of the Red Army.[73] Weizsäcker commented that "we can continue for a long time" and that "war with Russia is impossible as long as we are busy with England, and afterwards it will be unnecessary."[73] On November 14 Kostring reiterated his conviction that the Soviet Union had no aggressive designs indeed, just the contrary: "Molotov's trip (to Berlin) is for me just further proof of an idea that I have long held namely, that the Soviet Union want to have peace with us, since it cannot expect any advantage from a conflict with us . . . The decisive factor in [evoking] the Soviet desire for peace is and remains the demonstrated strength of our army."[41]

Bulgarian pressure and a surprise

Hitler had already issued a secret directive on the eventual attempts to invade the Soviet Union.[72][74] However, he had not abandoned hopes, talking still of a "great worldwide coalition that stretched from Yokohama to Spain", but he had resolved to not give up the Balkans.[75]

In the meantime, the Soviets immediately summoned the Bulgarian ambassador to the Foreign Ministry, stating that the Soviets needed to do a deal with the Bulgarians before they joined the Axis and that Germany was attempting to make them a puppet state.[75] The Bulgarians turned down the offer and leaked it to Germany.[75] Hitler still hoped to dissuade Stalin from giving guarantees to Bulgaria if they could solve the Bosporus issue and pressed the Bulgarian ambassador that the Soviets could be persuaded against resistance if the Bulgarians joined the pact, while warning about the horrors of a Soviet occupation.[75]

The Soviets meanwhile produced the biggest surprise. In an unannounced November 25 visit in Sofia, the Soviets told the Bulgarian Prime Minister that, if Bulgaria permitted the Soviets troop transfer access, the Soviets were prepared to drop their objections to Bulgaria's entry into the Axis and, most surprisingly, stated that it likely would not be an issue as it would "very probably, almost certainly" lead to the Soviets' own entry into the Axis.[76] The stunned Bulgarian Prime Minister stated that this required further contemplation.[76] The Soviet negotiators had concluded that the Bulgarian government "is already committed to Germany to the hilt."[76]

Soviet counterproposal agreement

Stalin told the head of the Comintern (Georgi Dimitrov, a Bulgarian) that, while Germany wants Italy in the Balkans, at the end of the day, it has no choice but to recognize that the Soviets have interests in maintaining Black Sea access and to assure that the Bosporus would not be used against them.[76]

Stalin directed Molotov to draft a new pact with a much greater scope, including the division of Europe, Asia and Africa among the four powers.[77] On November 25, the same day as the surprise statement of Soviet non-resistance to Bulgaria's joining the Axis and a potential Soviet joining of the Pact,[78] the Soviets offered a counterproposal to Ribbentrop's draft agreement.[72] It began with "The Soviet government is prepared to accept the draft of the Pact of Four Powers on political cooperation and economic mutual assistance."[72] Instead of two secret protocols, Stalin proposed five:

  1. that German troops depart Finland in exchange for a Soviet guarantee of continued nickel and wood shipments and peace with Finland;
  2. a mutual assistance pact be signed with Bulgaria in the next few months permitting Soviet bases
  3. The center of Soviet territorial domination would be south of Baku and Batumi (ports in modern Azerbaijan and Georgia, south of which are Iraq and Iran)
  4. Japanese renunciation of rights to northern Sakhalin oil and coal concessions in exchange for appropriate compensation
  5. Affirms that the Soviet-Bulgaria mutual assistance treaty was a political necessity.[79]

The offer came concurrently with massive German-favorable economic offers.[78] The Soviets promised, by May 11, 1941 the delivery of 2.5 million tons of grain—1 million tons above its current obligations.[79] They also promised full compensation for the Volksdeutsche property claims.[79]

German reaction

Schnurre, who could not conceal his delight over the offer, immediately telegrammed Berlin that "in view of the present status of the negotiations here, Molotov's statements today must be viewed as a surprising indication of good will on the part of the Soviet Government. Molotov's proposal regarding compensation for property claims in the Baltic states considerably exceeds our expectations."[79]

Hitler, however, saw the Soviet territorial ambitions in the Balkans as a challenge to German interests and saw its plan as effectively making Bulgaria into an adjunct of the Axis pact.[80] On several occasions, Molotov asked German officials for their response to Moscow's counterproposals, but Germany never answered them.[77][80][81][82] Germany's refusal to respond to the counterproposal worsened relations between the countries.[83] Regarding the counterproposal, Hitler remarked to his top military chiefs that Stalin "demands more and more", "he's a cold-blooded blackmailer" and that "a German victory has become unbearable for Russia" so that "she must be brought to her knees as soon as possible."[68]

Weisung Nr. 21: Fall Barbarossa

On December 5, Hitler received military plans for the possible invasion, and approved them all, with a schedule to begin in May 1941.[71] On December 18, 1940, Hitler signed War Directive No. 21 to the German high command for an operation now codenamed Operation Barbarossa stating: "The German Wehrmacht must be prepared to crush Soviet Russia in a quick campaign."[71][84] The date for the invasion was set for May 15, 1941.[84]

In speaking to his generals in December, Stalin referenced Hitler's references to a Soviet attack in Mein Kampf, stated that they must always be ready to repulse a German attack, stated that Hitler thought that the Red Army would require four years to ready itself such that "we must be ready much earlier" and "we will try to delay the war for another two years."[67]

On January 17, 1941, seven days after the German–Soviet Border and Commercial Agreement, Molotov asked German officials whether the parties could then work out an agreement for entry into the Axis pact.[56][85] Molotov expressed astonishment at the absence of any answer to the Soviets' November 25 offer to join the Pact.[85] They never received an answer.[85] On March 1, 1941, Bulgaria joined the Axis, which further unsettled Stalin when combined with Germany's continued ignoring of Stalin's November 25, 1940 Axis entry proposal.[86]

Three years later, Friedrich Werner von der Schulenburg was executed as one of the conspirators in the July 20, 1944 Plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler.[87]

Falsifiers of History

One month after Nazi government foreign ministry documents describing the negotiations were publicly released by the United States, the Soviet Foreign Information Bureau wrote a response in a book titled Falsifiers of History.[88][89] After receiving translations of the newly released documents, Stalin personally edited, struck and re-wrote entire sections by hand drafts he had been given of Falsifiers before its release in February 1948.[90]

In Falsifiers, Stalin claimed that he was merely "probing out" Germany in Axis negotiations and to have outright rejected Hitler's proposal to share a division of the world.[72] That version persisted, without exception, in all historical studies, official accounts, memoirs and textbooks published in the USSR until 1990.[72]

See also

  • Red-Brown Alliance


  1. ^ Shirer 1990, pp. 515–540
  2. ^ a b c d Shirer 1990, p. 668
  3. ^ Ericson 1999, p. 57
  4. ^ Text of the Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact, executed August 23, 1939
  5. ^ Roberts 2006, p. 30
  6. ^ a b Fest 2002, pp. 589–90
  7. ^ Vehviläinen, Olli, Finland in the Second World War: Between Germany and Russia, Macmillan, 2002, ISBN 0333801490, page 30
  8. ^ Bertriko, Jean-Jacques Subrenat, A. and David Cousins, Estonia: Identity and Independence, Rodopi, 2004, ISBN 9042008903 page 131
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