The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact myths (pt.I)

With this translation, ALAFF opens the series of publications that make up the chapters of the book «“Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact” in questions and answers» by Alexander Dyukov (ISBN 978-5-9990-0005-7). The book was released in 2009 by the “Historical Memory” Foundation. The book was released in edition of only 1000 copies.

Annotation:

The book that you hold in your hands is a popular science work, which gives reasoned answers to key questions related to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and perceptions in Russia and abroad of its consequences.

Is it true that the Soviet-German non-aggression pact was illegal from the point of view of international law? Is it true that the Kremlin deliberately pushed the beginning of the Second World War? Is it true that the Baltic countries lost their independence as a result of the Soviet-German pact? Which countries today enjoy the “fruits of the pact”? The perception of the past and understanding of the reasons for its active politicization in our days depends on the the answers to these and other questions.

The entire book is available for free download. Source (*.pdf file)


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It is argued that the conclusion of the “Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact” was predetermined by the totalitarian essence of the Nazi and Stalinist regimes. How consistently did Moscow and Berlin come to the conclusion of such a pact since the establishment of the Nazi regime in Germany and the strengthening of Stalin’s in the USSR?

The thesis that “the totalitarian regimes of Germany and the USSR inevitably had to agree [among themselves], since both were totalitarian” is quite popular today, first of all in Europe. However, this thesis has absolutely nothing in common with reality. In fact, it was the Soviet Union that in the 1930s was the most consistent opponent of the expansionist and revanchist plans of Nazi Germany.

As early as February 3, 1933, a few days after Adolf Hitler was appointed as German Reich Chancellor, the leader of the Nazi party declared “conquering the new living space in the east and its merciless Germanization” as the goal of its policy [1]. A few weeks later, the Nazis organized the arson attack on the Reichstag building, which the Communists were accused of. The subsequent persecution of the Communists, anti-Jewish actions and bonfires from books in the squares of German cities could not cause sympathy in Moscow; already in June 1933, the USSR declared Germany about the termination of military cooperation. Subsequently, Soviet-German relations continued to deteriorate. When a year and a half later, in December 1934, the Soviet ambassador to London, Ivan Maisky, was asked about the USSR’s attitude towards Germany and Japan, the answer was lapidary. “Our relations with these two countries are characterized… by the presence of strong suspicions that they have aggressive aspirations towards our territory,” — answered the Soviet ambassador [2].

m-r-pact_1 m-r-pact_2

(left) Ivan Mikhailovich Maisky, Soviet diplomat, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the USSR to the United Kingdom in 1932 — 1943

(right) USSR People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs Maxim Litvinov in October 1934

The threat of German expansion to the east forced the Soviet leadership to persistently oppose the Nazi plans (of course, diplomatic contacts with Germany were not broken). This course is strongly associated with the name of the USSR Commissar of Foreign Affairs Maxim Litvinov.

Initially, the potential German expansion was supposed to be blocked by concluding bilateral agreements with the countries of Eastern Europe. In December 1933, the USSR proposed to Poland to sign a joint declaration of interest in the inviolability of the Baltic states, but this proposal was rejected by Warsaw, which was increasingly oriented towards Berlin. At the same time, the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) decided on the readiness of the USSR “to join the League of Nations on certain conditions” and “to conclude a regional agreement on mutual aggression on the part of Germany” [3].

In May 1934, French Foreign Minister Louis Barthou proposed to conclude an agreement on mutual assistance between France and the Soviet Union. In addition, it was supposed to conclude the “Eastern Pact” — a multilateral agreement on the mutual non-aggression of all the countries of Eastern Europe, as well as the USSR and Germany. The Kremlin generally supported these projects because they contributed to the security of the Soviet borders.

However, the “Eastern Pact” was not destined to take place: its signing was blocked by the diplomatic efforts of Berlin and Warsaw, and its initiator, Louis Barthou, together with Alexander, the king of Yugoslavia, was killed by Croatian terrorists (with the assistance of the Nazis) in October 1934. But the Soviet-French mutual aid pact was signed on May 2, 1935; its ratification, however, took place only in February 1936. Following France, Czechoslovakia signed an agreement on mutual assistance with the Soviet Union.

During the Spanish civil war, in which Germany and Italy actively intervened, the Soviet Union openly supported the legitimate republican government. The USSR supplied military equipment to Spain; Soviet military experts fought against the Frankists, their German and Italian allies. Soviet aid to Republican Spain was especially important in the conditions of “non-intervention” of England and France, which turned a blind eye to the active participation of Germany and Italy in the Spanish war.

On March 17, 1938, the Soviet government made another attempt to create a system of “collective security”, proposing to convene an international conference to consider “practical measures against the development of aggression and the danger of a new world war”. However, this proposal was rejected by London as “undermining the prospects for peace in Europe”.

Britain’s refusal to hold an international conference on countering aggression was not accidental. London has consistently taken the path of “appeasing” Germany, pushing Nazi aggression eastward. Western countries loyally reacted to the remilitarization of the Rhineland, to the intervention of Germany in the Spanish civil war, to the Anschluss of Austria. On December 2, 1937, British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden informed Berlin that London was not against a border revision in Eastern Europe — provided that this happened without a war [4].

“Germany and England are the two pillars of the European world and the main pillars against communism, and therefore it is necessary to overcome our present difficulties peacefully,” said British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain on September 12, 1938. “Probably, it will be possible to find a solution acceptable to everyone except Russia” [5]. A few weeks later, on September 30, a meeting of the heads of government of Great Britain, France, Germany and Italy was held in Munich, at which was approved tearing off of a number of areas from Czechoslovakia. The “Munich collusion” took place behind the backs of the Soviet Union and was perceived in the Kremlin as clear evidence of a rapprochement between Hitler, on the one hand, and Great Britain and France, on the other.

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USSR People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs Maxim Maksimovich Litvinov in 1937

It was a catastrophic failure of the “collective security” strategy. The prospect of remaining alone in front of Germany, which had effectively established dominance over all of Central Europe, was clearly marked before the USSR. The situation was complicated by an acute confrontation with the Japanese Empire on the country’s Far Eastern borders, which in the summer of 1938 resulted in bloody hostilities on Lake Hassan.

Nevertheless, Soviet diplomats continued their attempts to form an anti-Hitler system of “collective security” and clearly draw its contours. On April 17, 1939, the Soviet Union proposed Great Britain and France to conclude an agreement on mutual assistance, which also provides for the provision of support to the countries of Eastern Europe in the event of aggression against them. And It was only after the failure of the Anglo-French-Soviet negotiations that a decision was made in the Kremlin to ensure the security of the Soviet borders at the expense of the treaty with Germany.

“I closely followed the Russians in the League of Nations and in the Committee on Non-intervention and without hesitation I would say that Litvinov is the only foreign minister who speaks the language of elementary honesty”

US Ambassador to Spain C. Bowers, November 3, 1938 [6]

As one can see, to say that the Soviet Union consistently went to the conclusion of a pact with Nazi Germany, is impossible. On the contrary, the USSR’s foreign policy was consistently aimed at countering German aggression and revanchism. It was precisely this that made Soviet foreign policy different from the foreign policy of other European states.

If one ask about a state that really worked closely with Germany and for a long time supported the Nazi foreign political actions, then we should pay attention to Poland.

When, in October 1933, Berlin announced the withdrawal of its representatives from the conference on disarmament, there was a threat that the League of Nations would apply sanctions against Germany. Warsaw assured Berlin that it would not join any sanctions against it [7]. In December of the same year, Poland proposed Germany to conclude an anti-Soviet alliance; at that time, such a proposal turned out to be too radical even for the Nazi leadership [8]. Instead, on January 26, 1934, the Polish-German Declaration on the peaceful settlement of disputes and the non-use of force was signed.

In accordance with the wishes of Berlin and because of territorial contradictions with Lithuania, Warsaw refused to sign the declaration on interest in the inviolability of the Baltic States proposed by the Soviet Union, blocked attempts to create an “Eastern Bloc”. Rejecting the “Eastern Pact” project on September 28, 1934, Warsaw notified Paris of its readiness “to link its fate with the fate of Germany” [9].

When Germany began an audit of European borders, Poland took similar actions. In March 1938, Warsaw organized provocations on the demarcation line with Lithuania, presented it with an ultimatum, demanding to officially recognize the Vilna region occupied by Polish troops in 1920 and annexed in 1922 as Polish territory. Otherwise, Poland threatened Lithuania with war. This initiative was supported by Berlin [10].

“The Germans were not the only predators who tormented the corpse of Czechoslovakia. Immediately after the conclusion of the Munich Agreement on September 30, the Polish government sent an ultimatum to the Czech government, which was to be answered after 24 hours. The Polish government demanded the immediate transfer of the border region of Těšín… While the glow of Germany’s power fell on them, they hurried to seize their share when plundering and ruining Czechoslovakia”

W. Churchill,
“Second World War” [11]

A little later, together with Germany, Poland took part in the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia, capturing Těšín region. In fact, Poland acted as a co-aggressor; in a conversation with Hitler on September 20, 1938, the Polish ambassador in Berlin pointed out that it was his country’s position that made it possible to paralyze “the possibility of the Soviets intervening in the Czech issue” [12]. In March 1939, Poland again found itself on the same side of the barricades with Germany, actively supporting the idea of occupation Transcarpathian Ukraine by Hungary.

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British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and British diplomat Anthony Ideen

Modern Polish historians are trying to convince us that in fact Poland in the 30s only pursued a policy of “balance” between Germany and the USSR. However, this is not true; following the Russian historian Mikhail Meltyukhov, it should be recognized that at that time “the position of Poland was, as a rule, closer to the position of Germany and sharply diverged from the position of the USSR” [13].

It is not difficult to notice the significant difference between the “German” policy of Moscow and Warsaw in 1933-1938, between the opposition of Nazi aggression and its support. Unfortunately, today for some reason people prefer not to recall this difference.


[1] Top secret! Only for command!: The strategy of fascist Germany in the war against the USSR: Documents and materials. M., 1967. P. 42 — 43.

[2] Maisky I.M. Diplomat diary: London, 1934 — 1943 / Ed. A.O. Chubaryan. M., 2006. Book 1. P. 45.

[3] Ken O., Rupasov A. Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the CPSU (b) and the relations of the USSR with the western neighboring states. M., 2000. Book 1. P. 104, 406-411.

[4] Meltyukhov M.I. September 17, 1939: Soviet-Polish conflicts, 1918 — 1939. M., 2009. P. 182

[5] The Year of the Crisis, 1938 — 1939. M., 1990. Volume 1. P. 6

[6] World Wars of the twentieth century. M., 2005. Book. 4. P. 29

[7] Meltyukhov M.I. September 17, 1939. P. 168.

[8] ibid. P. 170.

[9] ibid. P. 174.

[10] ibid. P. 179.

[11] Churchill W. World War II. M., 1997. Volume 1. P. 151 — 152.

[12] Meltyukhov M.I. September 17, 1939. P. 195.

[13] ibid. P. 176.

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