Crisis and Conflict, 1940–1941

  • Geoffrey Roberts


Under the aegis of the Nazi-Soviet pact the USSR gained time, space and resources in which to prepare for war. But there were two problems with this strategy. The first was that Russia was not the sole beneficiary of the pact. Nazi Germany also gained time, space and resources in which to prepare for war — against Russia. Moscow hoped that the phoney war in the west would not last and that eventually Germany would be drawn into a costly war of attrition with Britain and France. That hope was destroyed by the German blitzkrieg in Western Europe. When France fell in June 1940 Soviet Russia found itself in a position more vulnerable to attack than it had been in 1939. The Russians now faced a Germany with its military might unimpaired and with the combined resources of much of continental Europe at its disposal. Britain, led now by Churchill, seemed determined to fight on but its capacity to resist either Hitler or the siren voices of appeasement at home calling for peace seemed doubtful.


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Notes and References

  1. 1.
    See G. Roberts, The Unholy Alliance: Stalin’s Pact with Hitler(London, 1989), pp. 185#x2013;7.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Clause 3 of the secret additional protocol to the Nazi-Soviet pact stated: ‘With regard to Southeastern Europe attention is called by the Soviet side to its interest in Bessarabia. The German side declares its complete political disinterestedness in these areas.’ This is sometimes interpreted as an agreement that the Soviets could occupy this area if they wanted to. In truth what it amounted to was a restatement of a longstanding Soviet legal claim to this Romanian province and a keep-out message to the Germans.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    On German foreign policy during this period see W. Carr, Poland to Pearl Harbor(London, 1985), pp. 112–27Google Scholar
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    R. J. Sontag and J. S. Beddie (eds), Nazi-Soviet Relations, 1939–1941(NSR), pp. 144 and 148.Google Scholar
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    See the telegram of the Soviet military attaché in Bulgaria (6/6/40) in Izvestiya Tsk KPSS, no. 3 (1990).Google Scholar
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    Stalin’s telegrams are published in the collection cited in note 23 above. They are all businesslike in character and concerned with tactics in the negotiations with the Germans. None of them bears any remote resemblance to the message recalled by Berezhkov.Google Scholar
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    This point was brought to my attention by R. L. Garthoff, Detente and Confrontation: American-Soviet Relations from Nixon to Reagan(Washington, DC, 1985), p. 941, n. 152. Also of interest is Stalin’s telegram to Molotov on 11/11/40 where he states that any reference to India in any Soviet-German declaration should be deleted on grounds that it could be a trick aimed at ‘kindling war’. See Mezhdunarodnaya Zhizn, June 1991, p. 125.Google Scholar
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  36. 32.
    According to Dmitri Volkogonov in his biography of Stalin, Molotov came back from Berlin convinced that Hitler was not about to attack the Soviet Union. However, he does not clarify the nature of Molotov’s belief in this respect nor does he provide any evidence to support his assertion.Google Scholar
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    Soviet Foreign Policy archives. Cited by P. P. Sevostyanov, Pered Velikim Ispytaniem(Moscow, 1981), pp. 210–11.Google Scholar
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    See A. L. Narochnitskii, ‘Sovetsko-Ugoslavskii Dogovor 5 Apelya 1941g o Druzhbe i Nenapadenii’, Novaya i Noveishaya Istoriya, no. 1 (1989), 4–5.Google Scholar
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  43. 38.
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    Soviet Foreign Policy archives. Cited by Sevostyanov, Before the Nazi Invasion, p. 190.Google Scholar
  45. 40.
    See J. Haslam, ‘The Policy of the Communist International from August 1939 to June 1941’ (unpublished paper, CREES, Birmingham University).Google Scholar
  46. 41.
    Soviet Foreign Policy archives. Cited by Sevostyanov, Before the Nazi Invasion, pp. 190–1.Google Scholar
  47. 42.
    Soviet Foreign Policy archives. Cited in SSSR v Borbe Protiv Fashistskoi Agressii 19331945(Moscow, 1986), p. 139.Google Scholar
  48. 43.
    Sovetsko-Bolgarskie Otnosheniya, doc. 56.Google Scholar
  49. 44.
    Degras, Soviet Documents, p. 482.Google Scholar
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    Ibid., pp. 482–3.Google Scholar
  51. 46.
    Sovetsko-Bolgarskie Otnosheniya, docs 581 and 582.Google Scholar
  52. 47.
    Degras, Soviet Documents, p. 483. Sovetsko-Bolgarskie Otnosheniya, doc. 583. See also NSR, pp. 277–9.Google Scholar
  53. 48.
    ‘Mozhno li Bylo Predotvratit Aprelskuu Voiny? (Novye Dokumenty o Sovetsko-Ugoslavskom Dogovore o Druzhbe i Nenapadenii 1941g.)’, Vestnik Ministerstva Inostrannykh Del SSSR, 15 August 1989, p. 58.Google Scholar
  54. 49.
    Ibid., pp. 59–60.Google Scholar
  55. 50.
    Narochnitskii, ‘Sovetsko-Ugoslavskii Dogovor’, pp. 13–14.Google Scholar
  56. 51.
    NSR, pp. 316–18 and Vestnik documents cited above, pp. 61–2 for the Soviet report of this meeting.Google Scholar
  57. 52.
    Degras, Soviet Documents, pp. 484–5.Google Scholar
  58. 53.
    Foreign Relations of the United States 1941, vol. 1 pp. 301–2 and 312–15. But see Narochnitskii, ‘Sovetsko-Ugoslavskii Dogovor’, pp. 18–19 who argues that any serious Soviet aid to Yugoslavia was ruled out by Stalin’s determination to avoid provoking Hitler for as long as possible.Google Scholar

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© Geoffrey Roberts 1995

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  • Geoffrey Roberts

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