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Text of the secret protocol (in German)

The Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, colloquially named after the Sovietmarker foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov and the German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop, was an agreement officially titled the Treaty of Non-Aggression between Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republicsmarker and signed in Moscowmarker in the early hours of 24 August 1939 (but dated 23 August). It was a Non-Aggression Pact between the two countries and pledged neutrality by either party if the other were attacked by a third party. Each signatory promised not to join any grouping of powers that was "directly or indirectly aimed at the other party." It remained in effect until 22 June 1941 when Germany implemented Operation Barbarossa, invading the Soviet Union.

In addition to stipulations of non-aggression, the treaty included a secret protocol dividing Northern and Eastern Europe into German and Soviet spheres of influence, anticipating potential "territorial and political rearrangements" of these countries. Thereafter, Germany and the Soviet Union invaded their respective sides of Polandmarker, dividing the country between them. Part of eastern Finlandmarker was annexed by the Soviet Union after an attempted invasion. This was followed by Soviet annexations of Estoniamarker, Latviamarker, Lithuaniamarker and eastern and northern Romaniamarker.


The Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact is commonly referred to under a number of names in addition to the official one and the one bearing the names of the foreign ministers. It is also known as the Nazi–Soviet Pact, Hitler–Stalin Pact, German–Soviet Non-aggression Pact and sometimes the Nazi–Soviet Alliance.


The outcome of the First World War was disastrous for both German Reichmarker and Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. During the war, the Bolsheviks struggled for survival, and Lenin had no option except recognize the independence of Finlandmarker, Estoniamarker, Latviamarker, Lithuaniamarker and Polandmarker. Moreover, facing a German military advance, Lenin and Trotsky were forced to enter into the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, which ceded some western Russian territory to the German Empiremarker. After Germany's collapse, British, Frenchmarker and Japanesemarker troops intervened in the Russian Civil War.

On 16 April 1922, Germany and Soviet Russia entered the Treaty of Rapallo, pursuant to which they renounced territorial and financial claims against each other. The parties further pledged neutrality in the event of an attack against one another with the 1926 Treaty of Berlin. While the imports fell sharply after World War I, trade agreements signed between the two countries in the mid-1920s helped to increase the imports to 433 million Reichsmarks per year by 1927.

At the beginning of the 1930s, the Nazi Party's rise to power increased tensions between Germany, the Soviet Union and other countries with ethnic Slavs, which were considered "Untermenschen" according to Nazi racial ideology. Moreover, the anti-Semitic Nazis associated ethnic Jews with both communism and capitalism, both of which they opposed. Consequently, Nazi theory held that Slavs in the Soviet Union were being ruled by "Jewish Bolshevik" masters. In 1934, Hitler himself had spoken of an inescapable battle against both Pan-Slavism and Neo-Slavism, 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." The resulting manifestation of German anti-Bolshevism and an increase in Soviet foreign debts caused German–Soviet trade to dramatically decline. Imports of Soviet goods to Germany fell to 223 million Reichsmarks in 1934 as the more isolationist Stalinist regime asserted power and the abandonment of post-World War I Treaty of Versailles military controls decreased Germany's reliance on Soviet imports.

In 1936, Germany and Fascist Italy supported Spanish Nationalistsmarker in the Spanish Civil War, while the Soviets supported the partially socialist-led Second Spanish Republic under the leadership of president Manuel Azaña. In 1936, Germany and Japan entered the Anti-Comintern Pact, and were joined a year later by Italy. Nazi Germany involved in the Spanish civil war on Francisco Franco's side. Thus, in a sense, the Spanish Civil War became also the scene of a proxy war between Germany and the USSR.

Hitler's fierce anti-Soviet rhetoric was one of the reasons why the UK and France decided that Soviet participation in the 1938 Munich Conference regarding Czechoslovakiamarker would be both dangerous and useless. The Munich Agreement that followed marked a partial German annexation of Czechoslovakia in late 1938 followed by its complete dissolution in March 1939, which is seen as part of an appeasement of Germany conducted by Chamberlain's and Daladier's cabinets. This policy immediately raised the question of whether the Soviet Union could avoid being next on Hitler's list. The Soviet leadership believed that the West may want to encourage German aggression in the East and that France and Britain might stay neutral in a war initiated by Germany, hoping that the warring states would wear each other out and put an end to both the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany.

For Germany, because an autarkic economic approach or an alliance with Britain were impossible, closer relations with the Soviet Union to obtain raw materials became necessary, if not just for economic reasons alone. Moreover, an expected British blockade in the event of war would create massive shortages for Germany in a number of key raw materials. After the Munich agreement, the resulting increase in German military supply needs and Soviet demands for military machinery, talks between the two countries occurred from late 1938 to March 1939. The Soviet Third Five Year Plan required massive new infusions of technology and industrial equipment.

On 31 March 1939, in response to Nazi Germany's defiance of the Munich Agreement and occupation of Czechoslovakia, the United Kingdommarker pledged the support of itself and France to guarantee the independence of Poland, Belgium, Roumania, Greece, and Turkey. On 6 April Poland and the UK agreed to formalize the guarantee as a military alliance, pending negotiations. On 28 April 1939, Hitler denounced the 1934 German–Polish Non-Aggression Pact and the 1935 Anglo-German Naval Agreement.


Starting in mid-March 1939, the Soviet Union, Britain and France (the "Tripartite" group) traded a flurry of suggestions and counterplans regarding a potential political and military agreement. Although informal consultations commenced in April, the main negotiations began only in May. At the same time, throughout the early 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union had discussed entering into an economic deal involving raw materials needed for German war production. German war planners had estimated massive raw materials shortfalls if Germany entered a war without Soviet supply. For months, Germany had secretly hinted to Soviet diplomats that it could offer better terms for a political agreement than Britain and France.

Pre-August Tripartite negotiations

The Soviet Union feared Western powers and the possibility of "capitalist encirclements", had little faith either that war could be avoided, or faith in the Polish army, and wanted nothing less than an ironclad military alliance that would provide a guaranteed support for a two-pronged attack on Germany. Britain and France believed that war could still be avoided, and that the Soviet Union, weakened by the Great Purge, could not be a main military participant. France was more anxious to find an agreement with the USSR than was Britain; as a continental power, it was more willing to make concessions, more fearful of the dangers of an agreement between the USSR and Germany. These contrasting attitudes partly explain why the USSR has often been charged with playing a double game in 1939: carrying on open negotiations for a alliance with Britain and France whilst secretly engaging in talks with Germany."

By the end of May drafts were formally presented. In mid-June the main Tripartite negotiations started. The discussion was focused on potential guarantees to central and east European countries should a German aggression arise. The USSR proposed to consider that a political turn towards Germany by the Baltic states would constitute an "indirect aggression" towards the Soviet Union. Britain opposed such proposals, because they feared the Soviets' proposed language could justify a Soviet intervention in Finland and the Baltic states, or push those countries to seek closer relations with Germany. The discussion about a definition of "indirect aggression" became one of the sticking points between the parties, and by mid-July the tripartite political negotiations effectively stalled, while the parties agreed to start negotiations on a military agreement, which the Soviets insisted must be entered into simultaneously with any political agreement.

Beginning of Soviet–German secret talks

From April to July, Soviet and German officials made statements regarding the potential for the beginning of political negotiations, while no actual negotiations took place during that time period. The ensuing discussion of a potential political deal between Germany and the Soviet had to be channeled into the framework of economic negotiations between the two countries, because close military and diplomatic connections, as was the case before mid-1930s, had afterward been largely severed. In May, Stalin replaced his Foreign Minister Maxim Litvinov, who was regarded as pro-western and was Jewish, with Vyacheslav Molotov, allowing the Soviet Union more latitude in discussions with more parties, not only with Britain and France.

In late July and early August 1939, Soviet and German officials agreed on most of the details for a planned economic agreement, and specifically addressed a potential political agreement, which the Soviets stated could only come after an economic agreement.

August negotiations

In early August, Germany and the Soviet Union worked out the last details of their economic deal, and started to discuss a political alliance. They explained to each other the reasons for their foreign policy hostility in the 1930s, finding common ground in the anti-capitalism of both countries.

At the same time, Tripartite Soviet–British–French negotiators scheduled talks on military matters to occur in Moscow in August 1939, aiming to define the specifics of what should be the reaction of the Soviet Union, France and Britain, if they were to sign any agreement, in case a German attack occur. The tripartite military talks started in mid-August, hit a sticking point regarding passage of Soviet troops through Poland if Germans attacked, and the parties waited as British and French officials overseas pressured Polish officials to agree to such terms. Polish officials refused to allow Soviet troops on to Polish territory if Germans attacked; as Polish foreign minister Józef Beck pointed out, they feared that once the Red Army entered their territories, it might never leave. While Britain and France refused to allow Soviet Union to impinge on the sovereignty of its neighbors, Germany possessed no such reservations .

That day, the 1939 German–Soviet Commercial Agreement was finally signed. On 21 August the Soviets suspended Tripartite military talks, citing other reasons. That same day, Stalin received assurance that Germany would approve secret protocols to the proposed non-aggression pact that would place half of Polandmarker (border along the Vistula river), Latviamarker, Estoniamarker, Finlandmarker, and Bessarabiamarker in the Soviets' sphere of influence. That night, Stalin replied that the Soviets were willing to sign the pact, and that he would receive Ribbentrop on 23 August.

The Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact and its secret protocol

Excerpt from the article “On Soviet-German Relations” on Soviet newspaper Izvestia, August 21, 1939

Ribbentrop and Stalin at the signing of the Pact
On 22 August, one day after the talks broke down with France and Britain, Moscow revealed that Ribbentrop would visit Stalin the next day. This happened while the Soviets were still negotiating with the British and French missions in Moscow. With the Western nations unwilling to accede to Soviet demands, Stalin instead entered a secret Nazi–Soviet alliance. On 24 August 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."

Last page of the Additional Secret Protocol
of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact

Most notably, there was also a secret protocol to the pact, revealed only after Germany's defeat in 1945, according to which the states of Northern and Eastern Europe were divided into German and Soviet "spheres of influence". In the North, Finlandmarker, Estoniamarker and Latviamarker were assigned to the Soviet sphere. Poland was to be partitioned in the event of its "political rearrangement"—the areas east of the Pisa, Narev, Vistula and Sanmarker rivers going to the Soviet Union while Germany would occupy the west. Lithuaniamarker, adjacent to East Prussia, would be in the German sphere of influence, although a second secret protocol agreed to in September 1939 reassigned the majority of Lithuania to the USSR. According to the secret protocol, Lithuania would retrieve its historical capital Vilniusmarker, occupied during the inter-war period by Poland. Another clause of the treaty was that Bessarabiamarker, then part of Romania, was to be joined to the Moldovan ASSR, and become the Moldovan SSR under control of Moscow.

At the signing, Ribbentrop and Stalin enjoyed warm conversations, exchanged toasts and further addressed the prior hostilities between the countries in the 1930s. They characterized Britain as always attempting to disrupt Soviet-German relations, stated that the Anti-Comintern pact was not aimed at the Soviet Union, but actually aimed at Western democracies and "frightened principally the City of London [i.e., the British financiers] and the English shopkeepers."

On 24 August Pravda and Izvestia carried news of the non-secret portions of the Pact, complete with the now infamous front-page picture of Molotov signing the treaty, with a smiling Stalin looking on (located at the top of this article). 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. The Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact was received with shock by Nazi Germany’s allies, notably Japan, by the Comintern and foreign communist parties, and by Jewish communities all around the world. So, that day, German diplomat Hans von Herwarth, whose grandmother was Jewish, informed Guido Relli, an Italian diplomat, and American chargé d'affaires Charles Bohlen on the secret protocol regarding vital interests in the countries' allotted "spheres of influence", without revealing the annexation rights for "territorial and political rearrangement".

Time Magazine repeatedly referred to the Pact as the "Communazi Pact" and its participants as "communazis" until April 1941.

Soviet propaganda and representatives went to great lengths to minimize the importance of the fact that they had opposed and fought against the Nazis in various ways for a decade prior to signing the Pact. Upon signing the pact, Molotov tried to reassure the Germans of his good intentions by commenting to journalists that "fascism is a matter of taste". For its part, Nazi Germany also did a public volte-face regarding its virulent opposition to the Soviet Union, though Hitler still viewed an attack on the Soviet Union as "inevitable".

Concerns over the possible existence of a secret protocol were first expressed by the intelligence organizations of the Baltic states scant days after the pact was signed. Speculation grew stronger when Soviet negotiators referred to its content during negotiations for military bases in those countries (see occupation of the Baltic States).

The day after the Pact was signed, the French and British military negotiation delegation urgently requested a meeting with Soviet military negotiation Kliment Voroshilov. On August 25, Voroshilov told them "[i]n view of the changed political situation, no useful purpose can be served in continuing the conversation." 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.

On 25 August Surprising Hitler, Britain entered into a defense pact with Poland. Consequently, Hitler postponed his planned invasion of Poland from 26 August until 1 September 1939. Britain and France responded by guaranteeing the sovereignty of Poland, so they declared war on Germany on 3 September 1939.

Implementing the division of Eastern and Central Europe

Adolf Hitler in a public speech in Danzigmarker at the end of September 1939

Initial invasions

On 1 September barely a week after the pact had been signed, the partition of Poland commenced with Germany attacking from the west. Within the first few days of the invasion, Germany began conducting massacres of Polish and Jewish civilians and POWs. These executions took place in over 30 towns and villages in the first month of German occupation alone. The Luftwaffe also took part by strafing fleeing civilian refugees on roads and carrying out an aerial bombing campaign . The Soviet Union assisted German air forces by allowing them to use signals broadcast by the Soviet radio station at Minsk allegedly "for urgent aeronautical experiments".

Stalin did not instantly interpret the protocol as permitting the Soviet Union to grab territory. Stalin was waiting to see whether the Germans would halt within the agreed, and also the Soviet Union needed to secure the frontier in the Far East. On 17 September the Red Army invaded eastern Poland, violating the 1932 Soviet–Polish Non-Aggression Pact, and occupied the Polish territory assigned to it by the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. This was followed by co-ordination with German forces in Poland.

Polish troops already fighting much stronger German forces on its western side desperately tried to delay the capture of Warsaw. Consequently, Polish forces were not able to mount significant resistance against the Soviets. The Soviet Union marshaled 466,516 soldiers, 3,739 tanks, 380 armored cars, and approximately 1,200 fighters, 600 bombers, and 200 other aircraft against Poland. The Polish armed forces in the East consisted mostly of lightly armed border guard units of the Korpus Ochrony Pogranicza (KOP), the 'border protection corps'. In the Northeast of Poland, only a few cities were defended and after a heavy but short struggle Polish forces withdrew to Lithuaniamarker where they were interned. Some of the Polish forces which were fighting the Soviets in the far South of the nation withdrew to Romaniamarker.
On 21 September the Soviets and Germans signed a formal agreement coordinating military movements in Poland, including the "purging" of saboteurs. A joint German–Soviet parade was held in L'vovmarker and Brest-Litovskmarker, while the countries commanders met in the latter location. 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." Soviet authorities immediately started a campaign of sovietization of the newly acquired areas. The Soviets organized staged elections, the result of which was to become a legitimization of Soviet annexation of eastern Poland. Soviet authorities attempted to erase Polish history and culture,, withdrew the Polish currency without exchanging roubles, collectivized agriculture, and nationalized and redistributed private and state-owned Polish property. Soviet authorities regarded service for the pre-war Polish state as a "crime against revolution" and "counter-revolutionary activity", and subsequently started arresting large numbers of Polish citizens.

Modifying the secret protocols

Eleven days after the Soviet invasion of Eastern Poland, the secret protocol of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact was modified by the German–Soviet Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Demarcation,) allotting Germany a larger part of Poland and transferring Lithuaniamarker's territory (with the exception of left bank of river Scheschupemarker, the "Lithuanian Strip") from the envisioned German sphere to the Soviets. On 28 September 1939 the Soviet Union and German Reich issued a joint declaration in which they declared:
After the Government of the German Reich and the Government of the U.S.S.R. have, by means of the treaty signed today, definitively settled the problems arising from the collapse of the Polish state and have thereby created a sure foundation for a lasting peace in Eastern Europe, they mutually express their conviction that it would serve the true interest of all peoples to put an end to the state of war existing at present between Germany on the one side and England and France on the other.
Both Governments will therefore direct their common efforts, jointly with other friendly powers if occasion arises, toward attaining this goal as soon as possible.

Should, however, the efforts of the two Governments remain fruitless, this would demonstrate the fact that England and France are responsible for the continuation of the war, whereupon, in case of the continuation of the war, the Governments of Germany and of the U.S.S.R. shall engage in mutual consultations with regard to necessary measures.

On 3 October 1939, Friedrich Werner von der Schulenburg, German ambassador in Moscow, informed Joachim Ribbentrop that the Soviet government was willing to cede the city of Vilniusmarker and its environs. On 8 October 1939, a new Nazi-Soviet agreement was reached by an exchange of letters between Vyacheslav Molotov and the German Ambassador.

Three Baltic States, Estoniamarker, Latviamarker, and Lithuaniamarker, were given no choice but to sign a so-called Pact of defence and mutual assistance which permitted the Soviet Union to station troops in them.

The Soviet war with Finland and Katyn Massacre

After the Baltic states were forced to accept treaties, Stalin turned his sights on Finland, confident that Finnish capitulation could be attained without great effort. The Soviets demanded territories on the Karelian Isthmusmarker, the islands of the Gulf of Finlandmarker and a military base near the Finnish capital Helsinkimarker, which Finland rejected. The Soviets staged the shelling of Mainila and used it as a pretext to withdraw from the non-aggression pact. The Red Army attacked in November 1939. Simultaneously, Stalin set up a puppet government in the Finnish Democratic Republic.. The leader of the Leningrad Military District Andrei Zhdanov commissioned a celebratory piece from Dmitri Shostakovich, entitled "Suite on Finnish Themes" to be performed as the marching bands of the Red Army would be parading through Helsinki. After Finnish defenses surprisingly held out for over three months while inflicting stiff losses on Soviet forces, the Soviets settled for an interim peace. Finland ceded eastern areas of Kareliamarker (10% of Finnish territory), which resulted in approximately 422,000 Karelians (12% of Finland's population) losing their homes. Soviet official casualty counts in the war exceeded 200,000, while Soviet Premier Nikita Kruschev later claimed the casualties may have been one million.

At around this time, Soviet NKVD officers also conducted lengthy interrogations of 300,000 Polish POWs in camps that were, in effect, a selection process to determine who would be killed. On March 5, 1940, in what would later be known as the Katyn massacremarker, orders were signed to execute 25,700 Polish POWs, labeled "nationalists and counterrevolutionaries", kept at camps and prisons in occupied western Ukrainemarker and Belarusmarker.

Soviets take the Baltics and Bessarabia

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. State administrations were liquidated and replaced by Soviet cadres, in which 34,250 Latvians, 75,000 Lithuanians and almost 60,000 Estonians were deported or killed. Elections were held with single pro-Soviet candidates listed for many positions, with resulting peoples assemblies immediately requested admission into the USSR, which was granted by the Soviet Union. The USSR annexed the whole of Lithuania, including the Scheschupe area, which was to be given to Germany.

Finally, on 26 June, four days after France sued for an armistice with the Third Reich, the Soviet Union issued an ultimatum demanding Bessarabiamarker and, unexpectedly, Northern Bukovina from Romaniamarker. Two days later, the Romanians caved to the Soviet demands and the Soviets occupied the territory. The Hertza region was initially not requested by the USSR but was later occupied by force after the Romanians agreed to the initial soviet demands.
German and Soviet soldiers at the so-called Border of Peace established by the pact

Holocaust beginnings, Operation Tannenberg and other Nazi atrocities

At the end of October 1939, Germany enacted the death penalty for disobedience to the German occupation. Germany began a campaign of "Germanization", which meant to assimilate the occupied territories politically, culturally, socially, and economically into the German Reich. 50,000 to 200,000 Polish children were kidnapped to be Germanized.
In May 1940, Germany launched AB-Aktion, a plan to eliminate the Polish intelligentsia, Poland's 'leadership class', a classification including teachers, social workers, priests, judges and political activists. More than 16,000 members of the intelligentsia were murdered in Operation Tannenberg alone.

Germany also planned to incorporate all land into the Third Reich. This effort resulted in the forced resettlement of 2 million Poles. Families were forced to travel in the severe winter of 1939–40, leaving behind almost all of their possessions without recompense. As part of Operation Tannenberg alone, 750,000 Polish peasants were forced to leave and their property was given to Germans. A further 330,000 were murdered. Germany eventually planned to move ethnic Poles to Siberia.

Although Germany used forced labourers in most occupied countries, Poles and other Eastern Europeans were viewed as inferior and, thus, better suited for such duties. Between 1 and 2.5 million Polish citizens were transported to the Reich for forced labour, against their will. All Polish males were required to perform forced labour.

While ethnic Poles were subject to selective persecution, all ethnic Jews were targeted by the Reich. In the winter of 1939–40, about 100,000 Jews were thus deported to Poland. They were initially gathered into massive urban ghettos, such as 380,000 held in the Warsaw Ghetto, where large numbers died under the harsh conditions therein, including 43,000 in the Warsaw Ghetto alone. Poles and ethnic Jews were imprisoned in nearly every camp of the extensive concentration camp system in German-occupied Poland and the Reich. In Auschwitzmarker, which began operating on 14 June 1940, 1.1 million people died.

Romania and Soviet republics

In the summer of 1940, fear of the Soviet Union, in conjunction with German support for the territorial demands of Romania's neighbors and the Romanian government's own miscalculations, resulted in more territorial losses for Romania. Between 28 June and 4 July the Soviet Union occupied and annexed Bessarabia, Northern Bukovina and the Hertza region of Romania.

On 30 August 1940, Ribbentrop and Italian Foreign Minister Galeazzo Ciano issued the Second Vienna Award giving Northern Transylvania to Hungary. On 7 September 1940, Romania ceded Southern Dobruja to Bulgaria (Axis-sponsored Treaty of Craiova). After various events in Romania, over the next few months, it increasing took on the aspect of a German-occupied country.

The Soviet-occupied territories were converted into republics of the Soviet Union. During the two years following the annexation, the Soviets arrested approximately 100,000 Polish citizens and deported between 350,000 and 1,500,000, of whom between 250,000 and 1,000,000 died, mostly civilians. Forced re-settlements into Gulag labour camps and exile settlements in remote areas of the Soviet Union occurred. According to Norman Davies, almost half of them were dead by July 1940.

Further secret protocol modifications, settling borders and immigration issues

On 10 January 1941, Germany and the Soviet Union signed an agreement settling several ongoing issues. Secret protocols in the new agreement modified the "Secret Additional Protocols" of the German–Soviet Boundary and Friendship Treaty, ceding the Lithuanian Strip to the Soviet Union in exchange for 7.5 million dollars (31.5 million Reichsmark). The agreement formally set the border between Germany and the Soviet Union between the Igorka river and the Baltic Sea. It also extended trade regulation of the 1940 German–Soviet Commercial Agreement until August 1, 1942, increased deliveries above the levels of year one of that agreement, settled trading rights in the Baltics and Bessarabia, calculated the compensation for German property interests in the Baltic States now occupied by the Soviets and other issues. It also covered the migration to Germany within two and a half months of ethnic Germans and German citizens in Soviet-held Baltic territories, and the migration to the Soviet Union of Baltic and "White Russian" "nationals" in German-held territories.

Soviet-German relations during the Pact's operation

Early political issues

Beginning in September 1939, 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. When anti-German demonstrations erupted in Praguemarker, Czechoslovakiamarker, the Comintern ordered the Czech Communist Party to employ all of its strength to paralyze "chauvinist elements." Moscow soon forced the Communist Parties of France and Great Britain to adopt an anti-war position. On 7 September Stalin called Georgi Dimitrov, and the latter sketched a new Comintern line on the war. The new line – which stated that the war was unjust and imperialist – was approved by the secretariat of the Communist International on 9 September. Thus, the various western Communist parties now had to oppose the war, and to vote against war credits. A number of French communists (including Maurice Thorez, who fled to Moscow), deserted from the French Army, owing to a 'revolutionary defeatist' attitude taken by Western Communist leaders.

Despite a warming by the Comintern, German tensions were raised when the Soviets stated in September that they 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.

While active collaboration between Nazi Germany and Soviet Union caused great shock in western Europe and amongst communists opposed to Germany, on 1 October 1939, Winston Churchill declared that the Russian armies acted for the safety of Russia against "the Nazi menace."

Expansion of raw materials and military trading

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. The trade pact helped Germany to surmount a British blockade of Germany. In the first year, Germany received one million tons of cereals, half a million tons of wheat, 900,000 tons of oil, 100,000 tons of cotton, 500,000 tons of phosphates and considerable amounts of other vital raw materials, along with the transit of one million tons of soybeans from Manchuria. These and other supplies were being transported through Soviet and occupied Polish territories. The Soviets were to receive a naval cruiser, the plans to the battleship Bismarckmarker, heavy naval guns, other naval gear and thirty of Germany's latest warplanes, including the Me-109 and Me-110 fighters and Ju-88 bomber. The Soviets would also receive oil and electric equipment, locomotives, turbines, generators, diesel engines, ships, machine tools and samples of Germany artillery, tanks, explosives, chemical-warfare equipment and other items.

The Soviets also helped Germany to avoid British naval blockades by providing a submarine base, Basis Nordmarker, in the northern Soviet Union near Murmanskmarker. This also provided a refueling and maintenance location, and a takeoff point for raids and attacks on shipping. 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 the German invasion), which forced Britain to protect sea lanes in both the Atlantic and the Pacific.

Summer deterioration of relations

The Finnish and Baltic invasions began a deterioration of relations between the Soviets and Germany.Kennan, George. Russian and the West, under Lenin and Stalin, NY Mentor Books, 1961 pp 318,319 Stalin's invasions were, however (as the intent to accomplish these was not communicated to the Nazis beforehand), a severe irritant to Berlin and prompted concern that Stalin was seeking to form an anti-Nazi bloc.Cartier, Raymond. Hitler et ses Généreaux, Paris, J'ai Lu/A. Faiard, 1962. p.233 Molotov's reassurances to the Nazis, and the Nazis' mistrust, intensified. On June 16, 1940, as the Soviets invaded Lithuania, but before they had invaded Latvia and Estonia, Ribbentrop instructed his staff "to submit a report as soon as possible as to whether in the Baltic States a tendency to seek support from the Reich can be observed or whether an attempt was made to form a bloc." Sontag, R.J. and Beddie, J.S. editors. Nazi–Soviet Relations 1939–1941, Washington: State Department, 1948, p. 151)

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. The suspension created significant resource problems for Germany. 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. However, in late August, Germany arranged its own occupation of Romania, targeting oil fields. 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.

German–Soviet Axis talks

Ribbentrop welcoming Molotov in Berlin, November 1940

After Germany entered a Tripartite Pact with Japan and Italy, Ribbentrop wrote to Stalin, inviting Molotov to Berlin for negotiations aimed to create a 'continental bloc' of Germany, Italy, Japan and the USSR that would oppose to Britain and the USA. 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. After negotiations during November 1940 on where to extend the USSR's sphere of influence, Hitler broke off talks and continued planning for the eventual attempts to invade the Soviet Union.

Late relations

In an effort to demonstrate peaceful intentions toward Germany, on 13 April 1941, the Soviets signed a neutrality pact with Axis power Japan. While Stalin had little faith in Japan's commitment to neutrality, he felt that the pact was important for its political symbolism, to reinforce a public affection for Germany. Stalin felt that there was a growing split in German circles about whether Germany should initiate a war with the Soviet Union. Stalin did not know that Hitler had been secretly discussing an invasion of the Soviet Union since summer 1940, and that Hitler had ordered his military in late 1940 to prepare for war in the east regardless of the parties talks of a potential Soviet entry as a fourth Axis Power.

Hitler breaks the Pact

Nazi Germany terminated the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact with its invasion of the Soviet Union at 3:15am on 22 June 1941. Stalin had ignored several warnings that Germany was likely to attack, and ordered no full-scale mobilization of forces. 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. Within six months, the Soviet military had suffered 4.3 million casualties and Germany had captured three million Soviet prisoners. The imports of Soviet raw materials into Germany over the duration of the countries' economic relationship proved vital to Barbarossa. Without Soviet imports, German stocks would have run out in several key products by October 1941, and Germany would have already run through their stocks of rubber and grain before the first day of the invasion.


Denial of the Secret Protocol's existence by the Soviet Union

The German original of the secret protocols was presumably destroyed in the bombing of Germany, but a microfilmed copy was kept in the documents archive of the German Foreign Office. In May 1945, Karl von Loesch, a civil servant in Foreign Office, gave this copy to British Lt. Col. R.C. Thomson.

Despite publication of the recovered copy in western media, for decades, it was the official policy of the Soviet Union to deny the existence of the secret protocol. The secret protocol's existence was officially denied until 1989. Vyacheslav Molotov, one of the signatories, went to his grave categorically rejecting its existence.

On 23 August 1986, tens of thousands of demonstrators in 21 western cities including New York, London, Stockholm, Toronto, Seattle, and Perth participated in Black Ribbon Day Rallies to draw attention to the secret protocols.

Stalin's Falsifiers of History and Axis negotiations

After the publication of the secret protocols and other secret German–Soviet relations documents, in 1948, Stalin published Falsifiers of History, which included the claim that, during the Pact's operation, Stalin rejected Hitler's claim to share in a division of the world, without mentioning the Soviet offer to join the Axis. That version persisted, without exception, in historical studies, official accounts, memoirs and textbooks published in the Soviet Union until the Soviet Union's dissolution.

The book also claimed that the Munich agreement was a "secret agreement" between Germany and "the west" and a "highly important phase in their policy aimed at goading the Hitlerite aggressors against the Soviet Union."

Denunciation of the pact

For decades, it was the official policy of the Soviet Union to deny the existence of the secret protocol to the Soviet-German Pact. It was only after the Baltic Way demonstrations of 23 August 1989, where two million people created a human chain set on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Pact that this policy changed. At the behest of Mikhail Gorbachev, Alexander Nikolaevich Yakovlev headed a commission investigating the existence of such a protocol. In December 1989, the commission concluded that the protocol had existed and revealed its findings to the Soviet Congress of People's Deputies. As a result, the first democratically elected Congress of Soviets "passed the declaration admitting the existence of the secret protocols, condemning and denouncing them".

In 1992, the document itself was declassified only after the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Both successor-states of the pact parties have declared the Secret Protocols to be invalid from the moment they were signed. The Federal Republic of Germany declared this on September 1, 1989 and the Soviet Union on December 24, 1989.

In August 2009, in an article written for the Polish newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin condemned the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact as "immoral."

Post-war commentary regarding the motives of Stalin and Hitler

The protocol is considered a crime against peace as a conspiracy to conduct war of aggression.

Some scholars believe that from the very beginning of the Tripartite negotiations between the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and France, it became clear that the Soviet position required the other parties to agree to a Soviet occupation of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, as well as for Finlandmarker be included in the Soviet sphere of influence.

Regrading the timing of German rapprochement, many historians agree that the dismissal of Litvinov, whose Jewish ethnicity was viewed disfavorably by Nazi Germany, removed an obstacle to negotiations with Germany. Stalin immediately directed Molotov to "purge the ministry of Jews." Given Litvinov's prior attempts to create an anti-fascist coalition, association with the doctrine of collective security with France and Britain, and pro-Western orientation by the standards of the Kremlin, his dismissal indicated the existence of a Soviet option of rapprochement with Germany. Likewise, Molotov's appointment served as a signal to Germany that the USSR was open to offers. The dismissal also signaled to France and Britain the existence of a potential negotiation option with Germany. 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." Carr argued that the Soviet Union's replacement of Foreign Minister Litvinov with Molotov on May 3, 1939 indicated not an irrevocable shift towards alignment with Germany, but rather Stalin’s way of engaging in hard bargaining with the British and the French by appointing a proverbial hard man, namely Molotov to the Foreign Commissariat. Historian Albert Resis stated that the Litvinov dismissal gave the Soviets freedom to pursue quickened German negotiations, but that they did not abandon British–French talks. Derek Watson argued that non-Jewish Molotov could get the best deal with Britain and France because he was not encumbered with the baggage of collective security and could negotiate with Germany. Geoffrey Roberts argued that Litvinov's dismisall helped the Soviets with British–French talks, because Litvinov doubted or maybe even opposed such discussions.

After the war, defenders of the Soviet position argued that it was necessary to enter into a non-aggression pact with Germany 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. Edward Hallett Carr, a frequent defender of Soviet policy, 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." An important advantage (projected by Carr) was that "if Soviet Russia had eventually to fight Hitler, the Western Powers would already be involved." 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. Carr further stated that, for a long time, the primary motive of Stalin's sudden change of course was assumed to be the fear of German aggressive intentions.

Some critical of Stalin's policy, such as Viktor Suvorov, claim that Stalin's primary motive for signing the Soviet–German non-aggression treaty was his 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. Claims by Suvorov that Stalin planned to invade Germany in 1941 have remained under debate among historians with, for example, David Glantz opposing such claims while Mikhail Meltyukhov supports them.

Soviet sources have claimed that soon after the pact was signed, both UK and US showed understanding that the buffer zone was necessary to keep Hitler from advancing for some time, accepting strategic reasons; however, soon after the World War II ended, those countries changed their view. Many Polish newspapers published numerous articles claiming that Russia must apologize to Poland for the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact.

Regarding whether Soviet invasions of the Baltics or strike in Finland prompted Operation Barbarossa, two weeks after Soviet armies had entered the Baltics, Berlin requested Finland to permit the transit of Nazi troops, followed five weeks thereafter by Hitler's issuance of a secret directive "to take up the Russian problem, to think about war preparations," a war whose objective would include establishment of a Baltic confederation.Halder, Generaloberst, Kriegstagebuch, Stuttgart, 1962, vol. II pp. 31,2


The European Parliamentmarker has called for proclaiming 23 August the anniversary of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, as a Europe-wide Remembrance Day for the victims of all totalitarian and authoritarian regimes, to be commemorated with dignity and impartiality.

In connection with the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, an Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe parliamentary resolution condemned both Stalinism and fascism for starting World War II and called for a day of remembrance for victims of both Stalinism and Nazism on 23 August. In response to the resolution, the Russian lawmakers threatened the OSCE with "harsh consequences".

See also

Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact Related



  • First published as


  • Fisher, David & Read, Anthony. The Deadly Embrace: Hitler, Stalin, and the Nazi–Soviet Pact 1939–1941. W. W. Norton & Company 1999.

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