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19 November 2018

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The Devil's Alliance: Hitler's Pact With Stalin

By Roger Moorhouse (Basic Books, $29.99)

Seven paragraphs. That’s all it took for Hitler and Stalin to redraw the map of Europe, to set the continent on the path to war, to murder millions in the pursuit of their Grand Designs.

The Soviet line was that Stalin was forced by circumstances into signing the pact. In August 1939 he determined that Britain and France could not be trusted to stand up to Hitler (remember Munich?), and that the Soviet state needed to buy time to prepare for war against the Nazis (and demolish the Soviet officer corps).

Yet, as Moorhouse shows, this self-serving Soviet interpretation (still heard today from some historians) does not sync with the facts or with Stalin’s later actions. In fact, he argues in this excellent history, replete with first-hand accounts, Stalin saw the pact as a way to undermine capitalism, to set the Nazis and Allied powers at each other’s throats, while the Soviet Union sat on the sidelines. And Stalin’s own distraught reaction at the June 1941 Nazi invasion, his ignoring crucial advance intelligence from Richard Sorge, shows that he clearly did not expect the betrayal and was invested in the alliance.

More than this, the 22-month alliance led to sharing in technology, training and resources in a way that made the war more costly and lengthy. As Moorhouse argues, we ought to study and understand the history of this pact, too often mentioned only in passing by histories. For not only did it alter the course of the war, it shaped the postwar landscape of Europe – the realities of which we are still grappling with today, from Ukraine to Bessarabia.

— Paul E. Richardson

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Reviewed in Russian Life: Nov/Dec 2014