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Soviet Foreign Policy
 

Monday, September 03, 2001

Soviet Foreign Policy

by Linda DeLaine

From 1922 forward, Soviet foreign policy had two primary goals. Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin

- Recovery of lands lost in 1918-1921. Namely Finland, the Baltic states, Eastern Poland and northeastern Romania (modern Moldova) known as Bessarabia. The idea was to to use these areas as a literal buffer against Western invasion.

- Abolishment of states and replacing them with a socialist commonwealth which would be governed by Soviet Russia. The Soviets sought to regain and control all areas of Eastern Europe which had once been part of the Russian Empire.

The tool used in the Soviet attempt to gain control over communized lands was the Comintern (1919). During this time, there was a bitter battle between socialists and communists for workers' loyalty in Europe. Socialists held to democratic values while communists believed in revolution. The Comintern, founded by Lenin and others, demanded a world wide workers' revolution. The hoped for solidarity of the common man would be controlled by Moscow.

The second congress, or meeting, of the Comintern was held in July 1920. It called for the Soviets to seize control of Warsaw, making Poland a part of the international union of Soviet states. The following month, the Comintern produced The Twenty-One Conditions. The program was intended to protect and strengthen Soviet Russia and, in effect, declared war on any democratic/capitalist society. This plan demanded that all communists:

  • drive socialists out of labor unions
  • actively assist any rebellions against imperial control, where ever it might be found
  • create a strong presence in the factories, towns and military forces of any capitalist nation
  • conduct purges, doing away with all suspected traitors and spies
  • advocate one, international state, the Soviet Union

During the period between the World Wars (1921-1933), the Twenty-One Conditions failed to live up to expectations. Soviet Russia's single closest diplomatic relationship was with capitalist Germany. The two nations had compatible goals. Germany wanted revenge against the rest of Europe and its allies for the devastation and territorial losses of WWI (see Treaty of Versailles). Soviet Russia sought revolution among all workers and their solidarity under the umbrella of the Soviet state.

The official relationship between Soviet Russia and Germany started on March 3, 1918, with the signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. The treaty was not a popular one among most Soviets and Lenin was criticized for signing it. However, at the time some sort of a pact was needed.

The result was the formation of German-Soviet businesses for the purpose of developing industry in Soviet Russia. Both Germany and Russia fully believed that together they could regain land lost to Poland. This goal became a priority for the German military where Department R was established to operate in conjunction with the Soviet military in this effort.

Soviet Russia and Germany attended the Conference of Genoa which began on April 10, 1922. Thirty-four nations were in attendance. The purpose was the rebuilding of European business and economy. It was the first such meeting since WWI where Germany and Soviet Russia were invited.

Representatives of every nation, except the U.S., which held tsarist debt demanded payment and the return of property. Soviet Russia did not consider itself liable for foreign debts acquired by the tsars but was willing to discuss the issue at Genoa. The Soviet representative, Georgi Chicherin, offered to trade the tsarist debt for renumeration for damage done by the Allies who chose to involve themselves in Russian affairs directly following the revolution. Chicherin also asked for considerable financial assistance in the form of credit for the Soviet government. The British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, attempted to negoiate credits for the Soviet Union and loans to assist the Soviet economy. Chicherin turned down George's proposals because the conditions included repayment of tsarist debts. The proposal also demanded that the Soviets secure the loans with Soviet property which would, in effect, be under the jurisdiction of the Western lender(s) until the debt was completely repaid. Russia has always feared a strong Western presence established along its western border. The idea of Western lenders holding Russian property at bay was unacceptable. The Genoa Conference ended on May 19 with no agreement reached between Soviet Russia and the West. Instead, the Soviets entered into yet another treaty with Germany.

The Treaty of Rapallo was created by Walter Rathenau (Germany) and G. V. Chicherin (Soviet Russia) during, but independent of, the Genoa Conference. In this treaty, Germany and Soviet Russia wiped out all debts accrued against each other including the tsarist debts. Germany was given most-favored-nation status which meant considerable trade concessions. Germany agreed to manufacture arms for the Soviets. Something not allowed by the Treaty of Versailles.

Following the Genoa Conference and untill 1933, Germany and Soviet Russia became increasingly involved with each other. On the military scene, German pilots were trained in Russia. These pilots would later become part of Hitler's Luftwaffe. The Germans and Soviets conducted joint tank and gas warfare experiments and built prototypes for submarines and fighter aircraft. By training in the Soviet Union and collaborating with the Soviets on arms development, Germany was able to maneuver around the fifth part of the Treaty of Versailles. The mandate of this section of the treaty was simply, The German military forces shall be demobilised and reduced as prescribed hereinafter.

Stalin WWII PosterIn the latter part of 1934, Soviet Russia made what appeared to be dramatic changes in its foreign policy stance. It joined the League of Nations (September 1934). In 1935, Moscow heralded the policy of Popular Fronts, the creation of alliances between socialists and communists within the European nations. The 180 degree shift in policy gave the impression of being anti-German. Actually, it was anti-Hitler.

Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany, January 1933, and made it clear that he supported an anti-communist, thus anti-Soviet Russia, policy. It appeared that the German people agreed when 44 percent voted for the Nazis in the March 5, 1933, election.

In reality, the bulk of the German people were not affected by Hitler's racist and nationalist opinions. Germany was prospering in the 1920s and was an industrial leader in Europe. When the U.S. stock market crashed in October 1929, it sent shockwaves throughout the international financial community. Germany was hit hard when American banks demanded full payment of loans and credits extended to it. The result was the spread of the Great Depression to, among other nations, Germany, where most of her financial institutions and businesses went bankrupt. For the masses, this meant unemployment, no money, hunger, despair and everything else that goes with financial crisis. The current government of the Weimar Republic could not fix the situation over night. While Germans languished, Hitler came upon the scene promising employment and food for everyone. In 1933, Germans voted for Hitler and the Nazis, not because of his anti-Soviet and other racist views, but for his promises of salvation from poverty.

If the German Communists had joined forces with the German Social Democratic Party, Hitler would not have been able to win the 1933 election. Instead, the Comintern told German communists to run against not only the Nazis, but all other socialist and bourgeois candidates. As a result, Hitler had little trouble getting the largest share of the popular vote. There is strong speculation that Stalin wanted Hitler to win, seeing this as a sure way to get rid of him. Stalin wagered that Hitler would not be able to deliver on his promises of jobs and food for all Germans. Since this was the only reason most people voted for him, the anger of a disappointed people would surely result in Hitler being run out of office or worse. Stalin further wagered that Germany would then elect a communist leadership.

Hitler soon set himself up as a dictator with absolute control over the Reichstag (legislature). He threw German communists in prison and pulled out of the secret German - Soviet joint military development activities in the Soviet Union. Concerned about economics, Hitler did agree to renew the Treaty of Berlin in order to retain trade relations with Soviet Russia.

Hitler's rise to power prompted the Soviet government to create a new policy known as the Litvinov Policy, named after Maxim M.Litvinov, Commissar of Foreign Affairs from late 1930 to May 1939. The policy centered around the concept of collective security and paved the way to the Soviet Union joining the League of Nations in 1934. Lenin had referred to the league as an anti-Soviet band of robbers.

French Foreign Minister Louis Barthou proposed an Eastern Locarno in 1934. Under this agreement, Moscow would come to the aid of French allies, Poland and Czechoslovakia, should either be attacked by Germany. Poland and Czechoslovakia rejected the idea of any form of assistance from the Soviets, making this agreement virtually useless. Germany would not sign the Eastern Locarno, thus, Britain would not support it, either. Even though the pact failed, it was to be the start of repeated French diplomatic efforts to ally with the Soviets for the purpose of warding off their common threat, Hitler and the Nazis.

France and Britain have rarely been in agreement and dealings concerning Germany and Hitler proved to be no exception. Eventually, France and Czechoslovakia signed agreements with the Soviets (May 2, 1935). This bit of diplomacy focused on non-military means to keep Hitler in check. In hindsight, this seems foolish. At the time, France did not think the Soviets had any serious military might and was intent on, if need be, engaging in a defensive position rather than an offensive stance.

Czechoslovakia's part of the pact stated that they would accept Soviet military aid only if France had provided it first. The Czechs were concerns about being perceived as pro-Soviet and communist sympathizers. Britain saw herself as a world wide emperial entity and was not interested in alliances with France or Germany during peacetime. As long as Germany did not threaten Britain, the latter was content to stay out of Germany's business. Most importantly, if an empire is to remain strong and intact, it cannot afford war. This was Britain's top priority. Hitler's repeated violations of the Treaty of Versailles and the Anglo-German Naval Agreement of 1935, did not concern Britain much. They did not think that Hitler could present a threat or ever be capable of building a Navy or force to match the British military.

Britain soon found herself in a three way sticky wicket. The far flung empire was feeling the threat of the Japanese in the Pacific and Italy's Benito Mussolini in the Mediterranean. Realizing that they could not successfully fight a three front war, Britain became concerned with coming to a mutually agreeable settlement with Berlin. Not wanting to be involved in a European war, Britain did not consider any alliances with France or the Soviet Union.

Not concerned with the security of Eastern Europe, Britain had actually put that region in jeopardy by not taking action regarding Hitler's repeated violations of the military clauses of the Versailles Treaty. German domination of the Baltic Sea was virtually a guarantee, in the late 1930s. This constituted a direct threat against Poland and the Baltic States of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

Stalin, as one might predict, considered Britain's lack of concern for Eastern Europe evidence that she endorsed Hitler's eastern expansion activities. Naturally, the Soviets saw such activity as a direct threat against the Soviet Union.

Immediately following the alliance with France, Litvinov proposed a non-aggression pact to the German ambassador, Count Friedrich W. von der Schulenberg, in Moscow. This proposal finally grew into the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact of August 23, 1939.

You will remember that the Rhineland was established as a demilitarized zone (DMZ). The Rhine was given to Germany so that she could develop industry and, thus, be able to pay her debts. The fact that the region was a DMZ provided additional security for France against any future German aggression. On March 7, 1936, Hitler planted his troops in the DMZ, on the west side of the Rhine. Neither Britian or France reacted to this obvious violation of the Versailles Treaty, further convincing Stalin that neither country could be trusted.

Indeed, Hitler had counted on the fact that France would do nothing. France did not feel that they had the military might to defeat Hitler's troops alone. Britain had made it clear that she had no interest in getting involved in a fight that, win or loose, did not affect her sovereignty. As a result, France's allies in Eastern Europe learned that they could not count on French assistance in the future. Needless to say, distrust was rampant in Europe; a fact that basically gave Hitler free run to establish his troops where ever he pleased.

Stalin had figured out that none of the European nations could be trusted nor could he predict what their policies would be at any given time. Since the primary focus was protecting ones self against the growing Nazi threat, Stalin turned to secret negotiations and arrangements with Germany. Hitler was willing to work out the details of positive relations with the Soviets, but only after Stalin was securely established as the absolute dictator of the Soviet Union. During this time (mid to late 1930s), Stalin was busy with his purges, including eliminating most of the Red Army's general officers. Hitler did not consider Stalin's position guaranteed, yet. While Stalin was secretly working toward a relationship with Hitler, the Comintern called for the formation of a Popular Front government which would bring together socialists and communists against Hitler's Nazis (1935). Stalin would dissolve the Comintern in 1943.

Stalin's last attempt at gaining alliances with Britain and France was at the Munich Conference in September of 1938. Angered by being flatly rejected, he fired Maksim Litvinov and replaced him with V.M. Molotov. Molotov and his German counterpart, Joachim von Ribbentrop, immediately went to work on the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact. The agreement was signed on August 23, 1939, in Moscow. The main points were:

  • Germany and the Soviet Union agreed not to attack each other or support a third party attack on the other.
  • Remain in constant communication regarding issues and policies of common concern.
  • The two powers agreed not to align with other powers whose plan it is to threaten the other.
  • All differences between the two countries would be resolved by arbitration
  • Pact was good for ten years with an automatic five year extension, unless one party gave the other a one year notification of termination of the pact.
  • Secret addendum which divided up Eastern Europe between Germany and the Soviet Union. The latter was to gain control of Latvia, Estonia, Finland and Poland east of a line formed by the Vistula and San rivers.

Obviously, the rest of Europe was quite alarmed and and threatened by this strong alliance between two nations which they had, thus far, not taken very seriously. Hitler immediately invaded western Poland and claimed his share (September 1, 1939). Likewise, the Soviets took control of eastern Poland (September 29, 1939), as well as, the Baltic states in August of 1940. Hitler, knowing that the U.S. intended to remain neutral, quickly ravished most of mainland Europe by mid-1941. The Nazi dictator's next move proved to be unwise.

Stalin scheduled his third Five-Year Plan from 1938-1941. During this time, the Soviet Union was preparing for war, believing this to be inevitable as the Nazi threat continued. More and more resources were poured into the military and war related industry. This five-year plan was cut somewhat short by the 1941 Nazi invasion of Soviet Russia. It was then that most of the nation's industry was moved from western Russia to the Urals to guard against future war damage. Stalin's fourth Five-Year Plan occurred from 1946 through 1950 and focused on the rebuilding of areas of the nation devastated by war.

Stalin's dealings with eastern Poland were nothing short of brutal. In October of 1939, he had his secret police order the, so called, election of new local authorities in Poland, Polish Ukraine and Belorussia. Most of these individuals were criminals who were more than happy to grab control of respectable citizens. They were encouraged to take property away from the land owners and, in the name of land reform, make the peasants divide up the lands and loot among themselves.

Many of the candidates in these trumped up elections were not even from the district that they would be representing. Local residents were driven by Soviet secret police to the polls out of fear and anyone who dared not vote suffered dire consequences. The ballots had only one candidate or group of candidates with the option to vote yes or no. To insure a positive outcome, the no votes were thrown out and replaced with phony yes ballots.

After the election, the newly elected officials begged the Supreme Soviet to admit Western Ukraine and Western Belorussia into their fold. In November of 1939, their petition was granted. From that point on, the Soviet governments have insisted that these people, via democratically elected representation, wanted to be a part of the USSR.

The annexation of these regions was not enough for Stalin. He did, what he did several times, decided to mix people up so as to keep them in a state of confusion and fear. In January of 1940, a series of mass deportations began. After three deportations and by June of 1941, roughly 1.25 million people had been moved from Soviet Poland, Ukraine and Belorussia to Soviet Central Asia, the Far East and Arctic regions. About 52 percent were Poles with the remaining 48 percent being Ukrainians, Belorussians and Jews. They totaled roughly 10 percent of the original population of their homelands and most were educated, once well-off and merchants. Most of the merchants were Jews. These enemies of the Soviet State were hauled out of their homes in the dark of night, taken to a rail station and crammed into cattle cars.

The journey was long and they were given little food and water. Most who were old, sick or very young perished along the way. It is estimated that about 200,000 Poles died before Hitler attacked Russia in June of 1941. In fact, more Eastern Poles died at the hands of the Soviets than Western Poles who were brutalized by Hitler. From September 1939 to June 1941, the Nazis killed roughly 100,000 Jews and about 10,900 Christian Poles plus another ca. 10,000 Christian Poles died in prisons. The Nazis caused the deaths of roughly 121,000 Poles, most of which were Jews. This compares to an estimated total of 325,000 Poles killed by the Soviets during the same 21 month time period.

This scheme of elections followed by deportations and killing of state enemies worked so well that the Soviets did the same thing in the Baltic States and Bessarabia (formerly northeast Romania, modern day Moldova). All of these regions were annexed by June of 1940.

The official relationship between Soviet Russia and Germany started on March 3, 1918, with the signing of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. The treaty was not a popular one among most Soviets and Lenin was criticized for signing it. However, at the time some sort of a pact was needed.

The result was the formation of German-Soviet businesses for the purpose of developing industry in Soviet Russia. Both Germany and Russia fully believed that together they could regain land lost to Poland. This goal became a priority for the German military where Department R was established to operate in conjunction with the Soviet military in this effort.

Soviet Russia and Germany attended the Conference of Genoa which began on April 10, 1922. Thirty-four nations were in attendance. The purpose was the rebuilding of European business and economy. It was the first such meeting since WWI where Germany and Soviet Russia were invited.

Representatives of every nation, except the U.S., which held tsarist debt demanded payment and the return of property. Soviet Russia did not consider itself liable for foreign debts acquired by the tsars but was willing to discuss the issue at Genoa. The Soviet representative, Georgi Chicherin, offered to trade the tsarist debt for renumeration for damage done by the Allies who chose to involve themselves in Russian affairs directly following the revolution. Chicherin also asked for considerable financial assistance in the form of credit for the Soviet government. The British Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, attempted to negoiate credits for the Soviet Union and loans to assist the Soviet economy. Chicherin turned down George's proposals because the conditions included repayment of tsarist debts. The proposal also demanded that the Soviets secure the loans with Soviet property which would, in effect, be under the jurisdiction of the Western lender(s) until the debt was completely repaid. Russia has always feared a strong Western presence established along its western border. The idea of Western lenders holding Russian property at bay was unacceptable. The Genoa Conference ended on May 19 with no agreement reached between Soviet Russia and the West. Instead, the Soviets entered into yet another treaty with Germany.

The Treaty of Rapallo was created by Walter Rathenau (Germany) and G. V. Chicherin (Soviet Russia) during, but independent of, the Genoa Conference. In this treaty, Germany and Soviet Russia wiped out all debts accrued against each other including the tsarist debts. Germany was given most-favored-nation status which meant considerable trade concessions. Germany agreed to manufacture arms for the Soviets. Something not allowed by the Treaty of Versailles.

Following the Genoa Conference and untill 1933, Germany and Soviet Russia became increasingly involved with each other. On the military scene, German pilots were trained in Russia. These pilots would later become part of Hitler's Luftwaffe. The Germans and Soviets conducted joint tank and gas warfare experiments and built prototypes for submarines and fighter aircraft. By training in the Soviet Union and collaborating with the Soviets on arms development, Germany was able to maneuver around the fifth part of the Treaty of Versailles. The mandate of this section of the treaty was simply, The German military forces shall be demobilised and reduced as prescribed hereinafter.

The German - Soviet relationship was a strange and tenious one. They were allied against a common threat; the West. However, this alliance did not stop the Soviets from siezing any opportunity to promote worker revolution in Germany.

For example, Germany failed to pay debts to France and Belgium, funds which were needed to restore industry in these two countries. This resulted in the Franco- Belgian occupation of the Ruhr in January 1923. The Soviet Comintern instigated workers' rebellions in Hamburg, Germany, which were put down by the German army.

The architect of Germany's foreign policy at this time was Gustav Stresemann who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1926. Stresemann endeavored to create a balance between the Western allies and the Soviet Union, but tended to favor the West in hopes of regaining lands lost to Poland. To this end, Stresemann signed the Locarno Treaties on October 16, 1925, in Locarno, Switzerland, and December 1, 1925 in London, England.

The Locarno Treaties were a collection of pacts intended to encourage peace in Western Europe. The signatories included France, Czechoslovakia, Germany, Belgium, Britain, Italy and Poland. For Germany, the treaties secured the boundaries of France, Germany and Belgium. The Rhineland was declared a neutral zone. The Locarno Treaties worked in conjunction with the policies of the League of Nations (Treaty of Versailles) which Germany joined in 1926 and was granted a permanent seat on the League's Council. This arrangement improved the strained relationship between Germany and France.

Germany seemed to be on the way to amicable relations with its Western European neighbors. This was to be short lived. After Stresemann's death in 1929, Adolf Hitler became Germany's leader and reprehended the Locarno Treaties. In1936, he moved his military into the Rhineland neutral zone. This action went unchallenged by the other Locarno treaty nations and paved the way for WWII (1939 - 1945).

Soviet Foreign Commissar Georgii V.Chicherin encouraged Stresemann not to sign the Locarno Treaties. Soviet Russia believed that Britain was the greatest threat and feared that Germany would, by signing these treaties, come under British control. Lenin considered the League of Nations to be an anti-Soviet alliance whose purpose was to instigate a kind of holy war against Soviet Russia. Chicherin agreed with this. In reality, Britain had no interest in Eastern Europe, let alone domination of Soviet Russia. In fact, Britain signed the Locarno Treaties as a way of avoiding a French alliance.

Britain's European policy seemed clear enough in the West. Lenin, Chicherin and Stalin all were convinced that Britain was enemy number one. They insisted that, not only was Britain very interested in Eastern Europe, but intended to use the Baltics as a stagging ground for a Soviet invasion. This belief was not completely without merit as Britain had done just that during Russia's civil war. To this day, Russia is very nervous about any Western encroachment along its eastern borders. It has strongly protested the possible inclusion of the Baltics in NATO, an organization dominated by Britain and the U.S.

In September of 1926, almost a year after the Locarno Treaties, Soviet Russia and Germany signed the Treaty of Berlin. Both nations agreed to remain neutral if the other was attacked by another nation or nations. This neutrality included any form of aggression be it military or economic. The treaty was part of Stresemann's efforts to create diplomatic balance for Germany between the Soviet Union and the West. This won him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1926. The treaty did not stop the secret Soviet - German military development collaboration which Stresemann was fully aware of.

In the latter part of 1934, Soviet Russia made what appeared to be dramatic changes in its foreign policy stance. It joined the League of Nations (September 1934). In 1935, Moscow heralded the policy of Popular Fronts, the creation of alliances between socialists and communists within the European nations. The 180 degree shift in policy gave the impression of being anti-German. Actually, it was anti-Hitler.

Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany, January 1933, and made it clear that he supported an anti-communist, thus anti-Soviet Russia, policy. It appeared that the German people agreed when 44 percent voted for the Nazis in the March 5, 1933, election.

In reality, the bulk of the German people were not affected by Hitler's racist and nationalist opinions. Germany was prospering in the 1920s and was an industrial leader in Europe. When the U.S. stock market crashed in October 1929, it sent shockwaves throughout the international financial community. Germany was hit hard when American banks demanded full payment of loans and credits extended to it. The result was the spread of the Great Depression to, among other nations, Germany, where most of her financial institutions and businesses went bankrupt. For the masses, this meant unemployment, no money, hunger, despair and everything else that goes with financial crisis. The current government of the Weimar Republic could not fix the situation over night. While Germans languished, Hitler came upon the scene promising employment and food for everyone. In 1933, Germans voted for Hitler and the Nazis, not because of his anti-Soviet and other racist views, but for his promises of salvation from poverty.

If the German Communists had joined forces with the German Social Democratic Party, Hitler would not have been able to win the 1933 election. Instead, the Comintern told German communists to run against not only the Nazis, but all other socialist and bourgeois candidates. As a result, Hitler had little trouble getting the largest share of the popular vote. There is strong speculation that Stalin wanted Hitler to win, seeing this as a sure way to get rid of him. Stalin wagered that Hitler would not be able to deliver on his promises of jobs and food for all Germans. Since this was the only reason most people voted for him, the anger of a disappointed people would surely result in Hitler being run out of office or worse. Stalin further wagered that Germany would then elect a communist leadership.

Hitler soon set himself up as a dictator with absolute control over the Reichstag (legislature). He threw German communists in prison and pulled out of the secret German - Soviet joint military development activities in the Soviet Union. Concerned about economics, Hitler did agree to renew the Treaty of Berlin in order to retain trade relations with Soviet Russia.

Hitler's rise to power prompted the Soviet government to create a new policy known as the Litvinov Policy, named after Maxim M.Litvinov, Commissar of Foreign Affairs from late 1930 to May 1939. The policy centered around the concept of collective security and paved the way to the Soviet Union joining the League of Nations in 1934. Lenin had referred to the league as an anti-Soviet band of robbers.

French Foreign Minister Louis Barthou proposed an Eastern Locarno in 1934. Under this agreement, Moscow would come to the aid of French allies, Poland and Czechoslovakia, should either be attacked by Germany. Poland and Czechoslovakia rejected the idea of any form of assistance from the Soviets, making this agreement virtually useless. Germany would not sign the Eastern Locarno, thus, Britain would not support it, either. Even though the pact failed, it was to be the start of repeated French diplomatic efforts to ally with the Soviets for the purpose of warding off their common threat, Hitler and the Nazis.