-What were the driving factors making Russia resist the cooperation with Britain and France and to ally with Germany before WWII?
The monster of Moscow, the “cold blooded strategist”, Josef Stalin ran his fingers through the luxurious carpet under his nose. After a fellow dictator with a less luxurious mustache rose to power in Germany in 1933, Mr. Stalin had been dealt one of the most difficult hands he had faced since his escape from Siberia 25 years prior. Germany was rising up, becoming ‘bold’ again, and itching to redeem what was ‘rightfully’ its own. The democracies of the West were unsure exactly how to respond to a potential renewal of German militarization and decided to wait and watch. The League of Nations and their feign ‘collective security’ policies were to be tested. Taking a sip of his Leninade Vodka, Stalin knew it was necessary to be patient and tread carefully amongst a fascist war machine and appeasing democracies. He knew war was on the horizon.
The First Factor: Stalin shuffled his favorite deck of commune playing cards and dealt himself a hand. As both a professional poker player and brutal dictator, Stalin had the ‘poker face’ that no one could see through. It was his duty to uncover the hands of his fellow European leaders. In the first hand, Stalin played first. He knew that both France and Britain were trying to abide by the fresh idea of collective security. It was 1935 and Stalin would sign a pact with France as well as Czechoslovakia a year later. He went as far as committing the Soviet Union to peace and collective security for all that year. This decision would falter quickly. He was disappointed by the French response. Although maintaining political ties, France refused to commit to any kind of military collaboration with the USSR. According to Kissinger, Stalin took this as a invitation for Hitler to attack the motherland first. Responding in kind, Stalin placed his Queen on top of the French’s Jack which only committed the Soviet Union to the defense of Czechoslovakia after the French became involved. This allowed Stalin to abandon the West if he saw fit, strategically giving him the advantage over future actions.
The idea of collective security did not sit lightly with Stalin nor his bear Nikolai. The historical periphery areas of the Russian Empire had been taken by force which basically negated the concept behind the creation of the League of Nations. The USSR could not be a part of said League as its desire to expand into its former territories was of primary concern. As Kissinger elaborates further, without the USSR participating in collective security in Eastern Europe, it could not function militarily. With it as a member, it could not function politically.
The Second Factor: After the failure of potential cooperation militarily with France, relationships only stiffened. Stalin enjoyed three things: Parties, Purges, and Pacts and if he was left out of one, there was going to be a problem. In late 1938, a “party” was held (conference) in Munich and no one thought to invite the hairy Russian. Was it because he forgot to take shower the night before? No. It was purely because of his ideology. The allies appeased Hitler without the consent of Stalin completely changing the Soviet’s strategy. As a result, Stalin decided to become a business dictator and open his own Soviet Bazaar. To all relevant actors: Stalin was now taking bids for a Soviet Pact. Whoever was more serious about making an offer with the USSR would be welcomed. This included Nazi Germany. As Kissinger explains, Stalin saw both the democratic and fascist ideologies as having similar social structures and therefore, did not care who made an offer of alliance first. In 1939, Stalin addressed his newly purged Party Congress announcing of a new strategy. This strategy did not include collective security as it had before 4 years prior. It was a call of a Soviet neutrality for he found no need to be pulled into the Capitalists’ war. Stalin warned the Party Congress ominously: “to be cautious and not allow our country to be drawn into conflicts by warmongers who are accustomed to have others pull the chestnuts out of the fire for them.” This was definitively directed at the West and basically invited Hitler to make an offer at the Bazaar. No chestnuts would be wasted due to capitalist incompetence today. A German roasted chestnut with a dash of National Socialism was about to be served to the hairy Russian leader.
Third Factor: Soon after Hitler invaded the rest of Czechoslovakia, Britain took a hardliner’s, non-appeasement approach to prevent further Nazi aggression. The decisions were made chaotically and under apparent pressure and urgency. Britain decided to offer unilateral protection to Poland, Romania, and Greece. This rash and rushed decision pleased the Russian dictator as Britain indirectly had just entered a defacto alliance with the USSR. This British declaration now acted as the condom of the Soviet frontier. Stalin did not have to worry about potential Nazi aggression in Poland since the British would declare war and save the day. What made him even happier was the fact that it was a purely one-sided agreement. The USSR did not have to reciprocate since they were once again left out of the decision making process. Collective security would fail. I do not know what tea Chamberlain was drinking through this period, but unfortunately, his Cabinet made four extremely faulty assumptions about Poland and the USSR.
- Poland is militarily stronger than the USSR. (Tell that to the Polish horsemen fighting German Panzer Tanks)
- France and Britain could defeat Germany without Allied support… (If the Americans did not jump in on your side in 1918, you’d all be speaking German)
- The Soviet Union had an interest in maintaining the status quo in Eastern Europe. (Since when? Have you read your Russian history Chamberlain?)
- Communism and Fascism could never unite. Stalin will eventual join the “right” side. (Think again!)
These four assumptions are quite surprising considering what was at stake. Under diplomatic terms, you should never assume and always confirm. If you cannot confirm a potential hypothesis, then it is not true. To justify these assumptions so rashly left the Brits even more unprepared come September, 1939.
Stalin desperately wanted to overturn the settlements established by the Versailles Treaty as this would give the Soviet Union a vast territorial gain. With this in mind, it is clear that as Kissinger argues, Stalin wished to receive the benefits of war without actually participating in it. With war, Stalin could occupy the necessary real-estate he desired in Eastern Europe. Without it, well, he wouldn’t have taken that kind of risk. In the eyes of Mr. Josef Mustachio Stalin, making a land grab without war at that time was like playing Russian Roulette with a fully loaded pistol.
Being the last to “pick” a side, Stalin had all the patience in the world and awaited the best offer. He was the epitome of wise dictator monk. Patience was and still is a virtue. In April of 39, the British threw a unilateral agreement into Stalin’s lap hoping that they could trap the elusive Russian bear. The agreement essentially compelled Stalin to come to the aid of any country on his border that is blitzkrieg-ed by the German beer machine… I mean war machine. He declined this offer like a smart little Russian dictator and offered his own terms which included an alliance among the three allies, a military convention to give it effect, and a guarantee for all of the countries between the Baltic and Black Sea. The democracies were not thrilled to hear of this counter proposal, but eventual conceded on most points. It took them almost three months to finally establish a draft, one of which Stalin could now compare with a potential German offer. It was as if he was selling his services over Ebay and collecting on the person who would offer him the best deal. Other than being an evil dictator, Hitler was the complete opposite of his Russian counterpart. Both impatient and desperate for proceeding with his war plans for Poland, Hitler finally “blinked” (late July, 39) as Kissinger describes and contacted Moscow. Unlike the potential agreement with the democracies, Stalin did not have to spill blood or vodka if he aligned himself with Hitler. Hitler’s foreign minister Ribbentrop made the pilgrimage to Moscow in mid-August. This also pleased Stalin as no democratic power dared to travel farther than Warsaw. Stalin, by waiting so patiently, had wrapped Hitler right around his finger as he received everything he demanded. This included land grabs in Eastern Europe, partitioning of countries including Poland, and the infamous Non-Aggression Pact. Bluntly said, the Western democracies entered the talks too late. Furthermore, they lacked motivation to cooperate with the Bolshevik dictator which soured relations further and pushed Stalin towards a German relationship.
My thoughts: As a political and military leader, Stalin was the ultimate strategist of World War II. He took note of his surroundings, situations, and dilemmas and addressed them with patience, shrewd decision making, and was by all means an implacable realist. Among further research, I believe you can argue that Stalin knew of Hitler’s eventual motives and that war would become a reality in time on the Soviet front. He told Molotov that he needed two years to prepare the Red Army for a German incursion and sure enough by June of 41, the USSR was attacked. Disregarding the factors above, Stalin strategically positioned himself in a way that would allot him control of further Soviet periphery areas without a condition of collective security in Eastern Europe. Strategically, Stalin knew that he could only obtain his goals through a mutual pact with Hitler. The West would never allow him to crush the Eastern European republics, as Hitler was already in the process of doing. \ Without abandoning everything Great Britain stood for since the end of WWI, its leadership could not comply with Stalin’s terms. It desperately wanted to protect those small countries of Eastern Europe from further Nazi aggression, but could not allow the USSR to do the same under their blessing. Furthermore, after the purges of 37-38, the Red Army was in no position to fight, and therefore, needed the Hitler Pact to buy time. Moreover, Stalin acted as one of the factors that led the world to war. Relieving Hitler of a potential two front war made war inevitable. Greed overcame the hairy Russian dictator, as he simply wanted a piece of Hitler’s spoils of war. As Kissinger said it best, Stalin led the Soviet Union with an iron fist and this iron fist was through the brutal manipulation of his Bazaar. The Western democracies stood for what was right and just in a peaceful Europe. Hitler must be stopped. Stalin as a realist power simply declared “I will make the Motherland great again!” Using power to ensure his will across the Soviet Union was at the time more important than stopping Hitler. With the partition of Poland alone, Stalin established a 600 mile buffer between him and Hitler. If he would have sided with the west, Stalin would not have likely acquired any territorial gain “legitimately” and would have been forced into war immediately with the remnants of a purged army. This is why for his purposes, “allying” with the Nazis was better for the Soviet national interest.
How to prepare for war… the Russian dictator way:
- Drink a bottle of the finest Stalingrad Vodka
- Purge your closest officers, only trust yourself
- Saddle up and mount your bear
- Give your bear vodka
- Declare War on the man with the worst mustache
- Ride into battle under the most inspirational war music the Soviet Union has to offer