Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact negotiations
The Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact was an August 23, 1939 agreement between the Soviet Union
Soviet Union
The Soviet Union , officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics , was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1922 and 1991....

 and Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany , also known as the Third Reich , but officially called German Reich from 1933 to 1943 and Greater German Reich from 26 June 1943 onward, is the name commonly used to refer to the state of Germany from 1933 to 1945, when it was a totalitarian dictatorship ruled by...

 colloquially named after Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov
Vyacheslav Molotov
Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov was a Soviet politician and diplomat, an Old Bolshevik and a leading figure in the Soviet government from the 1920s, when he rose to power as a protégé of Joseph Stalin, to 1957, when he was dismissed from the Presidium of the Central Committee by Nikita Khrushchev...

 and German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop
Joachim von Ribbentrop
Ulrich Friedrich Wilhelm Joachim von Ribbentrop was Foreign Minister of Germany from 1938 until 1945. He was later hanged for war crimes after the Nuremberg Trials.-Early life:...

. The treaty renounced warfare between the two countries. In addition to stipulations of non-aggression, the treaty included a secret protocol dividing several eastern European countries between the parties.

Before the treaty's signing, the Soviet Union conducted negotiations with the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

 and France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 regarding a potential "Tripartite" alliance. Long-running talks between the Soviet Union and Germany over a potential economic pact expanded to include the military and political discussions, culminating in the pact, along with a commercial agreement signed four days earlier.

After World War I

After the Russian Revolution of 1917
Russian Revolution of 1917
The Russian Revolution is the collective term for a series of revolutions in Russia in 1917, which destroyed the Tsarist autocracy and led to the creation of the Soviet Union. The Tsar was deposed and replaced by a provisional government in the first revolution of February 1917...

, Bolshevist Russia
Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic
The Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic , commonly referred to as Soviet Russia, Bolshevik Russia, or simply Russia, was the largest, most populous and economically developed republic in the former Soviet Union....

 ended its fight against the Central Powers
Central Powers
The Central Powers were one of the two warring factions in World War I , composed of the German Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and the Kingdom of Bulgaria...

, including Germany
Germany , officially the Federal Republic of Germany , is a federal parliamentary republic in Europe. The country consists of 16 states while the capital and largest city is Berlin. Germany covers an area of 357,021 km2 and has a largely temperate seasonal climate...

, in World War I
World War I
World War I , which was predominantly called the World War or the Great War from its occurrence until 1939, and the First World War or World War I thereafter, was a major war centred in Europe that began on 28 July 1914 and lasted until 11 November 1918...

 by signing the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk
Treaty of Brest-Litovsk
The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was a peace treaty signed on March 3, 1918, mediated by South African Andrik Fuller, at Brest-Litovsk between Russia and the Central Powers, headed by Germany, marking Russia's exit from World War I.While the treaty was practically obsolete before the end of the year,...

. Therein, Russia agreed to cede sovereignty and influence over parts of several eastern Europe
Eastern Europe
Eastern Europe is the eastern part of Europe. The term has widely disparate geopolitical, geographical, cultural and socioeconomic readings, which makes it highly context-dependent and even volatile, and there are "almost as many definitions of Eastern Europe as there are scholars of the region"...

an countries. Most of those countries became ostensible democratic republics following Germany's defeat and signing of an armistice
Armistice with Germany (Compiègne)
The armistice between the Allies and Germany was an agreement that ended the fighting in the First World War. It was signed in a railway carriage in Compiègne Forest on 11 November 1918 and marked a victory for the Allies and a complete defeat for Germany, although not technically a surrender...

 in the autumn of 1918. With the exception of Belarus
Belarus , officially the Republic of Belarus, is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe, bordered clockwise by Russia to the northeast, Ukraine to the south, Poland to the west, and Lithuania and Latvia to the northwest. Its capital is Minsk; other major cities include Brest, Grodno , Gomel ,...

 and Ukraine
Ukraine is a country in Eastern Europe. It has an area of 603,628 km², making it the second largest contiguous country on the European continent, after Russia...

, those countries also became independent. However, the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk lasted only eight and a half months, when Germany renounced it and broke off diplomatic relations with Russia.

Before World War I, Germany and Russia had long shared a trading relationship. Germany is a relatively small country with few natural resources. It lacks natural supplies of several key raw materials needed for economic and military operations. Since the late nineteenth century, it had relied heavily upon Russian imports of raw materials. Germany imported 1.5 billion Rechsmarks of raw materials and other goods annually from Russia before the war.

In 1922, the countries signed the Treaty of Rapallo
Treaty of Rapallo, 1922
The Treaty of Rapallo was an agreement signed at the Hotel Imperiale in the Italian town of Rapallo on 16 April, 1922 between Germany and Soviet Russia under which each renounced all territorial and financial claims against the other following the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk and World War I.The two...

, renouncing territorial and financial claims against each other. The countries pledged neutrality in the event of an attack against one another with the 1926 Treaty of Berlin. While imports of Soviet goods to Germany fell after World War I, after trade agreements signed between the two countries in the mid-1920s, trade had increased to 433 million Reichsmarks per year by 1927.

In the early 1930s, this relationship fell as the more isolationist Stalinist regime asserted power and the abandonment of post-World War I military control decreased Germany's reliance on Soviet imports, such that Soviet imports fell to 223 million Reichsmarks in 1934.


In the mid-1930s, the Soviet Union made repeated efforts to reestablish closer contacts with Germany. The Soviet Union chiefly sought to repay debts from earlier trade with raw materials, while Germany sought to rearm, and the countries signed a credit agreement in 1935. The rise to power of the Nazi Party increased tensions between Germany, the Soviet Union and other countries with ethnic Slavs, which were considered "untermensch
Untermensch is a term that became infamous when the Nazi racial ideology used it to describe "inferior people", especially "the masses from the East," that is Jews, Gypsies, Poles along with other Slavic people like the Russians, Serbs, Belarussians and Ukrainians...

en" according to Nazi racial ideology
Racial policy of Nazi Germany
The racial policy of Nazi Germany was a set of policies and laws implemented by Nazi Germany, asserting the superiority of the "Aryan race", and based on a specific racist doctrine which claimed scientific legitimacy...

. The Nazis were convinced that ethnic Slavs were incapable of forming their own state and, accordingly, must be ruled by others. Moreover, the anti-semitic Nazis associated ethnic Jews with both communism
Communism is a social, political and economic ideology that aims at the establishment of a classless, moneyless, revolutionary and stateless socialist society structured upon common ownership of the means of production...

 and international capitalism
Capitalism is an economic system that became dominant in the Western world following the demise of feudalism. There is no consensus on the precise definition nor on how the term should be used as a historical category...

, both of which they opposed
Third Position
Third Position is a revolutionary nationalist political ideology that emphasizes its opposition to both communism and capitalism. Advocates of Third Position politics typically present themselves as "beyond left and right", instead claiming to syncretize radical ideas from both ends of the...

. Consequently, Nazis believed that Soviet untermenschen Slavs were being ruled by "Jewish Bolshevik
Jewish Bolshevism
Jewish Bolshevism, Judeo-Bolshevism, and known as Żydokomuna in Poland, is an antisemitic stereotype based on the claim that Jews have been the driving force behind or are disproportionately involved in the modern Communist movement, or sometimes more specifically Russian Bolshevism.The expression...

" masters. Two primary goals of Nazism were to eliminate Jews and seek Lebensraum
was one of the major political ideas of Adolf Hitler, and an important component of Nazi ideology. It served as the motivation for the expansionist policies of Nazi Germany, aiming to provide extra space for the growth of the German population, for a Greater Germany...

 ("living space") for ethnic Aryans to the east. In 1934, Hitler spoke of an inescapable battle against "pan-Slav ideals", 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."

Despite the political rhetoric, in 1936, the Soviets attempted to seek closer political ties to Germany along with an additional credit agreement, while Hitler rebuffed the advances, not wanting to seek closer political ties, even though a 1936 raw material crisis prompted Hitler to decree a Four Year Plan
Four year plan
The Four Year Plan was a series of economic reforms created by the Nazi Party. The main aim of the four year plan was to prepare Germany for war in four years...

 for rearmament "without regard to costs."

Tensions grew further after Germany and Fascist Italy
Italian Fascism
Italian Fascism also known as Fascism with a capital "F" refers to the original fascist ideology in Italy. This ideology is associated with the National Fascist Party which under Benito Mussolini ruled the Kingdom of Italy from 1922 until 1943, the Republican Fascist Party which ruled the Italian...

 supported the Fascist Spanish Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War
Spanish Civil War
The Spanish Civil WarAlso known as The Crusade among Nationalists, the Fourth Carlist War among Carlists, and The Rebellion or Uprising among Republicans. was a major conflict fought in Spain from 17 July 1936 to 1 April 1939...

 in 1936, while the Soviets supported the partially socialist-led Spanish Republic
Second Spanish Republic
The Second Spanish Republic was the government of Spain between April 14 1931, and its destruction by a military rebellion, led by General Francisco Franco....

 opposition. In November 1936, Soviet-German relations sank further when Germany and Japan entered the Anti-Comintern Pact
Anti-Comintern Pact
The Anti-Comintern Pact was an Anti-Communist pact concluded between Nazi Germany and the Empire of Japan on November 25, 1936 and was directed against the Communist International ....

, which was purportedly directed against the Communist International
The Communist International, abbreviated as Comintern, also known as the Third International, was an international communist organization initiated in Moscow during March 1919...

, though it contained a secret agreement that either side would remain neutral if the other became involved with the Soviet Union. In November 1937, Italy
Kingdom of Italy (1861–1946)
The Kingdom of Italy was a state forged in 1861 by the unification of Italy under the influence of the Kingdom of Sardinia, which was its legal predecessor state...

 also joined the Anti-Comintern Pact.

Late 1930s

The Moscow Trials
Moscow Trials
The Moscow Trials were a series of show trials conducted in the Soviet Union and orchestrated by Joseph Stalin during the Great Purge of the 1930s. The victims included most of the surviving Old Bolsheviks, as well as the leadership of the Soviet secret police...

 of the mid-1930s seriously undermined Soviet prestige in the West. Soviet purges
Great Purge
The Great Purge was a series of campaigns of political repression and persecution in the Soviet Union orchestrated by Joseph Stalin from 1936 to 1938...

 in 1937 and 1938 made a deal less likely by disrupting the already confused Soviet administrative structure necessary for negotiations and giving Hitler the belief that the Soviets' were militarily weak.

The Soviets were not invited to the Munich Conference regarding Czechoslovakia
Czechoslovakia or Czecho-Slovakia was a sovereign state in Central Europe which existed from October 1918, when it declared its independence from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, until 1992...

 . The Munich Agreement
Munich Agreement
The Munich Pact was an agreement permitting the Nazi German annexation of Czechoslovakia's Sudetenland. The Sudetenland were areas along Czech borders, mainly inhabited by ethnic Germans. The agreement was negotiated at a conference held in Munich, Germany, among the major powers of Europe without...

 that followed marked the dissolution of Czechoslovakia in 1938 through a partial German annexation
German occupation of Czechoslovakia
German occupation of Czechoslovakia began with the Nazi annexation of Czechoslovakia's northern and western border regions, known collectively as the Sudetenland, under terms outlined by the Munich Agreement. Nazi leader Adolf Hitler's pretext for this effort was the alleged privations suffered by...

, part of an appeasement
The term appeasement is commonly understood to refer to a diplomatic policy aimed at avoiding war by making concessions to another power. Historian Paul Kennedy defines it as "the policy of settling international quarrels by admitting and satisfying grievances through rational negotiation and...

 of Germany.

After German needs for military supplies after the Munich Agreement and Soviet demand for military machinery increased, talks between the two countries occurred from late 1938 to March 1939. The Soviet Third Five Year Plan would require massive new infusions of technology and industrial equipment. An autarkic
Autarky is the quality of being self-sufficient. Usually the term is applied to political states or their economic policies. Autarky exists whenever an entity can survive or continue its activities without external assistance. Autarky is not necessarily economic. For example, a military autarky...

 economic approach or an alliance with England were impossible for Germany, such that closer relations with the Soviet Union were necessary, if not just for economic reasons alone. At that time, Germany could supply only 25 percent of its petroleum
Petroleum or crude oil is a naturally occurring, flammable liquid consisting of a complex mixture of hydrocarbons of various molecular weights and other liquid organic compounds, that are found in geologic formations beneath the Earth's surface. Petroleum is recovered mostly through oil drilling...

 needs, and without its primary United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

 petroleum source in a war, would have to look to Russia
Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...

 and Romania
Romania is a country located at the crossroads of Central and Southeastern Europe, on the Lower Danube, within and outside the Carpathian arch, bordering on the Black Sea...

. Germany suffered the same natural shortfall and supply problems for rubber
Natural rubber, also called India rubber or caoutchouc, is an elastomer that was originally derived from latex, a milky colloid produced by some plants. The plants would be ‘tapped’, that is, an incision made into the bark of the tree and the sticky, milk colored latex sap collected and refined...

 and metal ores needed for hardened steel
Steel is an alloy that consists mostly of iron and has a carbon content between 0.2% and 2.1% by weight, depending on the grade. Carbon is the most common alloying material for iron, but various other alloying elements are used, such as manganese, chromium, vanadium, and tungsten...

 in war equipment , for which Germany relied on Soviet supplies or transit using Soviet rail lines. Finally, Germany also imported 40 per cent of its fat and oil food requirements, which would grow if Germany conquered nations that were also net food importers, and, thus, needed Soviet imports of Ukrainian grains or Soviet transshipments of Manchuria
Manchuria is a historical name given to a large geographic region in northeast Asia. Depending on the definition of its extent, Manchuria usually falls entirely within the People's Republic of China, or is sometimes divided between China and Russia. The region is commonly referred to as Northeast...

n soybeans. Moreover, an anticipated British blockade in the event of war and a cutoff of petroleum from the United States would create massive shortages for Germany regarding a number of key raw materials

Following Hitler's March 1939 denunciation of the 1934 German–Polish Non-Aggression Pact, Britain and France had made statements guaranteeing the sovereignty of Poland, and on April 25, signed a Common Defense Pact with Poland, when that country refused to be associated with a four-power guarantee involving the USSR.

Potential for Soviet-German talk expansion

Germany and the Soviet Union discussed entering into an economic deal throughout early 1939. For months, Germany had secretly hinted to Soviet diplomats that it could offer better terms for a political agreement than could Britain and France. On March 10, Hitler in his official speech proclaimed that directly. That same day, Stalin, in a speech to the Eighteenth Congress of the All-Union Communist Party, characterized western actions regarding Hitler as moving away from "collective security" and toward "nonintervention," with the goal being to direct Fascist aggression anywhere but against themselves. After the Congress concluded, the Soviet press mounted an attack on both France and Great Britain.

On April 7, a Soviet diplomat visited the German Foreign Ministry stating that there was no point in continuing the German-Soviet ideological struggle and that the countries could conduct a concerted policy. Ten days later, the Soviet ambassador met the German Deputy Foreign Minister and presented him a note requesting speedy removal of any obstacles for fulfillment of military contracts signed between Czechoslovakia and the USSR before the former was occupied by Germany. According to German accounts, at the end of the discussion, the ambassador stated "'there exists for Russia no reason why she should not live with us on a normal footing. And from normal the relations might become better and better." though other sources admit that it could be an exaggeration or inaccurate recounting of the ambassador's words. Immediately after that, the Soviet ambassador had been withdrawn to Moscow and never returned to Germany. According to Ulam, future conversations on the topic in Berlin were believed to continue with lower level officials working under the cover of a Soviet trade mission.

Tripartite talks begin

Starting in mid-March 1939, the Soviet Union, Britain and France traded a flurry of suggestions and counterplans regarding a potential political and military agreement. The Soviet Union feared Western powers and the possibility of a "capitalist encirclements", had little faith either that war could be avoided or in the Polish army, and wanted 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 purges
Great Purge
The Great Purge was a series of campaigns of political repression and persecution in the Soviet Union orchestrated by Joseph Stalin from 1936 to 1938...

, could not serve as a main military participant. France, as a continental power, was more anxious for an agreement with the USSR than Britain, which was more willing to make concessions and more aware of the dangers of an agreement between the USSR and Germany. On April 17, Soviet foreign minister Maxim Litvinov
Maxim Litvinov
Maxim Maximovich Litvinov was a Russian revolutionary and prominent Soviet diplomat.- Early life and first exile :...

 outlined a French–British–Soviet mutual assistance pact between the three powers for five to 10 years, including military support, if any of the powers were the subject of aggression.

Litvinov Dismissal

On May 3, Stalin replaced Foreign Minister Litinov with Vyacheslav Molotov
Vyacheslav Molotov
Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov was a Soviet politician and diplomat, an Old Bolshevik and a leading figure in the Soviet government from the 1920s, when he rose to power as a protégé of Joseph Stalin, to 1957, when he was dismissed from the Presidium of the Central Committee by Nikita Khrushchev...

, which significantly increased Stalin's freedom to maneuver in foreign policy. The dismissal of Litvinov, whose Jewish ethnicity was viewed disfavorably by Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany , also known as the Third Reich , but officially called German Reich from 1933 to 1943 and Greater German Reich from 26 June 1943 onward, is the name commonly used to refer to the state of Germany from 1933 to 1945, when it was a totalitarian dictatorship ruled by...

, removed an obstacle to negotiations with Germany. Stalin immediately directed Molotov to "purge the ministry of Jews." Given Litvinov's prior attempts to create of an anti-fascist coalition, association with the doctrine of collective security
Collective security
Collective security can be understood as a security arrangement, regional or global, in which each state in the system accepts that the security of one is the concern of all, and agrees to join in a collective response to threats to, and breaches of, the peace...

 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." But Stalin sent double message: Molotov appointed Solomon Lozovsky
Solomon Lozovsky
Solomon Lozovsky was a prominent Bolshevik revolutionary, a high official in various parts of the Soviet government, including as a Presidium member of the All-Union Central Council of Soviet Trade Unions, a Central Committee member of the Communist Party, a member of the Supreme Soviet, a deputy...

, a Jew, as one of his deputies.

May tripartite negotiations

Although informal consultations started in late April, the main negotiations between the Soviet Union, Britain and France began in May. At a meeting in May 1939, the French Foreign Minister told the Soviet Ambassador to France that he was willing to support turning over all of eastern Poland to the Soviet Union, regardless of Polish opposition, if that was the price of an alliance with Moscow.

German supply concerns and potential political discussions

In May, German war planners also became increasingly concerned that, without Russian supplies, Germany would need to find massive substitute quantities of 165,000 tons of manganese and almost 2 million tons of oil per year. In the context of further economic discussions, on May 17, the Soviet ambassador told a German official that he wanted to restate "in detail that there were no conflicts in foreign policy between Germany and Soviet Russia and that therefore there was no reason for any enmity between the two countries." Three days later, on May 20, Molotov told the German ambassador in Moscow that he no longer wanted to discuss only economic matters, and that it was necessary to establish a "political basis", which German officials saw an "implicit invitation."

On May 26, German officials feared a potential positive result to come from the Soviets talks regarding proposals by Britain and France. On May 30, fearing potential positive results from a British and French offer to the Soviets, Germany directed its diplomats in Moscow that "we have now decided to undertake definite negotiations with the Soviet Union." The ensuing discussions were channeled through the economic negotiation, because the economic needs of the two sides were substantial and because close military and diplomatic connections had been severed in the mid-1930s, leaving these talks as the only means of communication.

Mixed signals

The Soviets sent mixed signals thereafter. In his first main speech as Soviet Foreign Minister on May 31, Molotov criticized an Anglo-French proposal, stated that the Soviets did not "consider it necessary to renounce business relations with countries like Germany" and proposed to enter a wide-ranging mutual assistance pact against aggression. However, Soviet Commissar for Foreign Trade Mikoyan argued on June 2 to a German official that Moscow "had lost all interest in these [economic] negotiations' as a result of earlier German procrastination."

Tripartite talks progress and Baltic moves

On June 2, the Soviet Union insisted that any mutual assistance pact should be accompanied by a military agreement describing in detail the military assistance that the Soviets, French and British would provide. That day, the Soviet Union also submitted a modification to a French and British proposal that specified the states that would be given aid in the event of "direct aggression", which included Belgium, Greece, Turkey, Romania, Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Finland. Five days later, Estonia and Latvia signed non-aggression pacts with Germany, creating suspicions that Germany had ambitions in a region through which it could attack the Soviet Union.

British attempt to stop German armament

On June 8, the Soviets had agreed that a high ranking German official could come to Moscow to continue the economic negotiations, which occurred in Moscow on July 3. Thereafter, official talks were started in Berlin on July 22.

Meanwhile, hoping to stop the German war machine, in July, Britain conducted talks with Germany regarding a potential plan to bail out the debt-ridden German economy, at the cost of one billion pounds, in exchange for Germany ending its armaments program. The British press broke a story on the talks, and Germany eventually rejected the offer.

Tripartite talks regarding "indirect aggression"

After weeks of political talks that began after the arrival of Central Department Foreign Office head William Strang
William Strang, 1st Baron Strang
William Strang, 1st Baron Strang, GCMG, KCB, MBE was a British diplomat who served as a leading adviser to the British Government from the 1930s to the 1950s and as Permanent Under-Secretary at the Foreign Office from 1949 to 1953....

, on July 8, the British and French submitted a proposed agreement, to which Molotov added a supplementary letter. Talks in late July stalled over a provision in Molotov's supplementary letter stating that a political turn to Germany by the Baltic states constituted "indirect aggression", which Britain feared might justify Soviet intervention in Finland and the Baltic states or push those countries to seek closer relations with Germany (while France was less resistant to the supplement). On July 23, France and Britain agreed with the Soviet proposal to draw up a military convention specifying a reaction to a German attack.

Soviet-German political negotiation beginnings

Only July 18, Soviet trade representative Yevgeniy Barbarin visited Julius Schnurre, saying that the Soviets would like to extend and intensify German-Soviet relations. On July 25, the Soviet Union and Germany were very close to finalizing the terms of a proposed economic deal. On July 26, over dinner, the Soviets accepted a proposed three stage agenda which included the economic agenda first and "a new arrangement which took account of the vital political interests of both parties." On July 28, Molotov sent a first political instruction to the Soviet ambassador in Berlin that finally opened the door to a political detente with Germany.

Germany had learned about the military convention talks before the July 31 British announcement and were skeptical that the Soviets would reach a deal with Britain and France during those planned talks in August. On August 1, the Soviet ambassador stated that two conditions must be met before political negotiations could begin: a new economic treaty and the cessation of anti-Soviet attacks by German media, with which German officials immediately agreed. On August 2, Soviet political discussions with France and Britain were suspended when Molotov stated they could not be restarted until progress was made in the scheduled military talks.

Addressing past hostilities

On August 3, German Foreign Minister Joachim Ribbentrop told Soviet diplomats that "there was no problem between the Baltic and the Black Sea that could not be solved between the two of us." The Germans discussed prior hostility between the nations in the 1930s. They addressed the common ground of anti-capitalism
Anti-capitalism describes a wide variety of movements, ideas, and attitudes which oppose capitalism. Anti-capitalists, in the strict sense of the word, are those who wish to completely replace capitalism with another system....

, stating "there is one common element in the ideology of Germany, Italy and the Soviet Union: opposition to the capitalist democracies," "neither we nor Italy have anything in common with the capitalist west" and "it seems to us rather unnatural that a socialist state would stand on the side of the western democracies." They explained that their prior hostility toward Soviet Bolshevism had subsided with the changes in the Comintern
The Communist International, abbreviated as Comintern, also known as the Third International, was an international communist organization initiated in Moscow during March 1919...

 and the Soviet renunciation of a world revolution
World revolution
World revolution is the Marxist concept of overthrowing capitalism in all countries through the conscious revolutionary action of the organized working class...

. Astakhov characterized the conversation as "extremely important."

Finalizing the economic agreement

In August, as Germany scheduled its invasion of Poland on August 25 and prepared for war with France, German war planners estimated that, with an expected British naval blockade, if the Soviet Union became hostile, Germany would fall short of their war mobilization requirements of oil, manganese, rubber and foodstuffs by huge margins. Every internal German military and economic study had argued that Germany was doomed to defeat without at least Soviet neutrality. On August 5, Soviet officials stated that the completion of the trading credit agreement was the most important stage that could be taken in the direction of further such talks.

By August 10, the countries worked out the last minor technical details to to make all but final the their economic arrangement, but the Soviets delayed signing that agreement for almost ten days until they were sure that they had reached a political agreement with Germany. The Soviet ambassador explained to German officials that the Soviets had begun their British negotiations "without much enthusiasm" at a time when they felt Germany would not "come to an understanding", and the parallel talks with the British could not be simply broken off when they had been initiated after 'mature consideration.' On August 12, Germany received word that Molotov wished to further discuss these issues, including Poland, in Moscow.

Tripartite military talks begin

The Soviets, British and French began military negotiations in August. They were delayed until August 12 because the British military delegation, which did not include Strang, took six days to make the trip traveling in a slow merchant ship, undermining the Soviets' confidence in British resolve. On August 14, the question of Poland was raised by Voroshilov
Kliment Voroshilov
Kliment Yefremovich Voroshilov , popularly known as Klim Voroshilov was a Soviet military officer, politician, and statesman...

 for the first time, requesting that the British and French pressure the Poles to enter into an agreement allowing the Soviet army to be stationed in Poland. The Polish government feared that the Soviet government sought to annex
Annexation is the de jure incorporation of some territory into another geo-political entity . Usually, it is implied that the territory and population being annexed is the smaller, more peripheral, and weaker of the two merging entities, barring physical size...

 disputed territories, the Eastern Borderlands, received by Poland in 1920 after the Treaty of Riga ending the Polish–Soviet War. The British and French contingent communicated the Soviet concern over Poland to their home offices and told the Soviet delegation that they could not answer this political matter without their governments' approval.

Meanwhile, Molotov spoke with Germany's Moscow ambassador on August 15 regarding the possibility of "settling by negotiation all outstanding problems of Soviet–German relations." The discussion included the possibility of a Soviet-German non-aggression pact, the fates of the Baltic states and potential improvements in Soviet-Japanese relations. Molotov stated that "should the German foreign minister come here" these issues "must be discussed in concrete terms." Within hours of receiving word of the meeting, Germany sent a reply stating that it was prepared to conclude a 25 year non-aggression pact, ready to "guarantee the Baltic States jointly with the Soviet Union", and ready to exert influence to improve Soviet-Japanese relations. The Soviets responded positively, but stated that a "special protocol" was required "defining the interests" of the parties. Germany replied that, in contrast to the British delegation in Moscow at that time without Strang, Ribbentrop personally would travel to Moscow to conclude a deal.

In the Soviet-British-French talks, the Anglo-Franco military negotiators were sent to discuss "general principles" rather than details. On August 15, the British contingent was instructed to move more quickly to bring the military talks to a conclusion, and thus, were permitted to give Soviet negotiators confidential British information. The British contingent stated that Britain currently only possessed six army divisions but, in the event of a war, they could employ 16 divisions initially, followed by a second contingent of 16 divisions—a sum far less than the 120 Soviet divisions. French negotiators stated that they had 110 divisions available. In discussions on August 18–19, the Poles informed the French ambassador that they would not approve Red Army troops operating in Poland.

Delayed commercial agreement signing

After Soviet and German officials in Moscow first finalized the terms of a seven year German-Soviet Commercial Agreement, German officials became nervous that the Soviets were delaying its signing on August 19 for political reasons. When Tass
Telegraph Agency of the Soviet Union
The Telegraph Agency of the Soviet Union , was the central agency for collection and distribution of internal and international news for all Soviet newspapers, radio and television stations...

 published a report that the Soviet-British-French talks had become snarled over the Far East and "entirely different matters", Germany took it as a signal that there was still time and hope to reach a Soviet-German deal. Hitler himself sent out a coded telegram to Stalin stating that because "Poland has become intolerable," Stalin must receive Ribbentrop in Moscow by August 23 at the latest to sign a Pact. Controversy surrounds a related alleged Stalin's speech on August 19, 1939 asserting that a great war between the Western powers was necessary for the spread of World Revolution
World revolution
World revolution is the Marxist concept of overthrowing capitalism in all countries through the conscious revolutionary action of the organized working class...

. Historians debate whether that speech ever actually occurred.

At 2:00 a.m. on August 20, Germany and the Soviet Union signed a commercial agreement, dated August 19, providing for the trade of certain German military and civilian equipment in exchange for Soviet raw materials. The agreement covered "current" business, which entailed a Soviet obligation to deliver 180 million Reichsmarks in raw materials in response to German orders, while Germany would allow the Soviets to order 120 million Reichsmarks for German industrial goods. Under the agreement, Germany also granted the Soviet Union a merchandise credit of 200 million Reichsmarks over 7 years to buy German manufactured goods at an extremely favorable interest rate.

Soviets adjourn tripartite military talks and strike a deal with Germany

After the Poles' resistance to pressure, on August 21, Voroshilov proposed adjournment of the military talks with the British and French, using the excuse that the absence of the senior Soviet personnel at the talks interfered with the autumn manoeuvres of the Soviet forces though the primary reason was the progress being made in the Soviet-German negotiations.

That same day, August 21, Stalin has received assurance would approve secret protocols to the proposed non-aggression pact that would grant the Soviets land in Poland, the Baltic states, Finland and Romania. That night, with Germany nervously awaiting a response to Hitler's August 19 telegram, Stalin replied at 9:35 p.m. that the Soviets were willing to sign the pact and that he would receive Ribbentrop on August 23. The Pact was signed sometime in the night between August 23–24.

Pact signing

On August 24, a 10-year non-aggression pact
Non-aggression pact
A non-aggression pact is an international treaty between two or more states/countries agreeing to avoid war or armed conflict between them and resolve their disputes through peaceful negotiations...

 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." Most notably, there was also a secret protocol to the pact, according to which the states of Northern
Northern Europe
Northern Europe is the northern part or region of Europe. Northern Europe typically refers to the seven countries in the northern part of the European subcontinent which includes Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Norway, Finland and Sweden...

 and Eastern Europe
Eastern Europe
Eastern Europe is the eastern part of Europe. The term has widely disparate geopolitical, geographical, cultural and socioeconomic readings, which makes it highly context-dependent and even volatile, and there are "almost as many definitions of Eastern Europe as there are scholars of the region"...

 were divided into German and Soviet "spheres of influence".

Poland was to be partitioned in the event of its "political rearrangement". The USSR was promised an eastern part of Poland
Poland , officially the Republic of Poland , is a country in Central Europe bordered by Germany to the west; the Czech Republic and Slovakia to the south; Ukraine, Belarus and Lithuania to the east; and the Baltic Sea and Kaliningrad Oblast, a Russian exclave, to the north...

, primarily populated with Ukrainians and Belarusians, in case of its dissolution, and additionally Latvia
Latvia , officially the Republic of Latvia , is a country in the Baltic region of Northern Europe. It is bordered to the north by Estonia , to the south by Lithuania , to the east by the Russian Federation , to the southeast by Belarus and shares maritime borders to the west with Sweden...

, Estonia
Estonia , officially the Republic of Estonia , is a state in the Baltic region of Northern Europe. It is bordered to the north by the Gulf of Finland, to the west by the Baltic Sea, to the south by Latvia , and to the east by Lake Peipsi and the Russian Federation . Across the Baltic Sea lies...

 and Finland
Finland , officially the Republic of Finland, is a Nordic country situated in the Fennoscandian region of Northern Europe. It is bordered by Sweden in the west, Norway in the north and Russia in the east, while Estonia lies to its south across the Gulf of Finland.Around 5.4 million people reside...

. Bessarabia
Bessarabia is a historical term for the geographic region in Eastern Europe bounded by the Dniester River on the east and the Prut River on the west....

, then part of Romania, was to be joined to the Moldovan ASSR, and become the Moldovan SSR under control of Moscow. 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.

Ribbentrop and Stalin enjoyed warm conversations at the signing, exchanging toasts and further discussing the prior hostilities between the countries in the 1930s. Ribbentrop stated that Britain had always attempted to disrupt Soviet-German relations, was "weak", and "wants to let others fight for her presumptuous claim to world dominion." Stalin concurred, adding "[i]f England dominated the world, that was due to the stupidity of the other countries that always let themselves be bluffed." Ribbentrop stated that the Anti-Comintern Pact was directed not against the Soviet Union, but against Western democracies, "frightened principally the City of London [i.e., the British financiers] and the English shopkeepers" and stated that Berliners had joked that Stalin would yet joint the Anti-Comintern Pact himself. Stalin proposed a toast to Hitler, and Stalin and Molotov repeatedly toasted the German nation, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and Soviet-German relations. Ribbentrop countered with a toast to Stalin and a toast the countries' relations. As Ribbentrop left, Stalin took him aside and stated that the Soviet Government took the new pact very seriously, and he would "guarantee his word of honor that the Soviet Union would not betray its partner."

Immediate dealings with Britain

The day after the Pact was signed, the French and British military negotiation delegation urgently requested a meeting with 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. Surprising Hitler, Britain signed a mutual-assistance treaty with Poland that day, causing Hitler to delay the planned August 26 invasion of western Poland.

Division of eastern Europe

On September 1, 1939, the German invasion of its agreed upon portion of western Poland started World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

. On September 17 the Red Army
Red Army
The Workers' and Peasants' Red Army started out as the Soviet Union's revolutionary communist combat groups during the Russian Civil War of 1918-1922. It grew into the national army of the Soviet Union. By the 1930s the Red Army was among the largest armies in history.The "Red Army" name refers to...

 invaded eastern Poland and occupied the Polish territory assigned to it
Soviet invasion of Poland
Soviet invasion of Poland can refer to:* the second phase of the Polish-Soviet War of 1920 when Soviet armies marched on Warsaw, Poland* Soviet invasion of Poland of 1939 when Soviet Union allied with Nazi Germany attacked Second Polish Republic...

 by the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, followed by co-ordination with German forces in Poland. Eleven days later, the secret protocol of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was modified, allotting Germany a larger part of Poland, while ceding most of Lithuania
Lithuania , officially the Republic of Lithuania is a country in Northern Europe, the biggest of the three Baltic states. It is situated along the southeastern shore of the Baltic Sea, whereby to the west lie Sweden and Denmark...

 to the Soviet Union.

After a Soviet attempt to invade Finland
Winter War
The Winter War was a military conflict between the Soviet Union and Finland. It began with a Soviet offensive on 30 November 1939 – three months after the start of World War II and the Soviet invasion of Poland – and ended on 13 March 1940 with the Moscow Peace Treaty...

 faced stiff resistance, the combatants signed an interim peace, granting the Soviets approximately 10 per cent of Finnish territory. The Soviet Union also sent troops into Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia. Thereafter, governments in all three Baltic countries requesting admission to the Soviet Union were installed.

Further dealings

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, providing for millions of tons of shipment to Germany of oil, foodstuffs and other key raw materials, in exchange for German war machines and other equipment. This was followed by a January 10, 1941 agreement setting several ongoing issues
German–Soviet Border and Commercial Agreement
The German–Soviet Border and Commercial Agreement, signed on January 10, 1941, was a broad agreement settling border disputes and continuing raw materials and war machine trade between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany...

, including border specificity, ethnic migrations and further commercial deal expansion.

Discussions in the fall and winter of 1940-41 ensued regarding the potential entry of the Soviet Union as the fourth members
German–Soviet Axis talks
In October and November 1940, German–Soviet Axis talks occurred concerning the Soviet Union's potential entry as a fourth Axis Power. The negotiations included a two day Berlin conference between Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov, Adolf Hitler and German Foreign Minister Joachim von...

 of the Axis powers
Axis Powers
The Axis powers , also known as the Axis alliance, Axis nations, Axis countries, or just the Axis, was an alignment of great powers during the mid-20th century that fought World War II against the Allies. It began in 1936 with treaties of friendship between Germany and Italy and between Germany and...

. The countries never came to an agreement on the issue.

German invasion of the Soviet Union

Nazi Germany terminated the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact with its invasion of the Soviet Union in Operation Barbarossa
Operation Barbarossa
Operation Barbarossa was the code name for Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II that began on 22 June 1941. Over 4.5 million troops of the Axis powers invaded the USSR along a front., the largest invasion in the history of warfare...

 on June 22, 1941. 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. In the three weeks following the Pact's breaking, attempting to defend against large German advances, the Soviet Union suffered 750,000 casualties, and lost 10,000 tanks and 4,000 aircraft. Within six months, the Soviet military had suffered 4.3 million casualties and the Germans had captured three million Soviet prisoners, two million of which would die in German captivity by February 1942. German forces had advanced 1,050 miles (1,690 kilometers), and maintained a linearly-measured front of 1,900 miles (3,058 kilometers).

The reasons behind signing the pact

There is no consensus among historians regarding the reasons that prompted the Soviet Union to sign the pact with Nazi Germany. According to Ericson, the opinions "have ranged from seeing the Soviets as far-sighted anti-Nazis, to seeing them as reluctant appeasers, as cautious expansionists, or as active aggressors and blackmailers". Edward Hallett Carr argued that it was necessary to enter into a non-aggression pact 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. He 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.

Some critics, such as Viktor Suvorov
Viktor Suvorov
Viktor Suvorov is the pen name for Vladimir Bogdanovich Rezun , a former Soviet and now British writer of Russian and Ukrainian descent who writes primarily in Russian, as well as a former Soviet military intelligence spy who defected to the UK...

, claim that Stalin's primary motive for signing the Soviet–German non-aggression treaty was Stalin's 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. It must be noted, however, that other claims by Suvorov, such as the Stalin's planning to invade Germany in 1941, have remained under debate among historians, with some like David Glantz
David Glantz
David M. Glantz is an American military historian and the editor of the Journal of Slavic Military Studies....

 opposing, and others like Mikhail Meltyukhov supporting it.

The extent to which the Soviet Union's post-Pact territorial acquisitions may have contributed to preventing its fall (and thus a Nazi victory in the war) remains a factor in evaluating the Pact. Soviet sources point out that the German advance eventually stopped just a few kilometers away from Moscow, so the role of the extra territory might have been crucial in such a close call. Others postulate that Poland and the Baltic countries played the important role of buffer state
Buffer state
A buffer state is a country lying between two rival or potentially hostile greater powers, which by its sheer existence is thought to prevent conflict between them. Buffer states, when authentically independent, typically pursue a neutralist foreign policy, which distinguishes them from satellite...

s between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany, and that the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact was a precondition not only for Germany's invasion of Western Europe, but also for the Third Reich's invasion of the Soviet Union. The military aspect of moving from established fortified positions on the Stalin Line
Stalin Line
The Stalin Line was a line of fortifications along the western border of the Soviet Union. Work began on the system in the 1920s to protect the USSR against attacks from the West. The line was made up of concrete bunkers and gun emplacements, somewhat similar but less elaborate than the Maginot...

 into undefended Polish territory could also be seen as one of the causes of rapid disintegration of Soviet armed forces in the border area during the German 1941 campaign, as the newly constructed Molotov Line
Molotov Line
The so-called Molotov Line was a system of border fortifications built by the Soviet Union in the years 1940–1941 along its new western borders. These borders where the result of the Occupation of the Baltic States, Eastern Poland and Bessarabia in 1940....

 was unfinished and unable to provide Soviet troops with the necessary defense capabilities.

Documentary evidence of early Soviet-German rapprochement

In 1948, the U.S. State Department
United States Department of State
The United States Department of State , is the United States federal executive department responsible for international relations of the United States, equivalent to the foreign ministries of other countries...

 published a collection of documents recovered from the Foreign Office of Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany , also known as the Third Reich , but officially called German Reich from 1933 to 1943 and Greater German Reich from 26 June 1943 onward, is the name commonly used to refer to the state of Germany from 1933 to 1945, when it was a totalitarian dictatorship ruled by...

, that formed a documentary base for studies of Nazi-Soviet relations. This collection contains the German State Secretary's account on a meeting with Soviet ambassador Merekalov. This memorandum reproduces the following ambassador's statement: "'there exists for Russia no reason why she should not live with us on a normal footing. And from normal the relations might become better and better." According to Carr, this document is the first recorded Soviet step in the rapprochement with Germany.
The next documentary evidence is the memorandum on the May 17 meeting between the Soviet ambassador and German Foreign Office official, where the ambassador "stated in detail that there were no conflicts in foreign policy between Germany and Soviet Russia and that therefore there was no reason for any enmity between the two countries."
The third document is the summary of the May 20 meeting between Molotov and German ambassador von der Schulenburg. According to the document, Molotov told the German ambassador that he no longer wanted to discuss only economic matters, and that it was necessary to establish a "political basis", which German officials saw as an "implicit invitation."
The last document is the German State Office memorandum on the telephone call made on June 17 by Bulgarian ambassador Draganov. In German accounts of Draganov's report, Astakhov explained that a Soviet deal with Germany better suited the Soviets than one with Britain and France, although from the Bulgarian ambassador it "could not be ascertained whether it had reflected the personal opinions of Herr Astakhov or the opinions of the Soviet Government".

This documentary evidence of an early Nazi-Soviet rapprochement were questioned by Geoffrey Roberts, who analyzed Soviet archival documents that had been de-classified and released on the eve of 1990s. Roberts found no evidence that the alleged statements quoted by the Germans had ever been made in reality, and came to the conclusion that the German archival documents cannot serve as evidence for the existence of a dual policy during first half of 1939. According to him, no documentary evidence exists that the USSR responded to or made any overtures to the Germans "until the end of July 1939 at the earliest".

Litvinov's dismissal and Molotov's appointment

Many historians note that the dismissal of Foreign Minister Litvinov, whose Jewish ethnicity was viewed unfavorably by Nazi Germany, removed a major obstacle to negotiations between the them and the USSR.

Carr, however, has argued that the Soviet Union's replacement of Litvinov with Molotov on May 3, 1939 indicated not an irrevocable shift towards alignment with Germany, but rather was Stalin’s way of engaging in hard bargaining with the British and the French by appointing a tough negotiator, namely Molotov, to the Foreign Commissariat. Albert Resis
Albert Resis
Albert Resis is an American historian, Professor of Northern Illinois University in 1964-1992. Since 1992 he is a Professor emeritus and a writer....

argued that the replacement of Litvinov by Molotov was both a warning to Britain and a signal to Germany. Derek Watson argued that Molotov could get the best deal with Britain and France because he was not encumbered with the baggage of collective security and could more easily negotiate with Germany. Geoffrey Roberts argued that Litvinov's dismissal helped the Soviets with British-French talks, because Litvinov doubted or maybe even opposed such discussions.
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