761.00/314: Telegram

The Chargé in the Soviet Union (Kirk) to the Secretary of State

169. Recent events in Europe insofar as they may be judged from Moscow indicate the possibility that at any time a situation may develop which would bring to the fore basic consideration of Soviet foreign policy. Up to the present, however, the manifestation of Soviet foreign policy in the face of developments in the west can be described as merely negative in character and distinctly cautious in its application.

The position of quasi isolation to which Russia was relegated during Munich and the eclipse of the policy of collective security following [Page 751]that accord induced the Soviet Government to adopt a policy which, based largely on consideration affecting the reinforcement of Soviet prestige, waited upon developments in and initiatives of other countries and manifested itself chiefly in a willingness to strengthen its relations with its neighbors. In the ensuing months England and France were singled out for special condemnation as wreckers of the policy of collective security through the medium of which the Soviet Government had hoped to charge other countries with the brunt of impeding the expansion of Nazi Germany. On the other hand, the violent campaign which the Soviet press had been carrying on against Germany slackened and symptoms have even been detected of a possible inclination on the part of the Soviet Government to reduce the element of friction in its relations with Germany. Stalin himself in his latest declaration places the blame on others for poisoning Soviet-German relations, and subsequent expressions of the Government, both official and unofficial, as well as the reticence which it has displayed in the face of recent events indicate a curtailment in the demonstration of positive animosity hitherto apparent in its relations with Germany.

It is this change in the manifestation of Soviet attitude toward Germany which challenges attention at the present moment. In the September crisis circumstances were such that Soviet Russia could envisage a war in which it need take no part on an extensive scale. It declared itself ready to discharge the obligations to which it had committed itself, but at no time did it project itself as a dominating factor in influencing the course of events and, in spite of assertions to the contrary, no proof was forthcoming that the Soviet Government succeeded in convincing the democratic powers that it could or would lend assistance commensurate with the strength of which it boasted. Recent events, however, have brought the progress of Nazi aggression nearer to Soviet borders. The fate of Czechoslovakia32 and Memel,33 the threat to Danzig with attendant repercussions in Poland, and the economic hold in Rumania purported to be a trend which might eventually menace Soviet territory. Insofar as may be judged from public expressions, Soviet opinion does not consider that these moves actually constitute the pursuit on the part of Hitler of a policy of expansion to the east but may be regarded as merely preparatory to action in the west, or in the southeast, which would not necessarily constitute a direct menace to the Union. Despite these expressions, however, there is ample foundation for the view that these latest developments cannot be regarded as excluding the possibility of German [Page 752]expansion to the east and the impression which prevails in Moscow as to the maintenance of Soviet armed forces on a war footing to protect the western fortresses of the Union as well as the unconfirmed rumors of additional troop movements to those parts give indication of the state of uncertainty with which Soviet policy is at present confronted in the face of possible eventualities dependent upon the action of Germany.

It is clearly impossible to foretell what those eventualities may be. The character of the test, however, which may be applied in determining Soviet reaction may be indicated on general lines. Vast expenditures of effort as well as of human and material resources have gone into the development of the economic and military force of the country but there is no proof that the results achieved have as yet succeeded in developing a military force of superior power as an offensive weapon or produced a nation capable of the sustained effort which a war would entail. It must be assumed that the Soviet Government is aware of these considerations of weakness and of the consequent danger to the internal development of the country and the maintenance of Stalin’s power inherent in any war in which it would be engaged on an extensive scale. These factors, combined with the fear that in war the Soviet Union might be involved not on one front alone but on two, have determined the policy of the Soviet Government in its direct dealings with foreign governments. That policy is one based primarily on considerations of defense and it has been lately reaffirmed by Stalin himself, who has declared before the world that not only will the Soviet Union refrain from opposing any country which does not directly threaten Soviet vital interests but will avoid at all costs being involved in conflicts with the aggressor states for the sake of the interests of others.

These, therefore, are the tests which Stalin may be expected to apply in determining Soviet policy in any situation precipitated by the conduct of aggressor states and these tests may be regarded as applicable not only in his relations in the west but also in the Far East. With the foregoing considerations in view, he is exercising and will continue to exercise extreme caution in his relations with all foreign countries. He will await developments abroad and will gauge those developments on the basis of the actual threat to Soviet security which he regards as inherent therein. He will avoid any commitments which might seriously restrict his freedom of action or embroil the country in conflicts in which its immediate interests are not involved, and even in the presence of commitments he will pursue a realistic policy in varying, according to the shifting demands of those interests, the manifestations of attitude toward foreign countries. He may promote divergencies among other nations which might tend to divert [Page 753]or lessen the menace of attack but he will refrain from provocative acts which increase that menace. Finally, in the face of a menace that seems imminent, he will endeavor to extend the system of collective action and to align himself therewith in order to lessen the danger to Russian frontiers on all sides. If, in spite of all precautions, a war should develop which in Stalin’s opinion would threaten the security of the Soviet Union it must be assumed that he will fight. Even then, however, it is believed that he will limit the military efforts of the Soviet Union to the exigency of defensive operations and while reducing to the minimum the strain on the capacities of the country and of the regime which a war would entail, will in the end look to the advantages which may be derived from internal upheavals in other countries resulting from the strain to which they will be subjected in the process thereof. The Communist state, as based on the principle of revolution, has revolved into a dictatorship as based on the personal power of Stalin, but the Soviet state still professes irreconcilable hostility towards the capitalist world and, in the last analysis, Stalin, in mobilizing the forces of the Soviet Union to the service of his dictatorship, need not be expected to ignore that factor both as a defensive and offensive weapon for the safety and profit of his regime.

Kirk
  1. On March 15, 1939, German troops invaded Czechoslovakia, and Chancellor Hitler proclaimed the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. He accepted the Protectorate of Slovakia the next day.
  2. Lithuania ceded the city and territory of Memel to Germany on March 22, 1939, upon receipt of a German ultimatum.