The Ambassador in Belgium (Davies) to the Secretary of State

No. 317

Sir: With reference to the above-entitled matter,46 I beg leave to report as follows:

The announcement of the resignation (?)47 of Foreign Minister Litvinov created a sensation in the diplomatic corps here. There have been two interpretations:

(1) That it augurs well for the British-French-Soviet negotiations looking to cooperation against aggression, on the theory that Stalin and Molotov are realists and are intent upon “doing first things first” and therefore that they find themselves handicapped by the extreme attitude which Litvinov has stood for—that of the indivisibility of peace and collective security and of applying these ideas to their extreme logical conclusion. This view is that the government leaders therefore found it desirable to eliminate Litvinov from the situation and proceed practically to protect Soviet Russia by accommodating their policy to the British suggestion that the U. S. S. R. give unilateral assurances to the States from the Baltic to the Black Sea adjacent to Russia, guaranteeing them against aggression; but under conditions where there would also be an assurance of British aid to protect the cordon of States on their Eastern front. This interpretation is that Litvinov’s elimination is a practical step in the interest of the Soviet Union, and eliminates hostilities which may have arisen through conflict of Litvinov in the past with various personalities of the Western Powers with whom they have to deal.

(2) The other theory, which has been stated to me by two diplomatic representatives of countries adjacent to Russia and who, I believe, know the Russian situation very well, is:

That Stalin has no confidence in either France or Great Britain and is fearful that the Soviet Union might be involved in European war and be left “holding the bag”;
That Stalin’s speech to the Communist Party, delivered to the 18th Congress in March last, definitely indicated a disposition toward withdrawal of Soviet activities so far as Europe was concerned, and a tendency to be extremely cautious “not to allow our country to be drawn into conflicts by war-mongers who are accustomed to have others pull their chestnuts out of the fire for them”;
That the Soviet position is definitely devoted to peace, both because of ideological and economic reasons;
That the Soviet Government is intolerant and disgusted with the methods of appeasement previously employed, and believes that the aggressors will only understand positive and bold military alliances which are concrete in character, and that these only can preserve peace;
That Litvinov in the past two years has been unsuccessful in persuading the Western Powers to this view;
That a new Foreign Ministry is required to project a hard, realistic front in these diplomatic negotiations, which would either secure adequate practical resistance to the aggressors or retirement of the Soviet Union into itself.

Both of these Chiefs of Mission were definitely of the opinion that Litvinov’s retirement augurs difficulty for the British diplomatic negotiations now pending and that the failure to bring Russia in would have a very serious effect on European peace and would ultimately be demonstrated by probable speedy action by Hitler against Poland. I very much fear that this view is correct. I hope England and France can still work it out.

There is a very definite disposition generally in Europe to discount the realities so far as the Russian strength or military power is concerned. The published statements of Hitler, contained in Lord Londonderry’s book,48 in which he expresses great respect for the power of the Russian Army, and the published statements of military experts of Germany and other European countries, are discounted. Faced as they are with the immediate menace of communism, Poland and Rumania appear now to be understandably hostile to any real military arrangement with Russia that would include the passage of Russian troops over their soil.

Public opinion in England has undergone a violent change, as indicated by the British Institute of Public Opinion, on the desirability of an unequivocal military alliance with the Soviet Government. Some time ago the index was 60% and it has increased to above 80% during the last few weeks. The British Government, however, is obviously handicapped by the attitude of Rumania and Poland. It is quite possible that, confronted with the isolationist attitude of Russia, the attitude of these two Governments may change. The danger is that it may be too late.

During the past few days here it has been quite noticeable that fears are quite commonly expressed lest Russia be thrown into an economic arrangement with Germany, and also into an attitude of isolation or neutrality. There is much more tolerance of the view that a definite military alliance creating a London-Paris-Moscow axis and balance of power, is the surest way to secure a peace in Europe which would not be imposed by aggressive dictatorships. The hope is expressed quite generally now that something may result through the efforts of British diplomacy to bring Russia wholeheartedly into the community which opposes the aggressive forces in Europe.

Respectfully yours,

Joseph E. Davies
  1. i. e., the significance of the retirement of Litvinov as People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs of the Soviet Union.
  2. So written in the original.
  3. Marquess of Londonderry, Ourselves and Germany (London, 1938).