861.00 Supreme Soviet/20: Telegram

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

282. My telegram No. 281, May 31, 9 p.m.52 The following is an outline of Molotov’s speech53 on foreign affairs as published in the Soviet press today.

Molotov began with a general review of the international situation, along accepted Soviet lines, with a denunciation of the policy of “noninterference and concessions to aggressors” which has been clearly revealed as a failure and as really encouraging further acts of aggression. He listed the recent events which he stated had caused considerable deterioration of the international situation, such as the occupation of Czechoslovakia, the annexation of Memel, and the Italian occupation of Albania.54 He stated that the destruction by the head of the German state of two important international treaties “was the answer of Germany to the proposal imbued with the spirit of peacefulness of the President of the United States, Roosevelt”.55 After referring to the conclusion of an offensive military and political alliance between Italy and Germany,56 which he asserted dropped the mask of the previously alleged struggle against Communism and was openly directed against the chief European democratic countries, Molotov said that the recent events have brought about a certain change in the policy of the non-aggressive countries of Europe. He expressed reserve as to the sincerity of this change in policy and questioned the efficacy of attempting to oppose aggression in certain areas alone stating that the Soviet Union must remain vigilant and not forget [Page 765] the words of Stalin against being drawn into conflict in the interest of others. However, Molotov continued, certain facts have occurred which have introduced changes in the international situation mentioning specifically the Anglo-Polish57 and Anglo-Turkish58 agreements concerning mutual assistance.

After the above introduction Molotov took up certain specific questions of Soviet foreign relations of which the following is a full summary.

Among the new facts in the international situation is the desire of the non-aggressive countries to obtain Soviet cooperation for the purpose of resisting aggression. The Soviet Government had accepted the proposals of England and France for negotiations looking toward the strengthening of political relations between the Soviet Union and those countries and for the creation of a peace front against the further development of aggression. The tasks of the Soviet Union in the present international situation follow “along the lines of the interests of the other non-aggressive countries” and towards the creation of “a sure and effective defensive front of nonaggressive powers”. The negotiations, begun in the middle of April with the French and British Governments, have “not yet ended”. The following minimum conditions are necessary for the creation of an effective front against aggression: “(1) The conclusion between England, France and the Soviet Union of an effective pact of mutual assistance against aggression, having an exclusively defensive character; (2) guarantees on the part of France and the Soviet Union against an attack by the aggressors on the states of Central and Eastern Europe, including without exception all the European countries bordering on the Soviet Union; (3) the conclusion of a concrete agreement between England, France and the Soviet Union in regard to the forms and extent of immediate and effective help which would be given to each other and to the states guaranteed in the event of an attack by the aggressors. Such is our opinion, which we force upon no one, but for which we stand. We do not demand the acceptance of our point of view and we ask it of no one. We consider, however, that this point of view actually corresponds to the interests [Page 766] of security of the peaceful states.” It would be an agreement of an exclusively defensive character, particularly different from that recently concluded between Germany and Italy, and should have as its basis the principles of reciprocity and equal obligations. Certain of the Anglo-French proposals did not correspond to these basic principles. Having guaranteed themselves against direct aggression by the mutual assistance pact with Poland and seeking to secure for themselves the help of the Soviet Union in the event of an attack on Poland and Rumania the French and British left open the question of assistance on their part to the Soviet Union in the event of a direct attack on the latter, and likewise left open the question of their participation in guarantees to the small states on the northwest frontier of the Soviet Union. “Recently new Anglo-French proposals have been received. In these proposals the principle of mutual assistance between England, France and the Soviet Union on the basis of reciprocity in the event of a direct attack on the part of the aggressors is already recognized. This is purely a step forward and it is necessary to note that it is surrounded by such reservations—even including reservations concerning certain points of the Covenant of the League of Nations59—that it may prove to be a fictitious step in advance. With reference to the question of the guaranty of the countries of Central and Eastern Europe the above-mentioned proposals make no progress whatsoever viewed from the point of view of reciprocity. They envisage the help of the Soviet Union in connection with those five countries to which the English and the French have already promised guarantees but they say nothing of help of the latter to the three countries of the northwest frontier of the Soviet Union which may not have the strength to defend their neutrality in the event of an attack on the part of the aggressors. But that the Soviet Union cannot take upon itself obligations in connection with the above-mentioned five countries [without receiving a guarantee]60 in connection with the three countries lying along its northwest frontier. Such is the situation with regard to the negotiations with England and France.”

“In carrying on negotiations with England and France we do not in the least consider it necessary to renounce business relations with such countries as Germany and Italy.” Already last year on the initiative of the German Government conversations were begun concerning a commercial agreement and new credits. Germany proposed the extension of a new credit of 200,000,000 marks. Inasmuch as an agreement was not reached at that time the question was dropped. At the [Page 767] end of 1938 the German Government again raised the question of economic conversations and the credit of 200,000,000 marks and indicated a willingness to make certain concessions in this connection. At the beginning of 1939 the Commissariat for Foreign Trade was informed that a special German representative, Schnurre, would come to Moscow to carry on negotiations. Instead, however, of Schnurre these conversation were carried on by the German Ambassador61 in Moscow but were broken off because of difference of opinion. “Judging by certain indications, it is not excluded that the conversations may be renewed.” A mutually profitable trade agreement was concluded with Italy in 1939. An appreciable improvement in Soviet-Polish relations must be noted. Relations with friendly Turkey are developing normally. The recent informative visit of Potemkin to Ankara had great positive importance. The question of the Åland islands which for a hundred years belonged to Russia has great importance for the Soviet Union. After the revolution these islands were ceded to Finland and in 1921 a convention prohibiting their fortification was concluded without the participation of the Soviet Union.62 At this time the Soviet Union could only protest against this illegal act but even then made it clear that it could not be ignored and that any change in the juridicial status of the islands to the detriment of Soviet interests was impossible. In view of the strategic importance of the islands the Soviet Government requested information from the Finnish Government concerning the character and extent of the proposed fortifications but this request was refused on the ground of military secrecy. Since the Finnish” Government had furnished such details to Sweden, a country enjoying no special rights under the convention of 1921 and whose direct interest in the islands was less than that of the Soviet Union, this reasoning was entirely unconvincing. As a result of Soviet opposition the Council of the League of Nations refused approval of the Finnish and Swedish proposals.63 The Finnish Government should draw the necessary conclusion from this situation. “We do not consider it possible to admit that the interests of the Soviet Union can be in any way ignored in this question which has great importance for the defense of our country.” With respect to the Far East and the relations of the Soviet Union with Japan the most important question has been that of the fisheries convention, which after long negotiation resulted in an agreement for 1 year. [Page 768] This agreement has great political significance, particularly since Japanese reactionary circles did everything to emphasize its political aspect and even employed all manner of threats. The Japanese reactionaries, however, were able to convince themselves that threats against the Soviet Union do not achieve their purpose. In regard to frontier questions “it would appear that it was time for those concerned to understand that the Soviet Government will not tolerate any provocation on the part of the Japanese Manchurian armed forces on its frontiers”. This should be borne in mind also in connection with the frontiers of the Mongolian People’s Republic. In view of the existence of a mutual assistance pact with the Mongolian Republic “I must give warning that we will defend the frontier of Mongolia as resolutely as our own.” The Japanese accusations of aggression on the part of the Mongolian Republic are “laughable and shameful”. It must also be understood that there is a limit to all patience. Therefore it would be well to abandon in time the continual repetition of provocative violations of the frontiers of the Soviet Union and of the Mongolian Republic on the part of the Japanese Manchurian forces. Appropriate warnings have been given also to the Japanese Ambassador in Moscow.

It is unnecessary to speak of our relations with China. Stalin’s statement concerning the support of peoples struggling for their independence applies in full measure to China and “we are consistently putting this policy into effect. It is in conformity with those tasks which confront us in Europe, namely, the creation of a united front of peaceful states against the further development of aggression.” The Soviet Union is stronger than it was in 1921, or even 5 or 10 years ago, a fact of which it is necessary to remind certain of our neighbors who even now apparently do not understand this. The foreign policy of the Soviet Union is basically peace-loving and directed against aggression. “This is best of all understood by the aggressor countries themselves. With great delay and hesitantly, certain democratic powers are coming to the realization of this simple truth. However, in a united front of peaceful powers which are actually opposing aggression a place in the front ranks cannot but belong to the Soviet Union.”

Repeated in full to Berlin and in part to Tokyo.

  1. Telegram in two sections.
  2. Not printed.
  3. In his despatch No. 2377, June 5, 1939, the Chargé reported that “in compliance with a ‘request’ of a number of deputies [of the Supreme Council], Molotov agreed in his capacity of People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs to make a report on Soviet foreign policy.” (861.00 Supreme Soviet/21)
  4. Italy took over Albania beginning on April 7, 1939.
  5. The text of the peace appeal by President Roosevelt on April 14, 1939, to Chancellor Hitler and Premier Mussolini is in Department of State, Press Releases, April 15, 1939, p. 291.
  6. Treaty signed at Berlin on May 22, 1939; for text, see Martens, Recueil de traités, vol. cxxxiii, p. 323.
  7. The British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, made a statement on March 31, 1939, in the House of Commons announcing unilateral assurance to Poland. An Anglo-Polish communiqué of April 6, 1939, made the assurance reciprocal. The permanent agreement of mutual assistance was signed at London on August 25, 1939. For text of these documents, see British Cmd. 6106, Misc. No. 9 (1939), pp. 36–39.
  8. The British Prime Minister announced in the House of Commons on May 12, 1939, the Anglo-Turkish agreement on mutual assistance in the event of an act of aggression leading to war in the Mediterranean area (See Parliamentary Debates, 5th series, vol. 347, cols. 952 ff.). The 15-year mutual assistance pact concluded between Great Britain, France, and Turkey was signed at Ankara on October 19, 1939; for text, see League of Nations Treaty Series, vol. cc, p. 167, or Department of State Bulletin, November 11, 1939, p. 544.
  9. Foreign Relations, The Paris Peace Conference, 1919, vol. xiii, p. 69.
  10. Bracketed words supplied from translation enclosed in the Chargé’s despatch No. 2394, June 8, 1939, in place of Six garbled words omitted.
  11. Friedrich Werner, Count von der Schulenburg.
  12. Convention Relating to the Nonfortification and Neutralization of the Aland Islands, signed at Geneva, October 20, 1921; for text, see League of Nations Treaty Series, vol. ix, p. 211.
  13. Because of Soviet opposition the proposals of May 22, 1939, for the refortification of the Aland Islands were shelved in the Council of the League of Nations.