123 Steinhardt, Laurence A./249
The Ambassador in the Soviet Union (Steinhardt) to the Secretary of State
[Received September 9.]
Sir: I have the honor to report that I was received by Mr. Molotov in the Kremlin on the afternoon of August 10. The object of my call was the customary informal visit to the Commissar for Foreign Affairs prior to the presentation of credentials. I was accompanied by Mr. Grummon. Mr. Molotov received me in a cordial manner and our conversation proceeded through the intermediary of an interpreter provided by him. Unfortunately, the interpreter was worse [Page 776]than mediocre, his knowledge of English being extremely limited. This factor had a decided bearing on the paucity of the subjects discussed. Mr. Molotov referred to the parallel interests of the Soviet Union and the United States, and indicated that our two countries have many common interests. In view of the obvious inadequacy of the interpreter, fearing that something that I said might be misunderstood or erroneously translated, and in the belief that a better interpreter would be made available on a later occasion, I thought it best to limit the interview to the customary amenities of a preliminary informal call.
On August 11, at 12:30 p.m., I presented my credentials to President Kalinin. The entire Embassy staff accompanied me and was presented according to the customary protocol. After the presentation of my Letters, Mr. Kalinin invited Mr. Potemkin and me into his private office, where we had a conversation that lasted for well over an hour. Mr. Potemkin, who speaks fluent French, acted as interpreter, with the result that the interpretation was highly satisfactory.
Among other things, I learned that the President’s son is at present in the United States, On inquiring as to what reports he had had from his son, Kalinin replied that he assumed his son is hardly an exception to the general rule, in that he rarely writes letters to his father, but that in the few letters received his son has expressed great admiration for the United States. He said that he expects him to remain there for nine or ten months longer.
The President spoke freely, frankly, and with the utmost cordiality. He emphasized that while the views of the Soviet Union and the United States run along parallel lines in many respects, both countries have the same general objectives, and cooperation between them is therefore extremely desirable in the interests of preserving world peace, the geographical position of the two countries and the present status of their respective industrialization are so dissimilar that the position of the Soviet Union is much more difficult than that of the United States—particularly under present critical conditions. He observed that the United States, being the most highly industrialized country in the world and protected by two oceans, is in an impregnable position, whereas the Soviet Union has unfriendly powers on both frontiers. He observed that while the Soviets had made considerable progress in their attempts to industrialize the country they are still a great distance from their goal. He spoke feelingly on the necessity for diverting the major part of the Soviets’ new industry to the creation of what he termed defensive armament, and said that had it not been for this necessity during recent years the condition of the country would be much farther advanced. While he was not specific on this point, I judged that he was making a direct reference to the insufficiency [Page 777]of both capital goods and consumption merchandise, and perhaps even to the lack of adequate distribution and transportation facilities throughout the country. He did say that the defence of the Soviet Union in the event of aggression must be the first consideration of the state and that therefore the creation of defensive armament must take precedence over any other desirable production. He spoke of the strenuous efforts which the Soviet Government has been making to industrialize the country and was frank in volunteering the statement that the authorities recognize that it is still far from their goal. While he studiously avoided any discussion or even reference to Russia’s position in Europe, he talked freely and at length regarding Soviet-Japanese relations. He emphasized the Soviet Union’s peaceful intentions towards Japan, indicating that he does not consider that the Japanese have particularly peaceful intentions towards the Soviets and said that his Government is determined to employ all of the forces necessary to assert its rights. He then referred to the fighting on the Mongolian frontier, saying that hostilities were still in progress. He did not attempt to minimize the size of the forces engaged or the possible consequences, merely asserting that the Soviet Union not only intends to but is capable of defending its rights in this or any other area, and then referred to Japanese accounts of the alleged extent of the Russian losses, saying that the accounts had been so exaggerated as to defeat their own purpose. He added that the few communiqués issued by the Soviets had purposely been ultra-conservative with respect to losses on both sides. When I asked him the reason for ultra-conservative communiqués by the Soviet Government in the face of a continuing stream of Japanese communiqués which in the eyes of the world might indicate overwhelming Japanese superiority, he remarked that, as in the case of the fighting last year at Changkufeng, the world would learn after the engagement is concluded which side has been compelled to retreat; that the Soviet authorities had thought it preferable to deal with the situation in this manner rather than to attempt to rival Japanese exaggerations, which would have put the Soviet Union at a disadvantage when the true facts are ultimately established, and that continuous denials of the Japanese claims would serve little purpose anyway.
I gained the general impression from our conversation that the Soviet Government is at the present time more concerned with the situation in the Far East than in Europe, that they regard Japanese aggression as a genuine menace to them, while feeling themselves rather secure in Europe. If I am correct in this conclusion, certain deductions would appear to be obvious, as, for example, that any influence our Government desires to bring to bear on the Soviet authorities can best be accomplished by expressing a greater interest in the issues [Page 778]in the Far East than in Europe. I believe that the Soviet authorities would be glad to cooperate in any measures which might tend to restrain the Japanese in the Far East and that they rather look to the United States sooner or later to take the lead, with the support of Britain, France, and Russia, along these lines. On the other hand, I am beginning to seriously doubt the intention of the Soviet Government to take any affirmative action in Europe other than of a purely defensive nature. With the exception of the concentration of forces in the Leningrad area for the annual manoeuvres and the army which has been kept in or near the Ukraine for a long time, I am told that such troop movements as have taken place have been toward the east, in the direction of the Mongolian frontier. This seems to me significant as evidencing a greater interest in the Far East than in Europe. In view of the broad guarantee which has been accorded Poland and Rumania by Britain and France the Soviets do not appear to regard themselves as under any imminent threat in Europe and they thoroughly appreciate the fact that Germany cannot attack Russia without inevitably involving either Poland or Rumania, or probably both. They thus seem to feel that they are assured of Anglo-French military assistance in the event of a world war and appear to be disposed on this front to sit back and await developments. Nor is this line of reasoning difficult to understand, for one thing that would seem the most unlikely possibility in Europe would be an attack by Germany against Russia without automatic involvement of Poland and Rumania. The Carpathian mountains form a natural barrier to entry into Russia from any part of Czechoslovakia and the frontier available to the Germans without invading Poland and Rumania is so narrow as to make it rather easily defendable by the Soviets. For these reasons the Soviet point of view is not only readily understandable but must be regarded as thoroughly sound, and I believe that in this lies the explanation for the prolonged Anglo-French negotiations. While circumstances may force the Soviets into a military alliance with Britain and France at any moment, it seems to me that unless there is a material change in the present situation between now and the first of October, the Soviets, while keeping the negotiations alive and holding them over Hitler’s head as a threat, will not enter into any more far-reaching agreement during the next six weeks than circumstances necessitate. They will probably be disposed to keep the negotiations alive as a threat against Hitler and thus avert war this fall, for there is nothing that the Soviets desire more than to avoid being involved in a European war at the present time. They are fully aware of the fact that if war can be averted this fall it is most unlikely to break out until the spring and they doubtless shrewdly calculate that by that time the Japanese will be further involved in [Page 779]China and materially weakened by the passage of another six months. They doubtless hope that a European war can be averted until the Japanese threat to Russia in the Far East has been minimized by Japan’s economic exhaustion, and it is not improbable that they hope that the winter will see an embargo by the United States on exports to Japan. All in all, it is my opinion that the Soviet authorities are playing a very shrewd game in international politics, that from the point of view of their interests they are playing the game intelligently and successfully, and that they are likely to play a steadily increasing rôle in world politics, both in Europe, by reason of their potentialities and studiously concealed military forces, and in the Far East, by reason of their steadily expanding military strength as that of Japan grows weaker.