the Chargé in the Soviet Union (Wiley) to the Secretary of State

No. 354

Sir: Supplementing my despatch No. 342 of January 18, 1935,12 I have the honor to add that, from conversations with Soviet officials and from information obtained through private channels, it would appear that the Laval–Litvinov13 protocol of December 514 successfully reflected a “policy of prestige” on the part of the Commissar for Foreign Affairs rather than an effective effort to commit the Flandin15 Government to the policy of Barthou.16 M. Alphand, the French Ambassador, recently returned from a short visit in Paris. In private conversation, he confirmed the fact that the Soviet Government was disgruntled over the course of French policy and had regarded the results of the negotiations at Rome as in derogation of the Geneva protocol. M. Alphand explained that the French attitude had undergone no fundamental change in respect of the Soviet Union. France required a counterpoise to Germany in the East. So long as Germany remained unarmed, Poland sufficed. Germany was now rearmed and the counterpoise in the East would therefore have to be the Soviet Union. The Soviet Government, however, refused to understand that France might require a counterpoise elsewhere as well.

If M. Alphand’s remarks may be interpreted as evidence of French desire that the U. S. S. R. voluntarily step into the place previously and unhappily occupied by Poland in the French constellation, the Soviet objections are not difficult to understand.

Before the assassination of Barthou, no secret was made, either by the Soviet authorities or by the French Embassy, that the rapprochement between France and the Soviet Union was directed against Germany. M. Alphand specifically stated that it had for its purpose the stabilization of frontiers through preponderance of force. However, the Soviet Government, in the light of developments at Rome, seems now to fear that the basis for the Franco-Soviet rapprochement has been fundamentally altered by Laval’s tactics. In private conversations with Soviet officials, Laval is accused of having adopted an opportunist policy and of having greatly weakened the effectiveness of French policy by his “abject” pilgrimage to Rome and his disregard of the Little Entente, and the Soviet Union too. Flandin also appears to be regarded with darkest suspicion. The information of [Page 177] the Soviet Government is to the effect that he is at present having a direct and private exchange of views with Hitler. Indeed, there seems to be apprehension that the President of the Council, if left to himself, might be disposed to engage in a policy of “concessions” to Germany with the result that the proposed Eastern Pact might be consummated in such a way as to constitute the traditionally feared anti-Soviet alignment rather than Litvinov’s objective of a coalition against the Reich.

Soviet diplomacy has recently been particularly active. Mr. Litvinov, before his departure, presented his point of view with considerable energy to various diplomatic representatives in Moscow. In particular, he upbraided the Austrian Minister for Austria’s failure to insist that the Soviet Union should take part in the Rome agreement for the security of Austria. When the Austrian Minister retorted that the Soviet Union had at least been in good company; that Great Britain had not been invited to participate, Mr. Litvinov is understood to have replied angrily that he did not consider Great Britain “good company”. While Mr. Litvinov continues his activities at Geneva, the Soviet Foreign Office has not been passive. Krestinski17 has been in close touch with the Turkish Ambassador and, according to a Soviet informant, both the Turkish and Yugoslavian Governments have, as a result, made strong representations to M. Laval, on the subject of the Rome protocols.

A possible sidelight on Soviet apprehensions is the concern with which the Soviet Government has followed developments having to do with Abyssinia. It has been suggested in private conversations that, in addition to the colonial concessions to Italy which were contained in the Rome protocols, a secret or tacit agreement has also been reached whereby Italian territorial aims would receive fuller satisfaction at the expense of Abyssinia. The possibility that two powers might compose differences between them at the expense of a third state, particularly one which was a member of the League of Nations, has clearly cast a chill into the Soviet consciousness. Indirect allusions would seem to account for this by Soviet fear that such a solution might serve as a precedent; that if Germany were to abandon her designs on Austria at the behest of Great Britain, France and Italy, it might be at the eventual expense of the Soviet Union. The territorial expanse of Russia is vast. Great regions are thinly populated. Moreover, the relative military inferiority of the Red Army vis-à-vis the Reichswehr, when considered in connection with the expansionist ideology which exists in many sections in Germany, constitutes an understandable background to Soviet fears; to the thought that, at [Page 178] some future time, history might repeat itself, with the Soviet Union cast in the role of Africa.

The attitude of the Soviet press towards France has, on the whole, been reserved rather than resentful. Criticisms of Laval’s policy have been oblique; not direct. The chief agency employed for the purpose has been Pertinax, whose daily article has been featured so regularly in the Soviet press that it is not entirely clear whether the Echo de Paris is being subsidized by the French General Staff or the Soviet Government.

Respectfully yours,

John C. Wiley
  1. Not printed.
  2. Maxim Litvinov, Soviet Commissar for Foreign Affairs.
  3. Signed at Geneva, December 5, 1934, Foreign Relations, 1934, vol. i, p. 523.
  4. Pierre Etienne Flandin, President of the French Council of Ministers.
  5. Louis Barthou, late French Minister for Foreign Affairs.
  6. Nikolai N. Krestinski, Soviet Assistant Commissar for Foreign Affairs.