760F.62/580: Telegram

The Chargé in the United Kingdom (Johnson) to the Secretary of State

794. My 787, August 17, 10 p.m.4 When I saw the Soviet Ambassador last night he outlined at some length his views on what he considers the concrete objectives of Nazi Germany for expansion. [Page 66] While the ideas he expressed have been voiced before and contain no particular novelty, the Ambassador plainly implied that he was not giving merely personal opinions but was expressing the prevailing view held by the Soviet Foreign Office. I repeat them for what they may be worth. The picture he drew is also of interest as part of the background which, provided this account is a sound one, must presumably have great influence on the mind of Hitler in any decision he will have to make regarding the solution of the Czechoslovak question. For, according to this theory, if Hitler loyally accepts a peaceful settlement between the Czechs and the Sudeten Deutsch for a regime which will fully maintain the sovereignty of Czechoslovakia as it now exists, he will have accepted the most serious single impediment to Nazi plans for German expansion in southeastern Europe.

According to Monsieur Maisky the dispute with Czechoslovakia is being used as simply the opening wedge in Germany’s struggle for continental domination. If Hitler succeeds, whether by force or by so-called peaceful methods of pressure, in mutilating Czechoslovakia and reducing what is left to a position of political and economic vassalage he will have opened the door to the creation of a solid bloc of states extending to the Black Sea, which will be in complete subservience to Germany both politically and economically. He will thereby have gained access to Rumanian oil and the wheat fields of Hungary which will make Germany largely self-sustaining. Furthermore with Czechoslovakia out of the way the Danubian and Balkan countries will be unable to resist the pressure which Germany will bring to bear upon them. Maisky said that he did not mean to imply that Germany would attempt to incorporate those states politically into Germany but he says that Hitler envisages the inclusion of Hungary, Yugoslavia, Rumania, and Bulgaria in a strict customs union with Germany, to be further implemented by military conventions designed to give the German General Staff complete control of their armies. Provided Hitler accomplishes his purpose in Czechoslovakia, Maisky sees the accomplishment of his Mitteleuropa scheme as more or less a 5-year job, provided of course there is no intervening world war. Following the consolidation of this accomplishment which would make Germany overwhelmingly the strongest power in Continental Europe, Italy, whether within the German customs union and military bund or without, would be reduced to a position of complete subservience. Also, in Maisky’s opinion, it would be difficult to escape the conclusion that the position of France would be little better.

Germany, however, would not stop there, he thinks, and the question arises whether her next move would be to the east or to the west. A move to the east could only be directed against Russia and he thinks [Page 67] this is improbable for the following reasons: Russia has notoriously throughout past history proved a very difficult if not impossible problem for any military invader from the west. He cited historic examples and pointed out that on those occasions the military forces of Russia were immeasurably inferior to the invaders’. Such will not be the case when and if Germany attempts to invade and conquer Russia. Speaking with considerable zeal he said that the Russian military forces are even now better than they ever had been in the days of Imperial Russia and that their mechanization is progressing at a rapid pace. By that time (5 to 10 years hence) Russia will have completed the third of her 5–year plans and her powers of resistance to armed invasion will be immensely increased. Of these factors he says no one is better aware than Germany herself. Furthermore the Germans would find that the very large blocs of Slavic peoples in southeastern Europe incorporated in her Mitteleuropa organization, while powerless to maintain their own independence in the face of Germany, would prove from a purely military point of view a distinct liability to Germany in any attempted invasion of Russia as the sympathies of the Slavic peasants could be counted upon to be with their Russian brothers rather than with the dominant German. Any invading German army coming from the southeast could be sabotaged in the rear. On the most sanguine expectation of what Germany might be able to accomplish in an attack on Russia, he said that she could get no more than a few of the border provinces. The western provinces of Russia he says are poor and would not be worth what they would cost Germany, while the profitable portion of the Ukraine lies too far east for Germany to hope to hold it even if it were conquered. He spoke with the utmost confidence of Russia’s ability to hold her own against Germany and pointed out that even if Germany did conquer those few provinces, there would still remain an immense Russia with an enormous population and great resources. It would be only a question of time before the German invaders would be shoved out. In view of these considerations therefore, Maisky thinks that the long term German strategic plan would, following formation and consolidation of Mitteleuropa, turn to Belgium and Holland, with their rich tropical colonial possessions. Then, provided there is no world war in the meantime, France and Great Britain will be squarely up against it with Germany having the major resources of continental Europe, outside Russia, at her back.

Maisky’s idea that Czechoslovakia is the key to the whole situation in Central Europe is of course shared by nearly all commentators. The idea that Maisky was working on however, was that as far as Germany’s future plans are concerned it is not so much a question of whether she attempts to settle the Czechoslovak issue at once by force or whether [Page 68] she accomplishes the same purpose by other means. It is in the accomplishment of the purpose that the danger to the future lies. He was emphatic in expressing his conviction that Hitler should not be allowed to destroy Czechoslovakia and that the time to prevent that destruction was now. At the same time he said efforts should be made by the western powers within the limit of possibility to lessen the growing burden of dependence on Germany which is now falling on the Danubian countries, none of whom want to be sucked into the German maelstrom. He thought Great Britain and France could assist in this process by economic aid and facilities to Rumania and Yugoslavia particularly, and that as soon as possible the same thing should be done in Bulgaria where German influence is rapidly increasing and which sends 50 percent of its exports to Germany. Greece also he mentioned casually and said that 40 percent of Greek exports are now going to Germany. In the case of Czechoslovakia he was of the opinion that economic aid at present would be of negligible account and that the problem was almost exclusively a military and political one.

  1. Post, p. 547.