761.6211/82: Telegram

The Ambassador in the United Kingdom ( Kennedy ) to the Secretary of State

1219. Embassy’s 1211, August 22, 7 p.m.10 I have just seen Halifax. He told me of Seeds’11 report received this morning regarding his visit to Molotov. Molotov admitted that agreement had been reached to sign a nonaggression pact with Germany and said that their communiqué represented the facts. When Seeds asked him whether the agreement would contain the usual clause in Russian nonaggression pacts, that is that if one of the parties committed an act of aggression on another country the pact would automatically be dissolved, Molotov seemed very embarrassed and said, “We will have to wait and see what happens later on.” Halifax told me that Vansittart12 believes there is a provision in the agreement providing for the fourth division of Poland.

A point which Molotov raised with considerable bitterness was that the British and French had rejected the repeated Russian requests regarding the passage of Russian troops through Polish and Rumanian territory. Halifax says that whether this is really a valid excuse on [Page 340] the part of Molotov or not, it serves to give Russia a righteous feeling of indignation against Poland who so far has been adamant in refusing this permission to Russia.

The Russian reply could hardly be more unsatisfactory. Molotov rejected the British accusation of bad faith, refusing to admit their right to use such an expression or to stand in judgment on the Soviet Government. He also repudiated any suggestion that Russia was under obligation to have warned the British Government and said the British Government did not inform the Soviet Government of modifications in its own policy. The Ambassador’s reply was that he was not talking of changes in general policy in normal times but of a change at the very height of negotiations. Molotov reminded the Ambassador that he himself had reproached the British throughout the negotiations with a lack of sincerity and argued that the height of this insincerity had been reached when the Anglo-French military mission arrived in Moscow without anything concrete to offer and not ready to deal with basic points on which the question of reciprocal assistance depended. He referred in particular to the passage of Russian troops through Polish and Rumanian territory and pointed out that the Soviet delegation had asked this question again and again and had always been put off. Finally he said the Soviet Government had made up its mind that it was being played with and accepted the proposals made to them by the German Government.

The British Ambassador rebutted the accusation that the military mission had arrived emptyhanded but denied that they were competent to deal with any question of the passage of troops through the territory of a third state. Molotov waived the point aside and said that the French Government at least knew that the point at issue was of capital importance; it had been raised on many occasions in the past by the restrictions imposed, in particular at the time of the Czechoslovakia crisis,13 and that the French Government and military authorities had never thought fit to give a clear answer.

Molotov apparently reiterated the foregoing statement several times. The British Ambassador then asked him just what the German proposal amounted to and Molotov pointed to the Tass communiqué. The Ambassador observed that there was more than one form of nonaggression treaty and inquired if the one now proposed was designed to allow the Soviet Government to continue the policy which the British Government had always considered to be the Russian policy, that is the protection of victims of aggression; and he asked if it would mean that Russia would stand by and allow Poland to be overrun. Molotov showed his dislike of this questioning and said [Page 341] only that the British must wait and see how things worked out. Sir William Seeds continued his questioning, however, and asked whether all that had been achieved in the way of setting up a system of general defense against aggression was now to be of no account and whether it were possible to continue along that line? Molotov said that everything depended upon the German negotiations and that perhaps after a week or so we might see.

The Ambassador observed that he greatly regretted the report which he would be compelled to send to his Government but above all the aspersions made on British sincerity and on the military missions. He referred to the long series of concessions on the part of the British and French which had been made during the past months to meet the Soviet point of view, ending up with the really great concession of agreeing to send military missions before the negotiations for a political agreement had been concluded. Molotov then said that he was not so much interested in the past as in the all-important display of insincerity, that is in the failure to answer the Soviet question in regard to the passage of troops. The Ambassador refused to admit this point and pointing out that the acknowledged negotiators had not asked for any assistance beyond the Soviet power to give and that in actual fact the Anglo-French suggestions had always been that Russian troops should stand by on the frontier ready for action if necessary; that in fact they had asked for less than Russia had been prepared to give. The Ambassador reminded Molotov of his having spoken of “seeing in a week’s time” and said he expected that the answer would most probably be known by then. Molotov said we will see and the interview terminated.

As to the Polish situation, Halifax yesterday conveyed to Beck Mussolini’s statement of the night before to the effect that it was absolutely essential for the Poles to get in touch with the Germans at once even if they were not ready to discuss Danzig at the moment, to start a discussion on minorities or on some other subject that would provide scope for talk. Halifax, however, is of the belief that the Poles are not inclined to do this. He says that England will definitely go to war if Poland starts to fight.14 However, I have a distinct feeling that they do not want to be more Polish than the Poles and that they are praying the Poles will find some way of adjusting their differences with the Germans at once.

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Halifax is definitely of opinion that Mussolini is working for peace and goes so far as to say he does not believe Mussolini will get in the fight when it starts.

Summing all this up, I asked Halifax what he thought of the situation. He said, “My reason shows me no way out but war, but my instincts still give me hope.”

  1. Ante, p. 304.
  2. Sir William Seeds, British Ambassador in the Soviet Union.
  3. Sir Robert Gilbert Vansittart, Chief Diplomatic Adviser in the British Foreign Office.
  4. For correspondence on this subject, see Foreign Relations, 1938, vol. i, pp. 483 ff.
  5. The British Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, made a statement on March 31, 1939, in the House of Commons announcing unilateral assurance to Poland. He added that the French Government had authorized him to state that it stood “in the same position in this matter” as the British Government. 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. British Cmd. 6106, Misc. No. 9 (1939): Documents Concerning German-Polish Relations and the Outbreak of Hostilities between Great Britain and Germany on September 3, 1939, doc. Nos. 17, 18, and 19, pp. 36–39.