760D.61/1055½: Telegram

The Ambassador in the Soviet Union ( Steinhardt ) to the Secretary of State

134. Department’s 60, January 27, noon. Molotov was unable to see me until yesterday afternoon when I conveyed to him as instructed the substance of the Department’s telegram under reference.

Before opening the subject I obtained from him on the part of his Government a categorical and definite assurance that the subject of my visit and the visit itself would be held in strictest confidence and would be given no publicity whatever.

I told him that I had been requested by my Government to ascertain whether an approach by my Government looking towards a cessation of the present conflict between the Soviet Union and Finland would be given serious consideration by the Soviet Government and would be received in the friendly spirit in which it would be made. I emphasized to him that my inquiry was being made on the [Page 285] initiative of my Government alone without the knowledge of the Finnish or any other government. Molotov replied with a detailed exposition of the familiar Soviet contention as to the causes of the outbreak of the war emphasizing the efforts made by the Soviet Government to reach an agreement with Finland and the “provocative” acts of the Finnish Government but continually stressed the intention of the Soviet Government to respect the independence of Finland while at the same time “assuring the adequate defense of Leningrad.” He admitted that the Finnish resistance had proved to be much stronger than the Soviet Government had anticipated which he cited as proof of the correctness of the Soviet view that Finland is already equipped to serve as a base of operations “for other powers” against the Soviet Union. He observed that the treaty with the Finnish People’s Government49 which he himself had signed embodied the Soviet desiderata at the time of its signature and provided the security which the Soviet Union considered essential. In reply to a question as to whether his statement implied that the Soviet Government would be prepared to negotiate a settlement with the Finnish Government on the basis of this treaty, Molotov was evasive beyond the twice repeated statement that it would be impossible to negotiate with the “Ryti-Tanner-Mannerheim”50 Government. Throughout the interview Molotov studiously avoided giving any indication as to whether the Soviet Government was prepared to treat with an independent Finnish Government. It is perhaps significant that throughout a lengthy interview he did not once reaffirm the previous Soviet position that the Kuusinen government51 is the only legal government with which the Soviets would deal.

He [I] was unable to obtain from Molotov any clear statement as to the attitude of his Government towards an approach from our Government. In reply to my questions on this point he countered by asking if my Government had any suggestions to which I replied that I had only been instructed to inquire as to the attitude of the Soviet Government in the event that such an approach should be made. After a further extended discussion which consisted of a reiteration on the part of Molotov of the several statements reported above I suggested to him that as he had been unprepared for our discussion perhaps [Page 286] he might wish time to consider the subject further. He replied that he would give them after further consideration and that if he had any observations to make he would ask me to come to see him and that if either my Government or I had any further observations to offer he would be glad to receive me at any time.

Throughout the discussion Molotov was evasive in respect of the subject of my inquiry, namely the attitude of the Soviet Government toward an attempt to bring about a settlement of the Finnish-Soviet conflict. While this evasiveness may have been due in part to his un-preparedness for a discussion of the subject and his consequent unwillingness to commit himself one way or the other, [I] did not in any way receive the impression that the Soviet Government is particularly interested at the present time in bringing about the cessation of the conflict through negotiation. It was also my impression that Molotov’s cordial attitude throughout the discussion was due less to real interest in the object of my visit than to a desire not to impose by an abrupt rejection any further unnecessary strain on the relations between the United States and the Soviet Union.52 It is not unlikely moreover that the Kremlin may see certain advantages in keeping the door open for the good offices of the United States at some future time. I believe that if the Soviet Government is interested for any reason in exploring the possibilities of a negotiated peace through the medium of the American Government at the present time or at some subsequent date Molotov as he intimated will ask to see me again for a further discussion of the subject.

In connection with [the] general subject I have learned from a reliable source that early in January the German Ambassador in Moscow,53 under instructions from his Government approached Molotov with an offer of German mediation in the Finnish-Soviet conflict and that Molotov replied to the effect that the time was not propitious as the Soviet Government was too deeply committed to turn back. I understand however that despite this rejection the German Ambassador received the impression that the offer was merely premature and that at some future date the Soviet Government might be disposed to consider mediation by the German Government. It is rumored that the departure of the German Ambassador who left last night for Berlin although ostensibly in connection with the economic negotiations which have been proceeding in Moscow is actually connected with the subject of German mediation in the Finnish-Soviet conflict.

  1. Pact of Mutual Assistance and Friendship between the Soviet Union and the “Democratic Republic of Finland,” the puppet government set up by the Soviet Union at Terijoki, signed at Moscow on December 2, 1939. A text of this treaty was published in the New York Times, December 3, 1939, p. 53; and a summary of the provisions of the treaty is given in telegram No. 1005, December 3, 1939, 1 a.m., from the Ambassador in the Soviet Union, Foreign Relations, 1939, Vol. i, p. 1018.
  2. Karl Gustav, Baron Mannerheim, Finnish Field Marshal, Head of State December 11, 1918, to July 25, 1919; Chairman of the National Defence Council; Commander in Chief of the Finnish Army in the Winter War.
  3. Otto W. Kuusinen, president of the “People’s Government of Finland.”
  4. For correspondence regarding difficulties affecting relations between the United States and the Soviet Union, and the attempts at their alleviation, see Vol. iii, pp. 244 ff.
  5. Friedrich Werner, Count von der Schulenburg.