740.0011 European War 1939/3446: Telegram

The Chargé in the Soviet Union (Thurston) to the Secretary of State

608. My telegram 604, May 31, midnight.19 As the Department is aware, an appraisal of Soviet policy is rendered difficult by the absence [Page 471] of normal intercourse between the Diplomatic Corps and official[s] of the Soviet Government and Soviet citizens in general; by the fact that the Soviet press is exclusively an instrument of official propaganda; and by the concentration of all initiative and all power in one inaccessible person. Nonetheless, past actions of the Soviet Government and the opinions of experienced observers here furnish a basis for the belief, communicated to the Department by this Mission in earlier reports, that the Soviet Government desires to avoid participation in the current European war or in any war requiring a major military effort. This presumed policy is believed to result from Stalin’s realization that a major war would place too great a strain on Soviet economy in general and on production and transportation in particular, and perhaps also on the military establishment. At the same time, however, it has been shown by the invasion of Poland, the coercive measures taken against the three Baltic States and the attack upon Finland that the Soviet Union is willing to risk minor conflicts designed to enhance its security or to reconstitute its old imperial boundaries.

It may be conjectured that Soviet policy at the moment is largely defensive and based upon the fear of possible aggression by Allied or Associated powers in the Black Sea or Caucasus areas and possibly upon uneasiness over the prospect of a victorious Germany.

The first consideration would account for troop concentrations in the south and southeast and the second for a possible invasion of Lithuania designed to facilitate the further fortification of the German frontier.20 Soviet preoccupation with respect to Sweden’s neutrality and the eventual political and territorial integrity of Norway has already been reported to the Department.21 However, should conditions appear propitious (as the result of general hostilities in the Balkans or otherwise) it is to be assumed that the Soviet Government would seize the opportunity to recover Bessarabia. Whether its aspirations with respect to Rumania go further is not known.

In this connection a Secretary of the German Embassy, whose information and opinions have heretofore proved reliable, stated to a member of this Embassy yesterday that, whereas a Soviet invasion of Lithuania, and perhaps of Estonia and Latvia as well, appeared quite possible in the near future, he felt sure that an invasion of Bessarabia is not imminent, as 5 days previously Molotov had explicitly stated to the German Ambassador22 that the Soviet Union does not intend to invade Bessarabia. He further pointed out that, whereas the Baltic States might be desirable territorial acquisitions for economic and [Page 472] strategic reasons, the return of Bessarabia could in comparison be considered as largely a matter of prestige and that, according to his information, Soviet troop movements to the south were directed as much to the Caucasus and the Crimea as to the Odessa region. He concurred with the view expressed above that these measures were precautionary to meet any eventualities which might develop from an outbreak of hostilities in the Mediterranean involving Italy, Great Britain and Turkey.

  1. Vol. iii, p. 304.
  2. For information concerning the forcible occupation of the Baltic States and their incorporation into the Soviet Union, see pp. 357 ff.
  3. Telegram No. 588, May 27, 1 p.m.; not printed.
  4. Friedrich Werner, Count von der Schulenburg.