641.6131/212: Telegram

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

574. The Moscow press of May 22 published a lengthy Tass communiqué stating that incorrect reports have been appearing in the foreign press misrepresenting the progress and character of the preliminary Soviet-British trade negotiations and that accordingly Tass has been authorized to make a statement on the subject.

The communiqué states that in the autumn of 1939 Halifax informed Maiski of the British Government’s desire to institute trade negotiations with the Soviet Government, and that in reply the latter expressed agreement in principle on the conduct of such negotiations. It remarks that, however, such British measures as the cancellation of Soviet orders for equipment, the detention of Soviet merchant vessels, the hostile attitude displayed toward the Soviet Union during the Soviet-Finnish war and the leading role played by the British in bringing about the exclusion of the Soviet Union from the League [Page 602] of Nations,2 were not conducive to the satisfactory development of these negotiations.

On March 18, 1940, after the conclusion of the Soviet-Finnish peace treaty, the communiqué continues, the British Foreign Office again proposed to Maiski that trade negotiations be commenced, and on March 27 Maiski informed Halifax that the Soviet Government was willing provided the British Government would express its actual readiness to seek a favorable solution to questions of Anglo-Soviet trade and, in particular, prior to the institution of negotiations, release the Soviet vessels Selenga and Mayakovski.

On April 19, 1940, according to the communiqué, Halifax handed a reply to Maiski wherein the British Government, besides expressing the desire to learn the concrete proposals of the Soviet Government concerning a trade agreement, demanded guarantees that the goods imported by the Soviet Union would be intended for consumption in the Soviet Union and not for Germany, and furthermore connected the question of the conclusion of a Soviet-British trade agreement with the limitation of trade relations between the Soviet Union and Germany. On April 29, Maiski communicated to Halifax the Soviet reply to these proposals, which pointed out that the Soviet Union has traded and will continue to trade with both belligerent and neutral countries on the basis of its own requirements as regards imports and exports; that the Soviet Union has a trade agreement with Germany which it is fulfilling and will continue to fulfill and which it does not consider as a permissible subject of negotiations with third countries; that the Soviet Government is agreeable to a restoration of trade relations with England on the basis of reciprocity and as long as such an agreement will not require violation of the trade obligations of either party toward other countries; that the Soviet Government has in mind negotiations concerning an agreement by which the Soviet Union assures imports of goods from England for Soviet needs and not for export to other countries; and that the release of the vessels above mentioned would be the best condition for the commencement of negotiations and the conclusion of an agreement.

In reply, the communiqué states, Halifax gave Maiski a memorandum on May 8 in which, instead of making concrete proposals concerning trade negotiations, the British Government raised a whole series of new questions concerning Soviet-German trade relations, made merely formal reference to fact that the Soviet vessels mentioned had been transferred to the French Government, and proposed the conclusion of an agreement for the control of contraband. The [Page 603] memorandum reemphasized the British Government’s wish to subordinate Soviet-British trade relations to the tasks of the war being conducted by England.

On May 20, the communiqué continues, Molotov dispatched the Soviet reply to this memorandum which emphasized the fact that the Soviet Government could not subordinate Soviet trade policy to the war tasks of one foreign state or another. The Soviet reply also stated that:

“The Soviet Union as a sovereign state, will conduct its foreign trade with both belligerent and neutral countries on the principles of complete equality of the parties and the reciprocity of obligations.

“The new questions set forth in the memorandum of May 8, 1940, of Mr. Halifax concerning trade between the Soviet Union and Germany belong entirely and completely within the jurisdiction of the Soviet Government and cannot be a subject of discussion in trade negotiations between the Soviet Union and Britain. The Soviet Government has already declared on April 29, 1940, that it intends to import goods from Britain for Soviet needs and not for export to other countries.

“The explanations of the British Government regarding the detention of the Soviet ships Selenga and Mayakovski cannot be acknowledged as convincing and the Soviet Government considers the British Government to be responsible for the detention of the said ships.

“The Soviet Government notes that the fact itself of the British Government’s raising for discussion questions belonging exclusively to the jurisdiction of the Soviet Government does not indicate the existence of a desire on the part of the British Government to conduct trade negotiations with the Soviet Union.”

The principal interest of the foregoing communiqué at the present time lies in the indication which it gives that an exchange of communications between the Soviet and British Governments, concerning trade negotiations has continued down to date.

  1. For correspondence concerning the exclusion of the Soviet Union on December 14, 1939, from the League of Nations, see Foreign Relations, The Soviet Union, 1933–1939, pp. 800806.