741.61/899: Telegram

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

1202. The British Ambassador called on me yesterday and in the course of an extended and I believe very frank conversation discussed the entire field of British-Soviet relations, various negotiations with Soviet officials and his personal views concerning present Soviet policy. Sir Stafford’s remarks on the more important subjects touched upon may be summarized as follows:

Conversation with Stalin: The Ambassador informed me that Stalin had been extremely frank, realistic and outspoken during his interview with him and although the conversation had been confined to a general evaluation of the present European situation with no proposals being advanced by either side, Stalin had made it quite clear that his present policy was designed to avoid the involvement of the Soviet Union in the war and, in particular to avoid a conflict with the German Army. Stalin had admitted that Germany constituted the only real threat to the Soviet Union and that a German victory would place the Soviet Union in a difficult if not dangerous position but he felt that it was impossible at the present time to invite the certainty of a German invasion of the Soviet Union by any alteration of Soviet policy. Stalin had said that he preferred to run the risk of war with Germany without allies in the event of a British defeat, because he believed (a) that even should Germany be victorious over Great Britain, German military power would be appreciably weakened, and (b) after the efforts involved in the present war it would be very difficult for the Nazi leaders to persuade the German people to embark on a new major military objective.
Trade negotiations with Soviet officials: The Ambassador stated that in contrast to the frankness and realism of Stalin, other Soviet officials, notably Molotov, Mikoyan and latterly Vishinski,18 with whom he had dealt, had been evasive and noncommittal in their dealings with them [him] on the question of a trade agreement between the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics and Britain. He stated that following his arrival here at the end of June19 the negotiations had apparently begun rather auspiciously, but that during the last 10 weeks the Soviet Government had allowed these negotiations to [Page 612] lapse, a change in attitude which he attributed in part to the collapse of France20 and the consequent elimination of the only other continental army which might have opposed Germany. He confirmed the fact that recently Mikoyan had proposed an agreement for a limited exchange of British rubber for Soviet flax. The Ambassador said that he had told Mikoyan that Great Britain was not interested in a limited exchange of specific commodities but only in a general trade agreement. The Ambassador said that in his most recent interview with Vishinski he had expressed his dissatisfaction with the evasive tactics of Soviet officials on the question of a general trade agreement and that Vishinski had finally said to him that the Soviet Government was not disposed to continue the negotiations, unless the British Government would release the gold and ships which had been sequestrated following the incorporation of the Baltic States. The Ambassador added in this connection that he had been informed by his Foreign Office that the British refusal to release the gold of the Baltic States had been taken at the instance of the American Government, and went on to state that in his opinion there was no necessity for the British Government to continue to accede to this request, inasmuch as it was quite possible for the British Government, being at war, to pursue one policy [in] this matter for obvious reasons without impairing the position adopted in principle by the United States. I received a strong impression that one of Sir Stafford’s purposes was to enlist my support in suggesting to the Department that it reconsider its request of the British Government on the subject of the withholding of the gold of the Baltic States.
Soviet-Turkish relations: The Ambassador told me that Stalin had dwelt at length on Soviet-Turkish relations and had made clear his desire to obtain for the Soviet Union a voice in the régime of the Dardanelles, He said he had gained the impression that while Stalin’s preference would be for joint Soviet-Turkish control of the Straits and possibly one or more bases in the vicinity, he would be satisfied with a commitment on the part of the Turkish Government to consult the Soviet Union before taking any action under the Montreux Convention.21 The Ambassador gained the impression that Stalin was seeking to enlist British support to achieve his objective.

Sir Stafford was extremely outspoken in his criticism of previous British statesmanship and diplomacy as well as the internal régime [Page 613] in England. He said that even now, although certain important and needed changes had been made since the formation of the Churchill Cabinet,22 the retention of Chamberlain23 and other diehards continued to operate as a brake on the fullest development of Britain’s war effort.

In conclusion the Ambassador admitted to me quite frankly that he was extremely [gloomy] and disappointed as a result of his efforts in Moscow and felt that he had accomplished virtually nothing since his arrival. He said that he had reached the very definite conclusion following his conversation with Stalin and his contact with other Soviet officials that any alteration of Soviet policy toward Germany would only occur when the military power of Germany had been sufficiently impaired to obviate the possibility of a German invasion of Russia and that consequently any hope of even indirect Soviet assistance in the immediate future would depend on the ability of Great Britain to withstand the German attack and by so doing to seriously impair German military power.

  1. Andrey Yanuaryevich Vyshinsky, Assistant People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs of the Soviet Union.
  2. Sir Stafford Cripps had arrived in Moscow on June 12, 1940.
  3. For correspondence concerning the invasion of France by Germany and the collapse of French resistance, see pp. 217 ff.
  4. Signed July 20, 1936; for text, see League of Nations Treaty Series, vol. clxxiii, p. 215. For correspondence regarding the conference on the Straits held at Montreux June 22–July 20, 1936, see Foreign Relations, 1936, vol. iii, pp. 503 ff.
  5. The government formed by Winston S. Churchill as Prime Minister and Minister of Defence took office on May 10, 1940.
  6. Neville Chamberlain was Prime Minister until May 10, 1940, remaining as Lord President of the Council in the Churchill Cabinet until his resignation on October 3, 1940.