762.9411/93: Telegram

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

1268. My 1262, October 2, 10 a.m. In connection with the suggestion of the British Ambassador, reported, in my telegram under reference, I believe that the following observations of the present position of the Soviet Union may be of interest to the Department.

As I have reported and insofar as it is possible to assess such a development in Moscow embodied in recent connected indications, German policy toward the Soviet Union is in the process of change. These indications are the German-Italian guaranty of Rumania29 without prior consultation with the Soviet Union, the German-Finnish agreement concerning the passage of German troops through Finland30 and more recently the conclusion again without prior consultation with the Soviet Union of the German-Italian-Japanese pact.

Although not possible on the basis of information available in Moscow to determine the lengths to which this apparent change in German policy may be carried, it is, however, important to note that the recent diplomatic events referred to above, whatever their portent for the future, have unquestionably introduced an element of discord into Soviet-German relations and have been entirely subordinated to German initiative, in no way provoked by any positive Soviet action or change of policy. On the contrary these German diplomatic moves have taken place at a time when the Soviet Government was giving every indication of its intention faithfully to adhere to its various agreements with Germany and had publicly, on the occasion of the anniversary of the Soviet-German nonaggression pact, given the most direct and outspoken public affirmation of this intention which has been made in the past year.

To this should be added the fact that despite these diplomatic moves on the part of Germany which even members of the German Embassy [Page 616] here frankly admit in private are incompatible with the spirit of the Soviet-German agreements of last year the Soviet Union has not insofar as I am aware been aroused to any retaliatory action nor has it chosen to give public expression to the resentment which it presumably feels and thereby has indicated that Soviet policy is still basically motivated by an intense desire to avoid involvement in the European war which in view of geographic factors means avoidance of war with the Axis Powers. The tripartite pact between Germany, Italy and Japan can only have accentuated rather than diminished the Soviet fear of an armed conflict with Germany and as a result thereof the Soviet Union is now faced with a real possibility of war on two fronts.

In consequence of the foregoing it is difficult to envisage any concession made ostensibly to the Soviet Union in respect of the opening of the Burma Road or for that matter any concession in the Far East which would have a material bearing on the general course of Soviet policy, as the greatest potential threat to the Soviet Union remains the possibility of an attack by the German Army in the west.

The fundamental error of Allied, and subsequently British, diplomacy in respect of the Soviet Union has been that it has at all times been directed toward attempting to persuade the Soviet Union to undertake positive action which if not leading immediately to an armed conflict with Germany would at least involve the real risk of such a contingency. On the other hand up to the present time German policy has been directed toward assuring the neutrality of the Soviet Union and the adoption by that country of a passive role in the present war. This, in my opinion, is the explanation of why British diplomacy has thus far failed and German diplomacy succeeded in their respective approaches to the Soviet Union.

From the point of view of the Kremlin, I am persuaded that the Soviet Union now will look into the following contingencies: Either the change in German policy referred to above is limited to a desire to impede further Soviet expansion in the west and at the same time assure Germany of means of pressure on the Soviet Union for increased economic assistance in anticipation of a long war and does not presage an armed attack; or Germany and Italy in conjunction with Japan are definitely planning offensive military action against the Soviet Union. In the event that the first alternative is correct it is most unlikely that the Soviet Union will through any serious negotiations or agreement with Great Britain provoke the very event which its entire policy is designed to prevent, namely, involvement in war against the Axis Powers. Should the second alternative prove correct I assume that the Kremlin realizes that in the event of an attack by Germany the Soviet Union would automatically become an ally of Great Britain even without prior understanding.

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Having defined present Soviet policy as I understand it to avoid involvement in the war it seems obvious that the longer the Soviet Union can defer an armed attack by Germany and Japan with both of these nations engaged in major wars elsewhere the greater becomes the prospect for a successful resistance. The only discernible advantage to the Soviet Union that might accrue as the result of a prior agreement with Great Britain in anticipation of a German-Japanese attack would be in its relationship to the possibility of a separate peace. I believe the Soviet Russian Government would attach little value to a prior agreement with Great Britain as a guaranty against a negotiated British-German peace at the expense of the Soviet Union.

It is of course impossible for me in Moscow to assess with any degree of accuracy the real intentions of Germany vis-à-vis the Soviet Union at the present time. However, I can assert with reasonable assurance that, as in the past, the initiative lies with Germany. Soviet policy will, in a large measure, be determined by the future attitude and actions of Germany. In my opinion the Soviet Union will endeavor to retain its present policy of neutrality although as previously reported it might not be adverse to a bilateral agreement with Japan probably along the lines of the Soviet-German pact of non-aggression. The Soviet Union will, however, in my opinion endeavor to resist openly joining the Italian-German-Japanese alliance and will only do so as a result of extreme pressure backed by the threat of military force on the part of Germany.

  1. See telegram No. 3827, August 30, 11 p.m., from the Chargé in Germany, p. 502.
  2. See telegram No. 416, September 26, 1 p.m., from the Minister in Finland, regarding the German-Finnish exchange of notes on September 22, 1940, p. 347.