760D.61/1346: Telegram

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

316. Following the termination of hostilities with Finland the subject of future Soviet policy is arousing considerable speculation in [Page 189] diplomatic quarters here. The following observations on the general position of the Soviet Union and the probable lines of its policy in the immediate future may therefore be of interest to the Department.

The conclusion of peace with Finland testifies to the policy of realism and prudence which has on the whole been characteristic of Stalin’s conduct of Soviet foreign relations. Diplomatic sources which were in close touch with the negotiations attributed to him personally the decision to conclude a negotiated peace with the present Finnish Government against the strong opposition of the Red army and certain members of the Politburo.21 It is clear that the principal motive which impelled him to abandon the complete conquest of Finland, to which he was committed by the “treaty” with the Kuusinen Government,22 was his realization that despite the penetration of the Mannerheim Line by the Red army further and perhaps extended military operations would be required to achieve his maximum aim and that such continuation would involve a serious risk of war with England and France. (I assume that the Soviet Government was not unaware of the decision of the British and French Governments to intervene in Finland and the preparations for active military support which have been disclosed by Daladier23 and Chamberlain24 in their recent declarations.)
Inasmuch as Soviet alarm at the prospect of war with England and France centers chiefly upon the possibility of an attack in the Black Sea and Caspian areas directed against Batum and Baku it is regarded here as certain that relieved of anxiety in regard to its northern frontiers the Soviet Union will now endeavor to safeguard its frontiers in the Black Sea and Caucasus and to this end concentrate its diplomatic activity towards the Balkans, Turkey and the Near East.25
Since it is assured that peace was concluded with Finland to avoid the possibility of war with England and France, I doubt that the Soviet Government, in endeavoring to strengthen its diplomatic position in the Balkan and Black Sea areas, will on its own initiative and under present conditions undertake any aggressive or openly provocative action which might provide England and France with the justification for an attack in either area. It is more likely that the Soviet Government will seek to improve its relations with Turkey (the possibility of an attempt by the Kremlin to renew the negotiations [Page 190] with that country which broke down last October should by no means be excluded) and with the Balkan countries and Iran, in an endeavor to counteract French and British influence in these countries.
In view of the importance of Italy as a factor in the Balkan peninsula and Near East and the possibility of a community of interest between that country and the Soviet Union in preventing the war from spreading to those areas, development of Soviet-Italian relations is of special significance at the present time. It is generally regarded here that at least one of the purposes of Ribbentrop’s visit26 and a possible subject of discussion in the meeting between Hitler and Mussolini27 was an attempt by Germany to bring about an improvement in the relations between Italy and the Soviet, and as indicated in my telegram No. 279, March 12, 7 p.m.,28 it is of interest that the Soviet press has recently adopted a more friendly tone towards Italy.
In taking such diplomatic steps as may appear feasible to strengthen its position in the Balkans, Black Sea, and Caspian areas, and if possible to close these areas against a British and French attack, I anticipate that the Soviet Government, while in no sense departing from its policy of collaboration with Germany,29 will endeavor to relieve the strain on its relations with England and France by seeking to convey the impression to those countries that its policy with respect to the European war is one of strict neutrality. Since the conclusion of peace with Finland, there has been a noticeable diminution of the violent press attacks on England and France which were characteristic of the preceding period. Any such appearance of a changed attitude towards France and England30 should, however, in my opinion be regarded solely as a maneuver rather than an expression of a change in policy as there is not the slightest evidence that the Soviet Union intends in any way to alter its basic policy of collaboration with Germany. On the contrary there is evidence emanating from the German Embassy that a Soviet attempt to appease Britain and France has German acquiescence and approval.

The foregoing outline of the present Soviet attitude is based on the supposition that the political situation and the military situation in Europe remains static.

  1. The Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks).
  2. A pact of mutual assistance and friendship was signed on December 2, 1939, between the Soviet Union and its puppet Democratic Republic of Finland, whose government at Terijoki was led by Otto W. Kuusinen; for text of the treaty see New York Times, December 3, 1939, p. 53.
  3. Edouard Daladier, President of the French Council of Ministers.
  4. Neville Chamberlain, British Prime Minister.
  5. For correspondence concerning the activities of the Soviet Union in these areas, see vol. i, pp. 444 ff.
  6. Joachim von Ribbentrop, Reich Foreign Minister, visited Rome on March 10–11, 1940.
  7. Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini met at the Brenner Pass on March 18, 1940.
  8. Not printed.
  9. For correspondence on cooperation between Germany and the Soviet Union, see vol. i, pp. 539 ff.
  10. For correspondence regarding the relations between Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union, see vol. i, pp. 589 ff.