Memorandum by Mr. Edward Page, Jr., of the Division of European Affairs

Certain Aspects of Soviet Ethics in its Foreign Relations


soviet-american relations

The resumption of diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union on November 16, 193393 was contingent upon certain definite conditions set forth in a series of notes exchanged between the President of the United States and Mr. Litvinov.94 Two of the most important conditions dealt with (1) interference by persons or organizations on Soviet territory or under the control of the Soviet Government in the internal affairs of the United States, and (2) the legal protection of American citizens in the Soviet Union. In addition, a joint statement was issued by the President and Mr. Litvinov in which the hope was expressed for a speedy and satisfactory solution of the question of indebtedness and claims.

In spite of the first mentioned pledge, organizations such as the Communist International, which maintain headquarters in the Soviet Union, and of which the highest officials of the Soviet Government are members, have, with the encouragement of the Soviet Government consistently interfered in the internal affairs of this country. A protest against this practice was presented to the Soviet Government on August 25, 1935 and was rejected on the grounds that the Communist International was not covered by the pledge.95 This refusal of the [Page 225] Soviet Government to fulfill its written obligation was not accepted by this Government since the control of that Government over the Communist International is beyond cavil. Thus, less than two years after the resumption of diplomatic relations, the Soviet Government revealed its disregard for its written commitments.

Although there is circumstantial evidence that the Communist International has continued to interfere in American internal affairs and although the American Government still refuses to accept the Soviet Government’s disclaiming of responsibility for the actions of that organization, no further protest has been made to the Soviet Government, since it is believed that such a protest would only result in an insulting reply and would tend to embitter still further present relations between the two countries. The activities of the Comintern and its American section would in no way be curtailed.

It might be added that within recent weeks Communist agents in this country have endeavored to incite to mutiny the crew of an Estonian vessel in New York with an object of persuading it to murder their Captain and to sail the vessel back to a Soviet port, contrary to the Captain’s orders.

At the time of the establishment of diplomatic relations assurances were given by the Soviet Government which caused the American Government to believe that its representatives in the Soviet Union would be able to render certain assistance to American citizens under detention in that country.96 On the basis of most-favored-nation treatment, the Soviet Government undertook to inform the appropriate American consul of the arrest of an American citizen in the Soviet Union within from three to seven days after the arrest had been made. It furthermore agreed on the same basis to accede without delay to requests of American consular representatives that they be permitted to visit American nationals under arrest. Although a number of American citizens have been arrested in the Soviet Union since these assurances were given, in not one instance has the Soviet Government notified the American consular representatives of such an arrest until after repeated inquiries relating to such citizens have been made by the American Embassy in Moscow to the Soviet authorities. The confirmations by the Soviet authorities of reports received by the American Embassy at Moscow from other than Soviet Governmental sources of arrests of American citizens have never been received until many weeks or months after the arrests have been made.

Furthermore, the Soviet authorities have not acceded without delay to requests of American consular representatives to visit American nationals under detention by the Soviet Union. A member of the Embassy was not permitted to proceed to Murmansk at the time the [Page 226] S. S. City of Flint was being detained at that port.97 American citizens detained in Soviet-occupied Poland have not been allowed to proceed to the Embassy at Moscow for the purpose of obtaining passport and citizenship services and protracted obstructions have been placed in the way of representatives of the Embassy who have been ordered to localities in which these Americans were encountering difficulties.98 The Soviet authorities have even endeavored to limit the assurances given in this respect by stating that they are not obligated to permit such visits before the termination of the investigation of the American national under arrest or while such national is serving sentence in conformity with a court decision. Since the period between the termination of the investigation of the American citizen and the sentence may be extremely brief, such an interpretation of these assurances, if adhered to by the Soviet Government and accepted by the American Government, would render still more doubtful the ability of representatives of the American Government in the Soviet Union to protect and assist American citizens in that country and would constitute a further example of the reluctance, in fact refusal, of the Soviet Government to fulfill its written obligations.

At the time of establishment of relations it was definitely understood that the Soviet Union would be willing to make payments on the Russian debts to the United States and on American claims arising from property destruction and confiscation during and since the Revolution provided the United States Government would be willing to arrange for the granting of credits to the Soviet Government.99 A declaration was made to the effect that the exchange of views which had taken place with regard to methods of settling all outstanding questions of indebtedness and claims permitted the hope for a speedy and satisfactory solution of these questions. Negotiations were instituted for the purpose of reaching a definite agreement in regard to this matter shortly following the resumption of relations. It soon became evident that the Soviet officials were entirely indifferent to any settlement and that they had no intention of arriving at any agreement. Since the termination of the negotiations there have been no developments which have given this Government ground to believe that the re-opening of negotiations would serve any constructive purpose. In fact, the American Government feels that the Soviet Government acted in bad faith in being a party to the hope expressed in the joint statement of November 16, 1933,1 “for a speedy and satisfactory [Page 227] solution” of the question of indebtedness and claims when it later became obvious that such a hope was never seriously entertained by the Kremlin.

In addition to the above, there were various agreements of a lesser nature in which the Soviet Government has exhibited its lack of good faith. For example, prior to the establishment of a mission in Moscow, Mr. Litvinov gave Ambassador Bullitt definitely to understand that the Soviet Government was prepared to enter into an agreement whereby the American Embassy at Moscow would be able to obtain rubles from official sources at a reasonable rate of exchange and therefore would not be compelled, like other diplomatic missions in Moscow, to purchase Soviet currency from unauthorized sources. Following the establishment of the Embassy, the Soviet Government categorically refused to enter into any such arrangement.

In further regard to the question of American claims, it might also be pointed out that since the outbreak of the present war, property owned by American citizens has been nationalized or confiscated in certain territories of Eastern Poland, Finland and Rumania, and in Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania while those areas were under control of Soviet armed forces. In the case of Soviet-occupied Poland, the Soviet Foreign Office has informed the American Embassy at Moscow that since measures nationalizing land, banks and large industries had been approved and proclaimed before the formal incorporation of Soviet-occupied Poland into the Soviet Union, there was no basis for presentation to the Soviet Union of claims arising from such measures even though the property with respect to which such claims represented may subsequently have passed into the possession of organs of the Soviet Government.2 A similar pronouncement is expected with regard to the nationalization and confiscation of American property in Bessarabia and the Baltic States. The American Government has informed the Soviet Government that it holds and will hold the Soviet Government responsible for all losses to American citizens resulting from such acts of nationalization and confiscation and other acts injurious to property or interests of such nationals.3


soviet foreign relations with other countries

In its relations with other nations of the world, the Soviet Government has shown a like disregard for its obligations, written or tacit. It need only be recalled that the Soviet Union was the first great [Page 228] Power to ratify the Kellogg-Briand Pact4 which was put into effect between the U. S. S. R., Finland, Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania by the Litvinov Protocol of February 9, 1929.5 Moscow thereby bound itself “to renounce war as an instrument of national policy” and to seek “the solution of settlement of all disputes or conflicts only by pacific means”. The Soviet Union and Finland concluded an agreement on January 21, 1932, later extended to 1945, renouncing aggression,6 in which it was stated that the High Contracting Parties “declare that they will always seek to solve in a spirit of justice all conflicts of whatever character or origin which may arise between them, and that in the regulation of these conflicts they will resort exclusively to pacific means”. Similar treaties of non-aggression were signed with the other states adjacent to the Soviet Union.

In 1933 the Soviet Union signed an agreement with all its neighbors,7 including Finland, Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, and Rumania, to the effect that the aggressor in an international conflict would be considered the state which would be the first to (1) declare war against another state; (2) invade by armed forces even without a declaration of war; and (3) give aid to armed bands formed on the territory of a state and invading the territory of another state, etc. “No consideration of a political, military, economic or other nature can serve as an excuse of the justification of aggression.” In an appendix to this convention it was asserted that the internal position of any state, as, for example, its political, economic, or social structure; the alleged shortcomings of its administration; the international conduct of any state; a rupture of diplomatic or economic relations; border incidents, etc., may not be used to justify any act of aggression.

All of these obligations which the Soviet Union took the initiative of proposing were binding at the time of the invasion of Poland by the Red Army, of the Soviet-Finnish War and of the occupation by Soviet troops of Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania, as well as the Bessarabian and Bucovina provinces of Rumania. These obligations were wantonly swept aside in a manner legally and ethically indistinguishable from the aggressive acts committed by Germany, Italy, and Japan and the oft repeated pronouncements of the Soviet Government of its condemnation of war and its advocacy of peaceful relations with its neighbors have proved to be deceitful misrepresentations of its true [Page 229] policies. It now becomes clear that, in spite of repeated claims that the Soviet Union stands only for peace, the leaders of that country have never departed from the ultimate aim to enlarge their domain and to include under the Soviet system additional people and territories.

It should be borne in mind that the Communist state is based on the principle of revolution and class warfare; that the Kremlin is still irreconcilably hostile toward what it calls the “capitalist world”; and that its success in bringing under its rule most of the territories of the former Russias, as well as over a million square miles of China, has whetted its appetite for further territorial acquisitions.

It will be recalled that in the Spring and early Summer of 1939 the Soviet Union was negotiating with England and France over the possibility of rendering assistance, in case of aggression, to Poland and Rumania.8 It was later revealed that the Kremlin was simultaneously carrying on double dealings with Germany.9 The former Allies, it has subsequently been ascertained, refused to admit the right of the Soviet Union to interfere in the internal affairs of the Baltic States since it was realized that such a course would ultimately lead to the reduction of those States to Soviet satellites. Germany agreed to the Soviet domination of this area and the Soviet Union late in August suddenly and secretly joined the forces of Germany, thereby making war inevitable. The ensuing months witnessed the occupation by Soviet forces of parts of Poland, Finland and Rumania, as well as the Baltic States in their entirety in spite of the treaty obligations above mentioned.

final observations

Machiavellí defined the prudent ruler as one who “ought not to keep faith when by so doing it would be against his interests and when the reasons which made him bind himself no longer exist”. This definition applies in full to Stalin and his advisers. The Soviet Government, because of the situation in the Far East and for reasons of prestige, desired to resume diplomatic relations with the United States. Once this end had been obtained it did not hesitate to break those pledges which were made a condition of recognition. In a like manner, the Soviet Union signed non-aggression pacts with all its neighbors in order to ward off an aggression feared at that time. When it became apparent, however, that the forces of destruction were turned against the Western Democracies, the Kremlin did not hesitate to violate its written pledges and to subjugate its weaker neighbors. In view of the developments described above, it becomes apparent [Page 230] that no action or policy should be based upon the word of the Kremlin however solemnly pledged.

E. Page
  1. For the establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and the Soviet Union, see Foreign Relations, The Soviet Union, 1933–1939, pp. 1 ff.
  2. Maxim Maximovich Litvinov, Peopled Commissar for Foreign Affairs of the Soviet Union, 1930–39.
  3. For text of the protest, see press release issued by the Department of State, August 25, 1935, Foreign Relations, The Soviet Union, 1933–1939, p. 250; for correspondence, see ibid., pp. 218 ff.
  4. Regarding the arrest and detention of American citizens by the Soviet Government, see Foreign Relations, The Soviet Union, 1933–1939, pp. 904 ff.
  5. For correspondence concerning the detention of the steamer City of Flint and its crew at Murmansk, see Foreign Relations, The Soviet Union, 1933–1939, pp. 984 ff.
  6. For correspondence regarding the trouble in connection with the repatriation of American citizens, see Foreign Relations, 1939, vol. i, pp. 574 ff.
  7. The failure of the negotiations in regard to claims, debts, and credits is presented in Foreign Relations, The Soviet Union, 1933–1939, pp. 166 ff.
  8. Ibid., p. 37.
  9. See telegram No. 502, May 8, 5 p.m., from the Chargé in the Soviet Union, p. 197.
  10. See telegram No. 276, May 16, 6 p.m., to the Chargé in the Soviet Union, 201.
  11. Signed at Paris on August 27, 1928, Foreign Relations, 1928, vol. i, p. 153.
  12. Signed at Moscow, League of Nations Treaty Series, vol. lxxxix, p. 369.
  13. Signed at Helsinki, League of Nations Treaty Series, vol. clvii, p. 393; prolonged until December 31, 1945, by a protocol signed at Moscow on April 7, 1934, ibid., vol. clv, p. 325.
  14. The Soviet Union concluded a convention for the definition of aggression at London on July 3, 1933, with Estonia, Latvia, Poland, Rumania, Turkey, Iran, and Afghanistan; for text, see League of Nations Treaty Series, vol. cxlvii, p. 67. A similar convention with Lithuania was signed at London on July 5, 1933; for text, see ibid, vol. cxlviii, p. 79.
  15. See Foreign Relations, 1939, vol. i, pp. 232 ff.
  16. Regarding German-Soviet negotiations culminating in the treaty of nonaggression signed at Moscow on August 23, 1939, see ibid,., pp. 312 ff.