The Ambassador in the Soviet Union (Steinhardt) to the Secretary of State
[Received February 9—8:10 a.m.]
237. The British Ambassador told me last night that at his recent interview with Molotov (see my 227, February 5, 7 p.m.) the only subject of importance brought up by the latter had been a renewal of the Soviet request for the release of the Baltic ships and seized by the British Government. In this connection Cripps stated he had some time ago recommended that, inasmuch as the absorption of the Baltic States into the Soviet Union was a fait accompli which probably could not be undone, whatever the outcome of the war might be, it should retain under paid charter for the duration of the war all the ships except one which could be returned to the Soviet Union as a gesture and utilized at the same time for the repatriation of the crews of the other ship[s] and retain the Soviet gold in satisfaction of claims for British property nationalized in the Baltic States. He added that his Government had thus far been unwilling to accept his suggestion and that he does not expect any action in this matter in the near future.
The Ambassador stated that he has made absolutely no progress with the Soviet Government with respect to either political or economic matters and that he does not expect to make any in the immediate future. He also said that at the time of the appointment of Anthony Eden as Minister for Foreign Affairs10 he had renewed Ills request for authority to withdraw the trade proposals submitted by him to the Soviet authorities. Eden, however, had objected to the procedure on the grounds that the Soviet Government might regard the withdrawal so soon after his appointment as Foreign Minister as evidence of a change of British policy toward the Soviet Government. In this connection the Ambassador remarked that his Government is steadily applying more and more economic pressure against the Soviet Union in the expectation that eventually the Soviet authorities will resume trade negotiations and enter into a war trade agreement. He added that as London realizes more and more clearly that a policy of conciliation and appeasement with respect to the Soviet Government produces results diametrically opposite to those expected and that the Soviet Government responds more readily to an aggressive policy than to a policy of concessions the British attitude towards the Soviet Union is becoming stiffer.[Page 161]
With respect to imports into the Soviet Union from the United States and the Western Hemisphere in general, Cripps stated that the British Government is fully informed of the character and quantities of all such imports and that he personally felt no concern regarding the quantities thus far involved. Specifically, he stated that about 100,000 tons of American cotton have been received by the Soviet Union and that it is not to be doubted that the cotton was used to offset deliveries of Soviet cotton to Germany.
I judge from the Ambassador’s recent attitude and general remarks that he has not yet lost all of his illusions about the virtues of the Soviet Government, but that he has now reached the stage of obstinately clinging to some of his earlier beliefs while being forced to recognize that the natural intentions and conduct of the Soviet Government are very much at variance with those beliefs which he has long championed. He is now realistic and at times even bitter, but will suddenly defend indefensible acts of the Soviet Government. His present state of mind is characteristic of that of virtually every Chief of Mission whose initial approach to the Soviet Government has been one of belief in its sincerity, integrity, or honesty of purpose and has invariably eventually resulted in a deep-seated bitterness and hatred as distinguished from those individuals who have never had any illusions about the character of the Soviet Government.
- December 23, 1940.↩