740.0011 European War 1939/10176: Telegram

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

818. The British Ambassador told me last night in the strictest confidence that in response to a request made by him 3 days ago for an appointment with Molotov he had received the reply that Molotov “would no longer receive the British Ambassador”. Cripps thereupon requested and was granted an interview with Vyshinski who informed him that Molotov’s refusal to receive him was based on political rather than personal grounds.

Cripps attributes Molotov’s action to the realization that the Soviet Government must soon decide whether it will throw in its lot with Germany23 in which event the susceptibilities of the British Government need not be taken into account or to resist Germany, in which event Britain and the Soviet Union would virtually become allies. Cripps believes that under the circumstances the Soviet Government regards the present as its last opportunity to recover the Baltic ships and gold from England and that it has adopted this method of applying pressure upon the British Government to force an immediate settlement of that question.

The Ambassador also expressed the opinion that upon his return to Moscow the German Ambassador24 would present a series of demands almost in the nature of an ultimatum to the Soviet Government. He added that the only two demands to which if made he did not believe the Soviet authorities would agree, would be the cessation of territory or the demobilization of the Soviet Army.

According to remarks Cripps has made to me during the past few months, he has written some very severe notes to the Soviet Government [Page 165] including one in which he pointed out errors in Soviet foreign policy (see my 757, April 12, 8 p.m.25). While these notes have no doubt caused deep resentment against him and have seriously offended the Soviet authorities I am inclined to believe that the motive underlying Molotov’s rebuff was primarily political rather than personal. I do not however share the Ambassador’s opinion, that it can be attributed solely to an endeavor to force the surrender of a few million sterling in gold and ships at such a critical time as the present. I believe that it arises out of general rather than any specific considerations of Soviet policy.

I am also inclined to expect strong German pressure upon the Soviet Government following Von Schulenburg’s return to Moscow but I consider it unlikely that the German Ambassador who understands the Soviet psychology thoroughly would agree to his Government presenting any demands which would not permit the Soviet Government to save its face or which would so humiliate it in the eyes of the world and its own people as to virtually compel it to take up arms. He is much more likely correctly to advise the German Government as to just how far it can go without bringing about any such result.

On the other hand I consider it probable that the Soviet Government is prepared to yield to German pressure to a considerable extent in the hope of gaining time and that it intends to give the impression of acquiescence knowing full well that it will take the Germans some time to know to what extent any commitments undertaken by the Soviet Government are being carried out.

  1. See pp. 116 ff.
  2. Friedrich Werner, Count von der Schulenburg.
  3. Not printed.