Memorandum by the Chief of the Division of Eastern European Affairs (Bohlen)31

The full significance of the change in the People’s Commissariats For Foreign Affairs and Defense which accords the right to the sixteen constituent republics (including the three former Baltic States) to maintain diplomatic relations with foreign countries and have their own military units can only be assessed when the manner of implementation of this change is known. This change in itself does not mean a move towards greater decentralization and does not basically alter the constitutional structure of the Soviet Union. The centralized control of Moscow has never been exercised through the Governmental structure but through the Communist Party and will unquestionably continue to be exercised through Party channels. No basic structural change has been made in the Soviet constitutional structural machinery since Union-Republican Commissariats are the rule rather than the exception in the Soviet Government. It merely means that the Commissariat for Foreign Affairs, for example, formerly only an All-Union Commissariat speaking for the Union as a whole will now have what amounts to branch offices in the sixteen constituent republics. Thus you will have a Commissariat For Foreign Affairs of the USSR in Moscow the parent body and Commissariats For Foreign Affairs in the sixteen Republics.32

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Although the amendment to the Constitution introducing this change gives to each of the sixteen republics the theoretical right to maintain relations and to conduct negotiations with foreign governments, it is certain that this right will be exercised in accordance with Moscow’s decisions. Molotov in introducing the resolution spoke only of this right being exercised in economic and cultural matters where the special interests of individual republics are concerned. There is no evidence as yet to support the view that this will mean sixteen diplomatic representatives from the Soviet Union in the capitals of the world. The All-Union Commissariat will continue to speak for Russia in most international matters.

The right to maintain military establishment will not according to Molotov affect the primary responsibility of the All-Union Government for the armed forces of the Soviet Union which will probably merely mean the designation by name of units from the various constituent republics.

Some of the motives which lay behind this change are apparent, others will have to wait further developments. It is no accident that this change giving the appearance of greater independence to the constituent republics comes at a time when the Soviet Armies are on the border of the former Baltic Republics. At least one of the purposes is to make more palatable the reincorporation of the Baltic States33 since they will not now be absorbed by Russia but will be given on paper more of the appearance of semi-independent states with their own foreign offices and military establishments. It should also facilitate the public presentation of the incorporation of Eastern Poland which again will be Ukrainians and White Russians reuniting with a Ukrainian and White Russian republic rather than coming under the domination of Moscow.34 It is apparent in view of this light that the change is not only designed to render these territorial acquisitions more palatable to world opinion but also to the inhabitants of the areas concerned.

While there is nothing to prevent the Soviet Government from using these sixteen republics of the constituent republics to add more weight in international negotiation, this will probably be confined to certain special subjects and not to negotiations on a high political level (this change was forecast by reports from London of the Soviet insistence that if the British Dominions were represented on the War Crimes Commission so should the constituent republics of the Soviet Union). In actual practice it is probable that any one of the constituent republics will only maintain diplomatic relations with border countries [Page 813] with which they have special problems under, of course, the complete control and direction of Moscow. For example, White Russia and the Ukraine might well after the war maintain relations with Poland, the three Baltic Republics with Finland, the Central Asian republics with Afghanistan, and the Caucasian republics with Iran and Turkey.

There is no ground for believing that this change signifies a desire to make the incorporation of other territories any easier although it could obviously be useful if such were the desire. It must be remembered that all the areas affected have been thoroughly Sovietized and have been brought under the complete domination of Moscow. An attempt to apply this formula to non-Soviet areas would expose the Soviet Union to adverse criticism of imperialism without much real advantage.

From the internal point of view this change is a gesture in deference to the feelings of the national minorities within the Soviet Union. While the war has stimulated all over Europe, including the Soviet Union, the feeling of nationalism, the Soviet Government has drawn heavily on national feelings in its war propaganda and the Soviet press has almost exclusively expressed Russian nationalism. It is possible that some of the national minorities were becoming uneasy at the possibility of the recrudescence of great Russian chauvinism, and this move is designed to allay these fears in demonstrating that the Soviet national policy has not only not changed but is to be positively developed.

C. E. Bohlen
  1. This memorandum was sent to the Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, to James C. Dunn, the Director of the Office of European Affairs and also Acting Director of the Office of Special Political Affairs, and to H. Freeman Matthews, the Deputy Director of the Office of European Affairs. The Division of Eastern European Affairs had been abolished on June 16, 1937, and its functions made a part of the Division of European Affairs. It was reestablished in a reorganization of the Department of State by Departmental Order 1218 of January 15, 1944. See Department of State Bulletin, January 15, 1944, p. 55.
  2. In accordance with this law, the appointments of People’s Commissars of Foreign Affairs for each of the Soviet Socialist Republics of the Union were announced before the end of the year.
  3. For correspondence concerning the forcible occupation of the Baltic States and their incorporation into the Soviet Union, see Foreign Relations, 1940, vol. i, pp. 357 ff.
  4. In regard to the interest of the United States in the Polish Government in Exile, and in its relations with the Soviet Union, see vol. iii, pp. 1216 ff.