861.01/2303: Telegram

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

392. It is too early to understand fully the implications of the action of the Supreme Soviet in transforming the All-Union Commissariats for Defense and Foreign Affairs into Union-Republican Commissariats. In fact I doubt whether Soviet officials, even if they were willing to expose their minds, would be able to predict definitely the developments that may take place. Certain aspects, however, are already clear and in addition it is perhaps of use to the Department to discuss some of the possible motivations and implications, both immediate and for the future.

It is well known that Stalin personally has taken a keen interest in the nationality problems within the Soviet Union, coming as he does from the strongly nationalist Georgian Republic. There is nothing surprising, therefore, in his initiating moves in the direction of the preservation and stimulation of opportunities for expression of racial consciousness, provided always that it is used to unite rather than to divide the bonds which hold the Soviet Union together.

It is startling, of course, that defense and foreign affairs should have been selected for decentralization since, in our concept, these two functions have been traditionally considered functions to be exercised by Central to get [sic] authority.

[Page 821]

On the other hand, the constitution of the Soviet Union is a unique instrumentality of Government. Even where Union-Republican Commissariats have been set up, these are directed and dominated by Central Commissariats in Moscow. Although we have no definite information as to the extent of the autonomy of the existing Union Republican Commissariats, it is fair to assume that they vary with the particular functions of each commissariat and with the state of development of individual republics.

Underlying the constitutional structure is the Communist Party. It is not only the eyes and ears of the Kremlin throughout the Union, but is also the unquestioning instrument through which decisions are put across. In the background, too, there is the kind [NKVD]45 with its more direct methods of enforcing the Kremlin will.

Whatever the future may hold in store, these new methods are designed to strengthen central control of basic policies, although encouraging local expression of local interests.

Whatever the implications may be in international relations, these moves must be interpreted internally as the first of a series of measures to project the supreme leadership of Stalin resulting from the war into the post-war period.

I believe we can see more clearly the motivations for the decentralization of the Commissariat for Defense than for Foreign Affairs.

When I arrived in Moscow in October46 I had the strong impression that the Russian people were war-weary and that the Kremlin was gravely concerned. It is true that since that time the Moscow and Tehran Conferences and the brilliant victories of the Red Army have been used to stimulate renewed enthusiasm. Yet this move is a brilliantly conceived method of increasing interest in service in the Red Army and in production to support it. It has been historically difficult for Russia to draft certain of its populations into the army47 and the Soviets have only partially been able to overcome these local problems. Differences in language and Custom have made difficulties for the Red Army in incorporating different racial groups into one unit. The proposed scheme will facilitate the formation of divisions [Page 822] within Republics, of course always, as Molotov stated “constituent parts of the Red Army”. This device, too, will make it easier to gain general support for the maintenance of a substantial army after the war. It is certainly easier to convince young men that it is their duty to serve in locally organized units than in an impersonal Union army. The greater willingness of people generally to pay taxes during peace time for the support of an army of their own Republic is undoubtedly a consideration. Then, too, there may be concern over the growing political strength of the Red Army. The partial decentralization of the army and thereby the injection of political influence at a lower level would tend to minimize the army’s influence after the war.

From an internal standpoint the decentralization of Foreign Affairs, in addition to giving expression to national pride, will be a means of stimulating interest in international problems, settling to the satisfaction of each Republic the wide-flung individual problems with border states, and giving expression to international economic and cultural interests of the different Republics.

Mikoyan48 has told me that there was no plan nor need for change in the status of the Commissariat for Foreign Trade.

From an international standpoint this new machinery gives a double-barreled gun with which to deal with foreign countries, using whichever barrel may be most effective. I doubt if even the Soviets themselves can foresee the manner in which they will from time to time function. There can be no doubt that the Union will retain control of such matters as those discussed at Moscow and Tehran.

On the other hand, boundary disputes such as exist with Afghanistan will possibly be left to be worked out by the Tadzhik Republic Foreign Affairs Commissariat with the full strength of the Union standing in the background. Local border relationships generally such as between the Ukrainian Republic and Czechoslovakia and Poland could be currently worked out by the Ukrainian Commissariat. It is interesting that the Ukrainian ambitions for more extensive claims for territory than has been proposed by the Union are now advanced, probably for trading purposes.

The Soviets may believe that these moves toward autonomy may make the absorption of the Baltic States more palatable to the populations thereof and to world opinion. In addition, at the time when they want us to recognize the absorption of the Baltic States, Esthonia, Latvia and Lithuania may be expected to ask for an exchange of Ministers. The Union can remain detached from such questions until it feels it expedient to take a definite position.

The Soviets may well have in mind, as a by-product, the advantage of having more than one vote in international conferences, similar to [Page 823] the British Commonwealth and to what they appear to believe we have through the control they have publicly indicated they consider we have over the American Republics. This belief is revealed in an article in the December ’43 issue of War and the Working Class discussing the White Plan.49

Except in the case of the Baltic States and possibly Outer Mongolia, we have no indication, at least for the immediate future, that the constitutional changes have an imperialistic motivation by making it more attractive for new states to join the Union. I doubt whether there is a present desire to add to the racial indigestion of the Soviet Union by adding to their problems the difficulties of absorbing the Finns and the Poles. The Czech Treaty and the Tehran declaration commit the Soviet Union to the independence of these countries. The recent withdrawal of Soviet troops from Sinkiang is significant.50 Their attitude toward other countries has been made known to us. I have not heard any discussion about Outer Mongolia and it may or may not be a coincidence that the Premier of this country51 visited Moscow just before the recent session of the Supreme Soviet. On the other hand this question I believe deserves constant analysis, particularly in relation to the future.

Since Tehran, in spite of our difficulties over Poland and some other matters, I have found in my talk with Stalin and many conversations with Molotov no diminution in their desire for development of the closest relationship with us and the British and in world cooperation. Beneš’ reports give encouraging support to my impressions.

I am having lunch with Molotov Tuesday52 in honor of the British Ambassador’s53 return and will take this informal occasion to seek further enlightenment.

  1. Intended here is reference to the political police of the People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs (NKVD).
  2. W. Averell Harriman had presented his credentials and assumed charge of the Embassy in Moscow on October 23, 1943. See telegram 1502 of September 30, 1943, from Moscow, and footnote 99, Foreign Relations, 1943, vol. iii, p. 581.
  3. In his speech of February 1, transmitted to the Department by Moscow in telegram 359 of February 3, 1944, Molotov remarked that in tsarist times the Uzbeks, Kazakhs, Turkmens, Kirghiz, and a majority of the nationalities of the northern Caucasus, as well as the peoples of the north regions of the empire had not been called up for military service. Even at present only “partial inductions into the Red Army have been carried out in recent years in those regions of the Soviet Union where in the old days military inductions did not occur.” (861.01/2298)
  4. Anastas Ivanovich Mikoyan, People’s Commissar for Foreign Trade of the Soviet Union.
  5. The article by Academician Eugene Varga in War and the Working Class, No. 13 (1 December 1943), analyzed the White Plan critically on pp. 7–9. As early as 1942, Harry Dexter White, Special Assistant to Secretary of the Treasury Morgenthau, and Director of Monetary Research, had prepared a plan for an international stabilization fund and investment bank. This had been made public in April 1942 as a “Preliminary Draft Outline of Proposal for a United and Associated Nations Stabilization Fund.”

    In regard to preliminary and exploratory discussions on postwar monetary and financial arrangements, see Foreign Relations, 1943, vol. i, pp. 1054 ff.

  6. On this subject, see section entitled, “Political Conditions in China …”, Foreign Relations, 1943, China, pp. 191400, and entries in Index under “Sinkiang” ibid., p. 906.
  7. Marshal Khorloin Choibalsan, the Premier of the Mongolian People’s Republic, was reported to have arrived in Moscow on January 16, and to have had a meeting with Stalin on January 22, 1944.
  8. February 8.
  9. Sir Archibald Clark Kerr.