740.00119 (Potsdam)/8–945

No. 1378
Memorandum by the Executive Secretary of the Central Secretariat (Yost)1

top secret

Berlin Conference

Turkey and the Black Sea Straits

Soviet Policy

The Soviets presented a proposal2 providing for the revision of the Montreux Convention, for the control of the Straits by the Soviet Union and Turkey alone and for the establishment of Soviet bases on the Straits. Stalin said that they considered the Montreux Convention to be inimical to Russia in that it left Turkey free to block the Straits whenever she thought she was threatened. This meant that a small state had a great state by the throat and was a situation which would not be permitted by the United States in Panama or by Britain in the Suez. It is essential that Soviet shipping be able to pass to and from the Black Sea safely and Turkey was too weak to guarantee such passage in case complications arose. If it was thought that Soviet naval bases in the Straits would be unacceptable to the Turks, then the Soviets should have some other nearby base where the Russian fleet could refuel and where in cooperation with its allies it could protect the Straits. He did not consider a mere international guarantee of the freedom of the Straits to be adequate and was not sure that Turkey would accept such international control. The Soviets pointed out that international control of this kind is not applied to the Suez Canal. This phase of the matter is left undecided, the Protocol merely recording the agreement of all three governments that the Montreux Convention should be revised and stating that each of the three governments would have direct conversations with the Turkish Government on the question.3

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As to other phases of Soviet-Turkish relations, the Soviets maintained that the Turks had taken the initiative in seeking a treaty of alliance since such a treaty would involve a mutual guarantee of frontiers. The Soviets have replied that they could not enter into such an alliance as long as Kars and Ardahan, which had been snatched from the Soviet Union, remained a part of Turkey. They would not have raised this territorial question if the Turks had not asked for a treaty of alliance.

They insisted that the Turks had no reason to be alarmed as to Soviet intentions. They maintained that they had only 30,000 troops in Bulgaria which was far less than the Turks had on their European frontier. The one point on which the Soviets seemed to be adamant in connection with Turkey was for some arrangement which would give them effective control of passage through the Straits in time of war or emergency.

British Policy

The British exhibited grave anxiety in regard to Soviet intentions vis-à-vis Turkey. They first raised the question at the Conference and asked the Soviets for a statement of their intentions. Churchill expressed himself as quite willing to support a revision of the Montreux Convention with the participation of all the parties to that Convention except Japan. He stated that he felt it perfectly proper that there should be free passage of the Straits for Russian as for all other ships in time of war as in time of peace. He attached great importance to the President’s statement that the United States was prepared to join in an international guarantee of the free and unrestricted use of the Straits. He appeared to be strongly opposed to the establishment of Soviet bases on the Straits, though he couched his argument chiefly in terms of his belief that the Turks would never consent to such bases. He made it clear that the British would support the Turks in the protection of their legitimate rights. He urged strongly that the Soviets not take any action which would frighten the Turks, pointing out that the recent conversations in Moscow coupled with the presence of large numbers of Russian troops in Bulgaria had served to frighten the Turks. He seemed willing to support some form of international control of the Straits if that should prove to be a satisfactory means of settling the difficulty. In response to a remark by Molotov that there was no such international control of the Suez Canal, Churchill replied that the Suez was open to all ships of all nations at all times and that protection was maintained in accordance with a treaty freely concluded between Britain and Egypt.

There was little discussion of this question after the change in the British Government but from such discussion as there was it appeared that the Labor Ministers supported Churchill’s position.

  1. Printed from the ribbon copy, which is unsigned. For the minutes of the discussions summarized in this memorandum, see ante, pp. 256 258, 302 305, 365 367, 527, 577 578.
  2. Document No. 1369.
  3. See document No. 1383, section xvii (xvi).