Memorandum by the Acting Chief of the Division of Eastern European Affairs (Stevens)1


Pravda’s rebuke of Dimitrov has been the subject of telegrams from the missions in Moscow,2 Paris,3 Belgrade,4 and Budapest.5 Both Moscow and Paris believe that incorporation of the satellite states in the Soviet Union is the ultimate objective of Soviet policy, quite apart from the question whether federation among any of them may be an intermediate step. The Moscow Embassy expressed the view in its telegram no. 253 of February 9 that incorporation in the Soviet Union is contemplated only for the far distant future. Later, however, Ambassador Smith, in commenting on the Polish-Soviet economic agreement, emphasized that it was his considered opinion and that of all the other officers of the Embassy that Poland will be the first of the satellites to be incorporated into the Soviet Union, that the timing will depend on international developments, particularly the deepening of [Page 299] the division between East and West, and that “absorption might well take place in the not too distant future”.6

On the other hand, the Embassy in Belgrade (Belgrade’s 191, February 13) has questioned the hypothesis, not only on the basis of the advantages of flexibility in the present arrangements, but in view of the long-range considerations of stubborn economic ideas among the peasants, advanced political consciousness in all levels of the population, and the centrifugal forces of local nationalism.

If the hypothesis of the Moscow and Paris Embassies as to the ultimate Soviet goal is accepted, it would appear, as the Moscow Embassy has said with respect to Poland, that the timing will depend upon international developments. In this connection it is suggested that the move toward union in Western Europe, signalized by Bevin’s speech four days after Dimitrov’s original interview, may well have helped to crystallize the development of thinking in the Kremlin which is suggested in Moscow’s 253 of February 9. In other words, it may be that the seizure of the initiative by the U.S. through the ERP and the growing pressure toward union in Western Europe has speeded up the Soviet time-table for absorption of the satellites and caused the setting aside of the intermediate steps of confederation and possibly “pulverizing” (Paris’ 778 of February 12). It would seem to follow, therefore, that if substantial progress is made under the ERP and if decisive steps towards significant integration in Western Europe are taken, this Government should be prepared for sudden and perhaps surprising developments in Eastern Europe along the lines of outwardly spontaneous clamor by the peoples of the satellites to seek the protection of mother Russia through incorporation in a Soviet Union led by the RSFSR (which is more and more put forward as the leader in the Union).

If the hypothesis of the Moscow and Paris Embassies is borne out by events, and if it is confirmed that the Soviet time-table has been drastically speeded up, this Government will be confronted with a dangerous dilemma. The Soviet Union will be responding to the U.S. moves by creating a situation in which it will be impossible to restore the freedom of the satellites without destroying the Soviet state itself. It is possible that if the ERP and the move toward union in Western Europe give promise of early success, the Soviet Government may conclude that the considerations militating against absorption which are mentioned in Belgrade’s 191 of February 13 are outweighed by the necessity for presenting the West with a fait accompli which nothing short of war could undo. Thus the Soviet Union would have successfully [Page 300] parried the U.S. effort to restore a situation of fluidity in Central and Eastern Europe, and thus the inner logic of its development which makes compromise impossible for the police state and drives it to total defeat or total domination would have again asserted itself.

The foregoing analysis attempts to describe the situation which this Government would face if the hypothesis of the Moscow and Paris Embassies that the Soviet Union may desire to absorb the satellites is correct. In my opinion, however, the weight of evidence lies rather with the position which has been taken by the Belgrade Embassy. There is nothing in the historical Russian policy of the past or in Marxist ideology to support the theory that incorporation of the satellite states is, or is likely to become, a Soviet objective. Whenever Russian imperialism has encountered a strongly nationalistic people, such as the Finns or the Poles, the device has been to set up an autonomous administration in some form, in which a pretense of national government is created while control rests with Moscow. After 25 years of Ukrainian membership in the Soviet Union Ukrainian nationalists are still a thorn in the side of the Politburo. Incorporation of such stubborn and determined nationalists as the Poles, the Finns and the Hungarians, for example, would merely multiply the problems already existing with the obstinate Ukrainians.

In addition to the major problem of integrating these alien peoples into the Soviet Union, there are further objections to such a step:

In spite of the Soviet nationality policy, experience has shown that the top officials in the constituent republics of the Soviet Union are overwhelmingly Russian. If this development occurred in the satellite states, as it probably would following their incorporation into the Soviet Union, nationalist pride might well be fanned into open resistance.
The maintenance of individual states permits Soviet propaganda to capitalize on defense of the independence and sovereignty of small states and insures substantial support for the Soviet position at international conferences.
The economic, social and cultural levels in the satellites vary considerably. By preserving the present system, Soviet institutions can be introduced into the individual countries as local conditions dictate. Incorporation into the Soviet Union would probably result in an attempt to impose Soviet institutions at a uniform pace which might lead to serious complications.
The present system permits Moscow to exercise ultimate control without devoting too much attention to the details of local administration. At the same time it permits a facade of national government to be maintained. This enables the Soviets in large measure to have their cake and eat it too. It is submitted that the Soviet Union is unlikely to desire to exchange this smoothly working arrangement for the dubious advantages of incorporation.

Francis B. Stevens
  1. This memorandum was circulated to John D. Hickerson, Director of the Office of European Affairs, Llewellyn E. Thompson, Deputy Director of the Office of European Affairs, Charles E. Bohlen, Counselor of the Department of State, and George F. Kennan, Director of the Policy Planning Staff.
  2. Telegram 253, February 9, from Moscow, p. 293.
  3. Telegram 778, February 12, from Paris, not printed (870.00/2–1248).
  4. Supra.
  5. Telegram 218, February 11, from Budapest, p. 295.
  6. Ambassador Smith’s comments were made in telegram 282, February 12, from Moscow, not printed; for a summary of that message, see footnote 1, p. 814.