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What Was the Nazi-Soviet Pact and How Did It Affect Poland?

What Was the Nazi-Soviet Pact and How Did It Affect Poland?

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The Nazi-Soviet Pact was a non-aggression pact between Nazi Germany and the USSR. Also known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the agreement was signed in Moscow on 23 August 1939. It remained in effect for almost two years, until the Germans broke the pact on 22 June 1941 by invading the USSR.

The pact was a surprise to contemporary observers. The Nazis hated communism and the Soviets hated fascism. So why did these ideologically opposed powers enter into such an agreement?

The first Nazi-Soviet talks failed

In 1933, the Nazi party gained power in Germany and Hitler set about implementing his aggressive rearmament programme. Stalin considered creating an alliance with the increasingly powerful Nazi leader, but ideological differences prevented this from taking place.

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Instead, Stalin turned to western liberal democracies and joined the League of Nations in September 1934. Members of the League similarly opposed communism, but they accepted the USSR into the body as a potential ally against any future aggression from Nazi Germany.

Stalin grew impatient

Despite joining the League, Stalin opposed Britain and France’s appeasement policy, which he believed was encouraging the Nazis to march east against the Soviets.

In the spring of 1939, it seemed likely that Britain and France would soon be at war with Hitler, and Stalin feared German military aggression. In April of that year, the Soviet foreign minister, Maxim Litvinov, proposed a treaty of collective security between Britain, France and the USSR.

Russian foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov (left) and German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop (second from right) signed the pact on 23 August 1939.

The choice was easy: Stalin chose to ally with Hitler. The agreement seemingly marked the official end of Nazi-Soviet hostility. On 23 August 1939, German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop and Russian foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov signed the Nazi-Soviet Pact.

What happened to Poland?

A secret protocol in the pact stated that Germany and the USSR would divide and occupy Poland and bring their shares of the country under their respective spheres of influence. Both the Nazis and the Soviets subsequently invaded Poland.

Germany invaded Poland on 1 September 1939 and the campaign that followed was short yet destructive, with bombing raids devastating Poland’s physical landscape.

Hitler watches German troops marching into Poland during the so-called “September Campaign”. Credit: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-S55480 / CC-BY-SA 3.0

The Red Army likewise invaded the country on 17 September 1939. Poland was only able to resist for six weeks before surrendering on 6 October 1939.

Germany and the USSR subsequently divided Poland into separate occupation zones. The USSR annexed areas east of the Narew, Vistula and San rivers, while Germany annexed western Poland. The Nazis also united southern Poland with northern parts of Ukraine to create the “General Government”, a Nazi-occupied zone.

The aftermath

The pact remained in effect for almost two years. On 22 June 1941, it was declared void when Nazi Germany launched Operation Barbarossa and invaded the USSR. This was a crucial turning point in the war, as it led to the USSR joining the Allies in the fights against the Nazis and Axis powers.

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At the end of the war, the Red Army found itself entering Poland once again, only this time it was to liberate the Poles from Nazi occupation.

Even after the war, the Soviet government continued to deny the existence of the secret protocol to divide and occupy Poland. It was only revealed, acknowledged and denounced in 1989 with the fall of the USSR.

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At 4.45 am on 1 September 1939 the German battleship Schleswig-Holstein opened fire on the Polish garrison of the Westerplatte Fort, Danzig (modern-day Gdansk), in what was to become the first military engagement of World War Two. Simultaneously, 62 German divisions supported by 1,300 aircraft commenced the invasion of Poland.

The decision of Adolf Hitler to invade Poland was a gamble. The Wehrmacht (the German Army) was not yet at full strength and the German economy was still locked into peacetime production. As such, the invasion alarmed Hitler's generals and raised opposition to his command - and leaks of his war plans to Britain and France.

The decision . to invade Poland was a gamble.

Hitler's generals urged caution and asked for more time to complete the defences of the 'West Wall', in order to stem any British and French counter-offensive in the west while the bulk of the Wehrmacht was engaged in the east. Their leader dismissed their concerns, however, and demanded instead their total loyalty.

Hitler was confident that the invasion of Poland would result in a short, victorious war for two important reasons. First, he was convinced that the deployment of the world's first armoured corps would swiftly defeat the Polish armed forces in a blitzkrieg offensive. Secondly, he judged the British and French prime-ministers, Neville Chamberlain and Edouard Daladier, to be weak, indecisive leaders who would opt for a peace settlement rather than war.

Why Did Hitler Want the Pact?

Germany's participation in a two-front war in World War I had split its forces, weakening and undermining their offensive strength.

As he prepared for war in 1939, German dictator Adolf Hitler was determined not to repeat the same mistakes. While he'd hoped to acquire Poland without force (as he had annexed Austria the year before), the necessity to diminish the possibility of a two-front war as a consequence of the invasion was clear.

On the Soviet side, the pact followed the breakdown of British-Soviet-French negotiations for a tripartite alliance in early August 1939. According to Russian sources, the alliance failed because Poland and Romania refused to accept the passage of Soviet military forces across their territory but it is also true that Russian premier Joseph Stalin mistrusted British prime minister Neville Chamberlain and the Conservative party in England, and believed they would not fully support Russian interests.

Thus, negotiation for Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact was born.


In early 1939, several months before the invasion, the Soviet Union began strategic alliance negotiations with the United Kingdom and France against the crash militarization of Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler. In August 1939 the USSR made an offer to the United Kingdom and France to send "120 infantry divisions (each with some 19,000 troops), 16 cavalry divisions, 5,000 heavy artillery pieces, 9,500 tanks and up to 5,500 fighter aircraft and bombers on Germany's borders". [21] Since the USSR shared no border with Germany, this would effectively mean an overwhelming, voluntary occupation of the territories of Poland by the Red Army, which was previously the site of the Polish–Soviet War in 1920. The negotiations failed. [22]

As the terms were rejected, Joseph Stalin pursued the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact with Adolf Hitler, which was signed on 23 August 1939. This non-aggression pact contained a secret protocol, that drew up the division of Northern and Eastern Europe into German and Soviet spheres of influence in the event of war. [23] One week after the signing of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, German forces invaded Poland from the west, north, and south on 1 September 1939. Polish forces gradually withdrew to the southeast where they prepared for a long defense of the Romanian Bridgehead and awaited the French and British support and relief that they were expecting, but neither the French nor the British came to their rescue. On 17 September 1939 the Soviet Red Army invaded the Kresy regions in accordance with the secret protocol. [24] [Note 7]

At the opening of hostilities several Polish cities including Dubno, Łuck and Włodzimierz Wołyński let the Red Army in peacefully, convinced that it was marching on in order to fight the Germans. General Juliusz Rómmel of the Polish Army issued an unauthorised order to treat them like an ally before it was too late. [27] The Soviet government announced it was acting to protect the Ukrainians and Belarusians who lived in the eastern part of Poland, because the Polish state – according to Soviet propaganda – had collapsed in the face of the Nazi German attack and could no longer guarantee the security of its own citizens. [28] [29] [30] [31] Facing a second front, the Polish government concluded that the defense of the Romanian Bridgehead was no longer feasible and ordered an emergency evacuation of all uniformed troops to then-neutral Romania. [1]

The League of Nations and the peace treaties of the 1919 Paris Peace Conference did not, as it had been hoped, help to promote ideas of reconciliation along European ethnic lines. Epidemic nationalism, fierce political resentment in Central Europe (Germany, Austria, Hungary) where 100% of the population had in absentia been declared universally guilty, and post-colonial chauvinism (Italy) led to frenzied revanchism and territorial ambitions. [32] Józef Piłsudski sought to expand the Polish borders as far east as possible in an attempt to create a Polish-led federation, capable of countering future imperialist action on the part of Russia or Germany. [33] By 1920 the Bolsheviks had emerged victorious from the Russian Civil War and, de facto acquired exclusive control over the government and the regional administration. After all foreign interventions had been repelled, the Red Army, commanded by Trotsky and Stalin (among others) started to advance westward towards the disputed territories intending to encourage Communist movements in Western Europe. [34] The border skirmishes of 1919 progressively escalated and eventually culminated in the Polish–Soviet War in 1920. [35] Following the Polish victory upon the Battle of Warsaw, the Soviets sued for peace and the war ended with an armistice in October 1920. [36] The parties signed a formal peace treaty, the Peace of Riga, on 18 March 1921, dividing the disputed territories between Poland and Soviet Russia. [37] In an action that largely determined the Soviet-Polish border during the interwar period, the Soviets offered the Polish peace delegation territorial concessions in the contested borderland areas, that closely resembled the border between the Russian Empire and the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth before the first partition of 1772. [38] In the aftermath of the peace agreement, the Soviet leaders steadily abandoned the idea of international Communist revolution and did not return to the concept for approximately 20 years. [39] The Conference of Ambassadors and the international community (with the exception of Lithuania) recognized Poland's eastern frontiers in 1923. [40] [41]

Treaty negotiations Edit

German troops occupied Prague on 15 March 1939. In mid-April, the Soviet Union, Britain and France began trading diplomatic suggestions regarding a political and military agreement to counter potential further German aggression. [42] [43] Poland did not participate in these talks. [44] The tripartite discussions focused on possible guarantees to participating countries should German expansionism continue. [45] The Soviets did not trust the British or the French to honour a collective security agreement, because they had refused to react against the Nationalists during the Spanish Civil War and let the occupation of Czechoslovakia happen without effective opposition. The Soviet Union also suspected that Britain and France would seek to remain on the sidelines during any potential Nazi-Soviet conflict. [46] Stalin, however, had through his emissaries, been conducting secret talks with Nazi Germany as early as 1936 and according to Robert C. Grogin (author of Natural Enemies), a mutual understanding with Hitler had always been his preferred diplomatic solution. [47] The Soviet leader sought nothing short of an ironclad guarantee against losing his sphere of influence, [48] and aspired to create a north-south buffer zone from Finland to Romania, conveniently established in the event of an attack. [49] [50] The Soviets demanded the right to enter these countries in case of a security threat. [51] Talks on military matters, that had begun in mid-August, quickly stalled over the topic of Soviet troop passage through Poland in the event of a German attack. British and French officials pressured the Polish government to agree to the Soviet terms. [22] [52] However, Polish officials bluntly refused to allow Soviet troops to enter Polish territory upon expressing grave concerns that once Red Army troops had set foot on Polish soil, they might decline demands to leave. [53] Thereupon Soviet officials suggested that Poland's objections be ignored and that the tripartite agreements be concluded. [54] The British refused the proposal, fearing that such a move would encourage Poland to establish stronger bilateral relations with Germany. [55]

German officials had secretly been forwarding hints towards Soviet channels for months already, alluding that more favourable terms in a political agreement would be offered than Britain and France. [56] The Soviet Union had meanwhile started discussions with Nazi Germany regarding the establishment of an economic agreement while concurrently negotiating with those of the tripartite group. [56] By late July and early August 1939, Soviet and German diplomats had reached a near-complete consensus on the details for a planned economic agreement and addressed the potential for a desirable political accord. [57] On 19 August 1939, German and Soviet officials concluded the 1939 German–Soviet Commercial Agreement, a mutually beneficial economic treaty that envisaged the trade and exchange of Soviet raw materials for German weapons, military technology and civilian machinery. Two days later, the Soviet Union suspended the tripartite military talks. [56] [58] On 24 August, the Soviet Union and Germany signed the political and military arrangements following the trade agreement, in the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. This pact included terms of mutual non-aggression and contained secret protocols, that regulated detailed plans for the division of the states of northern and eastern Europe into German and Soviet spheres of influence. The Soviet sphere initially included Latvia, Estonia and Finland. [Note 8] Germany and the Soviet Union would partition Poland. The territories east of the Pisa, Narev, Vistula, and San rivers would fall to the Soviet Union. The pact also provided designs for the Soviet participation in the invasion, [25] that included the opportunity to regain territories ceded to Poland in the Peace of Riga of 1921. The Soviet planners would enlarge the Ukrainian and Belarusian republics to subjugate the entire eastern half of Poland without the threat of disagreement with Adolf Hitler. [61] [62]

One day after the German-Soviet pact had been signed, French and British military delegations urgently requested a meeting with Soviet military negotiator Kliment Voroshilov. [63] On 25 August Voroshilov acknowledged, that "in view of the changed political situation, no useful purpose can be served in continuing the conversation." [63] On the same day, however, Britain and Poland signed the British-Polish Pact of Mutual Assistance, [64] which adjudicated, that Britain commit itself to defend and preserve Poland's sovereignty and independence. [64]

Hitler tried to dissuade Britain and France from interfering in the upcoming conflict and on 26 August 1939 proposed to make Wehrmacht forces available to Britain in the future. [65] At midnight of 29 August, German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop handed British Ambassador Nevile Henderson a list of terms that would allegedly ensure peace with regards to Poland. [66] Under the terms, Poland was to hand over Danzig (Gdańsk) to Germany and within a year there was a plebiscite (referendum) to be held in the Polish Corridor, based on residency and demography of the year 1919. [66] When the Polish Ambassador Lipski, who met Ribbentrop on 30 August, declared that he did not have the authority to approve of these demands on his own, Ribbentrop dismissed him [67] and his foreign office announced that Poland had rejected the German offer and further negotiations with Poland were abandoned. [68] On 31 August, in a false flag operation German units, posing as regular Polish troops, staged the Gleiwitz incident near the border town of Gleiwitz in Silesia. [69] [70] On the following day (1 September) Hitler announced, that official military actions against Poland had commenced at 4:45 a.m. [67] German air forces bombarded the cities Lwow and Łuck. [71] Polish security service personnel carried out arrests among Ukrainian intelligentsia in Lwow and Przemysl. [71]

On 1 September 1939 at 11:00 a.m. Moscow time, the counselor of the German embassy in Moscow, Gustav Hilger arrived at the People's Commissariat of Foreign Affairs and formally annunciated the beginning of the German–Polish War, the annexation of Danzig (Gdańsk) as he conveyed a request of the chief of the OKL General Staff that the radio station in Minsk provide signal support. [72] The Soviet side partially adhered to the request. [72] On the same day an extraordinary session of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union confirmed the adoption of its "Universal Military Duty Act for males aged 17 years and 8 months old", by which the service draft act of 1937 was extended for another year. [72] Furthermore, the Politburo of the Communist Party approved the proposal of the People's Commissariat of Defense, which envisaged, that the Red Army's existing 51 rifle divisions were to be supplemented to a total strength of 76 rifle divisions of 6,000 men, plus 13 mountain divisions and another 33 ordinary rifle divisions of 3,000 men. [72]

On 2 September 1939 the German Army Group North carried out a maneuver to envelop the forces of the Polish (Pomorze Army) that defended the "Polish Corridor" [72] with the result, that the Polish commander General Władysław Bortnowski lost communication with his divisions. [72] The break-through of armored contingents of the German Army Group South near the city of Częstochowa sought to defeat the Polish 6th Infantry Division south of Katowice where the German 5th Armored Division had broken through towards Oświęcim, that captured fuel depots and seized equipment warehouses. [72] To the east detachments of 18th corps of the German 14th Army crossed the Polish–Slovak border near Dukla Pass. [72] The government of the Soviet Union issued directive No. 1355-279сс that approved of the "Reorganization plan of the Red Army ground forces of 1939–1940", [72] which regulated detailed division transfers and updated territorial deployment plans for all the 173 future Red Army combat divisions. [72] In addition to the reorganized infantry, the number of corps artillery and the reserve of the Supreme High Command artillery was increased while the number of service units, rear units and institutions was to be reduced. [72] By the evening of 2 September enhanced defense and security measures were implemented at the Polish–Soviet border. [72] Per instruction No. 1720 of the border troop commander in the Belorussian Military District, all detachments were set to permanent combat-ready status. [72]

The governments of allied Britain and France declared war on Germany on 3 September, but neither undertook agreed-upon military action nor provided any substantial support for Poland. [73] [74] Despite notable Polish success in local border battles, German technical, operational and numerical superiority eventually required the retreat of all Polish forces from the borders towards shorter lines of defense at Warsaw and Lwów. On the same day (3 September), the new Soviet Ambassador in Berlin Aleksei Shkvartsev handed his letter of credence to Adolf Hitler. [72] During the initiation ceremony Shkvartsev and Hitler reassured each other on their commitment to fulfill the terms of the non-aggression agreement. [72] Foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop commissioned the German Embassy in Moscow with the assessment of and the report on the likelihood of Soviet intentions for a Red Army invasion into Poland. [72]

On 4 September 1939 all German navy units in the northern Atlantic Ocean received order "to follow to Murmansk, via the northernmost course". [72] On the same day, the Central Committee of the Communist Party and the government of the Soviet Union approved of the People's Commissar of Defense Kliment Voroshilov's orders to delay retirement and dismissal of Red Army personnel and young commanders for one month and to initiate full-scale training for all air defense detachments and staff in Leningrad, Moscow, Kharkov, in Belorussia and the Kiev Military District. [72]

On 5 September 1939 the People's Commissar of Foreign Affairs Vyacheslav Molotov received the German Ambassador Friedrich Werner von der Schulenburg. [72] Upon the ambassador's inquiry with regards to a possible deployment of the Red Army into Poland, Molotov answered that the Soviet government "will definitely have to. start specific actions" at the right time. "But we believe that this moment has not yet come" and "any haste may ruin things and facilitate the rallying of opponents". [72]

On 10 September, the Polish commander-in-chief, Marshal Edward Rydz-Śmigły, ordered a general retreat to the southeast towards the Romanian Bridgehead. [75] Soon after, Nazi German officials further urged their Soviet counterparts to uphold their agreed-upon part and attack Poland from the east. Molotov and ambassador von der Schulenburg discussed the matter repeatedly but the Soviet Union nevertheless delayed the invasion of eastern Poland, while being occupied with events unfolding in the Far East in relation to the ongoing border disputes with Japan. The Soviet Union needed time to mobilize the Red Army and utilized the diplomatic advantage of waiting to attack after Poland had disintegrated. [76] [77]

On 14 September, with Poland's collapse at hand, the first statements on a conflict with Poland appeared in the Soviet press. [78] The undeclared war between the Soviet Union and the Empire of Japan at the Battles of Khalkhin Gol had ended with the Molotov–Tojo agreement, signed on 15 September as a ceasefire took effect on 16 September. [79] [78] On 17 September, Molotov delivered a declaration of war to Wacław Grzybowski, the Polish Ambassador in Moscow:

Warsaw, as the capital of Poland, no longer exists. The Polish Government has disintegrated, and no longer shows any sign of operation. This means that the Polish State and its Government have, de facto, ceased to exist. Accordingly, the agreements concluded between the USSR and Poland have thus lost their validity. Left to her own devices and bereft of leadership, Poland has become a suitable field for all kinds of hazards and surprises, which may constitute a threat to the USSR. For these reasons the Soviet Government, who has hitherto been neutral, can no longer preserve a neutral attitude and ignore these facts. . Under these circumstances, the Soviet Government has directed the High Command of the Red Army to order troops to cross the frontier and to take under their protection the life and property of the population of Western Ukraine and Western Belarus. — People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs of the U.S.S.R. V. Molotov, 17 September 1939 [80]

Molotov declared via public radio broadcast that all treaties between the Soviet Union and Poland had become void, that the Polish government had abandoned its people as the Polish state had effectively ceased to exist. [31] [81] On the same day, the Red Army crossed the border into Poland. [1] [76]

Poles Apart: Putin, Poland and the Nazi-Soviet Pact

Geoffrey Roberts is Emeritus Professor of History at University College Cork, National University of Ireland. His latest book (co-authored by Marin Folly and Oleg Rzheshevsky) is Churchill and Stalin: Comrades-in-Arms during the Second World War.

As the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II approaches, two of that war&rsquos main victims &ndash Poland and Russia &ndash are once again embroiled in a highly emotional dispute about its origins. At the heart of the matter is the perennial controversy about the Nazi-Soviet pact of 23 August 1939.

The polemics were kick-started by President Vladimir Putin when he was asked about the European Parliament&rsquos resolution on the 80th anniversary of the outbreak of World War II at press conference in Moscow on 19 December. Putin deemed the resolution unacceptable because it equated the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany and accused its authors of being cynical and ignorant of history. He highlighted instead the Munich agreement of September 1938 and Poland&rsquos participation in the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia. The Soviet-German non-aggression treaty was not the only such agreement made by Hitler with other states. Yes, said Putin, there were secret protocols dividing Poland between Germany and the USSR but Soviet troops only entered Poland after its government had collapsed.

This is not the first time Putin has made such arguments. He made many similar points in 2009 on the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of war. But his tone then was conciliatory rather than combative. At the commemoration event in Gdansk, Putin stressed the common struggles of Poles and Russians and called for the outbreak of the war to be examined in all its complexity and diversity. Every country had been at fault, not just the Soviet Union: &ldquoit has to be admitted that all attempts made between 1934 and 1939 to appease the Nazis with various agreements and pacts were morally unacceptable and practically meaningless as well as harmful and dangerous.&rdquo

Responding to Putin, the then Polish Prime Minister, Donald Tusk, stressed that on 1st September 1939 his country was attacked by Germany and then two weeks later, invaded by the Soviet Union. But Tusk also emphasised that while &ldquotruth may be painful, it should not humiliate anyone.&rdquo

The day after his news conference in Moscow, Putin addressed leaders of the Commonwealth of Independent States at a meeting in St Petersburg convened to discuss preparations for the 75th anniversary. Putin used the occasion to deliver a long analysis of what led to the outbreak of war in September 1939, including detailed citations from many diplomatic documents.

One document that caught Putin&rsquos eye was a September 1938 dispatch from Jozef Lipski, the Polish ambassador in Berlin, reporting on a talk with Hitler. During the conversation Hitler said that he was thinking of settling the Jewish issue by getting them emigrate to a colony. Lipski responded that if Hitler found a solution to the Jewish question the Poles would build a beautiful monument to him in Warsaw. &ldquoWhat kind of people are those who hold such conversations with Hitler?", asked Putin. The same kind, he averred, who now desecrate the graves and monuments of the Soviet soldiers who had liberated Europe from the Nazis.

The main point of Putin&rsquos trawl through the British, French, German, Polish and Soviet archives was to show that all states had done business with the Nazis in the 1930s, not least Poland, which sought rapprochement with Hitler as part of an anti-Soviet alliance. Putin linked this history to present-day politics: &ldquoRussia is used to scare people. Be it Tsarist, Soviet or today&rsquos &ndash nothing has changed. It does not matter what kind of country Russia is &ndash the rationale remains.&rdquo

Putin vigorously defended Soviet foreign policy in the 1930s. According to the Russian President, Moscow sought a collective security alliance against Hitler but its efforts were rebuffed, most importantly during the Czechoslovakian crisis of 1938 when the Soviets were prepared to go to war in defence of the country, provided France did the same. But the French linked their actions to that of the Poles, and Warsaw was busily scheming to grab some Czechoslovak territory. In Putin&rsquos view the Second World War could have been averted if states had stood up to Hitler in 1938.

In relation to the Nazi-Soviet pact, while Putin accepted there was a secret protocol, he suggested that hidden in the archives of western states there might be confidential agreements that they had made with Hitler. He also reiterated that the Soviet Union had not really invaded Poland, adding that the Red Army&rsquos action had saved many Jews from extermination by the Nazis.

Putin returned to the subject of the war&rsquos origins at a meeting of Russia&rsquos Defence Ministry Board on 24 December: &ldquoYes, the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was signed and there was also a secret protocol which defined spheres of influence. But what had European countries been doing before that? The same. They had all done the same things&rdquo. But what hit him hardest, Putin told his colleagues, was the Lipski report: &ldquoThat bastard! That anti-Semitic pig &ndash I have no other words&rdquo.

To be fair to Putin there is more to his view of history than pointing the finger at Poland and the west. He also identified more profound causes of the Second World War, including the punitive Versailles peace treaty that encouraged &ldquoa radical and revanchist mood&rdquo in Germany, and the creation of new states that gave rise to many conflicts, notably in Czechoslovakia, which contained a 3.5 million-strong German minority.

Poland&rsquos first response to Putin&rsquos furious philippics was a statement by its foreign ministry on 21 December, expressing disbelief at the Russian President&rsquos statements. Poland, the foreign ministry said, had a balanced policy towards Germany and the Soviet Union in the 1930s, signing non-aggression pacts with both countries. &ldquoDespite the peaceful policy pursued by the Republic of Poland, the Soviet Union took direct steps to trigger war and at the same time committed mass-scale crimes&rdquo.

According the Polish foreign ministry the crucial chronology of events was that in January 1939 the Germans made their claims against Poland in mid-April the Soviet ambassador offered Berlin political co-operation and at the end of April Hitler repudiated the German-Polish non-aggression pact in August the Nazi-Soviet pact was signed in September Germany and the USSR invaded Poland and then signed a Boundary and Friendship Treaty that formalised Poland&rsquos partition.

Among Soviet crimes against Poland was the mass repression of Poles in the territories occupied by the Red Army, including 107,000 arrests, 380, 000 deportations and, in spring 1940, 22,000 executions of Polish POWs and officials at Katyn and other murder sites.

On 29 December 2019 Polish Prime Minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, issued a statement, noting that Poland was the war&rsquos first victim, &ldquothe first to experience the armed aggression of both Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, and the first that fought in defense of a free Europe.&rdquo The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was not a non-aggression agreement but a military and political alliance of two dictators and their totalitarian regimes. &ldquoWithout Stalin&rsquos complicity in the partitioning of Poland, and without the natural resources that Stalin supplied to Hitler, the Nazi German crime machine would not have taken control of Europe. Thanks to Stalin, Hitler could conquer new countries with impunity, imprison Jews from all over the continent in ghettos and prepare the Holocaust&rdquo.

Morawiecki pulled no punches in relation to Putin: &ldquoPresident Putin has lied about Poland on numerous occasions, and he has always done so deliberately.&rdquo According to Morawiecki, Putin&rsquos &ldquoslander&rdquo was designed to distract attention from political setbacks suffered by the Russian President, such as US sanctions against the Nord Stream 2 oil pipeline project and the World Anti-Doping Agency&rsquos banning of Russia from international sporting events for four years.

All states like to present themselves as victims rather than perpetrators and this not the first time Poland and Russia have clashed over the Nazi-Soviet pact. The piquancy of the polemics is obviously related to the dire state of Russian-Western relations and to the presence in Warsaw of a radical nationalist government.

But how should we evaluate the historical content of these exchanges? My first book, published in 1989 on the 50th anniversary of the Nazi-Soviet pact, was The Unholy Alliance: Stalin&rsquos Pact with Hitler. Since then I have written many more books and articles about the Nazi-Soviet pact. My research has led me to conclude that Putin is broadly right in relation to the history of Soviet foreign policy in the 1930s but deficient in his analysis of the Nazi-Soviet pact.

After Hitler came to power in 1933 the Soviets did strive for collective security alliances to contain Nazi aggression and expansionism. Moscow did stand by Czechoslovakia in 1938 and was prepared to go war with Germany.

After Munich the Soviets retreated into isolation but Hitler&rsquos occupation of Prague in March 1939 presented an opportunity to relaunch their collective security campaign. In April Moscow proposed an Anglo-Soviet-French triple alliance that would guarantee the security of all European states under threat from Hitler, including Poland.

Some historians have questioned the sincerity of Moscow&rsquos triple alliance proposal but extensive evidence from the Soviet archives shows that it was Stalin&rsquos preferred option until quite late in the day. The problem was that Britain and France dragged their feet during the negotiations and as war grew closer so did Stalin doubts about the utility of a Soviet-Western alliance. Fearful the Soviet Union would be left to fight Hitler alone while Britain and France stood on the sidelines, Stalin decided to do a deal with Hitler -that kept the USSR out of the coming war and provided some guarantees for Soviet security.

The Soviets were not as proactive as they might have been in trying to persuade the British and French to accept their proposals. Some scholars argue this was because the Soviets were busy wooing the Germans. However, until August 1939 all the approaches came from the German side, which was desperate to disrupt the triple alliance negotiations. The political overture of April 1939 mentioned in the Polish foreign ministry statement is a case in point: the initiative came from the Germans not the Soviets.

One state that Moscow did actively pursue in 1939 was Poland. The bad blood in Soviet-Polish relations notwithstanding, after Munich the two states attempted to improve relations. When Hitler turned against Poland in spring 1939 Moscow made many approaches to Warsaw, trying to persuade the Poles to sign up to its triple alliance project. But Warsaw did not want or think it needed an alliance with the USSR given that it had the backing of Britain and France.

The failure of this incipient Polish-Soviet détente sealed the fate of the triple alliance negotiations, which broke down when the British and French were unable to guarantee Warsaw&rsquos consent to the entry of the Red Army into Poland in the event of war with Germany.

After the signature of the Nazi-Soviet pact there was extensive political, economic and military co-operation between the Soviet Union and Germany. Most people see this as a tactical manoeuvre by Stalin to gain time to prepare for a German attack. However, I have argued that in 1939-1940 Stalin contemplated the possibility of long-term co-existence with Nazi Germany.

Putin makes the point that Stalin did not sully himself with meeting Hitler, unlike British, French and Polish leaders. True, but Stalin received Nazi Foreign Minister Ribbentrop twice - in August and September 1939 - and in November 1940 he sent his foreign minister, Molotov, to Berlin to negotiate a new Nazi-Soviet pact with Hitler. It was the failure of those negotiations that set Soviet-German relations on the path to war.

The first clause of the secret protocol attached to the Soviet-German non-aggression treaty concerned the Baltic states. Throughout the triple alliance negotiations Moscow&rsquos major security concern was a German military advance across the Baltic coastal lands to Leningrad. With the signature of the Nazi-Soviet pact that Baltic door to German expansion was locked by a spheres of influence agreement that allocated Latvia, Estonia and Finland to the Soviet sphere. Lithuania remained in Germany&rsquos sphere but was transferred to the Soviets in September 1939.

It was the second clause of the protocol that divided Poland into Soviet and German spheres but this should not be seen as a definite decision to partition Poland, though that possibility was certainly present. The protocol limited German expansion into Poland but did not specify the two states would annex their spheres of influence. The actions of both states in that respect would be determined by the course of the German-Polish war. In the event, Poland was rapidly crushed by the Germans, while the British and French did little to aid their ally except declare war on Germany. It was in those circumstances that Berlin pressed the Soviets to occupy Eastern Poland. Stalin was not ready, politically or militarily, to take that step but he knew that if the Red Army did not occupy the territory then the Wehrmacht would.

Putin glosses over the fact that the Red Army&rsquos entry into Poland was a massive military operation involving a half million troops. Large-scale clashes with Polish forces were averted only because Poland&rsquos commander-in-chief ordered his troops not to fire on Red Army. Even so, the Red Army suffered 3000 casualties including a thousand dead.

Often accused of parroting the Soviet line, Putin did not invoke the most potent argument that Moscow used to rationalise its attack on Poland, which was that the Red Army was entering the country to liberate Western Belorussia and Western Ukraine.

Poland&rsquos eastern territories had been secured as a result of the Russo-Polish war of 1919-1920. These territories lay east of the Curzon Line &ndash the ethnographical frontier between Russia and Poland demarcated at Versailles. The majority of the population were Jews, Belorussians and Ukrainians and many welcomed the Red Army as liberators from Polish rule. Such enthusiasm did not outlast the violent process of sovietisation through which the occupied territories were incorporated into the USSR as part of a unified Belorussia and a unified Ukraine.

During the Second World War Stalin insisted that the Curzon Line would be the border between Poland and the USSR &ndash a position that was eventually accepted by Britain and the United States. As compensation for its territorial losses Poland was given East Prussia and other parts of Germany. The result of this transfer was the brutal displacement of millions of Germans from their ancestral lands.

History is rarely as simple as polemicizing politicians would like it to be. Both sides of the Russo-Polish dispute have some valid arguments neither has a monopoly of what is a bitter truth. The Nazi-Soviet pact is a fact but so is Polish collaboration with Hitler in the 1930s. The Soviet Union did cooperate with Nazi Germany but it also played the main role in the defeat of Hitler. Stalin was responsible for vast mass repressions but he was not a racist or genocidal dictator and nor was he a warmonger. The Red Army&rsquos invasion of Eastern Poland was reprehensible but it also unified Belorussia and Ukraine. During the Second World War the Red Army was responsible for many atrocities but it did not commit mass murder and it did, together with its allies, liberate Europe from the Nazis.

Politicians will always use the past for political purposes. But in 2009 Putin came quite close to a balanced view about the Nazi-Soviet pact, as did Tusk in his measured rejoinder. Let&rsquos hope that Poland and Russia can find their way back to such middle ground.

The victory over Nazi Germany required enormous sacrifices by both countries. Surely it is possible to celebrate this common victory with dignity and with respect for differences about its complicated history.

How Stalin and Hitler Carved Up Poland (And Changed History Forever)

The nonagression pact paved the way for both countries to focus on domesic and expansionist priorities.

Key point: Niether country trusted each other. But they also wanted to give themselves time to attend to other matters (and build up militarily).

On August 23, 1939, Soviet Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, V.P. Potemkin, waited at the Moscow Airport for Joachim von Ribbentrop, Foreign Minister of Nazi Germany. He warmly greeted the former champagne salesman and then whisked him away for a clandestine meeting at the Kremlin.

Waiting to receive the emissary were Soviet strongman Josef Stalin and his granite-faced foreign minister, Vyacheslav Molotov. They concluded what became known as the Nazi-Soviet Nonaggression Pact. Included were provisions governing the transfer of raw materials from the Soviet Union in exchange for manufactured goods from Germany. But, more importantly, the pact was a protocol establishing each signatory’s sphere of influence. This included Poland. Hitler and Stalin did not merely intend to partition their neighbor, they meant to wipe the country off the map. The Germans would begin to close the vise on September 1, advancing to Brest-Litovsk. The Soviets would close the eastern jaws on September 17 until Poland was gobbled up. As an added inducement for Stalin’s compliance, Hitler agreed that Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and Bessarabia, which was on the eastern edge of Romania, would be included in the Soviet sphere of influence.

This first appeared earlier and is being reposted due to reader interest.

The pact was signed at 2 am on the 24th. The two dictators not only sealed Poland’s fate but set in motion a chain of events that would soon engulf the globe in World War II.

Bottles of champagne were opened to toast the historic moment. Stalin raised his glass to Hitler’s health. “A fine fellow,” remarked the Soviet dictator. Yet, 21 months later the pact would prove to be just another scrap of paper, for Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union would collide in a titanic struggle that was to become the greatest land war in history.

The Rise of Fascism, the Decline of the Allied Powers

By 1939, Italy, once in the Allied camp, was now a Fascist power under the sway of a swaggering brute named Benito Mussolini. Another former Allied power, Japan, was now militaristic, a self-serving belligerent selling itself to the masses of Asia as their deliverer from the bondage of the white man, while masking the brutal reality of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. The United States seemed hopelessly absorbed in its delusion of self-quarantine and was determined not to mire itself in European politics.

This left Britain and France. Heart and soul of the Allied effort during the Great War, they were able to maintain the façade as power brokers at Versailles but emerged from the four-year contest of attrition as had many of their soldiers—as permanent invalids. And while they were hardly terminal, their economies were still unwell, playing host to cankers of damage and debt in addition to being socially scarred from the unremitting bloodletting of the trenches, they hobbled along for the next 10 years until the Great Depression.

France, in particular, never seemed to emerge from either. Indeed, it seemed to seek solace in a bunker mentality induced by the Maginot Line, that impenetrable shield of France, a marvel of 20th-century construction with its underground railways, air conditioning system, and fixed fortifications which proved little better than monuments during the coming era of mobile warfare.

Hitler seemed to sense the weakness, testing the waters on March 7, 1936, with his occupation of the demilitarized Rhineland in direct contravention of the spirit of the Versailles and Locarno Treaties.

Common belief holds that the French reaction or lack thereof to the German provocation was owing to a lack of intestinal fortitude, girded by nightmares of Verdun. A policy memorandum of Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden dated March 8, 1936, shows the British government counseling diplomatic action, urging the French not to scale up to a military riposte to which French Foreign Minister Pierre Flandin stated that France would not act alone. Rather, Paris would take the matter to the League of Nations.

There is, however, another side to this story: the lingering effect of the Great Depression. The French were concerned with their economy and currency. They desperately needed investors like Britain and, in particular, the United States to help bolster the franc. Foreign investment in the franc was hardly possible if Paris was mobilizing for war.

Hitler had won his game of brinkmanship. With just a couple of untried battalions, he had faced down 100 French divisions, throwing cold water on the doubts of his nervous generals and sending his stature soaring among masses of the German people while exposing the fragility of Anglo-French cohesion and the debility of the Versailles and Locarno Treaties.

Chipping Away at the European Security Order

Such trysts of gamesmanship played by an opportunistic Hitler brought Europe to the brink. His understanding of history spurred him to isolate that colossal power to the East, Soviet Russia. The Hitler-Stalin honeymoon fractured the European balance of power, removed the Red Army as a counterweight to German ambitions, compromised Moscow’s membership in the League of Nations, and revisited British and French ostracizing of the Soviet colossus from European politics at Versailles.

Adolf Hitler assumed the chancellorship of Germany on January 30, 1933. He relied on diplomacy to advance the interests of Germany because he lacked the military muscle for a more belligerent posture. For instance, he ended the clandestine Soviet-German military cooperation of the 1920s. Yet on May 5, Germany and the Soviet Union renewed the 1926 Treaty of Berlin. On January 26, 1934, Hitler signed a nonaggression pact with Poland. On September 18, 1934, the Soviets joined the League of Nations, Germany having withdrawn from the diplomatic fraternity the previous October.

By forging a nonaggression pact with Poland, Hitler prevented Warsaw and Paris from reaching an agreement that would have sandwiched a prostrate Germany and blocked any potential deal between Warsaw and Moscow. This, of course, raised serious doubts in the Kremlin as to German-Polish intentions. The idea of collective security proved attractive, hence Moscow’s long overdue membership in the League.

Yet, by the Spanish Civil War it was abundantly clear that Rome and Berlin intended to spread the Fascist creed like a plague across Europe. German and Italian involvement in Spain’s conflict, in the face of British and French neutrality, seemed another step toward the eventual isolation of the Soviet Union. Moscow, then, threw its support to the Republicans against Francisco Franco’s Nationalists. For Germany, Italy, and Soviet Russia, the contentious Iberian Peninsula offered that battlefield laboratory for new weapons and tactics in preparation for the main event that was sure to come.

Five years after assuming power, Hitler felt more confident, having successfully affected the Anschluss with his homeland Austria on March 13, 1938, followed seven months later by adding the Sudetenland to the Reich from a friendless Czechoslovakia. Too late did the British and French understand the meaning of “no more territorial claims” when Hitler snatched Bohemia and Moravia on March 14-15, 1939, helping to complete the destruction of Czechoslovakia.

Thus the stage was set for the run-up to world war.

The “White” Directive

By March 16, 1939, Hitler had positioned Poland squarely between the German jaws of East Prussia to the north and the satellite state of Slovakia to the south. He now controlled the vaunted Skoda Works and added Czech tanks and guns to the Wehrmacht. Romania and Yugoslavia, arms customers of the Czechs, now had another supplier following Berlin’s hostile takeover. However, Hitler was not resting on his laurels.

On March 19, a “request” was forwarded to Vilnius. Lithuania was to hand over Memelland, which it had occupied since 1923, to the Reich and do so without delay. Four days later, Lithuania complied.

On March 21, Ribbentrop hosted the Polish ambassador, Josef Lipski, in Berlin. Hitler’s huckster urged the Polish diplomat to accept the deal offered the previous October. Danzig was to be returned to the Reich, a deal that included road and rail connections across the Polish Corridor. In return, Hitler would recognize the Corridor and Poland’s western borders. To sweeten the deal, territory was promised at Ukraine’s expense, a carrot to be finalized at some later date.

Lipski took the German offer back to Warsaw. He returned to Berlin on the 25th armed with Colonel Joseph Beck’s reply. The Polish Foreign Minister understood the machinations of the Führer. Caving in now would only invite another set of demands. Beck rebuffed Hitler’s offer, intimating that continued German pressure over Danzig would invite conflict. It was clear by the 31st that Polish resolve had been stiffened by London and Paris. On that day, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain addressed the House of Commons, assuring Warsaw that, in the event of a German attack, Britain and France would stand by the Poles. That evening, Hitler ordered Wilhelm Keitel, chief of the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (German high command), to prepare for Poland. On April 3, Keitel issued a directive known as “White,” ordering the German armed forces to be ready for action no later than September 1.

German-Soviet Pact

The German-Soviet Pact, signed in August 1939, paved the way for the joint invasion and occupation of Poland that September. By signing the agreement, Hitler avoided the threat of a major two-front war. Stalin was permitted subsequently to expand Soviet rule over the Baltic states (Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia) and parts of Romania and Finland. The pact was an agreement of convenience between the two bitter ideological enemies. It permitted Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union to carve up spheres of influence in eastern Europe, while pledging not to attack each other for 10 years. Less than two years later, however, Hitler launched an invasion of the Soviet Union.

Key Facts

This agreement often is commonly referred to as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, after the two foreign ministers who negotiated the deal. It is also known as the Nazi-Soviet Pact, or the Hitler-Stalin Pact.

The diplomatic arrangement included a 10-year non-aggression pact between the two countries, economic cooperation, and territorial expansion.

The pact prepared the way for World War II.

This content is available in the following languages

The German-Soviet Pact is also known as the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact after the two foreign ministers who negotiated the agreement: German foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop and Soviet foreign minister Vyacheslav Molotov. The pact had two parts. An economic agreement, signed on August 19, 1939, provided that Germany would exchange manufactured goods for Soviet raw materials. Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union also signed a ten-year nonaggression pact on August 23, 1939, in which each signatory promised not to attack the other.

The German-Soviet Pact enabled Germany to attack Poland on September 1, 1939, without fear of Soviet intervention. On September 3, 1939, Britain and France, having guaranteed to protect Poland's borders five months earlier, declared war on Germany. These events marked the beginning of World War II.

The nonaggression pact of August 23 contained a secret protocol that provided for the partition of Poland and the rest of eastern Europe into Soviet and German spheres of interest.

In accordance with this plan, the Soviet army occupied and annexed eastern Poland in the autumn of 1939. On November 30, 1939, the Soviet Union attacked Finland, precipitating a four-month winter war after which the Soviet Union annexed Finnish territory borderlands, particularly near Leningrad. With German indulgence, the Soviet Union also moved to secure its sphere of interest in eastern Europe in the summer of 1940. The Soviets occupied and incorporated the Baltic states and seized the Romanian provinces of northern Bukovina and Bessarabia.

After the Germans defeated France in June 1940, German diplomats worked to secure Germany's ties in southeastern Europe. Hungary, Romania, and Slovakia all joined the Axis alliance in November 1940. During the spring of 1941, Hitler initiated his eastern European allies into plans to invade the Soviet Union.

Hitler had always regarded the German-Soviet nonaggression pact as a tactical and temporary maneuver. On December 18, 1940, he signed Directive 21 (code-named Operation Barbarossa), the first operational order for the invasion of the Soviet Union. From the beginning of operational planning, German military and police authorities intended to wage a war of annihilation against the Communist state as well as the Jews of the Soviet Union, whom they characterized as forming the "racial basis" for the Soviet state.

German forces invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, less than two years after the German-Soviet Pact was signed.

The Nazi-Soviet Pact: Hitler’s Ultimate Triumph

To fulfill his territorial ambitions in Europe, Hitler agreed to sign a pact with the Soviet Union in 1939. (Image: Bundesarchiv/Heinrich Hoffmann/CC BY-SA 3.0/Public domain)

A Polish Problem

Once again, one saw the usual drumroll: German minorities mistreated by the Polish government, some sort of representation for the German minority had to be made, the German population wasn’t going to stand for more of this. At this point, so grave was the threat that Franklin Roosevelt took the extraordinary step of writing a public letter to Hitler, in which there was a laundry list of states that he wanted Hitler to say that Germany wasn’t going to attack.

And Hitler got up in the Reichstag, now obviously all Nazi, and gave one of his most ironic and sarcastic speeches. In that speech, Hitler made no promises, and he continued to assert that Danzig wasn’t worth a war he wanted some solution to this now new Polish problem.

Nonetheless, he also gave orders to his military “to attack Poland at the earliest possible opportunity.” So, while publicly protesting that he’s trying to find a way for peace, Poland now becomes first on the agenda.

This is a transcript from the video series A History of Hitler’s Empire, 2nd Edition. Watch it now, Wondrium.

The Worsening Conditions in Europe

Pressure was mounting on Neville Chamberlain’s government. Would it indeed honor its obligation to Poland? The key to the diplomatic situation in the summer and early fall of 1939, however, wasn’t in London the key was in Moscow.

The British and French had tried at various points over the summer to warn the Soviets about the imminent danger. But they were low-level contacts Chamberlain certainly didn’t fly off to Moscow to talk with Stalin. Meanwhile, the Germans took this up at a much higher level.

The Nazi Offer to the Soviet Union

German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop had begun to send feelers to his counterpart in the Soviet Union, Molotov, about the possibility of some sort of deal between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany. Finally, Ribbentrop offered the possibility of a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union.

For Hitler, this pact made no ideological sense whatsoever. These were the two great ideological enemies. If Hitler was determined to smash Judeo-Bolshevism in the Soviet Union, Stalin saw Nazi Germany as the incarnation of evil. It was the great fascist power that was the greatest threat to Socialism in the world. But in a practical sense, there was a good deal of compelling evidence to support signing such a pact.

Hitler’s Aggressive Determination

Germany sealed the deal with the Soviet Union and pushed Europe toward the Second World War. (Image: Bundesarchiv/CC-BY-SA/3.0/Public domain)

Hitler, who was determined by this point to go to war with Poland, believed that a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union would act as a deterrent to the West. England and France wouldn’t dare intervene if the Soviet Union were already in the same boat as Nazi Germany.

And, of course, at the same time and more obviously, it would remove the danger of a two-front war for Germany. And Hitler was determined to avoid this at all cost.

Stalin’s Stance on the Non-Aggression Pact

For Stalin, the pact also made sense. Number one, it would buy time. In 1938, the Soviet Union and Stalin had initiated a massive purge of the Red Army. Not just the leadership, but a purge that went all the way down to company level, inserting political commissars to make sure the army was under direct Bolshevist/Communist control.

International intelligence experts believed that the Soviet military was extremely weak as a result, and so, this would buy time to rebuild his military. It would also provide territorial and strategic advantages in Eastern Europe.

The Nazi-Soviet Non-Aggression Pact

On August 24, 1939, Germany and Russia astonished the world by signing a non-aggression pact—the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, or the Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact—in Moscow, pledging not to go to war with one another. There were secret clauses, which divided Eastern Europe into spheres of influence.

Germany was to get Lithuania and Vilne the Soviet Union Finland, Estonia, Latvia. They agreed on a partition of Poland. Germans would move in from the west, the Soviets from the east. They couldn’t agree about Romania, which had rich oil fields, but the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was the death knell for the state of Poland—and for peace in Europe.

The Unpreparedness of Germany

Despite a four-year plan that began in 1936 to build the German economy, it wasn’t ready for a long war. It could fight a limited war, such as one against Poland. It reflected Hitler’s conviction that the West wouldn’t fight. The Germans had followed a policy of armaments in breadth, not in depth, so that they had lots of different sorts of military equipment, but it hadn’t been built in any sort of depth to sustain a long war.

On September 1, 1939, the German population was awakened to a news bulletin that the Poles had attacked a German radio station on the frontier, and that German troops had been responding. In fact, the Germans had launched a massive invasion of Poland that, within a month, would bring the defeat of the Polish military.

A Shock for Hitler

To Hitler’s great astonishment, Britain and France decided to honor their obligations. Chamberlain issued an ultimatum to Germany: move out of Poland and then we can talk about the corridor, we can talk about Danzig. Hitler refused.

The Polish campaign was over in a month. The Poles fought heroically against overwhelming German force. Warsaw was bombed, signaling already that this wouldn’t be a war like the First War, where there was a distinction between front and the homefront.

Now civilians were already on the front line with the bombing of Warsaw. What Hitler had believed would be a short engagement against Poland now threatened to be the European-wide war which he did not believe would happen and was not prepared to fight.

On August 24, 1939, Germany and Russia signed a non-aggression pact.

According to the Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact , Germany was to get Lithuania and Vilne the Soviet Union Finland, Estonia, Latvia. Germany and Russia agreed on a partition of Poland.

Hitler believed that a non-aggression pact with the Soviet Union would act as a deterrent to the West.


Gorodetsky, Gabriel. The Grand Delusion: Stalin and the German Invasion of Russia. 1999.

Ierace, Francis A. America and the Nazi-Soviet Pact. 1978.

Kolasky, John. Partners in Tyranny. 1990.

Read, Anthony, and David Fisher. The Deadly Embrace: Hitler, Stalin, and the Nazi-Soviet Pact, 1939–1941. 1988.

Roberts, Geoffrey. The Unholy Alliance: Stalin's Pact with Hitler. 1989.

Suziedelis, Saulius, ed. History and Commemoration in the Baltic: The Nazi-Soviet Pact, 1939–1989. 1989.


The Nazi-Soviet Pact is the name given to the Treaty of Non-Aggression signed by Ribbentrop for Germany and Molotov for the USSR on August 23,1939.

In August 1939, following the failure of attempts to negotiate a treaty with Great Britain and France for mutual assistance and military support to protect the USSR from an invasion by Adolf Hitler, the Soviet Union abandoned its attempts to achieve collective security agreements, which was the basis of Maxim Maximovich Litvinov's foreign policy during the 1930s. Instead, Soviet leaders sought an accommodation with Germany. For German politicians, the dismissal of Litvinov and the appointment of Vyacheslav Mikhailovich Molotov as commissar for foreign affairs on May 3, 1939, was a signal that the USSR was seeking a rapprochement. The traditional interpretation that Molotov was pro-German, and that his appointment was a direct preparation for the pact, has been called into question. It seems more likely that in appointing Molotov, Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin was prepared to seize any opportunity that presented itself to improve Soviet security.

Diplomatic contact with Germany on economic matters had been maintained during the negotiations with Great Britain and France, and in June and July of 1939, Molotov was not indifferent to initial German approaches for an improvement in political relations. On August 15, the German ambassador proposed that Joachim von Ribbentrop, the German foreign minister, should visit Moscow for direct negotiations with Stalin and Molotov, who in response suggested a non-aggression pact.

Ribbentrop flew to Moscow on August 23, and the Treaty of Nonaggression was signed in a few hours. By its terms the Soviet Union and Germany undertook not to attack each other either alone or in conjunction with other powers and to remain neutral if the other power became involved in a war with a third party. They further agreed not to participate in alliances aimed at the other state and to resolve disputes and conflicts by consultation and arbitration. With Hitler about to attack Poland, the usual provision in treaties of this nature, allowing one signatory to opt out if the other committed aggression against a third party, was missing. The agreement was for a ten – year period, and became active as soon as signed, rather than on ratification.

As significant as the treaty, and more notorious, was the Secret Additional Protocol that was attached to it, in which the signatories established their respective spheres of influence in Eastern Europe. It was agreed that "in the event of a territorial and political rearrangement" in the Baltic states, Finland, Estonia, and Latvia were in the USSR's sphere of influence and Lithuania in Germany's. Poland was divided along the rivers Narew, Vistula, and San, placing Ukrainian and Belorussian territories in the Soviet sphere of influence, together with a part of ethnic Poland in Warsaw and Lublin provinces. The question of the maintenance of an independent Poland and its frontiers was left open. In addition, Germany declared itself "disinterested" in Bessarabia.

The treaty denoted the USSR's retreat into neutrality when Hitler invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, and Great Britain and France declared war. Poland collapsed rapidly, but the USSR delayed until September 17 before invading eastern Poland, although victory was achieved within a week. From November 1939, the territory was incorporated in the USSR. Estonia and Latvia were forced to sign mutual assistance treaties with the USSR and to accept the establishment of Soviet military bases in September and October of 1939. Finnish resistance to Soviet proposals to improve the security of Leningrad through a mutual assistance treaty led to the Soviet – Finnish War (1939 – 1940). Lithuania was assigned to the Soviet sphere of influence in a supplementary agreement signed on September 28, 1939, and signed a treaty of mutual assistance with the USSR in October. Romania ceded Bessarabia following a Soviet ultimatum in June 1940.

It is often argued that, in signing the treaty, Stalin, who always believed that Hitler would attack the USSR for lebensraum, was seeking time to prepare the Soviet Union for war, and hoped for a considerably longer period than he received, for Germany invaded during June of 1941. Considerable efforts were made to maintain friendly relations with Germany between 1939 and 1941, including a November 1940 visit by Molotov to Berlin for talks with Hitler and Ribbentrop.

The Secret Protocol undermined the socialist foundations of Soviet foreign policy. It called for the USSR to embark upon territorial expansion, even if this was to meet the threat to its security presented by Germany's conquest of Poland. This may explain why, for a long period, the Secret Protocol was known only from the German copy of the document: The Soviet Union denied its existence, a position that Molotov maintained until his death in 1986. The Soviet originals were published for the first time in 1993.

In all Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, during August 1987, during the glastnost era, demonstrations on the anniversary of the pact were evidence of resurgent nationalism. In early 1990 the states declared their independence, the first real challenge to the continued existence of the USSR.

See also: germany, relations with molotov, vyacheslav mikhailovich world war ii


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