The Nazi-Soviet pact was a non-agression treaty signed by the two countries just one month before the beginning of the Second World War.
During the summer of 1939 Europe was on the brink of war. Britain had pursued the policy of appeasement with Nazi Germany to try to avoid war in Europe. However, Britain and France had agreed that they would declare war on Nazi Germany if it launched an attack upon Poland.
The Soviet Union
Britain and France had been allied with Russia during the First World War which had forced Germany to fight a war on two fronts. Now that Russia was a Communist dictatorship under Josef Stalin, Britain and France were reluctant to enter an alliance with the Soviet Union, but tactically this alliance would be needed if there was another war.
The Nazi-Soviet Pact
The Soviet Union had been in discussions with Nazi Germany about a non-aggression treaty throughout the summer of 1939. Eventually in August, an agreement was reached between the two powers. It stated that neither Nazi Germany nor the Soviet Union would attack each other, either individually or jointly with other powers. It also stated that if either country was attacked by a third power, the other country would under no circumstances lend its support to the third party. And if any dispute should arise between the two countries, these disputes will be resolved through diplomatic ways or via a commission; not violence.
The Secret Protocol
Although the Nazi-Soviet Pact was made known to the world once it was signed, there was a secret protocol to the agreement which was not publicised. The secret protocol stated that Poland was to be divided between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. In addition the Baltic States would also come under the Soviet Union’s sphere of influence.
Reaction to the Nazi-Soviet Pact
The Nazi-Soviet pact came as a surprise to many because the two countries were ideologically opposed and Hitler of spoke of Communism as the enemy to Nazism. Communists and Socialists around the world felt that Stalin had betrayed them by signing a pact with Nazi Germany. At the other end of the political spectrum, reactions were also confused. However the Nazis reiterated that they were a party of National Socialists so it made sense to come to an agreement with the Soviet Union. The pact had major advantages for both countries, the main one being the when war did come to Europe, neither side would have to fight on two fronts. And the secret protocol meant that both countries were to make large territorial gains in Eastern Europe. Despite the advantages, there was little trust between the two countries but the terms of the pact remained in effect until Hitler launched Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union, in June 1941.
- Brendon, Piers. The Dark Valley: A Panorama of the 1930s. London: Pimlico, 2000.