The British Political Elite and the Soviet Union, 1937-1939

By Louise Grace Shaw | Go to book overview
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Germany and the Soviet Union: Allies or Enemies?

During 1939, the new British ambassador in Moscow, William Seeds, supported an Anglo-French-Soviet agreement, and later an alliance. His fear of the Soviet government reverting to a policy of isolationism was enough to persuade him to overlook the hostility and distrust he held towards the Soviet government. Interestingly, despite the increasing suspicion of a German-Soviet rapprochement among ministers and officials involved in the foreign-policy decision-making process, the majority of the officials in the Northern Department did not believe the rumours of such a danger. Certain officials became anxious about the possibility of such a threat at different times during the year but, ultimately, they were not convinced of its likelihood. Consequently, with nothing greater to fear than the expansion of communism, which most still suspected to be Moscow's primary aim, they, like Chamberlain, did not support an Anglo-French-Soviet alliance until it was too late.

At the beginning of 1939, the Moscow embassy told London that it could see no end in the near future to the terror gripping the Soviet state. 1 The devastating consequences of the purges upon the armed forces were also still apparent. The army was, in the opinion of Firebrace, 'still handicapped by the effects of past events', 2 and the ability of Soviet industry to provide supplies in the event of war remained doubtful. 3Pravda's claims that the Soviet navy would soon 'be the most powerful navy in the world', 4 could not be substantiated. Hallawell reported that the 'Soviet airforce is capable of developing little offensive power…unless operating in concert with Poland This power would even then be limited.' 5 Despite such shortcomings, however, Firebrace concluded that the Soviet Union could still prove to be a valuable ally:' it would still prove a serious obstacle to an attacker.' 6 The higher ranks of the army especially appeared to be entering a new period of stability. Firebrace reported in March:


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