Between Churchill and Stalin: The Soviet Union, Great Britain, and the Origins of the Grand Alliance

By Steven Merritt Miner | Go to book overview

CHAPTER ONE
A QUICK QUARREL WITH THE SOVIET JANUARY-JUNE 1940

I n late August 1939 the British man in the street might well have thought that relations between London and Moscow could scarcely get worse. Stalin and his foreign commissar, Viacheslav Molotov, had hosted Joachim von Ribbentrop, Hitler's foreign minister, in the Kremlin, where the Soviet dictator had actually toasted the health of the Führer -- though this last fact would not be known to the world until the capture of German archives at the end of the war. What the British knew in 1939 was, for them, ominous enough: Stalin had rejected the Western democracies' offer of a defensive alliance in favor of a non- aggression pact with the Nazis; an Anglo-French military mission had been in Moscow ironing out the details of a military protocol when the news of the Nazi-Soviet Pact broke.

Our average Briton would have been wrong had he thought Anglo- Soviet relations could deteriorate no futher than they had by August: they quickly did just that. In a secret protocol attached to the Nazi-Soviet Pact, Stalin and Hitler partitioned much of Eastern Europe between themselves. Though the existence of this protocol was also revealed only after the war, its outward manifestations were soon evident. Once war had broken out and the German Army was on the verge of crushing Polish resistance, on September 17 the Red Army moved into eastern Poland -- ostensibly to restore order, in fact to enforce prearranged Soviet territorial claims. Fuzzy black and white photographs portray smiling Nazi officers side by side with grinning Red Army men as they made adjustments to the new border between the German and Soviet empires. After the Polish state was safely crushed, Molotov exulted to the Supreme Soviet:

The ruling circles of Poland boasted quite a lot about the "stability" of their State and the "might" of their army. However, one swift blow to

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