Russia: Tsarist and Communist

By Anatole G. Mazour | Go to book overview

35
Ordeal by Fire

THE PRECARIOUS PERIOD OF NEUTRALITY

AT MUNICH it had been anticipated that the war danger that threatened western Europe might be shifted eastward; a year later the continuing crisis delivered war precisely to the part of the Continent that hoped to be spared becoming a theater of conflict, and left the USSR a neutral observer. This was the startling outcome of the Nazi-Soviet rapprochement. How long this state of affairs could last before the two irreconcilable rivals would come to grips over territorial claims was difficult to foretell. Meanwhile both enjoyed the fruits of diplomatic and military victory. Stalin could later contend that by concluding the pact the USSR gained peace for a year and a half and thereby an opportunity to prepare Soviet forces to face Germany should she risk an attack on the country despite the pact.

At any rate, for the time being the Soviet government exerted every effort to confine the theater of war to Poland and maintain the position of a neutral as long as was possible. This naturally pleased Germany, who sought a free hand in the east while the Nazi machine was grinding the enemy in the west. Soviet neutrality coincided temporarily with the war schemes of Berlin. For understandable reasons the Soviet Union's position annoyed the Western belligerent powers, which would have preferred to shift either part or all of the burden of war to the eastern colossus. The annoyance turned into fury when Moscow came in for the kill and occupied White Russia (Belorussia) and the western Ukraine. The climax of this helpless rage came when Soviet Russia and Finland found themselves at war; by this time Soviet neutrality was hanging on a very slender thread.

If diplomatic relations between the USSR and the democratic nations were precarious, they could not be characterized as much more secure with Germany. It took extreme perseverance, callous calculating caution, and patience not to upset the strange friendship between Berlin and Moscow. The trade agreement concluded shortly before the war was being faithfully carried out and the style of the press and of the official speeches was restrained if not mellifluous so as not to provoke any feeling of offense. But the eye of the government was constantly kept upon the West. The armed forces were maintained in all possible readiness, frontiers were fortified; industry was placed on a war basis, labor mobilized, working hours extended, and the production of armaments given priority. Industrial

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