Czechoslovakia between Stalin and Hitler: The Diplomacy of Edvard Benes in the 1930s

By Igor Lukes | Go to book overview

CONSIDER A POSSIBLE EXPLANATION of the evidence before us. The Kremlin's modus operandi during the May 1938 crisis was based on the premise that a European war was not to be feared as long as it took place far from Soviet territory. In fact, a war between Germany and Western democracies was desirable because it would channel the destructive energy of the Third Reich away from the Soviet Union. Stalin did not fear war among any combination of European bourgeois states as much as he dreaded being isolated. It was isolation that would sooner or later result in Hitler's attack on the Soviet Union. After the Anschluß of Austria, it became possible that London and Paris would attempt to appease Berlin by forcing Czechoslovakia to grant greater and greater concessions to the Sudeten Germans until the whole country would fall apart--with bits and pieces open to German domination or outright conquest.

But if Czechoslovakia were to become Hitler's puppet, who was going to prevent German armed forces from pressing further east? A tentative hypothesis could be proposed to the effect that in May 1938 the Kremlin struggled to accelerate the outbreak of the Czechoslovak-German war. Soviet intelligence sources falsely informed the Second Bureau that Hitler had commenced preparations for an attack against Czechoslovakia. Moscow had an active intelligence central in Prague. It was code named VONAPO 20 and it had been operational since 27 May 1936. 227

Moscow had a reason to expect that, possibly, the unprovoked Czechoslovak countermeasures would make the impulsive Führer unleash the Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe on Prague, that he would give the Czechoslovaks what they had made up: an all-out German aggression. France, deprived of the diplomatic option, its escape route, would be pressured to go to war against the Third Reich; Great Britain could conceivably be drawn in at some point; and the Soviet Union, as Litvinov told Heidrich in Geneva, would sit, wait, watch, deliberate, and join at the right moment on the right side. Time was on its side because the future war, originally fueled by nationalism, would have gradually become a revolutionary war against the European bourgeoisie. 228 Such a conflict outside the Soviet Union's borders appeared to be a guarantee against a Franco-British-German rapprochement, which would constitute the greatest threat to Soviet security. 229

At the moment, such speculation is no more than an audacious theory unverifiable by available documents. For now we must be satisfied with the knowledge that Hitler did not intend to attack Czechoslovakia in May 1938 and that Prague had been misled by a professional intelligence organization into believing that he did. The identity of the source of the reports that caused the confusion remains unclear. 230


Notes
1.
AMFA, Bohdan Pavlů, the Czechoslovak Legation, Moscow, to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Prague, 2 August 1937. Pavlů heard from the deputy commissar on foreign affairs, Potemkin, that the purge--he called it "measures recently taken"--did not weaken the Soviet Union. The purge had merely "simplified the internal order. . . . Our friends in the West can be sure that the recent events had strengthened the Soviet Union's direction. . . . We don't insist on implementing communism [in the West]. [However we] won't

-157-

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