THE EDUCATION OF SIR STAFFORD AUGUST-NOVEMBER 1940
T he tenor of Sir Stafford Cripps's audience with Stalin convinced all those privy to his account that Anglo-Soviet rapprochement would be difficult, if not impossible, to create. But Sir Stafford and the London government differed over what could or ought to be done to break the impasse. Cripps, on the one hand, believed that the British must prove to Stalin their reliability as a potential ally. He argued that a sweeping British gesture, the recognition by London of Soviet sovereignty over the Baltic States, would overcome the suspicion that the Soviet leaders held in their hearts about British intentions. Soviet distrust, Cripps believed, dated from British intervention against the Bolsheviks during the Russian Civil War and could only be overcome by a large British concession toward the needs of Soviet security.
The Foreign Office was considerably less optimistic than the ambassador about the prospects of quickly gaining Soviet trust. British diplomats believed, however, that, given enough patient effort and some luck, Britain could still exert some influence on the nature, if not the extent, of Soviet trade with Germany. The idea of using military measures to close the Soviet gap in the blockade of Germany had died with the fall of France. And Stalin had told Cripps quite clearly that he did not intend to stray from the conditions of the German-Soviet Trade Agreement of February. Therefore, the only option open to the British -- and it offered only a slim chance of success -- was to attempt to conclude their own trade deal with Moscow, buying those commodities most needed by the Germans.
In the meantime, the British continued to enforce their navicert system, searching Russian shipping for contraband goods that the Soviets were importing for transshipment to Nazi Germany. This policy had already led