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 FOUR
THE RUSSIAN DANGER IS OUR DANGER DECEMBER 1940-JUNE 1941

Molotov in Berlin

Sir Stafford Cripps's disillusionment with the Soviets would have been even greater had he known the details of the Berlin talks. Far from being bullied by the Germans, Molotov eagerly entered into the spirit of the occasion. The Germans were anxious to direct Soviet attention toward the vulnerable British Empire, which was, Hitler assured his guest, "a gigantic world-wide estate in bankruptcy."1"The Russian Empire," Hitler told Molotov, who voiced no objection to the Soviet Union being referred to in terms normally used for the defunct tsarist regime, "could develop without in the least prejudicing German interests. ( Molotov said this was quite correct.)"2

The Soviet-German talks appeared to contemporaries to be the apex of cooperation between the two dictators, but the veneer of mutual friendship masked a deepening rift. One American historian has, with understandable exaggeration, called Molotov's forty-eight hours in Berlin "the real turning point of World War II."3 This point of view, which probably results from too close a focus on Soviet motives, holds that Stalin, feeling that Hitler was in an embarrassed position with an unfinished war on his hands, pressed the Führer too closely for concessions in exchange for continued Soviet good will. Hitler, arrogant and enraged, this version claims, turned on his erstwhile ally and ordered the planning of "Case Barbarossa," the invasion of the Soviet Union.

Hitler was, most probably, angered by Soviet intransigence, though after Molotov's visit he remarked that he "hadn't expected anything of it any-

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