NEW – August 26, 2022
The defeat of France by the Third Reich, which became possible as a result of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, radically changed the balance of power in the world, split the united anti-Soviet front of the West and forced the enemies of the USSR (Britain and the United States) to become temporary, but allies of the Soviet Union in the fight against fascism.
When it comes to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, the Polish theme always pops up, they start saying (with different assessments, positive or negative) that the Pact determined the fate of Poland, condemned it to defeat and division. Although this is absolutely not true.
The death sentence for the Polish state was signed by Britain and its henchman France long before the Pact, when they decided to throw Poland under the German roller. It is significant that as early as May 4, 1939, following the results of the Anglo-French negotiations, these two great powers decided that “the fate of Poland will be determined by the overall results of the war, and the latter, in turn, will depend on the ability of the Western powers to win over Germany in the end, and not on whether they can ease German pressure on Poland at the very beginning.”
Think about it, the plan of the German attack on Poland is still being developed, and London and Paris are drawing up a document that clearly states the upcoming war, and a pan-European one, as an indubitable fact, and that at the initial stage of this big war, Poland will have to be sacrificed. But then, when the British and French win, they will, of course, somehow compensate the Poles for these “troubles”.
Naturally, neither the French nor the British bothered to inform Poland about the role assigned to it as a victim for sacrifice. On the contrary, to stimulate Polish militancy, Warsaw was given documented guarantees of Franco-British assistance indicating how many divisions and aircraft on which day of the German-Polish war would be thrown against Germany (about the question of what the treaties signed by the Western powers are worth, and what if If Gorbachev had received written guarantees, there would have been no NATO expansion).
Therefore, the Pact was not about Poland, but about how to prevent Britain and France from provoking a Soviet-German war on its territory in 1939, when neither the Third Reich nor the USSR were ready for it yet. The task is complex and vital for both Berlin and Moscow. But for all its importance, the meaning of the Non-Aggression Pact should never be reduced to it alone.
Strategically, the Pact was directed against the British Empire, and directly it decided the fate of France.
The fact that the Pact dealt a crushing blow to the British Empire, breaking its scenario of the Second World War, and therefore became “the largest failure of British strategy in the entire 20th century” (Natalia Narochnitskaya) is written and said (including by the author of these lines) a lot, we will not repeat. Let’s turn to the French theme, undeservedly remaining in the shadows.
On August 23, 1939, the death sentence of the Third Republic was signed in Moscow. Exaggerating? Not at all. Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars and People’s Commissar for Foreign Affairs Vyacheslav Molotov at a meeting of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR on August 1, 1940 (after the defeat of France) very clearly put all the dots over the “i”, stating that the Soviet-German agreement “provided Germany with calm confidence in the East”.
Without such confidence, a military campaign against France, its defeat and occupation would have been impossible. Ribbentrop flew to Moscow not only to avoid the German-Soviet war on the territory of Poland and for this purpose agree to the annexation of Western Ukraine and Western Belarus to the USSR. He flew first of all to guarantee a reliable rear during the future German-French war by a Non-Aggression Treaty, with a willingness to commit not to oppose the return of the territories of the Baltic States, Moldavia and Vyborg that were torn away during the Civil War to the USSR.
I foresee a wave of indignation: “Stalin surrendered to Hitler the beautiful, freedom-loving France, our potential ally in the fight against Nazism”. Pragmatism will definitely be added to emotions: “he allowed Hitler to repeatedly strengthen his power before attacking the USSR at the expense of the military-industrial complex of defeated France in order to get some kind of Baltic states with Vyborg and Moldova”. Let’s find out what it was: Stalin’s mistake or his strongest strategic move.
In Russia, there were and are plenty of people who sincerely love France and sympathise with it. French culture is undeniably beautiful. How beautiful German culture is, and there are hardly fewer Germanophiles in Russia than Francophiles… But this does not negate the fact that Germany, at the head of a united Europe, not so long ago tried to “finally solve” the Russian question (the civilian population in itself was killed – shot, hanged, burned alive – over 7 million people). Somewhat earlier, France also came to Russia at the head of a united Europe (there were no such atrocities then, but the mass executions of Russian prisoners and the stables in the Assumption Cathedral of the Kremlin should be remembered). The personal sympathies of more or less large sections of the population for one country or another is one thing, but relations between states are quite another.
Despite all our sympathies for France, it is impossible not to recognise that France was, is, and will continue to be an opponent of Russia, just like the other great powers of the West.
18th century – almost an entire century of confrontation with Russia, with the exception of a few years of being in the same coalition during the Seven Years’ War. As the French historian Albert Vandal wrote, Russia’s invasion of “the circle of great powers upset the old political system of Europe — the system that was created by the wise policy of our kings and ministers. Louis XV., during almost the whole of his reign, and at times Louis XVI., and their most famous advisers, considered it necessary to put an end to the Russian pressure; they tried to oppose it with a close alliance of a group of states, and dreamed of building a dam out of Sweden, Poland, and Turkey, firmly established on their feet and closely connected with each other”. As we can see, it was France that began to build the first “cordon sanitaire” against Russia.
19th century – the invasion of Napoleon, the Crimean War (France is no longer the main one, but Britain’s henchman, but it was the French troops who played a decisive role in the siege of Sevastopol).
20th century – France is an ally of Russia in the First World War, while France, together with England, inflict a fatal stab in the back of the Russian Empire. The February coup plunges an ally into chaos in order to withdraw it from the victorious powers and prevent a colossal strengthening of Russia as a result of the war. Then intervention. In the 20s – curatorship of the “cordon sanitaire”.
Yes, the Franco-Soviet Mutual Aid Treaty was concluded in 1935, but it turned out to be as empty as the recent Paris-Berlin-Moscow axis under President Chirac and Chancellor Schroeder. The existence of this treaty in no way prevented France (with the leading role of Great Britain) from pumping up the power of Hitler’s Germany for the war against the USSR. The Munich Agreement was not against Czechoslovakia, just as the Pact was not against Poland, it was against the USSR. “Munich” was supposed to mark the beginning of Hitler’s aggression in the East. Mussolini’s words about the agreement, which allegedly dealt exclusively with German-Czechoslovak territorial problems, are indicative: “What happened in Munich means the end of Bolshevism in Europe, the end of all Russian political influence on our continent.”
It didn’t work out. But only a few months after Munich, the French Foreign Minister, following negotiations with Ribbentrop in December 1938, joyfully informed the French ambassadors around the world in a special circular letter that “from now on, German policy will be directed towards the fight against Bolshevism. The Reich has made it clear that it has a desire to expand in an easterly direction…”
This was not some “dislocation” in French politics, it was its main line. Already during the “Phoney War”, French Interior Minister Albert Sarraut, speaking in parliament, formulated the credo of the French ruling class: “The only danger that we really need to fear is Bolshevism. The German danger is nothing compared to it.” How much does this sound in line with the slogan of the British Conservatives: “For the British Empire to exist, Russian Bolshevism must be destroyed!”
Who would Stalin be if, relying on the Mutual Aid Treaty, he considered France an ally in the coming war against the Third Reich and based the USSR’s security policy on this? France was as much an enemy to the Soviet Union as Hitler’s Germany. This is how Stalin treated it when signing the Pact. One enemy was going to eat another enemy. You’re welcome! Especially if this squabbling of predators allows you to delay the war with Germany and solve a number of vital territorial problems for the security of the state.
This, with regard to emotions — “France to be torn to pieces, how is it possible”. Now, as for “pragmatism”.
The Soviet-German war was objectively inevitable. The only question was when it would start and under what scenario, with what balance of forces. The British scenario, which has been used to prepare for war since the Locarno Accords (1925), provided for pumping up German power to carry out a “killer” mission in the East. According to this scenario, the French army (the strongest land army in Europe at that time) was supposed to finish off a barely alive winner: either the Third Reich or the USSR.
This scenario, of course, did not suit Berlin, so it sought to eliminate the “British sword on the continent” – France – before going to the East (which it wanted no less than London and Paris). The British scenario did not suit Moscow at all: the USSR had almost no chance of surviving its implementation. The equal unacceptability of the British scenario made it possible to sign the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which put it in the trash.
For Germany, the Pact opened up an opportunity to defeat France, put its economy at its service, and then, with a strong rear in the West, fall on the USSR, whose destruction and seizure of resources could incredibly strengthen German power for future confrontation with the British Empire and America in the struggle for world hegemony.
However, for the USSR, the scrapping of the British scenario and the German-French war opened a “window of opportunity”.
Firstly, despite Germany’s economic and demographic superiority, the French army was stronger than or equal to the Wehrmacht. It could, if not defeat, then at least seriously bleed the armed forces of the Reich. This didn’t happen. The army did not fight. France collapsed like a house of cards. And it wasn’t the reluctance of the French, traumatised by the First World War, to fight, as we are constantly assured. France was surrendered by its ruling class, which immediately realised that a real war with Germany would only benefit the USSR, whose destruction it so longed for and put so much effort into. The elite easily changed the status of France — the “second power” under the British Empire, to the status of the “second power” in Hitler’s European Union.
Secondly, the defeat of France radically changed the balance of power in the world (it worked).
After defeating France, Hitler took control of almost all of continental Europe. Hitler’s EU was still unable to crush the British Empire on its own, much less the United States. But even those could no longer crush the Third Reich on their own. In the event of a victory over the USSR, Germany was so strengthened that the defeat of the British Empire became inevitable, and the outcome of the future battle with America turned out to be difficult to predict. At the same time, London, the then leader of the Western world, was well aware that if Berlin lost in the battle for hegemony, the loss of the empire would not be avoided, it would be about the survival of Great Britain itself. Similarly, Washington understood that if the Reich triumphed, America’s path to hegemony would be blocked.
London and Washington, who were preparing World War II for the destruction of the USSR, as well as for the victory over each other by someone else’s hands (this is a separate topic), had no choice but to ally with Soviet Russia for their own salvation.
So Stalin, abandoning the pernicious Litvinov policy of “collective security”, having provided a reliable rear of Germany for the defeat of France by the Non-Aggression Pact, split the united anti-Soviet West and forced the British Empire and the US in the future Soviet-German war to side with the USSR, to create a real anti-Hitler coalition – the “Big Three” and thus determined the fate of the world for the next half century.
Now that the entire West is once again united in its desire to destroy Russia, the experience of Stalin’s diplomacy is more relevant than ever.
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