The German-Soviet Pact (August 23, 1939)

The German-Soviet Pact (August 23, 1939)

The German-Soviet pact is a treaty of non-aggression between Germany and the USSR signed in Moscow, in the early hours of August 23, 1939, by the Foreign Ministers of the Third Reich and of the USSR Joachim von Ribbentrop and Vyacheslav Molotov. After the outbreak of the Second World War, it will be completed on September 28 by a treaty of “delimitation of borders and friendship” and an economic agreement relating to the delivery by the USSR to Nazi Germany of raw materials. and cereals. This unnatural alliance will cause amazement in the rest of the world and have dire consequences for the future of Europe.

Genesis and terms of the German-Soviet pact

In early 1939, faced with the imminence of a generalized conflict in Europe, the Stalinist regime faced a dilemma. He must choose between the camp of democracies (France, Great Britain) or that of dictatorships (Germany-Italy). Between the proposal of a treaty of mutual assistance of the first, and that of a neutrality proposed by Hitler, Stalin opted cynically for the second choice, not considering himself as yet capable of being able to confront Nazi Germany militarily. This is how the German-Soviet Pact was signed in Moscow on the night of August 23, 1939.

Concluded for a period of ten years, this pact was accompanied by a secret protocol delimiting the zones of influence of the two States in Western Europe. Giving Germany the advantage of having to fight only on the Western front - which facilitated the decisive successes of the Wehrmacht during the campaign in France (May-June 1940) - the German-Soviet pact also allowed the USSR to secure solid positions in Poland and the Baltic States and to obtain a respite of almost two years before facing the Hitler attack.

In addition to the mutual guarantee of non-aggression, the two countries decided not to be part of a coalition hostile to one of the two countries and to consult each other on problems of common interest. The agreement provided for deliveries of raw materials to Germany for twelve months. A secret additional protocol divided Central and Eastern Europe into German and Soviet spheres of influence, providing for the partition of Poland and the Baltic states, leaving Joseph Stalin a free hand in Latvia, Estonia, in Finland and Bessarabia.

The consequences of the pact and the breakdown of the alliance

The signing of this pact was a terrible shock for the rest of Europe, especially since Stalin had been negotiating for months with the United Kingdom and France. This alliance between two resolute ideological adversaries seemed incomprehensible and unnatural. But Adolf Hitler needed an agreement to neutralize the USSR in the programmed conflict with Poland. As for Stalin, he wanted to extend his borders to the west for security reasons and tried to push back the end of the war as much as possible, judging his country too weak to face the German armies.

After the defeat of France in June 1940, German-Soviet relations deteriorated. Hitler had always intended to obtain his Lebensraum in Russia, and for him the German-Soviet pact was only a temporary expedient. At a secret conference on July 31, 1940, he announced his decision to invade Russia in the spring of 1941, predicting that the United Kingdom would then have surrendered. Relations grew strained with the presence of German troops in Finland and Romania, and Molotov, visiting Berlin in November 1940, was able to appreciate the new balance of power at the time of the tripartite pact. Preparations for the Barbarossa Plan, code name for the USSR invasion plan, proceeded in accordance with Hitler's war directive of December 18, 1940, but the outbreak was delayed by events in the Balkans. Despite all the warnings from various sources that Stalin received, it does not appear that he foresaw such a rapid break from the Pact, and the Soviets were not ready when the German armies launched their offensive on June 22, 1941 ...

This alliance of Stalin with Hitler will long remain a major historical taboo in 20th century European history, both among the Russians and among the European Communists, who will long remain in denial of the existence and purposes of this pact.

For further

- The Devils Pact - A History of the Alliance between Hitler and Stalin (1939-1941), by Roger Moorhouse. Buchet-Chastel, 2020.

- From the Munich Agreement to the German-Soviet Pact of 23 August 1939, by Nadia Anghelescu. L'Harmattan, 2000.

- 1939, the Soviet-Nazi alliance: at the origin of the European divide, by Stéphane Courtois. Fondapol, 2019.


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