The Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact
The Treaty of Non-Aggression between Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, often just called the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, was an agreement by the two regimes that neither side would ally with or support an enemy of the other, it also guaranteed peace between each other.
Relations between the two dictatorships had started out rocky, Germany and the USSR had cordial relations since 1922 and the USSR had even allowed Germany to carry out military training on their territory from 1926. Formal trade agreements were started in 1925, this allowed both nations to take advantage of resources from the other, helping to expand their respective industrial bases. Upon Hitler and the Nazis securing the German government in 1933, relations between Germany and the Soviet Union started to decline. This cooling would remain in place for several years despite the Soviet Union attempting to relight the fires with the ‘Kandelaki mission’, which included an offering of a non-aggression pact in 1936.
In the wake of the Munich Agreement between Nazi Germany, the United Kingdom, the French Third Republic, and the Kingdom of Italy, Germany sort to warm up its relationship with the Soviet Union. After negotiations, the 1925 trade agreement was extended in December 1938, which was further change and extended in 1939. On 28th June 1939, Minister of Foreign Affairs Vyacheslav Molotov and Ambassador Friedrich-Werner Graf von der Schulenburg, met to discuss the normalisation of relations between the two nations. Only a few days after, Germany invited the USSR to discuss the fate of Poland and Lithuania and by the end of July both nations were deliberating what would become the Non-Aggression Pact.
Throughout August, deliberations were held between various representatives of both parties, discussions regarding the Baltics, Bessarabia, Trade amongst others were held. By the 17th all sides had come to an agreement and the Soviets presented a draft proposal. At midday on the 23rd Ribbentrop boarded a plane to Moscow to sign the Pact.
The Secret Protocols
While the media posted the words written in the Pact across the world, many were totally ignorant of additional pages of the Pact. These ‘Secret Protocols’ defined the “boundaries of the spheres of interest ” of the parties “in the case of a territorial and political reorganization of the areas belonging to the Baltic states ( Finland , Estonia , Latvia , Lithuania )” and the Polish State.
This basically spelt out the division of Eastern Europe between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. It allowed Germany to safely expand into Poland without the worry of the USSR declaring war upon them, and it allowed the Soviet Union to gain the territories that had declared independence during the turmoil of the Russian Civil War.
It wouldn’t be until the Numerburg trials that the secret protocols were first brought to the attention of the world, but due to the nature in which they were revealed, they didn’t garner worldwide reaction until it was published by US State Department in a collection on Nazi-Soviet Relations 1939-1941. However, despite this, the day after the signing German diplomat Hans von Herwart informed his American counterpart Charles Bohlen of the secret protocols but not much was done with this information. The intelligence services of the Baltic States suspected something in regards to a hidden agreement, especially when during the Soviet negotiations regarding military bases within their territories were held.
The post-war reaction to the revelation of these secret protocols was condemnation by the Western world. Many academics and politicians pointed to these to highlight Soviet complicity in the outbreak of the Second World War. In the Soviet Union, it was outright denied that such protocols existed, the regime even went so far as to publish the book, ‘Falsifiers of History’, that laid similar accusations at the feet of American and British Governments. It would not be under 24th December 1989 that the Soviet Union officially accepted that such a protocol existed and condemned it.
|The secret appendix to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact naming the German and Soviet spheres of interest. The document is signed by Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov and German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop. Source: Wiki|
Reaction in Finland
When news reached Finland of the Non-Aggression Pact between the two powerful states, the vast majority were elated and relieved. After months of tense postering and worry that another Great War was on the horizon, it seemed that the two polar opposite ideological nations have come to terms that would avoid conflict.
However, soon the rose-coloured spectacles fell away and many started to question what was the price for such a Pact. Even Marshal Mannerheim thought that such a venture would only spell trouble for Finland’s future as an independent nation. As several publications started to voice their concern about the Pact in regards to Finland, the German Foreign Ministry released a statement via the Finnish News Agency (Suomen Tietotoimisto) in an attempt to persuade the populace that the agreement did not come at the expense of Finland. Wipert von Blücher, ambassador to Finland, was also ordered to visit Juho Eljas Erkko, Finland’s Foreign Minister, to confirm the statement of the German Foreign Ministry and allay any fears the Finnish Government may have.
After the Winter War, von Blücher claimed that he never knew about such Secret Protocols but this has been called into question by numerous historians, especially in light of several diplomatic communiques received by von Blücher in the days and weeks after the signing of the Pact.
When Poland was invaded by Germany only a week after the signing, followed shortly after by the Soviet Union, the Finnish Government started to have second thoughts over the assurances of Germany. All eyes in Helsinki were now fixed upon the developments in mainland Europe as the Road to War seemed to open.
Peter Munter, Toni Wirtanen, Vesa Nenye: Finland at War: The Winter War 1939–40 (Osprey Publishing, 2015)
Max Jakobson: The Winter War of Diplomats: Finland in World Politics 1938–40 (WSOY, 1955)
William R. Trotter: A Frozen Hell: The Russo-Finnish Winter War of 1939 - 1940 (Algonquin Books, 2013)