“Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact”: a logical consequence of the Munich Betrayal

Signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was a difficult, but unavoidable step for the Soviet leadership on August 23 1939, argues the Russian ambassador Alexander Shulgin in response to historian Marc Jansen. The Soviets were concerned by the prospect of an anti-Soviet front and needed time to prepare for the war. 

by Alexander Shulgin

I took note of the article by Mr. Marc Jansen Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact: a Strategic Miscalculation on Raam op Rusland and felt compelled to share some of my thoughts on this issue.

I am convinced that it is extremely important to counter incorrect historic narratives, if we want to avoid tragic mistakes of the past. One of such false claims is that the USSR, which played the most important role in defeating Nazism and lost 27 million citizens, is partly to blame for the outbreak of World War II.

In fact it was the Munich Agreement signed in March 1938 and meant to appease the Hitler regime that triggered the chain of events that led to the war. It was the culmination of the selfish and short-sighted policies of Western powers in the interbellum, a shameful example of trying to ensure one’s security at the expense of others.

Regrettably, Paris and London, preoccupied with channeling Hitler’s aggression to the East, neglected the Soviet proposals to form a collective security system. In those circumstances the USSR had no other way to ensure its national security than to sign a non-aggression pact with Germany. Though it was a forced and difficult decision, it allowed the Soviet Union to better prepare for the imminent future war.

Archive documents vividly demonstrate that my country made every effort to build a coalition against the aggressor, pursued negotiations with Great Britain and France until August 1939. London and Paris, however, viewed these talks as a means of putting pressure on Berlin and were not inclined to undertake any serious commitments. They naively believed that war would bypass them thanks to the declarations on non-aggression that they had signed with Germany after Munich. Moreover, the Soviet leadership knew that the British were engaged in parallel secret negotiations with Germany (a 'second Munich' – on the occupation of Poland) and was extremely concerned by the prospect of the formation of a joint anti-Soviet front.  

The bottom line is that the 'Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact' was the only strategically possible step the Soviet leadership could make. 

In the context of the current international tensions we must draw lessons from this tragic period in history and do our best to restore mutual trust and understanding, preserve peace and security in the world. We must resume dialogue on an inclusive security architecture in the Euro-Atlantic based on universally recognized principles and norms of international law. We must put an end to zero-sum games and attempts to enforce one’s political, military or economic dominance.

As the outstanding Russian historian Vasily Kluchevskiy said, history 'punishes those who do not learn its lessons'. 

Alexander Shulgin is Ambassador of the Russian Federation in the Netherlands

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