The non-aggression pact between the Soviet Union and Germany (aka the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact) is known throughout the world. Almost every resident of the former USSR heard about him - they say, he was illegal from the point of view of international law, brought the beginning of World War II closer and that there were many alternatives to him, but Stalin chose the most inappropriate option. Is it really?
World on the eve of war
In the 30s of the XX century in Europe, Nazi Germany, generously fueled by the money of international financiers, is building an unprecedented military colossus. Soon, even the most inveterate pacifists realize that this colossus is not intended for entertainment, but to ensure the onset of a new era - the Third Reich.
Far to the east, the Soviet Union is also building its military colossus to counter the coming world war. However, the Germans are in a more advantageous position: in the event of the accession of the Baltic to the Reich, he took the Baltic Fleet out of the game and from a convenient position launched an offensive on Leningrad and Moscow, large industrial and transport centers. And their loss could be a decisive moment in the war.
Stalin's fears about the onset of such a variant of events were by no means unfounded: in 1939 Lithuania handed over the Klaipeda region to the Reich, Latvia and Estonia concluded non-aggression treaties with Germany, and moreover, there were rumors about the conclusion of a German-Estonian treaty on the transit of troops to the borders of the USSR … International treaties on guarantees of the independence of the Baltic countries, which the Soviet Union had been trying to conclude since 1933, remained unsigned: Poland rejected the treaty, and Britain and France preferred to drag out the treaty indefinitely, pushing Hitler east in every possible way. The Soviet Union had only one way to ensure the security of its western borders - the conclusion of a non-aggression pact with Germany.
The purpose of concluding the treaty was to limit the expansion of the Third Reich to the east - it clearly defined the line beyond which Germany should not go. In addition, the pact was concluded at a time when the USSR was waging a war with Japan, Germany's ally in the Anti-Comintern Pact. In Japan itself, the signing of the treaty caused a real shock, which led to the resignation of the government.
Stalin's contemporaries also understood the meaning of concluding such an agreement.
“Russia is pursuing a cold policy of its own interests,” Winston Churchill said on October 1, 1939. “We would prefer the Russian armies to stand in their current positions as friends and allies of Poland, rather than as conquerors. But to protect Russia from the Nazi threat, it was clearly necessary that the Russians stood on this line.
With all the wealth of choice …
Were there alternatives to concluding such an agreement? Let's take a look at all the possible options.
Option one, the best: the USSR, Britain and France conclude a collective security treaty, stopping Hitler and thereby World War II. But this option could not take place due to the position of Great Britain, which does not want to bind itself to an agreement with the Soviets, since in London they were pushing Germany with all their might to war with the USSR.
Molotov signs the famous pact. Ribbentrop is behind him, Stalin on the left
Option two: Stalin continues to conduct unsuccessful negotiations on ensuring collective security in Europe with Britain and France instead of concluding an agreement with Germany. In this case, the Munich Agreement (the annexation of Czechoslovakia by Germany with the connivance of England and France) occurs for the second time: Poland passes under Nazi control, a German outpost is created in the Baltic States, and puppet "independent states" controlled by Hitler are created in Western Ukraine and Western Belarus. The USSR gets an enemy one step away from Leningrad and Moscow and the absence of allies in the event of an imminent attack by the Reich, which did not suit Stalin at all.
Option three: Hitler attacks Poland, she asks for help from the Soviet Union, and he enters the war with Germany. The option is inferior, because in this case there is a great chance of getting an Anglo-German coalition, the successful outcome of the struggle against which is highly doubtful. The Kremlin remembered the Spanish Civil War very well, and during the Munich Agreement Czechoslovakia was immediately warned: if it decided to ask the USSR for help, let alone accept it, then “all of Europe” led by Great Britain and France would oppose Czechoslovakia. Stalin did not want to fight Europe, and even fight off Japan, Germany's ally in the Far East.
Option four: Hitler introduces troops into Poland, the USSR, in response, occupies Western Ukraine and Western Belarus to prevent the creation of puppet states there. In this case, there is a great chance of a war with Germany with dubious prospects and without any help from England and France. Consequently, Stalin was not satisfied with this option either.
Thus, in the current situation, the USSR had the only way to ensure its own security: to conclude a non-aggression pact with Germany. This was done.
Only one question remains unclear: was such an agreement with secret protocols legal and did it not contradict the then existing international diplomatic practice?
Secret protocols to treaties were not considered anything out of the ordinary at the time. For example, the secret protocol of British guarantees to Poland stated that Great Britain would provide assistance to the Poles only in the event of an attack on them by Germany, and not by any other country. The secret protocol on the restoration of the Soviet-Polish borders in 1939, the Polish government in London wanted to sign with the USSR in 1941. There is information that the Polish-German treaty of 1934, directed against the Soviet Union, was also accompanied by a secret protocol.
The delimitation of spheres of influence, for which the USSR is particularly zealously reproached, was also not unusual in international practice. In March 1938, Poland, threatening Lithuania with war, received a notification from Germany that in the event of the capture of this country, the Germans would lay claim to the Klaipeda region, while the rest of Lithuania could be disposed of by the Poles as they wanted. In 1939, the British recognized occupied China as a Japanese zone of influence, and in 1944 Churchill, at a meeting in Moscow, proposed to delimit the spheres of interest in Europe.
Thus, it turns out that the non-aggression pact between the USSR and Germany not only fully corresponded to the spirit and letter of the law - it was also one of the greatest diplomatic victories of the Soviet Union and became a significant contribution to victory in World War II. After all, if it were not for the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, German troops would have covered hundreds of kilometers across Western Ukraine and Western Belarus in 1941, not with heavy battles, but under a harmonica, without getting tired. Leningrad and Moscow, most likely, would have fallen, which would have cast doubt on the successful outcome of the war for the anti-Hitler coalition. And the coalition itself might not have formed - after all, there is no guarantee that the British would not have contributed to the dismemberment of the Soviet Union, as they had previously done with Czechoslovakia.