Published Date

January 1, 1945

Resource Type

GI Roundtable Series, Primary Source

From GI Roundtable 46: Our Russian Ally (1945)

At the same time, the Soviet leaders were taking no chances. They had studied Hitler’s Mein Kampf, in which the Fuhrer said that Germany should build a continental empire to the east, at the expense of “Russia and her border states.” Unlike the British, the French, and many Americans, the Russians did not underestimate the military strength and determination of the Nazis. They offered again and again to cooperate with the Western powers in maintaining collective security. They contended that peace could not be preserved in the west by making territorial sacrifices to Germany in eastern Europe. But, rightly or wrongly, they did not trust men like Chamberlain and Daladier, fearing that these men, whatever their public statements, had in effect said to Hitler, “Go east, young man, go east.” Their fears were strengthened when, at Munich in September 1938, Chamberlain and Daladier agreed to let Germany take Sudetenland, a section of Czechoslovakia, in the hope of achieving “peace in our time.”

When Hitler occupied the rest of Czechoslovakia in 1939, the Soviet leaders turned away from attempts at collaboration with the Western powers. Instead, they bent every effort to prevent, or at least delay, a German attack on Russia through Poland, which they believed was next on the Nazi program. The Russo-German nonaggression pact of August 1939 was a move in that direction. From Stalin’s point of view it insured against a German attack on Russia by turning the Nazi drive for aggression toward the west. From Hitler’s point of view it assured against a Russian attack on the German rear during the time it would take to conquer France and Great Britain.

As it turned out, the Russians miscalculated the Nazi game. They apparently expected that Britain and France, although inadequately prepared for war with Germany, would hold out long enough to exhaust the German army and thus diminish its eventual threat to Russia. But Germany won a series of spectacular victories in the west. Twenty-one months after the conquest of Poland, Hitler was ready to resume his original idea of creating a continental empire in the east at the expense of “Russia and her border states.”

In the meantime, of course, Stalin had not been idle. If he missed on the timing he did not mistake the final direction of the Nazi attack. Against the day when Hitler would be ready to turn eastward again, Stalin pushed out the western borders of the Soviet Union. By methods that subordinated the fate of small neighboring states to the need of the USSR to secure its existence, Russia acquired all or parts of Poland, the Baltic states, Finland, and Romania.

When the seasoned German veterans conquered the Balkans in April and May 1941, the Kremlin realized that it could not postpone a showdown with Germany much longer. In April, to protect Russia’s rear in the Far East, it signed a neutrality pact with Japan. It was none too soon, for on June 22, 1941 the German invasion began.


Russia comes of age

In the course of the war Russia has demonstrated that it is great not only in terms of territory, population, and resources, but also in terms of military strength, industrial production, and the fighting spirit of its people. In contrast to 1939, the world now recognizes that Germany is not the only great power on the European continent. Even if Germany should regain a portion of its military and industrial strength after the war, there will be another power to challenge its position. For in this war Russia has come of age as a great nation no longer isolated from the main stream of world development. That fact profoundly alters the international scene both in Europe and Asia since the USSR forms a very large part of both continents and has vital interests in both.

To achieve stability after the war, Britain, the United States, and Russia must work together. It is probably not t00 much to say that the success or failure of these three powers in establishing a working partnership will determine the course of international relations for years to come. Such a partnership is being gradually worked out in the conferences at Moscow, Teheran, Dumbarton Oaks, Yalta, and others that are yet to come.

Moscow’s search for security

The Soviet Union is a vast country, with an energetic and gifted population. It is rich in most of the natural resources necessary for modern industrialization and modern warfare. The Russians do not need more territory; they do not need more resources; they do not need more people. What they do need is security, and they will insist on obtaining it as compensation for the enormous losses of men and material they have suffered in this war.

Russia might hope to gain its own security singlehanded—disregarding the interests of other nations and perhaps over-riding the independence of its neighbors. Or it might seek security through Joint international action, recognizing its share of responsibility of the welfare of all peoples.

The Moscow accord of November 1, 1943 indicated that Russia would not follow the first course. It laid the cornerstone of a three-way partnership on which the United States, Great Britain, and the Soviet Union intend to build their military and economic power into a system of real collective security. The foundations of that partnership have been further reinforced at succeeding conferences at Teheran, Dum-barton Oaks, and Yalta.

During 1944 Moscow consulted London and Washington on matters relating to Finland, Romania, Bulgaria, and Yugoslavia. While Russia has tended to follow an independent policy with respect to Poland, at Yalta in February 1945 Stalin agreed to a joint decision with Roosevelt and Churchill on the provisional government and boundaries of Poland. In such other vital questions as the disarming and control of defeated Germany, the Soviet premier, who might have played a lone hand, pledged his willingness to cooperate with the leaders of the other principal United Nations.

Next section: What Was the Third International?