The Molotov Ribbentrop Pact

Formally the 'Treaty of Non Aggression between Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics", the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact was signed on August 23, 1939 in Moscow by the German foreign minister, Joachim Ribbentrop, and his Soviet counterpart, Vyacheslav Molotov.

The Pact represented the ultimate failure of British prime minister Neville Chamberlain's policy of appeasement. Appeasement was always rooted in fear of Russian Bolshevism, and hoped that Nazi Germany would provide the counter to the communist threat without the western democracies having to become directly involved. It is true that to Hitler the Soviet Union was the ultimate threat, but Chamberlain apparently underestimated the wiliness of the two dictators, and the ability of the Fuhrer and Stalin to put aside their differences in the name of mutual self preservation, at least temporarily. Events in the Thirties, when Chamberlain effectively hung the Spanish Republic, Austria and Czechoslovakia out to dry, convinced Stalin, correctly, that Chamberlain would not come to the aid of the Soviet Union should the fascist nations attack it, and persuaded him of the need to come to a separate agreement with the fascists of his own.

The effect of a rapprochment between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union on European politics cannot be underestimated. General, indeed ultimately global, war was only a short month away. What was less clear to the politicians of the day was, however, the secret clause included in the Pact. The Pact divided Eastern Europe up into German and Soviet spheres of influence, effectively undoing the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk extorted out of Russia by Imperial Germany in World War One. Finland, among other nations, thus unknowingly found itself in the Soviet sphere.

Finnish politicians, themselves worried by the public aspects of the Pact, were doubly worried by how the formerly cordial relations they had enjoyed with Germany suddenly became cold and distant. German diplomats in Finland in the wake of the Pact became rather obviously non-committal towards their former friend. And when Poland was divided up between the Nazis and Communists late in 1939 surely in Finland alarm bells were beginning to ring. Finnish politicians still pinned their hopes on the protection of the League of Nations, however.

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