First contacts. The Soviet military mission arrives in London on 9 July 1941.



As the German leader, Adolf Hitler, dismantled the agreements of the Versailles Treaty, annexed Austria, defied the decisions made in Munich, occupied Czechoslovakia, and provoked a crisis in the Germano-Polish relations in the spring and summer 1939, he simultaneously created the material and psychological grounds for closer co-operation of the European countries menaced by Third Reich's expansionism. The Soviet diplomacy showed a particular interest in that matter, and since 1934 tried to enforce the policy of collective security guided by the League of Nations. It was supposed to nullify the effects of Hitler's exploitation of contradictions among his potential victims for his further conquests, in the situation when they would be left alone in face of the aggression.

In the spring and summer 1939, in Moscow, Paris and London were conducted talks, whose goal was to create a coalition of the Soviet Union, France, Great Britain and Poland. Those talks produced no results, as the parties pursued different interests. The Soviet Union demanded concrete and unequivocal decisions, supported by a signed military convention. Western democracies, instead of decisions, preferred talks about them, and having the USSR keep Germany at bay in the East, to make her respect Anglo-French interests in the West. Poland was treated solely instrumentally, as it was clearly demonstrated in September 1939, when France and England remained completely idle, while Hitler was making short with their ally. Eventually, the Anglo-French-Soviet talks ended in nothing in August 1939. The subject of conflict became the question of introducing the Red Army into combat contact with the German Wehrmacht. The Soviet Union is separated from Germany by the Polish territory, and Poland rejected any notion of allowing any passage to the Soviet troops.

As the idea of an alliance with the Western democracies failed, and the Japanese menace was looming in the Far East, the Soviet government sought protection of its interests on its own. The non-aggression pact concluded between the USSR and Germany on 23 August 1939 had to furnish such a protection. Of course, the Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin, had not - for he could not have them - any illusions regarding the perspectives of the pact with the partner, who, since his appearance on the diplomatic scene, had made breaking agreements a political rule, and had not adhered to any of the international liabilities he had signed. However, Stalin believed that he had outsmarted Hitler, and postponed the confrontation with Germany to later times, when the USSR would be better prepared. He also expected that Hitler would be kept at bay in the West. The future, however, proved more improbable than those calculations: Hitler won one success after another, and only the Soviet Union was able to bring his triumphant conquests to a halt. Meanwhile the price for not exploiting the opportunities opened by the Soviet diplomacy before 23 August 1939, was paid first by Poland, then Denmark, Norway, Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg, and finally France. Hitler was free to concentrate his forces on one front.

Sir Winston Spencer Churchill, an outstanding British conservative politician, and in the past also a leader of the foreign intervention to the Russian revolution, since long had perceived the USSR as a would-be ally in the confrontation with Germany. Therefore, on 1 October 1939, he described, in a radio broadcast, the extension of the Soviet borders after 17 September as a measure justified by the matters of security, and depicted the Germano-Soviet demarcation line in Poland as a future frontline of the new world war. The fall of France had only confirmed that conviction in Churchill, who at that time was already the chief of the British War Cabinet. On 19 June 1940, during his first meeting with the prime-minister of the Polish government in exile, General Władysław Sikorski, Churchill said that once England fences herself of the invasion, next spring Hitler, to employ his great armies he will not want or be able to send home, may succumb to temptation to strike against Moscow. [Kowalski W. T. (1977).] At the same time the Polish military attaché in London, Col. Leon Mitkiewicz, noted in his diaries under the date 18 June 1940: Here, in London, a firmer and firmer opinion makes its way that Soviet Russia will become the decisive factor in the current war, and soon it must come to her clash with Germany. Such are the views of the British politicians and militarymen. [Mitkiewicz L. (1968).]

In the new situation, the British interests had to be represented by the new ambassador of the United Kingdom in Moscow, Sir Stafford Cripps - a known advocate of closer Anglo-Soviet co-operation. He arrived in Moscow in the mid-June 1940, and made it his point to dismiss the atmosphere of suspicion that surrounded Great Britain in the USSR. Then he planned to create a favourable climate for mutual political rapprochement. However, perspectives of Cripps' mission did not look rosy: in the Kremlin they still remembered the British behaviour in Munich. Stalin strove to maintain the existing status quo in the relations with Germany, and saw in the British initiative a new attempt to provoke a conflict between the USSR and Germany.

However, Hitler had his own agenda, and regardless of what Churchill expected or Stalin believed, yet during the French campaign, ordered to launch preparations for war with the USSR. First studies in that case were done already in July - before the Battle of Britain, and on 18 December 1940 Hitler signed the new war plan codenamed Barbaroßa. Soon started sophisticated preparations, which, due to their scale, could not help drawing the attention of diplomats and spies. In the spring 1941 information was streaming to Moscow from various sources, including Churchill and his closest associates. Stalin was aware of that information, he knew that spelled an onslaught, he had been preparing for that since long, but he made a grave mistake in his planning: he thought that Hitler would not dare to risk a war on two fronts, before having made short with England, and grasping the control in air and at sea. In fact the information, delivered by Stalin's own intelligence, was sinister, but Stalin was convinced against hope that it meant just Hitler's attempt of exercising pressure, before putting forward some new political or economical demands. He also contemplated the possibility that it was a game of the German military, that wanted to provoke a new war against the will of the German political leadership. In this situation, according to Stalin, the only sensible thing was to remain calm, refraining from actions that could be deemed hostile, and which could be used by the Germans as a pretext to unleash the war, and finally showing willingness to negotiate. Stalin expected that peaceful attitude and negotiations would once again win some time. In the thick of evaluations and calculations, the Sunday 22 June 1941 became to him a surprise, not as much political, as it was tactical.

The invasion of the Third Reich on the USSR was the turning point of the war as a whole, and for the Anglo-Soviet relations it opened new prospects of co-operation. Churchill had no doubts as to what he should have done. Already in the evening of 22 June, he spoke passionately to the British people. Once again he reminded that no one had been a more consistent opponent of the communism than himself, and recalled his role in the foreign intervention in the Russian civil war in 1919-1920; he admitted that he had not changed his mind. But in the new situation, in face of deadly danger to the very biological existence of nations, ideological contradictions had to be swept away. The key point of Churchill's speech contained the following declaration:

I have to declare the decision of His Majesty's Government - and I feel sure it is a decision in which the great Dominions will in due course concur - for we must speak out now at once, without a day's delay. I have to make the declaration, but can you doubt what our policy will be? We have but one aim and single, irrevocable purpose. We are resolved to destroy Hitler and every vestige of the Nazi régime. From this nothing will turn us - nothing. We will never parley, we will never negotiate with Hitler or any of his gang. We shall fight him by land, we shall fight him by sea, we shall fight him in the air, until, with God's help, we have rid the earth of his shadow and liberated its people from his yoke. Any man or state who fights on against Nazidom will have our aid. Any man or state who marches with Hitler is our foe. (...) That is our policy and our declaration. It follows therefore that we shall give whatever help we can to Russia and the Russian people. We shall appeal to all our friends and allies in every part of the world to take the same course and pursue it, as we shall, faithfully and steadfastly to the end. [Churchill W. S. L. (1986c).]

Meanwhile in Moscow and London were prepared the first diplomatic acts, which would unite the efforts of the countries fighting Hitler. On 8 July Stalin had a long conference with ambassador Cripps. As he presented the latest developments on the Germano-Soviet front, the Soviet leader paid a lot of attention to the development of the political co-operation with Great Britain, and particularly he presented a project of of a bi-lateral agreement between the two states, concerning common goals in the war with Germany. That proposal raised considerable interest in London. Simultaneously the Soviet Union addressed similar proposals to the governments of Czechoslovakia, Poland and Yugoslavia.

On 10 July Churchill answered positively to Stalin's proposals, and agreed to sign an appropriate agreement, upon consultations with the dominions. On the same day, the British ambassador in Washington, Sir Edward Halifax, obtained the support of the United States. The agreement between Great Britain and the USSR concerning common policy towards Germany was signed in the presence of Stalin at 17:00 on 12 July in Moscow by the People's Commissar for Foreign Affairs, Vyacheslav Molotov, and Sir Stafford Cripps. The agreement was based on Stalin's proposals of 8 July, and stipulated that

(1) The two Governments mutually undertake to render each other assistance and support of all kinds in the present war against Hitlerite Germany.

(2) They further undertake that during this war they will neither negotiate nor conclude an armistice or treaty of peace except by mutual agreement.

It was the first act of alliance that gave the beginning to the Great Coalition, which during the Second World War became known as the United Nations.

During the second decade of July in London were finalized Soviet-Czechoslovak talks. Relations between the two countries were severed on 23 August 1939, but Soviet diplomats maintained informal contacts with Czechoslovak representatives in London: president Edvard Beneš, foreign minister Jan Masaryk, and the last ambassador of Czechoslovakia in Moscow, Zdenek Fierlinger. On 4 July 1941 the Soviet ambassador in London, Ivan Maisky, upon receiving instructions from Moscow, met the chief of the British diplomacy, Sir Anthony Robert Eden, to inform him about the position of the Soviet government towards Czechoslovakia, Poland and Yugoslavia. According to Maisky's statement, the government of the USSR fully supported restoration of the independence of those three countries, and agreed to reopen their legacies in Moscow and form their national armed forces on the Soviet territory. The government of the USSR, concluded Maisky, recognized the inalienable right of those nations to organize their statehood without foreign intervention.

Soviet-Czechoslovak talks began on 8 July in London and did not encounter any obstacles. Eventually, after having agreed upon the status of the Czechoslovak troops in the Soviet Union, ambassador Maisky and minister Masaryk signed, on 18 July, the agreement of mutual assistance in the war with Germany. The agreement provided for immediate exchange of ambassadors, mutual aid of any kind in the war with Germany, and formation of national Czechoslovak troops under the command of a person appointed by the Czechoslovak government and approved by the Soviet government. In the spirit of the latter, started the formation of the 1st Czechoslovak Battalion, and later also other units, under the command of General Ludvik Svoboda.

The process of normalization of the relations between the Soviet government and the Polish government of Gen. Władysław Sikorski was way more complicated. Gen. Sikorski had been thinking about creating the Polish Armed Forces in the USSR for a year then, but it was not until 22 June 1941 that such a concept became possible at all. The war against Germany had put both countries on the same side of the conflict of course, but the mutual relations were burdened by the complexity of problems that occurred in 1939-1941, and the problem of the Polish-Soviet border in the first place. Sikorski did not recognize the fact of reunification of the Lithuanian, Byelorussian and Ukrainian peoples, and demanded the return of the lands, where the Poles constituted a slight minority. This position though was not shared by the British politicians, who in 1939-1941 did not fail to remind that in 1919-1922 they did not support the Polish invasion of the Ukrainian, Byelorussian and Lithuanian lands, as well as that the so-called Curzon Line was fixed as the ethnic delimitation between the Poles and their eastern neighbours, as stipulated by the treaties of Versailles and Spa (1919-1920).

The new chapter in the Soviet-Polish relations was opened by Sikorski's speech broadcast on 23 June 1941 from London. In that speech he expressed solidarity with the Soviet Union fighting against Nazi Germany, and appealed for undertaking talks to form a common front against the aggression. Direct talks between Sikorski and ambassador Maisky began on 5 July. Sikorski at once demanded that USSR respect borderlines established by the treaty of Riga (1921), renounce Germano-Soviet agreements that affected Poland, and create a Polish army designated to fight hitlerite forces on the Eastern front. Maisky accepted those demands with one exception - the borders; in that case he proposed opening of new talks that would establish a new ethnic borderline. This in its turn was unacceptable to Sikorski. The talks stalled.

When the protracted arguments over the question of the borders jeopardized the outcome of the whole talks, the British diplomacy tried to mediate. Having the consent of the Soviet side to nullify the agreements concluded with the Third Reich, minister Eden and the permanent undersecretary of the Foreign Office, Sir Alexander Cadogan, asked Sikorski not to stick to the demand to have his position recognized as a condition sine qua non, and leave the question of the borders for a later date. According to the practical Britons, the fates of the war were still uncertain; there still was, they argued, too much concern about the very existence of nations and their states to consider such specific questions like the post-war borders. British politicians insisted that the paramount principle that should determine the political decisions ought to be the predicament to consolidate all the forces fighting Hitler. Therefore a Polish-Soviet agreement ought to be concluded without delay, and without endless discussions about territorial disputes, which at that time could not be solved.

Sikorski received those arguments with mixed feelings, but his decision was determined by two questions: the status of the Polish population in the USSR and creation of the Polish army as soon as possible. Issuing from those two questions, and in view of the current political situation, Sikorski accepted the British formula regarding the borders, which was neither a success nor a defeat. Yet many members of his government had completely opposite opinions, among them the foreign minister August Zaleski, ministers without portfolio Marian Seyda and Gen. Kazimierz Sosnkowski, as well as the president, Władysław Raczkiewicz. They all were against concluding an agreement based on conditions agreed upon by Sikorski and the British diplomats. Moreover, Sosnkowski added more arguments against it: he maintained that the campaign in the East would not last longer than 6 weeks, and so there was no sense to conclude any agreement, especially a bad one.

The crisis within the Polish government in exile reached its culminating point on 25 July. The day earlier Sikorski made it known to Eden that his policy encountered serious obstacles posed by some ministers, and suggested that the British side influence the position of the break-away group during the special banquet the Polish government was going to launch for the British politicians right the next day. Once Sosnkowski learnt about the planned meeting and its goals, he decided to disrupt it. He met Zaleski and Raczkiewicz, who argued that breaking the meeting might force Eden to withdraw from mediation between Sikorski and Maisky, and therefore annihilate Sikorski's plans, and may be even himself. [Kowalski W. T. (1977).] The dinner was to begin in Savoy at eight o'clock. When all the invited Britons arrived, it occurred that Sosnkowski, Zaleski and Seyda were missing. Instead of them, at eight o'clock, arrived a courier, who delivered letters from all the three, informing that they turned down the invitation, and resigned from their posts. Sikorski ignored the resignation of his ministers, and despite of all the obstacles, he decided to pursue the conclusion of the agreement.

On 27 July, with Mikołajczyk representing the agrarians, Lieberman from the Polish Socialist Party, and Popiel from the Labour Party (...), Sikorski went to Raczkiewicz and in strong words accused Sosnkowski and Zaleski of sabotaging the talks, and the president of sympathising with them. Raczkiewicz warned that if the agreement was not approved by the Council of Ministers unanimously, he would refuse its ratification, as provided by the constitution of 1935. [Kowalski W. T. (1977).]

Next day individual parties were discussing the existing situation.

Next, they held a session of the Council of Ministers, without Sosnkowski, Zaleski and Seyda, and unanimously supported Sikorski's position. Once again Sikorski, Mikołajczyk, Lieberman and Popiel went to Raczkiewicz to convince him to change his position, but their mission did not bring results. Raczkiewicz stubbornly stood by his negative opinion, and questioned the unanimity of the Council of Ministers. Then annoyed Sikorski warned Raczkiewicz that he would not hesitate even to force the president to resign from his office if he, against the written pledges given to Sikorski during the assuming the office of the president, tried to use his constitutional powers to nullify and frustrate the Polish-Soviet agreement. [Kowalski W. T. (1977).]

It did not convince Raczkiewicz. He still refused to authorize Sikorski to sign the agreement. In the evening Sikorski discussed with Eden the final text of the agreement, before handing it over to Maisky; simultaneously, in Moscow, ambassador Cripps discussed with Stalin some changes in the text, concerning in particular the status of the persons imprisoned by the Soviet authorities. The ceremony of signing the agreement was scheduled for 30 July. The problem of the lack of authorization was solved by a compromise: since credentials in the diplomatic procedures are presented only upon the request of the other side, the Russians did not ask them from Sikorski, and instead the agreement was signed in the presence of Churchill and Eden.

The Soviet-Polish agreement signed on 30 July 1941 had five clauses and two secret protocols. They made the Germano-Soviet treaties of 1939 concerning Poland invalid, restored diplomatic relations between the two governments, provided for formation of the Polish army under the Polish command in the USSR, and announced amnesty for all the Polish citizens detained in the USSR. Clause 3 obliged both sides to render one to another aid and support of all kinds in the present war against Hitlerite Germany. On 14 August in Moscow was signed the Soviet-Polish military convention, which materialized the basic decisions of the July 30th agreement in the question of forming the Polish army in the USSR. Its Clause 7 stipulated that Polish troops formed in the USSR would operate in units not smaller than divisions, and according to the current operational needs of the Supreme Command of the USSR. Four months later technicalities of the military convention were precised by the Soviet-Polish declaration signed in Moscow on 4 December 1941, which in the Point 2 stated that the Polish army in the USSR will wage war against the German brigands shoulder to shoulder with the Soviet forces.

Those three legal acts outlined the obligations of both sides in matters of mutual assistance: the Soviet government had committed itself to aid the formation of the Polish army in the USSR, and the Polish government had agreed that the Polish troops would take part in the fights on the Eastern front. The agreement of 30 July 1941 became an important milestone in the process of consolidation of the alliance of the countries fighting with Hitler, as well as co-operation between the Soviet Union and Poland - the countries that had paid dearly for the lack of such co-operation.

The German invasion on the Soviet Union had also opened a new chapter in the Franco-Soviet relations. Before 22 June 1941, the government of the USSR maintained diplomatic relations with the collaborationist government of Marshal Philippe Pétain in Vichy, where resided the Soviet ambassador Alexander Bogomolov. This situation, as well as the necessity to maintain correct relations with Berlin, forced Moscow to be rather reserved towards the Committee Free France and its leader, Gen. Charles de Gaulle. But on 23 June 1941 de Gaulle, while on trip to Damascus, learnt news of the opening of hostilities between Germany and the Soviet Union, and as early as on 24 June in the morning, he telegraphed the delegation of the Free France in London with instructions to proclaim, very frankly, that the French were with the Russians, since they were fighting the Germans. The French diplomacy announced that the French people are with the Russians against Germany. We desire, therefore, to organize military relations with Moscow. [Gaulle Ch. de (1998).] After all, de Gaulle many times put emphasis on community of interests of France and the USSR, continental countries, which should organize relations of their own, as a balancing element against relations with the Anglo-Saxons.

On 28 June 1941 in London took place the first meeting between ambassador Maisky and Maurice Dejean, the chief of the "Free France" diplomacy. Negotiations protracted though, due to the position of the British diplomacy, which demanded that the Russians co-ordinate their policy towards the "Free French" with the Foreign Office. It was not until 26 September that, in an exchange of letters between Maisky and de Gaulle, the French General was recognized as the leader of all the Free French. Both sides pledged mutual aid and assistance for the common struggle with Germany and her allies. Maisky assured de Gaulle that the Soviet Union resolved to ensure the full and entire restoration of independence and greatness of France, [Майский И. М. (1980).] although to the disappointment of the French leader, there was no mentioning of the territorial integrity of the French colonial empire. Nevertheless, three years later, on 10 December 1944, those commitments were included into the agreement of alliance between France and the USSR, signed in Moscow for 20 years, it means not only with the wartime needs in view, but also as an element of the post-war European peace settlement.