MOLOTOV IN BERLIN
Relations between Berlin and Moscow had for some months been souring. It was one thing for Stalin and Hitler to double-cross third parties, but quite another when they began double-cross each other. Hitler had been helpless to prevent the Russians from grabbing the Baltic States and the two Rumanian provinces of Bessarabia and northern Bucovina, and his frustration only added to his growing resentment. The Russian drive westward would have to be stopped and first of all in Rumania, whose oil resources were of vital importance to a Germany which, because of the British blockade, could no longer import petroleum by sea. To complicate Hitler's problem, Hungary and Bulgaria too demanded slices of Rumanian territory. Hungary, in fact, as the summer of 1940 approached its end, prepared to go to war in order to win back Transylvania, which Rumania had taken from her after the First World War. Such a war, Hitler realised, would cut off Germany from her main source of crude oil and probably bring the Russians in to occupy all of Rumania and rob the Reich permanently of Rumanian oil.
By August 28 the situation had become so threatening that Hitler ordered five Panzer and three motorized Divisions plus parachute and airborne troops to make ready to seize the Rumanian oil fields on September 1st. That same day he conferred with Ribbentrop and Ciano at the Berghof and then dispatched them to Vienna, where they were to lay down the law to the foreign ministers of Hungary and Rumania and make them accept Axis arbitration. This mission was accomplished without much trouble after Ribbentrop had browbeaten both sides. On August 30 at the Belvedere Palace in Vienna the Hungarians and Rumanian's accepted the Axis settlement. When Mihai Manoiescu, the Rumanian Foreign Minister, saw the map stipulating that about one half of Transylvania should go to Hungary, he fainted, falling across the table at which the signing of the agreement was taken place, and regaining consciousness only after physicians had worked over him with camphor. [It cost King Carol his throne. On September 6 he abdicated in favour of his eighteen-year-old son, Michael, and fled with his red-haired mistress, Magda Lupescu, in a ten-car special train filled with what might be described as "loot" across Yugoslavia to Switzerland. General Ion Antonescu, chief of the fascist "Iron Guard" and a friend of Hitler, became dictator, sic.]
Ostensibly for her reasonableness but really to give Hitler a legal excuse for his further plans, Rumania received from Germany and Italy guarantee of what was left of her territory.
Light on the Führer's further plans came to his intimates three weeks later. On September 20, in a top-secret directive, Hitler ordered the sending of 'military missions' to Rumania.'To the world their tasks will be to guide friendly Rumania in organizing and instructing their forces. The real tasks-which must not become apparent either to the Rumanians or to our troops-will be: To protect the oil districts...To prepare for deployment from Rumanian basis of German and Rumanian forces in case war with the Soviet Russia is forced upon us'. That would take care of the southern flank, of a new front he was beginning to picture in his mind.
|Antonescu and Adolf Hitler at the Führerbau in Munich (June 1941). Joachim von Ribbentrop and Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm Keitel in the background|
The Vienna award and specially the German guarantee of Rumania's remaining territory went down badly in Moscow, which had not been consulted. When Schulenberg called on Molotov on September 1 to present a windy memorandum from Ribbentrop attempting to explain-and justify-what had taken place in Vienna, the Foreign Commissar, the ambassador reported, 'was reserved, in contrast to his usual manner'. He was not reserved, however, to lodge a strong verbal protest. He accused the German government of violating Article III of the Nazi-Soviet Pact, which called for consultations, and presenting Russia with "accomplished facts" which conflicted with German assurances about "questions of common interest". The thieves, as is almost inevitable in such cases , had begun to quarrel over the spoils.
Recriminations became more heated in the following days. On September 3rd, Ribbentrop telegraphed a long memorandum to Moscow denying that Germany had violated the Moscow Pact and accusing Russia of having done just that by gobbling up the Baltic States and two Rumanian provinces without consulting Berlin. The memorandum was couched in strong language and the Russians replied to it on September 21 with equally strong words-by this time both sides were putting their cases in writing. The Soviet answer reiterated that Germany had broken the pact, warned that Russia still has many interests in Rumania and concluded with a sarcastic proposal that if the article for consultation involved "certain inconveniences and restrictions" for the Reich the Soviet government was ready to amend or delete this clause of the treaty. The Kremlin's suspicions of Hitler were further aroused by two events in September. On the sixteenth, Ribbentrop wired Schulenburg to call on Molotov and "casually" inform him that German reinforcements for northern Norway were going to be sent by way of Finland. A few days later, on September 25, the Nazi Foreign Minister got off another telegram to the embassy in Moscow, this time addressed to the chargé , Schulenburg having returned to Germany on leave. It was a most confidential message, being marked "Strictly Secret-State Secret", and directing that its instructions were to be carried out only if on the next day the chargé received from Berlin by wire or telephone a special code word. He was to inform Molotov that "in the next few days" Japan, Italy and Germany were going to sign in Berlin a military alliance. It was not to be directed against Russia-a specific article would say that.
A dark, drizzling day, and Molotov arrived, his reception being extremely stiff and formal. Driving up 'Unter den Linden' to the Soviet Embassy, he looked like a plugging, provincial schoolmaster. But to have survived in the cut-throat competition of the Kremlin he must have something. The Germans talk glibly of letting have that old Russian dream, the Bosporus and the Dardanelles, while they will take the rest of the Balkans: Rumania, Yugoslavia and Bulgaria. [During the entire war the Russian Embassy in Berlin was considered Soviet territory by Germany, but they never entered or interfered with anything on the premises,sic]
|Newspaper article from Pravda, 18 November 1940 depicting Molotov meeting German leader Adolf Hitler'|
This being so, Ribbentrop explained, the time had come for the four powers, Russia, Germany, Italy and Japan, to define their "spheres of interest'. The Führer, he said, had concluded that all four countries would naturally expand 'in southerly direction'. Japan had already turned south, as had Italy, while Germany, after the establishment of the "New Order" in Western Europe, would find her additional Lebensraum (Room to live) in (of all places!) "Central Africa". Ribbentrop, said he" wondered" if Russia would also not "turn to the south for the natural outlet to the open sea which was so important to her." "Which sea"? Molotov interjected icily.
This was an awkward but crucial question, as the Germans would learn during the next thirty-six hours of ceaseless conversations with this stubborn, prosaic Bolshevik. The interruption floored Ribbentrop for a moment and he could not think of an answer. Instead, he rambled on about "the great changes that would take place all over the world after the war" and gabbled that the important thing was that "both partners to the German-Russian pact had together done some good business" and "would continue to do some business". But Molotov insisted on an answer to this simple question, Ribbentrop finally replied by suggesting that "in the long run the most advantageous access to the sea for Russia could be found in the direction of the Persian Golf and the Arabian Sea".
Molotov sat there, says Dr. Schmidt, who was present taking notes, "with an impenetrable expression". He said very little, except to the limited spheres of interest, "particularly between Germany and Russia". The wily Soviet negotiator was saving his ammunition for Hitler, whom he saw in the afternoon. For the all powerful Nazi warlord it turned out to be quite a surprising, nerve-racking, frustrating and even unique experience.
"The questions hailed down upon Hitler", Schmidt afterwards recalled. No foreign visitor had ever spoken to him in this way in my presence". What was Germany up to in Finland? Molotov wanted to know. What was the meaning of the New Order in Europe and in Asia, and what role would the U.S.S.R> be given in it? What was the s"significance" of the Tripartite Pact? "Moreover", he continued, "there are issues to be clarified regarding Russia's Balkan and Black Sea interests with respect to Bulgaria, Rumania and Turkey". He would like, he said, to hear some answers and "explanations".
Hitler, perhaps for the first time in his life, was taken aback to answer. He proposed that they adjourn "in view of a possible air-raid alarm", promising to go into detailed discussions the next day. A showdown had been postponed but not prevented, and the next morning when Hitler and Molotov resumed their talks the Russian Commissar was relentless. To begin with, about Finland, over which the two men soon became embroiled in a bitter and caustic dispute. Molotov demanded that Germany get its troops out of Finland. Hitler denied that "Finland was occupied by German troops". they were merely being sent through Finland to Norway. But he wanted to know "whether Russia intended to go to war against Finland". According to German minutes, Molotov "answered this question somewhat evasively", and Hitler was not satisfied.
|Russian Embassy, Unter den Linden, Berlin. Post War 1948|
After the conquest of England , 'he declared' the British Empire would be apportioned as giant world-wide estate in bankruptcy of forty million square kilometres. In this bankrupt estate there would be for Russia access to the ice-free and really open ocean. Thus far, a minority of forty-five million Englishmen had ruled six hundred million inhabitants of the British Empire. He was about to crush this minority... Under these circumstances there arose world-wide perspectives... All the countries which could possibly be interested in the bankrupt state would have to stop all controversies among themselves and concern themselves exclusively with partition of the British Empire. This applied to Germany, France, Italy, Russia and Japan.
The chilly, impassive Russian guest did not appear to be moved by such glittering "world-wide perspectives", nor was he convinced as the Germans, a point he later rubbed in, that the British Empire would soon be there for the taking. He wanted, he said, to discuss problems "closer to Europe", Turkey for instance, and Bulgaria and Rumania."The Soviet Government", he said, "is of the opion that the German guarantee of Rumania is aimed against the interest of Soviet Russia, if one may express oneself so bluntly". He had expressing himself bluntly all day, to the growing annoyance of his hosts, and now he pressed on. He demanded that Germany "revoke" this guarantee. Hitler declined. All right, Molotov persisted, in view of Moscow's interest in the Straits, what would Germany say "if Russia gave Bulgaria ...a guarantee under exactly the same conditions as Germany and Italy had given one to Rumania"? One can almost see Hitler's dark frown. He inquired whither Bulgaria had asked for such guarantee, as Had Rumania? "He (the Führer)" the German memorandum quotes him adding, "did not know of any request by Bulgaria". At any rate, he would first have to consult Mussolini before giving the Russians a more definite answer to their question. And he added ominously that if Germany "were per chance looking foe sources of friction with Russia, she would not need the straits for that". But the Führer, usually talkative, had no more stomach for talk with this impossible Russian. "At this point in the conversation", the German minutes, "the Führer called attention to the late hour and stated to break off the talk now, since the main issues had probably been sufficiently discussed".
That night Molotov gave a gala banquet to his hosts at the Russian Embassy on Unter den Linden. Hitler, apparently exhausted and still irritated by the afternoon's ordeal, did not put in an appearance. The British did. Press Reporters wondered as they had not appeared over Berlin, as they had every night, to remind the Soviet Commissar on his first evining in the capital, whatever the Germans told him, Britain was still in the war, and kicking. Most (the Foreign Press Reporters) had waited hopefully for the planes, but they did not come. Officials in the Wilhelmstrasse, who had feared the worst, were visibly relieved. But not for long. On the evening of November 13, the British came over early.[Churchill says the air raid was timed for this occasion. "We had heard of the conference beforehand", he later wrote, "and though not invited in the discussion did not wish to be entirely out of the proceedings".(Churchill,"Their finest hour,page 584), sic]
|Molotov's grave at Novodevichy cemetery"|
Molotov did not rise to the bait. The treaty was obviously an attempt to divert Russia from its historic pressure westward, down the Baltic, into the Balkans and through the Straits to the Mediterranean, where inevitably would clash with the greedy designs of Germany and Italy. The U.S.S.R. was not, at least at the moment, interested in the Indian Ocean, which lay far away. What it was interested in at the moment, Molotov replied, was Europe and the Turkish Straits. "Consequently", he added, "paper agreements will not suffice for the Soviet Union, she would to insist on effective guarantees of her security".
The questions which interested the Soviet Union, he elaborated, concerned not only Turkey but Bulgaria... But the fate of Rumania and Hungary was also of interest to the U.S.S.R. and couls not be immaterial to her under any circumstances. It would further interest the Soviet Government to learn what the Axis contemplated with regard to Yugoslavia and Greece, and likewise, what Germany intended with regard to Poland...The Soviet Government was also interested in the question of Swedish neutrality...Besides, there existed the question of the passage out of the Baltic Sea...
The untiring, poker-faced Soviet Foreign Commissar left nothing out and Ribbentrop, who felt himself buried under the avalanche of the questions, for at this point Molotov said he would "appreciate it" if his guest made to answer them, protested that he was being "interrogated too closely".
|Germans refuelling with train tank cars one week into Operation Barbarossa'|
Continued under Part 3