Moscow Negotiations of 1939

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Moscow Negotiations of 1939


negotiations between the USSR, Great Britain, and France regarding the conclusion of a treaty of mutual assistance. The negotiations were conducted at a time when the threat of world war was rising in the wake of the Munich Pact of 1938, the occupation of Bohemia and Moravia by fascist German troops, and the final dismemberment of Czechoslovakia in March 1939.

On March 18 the government of the USSR called for the immediate convocation of a conference of representatives of the USSR, Great Britain, France, Poland, Rumania, and Turkey to discuss measures for the prevention of further aggression. The British government rejected the Soviet proposal, and in mid-April proposed in turn that the Soviet government give unilateral guarantees to the Eastern European states bordering on the USSR. If the USSR had accepted the British proposals, Great Britain would have been free to stay out of the war in the event that the Soviet Union was drawn into military operations.

Pointing out the need to observe the principles of equality and reciprocity, on April 17 the Soviet government proposed that the Soviet Union, Great Britain, and France conclude a military convention and a tripartite treaty of mutual assistance. (The Soviet government submitted a draft treaty on June 2). Under the Soviet proposals each contracting state was obliged to render immediately every possible kind of assistance, including military aid, to any party to the treaty that was attacked in Europe. The proposals also provided that if the Eastern European states located between the Baltic and Black seas and bordering on the USSR were attacked, the parties to the treaty would come to their assistance.

Lengthy negotiations were opened, during which the French and British governments at first evaded recognition of the principle of mutual assistance and later, after more than a month of procrastination, began to direct their efforts toward limiting their obligations as much as possible. In response to the Soviet demand that the three powers extend guarantees to the Baltic states, the Western powers used the same tactics of procrastination and resorted to virtually breaking off the consideration of any issues.

Hoping to make the proceedings more businesslike, the Soviet government proposed opening the discussion of the military issues before the completion of the political negotiations. However, as a result of the Western powers’ tactics of sabotage, British and French military representatives did not arrive in Moscow to conclude a military convention until August 11. Moreover, the military representatives were lower echelon officials who had no authority to conclude a treaty.

During the negotiations the USSR, which was represented by K. E. Voroshilov, B. M. Shaposhnikov, and other prominent military men, submitted a concrete military plan stipulating that Soviet armed forces deployed against the potential aggressor would include 120 infantry and 16 cavalry divisions, 5, 000 heavy guns, 9, 000–10, 000 tanks, and 5, 000–5, 500 combat airplanes. Great Britain and France did not present any specific military plans. Furthermore, they did not secure the consent of the Polish government to the passage of Soviet armed forces through Poland in case of a military conflict with Germany, thus making it impossible for Soviet troops to make contact with the enemy. Soviet guarantees were rejected by the governments of Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, and Finland.

At the time of the Moscow negotiations, the British government was also conducting secret negotiations with Hitlerite Germany, with the goal of reaching an anti-Soviet agreement. (Information on these secret talks was leaked to the press.) Moreover, the British government used the Moscow negotiations to persuade the German government to make maximum concessions to Great Britain during the secret negotiations between the two countries (London negotiations of 1939). In this situation the Soviet government, which saw through the double political and diplomatic game of its partners in the Moscow negotiations, was forced to accept Germany’s proposal regarding the conclusion of a German-Soviet nonaggression pact, which was signed on August 23.

By bringing the Moscow negotiations of 1939 to an impasse, the governments of Great Britain and France helped Germany unleash World War II.


“Peregovory voennykh missii SSSR, Anglii i Frantsii v Moskve v avguste 1939.” Mezhdunarodnaia zhizn’, 1959, nos. 2–3.


Pankrashova, M. , and V. Sipols. Pochemu ne udalos’ predotvratit’ voinu: Moskovskie peregovory SSSR, Anglii i Frantsii 1939 goda (Dokumental’nyi obzor). Moscow, 1970.
Ovsianyi, I. D. Taina, v kotoroi voina rozhdalas’, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1975.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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