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125 MIKHAIL M. NARINSKY POLAND, THE SOVIET UNION, AND THE CRISIS OF THE VERSAILLES SYSTEM AN OVERWHELMING MAJORITY of Russian and foreign researchers agree that the aggressive policy of Nazi Germany and its allies became the main factor in escalating the prewar international political crisis. The rulers of the Third Reich put forward radical and far-reaching plans for territorial expansion and the creation of a “new European order” under the aegis of Germany. In March 1939, Maxim Litvinov, the Soviet people’s commissar for foreign affairs, in the course of a conversation with Lord Privy Seal Anthony Eden of Britain, emphasized that the Soviet Union “does not have the slightest doubt in German aggression. German external policy is inspired by two main ideas[:] revenge and European domination.” The allies (or potential allies) of Germany were represented by fascist Italy and imperial Japan. The guarantors of the Versailles-Washington system of international relations—England and France—opposed the bloc of aggressors . But, amid escalating aggression, they chose a policy of “appeasement,” a policy of concessions to fascist aggressors in an attempt to avoid a major new war. The Soviet Union, which tended to defend its own interests, played a special role in the alignment of forces in the international arena. The United States of America, which was inclined to support the Anglo-French bloc, adopted a wait-and-see attitude. The established alignment of forces in the international arena caused an escalating crisis in the Versailles-Washington system. In this situation, the Soviet leadership aimed to prevent the creation of an anti-Soviet coalition, avoid the threat of involving the Soviet Union in a great military conflict, achieve the creation of a collective security system in Europe that was favorable to itself, and consolidate the foreign policy positions of the Soviet Union, initiating contact with different potential partners. Moscow tended to provide itself with the maximum in opportunities for foreign policy maneuvers. 126 MIKHAIL M. NARINSKY Strengthening the state’s international position was the main objective of Polish foreign policy. In theory, Warsaw held a position midway between those of Berlin and Moscow, but nevertheless, the desire to solve its own problems urged Poland toward rapprochement with Germany. As Polish authors remark, “Minister Beck believed that, notwithstanding cooperation with the Third Reich (which occurred under certain frameworks), it was possible to maintain proper or even good relations with the USSR.” In fact, relations between the Soviet Union and Poland during the second half of the 1930s steadily grew worse. The Anschluss of Austria, which was carried out by Nazi Germany on 11–12 March 1938, was an important milestone in the development of the prewar international political crisis. The Soviet leadership evaluated all of the implications and risks resulting from this action. On 14 March, Litvinov sent a note to the Politburo of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) in which he remarked, “The acquisition of Austria represents the greatest event following the world war, fraught with the greatest risks and not in the last turn for our [Soviet] Union.” The Anschluss of Austria signified an important stage in the collapse of the Versailles order, one occurring via military power. The Soviet position was clearly articulated in an interview of Litvinov by representatives of the press on 17 March. It sounded like a passionate plea for collective action to repel the increased aggression, with the participation of the Soviet Union. “It may be late tomorrow,” Litvinov emphasized, “but today the time has not yet passed for all of the countries, especially great countries, to take a strong, explicit line with respect to collectively rescuing the world.” Litvinov offered to promptly organize a topical discussion of European issues by all interested states, but this offer received no response. The people’s commissar himself gave a deep and somewhat prophetic assessment of his announcement in a letter to the plenipotentiary in Czechoslovakia, Sergey S. Aleksandrovskiy: “My declaration is possibly the final plea to Europe for cooperation, after which we will apparently take up a position of low interest in the further development of affairs in Europe, notwithstanding the further fate of Czechoslovakia.” In the opinion of the leadership of the People’s Commissariat for Foreign Affairs, the Anschluss of Austria noticeably strengthened the position of Germany in Europe and worsened Czechoslovakia’s situation. Litvinov remarked that he had always considered the Austrian and Czechoslovakian questions as the primary problem: “the rape of Czechoslovakia would be the beginning of...


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