Archives show Stalin was ready to give Hitler Ukraine and the Baltics

German Foreign Minister Joachim Von Ribbentrop (left), Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, and his Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov (right) in the Kremlin signing the pact dividing Europe between Hitler's and Stalin's regimes on August 23, 1939.

German Foreign Minister Joachim Von Ribbentrop (left), Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, and his Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov (right) in the Kremlin signing the pact dividing Europe between Hitler's and Stalin's regimes on August 23, 1939. 

2016/06/20 • Analysis & Opinion, History, Russia

A few days after Hitler broke his alliance with Stalin and invaded the Soviet Union, the Soviet dictator used a diplomatic back channel to explore whether the Nazi leader would be prepared to end the war if Stalin agreed to hand over to German rule Ukraine, the Baltic republics and perhaps even more.

That is the conclusion of a Friday article by historian Nikita Petrov in “Novaya gazeta,” an article that undercuts both:

  • Stalin’s carefully cultivated stance as someone who was prepared to fight the invader to the end and
  • Vladimir Putin’s use of World War II as a legitimizing and mobilizing tool in Russia today.

The history of these events is by its very nature murky and can be reconstructed only by a careful reading of Russian archival materials, Petrov suggests. But the basic facts of the case are these: In the first days after the German attack, Lavrentiy Beria on Stalin’s order directed NKVD officer Pavel Sudoplatov to meet with a Bulgarian diplomat to explore what it would take for Hitler to stop his invasion of the Soviet Union.

Lieut. Gen. Pavel A. Sudoplatov, a Soviet VChK/OGPU/ NKVD/MGB/KGB spymaster and assassin, who claimed to have engineered the theft of atomic secrets from the United States and, as now discovered, headed Stalin's failed attempt at negotiations with Hitler after the start of his invasion of the Soviet Union. (Image: novayagazeta.ru)

Lieut. Gen. Pavel A. Sudoplatov, a Soviet VChK/OGPU/ NKVD/MGB/KGB spymaster and assassin, who claimed to have engineered the theft of atomic secrets from the United States and, as now discovered, headed Stalin’s failed attempt at negotiations with Hitler after the start of his invasion of the Soviet Union. (Image: novayagazeta.ru)

Among the concessions Sudoplatov was authorized to discuss with the Bulgarian who Moscow believed would communicate his conversation to Berlin was the handing over to Hitler of Ukraine, the areas that Stalin had occupied in 1940-41 on the basis of the secret protocols of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, and perhaps more.

Such a sacrifice would constitute “a new Brest peace” but would save Stalin and his regime, Petrov points out by allowing the communist regime to continue to function beyond the Urals.

Obviously, disclosing anything of Stalin’s proposal then or later was incredibly dangerous given that such things would have constituted treason in the clearest way, but information about them came out in the interrogations of Sudoplatov and Beria in 1953. And Petrov mines these sources for his article, even reproducing the key Sudoplatov declaration.

Stalin resolution written on top of a report from a Soviet spy agent working in Germany with a warning about Hitler's imminent invasion of the USSR: "To Comrade Merkulov. Maybe we should send your "source" at the headquarters of the German Air Force to f@cking hell. He is not a "source," but a disinformer. - J. St[alin]" (Image: novayagazeta.ru)

Stalin resolution written on top of a report from a Soviet spy agent working in Germany with a warning about Hitler’s imminent invasion of the USSR: “To Comrade Merkulov. Maybe we should send your “source” at the headquarters of the German Air Force to [email protected] hell. He is not a “source,” but a disinformer. – J. St[alin]” (Image: novayagazeta.ru)

As many have pointed out, Stalin believed in Hitler and in his own ability to cut a deal right up to the moment of the German invasion. The archives suggest that he continued to believe in his ability to cut a deal with Hitler even after that time. In fact, however, Stalin was manipulated by double agents before June 22, 1941, and by his own fears after that time.

Nothing came as a result of Stalin’s feeler. Hitler was confident that his forces could defeat the Soviet Union and therefore ignored what was passed on by the Bulgarians. But there were consequences in the USSR for those most immediately involved because Stalin never forgot, Petrov continues.

Despite his regime’s presentation of him as the great military leader during World War II, Stalin remembered that “three people knew the secret of his cowardice and the depth of the collapse in 1941.” The Soviet dictator ordered Abakumov to arrest Sudoplatov, although Beria urged the secret police chief not to obey lest he and Beria himself be next.

And there was a third potential victim of Stalin’s malignant memory: Vyacheslav Molotov, who certainly knew about the meeting with the Bulgarian diplomat in June 1941 and Stalin’s willingness to sacrifice much of the country to save himself. Had Stalin lived, Petrov says, all three would have come to a bad end. But his death kept him from realizing his goal.


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Edited by: A. N.

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  • Dirk Smith

    Putin would have fit right in with these evil criminals; he is nothing more.

    • Dagwood Bumstead

      This has been known for quite a long time. Still, it’s a nice timely reminder that Stalin was not as resolute as Dwarfstan’s version of history would have us believe. How are Putolini’s trolls going to explain this one?
      Had Stalin’s offer of the Baltics,(part of) Belarus and the Ukraine been seriously considered and led to negotiations, Adolf would probably have demanded further concessions; one wonders what they would have been. It is also difficult to see how Stalin could have explained away the surrender of such important parts of the USSR and remained in power. Would the other members of the Politburo have gone along with it? It’s more likely that Stalin would have been quietly bumped off and become an unperson like Trotsky, never to be mentioned again. The war would most probably have been continued but with the USSR under the leadership of Khrushchev, Zhdanov or Malenkov instead of Stalin.
      It would have made little difference to the people of the Ukraine, Belarus and the Baltics, what with crackpots such as Himmler, Rosenberg, Kube and Koch ruling the roost with their racial nonsense. They would simply have exchanged one ruthless dictatorship for another, only without the fighting on their territory.

  • Alex George

    Of course he was. Stalin was virtually indistinguishable from Hitler and felt quite comfortable working with him.