Nazi Soviet Non-Aggression Pact - 23 August 1939
On the eve of war both sides seemed evenly matched. The combined armies of Britain and France closely matched the German forces in size. The only major power remaining in Europe that had no connections to other nations was the USSR. Both sides scrambled to gain the support of Stalin and his Communist nation.
At first is seemed like Britain and France were going to have their way. In March 1939, talks between the 'Tripartite' (Britain, France, USSR) nations began, suggesting ideas for political and military alliances. Formal negotiations began in May.
Both sides mistrusted each other due to differing ideals: the USSR was fiercely anti-capitalist, and the Western world felt threatened by communism. France was the more willing of the two countries to take risks. Because of its proximity to Germany, they felt the need for military support in case of a German offensive. Britain's Neville Chamberlain still believed that war could be avoided and due to the Britain's island status it felt less endangered than France did.
The main problem with the Tripartite negotiations was that the USSR still wanted the freedom to attack pro-Nazi nations like Finland and the Baltic states. The offers of Britain and France were too restrictive for them and by mid-July negotiations had effectively ground to a halt. German diplomats began to hint that a Nazi-Soviet agreement would be more profitable for the USSR. Secret talks began. One way that Stalin showed his readiness to negotiate with Germany was when he replaced his foreign minister Maxim Litinov (a Jew) with Vyacheslav Molotov, a diplomat who was more acceptable to Germany.
The final straw for Tripartite negotiations was Poland's unwillingness to allow the Soviet's Red Army passage through Poland. Britain and France encouraged them to agree but they refused, as they feared that once the Soviet Union entered Poland, they would never leave. Germany's non-restrictive offers seemed far more attractive to Stalin and Hitler had no reservations in allowing him to encroach upon the independence of neighbouring states.
On the 21st of August, Stalin cancelled military talks with Britain and France, and also confirmed with Germany that they would partition Poland and the rest of Europe into Nazi and Soviet 'spheres of interest'. Along with their portion of Poland, the USSR would be granted rights to some neighbouring states. The next day Stalin announced that German foreign minister Ribbentrop would visit him on the 23rd.
The pact was finally signed in the small hours of the 24th (but officially dated 23rd). The pact was known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and was, most importantly, a 10 year non-aggression pact, but also concerned matters of consultation, neutrality, mediation and also a guarantee against joining a group that opposed either nation.
The secret protocols of the pact were only disclosed after Germany's defeat in 1945. They partitioned Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe between Germany and the USSR. The USSR would receive Finland, Estonia, Latvia and later Lithuania.
The two country's motivations were vastly different. Stalin signed the pact to buy time to prepare for Germany's inescapable betrayal. Germany signed the pact to avoid having to fight a war on two fronts, the reason they had been defeated in the First World War. Hitler planned from the beginning to later invade the USSR and on the 22nd of June in 1941 Operation Barbarossa (the invasion of the USSR) was launched.