Hitler–Stalin Pact

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Joachim von Ribbentrop (1893—1946) German Nazi politician

Joseph Stalin (1879—1953) Soviet statesman, General Secretary of the Communist Party of the USSR 1922–53


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(23 Aug. 1939)

Also referred to as the Molov–Ribbentrop pact after its two principal signatories, the foreign ministers of the Soviet Union and Germany. Both countries agreed not to attack each other or support a third power which attacked either of them. The pact came as a surprise to contemporaries, since it was signed by fierce ideological opponents. Taking note of German expansionism since the Anschluss, Stalin hoped to avoid a confrontation with Nazi Germany. To Hitler, by contrast, it guaranteed a free hand for his intended conquest of Poland at the beginning of World War II. In the event of British and French intervention, it allowed Germany to avoid a war on two fronts.

Of much greater significance than the official pact was its secret protocol. It divided eastern and central Europe into a German and a Soviet sphere of influence within which each power was free to undertake military invasions without retribution from the other power. Throughout its existence, the Soviet Union denied the existence of the Secret Protocol, which was supplemented by two further secret protocols determining the borders between the German and Soviet spheres of influence. From the day of its signing, the pact proved an ideological embarrassment to Communists who defined themselves as anti‐Fascists. It became a dead letter when Hitler surprised Stalin through the Barbarossa campaign.

Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945).

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