Where was the 1939 Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact signed?

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August 23, 1939 marked a key date in world history when Joachim von Ribbentrop and Vyacheslav Molotov, Foreign Ministers of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union respectively, signed a non-aggression treaty in Moscow.

This pact, also known as the German-Soviet Pact or the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, included a secret agreement on the division of Eastern Europe between the two parties.

This unexpected alliance between two ideologically antagonistic powers, Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union, represents a dramatic turning point and raises important questions. What led to this surprising diplomatic about-face? What were the motivations behind it, and what are the implications of this agreement that reconfigured the geopolitical balance? This article details the context, the key players and the impact of this historic signing.

The background to the signing of the pact

The summer of 1939 was a period of global tension, the prelude to the Second World War. Nazi Germany, under the leadership of Adolf Hitler, intensified its expansionist ambitions by demanding the annexation of Danzig and a corridor in Poland, thus facilitating links between East Prussia and the rest of the Reich.

Faced with Poland’s refusal, Hitler came up against France and the United Kingdom, who were ready to support Poland militarily. Hitler found himself in a delicate situation, risking conflict on two fronts: to the west with the Western powers, and to the east with the Soviet Union.

Closer ties between the USSR and the Third Reich

In this tense context, the Soviet Union, led by Joseph Stalin, was isolated. Distrustful of the Western democracies, which refused to oppose fascism, and fearful of Germany’s hostility, Stalin sought to consolidate his position in Eastern Europe. He envisaged alliances with the British and French, as well as with the Germans, the latter offering more attractive terms. For Hitler, a pact with the USSR represented an opportunity to eliminate a threat in the East and secure access to Soviet resources.

Diplomatic urgency and its consequences

On August 23, 1939, Joachim von Ribbentrop and Vyacheslav Molotov signed a non-aggression treaty between Germany and the USSR in Moscow. The pact stipulates that the two nations will neither attack nor support each other’s enemies.

It also includes a secret protocol for the partition of Eastern Europe: the USSR takes over Finland, the Baltic States and Bessarabia, while Germany expands into Poland and Slovakia. This unexpected agreement led to Germany’s invasion of Poland on September 1, quickly followed by the USSR on September 17, marking the start of the Second World War in Europe.

The signing: Moscow, capital of the stakes

In 1939, the signing of the German-Soviet Pact took place in Moscow, the capital of the Soviet Union, a location strategically chosen to underline the importance and symbolism of this historic moment.

The choice of venue: why Moscow?

Moscow was chosen as the venue for the signing for several reasons. Firstly, it was a way for Nazi Germany to admit the power and legitimacy of the Soviet Union.

Secondly, it was a way for the Soviet Union to show its confidence by welcoming the Reich’s representatives to its capital.

Finally, it symbolized the geographical and political rapprochement between the two countries, a prelude to the division of Eastern Europe.

The Kremlin, witness to the controversial agreement

The signing took place in the Kremlin, the heart of Soviet power and a place steeped in history and symbolism. The choice of this venue, both closed and secret, underlined the confidential and controversial nature of the agreement. The ceremony, which took place in the hall of the Council of People’s Commissars, was filmed and photographed. However, distribution of the images was limited and delayed to avoid offending public opinion.

Key players at the signing

The German Foreign Minister, Joachim von Ribbentrop, and his Soviet counterpart, Vyacheslav Molotov, were the central figures at this event. They are surrounded by their delegations of diplomats, military personnel and translators.

The leaders of the two nations, Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin, although physically absent, followed the ceremony from a distance, congratulating each other by telegram and telephone. This pact enabled them to realize their ambitions in Europe.

The immediate repercussions of the German-Soviet Pact

The agreement signed in Moscow between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union immediately turned the international scene upside down. This unexpected pact caused consternation, indignation and concern in many countries, who saw it as a serious threat to European peace and security.

It also played a key role in the outbreak of the Second World War, giving Germany the opportunity to attack Poland without fear of intervention from the Soviet Union. In the short term, the pact strengthened economic and political cooperation between Germany and the Soviet Union, while laying the foundations for the tensions and mistrust that would lead to the dissolution of the entente in 1941.

The announcement and international reaction

The announcement of the German-Soviet Pact on August 24, 1939, relayed by German and Soviet radio, stunned most nations. They had been kept in the dark about the secret negotiations, and their hopes of alliances had collapsed.

France and the UK, who had failed to form an alliance with the USSR, felt betrayed. They strongly criticized the pact, calling it complicity with fascism and a violation of international law. The United States, though officially neutral, made no secret of its disapproval.

For their part, the countries of Eastern Europe, faced with a direct threat, sought to oppose a possible invasion. Poland, Germany’s priority target, prepared its defense, while the Baltic states, Finland and Romania, influenced by the USSR, tried to negotiate their independence.

Direct impact on the outbreak of the Second World War

The Pact directly precipitated the outbreak of the Second World War in Europe, by facilitating the invasion of Poland by Germany and the USSR as early as September 1939, under their secret agreement to partition Polish territory.

The reaction of Poland’s allies, although swift, was not enough to counter the German and Soviet occupation or prevent the atrocities committed against the Polish people. The pact also paved the way for multiple offensives in Eastern Europe, including the annexation of the Baltic states and the invasion of Finland, revealing the expansionist character of the two signatory powers.

The short-term impact of the Pact on German-Soviet relations

In the immediate term, the Pact favored German-Soviet collaboration, both economically and politically, by facilitating the exchange of natural resources and industrial products between the two countries. The agreement effectively coordinated the two countries’ ambitions in Eastern Europe. Nevertheless, cooperation is fragile, due to divergent objectives and opposing ideologies.

Distrust grew, marked by provocations and espionage, until the pact was broken in 1941 with Germany’s surprise invasion of the Soviet Union as part of Operation Barbarossa.

The German-Soviet Pact of 1939 remains a pivotal event in the history of the 20th century, marking a surprising alliance between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. Signed in Moscow, in the Kremlin, in the presence of Joachim von Ribbentrop and Vyacheslav Molotov, representing Germany and the Soviet Union respectively, the pact had far-reaching international repercussions.

Surprise, indignation and concern were the immediate reactions of many countries to this unexpected agreement. What’s more, it played a crucial role in the outbreak of the Second World War, giving Germany the latitude to invade Poland without fear of intervention from the Soviet Union.

In the short term, the pact also influenced relations between Germany and the Soviet Union, fostering economic and political collaboration, while sowing the seeds of tension and mistrust that led to its breakdown in 1941.



Where was the 1939 Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact signed?


The German-Soviet Pact is a non-aggression treaty between Germany and the Soviet Union, signed in Moscow on August 23, 1939.