Stalin's Foreign Policy

Past Questions:

Paper 3
  • To what extent was Stalin responsible for the break-up of the Second World War alliance, and the early stages of the Cold War? (Specimen)
  • To what extent do you agree that Stalin’s foreign policy between 1928 and 1953 was inconsistent and unfocused? (Nov 2008)
  • Compare and contrast the foreign policies of Hitler and Stalin in Europe, up to the invasion of Russia in 1941.(May 2007)


Key dates:

1914- WW1 breaks out
1917- Russian revolution (february and october)
1918- Russian Civil War
1919- Comitern is established (Communist International)
1920- Russia is refused to join the League of Nations
1922- Rapallo Treaty between Germany and Russia.
1924- Zinoviev letter (UK breaks off diplomatic relations with USSR).
1925- Locarno Treaties with Germany
1926- Germany joins the League of Nations
1928- First Five Year Plan is put into action.
1929- Wall Street Crash sparks off the Great Depression across Europe.
1931- Manchurian Crisis- Japan invades Manchuria and League fails to react.
1933- Hitler comes to power (cancels Rapallo Treaty with USSR+ signs friendship agreement with Poland).
1932-33- Soviet non-aggression pacts.
1934- USSR joins the League.
1934- The Great Purges are started by Stalin in the USSR.
1935- Stresa Front (Britain, Italy and France against Facist aggression).
1935- Anglo-Germn Naval Agreement.
1935- Alliances with France and Czech.
1935- Abyssinian Cirsis- league fails to react.
1936- Spanish Civil War.
1936- Anti-Comitern Pact between Germany, Italy and Japan.
1936- Remilitrization of the Rhineland.
1938- Anschluss.
1938- Munich Conference.
1939- Nazi Soviet Pact.

Foreign Policy pre-WW2, up to 1939 (pp. 128 - 131)

Aims and methods

  • Encourage the "world revolution" through the work of the Comitern (1919) by supporting Communist struggles abroad.
  • Pragmatic agreements with other states to end diplomatic isolation and defending Russia (i.e. Treaty of Rapallo with Germany and non-aggression pacts.)
  • Modernize and industrialize in fear of a united alliance of Capitalist nations against USSR and communism:
  • "We are fifty to a hundred years behind the advanced countries. We must made this gap in ten years. Either we do this or they crush us."- Stalin.
  • Therefore- to improve and achieve security for the Soviet state!


Phase 1: Looking to West for "collective security":
- The rise to power of Hitler (1933) and the Japanese invasion of Manchuria (1931) led to USSR attempting to establish good realtions with Western states:
  • 1932-33, USSR signs non-aggression Pacts with France, Italy and Poland and more.
  • 1934- Joins the League of Nations (described by Lenin as the "robber's den"); the relations between USSR and Germany worsen as USSR moves towards the West.
  • 1935- Defensive alliances with France and Czech, however these were largely symbolic and gave little actual military protection.
  • 1936- Stalin supports the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War due to concern over Hitler and Mussolini's support for the Nationalists. However, Soviet intervention was cautious and offered little gain.

Phase 2: Undecided between Hitler and the West:
  • 1938- Britain and France's failure to include USSR in the talks at Munich over the Sudetenland, increases Soviet suspicion over Western appeasement to Hitler. Fears of Western powers intentions of sacrificing Eastern Europe to Hitler.
  • 1939- Hitler's nivasion of rest of Czech leads to talks between USSR, Britain and France over a mutual alliance against Hitler.

Phase 3: seeks security in Nazi-Soviet Pact with Hitler (1939)

  • The failure of a mutual pact forces Stalin away from collective security and in August, the new foreign commissar Molotov signs a Non-Aggression Pact with Germany.
  • The treaty meant peaceful relations for ten years and to secretively split Poland between them and allowing uSSR to extend its influence in the Baltic States.
  • The Anti-Comitern pact between Germany, Italy and Japan in an alliance against Communism, left Stalin with the fear of a two-front war and in this sense, the pact can be seen as a pragmatic move to secure position of USSR.
  • Stalin also hoped that a war between the West and Hitle would leave both sides exhausted and thus provide best protection for USSR.

In 1939, the Red Army invades and takes control over Eastern Poland!

Key successes

  • In the start, the non-aggression pacts saw some time of stability in the USSR as end to diplomatic relations- however failed in long term as USSR and Western powers failed to put their differences aside for the fear of Hitler's expansionism.
  • The Nazi-Soviet Pact allowed Stalin time to re-arm and industrialize- huge success as shown in Soviet Union able to defeat the Nazi Troops in WW2!
  • It also provided a biffer zone against a German attack and recovered all the territory lost in the Treaty of Brest Litovsk (1918).

Key failures
  • As mentioned earlier, the main failure of Stalin's foreign policy during this timepreiod was the failure to secure an agreement with the Western powers in the search for collective security. This drove Stalin instead to search for insurance with Germany and Hitler- furthermore, it could be argued that the agreement between USSR and Germany is what ultimtely sparked off the Second World War as Hitler now no longer feared a war on two fronts. Plus, Hitler thought that the Western powers owuld not intervene if in an alliance with Russia!

Winning the Great Patriotic War, 1941 - 45 (pp.132 - 135)

What factors enabled Stalin to defeat Hitler and the Nazi wehrmacht?
  • Since the economy in the USSR in 1941 was already highly centralized, it did not take much to transform it into the "total war" conditions.
  • In June 1941, the State Committee of Defense was established (Stalin of course was its Chairman) and through this, Stalin kept close control over the generals and made it clear that retreat or defeat in battle was not an option.
  • Stalin used propaganda and the restored position of the Orthodox Church to gain support through the war- "Great Patriotic War" fought to save Mother Russia rather than an ideological war to save communism.
  • Mistakes of the Germans- for Hitler the war was a racial war against the enemy and this was demonstrated by the brutality of the Nazi forces as they marched towards Moscow, leningrad and Stalingrad. In many places there was support for the Germans as they were often seen as liberators (estimated that 2 million Soviet citizens fought on the side of the Germans) but this soon changed as the death toll of civilians increased from German policies of extermination.
  • The German troops were halted by the "General Winter" that brought frost and snow. This halted their advance in 1941 abd gave the Red Army time to recover.
  • The size of the Soviet Union- this meant that they could sacrifice territory to the advancing Germans and retreat eastwards- many factories could be dismantled and the infrastructure shipped east, re-assembled and brought back into production.
  • External help- Stalin recieved substancial aid from the US Lend-Lease arrangement that was given to USSR in summer of 1941. Especially jeeps and lorries as well as large quantities of equippment from Britain's Royal Navy.
  • End of the siege of Stalingrad by German defeat in North Africa and Allied invasion of Sicily which required German forces to retreat.

Foreign Policy after WW2: the origins of the Cold War (pp. 139 - 140)

What factors influenced Stalin's foreign policy from 1945?

What were his key aims and policies?
  • Historiography- spread Communism to Eastern Europe or merely securing his own country and boarders?

To what extent should Stalin be blamed for the onset of the Cold War?

  • Expansionism after 1945; Stalin began to spread influence over Eastern Europe thorugh "satellite states" in 1946 and 47 (Poland, Hungary, Rumania and Bulgaria). Thr governments in these countries, through the work of the Comitern, supported the USSR and communism. This was seen as a huge threat to Western powers as a sign of spreading communism in hope to crush capitalism- created tensions and led to end of Great Alliance and Western powers could no longer support USSR's expansion in Europe.
  • Rebuilding- Approximately 27 million people dead a s result of the war and huge amounts of agriculture land ruined as a result of the policy of "scorched earth" from 1941-43. Stalin therefore wanted to secure the countries around its boarders (having been attacked twice during 1900s, this could be seen as reasonable). Issue of Poland during Yalta conference in 1945 shows that Stalin was determined create a buffer zone in Poland as during both wars, this is where Germany had invaded.
  • Furthermore, USSR did very little to support Communist Party in the greek civil war 1945-49 and neither in France or Yugoslavia whihc shows that his actions might have been merely defensive.
  • Berlin Blockade however, does show some aggressive actions by Stalin- 1948-49, USSR soldiers stop a western military supply train heading for Berlin and sent it back to western Germany- intensified the cold war and showed that actions were not merely defensive. "We are warning both you and the population of Berlin, that we will apply administrative and economic sanctions that will lead to the circulation in berlin exclusively to the Soviet occupation zone"- Soviet representative announced to Western Countries.
  • US actions gives a strong argument that USSR was not to blame for the Cold War- The atomic diplomacy by Presdent Truman in 1945 and refusal to share technology with USSR portrayed US military authoirty. Truman Doctrine March 1947 announced a "general war against Communism" and has been seen by many historians as the "formal declaration of the Cold War".

pp. 128 - 135, 139 - 140.
pp. 128 - 135, 139 - 140.

You should also have class-notes and handouts on these topics which you need to use to build up your analysis here!