There is considerable literature on the secret peace talks that took place after the outbreak of World War II on September 1, 1939. It is known that after defeating the French army and occupying Paris, Hitler initiated negotiations with British leaders through several diplomatic channels, even before and after the “battle of England”, which Churchill rejected. The secret flight of Rudolf Hess on May 10, 1941, which is discussed in dozens of monographs based on British and German archives, served to prepare for a compromise peace. Historians have also published much about the negotiations between Molotov and Ribbentrop, not only about the Nazi-Soviet pact of 23 August 1939, which divided Poland in a secret appendix just before the outbreak of World War II.
But after the outbreak of fighting in Western Europe, the records of the Molotov-Ribbentrop talks held in Berlin on 12 and 13 November 1940 are also known. It also discussed the division of the British Empire, Russian-Japanese relations, Turkey, Finland, Bulgaria, Romania, and the transportation of raw materials. At that time, the two foreign ministers, Hitler and Molotov, who were negotiating in person, could no longer reach an agreement because Germany described the Soviet Union’s claim to unlimited influence in the Balkans and Finland as disproportionate. After the failure of the Soviet-German negotiations in November 1940, Hitler ordered the attack on the Soviet Union to work out a detailed plan for Barbarossa.
After the German invasion of the Soviet Union began on June 22, 1941, no further negotiations took place after Nazi Germany and its allies at war (i.e., the Soviet Union and Great Britain and Japan, respectively, in December 1941). acceding United States). However, several sources suggest that
Hitler and Stalin repeatedly tried to make a difference during the war, and in doing so the division of Ukraine between the Soviet Union and Germany arose. These top-secret talks have been of particular interest since the beginning of Vladimir Putin’s aggression on February 24, 2022,
since conclusions can be drawn from them as to the prospects for a peace treaty between the Ukrainians and the Russians.
The first contact between Stalin and Hitler took place in the first week of the German attack, at the end of June 1941, at the initiative of the Soviet dictator. Ukrainian historian Nikita Petrov wrote an article in the April 15, 2022 issue of the Kiev newspaper Novaya Gazeta, according to archival documents, that at that time Stalin was ready to sign a contract with Hitler in exchange for the cessation of military operations and the ceasefire. According to Petrov, Stalin instructed Lavrenti Beria, who ordered Pavel Sudoplatov, a senior NKDV officer, to contact a Moscow diplomat in neutral Bulgaria and offer concessions to Hitler through it.
In the “New Brest Peace”, Stalin was ready to hand over to the Germans the territories of Ukraine that had been annexed to the Soviet Union under the secret clause of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, and he was also willing to renounce the Baltic Republic, which had previously been annexed to the Soviet Union. An unnamed Bulgarian diplomat forwarded the offer to Berlin, but the Germans, who were advancing with unexpected speed in the initial stages of the attack, found Stalin’s offer insufficient and did not respond.
It should be noted that Stalin did not give his notable radio speech until July 3, 1941. He addressed his audience as follows: “Comrades! Citizens! Brothers and sisters! Soldiers of our army and navy! ” In it, he first reacted to the aggression of Nazi Germany and called for the defense of his homeland. It is possible that he had really wanted to negotiate with Hitler in the previous days. According to the Ukrainian historian, in secret secret trials of Beria and his confidant, Sudoplatov in 1953, some confessions refer to Stalin’s attempt at negotiation at the end of June 1941, which he later tried to conceal most strictly. (Sudoplatov, who organized the assassination of Trotsky and then involved in the liquidation of Ukrainian nationalist movements and the acquisition of American nuclear secrets, was sentenced to fifteen years in prison in a 1953 lawsuit, then released, and died in 1996.)
Even more secret and threatening to disintegrate the anti-fascist coalition was the third, top-secret Molotov-Ribbentrop meeting in the early summer of 1943, about which, according to an interesting Hungarian source, István Páva Reports from the Third Reich – Hungarian Diplomacy in the Second World War. in World War II.
In June 1943, in German-occupied Kirowograd, Molotov and Ribbentrop held secret talks on the possibility of ending the war, but they could not agree because the Germans demanded the retention of areas west of the Dnieper line, while the Russians insisted on the former western border. The interruption of the talks was also helped by the fact that the Anglo-Saxon authorities became aware of this and called on the Russians to suspend the talks.
– summarizes the information in István Páva’s book by his historian colleague Nóra Szekér. The secret meeting between Molotov and Ribbentrop is also reported by Basil Liddell Hart in an article in the January 4, 1971 issue of the New York Times. Hart was one of the most outstanding military historians to have a good relationship with German General Heinz Guderian after World War II.
The secret German-Soviet talks in June 1943 took place after the Allies’ success at El-Alamein and the Battle of Stalingrad, but before the great armored battle of Kursk, when the balance of power between the Wermacht and the Red Army still seemed balanced. What was particularly important to the anti-Hitler coalition, however, was the Casablanca Conference held from 14 to 24 January 1943. In this, the Americans and the British agreed that only unconditional surrender by Germany was acceptable, that is, they ruled out the possibility of peace talks with Hitler in advance.
On May 1, 1943, Stalin also joined the decision of the Casablanca Conference, but this did not deter him from sending Molotov to negotiate with the Germans just over a month later.
There was no chance of the Soviet-German difference and the division of Ukraine. On the one hand, Stalin refused to relinquish the territories annexed to his empire, including Western Ukraine, during the first period of German aggression, when the Red Army was defensive and forced to give up vast territories. His “insatiability,” as demonstrated by Molotov’s negotiations in Berlin in November 1940, even outraged Hitler in June 1943, who refused to give up “right-wing” Ukraine. Stalin, on the other hand, who was already an ally of the U.S. and Britain at the time and benefited from the large quantities of military equipment and munitions delivered under the Lend-Lease Act, could rightly think that they were developing favorably.
Furthermore, it is not clear how long the peace between the two aggressive superpowers would have been lasting if the Soviet Union and Germany had agreed to divide Ukraine, given the different partisan groups and national independence movements fighting each other. Nor is it known how Nazi Germany’s relations with the Western powers would develop after its possible separation with the Soviet Union, since the destruction of Eastern European Jewry, the Holocaust, was nearing its end in 1943, with details in Moscow, London and Washington. they were aware.
About eighty years after the outbreak of World War II, and after the outbreak of the Russian War, the prospects for peace are not much more encouraging than they were in 1943.
There is no sign of rapprochement in the peace talks between the two parties. A precondition for a peace agreement would be a ceasefire, a cessation of acts of war, to which we have not been one step closer since 24 February 2022. Add to all this that Vladimir Putin’s Russia wants to “Naziize” and accuses Ukraine of genocide, which, for its part, accuses the Russian aggressors of committing war crimes and anti-popular crimes on a much more substantiated basis. It is a tragic fact that the shadows of the atrocities committed during World War II are still cast on the suffering Ukraine.
(Cover image: 1942/1943 – The Battle of Stalingrad. Photo: Laski Diffusion / Getty Images)