Phil Kaveny

The Works of Philip Kaveny

The Molotov/Von Ribbentrop Soviet-Nazi Non- Aggression Pact/or who Really Started WWII by Phil Kaveny

The Molotov/Von Ribbentrop Soviet-Nazi Non- Aggression Pact/or who Really Started WWII


As an introduction  to this paper  I want indicate  that I have now spent at least a couple of hundred hours  working with material  about my subject: The Molotov/Von Ribbentrop  Soviet Nazi  Non- Aggression Pact of August 23rd  1939.  The Pact was signed nine days before the Nazi invasions of Poland commenced at 4 am September 1st 1939, which is taken as the starting date of WWII in Europe.  A significant  amount  of my  time,  though by no means  all of it,  has been involved with looking at “The Pact” through, the lens and conceptual framework  of  the  former KGB Agent, defector, and now historian, Victor Suvorov, author of Ice Breaker, and the Chief Culprit .[1] This work is where he first develops and then elaborates his revisionist theory about who was really, legally and morally,  responsible for the outbreak of World War II in Eastern Europe and how Stalin, after making The Molotov/ Von Ribbentrop Non-Aggression Pact repeatedly maneuvered  Hitler into a progressively more desperate military and diplomatic position so that Operation Barbarossa (the German  Invasion of the Soviet Union), commencing at 4:00 am June 22, 1941, was not in fact a brilliant gamble which according to Hitler “the world would hold its breath for the outcome.” But, rather it was a desperate act: a pre-emptive strike which aimed at averting a massive, and intricately coordinated, Soviet Invasion of Germany though Western Poland slated to commence two weeks later on July, 6th 1941 (on the order of magnitude of the Soviet invasion of Japanese occupied Manchuria on August 8th 1945, two days after the American Air Force Dropped the Atomic Bomb on Hiroshima.[2])

Furthermore, there was the strategic Soviet seizure or destruction of the Romanian oil fields on which nearly all non-horse-drawn German transport depended.

There is a kind of heuristic logic which draws me to Victor Suvorov’s thesis that much of the Soviet apparent ineptitude grew out of the impossibility, or perhaps I should say logistical incompatibility, of both massive first-strike deployments of military forces and simultaneous   defensive arrangements for an army as massive and unwieldy as the Soviets, a conclusion that, upon reflection, can be drawn by turning to the Six Day Arab Israeli war in1967.[3] In this instance, an Israeli preemptive strike caused massive losses to Egypt, Syria, and Jordan whose forces were relatively vulnerable to a preemptive air strike since they themselves were deployed for a first strike.

It is tempting to get lost in the military aspect of Victor Suvorov’s work but I will deal with that at another time and another place with only this exception: Since the Russo – Finnish War was made possible by secret provisions the Non-Aggression Pact and it did directly affect both Eastern and Northern Europe, I thought I would use it to address and test some of Suvorov’s revisionist formulations.[4]   I have been reflecting on, writing, and watching videos to test his thesis that the Russo-Finnish War, commencing almost seventy five years ago and ending in early March 1940, was totally misread by Hitler and the world as an Inglorious Soviet defeat. Rather it was a major Soviet victory fought in an asymmetrical war, under conditions of unimaginable hardship, against a proud though small nation seemingly willing to fight to the death for its survival. It was a victory in which the Soviets achieved their objective which was really limited to moving the Russo-Finish Border far enough westward to move Leningrad out of Finnish artillery range, for which they were willing to absorb nearly unbelievable costs.  Stalin was willing to  march Russian infantry though un-cleared minefields, of course with the threat of death by “friendly” machine gun fire at their back, the sort of  thing that was so dramatically illustrated in the 2001 American film about the Battle of Stalingrad, “Enemy at  the Gates,” directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud [5] .






This is not in any way to be construed as Victor Suvorov saying anything good about Stalin. Far from it.  Rather it is way of contesting much of what we have come to think about Stalin’s apparent ineptitude. Victor Suvorov is saying that Stalin was like the world class professional poker player that gave no useful information and much misinformation and always kept his hand to himself, and was playing at a table full of amateurs who were constrained by a morality which he ignored.  For him the only morality was winning and, whatever the human cost, it was simply not computed.  His strategy was designed to realize his objective: to use Hitler as a means to start yet another World War, to destabilize Europe, to achieve the Soviet objective through the Leninist doctrine of  Worldwide Revolution through means of Military Force. This was the doctrine to which, Suvorov argues, Stalin considered himself the ideological heir.[6]

He makes a very strong case. Both Stalin and Hitler were War Criminals but Stalin was never exposed. Part of this effort of course is the use of suitably traditional sources, for example, books, academic papers, and academic encyclopedias, and quite frankly the resources that I have acquired over a sixty-year lifetime, first of intellectual curiosity when I listened to Prof. Michael Boro Petrovich’s Russian History lectures as a 10-year-old on the University of Wisconsin radio station WHA. I listened to this Wisconsin College of The Air course when staying home from school due to illness.  Though I was a healthy ,robust child my parents never seemed to have caught that there was some correlation between my being sick and Petrovich’s radio schedule.[7]


I also want to add that because of my educational and professional background in library and information sciences (I have a Masters of Library and Information Studies from the University of Wisconsin Madison, as well as a certificate of advanced studies which in I successfully completed writing a non-doctoral dissertation in 1998). My set of qualifications allows me to feel confident to include references to open source Internet videos, mostly academic in content, from reliable sources, which have allowed me to watch Victor Suvorov lecture as he presented his thesis and fielded sometimes very aggressive questions. All of this has allowed me to make some kind of an assessment about what kind of man Victor Suvorov, Soviet Defector, former KGB officer, and now author of nearly thirty books in English and Russian, really is.

What I have to say is this: Victor Suvorov, though short and chubby, with a disarmingly impish sense of humor, is a formidable man. At the time of his defection in 1976 he was under a death sentence in the Soviet Union, yet now almost 40 years later he is one of the most popular Russian authors both in and outside of Russia. He says of himself: “I am not a historian. I am a spy and I observe regularities and irregularities and I ask questions.” He makes no claim of impartially and he pursues his concerns with the rigor of a forensic pathologist, or better yet anthropologist, investigating crimes against humanity or war crimes. Further he makes his case with the intensity of the prosecutor at the Nuremberg war crimes trials. To put it another way he is a kind of speaker for the dead, for some sixty million Europeans who died in WWII. One might say, just as his book Icebreaker sets forth his thesis, so his work has had an ice breaking effect on assumptions which perhaps have become frozen in our minds. Sometimes it can be as simple as word choice and who we let write our history for us. Why is it that we say Hitler Started WWII when he invaded Poland on September 1st 1939, and we say Stalin occupied Eastern Poland September 17th two weeks later?  As Victor Suvorov would say: :I don’t think anybody invited Stalin to invade, and particularly not the fifteen thousand Polish officers he executed in the now-well-established Kaytn Wood Massacre 



All this is part of connecting the important parts of my own 52-year academic career, which was jump-started by my attending some of the sessions of last spring’s University of Wisconsin Eau Claire  conference: ‘Resurgent Russia Symposium on East Europe’.  I need to add one more thing, drawing from an ancient philosophy class I’m now taking, and mention that perhaps I have now some glimmer, as a 70-year-old American citizen, of the knowledge of what it is I do not know, much of which was not available when I originally studied this area. For example, in the summer of 1965 when I first studied the Soviet Foreign policy during the Second World War, the question of whether the Kaytn Wood Massacre was perpetrated by the forces of the Soviet Union or Nazi Germany was still contested, the conclusion often depending upon the ideological perspective of the historian.[8]

Further, based on widely reported conversations between members of the Big Three, Stalin, Roosevelt, and Churchill, on the possible execution of fifty-thousand captured German officers, as advocated by Stalin as the mechanism to forever destroy postwar Germany’s ability to make war, one might suggest that Stalin’s allegedly drunken suggestions were not mere speculation.[9] Rather, at The Tehran conferences, he was describing a standard Soviet operating procedure, at least up to the time of his death in 1953.  It was certainly his personal mode of operation.

The subject of this paper, the Molotov/Von Ribbentrop Nonaggression Pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, was publicly signed on August 23, 1939.  It contained public and secret sections which were of great significance on a local, regional, and international level.  British poet W. H. Auden captured some of that gravity and foreboding in the secret section of the pact in his poem “September 1, 1939.”  The poem was written near the time of the event and first appeared in the premiere Oct 18th, 1939 issue of The New Republic shortly after Poland had been abandoned by the Western allies.  Germany and Russia partitioned defeated Poland, and Poland was occupied by the armed forces of Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, in sections roughly approximating the boundary line between Imperial Germany and Czarist Russia slightly more than twenty-five years before.  August 3rd, 1914, was the official date given for the onset of World War I which was yet to have a name.

September 1, 1939 

I sit in one of the dives

On Fifty-second Street

Uncertain and afraid

As the clever hopes expire

Of a low dishonest decade:

Waves of anger and fear

Circulate over the bright

And darkened lands of the earth,

Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.[10]
W. H. Auden, 1907 – 1973





             As I mentioned previously, I am concentrating on exploring several revisionist writers’ views on the role of the Molotov/Ribbentrop Pact in relation to this historical question: Who was most directly and indirectly responsible for the outbreak of the European iteration of the Second World War, Stalin, or Hitler, or the Red Army, and the massive and disbursed “military industrial complex.”

             When I originally drafted, the concept of this paper “Molotov/Ribbentrop Nonaggression Pact of August 23, 1939,” I thought I would address it in terms of some of the previous treaties and territorial questions arising out of the end of the First World War which, gave rise to this accord. However I realize now that the nature of the questions involved was of a level of complexity which was about as amenable to unraveling as that of the Gordian knot. Below is a list of a number of treaties which dealt with post-World War I territorial questions. I realize now that for purposes of this paper, there are really three groups of powers, the winners, losers, and outsiders. The winners, at least on the battlefield and the treaty table, were of course Great Britain, France, the United States, and Italy, as well Japan, but to a minor extent.  I hope the following process based on some other work I have done and a lifetime of refection is at least of some   interest.

             The winners also include the emergent nations of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia, and of course a reinvigorated Poland which had visions of great-power status. Perhaps in a geopolitical sense the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the Ottoman Empire, the czarist Russian Empire and Imperial Germany were among the biggest losers. However for purposes of this paper the biggest losers were the former czarist Russian Empire, and Imperial Germany, both of whom were not present at the formal treaty deliberations at the Imperial Palace of Louis XIV, Versailles, located several kilometers outside of Paris.


I felt it might be useful  to introduce a little  theory into this paper because so much of our  understanding  of an historical  situation  is controlled  by the  perceptions we take into  it, and much as we would wish otherwise, this is not an Archimedean pain from which we can stand value-neutral at the outside of the world.. [11]The French intellectual and archaeologist of knowledge, Michelle Foucault[12], might have described our perception of these two former imperialist states, the Nazis and Communists, which now exist as a kind of ghastly, reincarnated form, as being constructed in a false dichotomy. One might argue that the National Socialism of Nazis and the international Communist Socialism of the Soviet Union were more alike than they were different. It is useful to think of these two nation-states as different in degree rather than different in kind. What I mean by this is: though Imperial Russia fought on the side of the Allies, nevertheless Communist Russia was not present at the treaty table and certainly lost more population and territorial area than any of the World War I belligerents, with the possible exception of the Ottoman Empire. Imperial Germany suffered horrifically from the time of the armistice on November 11, 1918 until a final signing of the treaty in June of 1919.


The question of World War guilt /culpability has been one of my lifetime interests. That was because it contested one of my grounding assumptions of a lifetime as a scholar, a public intellectual, and a writer. That assumption started with my discussions with my (Jesuit educated) father who was a World War I veteran. My ongoing discussions with my father led to my UW-Madison specialization in diplomatic history and foreign policy studies in my first attempt at graduate school. I was of the Georges Clemenceau school of German World War I war guilt.  Further, I believed that Hans Morgenthau’s plan to reduce post-World War II Germany to a cow pasture was a lost opportunity to stabilize continental post-WWII Europe.

Of course like a generation of American readers, my views were influenced, shaped might be a better word, by popular historian Barbra Tuchman’s books The Bible and The Sword, The Guns of August, and The Proud Tower, and of course the Zimmerman Telegram, all of which I recently gave a very close re-reading. In the words of the French Prime Minister, Clemenceau, not even five-hundred years from now will anyone say: Belgium savagely invaded Germany to start World War I.  To him German World War I war guilt was simply a fact.  No one will ever accuse Barbra Tuchman of being pro-Germany, or for that matter, anti-Israel, particularly now that the overwhelmingly-held contemporary historical opinion views much of the biblical history of Israel as an historical construction for purposes of territorial Justification. Yes, I also re-read James Michener’s The Source, which is not without its polemical aspects.


This line of inquiry lead me to read  Wilson’s Fourteen Points which prompted  me to switch from a verification to a falsification mode of approaching  my grounding assumptions.  The version we read was delivered in a Joint Session of the United States Congress on January 8, 1918, nearly ten months before the signing of the Armistice and shortly after the Russia’s Bolshevik Revolution.  As I read it I was astounded at its positive attitude towards questions of national self-determination particularly in the case of Russia and China, always remembering that they were written as the war was going on.

This again evoked my memory of a book I had never read, but was yet familiar with. It was written by John Maynard Keynes while he was present at the Versailles Treaty Negotiation process.  Keynes projects  “The Economic  Consequences  of  Versailles Peace “ setting off a chain of catastrophic events including the economic collapse of Germany and of course the  rise  of  some sort of revenge-driven dictatorship  leading to the necessity of us numbering our 20th  Century World Wars.  What Keynes drew my attention to, as I finally read it forty-five years after I had heard about it, was that the Armistice was not treated as such, that is to say as cessation of hostilities by the allies and that the wartime blockade of Germany, including even medicine and food stuff, was carried out long after the guns fell silent and while the treaty was in negotiation.  Germany was in a state of nearly total collapse and was threatened with a resumption of hostilities.  I will deal with the full details of Keynes elsewhere, but it is important to note that it was a primary document, written during the actual process of Versailles Treaty Negotiations, and some of the accounts of British troops refusing their duty if it involved  starving German children, tear at ones heart even now.

In turn Keynes’ work led me to Herbert Hoover’s Biography of Woodrow Wilson written, as I remember, sometime in the 1950’s but based on Hoover’s work as Wilson’s wartime food administrator and Hoover’s own presence at the Versailles Treaty negotiations, as well as his work in post-war European and Russian famine relief.  What impressed me so much was Keynes’ statement of respect for Hoover, and the fact that he stated Hoover was the only other person who shared his views on the economic consequences of a harsh peace.


In a very surprising way Hoover’s book was brilliant at capturing the on-the-ground chaos of a destabilized post-World War I Europe with its three dead empires and all of its bloodily emergent nations, all stuff I had studied in my Soviet Foreign Policy program at UW-Madison, back in the days when the Sabre tooth Tigers stalked the Mastodons on Observatory Drive, but never really thought of in a real-world sense. So now I can say that none of the signatories to the Versailles Treaty were not without war guilt, nor was any nation that profited from war clear of that guilt.

Further, who cannot like a writer who explains a change of mind and heart by quoting economist John Maynard Keynes’ quip “that’s what I do when the facts change, what you do?”

Doing work on this paper has caused me to change my  mind about post-World War II  Eastern Europe as much as  the work I did on my own has caused me to change  my mind  on Versailles  and the outcome of WWI.  Yet it has gone both ways because it seems clear now that for just about any Eastern or Western European things were very hard, hard especially for ordinary folks like myself, and surely the hardships continued until  the implementation of the Marshall Plan and post-Berlin-Wall Airlift  (1948-1949 and 1950).  They suffered far more than I was aware.


Right up to the collapse of the Soviet Union, and onto the series  of crises  arising  out Vladimir Putin’s domestic and  foreign policies (particularly  the conflicts with The Republic  of Georgia), and for most of my intellectual life, I have been a Russophile,  be it Czarist , Soviet, or through the contemporary period. Yet, although that is still the case, I think that those of my ilk must be cautioned not to view Russian imperialism though the historical lens of the Potemkin Village.[13]

In conclusion I will turn to a poem I studied as a sophomore at UW-Madison to indicate a critical link between treaties or pacts and even the most horrific battles. That poem is by Carl Sandburg, and appeared in 1919.


PILE the bodies high at Austerlitz and Waterloo,Shovel them under and let me work–I am the grass; I cover all. And pile them high at GettysburgAnd pile them high at Ypres and Verdun.Shovel them under and let me work.Two years, ten years, and passengers ask the conductor:What place is this?Where are we now? I am the grass.Let me work.

Here is what I mean: the grass may cover the battlefields and even tuck away the civilian deaths and the death camps, the exterminations, and even the bombings of Hiroshima and the deaths 60,000,000, or 60,000 Americans in Vietnam in my generation but the outcomes of the treaties live on as we look at maps, do our traveling, and wonder how it is that we got were we did.  My conclusion is that The Molotov/Von Ribbentrop Soviet-Nazi Non-Aggression Pact of August 23rd 1939 was the philosophically sufficient cause nested upon innumerable historical contingencies which led to the onset of the Cold War and the world described by Churchill.  I was only two years old at the time that Winston Churchill made his Fulton College (1946) Iron Curtain Speech which set the parameters for the Cold War for the next 45 years. In fact I learned of it not until I was age forty-seven.  It is fair to say that at that time it evoked or conjured up in me something like a post-traumatic response since we all who lived though it lived through an uneasy balance of terror. [15]  Here I draw from a section I listened to last night in its full audio version where I learned that American President Harry Truman was in the audience.

From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an

“Iron Curtain” has descended across the continent. Behind

that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central

and Eastern Europe.



Yet even Iron Curtains, as proven by the collapse of the Former Soviet Union and re-emergence of the Eastern European Nations, are not impervious to cultural forces, ethnic identity, historical deeds of greatness and heroism, poetry, song, and, of course, good cooking. Maybe what Robert Frost said about walls might be said about Iron Curtains.

American poet Robert Frost demonstrates the force of cultural connections in his poem “Mending Wall which first appeared on the eve of World War I, or the Great War, or The War to End all Wars[16] in 1914.

Something there is that doesn’t love a wall,
That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it,
And spills the upper boulders in the sun,
And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.



BENN, D (2011).  “Russian historians defend the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact”. International Affairs, 87, 3, 709-715. Military & Government Collection, EBSCOhost, viewed 26 October 2014.

“History as it happens” (2010). History Today, 60, 10, p. 7, Academic Search Complete, EBSCOhost, viewed 26 October 2014.

The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. (German-Soviet non-aggression pact signed in 1939 by then Soviet Union foreign minister Vyacheslav M. Molotov and German Reich foreign minister Joachim von Ribbentrop”. (1991). CQ Researcher, 1(10), 472 (1).

Wertsch.  (2008). “Blank Spots in Collective Memory: A Case Study of Russia.” . The Annals of the American Academy of Political Science. 


Tiku, Octavian. (2010). “The Molotov Ribbentrop Pact and the Emergence of the “Moldovan” Nation: Reflections after 70 Years.” Almanac of Policy Studies (Politikos mokslų almanachas), 07, 733.


New York Times, Late Edition (East Coast) [New York, N.Y] 30 Oct 1992: A.9.

Nordling, CO (2006). “Did Stalin Deliver His Alleged Speech of 19 August 1939?” Journal of Slavic Military Studies, 19, 1, 93-106, Military & Government Collection, EBSCOhost, viewed 26 October 2014.

Teddy J. Uldricks. (1999). “The Icebreaker Controversy: Did Stalin Plan to Attack Hitler?” Slavic Review, 58.3, 626-643.  URL:

John Mosier. (2002). The Myth of the Great War: A New Military History of World War I, Harper Perennial, Kindle.

The Blitzkrieg Myth: How Hitler and the Allies Misread the Strategic Realities of World War II (2003). HarperCollins. Kindle.

Cross of Iron: The Rise and Fall of the German War Machine, 1918-1945, (2006). Henry Holt & Co. Kindle.

Deathride: Hitler vs. Stalin – The Eastern Front, 1941-1945, (2010). Simon & Schuster. Kindle.

Victor Suvorov. (1981). The Liberators, Hamish Hamilton Ltd.

_____. (1982). Inside the Soviet Army. Macmillan Publishing Co.

_____. (1984). Inside Soviet Military Intelligence.

_____. (2008). The Chief Culprit: Stalin’s Grand Design to Start World War II. Annapolis, MD: Naval Institute Press.

Other Sources

Pope, V. (1991). “Soviet Republics Rebel.” CQ Researcher, 1, 465-488.

Senn, Alfred Erich. (1990). “Perestroika in Lithuanian Historiography: The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.” Russian Review: 49:1, 43-56.  URL:

[1] I would that Suvorov is a prolific and competent author who as some thirty other books on similar subjects both in English and Russian to his credit.






[6]                 2074900042


[7]  I ended up  of course enrolling in the University of  Wisconsin  Madison taking three course from Dr

Petrovich’s’ and he ended up being my  advisor as a  Eastern and Diplomatic   history

Major.  We weren’t very comfortable with each and I remember once getting and angry note back on my examination booklet, because I had said that Serbian National Hero Stephan Dushan who ruled from 1331-1355 was more noted for his failures in stopping the Turks than his success. I was asked if I would prefer my papers be graded that way.




[11] Archimedean point Quick Reference Metaphor derived from Archimedes’s allegedly saying that if he had a fulcrum and a lever long enough, he could move the earth. The Archimedean point is a point ‘outside’ from which a different, perhaps objective or ‘true’ picture of something is obtainable. It might be a view of time from outside time, a view of science from elsewhere, a view of spatial reality from nowhere




[13] The phrase “Potemkin village” (also “Potyomkin village“, derived from the Russian: Потёмкинские деревни, Potyomkinskiye derevni) was originally used to describe a fake village, built only to impress. According to the story, Grigory Potemkin erected fake settlements along the banks of the Dnieper River in order to fool Empress Catherine II during her journey to Crimea in 1787. The phrase is now used, typically in politics and economics, to describe any construction (literal or figurative) built solely to deceive others into thinking that some situation is better than it really is. Some modern historians claim the original story is exaggerated.




[15] the Cold War) The state of political hostility that existed between the Soviet bloc countries and the US-led Western powers from 1945-1990.




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This entry was posted on April 25, 2016 by in Academic Paper, Kaveny, Phil Kaveny and tagged , , , .
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