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RUSSIA: Ready for Signing

3 minute read

Early last week foreign correspondents in London, Moscow and Paris reported that the Anglo-Soviet pact was just about ready for signing. Late last week Prime Minister Chamberlain discussed it fully in a foreign affairs debate in the House of Commons. These sensational developments, however, were made somewhat less exciting by the fact that the pact had been reported ready for signing at least a dozen times before. Indeed, to detached observers the proceedings appeared less like diplomatic negotiations than like the scene in Hellzapoppin, in which a young man promises to escape from a strait jacket in five seconds, threshes fruitlessly around for the rest of the show, and is last seen still trying to get loose, when patrons are leaving the theatre.

It was on the Ides of March that Soviet Ambassador Ivan Maisky spoke of Russia’s strength and peaceful intentions at a dinner for British industrialists, launching stories of negotiations unique in diplomatic history for their repeated reports of success unaccompanied by any concrete results. In the next week Britain was reported to be: 1) weighing a Soviet pact; 2) conquering her fear of Communism; 3) considering Russia’s attitude favorable; 4) rejecting Russia’s proposal for a six-power conference as premature. By the end of March Russia was reported: 1) to be pleased by the British stand on Poland; 2) to see Britain yielding; 3) to be ready to sign; 4) to doubt Prime Minister Chamberlain’s sincerity.

April began with a report that Moscow was suspicious, and ended with the news that Britain was cautious.

Big break in the progress of the negotiations came when Russia’s Foreign Commissar Maxim Litvinoff was abruptly retired from his post. But by May 22 authoritative sources declared that the peace front was rapidly becoming a fact, and in five days Great Britain was announced as bowing to Soviet terms, burying her old prejudices, expressing confidence that Russia would agree. Six weeks later negotiations were still going on.

Holding them up all this time, said Prime Minister Chamberlain last week, were conflicting definitions of “indirect aggression”—i.e., a Nazi coup in Latvia, Estonia, or other states which may be guaranteed against aggression by the pact. France, Great Britain and Russia all wanted to avoid giving the impression that they were “encroaching upon the independence” of the guaranteed countries. France and Great Britain felt that the Russian proposals could be interpreted in this way. But, he added, all three realize that “indirect aggression might be just as dangerous as direct aggression and all three desire to find a satisfactory method of providing against it.” Britain and France would consequently send military missions to Russia to begin staff talks. Clear-cut as these disclosures were, they would have been far more impressive had correspondents not counted so many unhatched eggs in the four-and-a-half months before they were made.

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