In the 1930s Joseph Stalin became increasingly concerned that the Soviet Union would be invaded by Germany. Stalin believed the best way to of dealing with Germany was to form an anti-fascist alliance with countries in the west. Stalin argued that even Adolf Hitler would not start a war against a united Europe.
Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister, was not enthusiastic about forming an alliance with the Soviet Union. He wrote to a friend: "I must confess to the most profound distrust of Russia. I have no belief whatever in her ability to maintain an effective offensive, even if she wanted to. And I distrust her motives, which seem to me to have little connection with our ideas of liberty, and to be concerned only with getting everyone else by the ears."
Winston Churchill, an outspoken critic of British foreign policy, agreed with Joseph Stalin: "There is no means of maintaining an eastern front against Nazi aggression without the active aid of Russia. Russian interests are deeply concerned in preventing Herr Hitler's designs on eastern Europe. It should still be possible to range all the States and peoples from the Baltic to the Black sea in one solid front against a new outrage of invasion. Such a front, if established in good heart, and with resolute and efficient military arrangements, combined with the strength of the Western Powers, may yet confront Hitler, Goering, Himmler, Ribbentrop, Goebbels and co. with forces the German people would be reluctant to challenge."
Stalin's own interpretation of Britain's rejection of his plan for an antifascist alliance, was that they were involved in a plot with Germany against the Soviet Union. This belief was reinforced when Neville Chamberlain met with Adolf Hitler at Munich in September, 1938, and gave into his demands for the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia. Joseph Stalin now believed that the main objective of British foreign policy was to encourage Germany to head east rather than west.
Joseph Stalin realized that war with Germany was inevitable. However, to have any chance of victory he needed time to build up his armed forces. The only way he could obtain time was to do a deal with Hitler. Stalin was convinced that Hitler would not be foolish enough to fight a war on two fronts. If he could persuade Hitler to sign a peace treaty with the Soviet Union, Germany was likely to invade Western Europe instead.
On 3rd May, 1939, Stalin dismissed Maxim Litvinov, his Jewish Commissar for Foreign Affairs. Litvinov had been closely associated with the Soviet Union's policy of an antifascist alliance. Meetings soon took place between Vyacheslav Molotov, Litvinov's replacement and Joachim von Ribbentrop, the German foreign minister. On 28th August, 1939, the Nazi-Soviet Pact was signed in Moscow. Under the terms of the agreement, both countries promised to remain neutral if either country became involved in a war.
Walter Krivitsky, a former NKVD agent, who had fled to America in the early months of 1939 had predicted the Nazi-Soviet Pact in articles published in Saturday Evening Post. It is claimed this was possible because he had an insight into Stalin's thinking. John V. Fleming, the author of The Anti-Communist Manifestos: Four Books that Shaped the Cold War (2009) has argued: "Krivitsky was sufficiently privy to the thinking within the Kremlin to be able to predict to his absolutely unbelieving auditors that Stalin was more interested in finding an accommodation with Hitler than in countering him in Spain or elsewhere.... Then, in late August, the Germans and the Russians jointly announced the pact that Krivitsky had predicted."
Krivitsky argued in The New Leader on 26th August, 1939: "Not only are the American people shocked, but far more the unhappy masses of Germany and Russia who have paid and will continue to pay for this triumph with their blood. Such master strokes are eloquent proof of the return by the totalitarian states to the darkest phases of secret diplomacy such as characterized the epoch of Absolutism... For the democratic world the importance of the pact lies in that it has finally ripped the mask from Stalin's face. I believe that in those countries where the free word still exists, the master stroke of diplomacy is the death stroke of Stalinism as an active force. I believe this because after nearly 20 years of service for the Soviet government, I am convinced that democracy; despite its present perilous position, is the sole path for progressive humanity."
Raymond Gram Swing later recalled: "The British were busy all through early 1939 trying to negotiate an agreement with the Soviet Union. Even up to the stunning surprise of the Von Ribbentrop-Molotov pact, a success in the British negotiations was awaited. The Poles were against it; they wanted no truck with Moscow. But I thought the British-Soviet negotiations would succeed in spite of the Poles, and said so. Now that this is all in the past, one sees that Stalin signed the pact with Hitler for two reasons, one being to partition a hostile Poland and annex a part of it, the other being to buy time to prepare for an attack Hitler might launch against the Soviet Union."
In March, 1940, Walter Duranty wrote in Atlantic Monthly that although the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany were "to all intents and purposes allies" the natural animosity between the two countries, and indeed their rival systems of government, dictated that such an alliance could not last. It was, he wrote, an alliance built upon "a temporary community of interests and a joint dislike of others, which is surely a slender foundation on which to build a permanent edifice."