In 1939 Maisky dealt with a number of crises including intense British hostility towards the Soviets.
At times, Chamberlain even tried to bang his fist on the famous ‘box’ on the Speaker’s table. But everything cost him such torment and was expressed with such despair in his eyes, voice and gestures that it was sickening to watch him. And this is the head of the British Empire at the most critical moment in its history! He is not the head of the British Empire, but its grave-digger! ...
Unless an extraordinary miracle happens at the very last moment, Britain will find itself at war with Germany within the next 48 hours.
Chamberlain, looking terribly depressed and speaking in a quiet, lifeless voice, confessed that 18 months ago (when Eden retired!) he prayed not to have to take upon himself the responsibility for declaring war, but now he fears that he will not be able to avoid it. But the true responsibility for the unleashing of war lies not with the prime minister, but ‘on the shoulders of one man – the German Chancellor’, who has not hesitated to hurl mankind into the abyss of immense suffering ‘to serve his senseless ambitions’.
In the evening, Agniya and I went to the Globe to see Oscar Wilde’s delicious comedy The Importance of Being Earnest. The actors were superb. An image of the ‘good old times’ – without automobiles, radio, airplanes, air raids, Hitlers and Mussolinis – seemed to come alive. People were funny and naive then, to judge by today’s standards. We laughed for two hours. That’s something to be grateful for.
When we got back from the theatre, the radio brought sensational news: the 16 points which Hitler demands from Poland. The immediate return of Danzig, a plebiscite in the ‘Corridor’, an international committee made up of Italian, British, French and Soviet representatives, a vote in 1940, and so on and so forth.
What’s this? A step back? Slowing down?
I doubt it. It’s too late for Hitler to retreat. It’s almost certainly a manoeuvre. Is it an attempt to hoodwink the world’s public and perhaps the German people as well before a decisive ‘leap’?
Yesterday, late at night, the non-aggression pact between the USSR and Germany was signed in Moscow, and today Ribbentrop is flying back.
Our policy is obviously undergoing a sharp change of direction, the meaning and consequences of which are not yet entirely clear to me. I must wait for further information from Moscow.
The pact stipulates consultations between the governments on matters of mutual interest, and does not contain an escape clause. The duration of the pact is ten years.
Ribbentrop has flown in to Moscow surrounded by 32 attendants! That’s just like him. I remember that when he was ambassador in Britain he travelled between London and Berlin accompanied by no fewer than 30–40 adjutants.
Last night, at around 12, I got a telephone call from Hillman of the International News Service, who shouted down the phone, in great alarm and agitation, that the following news had just come in from Berlin: Germany and the USSR were signing a non-aggression pact. Ribbentrop would be flying to Moscow for that purpose tomorrow. Was this possible?
Involuntarily, I threw up my hands. See more
Since early morning there has been a great commotion, almost panic, in town today. Telephone calls. Visits. Requests to see me. Lloyd George came specially from Churt, and invited me for lunch in his office. The old man is anxious, but he fully understands us. He told me plainly: ‘I’ve been expecting this for a long time. I’m still amazed at your patience. How could you negotiate with this Government for so long?’
We had a long talk about the current situation and discussed the position that the old man would take on the issue. Finally, he stated directly: ‘While Chamberlain remains in charge, there will be no “peace front”. This man will destroy the Empire.’
Later, the duchess of Atholl paid me a visit. Worried and confused. What is this? The complete neutrality of the Soviet Union? A free hand for Germany in Europe? We had a long talk. The duchess left somewhat reassured.
Greenwood and Dalton came to see me in the evening. They are also worried, bewildered, and unable to understand anything.
It seems that our negotiations with the British and the French have collapsed. Already in July, there had been a strong desire in Moscow for their termination. Now things have gone from bad to worse. To judge by information received from various sources, the situation is roughly as follows.
When negotiations between the military delegations opened in Moscow on 12 August, the Soviet side inquired about the British and French missions’ letters of credentials. It turned out that they had not brought any with them. Naturally, this produced a very bad impression. The Soviet side asked the British and the French to get the required letters from London and Paris. A few days later these were received and presented, but... they turned out to be so general and vague that it became clear to us that London and Paris had no serious intention of concluding an agreement. See more
Next came the issue of Poland. When the British and the French, having set forth their considerations concerning the assistance they could provide to Poland in case of need, asked the Soviet side what it could do for Poland, Comrade Voroshilov outlined our plan. Since the USSR does not have common borders with Germany, it could, of course, offer effective aid to Poland, France, and Britain only if Poland were to let the Red Army pass through its territory. ... The Polish Government refused categorically to let the Soviet troops pass through its territory and even announced that it did not need any assistance from the USSR. Poland would manage by itself if Britain and France fulfilled their duty. What shocked the Polish «most was the prospect of the Red Army marching through Wilno, Piłsudski’s birthplace. ‘The shade of Piłsudski,’ they exclaimed theatrically, ‘will rise from his grave if we allow the Russian troops to pass through Wilno.’
... The negotiations stalled on this issue. Deadlock had been reached. Indeed, what’s the use talking to the British and the French if the Poles refuse categorically to accept the only plan that could save Poland?
Once again it has become clear that London and Paris are not serious about an agreement. Or, perhaps they even incited the Poles to reject our proposal?
Some major decisions, one feels, are in the offing...
We got away for a week and spent it at the Malvern drama festival. Apart from going to the theatre, we drove around the wonderful Malvern countryside. We met a few diplomats there and others from London ‘society’. We were guests at the estate of Sir Sidney Clive, marshal of the diplomatic corps. Most of the talk at the tea table was about the threatening international situation. One of the guests from the City asked me what was to be expected in the upcoming week. Not wanting to embark on a lengthy analysis, I just said: ‘I fear that next week will be very difficult. I think I was right. But we shall see.
I had breakfast together with the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Viscount Gort, Lord Lloyd, Degville and others.
Gort, in response to my question, said that although the official policy shared with the general public is that the British government does not plan to send a large army to the continent in the event of a new war, nevertheless, the General Staff understands perfectly that it will end up having to send exactly that kind of army, and therefore it is already now doing everything necessary to prepare for this, particularly in the area of preparing weapons and equipment. Conscription, according to Gort, will continue to be deployed. During the first year, the second army will be drafted, then a third, etc. Gort noted, boasting slightly, that only 9% of the first draft were deemed unfit for service. (Nota bene: it would be interesting to find out what guidelines were used as criteria for enlistment?) Gort estimates Germany’s military capabilities to be rather weak: it has no more than 3,000 vehicles in the first division, and Germany will not be able to fight for more than a year. Gort was very interested in the outlook for military talks in Moscow and expressed his personal sympathy for a three-way pact.
On my way home, I couldn’t help smiling at history’s mischievous sense of humour.
In subjective terms, it is difficult to imagine a situation more favourable for an Anglo-German bloc against the USSR and less favourable for an Anglo-Soviet bloc against Germany. Indeed, the spontaneous preferences of the British ‘upper ten thousand’ most definitely lie with Germany. See more
In his sleep, Chamberlain dreams of a deal with Hitler at the expense of third countries, i.e. ultimately at the expense of the USSR. Even now the PM still dreams of ‘appeasement’. On the other side, in Berlin, Hitler has always advocated a bloc with Britain. He wrote about this fervently back in "Mein Kampf". Highly influential groups among the German fascists, bankers and industrialists also support closer relations with England. I repeat: the subjective factor is not only 100%, but a full 150% behind an Anglo-German bloc.
And yet, the bloc fails to materialize. Slowly but unstoppably, Anglo-German relations are deteriorating and becoming increasingly strained. Regardless of Chamberlain’s many attempts to ‘forget’, to ‘forgive’, to ‘reconcile’, to ‘come to terms’, something fateful always occurs to widen further the abyss between London and Berlin. Why? Because the vital interests of the two powers – the objective factor – prove diametrically opposed. And this fundamental conflict of interests easily overrides the influence of the subjective factor. Repulsion is stronger than attraction.
The members of the military mission to Moscow – Admiral Drax (head), Air Marshal Burnett and Major General Heywood – came for lunch. The guests were highly reserved in conversation and preferred to discuss such innocuous topics as partridge hunting, the season for which they will clearly have to spend in Moscow. See more
During lunch, however, I did learn one thing which seriously alarmed me. When I asked Drax, who was sitting on my right, why the delegation was not flying to Moscow by plane to save time, Drax drew in his lips and said: ‘You see, there are nearly 20 of us and a lot of luggage... It would be uncomfortable in the plane...’
I can hardly say that I found his response convincing. I continued: ‘In that case, why not travel by warship... On a fast cruiser, for example... It would look impressive and it would hasten your arrival in Leningrad.
Drax sucked his lips again and said, deep in thought: ‘But that would mean kicking 20 officers out of their cabins... That would be awkward...’
I couldn’t believe my ears. Such tender feelings and such tactful manners!
So, the English and the French military missions are travelling to Moscow by freight steamer! It must be a freighter, to judge by its speed! And this comes at a time in Europe when the ground is beginning to burn beneath our feet! Incredible! Does the British Government really want an agreement? I’m becoming more and more convinced that Chamberlain is pursuing his own game regardless: it’s not a tripartite pact that he needs, but talks about a pact, as a trump card for cutting a deal with Hitler.