The Foreign Policy of Soviet Russia

Stalin’s foreign policy consisted of four main ideas which would promote a strong military and form good international relationships. Firstly, forming good economic relationships and trading ties with neighbouring countries. Secondly, avoiding conflicts or arguments with neighbouring countries to build trust, friendship and gain influence. Thirdly, creating a strong military to convey their strength, whilst having the ability to defend against possible attacks from all angles. Fourthly, creating a good relationship with foreigners residing in the country in order to facilitate good international links. 

Shortly after he gained control over the party, Stalin embarked on a period of radicalisation of the Soviet foreign policy that aligned with his hardline domestic policies. To convey a sense of emergency for modernising the Soviet Union, Stalin portrayed the Western powers, with France in particular, as violent nations who were seeking to attack and destroy the Soviet nation. 

Domestically, Stalin eliminated any forms of opposition to his power, replacing those in positions of power with his friends and allies. With this, Stalin shaped the foreign policy of the Soviet Union.

Stalin began to pursue a policy of expansionism. In the 1920s and 30s, this meant  "Expansion" in the 1920s and the 1930s consisted of widespread, global propaganda which promoted the success of the Soviet Union, and the appeal of communism. It was not until the Second World War that expansionism escalated to physical expansion, from the joint invasion of Poland to the establishment of the Soviet Union and Sphere of Influence during their liberation of Europe.

The USSR's relationship with the Weimar Republic

When the Socialist Weimar Republic joined the League of Nations, the Russian Media warned Germany against stepping into the “wasp’s nest of international intrigue, where political sharpers and thieving diplomatists play with marked cards, strangle weak nations, and organise war against the U.S.S.R.” 

This may have seemed to be a stifling factor in the relationship between the Soviet Union and the Weimar Republic, but negotiations led to the Treaty of Berlin being signed in April 1926, with the Weimar Republic committing to neutrality in the event of a conflict between the USSR and another country, or unit, so as to include the League of Nations. The Weimar Republic also provided a 300,000,000-mark credit and accounted for 29% of the USSR’s foreign trade in the late 1920s.  

Expansion into China

The main country in which Russia attempted to expand their Soviet Communist design was China, where Lenin believed liberation to be “an essential stage in the victory of socialism”. 

The Soviets had sent troops into Outer Mongolia, allegedly at the request of local Communists, and concluded a treaty with Peking on May 31st 1924 that granted the U.S.S.R. a virtual protectorate over Outer Mongolia and ongoing ownership of the Chinese Eastern Railway in Manchuria. This protectorate over Outer Mongolia was the first of many satellite states of the USSR.

Socialism in One Country

By the 1930s, Stalin’s attempted alliance with China failed, and he began to pursue the policy of “Socialism in One Country” which aimed at strengthening socialism within the USSR rather than socialism globally.

In this period, Russia underwent rapid industrialisation and agricultural collectivisation and pursued a policy of isolationism, which was ideologically justified by the Great Depression, which to Communists,  was proof that capitalism was destined for failure. 

In contrast to this policy of isolationism, the Comintern ordered the Community Party of Germany to aid the anti-Soviet Nazi Party to power. They hoped that this would exacerbate social tensions and produce conditions that would help a communist revolution to take place in Germany. Ultimately, this never materialised, and Stalin holds some responsibility for Hitler’s rise to power in 1933, and the tragic consequences that Hitler’s regime had on the whole world.

Military Alliances of the 1930s

In the 1930s, the Russian policy evolved due to possible threats of invasions. In 1931, Japan had moved into Manchuria and was closing in on the borders of the USSR, and its satellite state, Outer Mongolia. Meanwhile, having come to power in Germany, the Soviet’s fears of Germany were realised in Hitler’s Mein Kampf, which indicated his ambitions to expand Germany’s lebensraum into the USSR.

Hence, in 1935, the Soviet Union concluded defensive military alliances with France and Czechoslovakia, and from 1936 to 1939, gave assistance to the anti-Fascist forces in the Civil War in Spain. 

The Soviet Union’s fear was further provoked when Germany and Japan signed the Anti-Comintern Pact in 1936. Stalin had shown an interest in an alliance with the west, but as talks failed, and Britain continued to give into Hitler’s demands for land, Stalin abandoned his efforts to build an agreement on collective security with the West. 

On March 3rd 1937, Stalin described this as ‘Capitalist encirclement’ as capitalist nations "surround the Soviet Union, waiting for an opportunity to attack it, break it, or at any rate to undermine its power and weaken it.”

As a result of Britain’s policy of appeasement, Stalin was convinced that the West would not stand up and fight Hitler. Hence, he decided to form the Nazi-Soviet Pact with Germany, in which a secret protocol divided Poland between the two countries, and highlighted Romanian territory, Estonia, Latvia, and subsequently Lithuania, to the Soviet sphere of influence. With the threat of an invasion from the East reduced, Hitler began the German invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939. 

However, this alliance with Germany was just a farce. It was simply a way for Stalin to gain time to build up his army and gain some territory in the meantime. It was a similar idea for Hitler. They both knew that they were unable to defeat each other, and needed time to build up their respective militaries. It was on the 22nd of June 1941, when Germany invaded Russia in Operation Barbarossa.

Dissolution of the Comintern

Meanwhile, Molotov hailed this as the “broadening” of activity for individual state governments, announcing that it was an example of the USSR supporting self-determination. However, despite establishing independent government offices and foreign relations, these countries were nowhere near independent and remained heavily controlled by the Soviet Union.