1920s - Cooperation With Germany
In the 1920s, as the new Soviet state temporarily retreated from the revolutionary path to socialism, the party also adopted a less ideological approach in its relations with the rest of the world. Lenin, ever the practical leader, having become convinced that socialist revolution would not break out in other countries in the near future, realized that his government required normal relations with the Western world for it to survive. Not only were good relations important to national security, but the economy also required trade with the industrial countries.
Blocking Soviet attainment of these objectives were lingering suspicions about communism on the part of the Western powers and concern over foreign debts incurred by the tsarist government, which the Soviet government had unilaterally repudiated.
The Western Powers after the Great War treated both Germany and Russia as outlaw states. Naturally the outlaws lost little time in getting together, and on 16 April, 1922, less than three years after the Treaty of Versailles, the Soviet commissar of foreign affairs, Georgiy Chicherin, circumvented these difficulties by achieving an understanding with Germany, the other pariah state of Europe. Ihe Treaty of Rapallo, Germany and Russia agreed on mutual recognition, cancellation of debt claims, normalization of trade relations, and secret cooperation in military development.
The motivation for both the German and Soviet militaries to cooperate in defiance of Versailles was great: the Soviet Union needed military know-how and technology and the Germans needed a place to test their military technology and to train formations with prohibited arms.
The military clauses of Versailles had an important bearing upon matters. Aviation activities on German soil were out of the question, since the meticulous scrutiny of the Inter-Allied Control Commission would have quickly ferreted out even the most insignificant effort to establish flying organizations, to produce military aircraft, or to convert civil sircraft to military uses.
In such circumstances it was natural that the German aviation induatry would fall far behind its foreign counterparts. Theae handicaps forced Germany to seek a partner which would permit German aircraft firms to establish factories on its soil, and which would allow German airmen to train there as well, outside the limitations of Allied treaties.
Of the nations which ranked among the great powers in Europe after 1919, only the Soviet Union was comparable to Germany in being universally disliked by the Allies, and in presenting a suspicious picture. Both had lost more in the war than they had gained and both saw little reason to expect benevolence from the Western Allies.
German-Soviet cooperation in violation of the Versailles Treaty constituted a serious threat to the survival of the Versailles regime. The high degree of secrecy of the illegal activities made it impossible for the Allied Control Commissions to find hard evidence of non-compliance. One of the reasons was that the military did not inform the political authorities about the extent of its cooperation with the Red Army. But indications of German-Soviet collusion were known early on.
Paul Roques, for instance, reports that during the time of the Soviet offensive against Poland in July 1920, the German govemment deliberately ignored requests from the IMCC to prevent a Russian train loaded with 100 canons and 10,000 guns that had been confiscated from Bolshevik prisoners interned in Germany — from leaving Germany towards Russia."
Germany annually sent to Russia a certain number of officers to instruct the new Russian armies, and other officers for experience with heavy artillery, armor, air force, etc., with a view to their instructing German cadres upon their return. The Allies had a Control Council in Germany to keep that state disarmed, but it could not reach the operations in Russia. Germany also furnished Russia with scientists and technicians for the current 5-year Plan. Net result was to modernize Russia and its army, and secretly prepare German forces to circumvent the Versailles Treaty.
Even before Rapallo, the Germans arranged with the Soviets for the construction of artillery and tanks at Kazan, the manufacturing and experimenting with poison gas at Saratov, and the training of fighter planes and dive bombers at Lipetsk airbase. After Rapallo, the German company Junkers began construction of aircraft in the Soviet Union and large German industrial groups, such as Blohm and Voss (submarine construction) and Krupp (production of shells and grenades) began their illegal activities.
The Treatv of Rapallo resulted in more than a decade of Soviet-German cooperation that included secret military collaboration. Ironically. the German army, with the aid of the Soviet army, bypassed the provisions of Versailles and experimented with new weapons on Soviet territory. Strengthening the German army was hardly a wise strategy for any Soviet leader who placed a high prioriiy on the future prospects of the German Communists' seizing power.
The dynamics of Soviet foreign relations changed drastically after Stalin recognized the danger posed by Nazi Germany. From 1934 through 1937, the Soviet Union tried to restrain German militarism by building coalitions hostile to fascism.
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