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George Stern

Behind the Lines

(24 October 1939)

From Socialist Appeal, Vol. III No. 81, 24 October 1939, p. 1.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

In speculating over the precise significance of the new Franco-British pact with Turkey it is well to remember once more that pacts these days are not everything they seem. Few chapters in recent tangled diplomatic history have been more thoroughly befogged than the negotiations which have now resulted in an apparent breakdown of Russo-Turkish talks and the conclusion of an Anglo-Franco-Turkish pact of mutual assistance. Not even the newspapers, which have a glib explanation for everything, seem to be able to decide who won and who lost in this rather important skirmish on the diplomatic front.

Out of the many obscurities of the situation, nevertheless, a few salient facts emerge quite clearly. Stalin was trying to use the negotiations with Turkey as a form of insurance against future eventualities. He first of all wanted to be sure that through the closing of the Dardanelles his Black Sea trade with Germany would not be affected. He also – and this was even more important – wanted to make sure of immobilizing Turkey when the time comes for carving up the Balkans again – especially Rumania. In these aims he has apparently failed for the time being. In this respect the outcome of the Turkish talks must be taken together with the obvious toning down of the demands made upon Finland as a check on the Kremlin’s diplomatic blitzkrieg.

But this is by no means the final word. In the pact signed by Turkey with Britain and France there is a little clause that may turn out to be the joker in the deck. It is agreed that in no circumstances will Turkey go to war with Russia.

This leaves pretty much as before a big question mark next to Turkey’s name in the war lineup. Events – and not this pact – will tell what Turkey will actually do when the Hitler-Stain partnership goes to work in its own peculiar way in southeastern Europe.

There is another version also of these same events. Stalin is depicted as having been virtually ready to join Turkey and, indirectly, Britain and France, in guaranteeing the status quo in the Balkans. At the last minute Hitler is said to have served peremptory demands on his Kremlin ally, with the result that Stalin introduced fresh claims upon Turkey in the conversations with Saracoglu which Turkey, under Anglo-French pressure, refused to accept.

In London a good deal of effort is being extended to put this face on things, to make it appear for Hitler’s benefit that Stalin has actually been trying to put over a back-door double-cross on his German ally and may still do so. This is not because the British desire to win Stalin over to their side against Hitler. It is because they are hoping still to win Hitler over against Stalin by breaking the Moscow-Berlin axis.

But either eventuality still is a ways off, for both with respect to northern Europe and the Balkans, both Germany and Russia still have too much to gain by working together to sacrifice it by beginning, prematurely, to pull apart.

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