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The signing in Moscow's Kremlin on the night of August 23-24 of the Nazi-Communist "NonAggression" Pact was a diplomatic demarche literally world-shattering. The actual signers were German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop and Soviet Premier-Foreign Commissar Molotov, but Comrade Stalin was there in person to give it his smiling benediction, and no one doubted that it was primarily his doing. By it Germany broke through British-French "encirclement," freed herself from the necessity of fighting on two fronts at the same time. Without the Russian pact, German generals would certainly have been loath to go into military action. With it, World War II began.
From Russia's standpoint, the pact seemed at first a brilliant coup in the cynical game of power politics. It was expected that smart Joseph Stalin would lie low and let the Allies and the Germans fight it out to exhaustion, after which he would possibly pick up the pieces. But little by little, it began to appear that Comrade Stalin got something much more practical out of his deal.
> More than half of defeated Poland was handed over to him without a struggle.
> The three Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were quietly informed that hereafter they must look to Moscow rather than to Berlin. They all signed "mutual assistance" pacts making them virtual protectorates of the Soviet Union.
> Germany renounced any interest in Finland, thus giving the Russians carte blanche to move into that countrywhich they have been trying to do for the past four weeks.
> It is widely supposed that Germany agreed to recognize some Russian interests in the Balkans, most probably in Rumania's Bessarabia and in eastern Bulgaria and the Isthmus.
But if, in the jungle that is Europe today, the Man of 1939 gained large slices of territory out of his big deal, he also paid a big price for it. By the one stroke of sanctioning a Nazi war and by the later strokes of becoming a partner of Adolf Hitler in aggression, Joseph Stalin threw out of the window Soviet Russia's meticulously fostered reputation of a peace-loving, treaty-abiding nation. By the ruthless attack on Finland, he not only sacrificed the good will of thousands of people the world over sympathetic to the ideals of Socialism, he matched himself with Adolf Hitler as the world's most hated man.
The Life. While the new Nazi-Communist partnership may have surprised those whose Russian reading had been confined to the idealistic utterances of such Soviet diplomats as onetime Foreign Commissar Maxim Litvinoff, Stalin's life reveals numerous examples of cynical opportunism and unprincipled grabbing of power. Sent to a Greek Orthodox seminary at Tiflis at 13, young "Soso" Djugashvili was expelled at 18 from the school because, said his priestly teachers, of "Socialistic heresy."