Cold War: The Munich Agreement 1938-9 Return to the gallery menu
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How did the Munich Agreement of September 1938 affect relations between the USSR and Britain and France?

In the late 1930s the storm clouds were gathering over Europe. The main reason was the actions of German leader Adolf Hitler. He made it clear that his long term aim was to attack the USSR and destroy Communism. But in the short term he was causing worries in Western and Central Europe. By 1938 he had broken the terms of the Treaty of Versailles by rebuilding Germany's armed forces and by taking control of Austria. In September 1938 he threatened to go to war with Czechoslovakia if the Czechs refused to hand over certain parts of their lands to Germany. Britain and France had treaties with Czechoslovakia, so if there was a war then they would be drawn in.

On September 29th Britain and France reached an agreement with Hitler at a conference in Munich. Neville Chamberlain (Britain) and Edward Daladier (France) agreed to most of Hitler's demands, effectively leaving Czechoslovakia to agree or fight Germany alone. Czechoslovakia gave in to Hitler's demands. Six months later (March 1939) Hitler broke all his promises and took over the rest of Czechoslovakia as well.

How did this affect the USSR? Britain and France tried to build an anti-German alliance with the USSR. However, in August 1939 Soviet leader Stalin signed a Non-Aggression Pact with Hitler. Germany and the USSR agreed not to attack each other, and to provide various forms of help to each other as well.

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Britain and France were appalled that Stalin had done a deal with a leader like Hitler who clearly could not be trusted. In response, Soviet politicians argued that the USSR had been sold out by Britain and France at Munich:
  • Stalin was not consulted about the Munich Agreement. He was not even invited to the conference.
  • The Soviet historian Yuri Kukushkin later wrote in his History of Russia that
    'by rejecting the idea of a united front [against Germany] proposed by the USSR, Britain and France played into the hands of Germany … They wanted to direct German aggression eastward against the USSR and the disgraceful Munich deal achieved this'

Now it's your turn to study the sources on this issue. As you look at them, keep thinking about the Case Study question. You should also think about these related questions:

  • Is the view that Stalin was sold out a bit too simple?
  • Were Britain and France trying to damage the USSR or just trying to save themselves from a war with Germany?
  • Does that justify the actions of Britain and France?
  • If Stalin's worries about Hitler were so great why did sign a treaty with him in August 1939?
  • Did Stalin sign a deal with Hitler in 1939 because of bitterness towards Britain, or simply because Stalin gained a lot from the deal?
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