Vienna, August 31 – Stalin viewed the secret protocols of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact which allowed Moscow to seize the Baltic countries, Bessarabia, and part of Poland as “a model” for the subsequent annexation of portions of Iran, Turkey and China, an Azerbaijani scholar has suggested.
And while the Soviet dictator did not succeed in doing so in any of these cases, largely because of Stalin’s dependence on the West after Hitler invaded his former ally in June 1941 and because of Western opposition in each, the existence of these plans demolishes the arguments of those who insist that the pact was only a defensive rather than also an offensive accord.
In an analysis of recent research on these questions posted on the 1news.az site over the weekend, Jeyhun Najafov calls attention to an aspect of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact that has attracted little attention during this year’s debate on the 70th anniversary of the accord between Hitler and Stalin (1news.az/analytics/20090829104314684.html).
As almost all sides in that debate concede, the secret protocol attached to the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact put part of Poland, Finland, Bessarabia, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in Moscow’s sphere of influence, opening the way for the Soviet Union to expand it borders to the West.
Stalin’s supporters argue that this was a defensive maneuver, designed to protect the Soviet Union from what the Soviet dictator assumed would be an eventual German attack on the USSR, while critics of Stalin argue that the Soviet agreement with the Nazis was simply about the territorial aggrandizement of Stalin’s empire.
Research conducted by Dzhakhangir Nadzhafov, a scholar at the Moscow Institute of General History, clearly shows that Stalin’s critics have the better argument, given that documents he published in Moscow’s “Voprosy istorii” show that Stalin planned to use the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact as “a model” for annexing other neighboring regions.
Not surprisingly, Nadzhafov focused on Stalin’s plans to annex the northern regions of Iran, the population of which was and remains predominantly ethnically Azerbaijani, but he also explored the Soviet dictator’s plans to annex the Xinjiang Region of China and some of the eastern districts of Turkey.
In 1941, Nadzhafov wrote, Mirdzhafar Bagirov, the Communist Party boss of Azerbaijan, invoking Stalin, said that “in Iran it is necessary to undertake the tactic and strategy of the model of uniting Polish territories to Ukraine and Belorussia,” an indication that Moscow’s plans for annexing portions of Iran were “practically ready.”
Additional evidence of the way in which Stalin viewed the secret protocols as a model concerns Xinjiang and the eastern portions of Turkey, Nadzhafov pointed out. “The Politburo planned to annex completely the Turkish districts of Kars, Ardahan and part of Avdina and divide the 26,500 square kilometers of territory between Armenia and Georgia.
Moscow had also defined the exact dimension of the territory of Iran that would be united with the Azerbaijan SSR, so all three of the republics of the South Caucasus would have expanded significantly, Armenia by 80 percent, Georgia by eight percent, and Azerbaijan more than doubled.
The Politburo was so committed to these territorial transfers and so certain that it they would take place that it had the foreign ministry work up the necessary documents and had decided on both the exact dates – the Iranian provinces were to be absorbed on November 7, 1941 – and the names of the Communist officials who would be assigned to these places.
Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 put all these plans on hold. Stalin needed Western assistance, and much of it flowed through Iran. As a result, the British insisted that Moscow recognize the territorial integrity of that country, something the Soviet Union did in a trilateral agreement with the US and the United Kingdom in January 1942.
But as Soviet forces moved westward and victory over Hitler seemed assumed, Moscow appears to have taken up the Southern Azerbaijan project once again, not only because many ethnic Azerbaijanis on both sides of the border were interested but because of the growing importance of oil, large amounts of which were located in this region.
Toward that end, the Soviets created the Democratic Republic of Southern Azerbaijan, a regime backed by the present of Red Army troops. But after the end of World War II, those troops were withdrawn, and the Soviet-backed puppet government of Southern Azerbaijan collapsed.
As Najafov noted in his article on Saturday, “certain [Azerbaijani] scholars connect the fall of the Democratic Republic of Southern Azerbaijan with what they see as a manifestation of the negative attitude toward Azerbaijan by Stalin, Beria, Mikoyan” and other Soviet leaders. But, the journalist says, such conclusions “do not have any basis in fact.”
Instead, he writes, “the Western powers considered that Stalin and the Soviet leadership had received an enormous zone of influence in Europe and therefore must not be permitted in any way to expand into Central Asia.” Indeed, Najafov argues, “the West was united on this question.”
“For Azerbaijanis,” he says, Southern Azerbaijan “was a question of the future of the nation. For the USSR, Iranian Azerbaijan was about the annexation of new territories, but for the West this was the expansion of communism.” And the West, possibly according to some accounts using the threat of a nuclear attack against the USSR, was not prepared to tolerate that.
But however that may be – and this question is still a matter of dispute – the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact not only was the product of a far more aggressive Soviet policy than its defenders want to admit but also cast a larger and more ugly shadow than even the victims and opponents of the Hitler-Stalin accord had thought.