FOR AREAS OF COOPERATION,
TO THE NAZI SOVIET PACT OF 1939:
Selected Annual Proceedings of the Florida Conference of Historians 5 (Dec. 1997): 8-20.
Adolf Hitler's arrival to power in Germany in 1933 upset
the diplomatic system established by the peace treaties ending the First World
War. Fearing that the Führer might actually mean his
anticommunist and anti-Slavic rhetoric, in the following years the Soviet Union
attempted to construct a policy of collective security designed to deal with
Nazi Germany.(1) Moscow hoped that collective security
would make Hitler see the value of Germany's old, Rapallo relationship with Russia, and, presumably, anytime that Hitler
sincerely returned to that cooperation, Stalin would cuckold his collective
security partners. If, however, Hitler did not come to reason, then
collective security would give the USSR the diplomatic and military clout to contain Germany.
Italy had a crucial role to play in collective security. By approaching Mussolini's fascist state, the Kremlin sought to reassure Nazi Germany that ideology need not get in the way of good, pragmatic relations.(2) If Germany failed to be seduced, however, Italy was the one power with proven ability to oppose Anschluss in Austria, the necessary first step in Germany's expansion. To strengthen collective security, in 1934 and 1935 Moscow encouraged cooperation between Paris and Rome. Such teamwork would permit Italy's allies, Austria and Hungary, to work with France's Little Entente allies, Czechoslovakia, Romania, and Yugoslavia.(3)
Soviet plans began to crumble with the Italo-Ethiopian War of 1935 and 1936. For the sake of collective security, Moscow had been willing to suffer the indignity of supporting imperialist predations against a colonial people. Not until Britain forced Moscow's hand, therefore, did the Kremlin in September 1935 join the League's efforts to thwart Italy's plans in Ethiopia. Moscow, however, often reassured the fascist government that it wanted good relations restored once the war was over.(4)
International intervention exacerbated the Spanish Civil War and dashed Moscow's hopes. Violent press attacks mutually disturbed the two governments,(5) and by late 1938 both were lamenting the collapse of negotiations to restore the commercial relations so mutually beneficial in the first half of the decade. Also stalled were the related discussions concerning the supply of marine diesel to the Royal Navy and the sequestering of a naval vessel purchased by the Soviets and built in Italian yards.(6) The purges took their toll with the arrest and detention of Italians working and living in the USSR,(7) and Italy's representatives found normal diplomatic courtesies strained.(8) "Pirate" Italian submarines were even sinking Russian merchantmen plying the Mediterranean.(9) Worse, under the cover of the civil war Italy acquiesced to Austria's Anschluss, and Germany obtained direct access to Danubian and Balkan Europe. Collective security as originally envisaged was no longer possible.
By late 1938, with the fate of Republican Spain no longer in doubt and after the debacle of the Munich Conference, the Kremlin had to find a new diplomatic balance. Of obvious concern was the growing tripartite cooperation among Italy, Germany, and Japan, which threatened the socialist homeland ideologically, economically, diplomatically, and militarily. Although the Kremlin had some reason to believe that Italy's contribution against Soviet Russia was limited,(10) publicly, Foreign Commissar Maxim Litvinov railed against any tripartite arrangement.(11)
Amid these problems, before the world war Italo-Soviet relations reached their depths with the mutual closing of consulates in early 1939.(12)
On November 26, 1938, a group of demonstrators invaded the Soviet consulate in Milan. On December 15, Vladimir Potemkin, deputy foreign commissar, consequently told Augusto Rosso, Italy's ambassador, that Moscow had decided to close that office and to concentrate its consular and commercial services at its embassy in Rome. Moscow asked that Italy reciprocally suppress the Royal Consulate General at Odessa.(13)
Rome agreed and set January 10, 1939 for the simultaneous closing of the Italian and Soviet offices.(14) But liquidation so quickly was not so easy. Italian officials had to transport or destroy sensitive documents, and they had to sell or move furniture to Moscow.(15) Potemkin consequently agreed to allow the Consul General to remain at Odessa until January 31. The deputy commissar only asked that after January 10 he stop using code for his telegraphic communications.(16) Meanwhile, the Soviets closed their consulate general at Milan on January 1.(17)
In these very depths of relations, ironically, Italy and Russia found ample means for rapprochement, and at this time the two powers began building new bases of cooperation.(18) As early as January 13, 1939, Rosso informed Rome of changing Soviet attitudes toward the Axis.(19)
The Soviets first sought to improve their trade relations with Italy which had collapsed after 1936.(20) On January 23, Potemkin brought Rosso's attention to Galeazzo Ciano's recent statement to Ambassador Boris Shtein, in which the Italian foreign minister expressed "the hope for an amelioration of relations between the two countries, at least in the economic field."(21) The vice commissar also suggested the "generic" possibility that the Kremlin would enter commercial negotiations with Germany, a possibility which Germany's embassy in Moscow confirmed. Rosso, as well as foreign ministry officials in Rome, recognized the inherent possibilities for a Soviet-German political and military cooperation flowing out of such economic rapprochement.(22)
By linking the notion of economic cooperation with both Italy and Germany, perhaps Soviet leaders were floating a trial balloon to Germany, and surely the Kremlin thought that flowering relations between Moscow and Rome would pressure Berlin in the same direction; perhaps the Soviets were attempting to split the Axis by bolstering Italy.(23)
In any case, on February 7 Rome and Moscow concluded a series of detailed economic protocols.(24) The agreements provided for exchanging the funds mutually impounded the year before and gave the Soviets possession of their previously ordered naval vessel.(25) Valid until year's end, both governments, as of March 7, agreed to renew payments transfers through a clearing system.(26) These agreements erected an artificial and unstable economic structure,(27) but politics were the important thing.(28)
The two governments found other areas of cooperation. On the morning of January 27, Potemkin reminded Rosso that their two governments had earlier discussed an exchange of Italian citizens arrested in the USSR for Soviet citizens interned in Nationalist Spain.(29) The Kremlin was now proposing a "gentleman's agreement": the Italian government would approach Francisco Franco to obtain the liberty of the crews of three Soviet steamships interned at Palma di Majorca plus seven crew members of the Komsomol interned at Puerto di Santa Maria near Cadiz. For its part, the Soviet government was ready to obligate itself to liberate immediately some Italian citizens arrested in the USSR--Potemkin mentioned nine--and Moscow would benevolently examine other demands for liberation that Italy might make. Not wishing to commit his government, Rosso only commented that he would immediately send Potemkin's proposal to his government.(30)
Rosso explained the situation to Rome. The Soviets had arrested some twenty-eight Italians in late 1938 and early 1939 for spying; internment seemed imminent for three more; in late 1937 and 1938 they had arrested eleven whom Moscow claimed to be Soviet citizens. Most of these, he assured Rome, were "absolutely" innocent and had been caught in a fit of political persecution and anti-foreign phobia. Some, Rosso acknowledged, had broken Soviet regulations, but he maintained that their punishment had gone beyond the crime.(31) For some, Rosso was unable to establish the reason for their arrests, but he presumed that they had been under the notorious Article 58. Finally, there were special cases, for example, seaman Bruno Stanzini had been arrested for killing another Italian seaman.(32) Rosso refused to vouch that all of the people on Potemkin's list of nine were the most worthy of repatriation.(33)
Rosso recognized that Rome could object that in exchange for its intervention with Franco, Potemkin was offering to liberate innocent Italians. He, however, doubted that this would result in anything practical, rightly predicting that the Soviets would respond that they had arrested the Italians for serious violations of Soviet law, while the Soviet ships and crews had been interned in violation of international law. Any discussion of "ethics . . . would not be conducive to any result," he said.(34)
Rosso pointed out that Rome could profit from the Soviet proposal by resolving the largest possible number of cases--this was the only way of getting these Italians out of their desperate strait. Italy could also liquidate the property abandoned in the USSR by those Italians who had been thrown out of the country and could regulate some questions of visas and clearances for citizenship. Rosso asked if he could raise these issues, and he wanted to know whether he should ask for the release of the most meritorious Italians or for all. Finally, he asked about the possibility of Franco's liberating the ships and their crews.(35)
Ciano asked his embassy in Spain to tell Franco that he was interested in resolving the distressing situation of Italians trapped in the USSR. He hoped that the Nationalist leader would collaborate, because he wanted to authorize Rosso to begin negotiations.(36)
Complex negotiations dragged on into May, with Italy trying to further its own interests while also mediating between an eager Russia and a more reluctant Spain. The imbalance in the numbers to be exchanged and the release of the seven from the Komsomol proved to be the most contentious stumbling blocks.(37) Rosso, often without sufficient information from Rome, was left to tutor Ciano's foreign ministry about the fundamentals in dealing with Stalin's government, for example, the need to establish strict reciprocity.(38) Meanwhile, the fascist government had told Italian manufacturers that it had no objection to their supplying military materials to Russia.(39)
By mid-May, 1939, the counselor to the Soviet embassy had told Ciano that Moscow was ready for an immediate exchange and would return its Italian prisoners with the same solicitude with which imprisoned Soviets were repatriated.(40) Encouraged by this promise, Ciano then naïvely instructed that Italy would immediately repatriate the ninety-six Soviet prisoners.(41)
By the third week in May, the ninety-six put at Italy's disposal by the Spanish government began their repatriational journey from Palma di Majorca via Genoa and Istanbul to Odessa. The seven seamen of the Komsomol, however, remained in Spain, because Franco had promised their use in exchanges for Germans held in the USSR.(42)
Meanwhile, the Soviets delayed the reciprocal return of the Italians.(43) Blaming local authorities and police for the slow progress on getting the Italians out, Rosso sought from Molotov a formal statement of the "personal and moral" obligation assumed by Potemkin.(44)
Rosso, at the end of the first week in June, at last spoke directly with Molotov on the prisoner exchange issue. In their hour-long colloquy, Rosso suggested Soviet ill-will--Potemkin, after all, had said that the thirty Italians in question would be released without delay. He demanded that the Kremlin keep its obligations.(45) The foreign commissariat did give Rosso a list of Italians who would be freed in due course.(46) Molotov and Potemkin assured Rosso that Moscow would favorably look at the rest of the thirty.(47)
By the end of the second week of June, various Italians detained in the USSR were being liberated. Ciano passed on his thanks to Spain for having put the ninety-six Soviet seamen detained at Palma di Majorca at his disposal. Without that "generous" decision, the Italians would not be getting out of the Soviet Union.(48) At the beginning of July, Rosso announced that fourteen Italian citizens were to be repatriated.(49)
One corollary to the exchange negotiations concerned the Soviet demand that Lev Soloviev, captain of another Soviet merchantman, be released under the same conditions as the other ninety-six Soviet seamen. He had been condemned by a military tribunal to twelve years and a day in prison for transporting contraband war materials to the Reds. This demand, however, required Berlin's consent, because he was a bargaining chip in getting Germans out of Russia.(50) The Soviets insisted that Captain Soloviev be included among the crew of the Komsomol for a total of eight in the exchange process.(51) He did embark on the Franca Fassio with the other Soviet prisoners. Consigned, however, by the Spanish government to the Soviets under special conditions, he was not to leave Italy with the others.(52) Berlin did not want him consigned to Russia yet for fear of losing Germany's only guarantee for equivalent concessions and negotiated with a dilatory Soviet government about his exchange. If Italy did not want to keep him, the Germans said, they would take him. The Soviet representative in Rome hoped that Soloviev would be allowed to go on to Moscow.(53) Whatever the solution, Rome wanted him out of the country.(54) By June, to help Axis-Soviet relations, Ambassador Boris Shtein was pressuring Ciano to release him, and the Italian foreign minister was lamenting that it would have been better if Soloviev had remained in Spain.(55) Meanwhile, Berlin was demanding that he not be freed until the approximately fifty German citizens in the Soviet Union were returned.(56)
In the days after the signing of the Nazi-Soviet Pact, the Italians worked out a way to get the seven Soviet seamen from the Komsomol from Barcelona to Genoa and then on to their homeland. Put in the care of a representative of the Soviet embassy which paid for their transportation, they went to Rome before continuing their trip home.(57)
Stalin's March 10 speech before the 19th Party Congress, in many ways a watershed in the diplomatic history cascading toward the Second World War, seemed to confirm Rosso's earlier observations about Moscow's desire for rapprochement.(58) All-in-all, as Rosso reported, moderation marked Stalin's statement on international affairs. Not directly attacking Italy, Germany, or Japan, Stalin in fact treated the totalitarian powers more courteously than he had the democratic states. The vozhd' repeatedly reaffirmed Soviet desires for peace and improved commercial relations with everyone. Putting aside all references to world revolution, he swore that the USSR would not be drawn into an international conflict by others--a pointed condemnation of British machinations.(59)
Amid this progress toward cooperation in March and April, Moscow complimented Mussolini on his January talks with Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain, when, at least according to the Kremlin's understanding, the British statesman had implied that he supported German aspirations in the Ukraine. The Duce supposedly cut short this conversation.(60)
Rome and Moscow found another arena of collaboration. In a mid-April conversation with Potemkin about the prisoner exchange, Rosso asked the vice commissar about repatriating the 3,000 children sent to the USSR early during the Civil War. Potemkin replied that his government was willing to return those children claimed by their families and was prepared to discuss the question.(61)
In mid-May, Potemkin assured Rosso that the Kremlin wanted to facilitate the repatriation of those children "reclaimed by their respective families." The Soviets, however, insisted that the requests ought to come from the families themselves. Rosso asked that Rome instruct him so that he could make the necessary passes to do as the Spanish government wanted.(62) Even while thanking the Royal Government and Rosso, the Nationalist government immediately noted the difficulty in getting the required requests from families in the confused wreckage left over from the Civil War. To further the Soviet request, the Spanish asked Rome to ask the Soviet government for a list of the children, their places of origin, and names of parents.(63)
At the end of the first week of August, Rosso spoke with Potemkin about the Spanish request for a list of the children in the USSR with the information necessary to let the interested families know that their children were there.(64) Potemkin observed that the Spanish government could easily solve the problem by publishing announcements that families interested in the return of their children ought to let the Spanish authorities know. Rosso replied that the Spaniards had already tried this, but to little result. Rosso thought that the Kremlin opposed furnishing the desired list, because it suspected that those who had sent their children to the USSR would face repression.
In mid-September, after the new world war had begun, the Spanish gave the names of four children sent to Soviet Russia by Aviazione Rossa. Two were in Moscow and two in Pushkin.(65) The Nationalists also approached Germany, now blessed with close ties to the Soviet Union, for help in repatriating the children.(66) Although Potemkin in mid-October told Rosso that he was interested in the repatriation of the four Spanish children, by mid-December the Soviet authorities had rejected their repatriation.(67)
The Soviets left no door unknocked in their intense campaign of low level approaches to the Axis powers in the summer of 1939. At the end of July, for example, Ambassador Bernardo Attolico, Italy's ambassador in Berlin, reported that the Soviet chargé had asked the Germans if they would send a technician to an agricultural conference in the USSR. A significant sign of the possibility of improved political relations, Berlin responded encouragingly.(68) Not to be left out, when the Soviet representative in Rome unofficially proposed that two Italian agricultural technicians visit the Soviet Union for the agricultural conference, Ciano quickly agreed.(69) They had arrived in Moscow by the third week of August.(70)
In conclusion, obviously the course of Italo-Soviet dealings does not match the significance of Soviet-German relations in the months leading to the Second World War. Yet, these contacts are worth discussing, because Moscow saw in Mussolini a way to signal Hitler and in Italy a potential ally with common interests directed against an overly-powerful Germany, especially in Southeast Europe. The Kremlin had pursued this policy since 1933, and in the first months of 1939, Moscow's approaches to Italy helped guide the way first to its economic deal with Germany and ultimately to the Nazi-Soviet Pact of August 23, 1939.
1. In recent years, the work of Geoffrey Roberts has been particularly valuable in helping to understand the nature of collective security. See his The Unholy Alliance: Stalin's Pact with Hitler (Bloomington, 1989) and The Soviet Union and the Origins of the Second World War: Russo-German Relations and the Road to War, 1933-1941 (New York, 1995). See also Teddy J. Uldricks, "Soviet Security Policy in the 1930s," in Gabriel Gorodetsky, ed., Soviet Foreign Policy, 1917-1991 (London, 1994), 65-74.
2. See J. Calvitt Clarke III, Russia and Italy Against Hitler: The Bolshevik-Fascist Rapprochement of the 1930s (Westport, CT, 1991), esp. 77-98.
3. Ibid., 163-78.
4. J. Calvitt Clarke III, "Soviet Appeasement and the Italo-Ethiopian War, 1935-36," Selected Annual Proceedings of the Florida Conference of Historians, 3 (1996), forthcoming.
5. Shtein to Ciano, 12/12/38, with attachment: Il Popolo di Roma, "L'affare Miller", Dec. 10, 1938: Ministero degli Affari Esteri, Direzione Generale degli Affari Politici, URSS (Rome) [hereafter cited as MAE (Rome) AP URSS] AP URSS b(usta) 29 f(oglio) 19.
6. One of the Soviet technicians attached to the local mission at Livorno, declared that the negotiations about the consignment of an esploratore, constructed at Livorno, would not be concluded because of the new state of tension between the two states. MAE AG 4 to Dir. Gen AEM, 1/27/39: ibid., b34 f6.
7. For a few of the many reports of Italians arrested in the USSR, see Ciano to Rosso, 5/25/38: MAE (Rome) AP URSS b29 (1938) f13; Vatican Embassy to Mussolini, 11/18/35, with attachment, Note, 11/14/35: ibid., b17 f8; Scarpa to Rosso, 11/15/36; Rosso to MAE, 11/18/36, 11/20/36, 11/26/36; and Scarpa to MAE, 12/22/36: ibid., b21 f5; Rosso to Ciano, 10/29/38: ibid. For Germans arrested in the USSR, see Rosso to MAE, 11/23/36: MAE (Rome) AP URSS b19 f2.
8. For example, the Kremlin established new norms for the concession of immunities regarding customs visas of diplomats residing in the USSR. One immediate result was the holdup at customs of the furniture belonging to the new Military Attache, Lt. Col. Valfrè di Bonzo. His predecessor, Lt. Col. Bonfatti, had already departed to sparse courtesy by customs authorities. Potemkin apologized after vibrant Italian protests. Rosso to Ciano, 1/10/39; see also Rosso to Ciano, 12/12/38: ibid., b34 f15.
9. John Foy Coverdale, Italian Intervention in the Spanish Civil War (Princeton, NJ, 1975), 179-80.
10. The Journal de Moscou, e.g., on Nov. 15, 1938 editorialized that the tripartite powers were contemplating joint measures by converting the Anti-Comintern Pact into a military alliance directed more against Great Britain than the Soviet Union.
11. Jane Tabrisky Degras, Soviet Documents on Foreign Policy, 3 vols. (London, 1951-53), 3: 267.
12. In the name of parity, the Soviets throughout much of 1937 and all of 1938 had worked to close various foreign consulates on its soil, including those of Afghanistan, Iran, Turkey, Britain, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, and Japan. See Rosso to MAE, 1/12/38, 1/16/38, 2/3/38, 2/16/38, 3/2/38, 3/3/38, 3/10/38: MAE (Rome) AP URSS b29 f10. Rosso had reported significant interference with the smooth operation of the Odessa consulate. See Rosso promemorial, 1/26/38; Rosso to Foreign Commissariat, 1/26/38; Rosso to MAE, 1/26/38, 1/26/38: MAE (Rome) AP URSS b29 f10; Scarpa to MAE, 1/4/38, 1/17/38; Ciano to Rosso, 1/5/38, 1/22/38, 3/17/38; Rosso to MAE, 1/6/38, 1/22/38, 3/17/38, 3/23/38, 4/7/38; Rosso to Scarpa, 1/17/38; Scarpa to Rosso, 3/9/38, 3/21/38: ibid., b29 f12. In truth, in the face of Soviet provocations, Rosso had already suggested for "reasons of dignity" that the consulates in Odessa and Milan be closed. Rosso to MAE, 3/12/38: ibid., b29 f12.
13. Stein to Ciano, 12/10/38; Sergueev to Marzano, 12/10/38; Marzano to Carmine Senise, 12/11/38; Ciano to Carmine Senise, 12/12/38; Carmine Senise to Ciano, 12/14/38, 12/18/38, 12/21/38; Bastianini to Carmine Senise, 12/21/38: ibid., b 29 f9; Rosso to Ciano, 12/16/38: ibid., b34 f6. Ambassador Boris Shtein in Rome repeated this message in Rome and began to press for a date when Italy would close the consulate in Odessa. Shtein to Ciano, 12/16/38: ibid., b34 f6. See Rosso to MAE, 12/27/38 and Stefani to MAE, 12/27/38: ibid., b29 f10. Also see Ministerstvo Inostannykh Del, Dokumenty vneshnei politiki SSSR, Vol. 21: Ianvaria-31 dekabria 1938 g. (Moscow, 1977): nos. 483, 489.
14. Bastianini to Rosso, 12/19/38: MAE (Rome) AP URSS b34 f6.
15. Rosso proposed to Rome that he should go to the foreign commissariat with the following solution: the Consulate General would cease functioning regarding public matters on January 10, but the Consul General and personnel would remain longer for liquidating the office by the 31st. The ambassador asked for Rome's approval of his plans. Rosso to Ciano, 12/21/38: ibid., b34 f6.
16. Rosso to Ciano, 12/26/38: ibid., b3 4 f6; Stefani telegram 4115RS/153, 12/27/38: MAE (Rome) AP URSS b29 f10.
17. The Soviets transferred part of the archives of the Consulate General to Rome and part to Moscow. Del Balzo to Ciano, 1/11/39: ibid., b34 f6. See also Carmine Senise to Ciano, 1/19/38: ibid., b34 f6 and Rosso to Ciano, 1/19/39: ibid., b34 f1. For British reports stressing the difficult commercial position the Soviets had put themselves in with the closure of the Milan consulate see Charles to Collier, 2/3/39, reel 6: 23690/639/639/198 and 2/3/39, reel 6: 23690/639/639/199-201 in British Foreign Office, Russia Correspondence, 1781-1945, 1930-1940, Microfilm 60300.
18. For example, on March 4, TASS announced the Kremlin's decision to withdraw from the Nonintervention Committee, because it had "no more reason for existence." Rosso to Ciano, 3/5/39: MAE (Rome) AP URSS b32 f3.
19. Toscano, Designs, 51.
20. For some of the contentious negotiations, especially on the price of marine diesel for the Royal Navy, see Ciano to Rosso, 1/3/39, 1/7/39; Rosso to Ciano, 1/7/39, 1/9/39: MAE (Rome) AP URSS b34 f15. Because the international price of marine diesel had gone up, Moscow wanted to raise the prices already agreed upon. There were threats to break off the economic negotiations. For a printed text of the proposed accord of 1/23/39, see ibid., b34 f15.
21. Rosso to Ciano, telegram 381R/129; Del Balzo circular, 1/31/39: ibid., b35 f3. See Mario Toscano, Designs in Diplomacy: Pages from European Diplomatic History in the Twentieth Century, trans. and ed. George A. Carbone (Baltimore, 1970), 54.
22. Rosso and Bernardo Attolico, Italy's ambassador in Berlin, attempted to keep Rome abreast of the commercial negotiations, begun on Dec. 19, between Moscow and Berlin and their implications. See, e.g., Rosso to Ciano, 1/26/39, 1/31/39, 2/4/39, 2/5/39; Attolico to Ciano, 2/4/39; Grandi to Ciano, 1/31/39; MAE circular, telexpress 204072: MAE (Rome) AP URSS b35 f3; and Dopo l'esame dei testi dell'accordo il governo sovietico propone le sequenti correzioni, Feb. 1939: ibid., b34 f15.
23. The Soviets understood that there were tensions between Italy and Germany. One example concerned Upper Adige. See Conrad Franchot Latour, "Germany, Italy and South Tyrol, 1938-45," Historical Journal 8 (1965): 96.
24. See Dmitrii Dmitriyevich Mishustin, ed., Vneshniaia torgovlia SSSR: Kratkoe uchebnoe posobie, 3rd ed. rev. (Moscow, 1941), 28.
25. MAE AG4 to AEM, 1/27/39: MAE (Rome) AP URSS b34 f6; Anfuso to Rosso, 4/21/39: ibid., b34 f15.
26. Printed copies of the agreements can be found in ibid., b34 f15 and b32 f3. See Ciano to Rosso, 2/3/39; Ciano to Rosso, 2/7/39: ibid., b34 f34; Rosso to Ciano, 2/23/39; Chargé in Warsaw to Ciano, 2/10/39; Budapest to Ciano, 2/14/39: ibid., b34 f15. See Earl of Perth to London, 2/8/39, reel 6: 23690/206-07; 2/14/39, reel 6: 23690/208-11; Lorraine to London, 7/20/39, reel 6: 23690/212-13; and Italian Annual Report on the U.S.S.R. (Oct. 1938-Oct. 1939)," 8/27/40, Cover letter by Maclean, reel 12: no. 6401/71/38: Russia Correspondence. See also Lazar Isaevich Frei, Valiutnye ogranicheniia i kliringi (Moscow, 1940), 278-80.
27. Charles Bohlen of America's Moscow embassy, e.g., was able to purchase a ticket from Moscow to New York for $15.00 as one of its direct results. His embassy obtained its rubles on the black market at a rate of 60-70 to the dollar, while the ticket was written in lire at the artificial official rate of 1.15 rubles per dollar. This ticket provided not only first class rail accommodations from Moscow to Genoa, but also first class passage on the luxury liner, Conti di Savoia, to New York. Charles Eustis Bohlen, Witness to History, 1929-1969, Editorial Assistance by Robert H. Phelps (New York, 1973), 99.
28. See Pravda, Feb. 8, 1940 for Foreign Commissar Viacheslav Molotov's later comments that this trade agreement had symbolized the possibility of coming to a full political understanding with Italy.
29. Rosso assumed that Potemkin was referring to the conversations of 1937 for the exchange of the crews of the Komsomol and Smidovich imprisoned in Spain. Toward the end of 1936, the Nationalists had taken the Komsomol. Between June and October 1937, negotiations followed a similar Soviet proposal responding to an offer from Spain. Nicolas Franco had offered the exchange of the crew of the Komsomol for Italians and Germans imprisoned in the USSR. In the end, only Germany had profited, when all but seven of the ship's complement were exchanged in 1937 for civil German prisoners in the USSR and German aviators held in Red Spain. Why the seven remained detained was unknown. AEM Uff. 1, note, 1/28/39; MAE note, 5/3/39: MAE (Rome) AP URSS b34 f6.
30. Rosso to Ciano, 1/27/39, 1/27/39: ibid., b34 f6. Included in this list was Senora Lavrova-Rocchi, the wife of Engineer Rocchi of Odero Terni Orlando, who was not in prison but was being prevented from joining her husband in Italy because she was a Soviet citizen.
31. Three technicians of Ditta Scaini and Cali of Milan, Baldo Della Balda, Giudo Garziera, and Cansi, had been arrested for having imported a small number of gifts. These three particularly concerned Rome's embassy in Moscow. Garziera had gone to Leningrad in Aug. 1936 as a technician to help build accumulators for submarines. He had finished his work on Nov. 12, 1937 and was to return to Italy on the 25th but was arrested for contraband. The secretary of the Moscow embassy managed to visit the three in Dec. 1938. Rosso to Ciano, 12/14/38, 3/4/39, 3/15/39; Ciano to Prefect of Milan, 3/28/39; MAE AG 4 to Rosso, 10/7/39: MAE (Rome) AP URSS b34 f7; Del Balzo to Caffarelli, 12/12/37: ibid., b29 f13.
32. On Mar. 7, the Italian ambassador sent a long report on the protection of Italian nationals in the Soviet Union. He noted that the purges had been affecting all foreigners for two years, because they gave Soviet citizens an opportunity to find out about life outside of the USSR. Political immigrants were particularly suspect and received especially brutal treatment. With no way to exert sufficient pressure, Rosso lacked the means to protect Italian citizens. He noted the special problems concerning Soviet wives and children of Italian nationals. Rosso to Ciano, 3/7/39: ibid., b34 f15.
To help in the difficult job of protecting Italian citizens and interests in the Soviet Union, a week later he strongly urged a policy of reciprocity in things such as exit visas, just as the Germans had done. This, he suggested, would help control the movement of Soviet citizens and would insure the right of Italian citizens to leave Soviet territory freely. AEM, Uff 1 to Ciano, 3/16/39: ibid., b24 f13.
The number of Italians repatriated in 1938 had not kept up with the number of new arrests. But at least, he rejoiced, the number of Italians resident in the USSR had been reduced to a minimum. He added that it was difficult to say how many there were, but there were at most only a few more than one hundred. Further, Lavrenty Beria's arrival to power had marked an improvement: no more new arrests of Italians and more were receiving exit visas. Rosso to Ciano, 3/7/39: ibid., b34 f15. To this document, Rosso added the following data about the Italian community in the USSR.
Conationals repatriated during 1938
from Moscow 212
from Odessa 324
Demands for release of Soviet citizens
presented at Moscow 16
in course at Moscow on Jan. 1, 1938 06
presented at Odessa 35
Releases consigned in 1938
at Moscow for wives of conationals 14
at Moscow for children under 16 years of age 11
at Odessa 49
Conationals arrested as of Jan. 1, 1938 14
Conationals arrested during 1938 14
Conationals remaining at liberty during 1938 09
Conationals expelled from the USSR 08
Exit visas obtained for Soviet citizens who were children of Italians 03
Exiled Italians arrested as of 1938 41
33. Rosso to Ciano, telexpress 444/179, 1/27/39; telegram 341R/4, 1/27/39: MAE (Rome) AP URSS b34 f6. He suggested that Engineer Andreoletti merited special help. For a list of 100 Italians, most had been arrested in the second half of 1937 and 1938, see "Elenco degli Italiani detenuti nelle prigioni sovietiche," nn, nd; Rosso to Ciano, telexpress 2546/1011, 6/16/38: MAE (Rome) AP URSS b34 f6. By April, Rosso had now determined that the number of Italians imprisoned in the USSR numbered forty plus some additional cases involving dual citizenship. They, Rosso again insisted, were being held for political reasons. Rosso to Ciano, telegram 5479R/40, 4/5/39: MAE (Rome) AP URSS b34 f6.
34. Rosso to Ciano, 1/27/39, 1/27/39: ibid., b34 f6. In mid-March, Potemkin again spoke with Rosso about the exchange of Italian prisoners in the USSR and Soviet merchantmen interned in Spain. As Rosso had predicted, the deputy commissar claimed that there were differences in their situations. One group had been condemned according to Soviet law while the Soviet seamen had been detained in Spain "for accidental reasons." Potemkin eagerly solicited Rosso to approach Ciano to press Franco on the issue. Rosso to Ciano, 3/16/39: ibid., b34 f6.
35. Rosso to Ciano, 1/27/39, 1/27/39: ibid., b34 f6.
36. Ciano to Viola, 2/1/39, Viola to Ciano, 2/16/39: ibid., b34 f6.
37. Viola to Ciano, 2/16/39, 4/4/39; Gel'fand to Buti, 4/25/39; Rosso to Ciano, 2/22/39, 3/20/39, 4/19/39, 4/5/39, 5/15/39; Roncalli to Ciano, 3/29/39; Bastianini circular, nd; AEM note, 4/15/39; Ciano to Viola, 3/22/39, 5/9/39; Viola to Bastianini, 5/10/39: ibid., b34 f6.
38. AEM, Uff 1 to Ciano, 3/16/38: ibid., b24 f13.
39. Bastianini to Gruppo Italiano Armamonti, 4/4/39, 4/13/39; Bastianini circular, 4/15/39: ibid., b35 f9.
40. Ciano to Rosso, 5/16/39: ibid., b34 f6.
41. Buti to Carmine Senise, 5/16/39: ibid., b34 f6.
42. At 9:00 pm on the 22nd, they embarked rapidly, in good order, and without publicity on the Franca Fassio, which arrived in Genoa on the afternoon of the 24th. The prisoners disembarked under the care of the Soviet ambassador. The Italians provided them with personal papers and kept a close eye on them, but did everything to facilitate their expeditious departure. On the 28th they left on the Città di Bari for Istanbul and then Odessa. Bastianini to Royal Consul at Palma, 5/20/39; Ramondino to Ciano, 5/22/39; Eur. Med III, Appunto per gli atti, 5/22/39; Bastianini to Ministero dell'Interno, 5/24/39; Ciano to Rosso, 5/26/39; Ciano to Ramondino, 5/22/39; Ramondino to Ciano, 5/23/39: ibid., b34 f6.
43. Only at the end of May, did Rosso see the deputy commissar, who told him that the problem with freeing the Italians was merely an administrative one. Rosso to Ciano, 5/27/39; Ciano to Rosso, 5/28/39: ibid., b34 f6.
44. Rosso also asked that all the freed Italians be transferred to Moscow where the Italian embassy could provide the necessary visas, passports, and places of repatriation. He also noted for Rome that the Soviets had made concessions on citizenship for four wives of Italian citizens already repatriated. In the meanwhile, the Soviet papers had announced the arrival in Odessa of ninety-five members of the crews interned in Spain. The French got involved in a minor way with mediating for the prisoner exchanges, but Italy's embassy in San Sebastiano declared that help to have been completely worthless. Roncali to Ciano, 6/5/39: Ministero degli Affari Esteri. Commissione per la Pubblicazione dei Documenti Diplomatici. I documenti diplomatici italiano [hereafter cited as DDI], 8th Series: 1935-1939, 12 (May 23-Aug. 11, 1939) (Rome, 1952): no. 123; Viola to Ciano, 7/3/39; Rosso to Ciano, nd; 6/5/39: ibid., b34 f6.
45. Rosso handed Molotov a promemorial detailing his negotiations with Potemkin and stressing Italy's goodwill. Without Italy's intervention with Franco, the Soviet seamen would still be in Spain. He then shifted the conversation to the thirty Italians in the USSR. Molotov made the standard distinction between the position of the seamen illegally held in Spain and the legal condemnation by Soviet tribunals of the Italians. Rosso objected that this was not a question for him to discuss; it was a matter between Spain and the Soviet Union. He continued that the Soviets had initiated the proposal for an exchange and that Italy had performed the service requested. Molotov, Rosso reported, was not insistent, but the foreign commissar did maintain that the original proposal had contemplated the exchange of one hundred Soviet seamen for eleven Italians. He observed that this represented simply the initiation of negotiations that had lasted three months. They had been concluded on April 19, when Potemkin formally obligated himself to liberate thirty Italians.
Rosso tried to explain Moscow's position to Rome. He believed that in April Potemkin has assumed the obligation to liberate the thirty Italians without being assured of the formal consent of his government. The police and local authorities, he thought, had raised difficulties. In May, when the Soviet seamen were repatriated, Potemkin had avoided seeing the Italian ambassador under the pretext of being obligated by the work of the Supreme Council of the USSR. When Rosso finally saw him, Potemkin justified the delay in liberating the entire group of thirty by alleging the necessity to examine accurately every case and by claiming that he had not assumed a "definite obligation in the name of the Government." Rosso to Ciano, 6/9/39: ibid., b34 f15.
46. On this list were Baldo Della Balda, technician of Ditta Scaini, condemned by the Leningrad Tribunal for contraband; Giudo Garziera, technician of Ditta Scaini, condemned by the Leningrad Tribunal for contraband; Bruno Stanzini, seaman condemned by the Batum Tribunal for homicide; Edoardo Mariani, condemned to prison for two years for drunkenness; Olga Pezzella, condemned to three years by the Batum Tribunal for contraband; Edoardo Andreoletti, architect, already in the custody of the ex-consulate at Tiflis, condemned to ten years for spying; Filimena De Blasi, condemned for spying; Alessandro Giacomelli, condemned for spying; Michele Munuco, condemned for spying and counter-revolution; and Giovanni Munter, condemned for spying. For the last five, the foreign commissariat already had transmitted the passports. Ibid., b34 f15.
47. He asked that all the liberated conationals be permitted to go to Moscow so that the embassy could give them travel tickets and means of subsistence while getting back to Italy. The Soviet authorities said that this was difficult for practical reasons--many of the Italians were located much closer to the Turkish and Estonian borders. Not wishing to delay the repatriation, Rosso did not insist that they come to Moscow. Instead, he decided to warn the Royal Embassy in Turkey and the Royal Legation in Riga of their imminent arrival and asked them to provide for these repartees. Five Soviet women married to Italians would be allowed to leave (one already had). See also Rosso to Ciano, 6/11/39: ibid., b34 f6.
48. Ciano to Garcia Conde, 6/12/39: ibid., b34 f6.
49. Rosso to Ciano, 7/4/39, 7/4/39, 8/17/39, 9/2/39: ibid., b34 f6; Ragni to Ciano, 8/29/39: ibid., b34 f3.
50. Ciano to Rosso, 5/17/39; Ciano to Roncalli, nd; Ramondino to Ciano, 5/23/39: ibid., b34 f6. The Germans were also finding success in freeing their people. Roncalli to Ciano, 5/19/39: ibid., b34 f6.
51. Eur. Med III, Appunto per gli atti, 5/22/39, 5/23/39: ibid., b34 f4.
52. Ciano to Ramondino, 5/22/39; Bastianini to Ministero dell'Interno, 5/24/39: ibid., b34 f4.
53. Attolico to Ciano, 5/30/39; Bastianini to Ciano, 5/25/39; Ciano to Rosso, 5/26/39, 5/27/39: ibid., b34 f6.
54. Bastianini to Attolico, 5/30/39; AEM Uff. 1 to DGAG, 6/1/39; Attolico to Ciano, 6/1/39: ibid., b34 f6.
55. Ciano to Attolico, 6/8/39: ibid., b34 f4.
56. Attolico to Ciano, 6/13/39, 6/17/39, 6/19/39: ibid., b34 f4.
57. Ciano to Minister of the Interior, 8/25/39; Roncalli to Ciano, 8/28/39; Bastianini to San Sebastiano, 8/30/39: ibid., b34 f5.
58. New World Review 18 (Apr. 1939): 7-11.
59. Rosso to Ciano, 3/12/39, 3/12/39: ibid., b32 f3; Rosso to Ciano, 3/23/39: ibid., b36 f1; MAE circular, 3/29/39: ibid., b32 f3.
60. Rosso to Ciano, 3/12/39: ibid., b32 f39. On April 5, Rosso spoke with Potemkin and reported to Rome the next day:
On this point
Potemkin repeated, in tones of absolute certainty, that Chamberlain, during his
visit to Rome, had sought to engage the Duce in a discussion on the Ukraine as
a natural area for German expansion, but that he abandoned the approach after
the Duce refused to discuss the matter. . . .
In conclusion, it is my impression that in the depths of their souls these gentlemen continue to believe that England is continually working "to channel the German torrent toward the east."
Toscano, Designs, 56; also see 55-61; Rosso to Ciano,
4/6/39: MAE (Rome) AP URSS b34 f6.
Toscano argues that the Soviets must have received incomplete or garbled information via Lev Gel'fand from the British ambassador's safe, because they would not have maintained this version to Rosso who could check its accuracy--and it was inaccurate in that Chamberlain had clearly referred to German expansion into the Ukraine as a hypothetical contingency. Toscano, Designs, 57, 409-10.
This explanation ignores other possibilities. Assuming an accurate transmission of the British minutes to the Soviets, a paranoid reading could easily suggest that Chamberlain had hinted at intentions to direct German dynamism eastward. On the other hand, the Soviets may well have realized that the version confirmed to Rosso was exaggerated but used it, as Rosso himself suggested, to emphasize to the Italians their deep suspicions of the West and that they would no less likely come to an agreement with the Axis than with the democracies. See ibid., 58-59 n.22; Galeazzo Ciano, L'Europa verso la catastrofe (Milan, 1947), 400-01; Rosso to Ciano, 1/12/39, 1/26/39; 2/2/39: MAE (Rome) AP URSS b36 f1. Also see New York Times, Jan. 1, 2, 3, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 1939.
61. Rosso to Ciano, 4/19/39; Ciano to San Sebastiano, 5/9/39: ibid., b34 f6.
62. Rosso to Ciano, 5/17/39: ibid., b34 f11.
63. Viola to Ciano, 5/30/39, 7/4/39: ibid., b34 f11.
64. Rosso to Ciano, 8/9/39: ibid., b34 f11.
65. Bastianini to Rosso, 9/14/39: ibid., b34 f11.
66. Bastianini to Attolico, 9/30/39: ibid., b34 f11.
67. Rosso to Ciano, 10/17/39, 12/16/39: ibid., b34 f11.
68. Attolico to Ciano, 7/27/39: ibid., b34 f12.
69. He proposed sending Professor Gioacchino Dallari, representing the Conferazione Fascista de Lavoratori dell'Agricoltura and Raffaele Festa-Campanile, Ispettore Superiore of the Ministero per l'Agricoltura e le Foreste. They departed for Moscow in mid-August. Anfuso to Gel'fand, 8/6/39; Ciano to Rosso, 8/9/39: ibid., b34 f12.
70. The President of VOKS and the director of the exposition courteously and attentively received them. They visited the agricultural exposition, a sovkhoz and a kolkhoz in the Moscow region, and industrial establishments and various science and cultural institutions. Rosso praised the two Italians' abilities. Rosso to Ciano, 8/24/39: ibid., b34 f12. Rosso's praise was well deserved. See their report attached to this document. DDI, 8th, 12: nos. 685, 704, 719, 761, 791.