In 1938 the USSR had been unable to reach a collective security agreement with Britain and France and was facing the prospect of standing alone against Nazi expansion in eastern Europe. Against this background they opened negotiations with Germany and the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was signed on 23 August 1939. Named after the German and Soviet foreign ministers who signed it, the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact was officially known as the Treaty of Non-Aggression between the USSR and Germany, guaranteeing that neither side would attack each other, or ally themselves with the enemies of the other. But the pact also contained a secret protocol, which carved out Eastern Europe between the two signatories, creating ‘spheres of influence’. Eastern Poland, Latvia, Estonia and Finland were assigned to the Soviet sphere; an additional supplementary protocol clarified the Lithuanian borders and assigned the region to the USSR and separated Bessarabia from Romania, also assigning it to the USSR. The agreement was effectively a carte blanche for Germany to invade Poland, which it did just over a week later, on 1 September 1939. On 17 September 1939 the USSR launched its invasion of Poland, using concern about ethnic Ukrainians and Belarusians as a pretext. The pact was dissolved on 22 June 1941, when Nazi Germany launched Operation Barbarossa and invaded the USSR.
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