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Soviet Union


Prelude to War

When German troops invaded Poland, the Soviet Union was ill prepared to enter a major war. Although military expenditures had increased dramatically during the 1930s and the standing army was expanded in 1939, Soviet weaponry was inferior to that of the German army. More important, the purges had deprived the armed services of many capable leaders, resulting in diminished morale and effectiveness. The time gained through the pact with the Nazis was therefore critical to the development of Soviet defenses, particularly after Hitler's forces had overrun much of western Europe, against little resistance, by the summer of 1940. To strengthen its western frontier, the Soviet Union quickly secured the territory located in its sphere of interest. Soviet forces seized eastern Poland in September 1939; entered Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania (which were later converted into Soviet republics) in October 1939; and seized the Romanian territories of Bessarabia (later incorporated into the Moldavian Republic) and northern Bukovina (later added to the Ukrainian Republic) in June 1940. Only Finland resisted Stalin's program of expansion, first by refusing to cede territory and then by putting up a determined defense when the Red Army invaded in November 1939. Although the Soviet Union finally won its original demands in March 1940, the Soviet-Finnish War (also known as the Winter War) pointed out grave deficiencies in Soviet military capabilities, which Hitler undoubtedly noted.

As the European war continued and the theaters of the conflict widened, Hitler began to chafe under his pact with the Soviet Union. The German dictator refused to grant Stalin a free hand in the Balkans and instead moved the German forces deeper into eastern Europe and strengthened his ties with Finland. Hitler thus prepared for war against the Soviet Union under a plan that he officially approved in December 1940. Stalin, however, apparently believed that the Soviet Union could avert war by not offending Germany. The Soviet Union continued its regular shipments of resources to Germany and maintained its armed forces at a low stage of readiness. But despite Stalin's efforts to mollify Hitler, Germany declared war on the Soviet Union just as 180 German divisions swept across the border early on the morning of June 22, 1941.

Data as of May 1989