Before the World War IIin 1941, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union were trading a lot. But why were these “potential enemies” doing so? Writer and historian Igor Pykhalov tries to answer this question.

Germany has traditionally been one of Russia’s main trade and economic partner, at the same time it has been a military adversary as well.

For example, on the eve of World War I in the early 20th century, the volume of Russian-German trade turnover exceeded that between Russia with Britain and France combined, and these countries were Russian allies.

In the 1920′s and 1930′s, the Soviet Union was in great need of modern equipment due to the explosive growth of the industries. And its main supplier in this regard was Germany. In 1933, the share of Germany in the Soviet imports of machinery and equipment was already at 62%.

But in1933 the Soviet-German economic cooperation was sharply curtailed when Hitler became a leader.


 Deliveries of German goods to the Soviet Union, in millions of rubles

Nevertheless, the real reasons for the Soviet-German trade still existed. The Third Reich was in dire need of raw materials, and the Soviet Union needed modern techniques and technologies for its industries. As the World War I allies of Russia were not interested in supporting the USSR, the Soviet Union began working with Germany. In 1939-1941, the USSR and Germany signed several trade agreements.

What did the Soviet Union buy from Germany? First of all – unique industrial equipment.German innovations were used in production of arms and ammunition, optics and mechanical engineering, chemistry and metallurgy.

Russia also bought from Germany a lot of samples and drawings of various types of weapons: tanks, guns and airplanes. Soviet experts and scientists studied this new material and some of those ideas were surely used in the Soviet military industry.

At that time the most impressive purchase was the unfinished heavy cruiser “Lützow”, which was already used during World War II as a floating battery.


The German cruiser “Lützow”, which became part of the Soviet Navy under the name of “Petropavlovsk”, 1940

What did Germany get in return? Mostly crude oil, grain, cotton, and iron ore for the steel industry.

It is widely believed that on the eve of Nazi Germany’s attack on the Soviet Union on June 22 of 1941, German deliveries to the Soviet Union were cancelled. But Stalin went on sending valuable goods to Germany up to the last moment. Even if we suppose that this point of view is not true as the facts indicate, the pre-war period during June of 1941was a record period for German supplies to the USSR:


The volume of imports from Germany to the USSR in 1941, millions of pre-war Deutschemarks. Info taken from German statistics

To sum up: the pre-war trade and economic relations between the USSR and Germany were profitable for both countries. The Soviet Union was gaining the latest technology and equipment from Germany, and Nazi Germany was receiving raw materials in return.

Hitler hoped that the war against the USSR would be very fast, and the Soviet Union will not be able to take advantage of new technology. However, history showed that Hitler was very much mistaken.

Text by Igor Pyhalov

To discover Russia with Alexey Gureev

We are glad to discover Russia together with you!

We put our heart into the project. Join us on Facebook or Twitter: