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The Berlin Ultimatum (November 27, 1958)

On November 27, 1958, the Soviet foreign ministry followed up on Khrushchev’s November 10th address by issuing a note to the governments of the three Western Allies. This note, now known as the Berlin Ultimatum, recounts prewar developments, Allied cooperation during the war, and Allied relations in the postwar period from the Soviet perspective. It accuses the U.S., Great Britain, and France of gross violations of the provisions of various Four-Power agreements, primarily the Potsdam Agreement. In violating these provisions, the Soviet government argues, the Allies forfeited their right to maintain a presence in Berlin. The note gave the Allies six months to demilitarize West Berlin and declare it a “free city.” Fourteen years earlier, all four Allies had agreed to the joint administration of the capital of Berlin in accordance with the “Protocol on Zones of Occupation and the Administration of “Greater Berlin” of September 12, 1944,” which ensured both a Soviet and a Western presence. In the Berlin Ultimatum, the Soviet government announces that it views this agreement as “null and void.”

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Note from the Soviet Foreign Ministry to the American Ambassador at Moscow (Thompson), Regarding Berlin, November 27, 1958

The Government of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics addresses the Government of the United States of America as one of the signatory powers of the Potsdam Agreement on the urgent question of the status of Berlin.

The problem of Berlin, which is situated in the center of the German Democratic Republic but whose western part is cut off from the GDR as a result of foreign occupation, deeply affects not only the national interests of the German people but also the interests of all nations desirous of establishing lasting peace in Europe. Here in the historic capital of Germany two worlds are in direct contact and the barricades of the “cold war” tower at every turn. A situation of constant friction and tension has prevailed for many years in this city, which is divided into two parts. Berlin, which witnessed the greatest triumph of the joint struggle of our countries against Fascist aggression, has now become a dangerous center of contradiction between the Great Powers, allies in the last war. Its role in the relations between the Powers may be compared to a smoldering fuse that has been connected to a powder keg. Incidents arising here, even if they seem to be of local significance, may, in an atmosphere of heated passions, suspicion, and mutual apprehensions, cause a conflagration that will be difficult to extinguish. This is the sad pass to which has come, after the 13 postwar years, the once joint and concerted policy of the Four Powers – the U.S.S.R., the United States, Great Britain, and France – with regard to Germany.

To assess correctly the real importance of the Berlin problem confronting us today and to determine the existing possibilities for normalizing the situation in Berlin, it is necessary to recall the development of the policy of the Powers party to the anti-Hitler coalition with respect to Germany.

It is common knowledge that the USA, as well as Great Britain and France, by no means immediately came to the conclusion that it was essential to establish cooperation with the Soviet Union for the purpose of counteracting Hitlerite aggression, although the Soviet Government constantly indicated its readiness to do so. In the capitals of the Western states opposite tendencies prevailed for a long time, and they became especially marked in the period of the Munich deal with Hitler. Entertaining the hope of controlling German militarism and of pushing it eastward, the governments of the Western Powers tolerated and encouraged the policy of blackmail and threats pursued by Hitler and acts of direct aggression by Hitlerite Germany and its ally, Fascist Italy, against a number of peace-loving states.

It was only when Fascist Germany, upsetting the shortsighted calculations of the inspirers of Munich, turned against the Western Powers, when Hitler's army started moving westward, crushing Denmark, Norway, Belgium, and the Netherlands, and toppling France, that the governments of the USA and Great Britain had no alternative but to admit their miscalculations and embark upon the path of organizing, jointly with the Soviet Union, resistance to Fascist Germany, Italy, and Japan. Had the Western Powers followed a more farsighted policy, such cooperation between the Soviet Union, the USA, Great Britain, and France could have been established much sooner, in the first years after Hitler seized power in Germany and then there would have been no occupation of France, no Dunkirk, no Pearl Harbor. Then it would have been possible to save millions of human lives sacrificed by the peoples of the Soviet Union, Poland, Yugoslavia, France, Britain, Czechoslovakia, the USA, Greece, Norway, and other countries to curb the aggressors.

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