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This article on Wikipedia claims that Germany and the Soviet Union conducted talks over the possibility for the Soviet Union to join the Axis.

talks occurred in October and November 1940 concerning the Soviet Union's potential entry as a fourth Axis Power during World War II

However until now I knew that those talks were about a non-aggression pact and the definition of spheres of influence to avoid conflict. Non-aggression is way different from an alliance.

Stalin himself wrote a book to justify those talks when they were revealed after the war. The book is strongly biased, but still from it we can see the attitude of the Soviet Union towards Germany and it was a lot more based on confrontation than friendship. Stalin repeatedly talked about advancing the border to create a buffer to better protect them in case of war. This probably was a pretext to justify that expansion, however it is clear that both the Germans and the Russians were aware that their relation were not friendly enough for an alliance.

According to @MarkJohnson the Wikipedia article quoted a book by Nekrich and Moiseevich*. I don't have access to that book and I don't know whether the quote is correct. But anyway my understanding is that Germany and the Soviet Union were at odds over the control over Eastern Europe, too much at odds for an alliance. What evidence do we have that an alliance was really considered?

Note: I am not confusing the dates as claimed in the answer by Alex. I am referring to the second round of talks, which were kept secret and revealed only after the allies found the related documents in the Nazi archives after the war.

*Nekrich, Aleksandr Moiseevich; Ulam, Adam Bruno; Freeze, Gregory L. (1997), Pariahs, Partners, Predators: German–Soviet Relations, 1922–1941, Columbia University Press, ISBN 0-231-10676-9

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    The Wikipedia article is quoting a source (Nekrich, Ulam & Freeze 1997, p. 201). It would be better if you add the part you are referring to into your question (including the given reference). So, your question should be: why is that claim being made on page 201 of Nekrich, Ulam & Freeze 1997? Nov 12 at 12:04
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    @MarkJohnson I do not have access to that source and I am not sure whether it was quoted correctly. That would be better to state it in an eventual answer.
    – FluidCode
    Nov 12 at 12:10
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    More the reason to add the source that the article is using. It is that source that is making that claim, not the article. Nov 12 at 12:25
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    I cannot understand what the question is: Are you questioning validity of the quoted book? Are you asking if somebody here have read the quoted book and can vouch for correctness of Wikipedia's quotes from this book? (In which case, my suggestion is to check nearby libraries if they have a copy and if they do not, ask for an inter-library loan.) Are you asking for other references besides this book? Nov 12 at 16:35
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    Please clear up this confusion @MoisheKohan raised, plus: "Did?" is an obvious 'yes' from the WP page linked on 'Axis-talks', and confirmed by your link to 'Stalin's book' (& both WP-pages reference Nekrich!). Stalin only later claimed in 48 to just have rejected this offer. Is this about whether Stalin was interested or negotiating a counter? Or about how serious the German offer was? Nov 12 at 17:51
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You are confusing the dates and two separate German-Soviet negotiations. The German-Soviet "Non-aggression pact" (Also called the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact) was signed in Moscow on 23 August 1939. This pact had a secret protocol, dividing the "spheres of influence". The result was a partition of Poland, and Soviet conquests of the Baltic countries and attempts at the conquest of Finland (Winter war).

The talks which included the German proposal for the Soviets to join the Axis were in Berlin in November 1940. Molotov visited Berlin and had talks with Hitler. The talks were a failure, because they could not agree on several points: the Soviets wanted a green light for a second invasion of Finland, wanted to have Bulgaria in the Soviet "sphere of interests", Soviet control of the straights etc. These were the main Soviet conditions for joining the Three-Partite Pact. The Germans instead tried to direct Soviet conquests to Asia, and insisted that they leave the rest of Europe alone.

After Molotov left, an official offer to join the Axis was still sent to Moscow, they replied with their conditions, and on this there was no German reply.

In the interval between these two negotiations, Germans invaded Poland, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Denmark and Norway, and started to plan an invasion of Soviet union since summer 1940. In the same period, Soviets conquered a larger part of Poland, 3 Baltic countries, a part of Finland and a part of Rumania, and planned to conquer the whole Finland, Bulgaria and wrestle the straits from the Turks.

There are many books which describe the story of Soviet German relations of that time in detail, but you may start with Wikipedia article. Of course, Stalin's book is a piece of propaganda (directed mainly at the Soviet population which had no other sources of information). He never mentions the 1940 unsuccessful negotiations, or German proposals to join the Axis.

Remark. The Tripartite pact (Germany-Italy-Japan=Axis) was signed on 27 September 1940, that is AFTER the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of 1939. And the offer for Soviet union to join was made soon after that.

Remark. Soviet officials and historians always denied the existence of the secret protocol of 1939, until the demise of Soviet Union. After that the originals with Stalin signature and with the map of partition of Eastern Europe were published by the Russians.

Primary sources (translated into English):

Sontag, Raymond James, and James Stuart Beddie, eds. Nazi-Soviet relations, 1939-1941: Documents from the archives of the German foreign office (US Department of State, 1948) online.

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  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – MCW
    Nov 12 at 13:09
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    @FluidCode Is it possible that Alex' words confused you further? He's seems to be correct but you disagree vehemently. So, maybe you talk past each other? MR-pact was 'public', but not the aggressive details in the secret part. Can you quote in your Q the parts from Stalin's book that handle the diplomatic 'axis of 4' possibility after MR-pact to distinguish these details and clarify your finds & interpretation of them? Nov 12 at 13:11
  • It was during Molotov's visit to Ribbentrop in Nov 1940, that I think I'm right in saying, Churchill, knowing Molotov was there, arranged for the RAF to conduct a bombing raid on the city. (At that early stage Berlin was at about the limit of RAF's bombing range). The story goes that R had been trying to get the idea across to M that "Britain was finished". When the Berlin sirens went, M and R had to take to the underground bunker. Molotov is supposed to have asked "If Britain is finished, would you please tell me whose bombs they are that are falling, and what are we doing in this bunker?"
    – WS2
    Nov 14 at 23:06
  • Yes, this story is told in many Russian books. They usually refer to the Russian translator who accompanied Molotov, and it is possible that Molotov was telling it himself. He published some memoirs after his retirement.
    – Alex
    Nov 15 at 1:34
  • I wonder how history would have gone if Hitler had okayed the USSR's additional territorial gains, and signed that alliance with them. With no Eastern Front to weaken the Germans, and the addition of Soviet forces on the Western Front...
    – nick012000
    Nov 25 at 4:36
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In case you are interested in primary sources, here is one, from "Alexander N. Yakovlev's Archives", here.

Документ № 172. "Беседа председателя Совнаркома, наркома иностранных дел СССР В.М. Молотова с рейхсканцлером Германии А. Гитлером в Берлине." 12.11.1940.

... Гитлер отвечает, что тройственный пакт предусматривает руководящую роль в Европе для двух государств в областях их естественных интересов. Советскому Союзу предоставляется указать те области, в которых он заинтересован. То же в отношении великого восточно-азиатского пространства — Советский Союз должен сам сказать, что его интересует. Он, Гитлер, предлагает Советскому Союзу участвовать как четвертому партнеру в этом пакте. Гитлер считал, что с Советским Союзом можно будет договориться, что раньше состоялись переговоры с Италией и Францией, а теперь, когда с ними вопрос выяснен, он счел своевременным пригласить Советский Союз с тем, чтобы СССР высказался о своих интересах. Те вопросы, которые Советский Союз имеет по отношению к Румынии, Болгарии и Турции, нельзя решить здесь за 10 минут, и это должно быть предметом дипломатических переговоров. Мы все являемся континентальными государствами, хотя каждая страна имеет свои интересы. Америка же и Англия не являются континентальными государствами, они лишь стремятся к натравливанию европейских государств друг на друга, и мы хотим их исключить из Европы. Должен быть создан определенный мировой порядок, который будет иметь свои сферы интересов....

In case you do not read Russian, this is the Soviet record of Molotov's conversation with Hitler in Berlin, on November 12, 1940. My translation of the key sentences is:

Hitler replies that the tripartite pact provides for a leading role in Europe for the two states [Germany and Italy] in the areas of their natural interests. The Soviet Union is allowed to indicate those areas in which it is interested. The same with regard to the great East Asian space - the Soviet Union itself must say what its interests are. He, Hitler, invites the Soviet Union to participate as the fourth partner in this pact.

To the best of my understanding of your question (at least, the question which appears in the title), this quote provides a conclusive answer.

Remark. Regarding your complaint (in comments) that the above is taken out of context and is not an indication of high-level talks: I have no idea what this might possibly mean. Talks between Hitler and Molotov are as high-level as they could possibly be. (The only higher level would be direct talks between Hitler and Stalin, but as far as I know, neither one, when in power, ever visited a foreign country unoccupied by their army, so such talks could not have possibly happened.) If you mean that Hitler was simply shooting the breeze and was not making a serious proposal - sorry, I cannot take this conjecture seriously. During the meeting he explains to Molotov (Soviet Prime Minister as well as the Foreign Minister at the time and a member of the Politburo) his "new world order" based on a division of Eurasia into spheres of influence (excluding US and Great Britain as "non-continental powers") and invites USSR to participate. He also mentions areas of contention (e.g. Turkey, Romania, Bulgaria) that would have to be sorted out before the agreement on spheres of influence can be reached. (Click on the link that I gave above and use your favorite translation program from Russian to whatever language you prefer to read the details.)

And, indeed, the sides never managed to come to an agreement and USSR never joined the Axis, as we all know. But that was not because of lack of an invitation or lack of trying. Stalin simply wanted more than Hitler was willing to offer, differences were too high to overcome. If your question is really about details of the Soviet demands, you should edit your question to make this clear.

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    There should never be a need to excuse presenting a primary source.
    – MCW
    Nov 12 at 19:54
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    @MCW: This is one of those odd cases when it's easier to access primary sources (which are in the public domain) than the secondary ones (which are copyrighted). At least if one knows where to look: During Perestroika times, Yakovlev was tasked by Gorbachev to sort out the issue of the secret protocols accompanying the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. Nov 12 at 20:16
  • Tiny objection: yo, 'the offer' existed, def so, was talked thru as described here in A, & even continued by German diplomats in Moscow for quite a long time. But 'the seriousness' is a matter of scholarly debate in terms of tactic/strategy long term (re:Kampf, + Barbarossa was prepared –fully– in parallel…). Stalin's different ideas, esp on Romania & Bulgaria, were an obstacle, big time, but it's unclear how much that mattered, esp in envisioned long run. Recommendation: Fleischhauer, 1991, 978-3550075049. Nov 18 at 1:07
  • @LаngLаngС: In my remark "serious" is meant to be "not a joke and subject of a real negotiation." As for "in case Stalin were to join in the Axis, would have Hitler attacked anyway" is in realm of alt-history and would be off-topic here. All in all, I am yet to understand what OP really wants to know here besides of what is written by me and Alex (if anything). Nov 18 at 1:15
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    Agreement on Q. However, my say is not into alt-history but on proven ruse vs earnest desire. 'Plans' often shifted ad hoc as events unfolded. Alliance with Britain was earnest desire early, and any 'gimme that & am satisfied enough to keep the peace in future, no further demands' clearly always a ruse.Here: ¿until June 41, 1 German faction found a temp alliance at least useful enough for a time to foster talks? (& then keep appearance as ruse?), but Mr 1 may have indeed just shot into the breeze (Ribbentrop-Molotov developed similarly, with opposite outcome, AH taking what's offered). Nov 18 at 1:32

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