Yet the final bill was just coming due in the Second World War.
Even as the NKVD was purging the Red Army in late 1938, Stalin was playing European politics.
Adolf Hitler had come to power in Germany on a program of hatred;
hatred of Jews, hatred of the Allied Powers, hatred of communism, hatred of just about everything.
No surprise then that in November 1936 Hitler set up the anti-Comintern Pact between Germany, Italy, and Japan.
This was so-called "Axis". The Germans and Soviets were already backing opposite sides in the Spanish Civil War.
Japan directly threatened the Soviet Far East through its satellite state in Manchuria.
In 1938 and 1939, Japanese and Soviet troops skirmished on the frontier.
To the west, only Poland kept Germany apart from the Soviet Union.
If forced to choose between its two hated neighbors, whom would pull its support?
Not even the Poles themselves could guess.
As from the beginning, the Soviets felt surrounded on all sides by capitalist enemies.