Several months before the invasion, in early 1939 the Soviet Union began strategic alliance negotiations with the United Kingdom, France, Poland, and Romania against the crash militarization of Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler. The USSR played a double game by secretly engaging in parallel talks with Germany. The negotiations with the Western democracies failed as expected, when the Soviet Union insisted that Poland and Romania give Soviet troops transit rights through their territory as part of a collective security arrangement. The terms were rejected, thus giving Josef Stalin a free hand in pursuing the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact with Adolf Hitler, signed on 23 August 1939. The non-aggression pact contained a secret protocol dividing Northern and Eastern Europe into German and Soviet spheres of influence in the event of war. One week after the signing of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, German forces invaded Poland from the west, north, and south on 1 September 1939. Polish forces gradually withdrew to the southeast where they prepared for a long defence of the Romanian Bridgehead and awaited the French and British support and relief that they were expecting. On 17 September 1939 the Soviet Red Army invaded the Kresy regions in accordance with the secret protocol.[Note 7]
At the opening of hostilities several Polish cities including Dubno, Łuck and Włodzimierz Wołyński let the Red Army in peacefully, convinced that it was marching on in order to fight the Germans. General Juliusz Rómmel of the Polish Army issued an unauthorised order to treat them like an ally before it was too late. The Soviet government announced it was acting to protect the Ukrainians and Belarusians who lived in the eastern part of Poland, because the Polish state – according to Soviet propaganda – had collapsed in the face of the Nazi German attack and could no longer guarantee the security of its own citizens. Facing a second front, the Polish government concluded that the defence of the Romanian Bridgehead was no longer feasible and ordered an emergency evacuation of all uniformed troops to then-neutral Romania.