How the ‘Big Three’ Teed Up the Cold War at the 1945 Yalta Conference
By February 1945, it was becoming increasingly clear that not only would Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich not last a millennium as he had hoped; he wouldn’t even survive spring.
The end of the Second World War was finally in sight, the “three great” Allied leaders, the United States. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet Prime Minister Joseph Stalin met in the Soviet resort town of Yalta to plan the dawn of the post-war world. Although Roosevelt was the only one to offer this follow-up to the Tehran Allied Conference in 1943, to project a united front against Nazi Germany, Stalin could dictate the location of the summit on the Black Sea coast because its forces had a more solid position on the battlefield. While American and British forces had not even crossed the Rhine yet, the Red Army was about 40 miles from Berlin.
“This is Stalin’s exhibit,” said Robert Citino, senior historian at the National Museum of the Second World War. “It has a giant army that occupies most of central and eastern Europe, and the western allies are back on their heels with the Battle of the Bulge and fierce fighting in their hands.”
Each leader came to Yalta to prevent another world war, but they differed tactically. The frail Roosevelt made the 6,000-mile journey to Yalta by air and sea, zigzagging across the Atlantic to avoid German submarines, to gain support for his United Nations proposal. Stalin sought to divide Germany to make it incapable of starting another war and to use Eastern Europe as a buffer zone for additional protection. He also wanted punitive reparations from Germany – a move resolutely opposed to Churchill, who determined that self-determination in Poland was “the most urgent reason for the Yalta Conference”.
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The “big three” traced the last months of the Second World War.
Once the Tsars’ summer park, Yalta still bore deep scars from the Nazi occupation of the Crimea peninsula when Allied leaders arrived. “If we had devoted 10 years to research, we could not have found a worse place in the world than Yalta,” said a less enthusiastic Churchill, who dubbed the place “the Riviera of Hades”.
The conference opened on February 4, 1945, inside the palace of Livadia, once the summer residence of Tsar Nicholas II. For eight days, Allied leaders and their senior military and diplomatic officials negotiated amidst a haze of cigar and cigarette smoke while feasting on caviar and drinking vodka and other liquors. “The P.M. looks good,” wrote British diplomat Alexander Cadogan, “although drinking buckets of … champagne, which would harm the health of any normal man.”
But everything was not so opulent inside the palace. Sleeping new in a room, the Americans sprayed DDT to repel the army of bedbugs. And faced with a handful of functional toilets, Stalin was one of those long queues for bathrooms and buckets. “With the exception of the war, the bathrooms were the most discussed topic at the Crimea conference,” said American General Laurence Kuter.
At the end of the summit, the trio agreed to demand the unconditional surrender of Germany and the division of the country – and the capital of Berlin – into four occupied areas administered by American, British, French and Soviet forces. They settled the payment for the German reparations “as far as possible”, the amount to be determined later. Roosevelt’s advisers warning him that an invasion of Japan could cause a million American deaths and the atomic bomb still untested, the president obtained the secret commitment of Stalin to attack Japan in the three months following the capitulation of Germany in exchange for diplomatic recognition of its satellite state of Mongolia and the restoration of the territories lost during the Russo-Japanese War of 1905. Stalin also accepted the formation of the United Nations after the Soviet Union had received a right of veto in the Security Council.
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The fate of Poland sparked a disagreement.
The biggest debate in Yalta concerned the fate of Eastern Europe. The conference shifted Poland’s borders to the west, with the Soviet Union annexing much of the east of the country to seized land in northeast Germany as compensation. The agreement also contained vague language for the inclusion of democratic leaders of a Polish government in exile, supported by the British and the Americans, in the provisional government dominated by the Communists installed by the Soviets. He also called for free democratic elections in the countries occupied by the Soviets from Eastern Europe.
The Red Army being much more numerous than the Allies on the Western front, Stalin had the power to dictate the terms of the agreement. “It was not a question of what we would let the Russians do, but what we could do to the Russians,” said US delegate and future Secretary of State James Byrnes.
One thing that was not debated in Yalta was the health of Roosevelt. Although the youngest of the three, the president threw a ghostly figure emaciated with pale cheeks and sunken eyes. “Everyone seemed to agree that the president had become physically disabled,” wrote the doctor to Churchill.
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The Cold War brought about a reassessment of Yalta.
By the time of Roosevelt’s death two months later on April 12, it became clear that Stalin had no intention of supporting political freedom in Poland. World War II started with the invasion of Poland. ” It ended with Poland under Soviet domination. Poland was not among the dozens of countries represented when the conference to form the United Nations first met in San Francisco on April 25.
Two days after the United States dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan. A week later, Japan surrendered. The Yalta Conference helped end World War II. But he has now started to shape the ensuing Cold War. No longer bound by a common enemy, the difficult alliance of the capitalist and communist superpowers would not last. “An iron curtain is drawn over their foreheads,” Churchill wrote of the Soviets to Roosevelt’s successor, Harry Truman, on May 12, 1945.
In February 1946, the American diplomat George Kennan wrote his “long telegram” to Byrnes in which he called for the abandonment of ideas of cooperation with the Soviets and the adoption of a policy of “containment” to prevent the spread of the Communism. The principle would become the foundation of American foreign policy towards the Soviet Union for the decades to come.
The rise of the Cold War, the revelations of the Yalta secret agreements and the development of the atomic bomb which reduced the need for Soviet intervention in the Pacific theater led to criticism of the fact that Churchill and Roosevelt, embarrassed by his condition weakened, gave in too much to Stalin. “You cannot say that Yalta was sold unless you find a strategy to expel Stalin from Eastern Europe,” said Citino. “Look at a map in February 1945 and see where the rival armies are, and it is evident that Stalin was able to transform Eastern Europe into a satellite state. I am not sure that the fighting in good and energetic Roosevelt from 1933 would have gotten a better price from Stalin in Yalta. ”
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