Yalta Conference
Some nations sacrificed for the sake of stability
The most important meeting between the three leaders happened in Yalta. The Yalta Conference is even now fiercely debated and analyzed. It had the most complex repercussions on post-war Europe.

In order to understand the redrawing of the European map, and the origins of the Cold War and a divided Germany, one must first analyze the negotiations which took place between the three leaders of the Allied states: Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill. The most important meeting between the three leaders happened in Yalta. The Yalta Conference is even now fiercely debated and analyzed. It had the most complex repercussions on post-war Europe.

The Allied leaders met in Yalta. There, they passed a week in secret negotiations. This conference was the third meeting of The Big Three: the president of the USA, Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin, and the prime-minister of Great Britain, Winston Churchill. This meeting, which took place during the Second World War, would change the course of history, drawing new borders in the world.

The USSR had managed to impose itself in Europe up until the moment of the meeting of the three great leaders at Yalta. It had occupied Romania, Bulgaria and the Baltic States, and was ruler of the Balkans, up to the Greek border and the Adriatic Sea. Stalin was coming ever faster towards Hungary and Poland. Not even the capital of Germany, Berlin, was excluded from the USSR’s interest. Vienna was also threatened by the advance of the Soviet Union.

In his speech to the American Congress, president Roosevelt mentioned that Yalta represented “a turning point in the history of the United States and also in the history of the world.”

Roosevelt was convinced that he had found in Stalin the right man, next to whom he could build the new, post-war order. He believed that he could win over the Soviet leader through his personal charm, and by giving him concessions such as the right to administrate the Manchurian railways or free ports in Darien and Port Arthur.

Since their last meeting in Tehran, the war had advanced and victory was on the cards for the Allies. Each of the three world powers was trying to reach its own objectives for the post-war situation.

The evolution of military operations led to the necessity of a new meeting. The goal was to settle the war’s final military strategy and to clarify the problem of defining spheres of influence.

Roosevelt proposed a new meeting. Stalin tried and succeeded again in putting it off. He was waiting for a favorable moment for Russia. Russia’s military situation was favorable, but that of the Allies was difficult. Roosevelt did not agree to the participation of Charles de Gaulle at the conference.

The American delegation was made up of: F.D. Roosevelt, Edward Stettinius, General Marshall, Admirals King and Leahy, and the experts Averell Harriman and General John Deane.

The British delegation was made up of: Winston Churchill, Anthony Eden, field marshals Alanbrooke and Alexander, air marshal Charles Portal, General Ismay and expert Admiral Cunningham.

The Soviet delegation was made up of: J.V. Stalin, V. Molotov, air marshal Hudeakov, Admiral Kuznetsov, army general Antonov, and the experts Visinsky, Maiski, Gromiko and Gushev.

The conference took place in the Soviet Union, at Yalta, a town on the Crimean Peninsula, on the shores of the Black Sea. The goal of the conference was to resolve the problems appearing as a consequence of the defeat of Nazi Germany. The location of the meeting was the Livadia palace, the summer residence of the Romanov dynasty. It is a white palace, in renaissance style, built by the architect Nikolay Krasnov, for the Tsar’s family.

Two airplanes landed at the Saki airport in Crimea. In the first was the British prime-minister, Winston Churchill, while in the second was the American president, Franklin D. Roosevelt. The two political figures then began a 7-hour journey by car, to reach the conference location.

On the way to Yalta, Roosevelt and his daughter Anna saw detachments of the Red Army from the car. These were providing protection, saluting when the car went past. At the conference, the three delegations occupied three buildings which the NKVD, the future KGB, had bugged with microphones, under the pretext of working on the electrics.

The American delegation and president Roosevelt had accommodation in the Livadia palace, the former summer palace of the Tsars. In this palace, there were over 100 rooms, furnished in different styles. These had been occupied by members of the family of Tsar Nicholas II, from the Romanov dynasty.

The Soviet delegation led by Stalin was received in the Yusupov palace during the conference. During and after the Yalta Conference, this palace was the residence of Joseph Stalin.

The British delegation, including Winston Churchill, had accommodation in the Alupka castle, which belonged to Prince Vorontsov. The palace was designed by an architect from England.

According to the observations of Antony Beevor, all the rooms were spied on by NKVD agents. Stalin arrived by train. The summit began with an official dinner.

The American president, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the Soviet leader, Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin, were preoccupied with dividing Europe into zones of influence. The British prime-minister wanted Great Britain to keep her Colonial Empire.

President Roosevelt wanted to ensure the participation of the USSR in the Pacific war against Japan. He also had an interest in obtaining USSR support for the creation of the United Nations.

The Soviet Union asked for 10 million dollars as war damages from the Germans. The money would be received through exports of goods and capital, and the use of the workforce. This demand was not fully met. Churchill, the British prime-minister, thought the amount too much. Later, the Soviets reported that they had received only old equipment from Germany.

President Roosevelt ensured the Soviets’ support in the war against Japan. There had not yet been any weapons tests in the ultra-secret American nuclear project. It was estimated that an attack against Japan, whether by water or land, would cost the lives of thousands of American soldiers.

Stalin promised the organization of free elections in Poland; however, he had no intention of doing this. Holding power in Poland was a puppet communist government, recently installed. Elections had led to the official transformation of Poland into a socialist state. The majority of political analysts believe that the results were falsified. The first free elections in Poland took place 45 years after the Yalta conference.

The USSR had important goals to discuss. One point on Stalin’s agenda was Poland. He said: “To the Soviet people, Poland is not just a matter of pride, but also of security. During the whole of history, Poland has been the corridor through which the enemy has attacked Russia. For us, Poland is a problem of life and death.” The Soviet leader did not allow for negotiation concerning Poland. The USSR wanted eastern Poland. This would be compensated by extending the western border and forcibly moving millions of Germans.

The most important points in the meeting were concerning Nazi Germany. Other problems were also discussed, such as: the creation of the UN, the Pacific War, and USSR participation in the defeat of Japan.

The unconditional surrender of Germany was called for. After the end of the war, this would be divided into 4 occupied zones, with Berlin also divided into four sectors. Germany was to be submitted to an operation of demilitarization and denazification. The Soviet delegation, led by Stalin, agreed that France should take over the fourth occupied zone in Germany and Austria. France was also accorded a seat in the Allied Control Council. The creation of an allied reconstruction council, located in Moscow, was also discussed.

A point discussed in the meeting was the repatriation of citizens of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, regardless of what they wanted. Millions of Russians in Europe were forced to return to the USSR.

Roosevelt, the US president, obtained Stalin’s agreement to becoming a member of the United Nations. It was decided that each of the five permanent members of the Security Council would have the right of veto. The Soviet leader, Stalin, agreed to participate in the war against Japan, 90 days after Germany’s defeat. In exchange, the Soviet Union would receive the southern part of the Sakhalin and Kurile islands after Japan’s defeat.

The three leaders signed a protocol containing 14 chapters, treating the issues discussed during the conference. The document included guidelines for the following aspects: the organization of the UN, the declaration of a freed Europe, the division of Germany, occupation zones and police commissions in Germany, war damages and the Polish situation. The Soviets were considered the winners of the conference, from both a political and military viewpoint.

Through the Red Army, the USSR controlled the territories of the Eastern European countries which had been allied to Germany. The English and Americans couldn’t convince the Soviets to withdraw from the areas they had occupied by military force. The conference accepted in writing the status-quo in Eastern Europe.

President Roosevelt firmly believed in American messianism, that America was an exceptional country. Although he did not want America to be permanently involved in European problems, he believed that it was her duty to show the way to peace. Roosevelt went to Yalta to “end the system of unilateral action, the exclusive alliances, the spheres of influence, the balances of power, and all the other expedients that have been tried for centuries—and have always failed. We propose to substitute for all these, a universal organization in which all peace-loving Nations will finally have a chance to join.”

His vision of the post-war world was powerfully impregnated by Wilsonian idealism. The American president believed that lasting peace could be achieved and local conflicts could be suppressed through the globalization of state politics and the universalization of problems. Thus, no country could turn its back on justice and peace.

Roosevelt wanted to end colonial empires. He saw these as vestiges of the old world. The USA did not enter the war to play according to the imperial ambitions of France and Great Britain.

But, in contrast to Wilson, his vision also had an important dose of pragmatism. Roosevelt understood that the complete elimination of the system of the balances of power could not be realized, and that strong countries are needed to guarantee world peace.

In Roosevelt’s vision, aggressor states should be punished and monitored, to avoid future aggressions. Their military industry must be dismembered. The last goal during the conference was to determine the Soviet Union to enter the war against Japan.

Stalin was an adept of realpolitik and thought in classic terms of ratios of force. Thus he was closer to Churchill than to Roosevelt in his understanding of the world. He had two goals at this conference.

His first goal lay in the centuries-old tradition of Russian politicians. He wanted to obtain as large an area as possible around his country, as a buffer zone. Stalin knew that Western Europe would see the USSR as a threat. Thus, by controlling as many Eastern and Central European countries as possible, he would have a zone of protection from other countries. Once these countries recovered economically and politically, they would be seen as a threat.

His second goal was to assure his English and American allies of his good intentions. Obtaining peace and creating a stable world were issues in the interest of all the allies. War had left a strong impression on the Soviet state. The material destruction caused by the Germans, the human losses caused by Stalin himself and the interruption of the process of socialist construction - all of these could only be resolved in a stable climate.

The advances on the Vistula and Oder rivers of army groups led by generals Zhukov and Konev consolidated the USSR’s position in the disputed territories. This situation made any discussions concerning borders and the future of these countries to be rather futile. Stalin waited for the elections in the US to pass, so that Roosevelt could more easily offer certain concessions.

Churchill, in contrast to his other contemporaries, was part of the war from the beginning. He knew that, at the end of the war, Great Britain’s role as a world power would end. Thus, he must find a new way to defend the country’s interests.

Churchill must ensure the safety of Great Britain. He considered that rebuilding the balance of power was essential for his country. This meant rebuilding Great Britain, France and even Germany, in the attempt to counterbalance the Soviet Union. Thus, he needed a good relationship with France and upheld this country’s status as a powerful nation. He also wanted to obtain an occupation zone in northern Germany.

Churchill also wanted to ensure the safety of the trade route to the Indies. For this, he must remove the Soviet threat in the Mediterranean Sea. Understanding Stalin better than Roosevelt did, he negotiated a scheme of territorial division with the Soviet leader. Stalin left the countries with access to the Mediterranean Sea alone, in exchange for the countries of Eastern and Central Europe. To the British leader, the Soviet Union was a potential enemy country. Churchill understood the Russians’ territorial ambitions and desires for power very well.

For Churchill, no aspect of Allied diplomacy was more important than creating bonds of friendship with America, solid enough that Great Britain would not be forced to confront the post-war world alone. Thus, at the end of the day, he conceded mostly to American preferences - although he often managed to convince his American partner that the strategic interests of Washington corresponded closely with those of London.

The Soviets were given the administration of all the countries of Eastern Europe which they had freed, in which they promised to organize free elections. The British and Americans were to supervise the transition towards democracy in Italy, Austria and Greece.

Germany was to be divided into four occupied zones, administered by the three Great Powers and France, and demilitarized. War criminals would be brought to justice.

Most of the accords settled at Yalta remained secret until the end of World War II. The plans concerning Germany’s situation and the creation of the UN were made public.

Roosevelt accepted the conditions of the Soviet leader concerning an occupation zone in the Korean Peninsula, the possession of the Sakhalin island and other territories historically disputed by Russia and Japan. Stalin accepted entry into the Pacific War two or three months after Germany’s surrender.

The Yalta conference did not concern itself with the countries under USSR influence. Romania, along with other countries in the region, was at Moscow’s disposition. These countries were treated as enemy states, allies of Nazi Germany, and were required to surrender unconditionally. The conference contributed to the post-war reconfiguration of the world and of the centers of power.

Concerning Japan, Roosevelt had no guarantee that the nuclear weapons project would work. Thus he was forced to ask for military support from Stalin. The Red Army was three times larger than the American army. The Soviet leader did not hesitate to sacrifice his military men in exchange for territories. Thus, the USSR decided to become America’s allies in the Pacific War. This favored the growth of Soviet influence in Asia.

The organization of a conference in San Francisco was planned, in which the Charter of the United Nations would be signed. Through this treaty, the most important international organization in the world would be created. The purpose of this organization was to maintain peace and security in the world.

Discussions concerning post-war Poland’s borders represented a tense moment in relations between Roosevelt, Stalin and Churchill. At Yalta, it was agreed that post-war Poland would be ‘moved’ westwards.

President Roosevelt declared he would agree to the eastern borders of Poland being defined by the Curzon line. Churchill would have liked a border further east. Stalin however, vehemently opposed him, in the name of the rights of the Ukraine and Belarus. He declared that Poland could receive compensation in the west, even if this meant the forced migration of millions of Germans.

Churchill and Roosevelt accepted Russia’s borders. The western borders of Poland were moved towards Oder and Neisse. Stalin’s concession was the Declaration of Liberated Europe, in which he promised free elections and democratic governments in Eastern Europe.

Another problem discussed at Yalta concerning Poland was the Polish government. The USSR would accept at most the enlargement of the Lublin government, which it controlled. Churchill clearly expressed his fear of Poland being dominated by the Soviets: “After we have drawn the sword to defend Poland, brutally attacked by Hitler, we will never accept a solution which will not make Poland a free and sovereign state.” For the creation of this free national Polish government, a commission was formed, with Harriman, Molotov and Clark Kerr as members, representing the three Great Powers.

Stalin saw these free elections from a Soviet viewpoint, especially since the East-European states had been occupied by Red Army troops. After the Yalta Conference, everyone was jubilant. In his report to Congress, Roosevelt accentuated the deal made concerning the United Nations. However, he omitted mentioning the agreements concerning the political future of Europe and Asia.

Churchill’s geopolitical analysis was more precise than Roosevelt’s. If Roosevelt had followed Churchill’s instructions, he would have improved Germany’s position for negotiation. However, he would have sacrificed Germany’s capacity to sustain the confrontations of the Cold War.

Most of the population of Eastern Europe saw the Yalta Conference as an act of betrayal by the West. Roosevelt and Churchill were accused of throwing Eastern Europe and northern Korea into the arms of the Soviets, who had never permitted free elections.

It was said that the Eastern European countries, freed from the Soviet army, would have become satellite states of the USSR anyway, regardless of what was decided at Yalta.

The discovery in a library in Germany of a scrap of paper written by Churchill at Yalta, concerning the division of the spheres of influence and approved by Stalin, shows that parts of Europe, for example, Romania, really were sacrificed in the process of compromise. The division of territories was made thus: Romania -- Russia would receive 90%, the others 10%; Greece -- Great Britain would receive 90%, Russia 10%; Yugoslavia - 50-50%, Hungary - 50-50%; Bulgaria -- Russia would receive 75%, the others 25%.

The freedom of the smaller nations was sacrificed for the sake of stability. This meant that the Baltic nations, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, were forced to remain members of the USSR.

Poland’s fate was decided by the Soviets before the conference. It was clear to Stalin that there could only be a pro-Soviet government, even though the Allies were supporting the Polish government exiled in London. The eastern border of Poland would be along the Curzon Line. Poland would be compensated for its loss of territory by receiving land in the west from Eastern Germany.

The German historian Joachim Fest said: “At Yalta there were no binding treaties or accords, so we cannot talk about a true division of Europe.” “Yalta was actually a betrayal, a betrayal of half of Europe.”

The Yalta Conference set the foundations for post-war Europe. Through the advantages they were obliged to offer to Stalin, Churchill and Roosevelt permitted the USSR to extend its dominion over Eastern Europe.

The geographical position of Yalta had significance to Stalin. He wanted to show Roosevelt and Churchill that they needed him more than he needed them. The meeting place was on Soviet territory, so the western leaders had to travel hundreds of kilometers to get there. The situation was even more difficult for Roosevelt, who at that moment was deathly ill.

For the victors of the war, there were two major problems: the political regimes of the defeated nations, and their borders. The Yalta declaration stipulated that the defeated countries should appoint their governments in free elections.

The territorial issues however, were much more complex, especially concerning Poland and Germany. The German problem was resolved by dividing it into four occupied zones, identical to those of Berlin. This situation was supposed to last until the signing of the Peace Treaty. But the rapid Sovietization of the eastern part led to the division of Germany, a symbol of a Europe split into two.

The Yalta Conference was especially criticized in France, during the Cold War. It was considered a ‘sell-out’, ‘a diplomatic Waterloo’ and ‘Roosevelt’s betrayal’. In reality, the Yalta moment was based on the actual state of war. If a mistake was indeed made, it had already been made much earlier. At Yalta, the westerners were merely trying to limit its effects.

Charles Maier, from Harvard University, says that the interpretation of Yalta has changed a lot over the years. To the political left, Yalta was seen as the peak of harmony between the Allies. Conservatives in the USA saw the Yalta Conference as a betrayal made by the USA in favor of the USSR. The end of the Cold War also sparked new ideas and arguments, which led to original interpretations.

Other authors consider that, if a tragic mistake really was made, then it was not committed at Yalta, but much earlier. Churchill’s strategy of allowing the Russians to exhaust their strength in regaining their own territory was wrong. Another mistake was delaying opening the western front. At Yalta, all the westerners could do was try to limit the effects of these policies. They didn’t manage to do this because of Stalin’s attitude. Stalin refused to abide by the signed accords in the inevitable context of the division of Europe into two antagonistic camps.

There is a political myth connected to Yalta. According to this, a great betrayal of the East took place, performed by the West.

It’s a political myth, because it is based more on debatable perceptions and less on uncontestable documentary evidence. The Red Army at that moment was present in Romania and Poland. The communist movements in these countries were employed in a bitter fight for power. In Bulgaria, the dictatorial regime had organized bloody repressions. Anti-fascist mythology was used to discredit democratic parties. In conversations from Moscow with Milovan Djilas, Stalin stated clearly that this was not a usual war. Whoever arrived first with his army in a country would impose the political regime favorable to him. Tito was in power in Yugoslavia, independent of Yalta, without a decisive Soviet interventi

The west leaned towards concessions. The proof is in the percentages between Stalin and Churchill, the effects of which lasted for decades for Romania and Greece, with well-known consequences. The same went for Poland and Hungary. For Churchill, and even less for Roosevelt, who was hostile towards the idea of spheres of influence, this accord did not mean accepting Sovietization, ie transforming all the countries involved into satellites.

The communists cultivated what the historian Alfred Rieber called ‘the illusion of popular democracy’. Perhaps some believed in ‘original paths towards socialism’, for example Wladyslaw Gomulka in Poland and Lucretiu Patrascanu in Romania. But this was not Stalin’s goal - rather the foundation of regimes which would faithfully reproduce the Soviet model.

Yalta was the last conference at which Roosevelt and Churchill took part. Potsdam followed, then the Cold War in all its amplitude, growing in intensity day by day. The Soviet promises at Yalta proved to be absolute lies. In Bucharest, the capital of Romania, a government in close collaboration with Moscow was imposed by Soviet decree, led by ‘comrade’ Petru Groza.

At Yalta, it was clear that compromise meant something completely different to Stalin than it did to the democratic politicians. His goal was not to reach an agreement convenient for both sides, but to obtain total triumph, through colonising the territories he had not managed to control through military force. So, over years, for Leonid Brezhnev, Edward Gierek and Nicolae Ceausescu, the policy called ‘detente’ was actually an opportunity for ideologically undermining the west.

This was demonstrated by the Polish historian, Pawel Machcewicz, professor at the Institute of Political Studies in Warsaw, and director of the museum of World War II at Gdansk, in his book about communist Poland’s war against the Free Europe radio station. The book was published by Stanford University Press, in partnership with Woodrow Wilson Center Press.

The history of Eastern Europe between 1945 and 1989 was a journey full of obstacles, illusions and disillusions, heroic advances and brutal repressions, from Yalta to Glasnost. Francois Mitterrand believed that whatever takes us out of the Yalta system is beneficial.

The United States tested an atomic bomb in the New Mexico desert. An atomic bomb was launched against the Japanese city of Hiroshima. As Stalin had promised at Yalta, the USSR declared war against Japan. The United States dropped the second nuclear bomb on Nagasaki. At the same time, the Soviets launched a massive offensive in Manchuria against the Japanese.

The USSR agreed to the creation of the UN, under the condition that the permanent members of the Security Council have right of veto. This secret clause gave the Soviet Union more control in the world. At the same time, it implicitly weakened the strength of the greatest international organization in the world.

General Eisenhower asked permission from the American president to halt the advance of American troops on the Karlsbad-Plzen line. He didn’t want to waste the lives of American soldiers conquering a territory which would immediately be handed over to the Russians. This shows clearly the division, of Germany at least, into spheres of influence, and the fact that the Allies respected this.

After the Yalta Conference, Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin declared their intention of forming an ‘international general organization for keeping peace and security’, the UN.

After the Yalta Conference, Churchill wrote that “poor Neville Chamberlain believed he could trust Hitler. He was wrong. But I don’t think I’m wrong about Stalin.” One year later, Churchill delivered his famous speech about the ‘Iron Curtain’. This speech demonstrated that the British leader had been completely wrong about his colleague Stalin.

The Iran problem was discussed again: withdrawing allied troops from the country and ceasing drilling for petrol.