The Soviet Union, United States and United Kingdom: A Step Away From Global Cooperation

17:29 13.03.2015 •
THE TITLE needs a question mark. Indeed, did the Big Three halt a step away from global cooperation? How many mines were laid under the alliance and partnership and when? Natalia Narochnitskaia once said that "Yalta and counter-Yalta were born together."

This is true. In spring 1945, having barely come back from Yalta the Western leaders started planning containment and even rollback of the Soviet Union; the first shoots of the rollback strategy appeared at that time. Its authors did not quite believe that this could be done, no wonder the British Armed Forces' Joint Planning Staff codenamed its report Operation Unthinkable. It was drafted on Churchill's personal order; he wanted to know whether Russia could be forced back from Germany and Eastern Europe. He even thought of a date for such an assault - July 1, 1945.

On the other side of the front, Hitler rebuffed those who insisted on separate talks with the West after the Normandy landing with "sooner or later their unnatural coalition would fall apart" as this had happened, he added, to all coalitions in world history. He knew what he was talking about: in the process of disintegration coalitions destroyed everything what had been planned and everything what had been achieved.

Yalta is a paradox: The military coalition of the Big Three did fall apart fairly soon, yet the Yalta agreements remained the foundation of the postwar world order for a long time and are still very much alive.

Reports from the battlefields were heard and discussed yet each of the participants was even more worried about the post-war future. France, weakened by the war and occupation and the coming routing of Germany,

From the contribution at the International Conference "Yalta-45: Past, Present and Future" held in the Livadia Palace in Yalta, Crimea, February 3-5, 2015 created a great geopolitical hole on the continent, leaving the Big Three with the responsibility for the future of Europe. The war-scarred continent expected novel approaches; there was a shared realization that the world should and would change.

Mortally ill, Roosevelt was much more worried in Yalta than his colleagues. The leader and also delegation members were very much aware that the Soviet-American relations were living through a spring. Harry Hopkins, Roosevelt's advisor, wrote at that time: "The Russians had proved that they could be reasonable .... there wasn't any doubt in the minds of the President or any of us that we could live with them and get along with them peacefully far into the future." Sumner Welles, Deputy U.S. Secretary of State, later wrote that at that time Roosevelt had been convinced that both governments - of the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. - should have come to a conclusion that they could always follow parallel rather than antagonistic courses on the world arena. The American president wanted his assistants to realize that global peace was impossible without Soviet-American cooperation.

Yalta is a paradox: The military coalition of the Big Three did fall apart fairly soon, yet the Yalta agreements remained the foundation of the postwar world order for a long time and are still very much alive.

Churchill was of a more or less same opinion. At an official dinner in the Yusupov Palace he said: "Nations, comrades-in-arms, have in the past drifted apart, thus toiling millions have followed a vicious circle. We have the chance of making a sure peace.... People cry out for peace and joy. That is my hope, and, speaking for England, we shall not be behindhand in our efforts." Stalin responded in his usual manner: "I want to drink to our alliance, that it should not lose its .... intimacy, its free expression of views .... May it be strong and stable, may we be as frank as possible."

It should be said that Roosevelt consistently followed his course when communicating with Moscow. Speaking in the Congress in March 1945 he said: "The structure of world peace cannot be the work of one man, or one party, or one Nation. It cannot be just an American peace, or a British peace, or a Russian, a French, or a Chinese peace. It cannot be a peace of large Nations - or of small Nations. It must be a peace which rests on the cooperative effort of the whole world."

The Congress thought differently. Several days later, it denied loans to the Soviet Union very much needed for industrial reconstruction. The president who had his doubts and hesitations nevertheless remained convinced that the victor nations should pool forces to ensure peace.

Churchill was in a much more complicated situation. On January 6, 1945, on the eve of Yalta, Staling received "Personal and Most Secret Message from Mr. Churchill to Marshal Stalin" which said: "The battle in the West is very heavy.... I shall be grateful if you can tell me whether we can count on a major Russian offensive on the Vistula front, or elsewhere."

In less than a week, the Soviet Union launched the Vistula-Oder offensive against the German Group A and pushed 500 km into the enemy territory. The Germans and Allies were shocked. Earlier a German tank offensive to the depth of 90 km had created a critical situation for the Allies in the Ardennes. British and American generals begged Churchill to ask Stalin to take measures. The results of the "measures taken" stunned all. The Allies had never expected such result of the military operation which affected, to a great extent, the atmosphere in Yalta.

This operation no matter how brilliant could not change all. Churchill knew only too well how the burden of warfare was distributed among the Allies. Here is what Max Hastings, a British historian and author of Winston's War: Churchill, 1940-1945 (Knopf, 2010), wrote on September 4, 2009 in The Financial Times: "After Hitler invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, Britain's military and political leaders took refuge in the reality that the Eastern Front became the decisive theatre. Every Russian who died was one less British and American soldier who must do so."

Here is a telltale quote: "British diplomat Oliver Harvey wrote in his diary on November 14 1942: 'The Russian Army having played the allotted role of killing Germans, our chiefs of staff think that by 1944 they could stage a general onslaught on the exhausted animal'."

Here is Hastings again: "In July 1943, when British had been at war for four years and the U.S. for 20 months, just eight Allied divisions were fighting the Germans - in Sicily, where they lost a mere 6,000 killed. The Red Army was meanwhile engaged in the titanic confrontation at Kursk, which cost Hitler a decisive defeat and half a million casualties.... The Russians did most of the dying essential to destroy Nazism, only belatedly assisted by British and American land forces."

Churchill's attitude to Russia was mixed to say the least. Here we are now in the Livadia Palace, the summer house of the Russian royal family. There was time when Churchill had said a lot of warm words about the Russian army and Nicholas II as the army leader. During the long flight to Moscow in 1942, Churchill recalled, "I was pondering on my mission to this sullen Bolshevik state I had once tried so hard to strangle at the birth." He, however, never put the Soviet Union on the same level as Nazism because he found its racist theories disgusting. Soviet ideology was not racist at all.

In his radio address on June 22, 1941 Churchill did not beat about the bush: "I will unsay no words that I've spoken about Communism. But all this fades away before the spectacle which is now unfolding.... I see the Russian soldiers standing on the threshold of their native land, guarding the fields.... I see them guarding their homes; their mothers and wives pray, ah yes, for there are times when all pray for the safety of their loved ones, for the return of the breadwinner, of the champion, of their protectors. I see the 10,000 villages of Russia, where the means of existence was wrung so hardly from the soil, but where there are still primordial human joys, where maidens laugh and children play."

It seems that the British premier knew about the critical nature of land tilling in Russia and that amid militant atheism Russians retained much of their religious feelings.

A brilliant orator, he stirred up premonitions of danger in his audience: "I see advancing upon all this, in hideous onslaught, the Nazi war machine, with its clanking, heel-clicking, dandified Prussian officers, its crafty expert agents, fresh from the cowing and tying down of a dozen countries."

In spring 1945, the cannonade in Europe was heard in Yalta. Churchill and Roosevelt pursued different aims. Roosevelt wanted the Soviet Union to join the war against Japan as soon as possible while Churchill needed free hands in Greece and the Mediterranean.

Professor Richard Sakwa* reminded us of an interesting episode. During his visit of October 9, 1944 to Moscow, the British prime minister offered Stalin to divide some of the countries of Central and Southeastern Europe. Here are the figures: "Russia is to get 90% of Romania, 75% of Bulgaria, 50% of Yugoslavia and Hungary, and 10% of Greece." Molotov recalled later that none of Churchill's companions had understood under what criteria such proposals could have been implemented. The Soviet side declined the offer as "dirty."

It has become a cliche (used here as well) to talk about the Yalta Conference as a symbol of global governance which allows Great Powers impose their will on smaller peoples. We should not forget that at all times Great Powers assumed responsibility for the fates of smaller nations or even regions. Suffice it to mention three partitions of Poland in the eighteenth century, the recent division of Yugoslavia or what is called Euro-Atlantic or Brussels discipline... Yalta-45 was no exception in this respect very much in line with the course of history.

In spring 1945, Churchill, who represented a country very much weakened by the war, demonstrated a lot of pragmatism. Intensive talks between Moscow and London before and immediately after Yalta carried out on British initiative spoke about London's desire to join forces to shape the future of Europe. It should be said that the idealistic expectations of global partnership suggested both wider regional approaches and particular compromises. The idealistic aim or, rather, a dream of global partnership was not fully realized yet it created a very special atmosphere in Yalta and early spring 1945. It was this feeling which played an important role in setting up the UN and its Charter.

According to John Beyrle, who served as Ambassador of the United States in Moscow in 2008-2011, at the times of tension and misunderstanding it is highly important to go back to our war-time Alliance when our disagreements were much more prominent than today yet we arrived at pragmatic and productive cooperation which served our national interests and also changed the course of history.

* Richard Sakwa is currently Professor of Russian and European politics at the University of Kent. From 2001 to 2007, he was also the head of the University's Politics and International Relations Department.


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