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A U.S. diplomat with long experience in Soviet affairs takes a look back at two occasions during World War II when the exercise of diplomacy proved all important

“I am glad to see you.

I have tried for a long time to bring this about.”

— FDR to Stalin at their first private meeting
in Tehran, November 28, 1943.

A Retrospective View by Charles G. Stefan

The purpose of this article is to trace the evolution of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s stance toward Joseph Stalin in the period between the outbreak of World War II and FDR’s death, with special attention to his approach to the Soviet leader at the two wartime summits held at Tehran and Yalta. Even Stalin made mistakes at the 1945 Yalta Conference (for example, in subscribing to a Declaration on Liberated Europe) , and Roosevelt was to come under severe criticism for what was viewed as excessive leniency or naïveté in his dealings with the Soviet leader.
I conclude that FDR had no illusions about the nature of Stalin’s régime. Recognizing the vital role played by the USSR in the war against Germany, however, he sought to develop personal contacts with the Soviet leader comparable to the close relations he had already established with Churchill. His objective was twofold: using persuasion, to ensure Soviet entry into the war against Japan and to enlist Soviet backing for the establishment of a United Nations along the lines proposed by the United States. At Yalta he achieved considerable success in achieving those basic goals.

Roosevelt’s initial remarks to Premier Stalin, quoted above, thus were apt. Nevertheless, while the wartime relations between the leaders of the United States and the Soviet Union were highlighted by their face-to-face meetings at Tehran and Yalta, there was a series of important events leading up to their first meeting in late 1943. It is to this important pre-Tehran background that we first turn.

Background to Tehran

From mid-1941 on, FDR confronted the challenge of ensuring that Soviet forces not only continued to fight against the formidable armed strength of Nazi Germany, but also were amply equipped in certain key areas. He had as his objective bringing about, in conjunction with their Western allies, the defeat of the Third Reich and thereafter of Japan. The strategy and tactics that FDR employed in realizing this vital objective are essential in any discussion of their meetings at Tehran and then at Yalta over a year later.

It seems clear that prior to the Nazi invasion of the USSR in mid-1941, FDR had no illusions about the nature of Stalin’s régime in that vast country. In a speech in February 1940 to representatives of the American Youth Congress, he asserted: “The Soviet Union, as everybody who has the courage to face the facts knows, is run by a dictatorship as absolute as any other dictatorship in the world. It has allied itself with another dictatorship [i.e., with Hitler’s Germany], and it has invaded a neighbor. . .infinitesimally small” [i.e. Finland]. Earlier, at the time of Stalin’s invasion of Finland at the end of November 1939, FDR had privately expressed dismay and remarked: “No human being can tell what the Russians are going to do next.”1

However, once Stalin had been forced into conflict with Hitler, following the latter’s invasion of the USSR, Roosevelt followed Prime Minister Winston Churchill in recognizing the vital role of the USSR in the truly herculean task of defeating Nazi Germany, which by then had access to the resources of Europe. It is probable that his initial caution in public after June 22 reflected the fact that many Americans, including members of Congress were then inclined, as was Senator Harry Truman, to wish a plague on both the Nazi and the Soviet houses. This caution was reinforced by the belief, which survived after June 22 among responsible military circles on both sides of the Atlantic, that the Wehrmacht would reach Moscow in a few weeks, after a blitzkrieg comparable to its campaign in western Europe in 1940. Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson, in a memo to FDR on June 23, opined that “the Germans would be thoroughly occupied in beating the Soviet Union for a minimum of one month and a possible maximum of three months.” Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox was even more pessimistic about the Soviets’ chances. In a similar memo to FDR on the same day, Knox wrote that “The best opinion I can get is that it will take anywhere from six weeks to two months for Hitler to clean up on Russia.”2

It was shortly thereafter that Harry Hopkins, FDR’s trusted aide, then in London, decided that he ought to proceed to Moscow to find out more about the Soviets’ prospects and needs. The President promptly authorized Hopkins to proceed to Moscow, where at the end of July he had two long meetings with Stalin. During these meetings Stalin told Hopkins that he would welcome American troops on any part of the Russian front, and under the command of the American Army — an extraordinary comment, reflecting the Soviet dictator’s conviction that it was going to be extremely difficult for the USSR to resist successfully the mighty German military machine.

Hopkins came away from these talks convinced that the Soviets would fight on with, as he reported to FDR on August 1, an “unbounded determination to win.” His visit marked, as one distinguished American historian subsequently concluded, the point of no return in US-Soviet wartime relations.3

A few months after Hopkins’s pivotal visit to Moscow, Pearl Harbor and Hitler’s and Mussolini’s declarations of war on the United States precipitated all out American involvement in the war. Now, for FDR, it was more important than ever to do all that he could to ensure a strengthening of the Soviet effort in the war against Hitler and, after the defeat of Germany, against Japan as well. Both FDR and Churchill were keenly aware of the importance of this effort.

It is against this background that FDR’s untiring efforts to develop a relationship with Stalin comparable to the one he had already established with Churchill should be viewed.

FDR clearly possessed remarkable self-confidence.4 He believed that if he could establish close personal relations with Stalin, he could exert a positive influence on the Soviet leader. FDR expressed this belief directly to Churchill in a message on March 18, 1942:

I know you will not mind my being brutally frank when I tell you I think I can personally handle Stalin better than your Foreign Office or my State Department. Stalin hates the guts of all your top people. He thinks he likes me better, and I hope he will continue to do so.5

(Hopkins’s report on his July 30- 31, 1941 meeting with Stalin is perhaps one of the reasons for this element in FDR’s thinking.)

Given this belief, it was predictable that FDR would seek to meet à deux with Stalin; despite his efforts to do so, Stalin declined to meet with him until the Tehran Summit late in 1943. By that time, Stalin had apparently become convinced that there was no possibility of an acceptable compromise peace with Germany, or he may have concluded that he had played out the usefulness of the German card with the Western leaders. In either case, by early September of 1943, he agreed to meet with FDR and to coordinate operations designed to bring about the total defeat of the Third Reich.6 It should be noted, however, that Stalin also insisted that a preliminary meeting of the three Foreign Secretaries be held in Moscow; there he could probe Western positions before meeting with FDR and Churchill.



1. Frank Freidel, Franklin D. Roosevelt: A Rendezvous with Destiny.(Boston: Little, Brown, 1990), 324-325. For an earlier public repudiation of Communism by FDR, see William E. Leuchtenburg, The FDR Years: On Roosevelt and His Legacy. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1985), 137.

2. Herbert Feis, Churchill-Roosevelt-Stalin: The War They Waged and the Peace They Sought. (Princeton University Press: 1957), 10. For a recent summary of FDR’s key role in awakening the American people to the menace of fascism, see Carol Gelderman, All The Presidents’ Words: The Bully Pulpit and the Creation of the Virtual Presidency. (New York: Walker, 1997), 11-35.

3. For a detailed account of the crucial conversations between Stalin and Hopkins, see Robert E. Sherwood, Roosevelt and Hopkins: An Intimate History. (New York: Harpers, 1948), 317-348. See also James MacGregor Burns, Roosevelt: The Soldier of Freedom 1940-1945. (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1970), 113-115. For the citation by the distinguished American historian, see Feis, op. cit., 11-13.

4. Keith Eubank, Summit At Tehran: The Untold Story. (New York: William Morrow, 1985), 237; and Gary Will’s essay on FDR and his wife in Will’s book entitled Certain Trumpet: The Call of Leaders. (New York: Simon Schuster, 1994), 23-35, 53-66.

5. Warren F. Kimball, ed., Churchill and Roosevelt: The Complete Correspondence.Vol I, (Princeton University Press, 1984), 421. It should be noted, however, that as the war progressed, FDR told his son, James, that “Uncle Joe is smarter and tougher than I thought he was.” James Roosevelt (with Bill Libby), My Parents: A Differing View (Chicago: Playboy Press, 1976), 203. But James Roosevelt has also written that FDR “never gave up the conviction he could convince old Joe to go our way”. Ibid., 167.

6. Eubank, Summit at Tehran, 100-107; and Trumbull Higgins, Hitler and Russia: The Third Reich In A Two-Front War 1937-1943. (New York: Macmillan, 1966), 270-271. See also Note No. 8.

Part II

The Tehran Summit Conference

November 28-December 1, 1943

The first Big Three wartime Summit in Tehran was, arguably, the most significant meeting of the entire war. It marks the moment when the decision to invade western France in the spring of 1944 finally became irreversible. This decision was climaxed at the November 30 plenary when FDR pledged to name shortly the Commander-in-Chief for the “Overlord” operation. (In the event, this officer would be General Dwight D. Eisenhower).

Other parts of the Tehran discussions, both formal and informal, were hardly less important, particularly those concerning the vexing problems of Poland. Churchill suggested to Stalin that Poland might move westwards after the war, and British Foreign Secretary Anthony Eden explicitly linked this movement to territory that Poland would lose in the east; i.e., the territory east of the Curzon line, which would go to the USSR. FDR, in a private conversation with Stalin on December 1, indicated his relative lack of concern about the Polish problem.7 Even before Tehran, during a conversation on October 2, 1943, between the Soviet Ambassador to Mexico and Joseph E. Davies, the controversial former American Ambassador to Moscow, FDR had sent a signal to Stalin that the United States would eventually accept the Curzon line as the frontier between the USSR and postwar Poland. Churchill apparently was not informed by FDR about this conversation.8

It is difficult to resist the conclusion that after Tehran, Stalin had good reason to believe that the Western allies were prepared to go along with his desire — made abundantly clear to Foreign Secretary Eden during their discussions in Moscow in December 1941 — to reestablish the Soviet frontiers of pre-invasion 1941 in Europe. So far as Poland was concerned, this position was certainly made easier for Churchill and Eden to accept because the boundary demanded by Stalin was reasonably close to the Polish-Soviet frontier associated with the name of Lord Curzon, the British Foreign Secretary in 1920. FDR understandably did not wish to entangle the United States in the quarrels and ethnic disputes of Eastern Europe.

Both FDR and Churchill, however, confronted domestic political factors which imposed definite restraints on their public postures. Hitler’s invasion of Poland had, after all, precipitated the British declaration of war on Germany. Moreover, substantial Polish forces were fighting and continued to fight valiantly on the British side throughout World War II. For FDR, there was the matter of the Polish-American vote. During the last of his private meetings with Stalin at Tehran, FDR volunteered to the Soviet dictator that he would like to see the eastern frontier of Poland moved further west (i.e., to at least the vicinity of the Curzon line) and the western frontier moved to the Oder River. However, reasons of domestic politics — the six to seven million Polish-American voters — would, during an election year, prevent him from saying anything in public on this issue.

Finally, at the subsequent tripartite meeting, FDR in effect confirmed the Churchill-Eden suggestion of the Curzon line as the post-war frontier between Poland and the USSR. In addition, he proposed the dismemberment of Germany into five self-governing parts, plus two additional crucial areas. The first of these latter areas would be the Kiel Canal and the city of Hamburg, and the second, the Ruhr and the Saar, which would be placed under international control. Churchill suggested detaching Prussia from Germany and moving southern Germany into a Danubian Confederation. Stalin predictably preferred FDR’s suggestion.

The Big Three finally decided to hand the problem of Polish boundaries over to the European Advisory Commission (EAC) in London, which had been established during the preparatory foreign ministers’ meeting in Moscow in October of 1943. (The members of the new EAC were the UK Foreign Secretary and the US and USSR Ambassadors in London.)9

Apart from the Polish question, it is worth noting that at Tehran, Stalin reiterated to the Western leaders the pledge he had earlier given to Secretary of State Hull in Moscow about Soviet entry into the Pacific war against Japan. Specifically, Stalin asserted at Tehran that once Germany had capitulated, the Soviet Union would be able to reinforce its military in Siberia, after which there would be “a common front” against Japan.10 Subsequently, as noted below, FDR and Stalin were to negotiate at Yalta the specific terms concerning the Soviet Union’s entry into the war against Japan.

Additionally, there were discussions about the partition of Nazi Germany and the organization of the post-war world. Both of these issues would be on the agenda at Yalta.

In his private conversations with Stalin, FDR made clear his opposition to colonialism and, in particular, to continued French rule in Indochina. It was FDR’s belief that “trusteeship” there and elsewhere would meet the problem of colonialism which was bound to arise after the end of the war. Roosevelt did not live long enough, however, to implement his views about colonialism in the immediate post-war period. Thus we shall never know if events in French Indochina might have taken a different turn than they, in fact, did.

Apart from developments in French Indochina if FDR had lived, we shall also probably never know if FDR’s comments to U.S. Secretary of Labor Frances Perkins after the Tehran Conference are entirely valid. As recorded by Perkins in her book published in November 1946, Roosevelt told her that in order to make “personal headway” with Stalin, he “couldn’t stay in Tehran forever.” At a plenary meeting, he had teased “Churchill about his Britishness, about John Bull, about his cigars, about his habits.” FDR observed that “then . . . the ice was broken” and he and Stalin “talked like men and brothers.”11 Career U.S. diplomat Charles E. Bohlen, who was at Tehran, has observed that FDR “sometimes liked to embroider the picture,”12 and FDR may well have done so when talking with Perkins after Tehran. In any case, FDR, in order to avoid any impression by Stalin that the United States and the UK were “ganging up” against the Soviets, avoided private meetings with Churchill at Tehran.

Finally, the Big Three at Tehran declared themselves “at one with the government of Iran in their desire for the maintenance of the independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of Iran.”13 While the Declaration of the Three Powers Regarding Iran, adopted at the very end of the Conference, had no impact during the war, it did play a role in 1946 during the dispute over the continued Soviet occupation of Iranian Azerbaijan. The Iranian referral of this dispute to the UN Security Council led to the withdrawal of Soviet forces from the disputed territory and the reimposition there of Iranian sovereignty.14

FDR was not to confer directly with Stalin again until the Big Three met at Yalta February 4-11, 1945. Between Tehran and Yalta much had happened. A detailed consideration of these events is beyond the scope of this article. Nevertheless, these developments must be enumerated so that the reader will be aware of their significance as our story unfolds. On the Western side, one must cite the liberation of Rome, followed two days later by the successful invasion of Normandy and the subsequent push of Allied armies to the border of the Third Reich. The Soviets, greatly facilitated by the flow of Lend-Lease supplies, undertook the great offensives which brought their forces to the Oder river. These offensives were separated in time by Stalin’s decision to halt on the outskirts of Warsaw and let the Nazis destroy the brave uprising in that city by anti-Soviet forces. One should also cite Churchill’s second visit to the Kremlin in October 1944. On the German side, there occurred the unsuccessful attempt to assassinate Hitler in July 1944. The failure of this attempt led to Hitler’s final military gamble in the Ardennes in December 1944. Although this offensive was unsuccessful, it did serve to ensure that the Western Allies were held west of the Rhine when FDR and Stalin met for the second time at Yalta.


The Yalta Summit Conference

February 4-11, 1945

The Yalta Conference has been the subject of a wide variety of books and articles by distinguished statesmen and academicians. I cannot here attempt to deal with all the facets of this most controversial of the wartime Summits. I shall instead focus on certain features directly relevant to my subject. Roosevelt clearly had two primary goals at Yalta, and he secured both of them during the negotiations in the Crimea. One of these key objectives was to pin down Stalin on Soviet participation in the war against Japan. Many people — especially Europeans — tend to forget that in early February 1945, the Japanese seemed far from being defeated. The atomic bomb had not yet been tested,15 and Iwo Jima and Okinawa had not yet been invaded and conquered; above all, it was clear to most Americans — and certainly to those of us in the U.S. Armed Forces at the time — that the men in the Japanese military were, to put it mildly, determined warriors who disdained surrender.

In these circumstances, it is indeed difficult for me to be too critical of FDR’s emphasis at Yalta on his objective of ensuring Soviet entry into the war against Japan, which was urged by Generals Marshall and MacArthur and was supported by the rest of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Ambassador Bohlen, who served as FDR’s interpreter at both Tehran and Yalta, concluded in his memoirs that “Roosevelt’s one reason for seeking Soviet entry into the Asian war was to save the hundreds of thousands of American lives his military experts estimated would otherwise be lost”.16

His other major objective at Yalta was to establish the UN along the lines proposed by the American side. As Bohlen has pointed out, FDR believed that the UN “was the only device that could keep the United States from slipping back into isolationism” after WWII.17 After detailed explanations of the U.S. proposals by Secretary of State Edward R. Stettinius, Stalin and Churchill accepted them. However, with the strong support of Churchill, who wished to have certain countries then in the British Commonwealth and Empire admitted to the UN, Stalin did obtain FDR’s reluctant approval of UN membership for the Soviet Ukrainian and Belorussian republics.18

Of the other principal issues considered at Yalta, the problem of Poland was predictably much higher on both Stalin’s and Churchill’s list of priorities than it was on the American President’s. The Polish crisis of 1939 had provided the occasion for British entry into WWII as well as Stalin’s rather short-lived pact with Nazi Germany. For both Churchill and Stalin, Poland was an important element in the European balance of power, being then the largest and most-strategically situated country between Germany and the USSR. Poland was a vexing problem for Roosevelt, and one that for a variety of reasons, he preferred to leave to the British, the Soviets, and the Poles themselves.

By the beginning of the Yalta Conference, however, FDR was clearly aware that the Big Three would have to come to grips with the Polish problem. Churchill has pointed out that “Poland was discussed at no fewer than seven out of the eight plenary meetings of the Yalta Conference, and the British record contains an interchange on this topic of nearly eighteen thousand words between Stalin, Roosevelt, and myself.”19 Despite these efforts neither Churchill nor FDR was able to achieve the kind of agreement on Poland that they initially sought. While they obtained Stalin’s agreement in principle to the “reorganization” of the latter’s puppet régime in Poland and to the holding thereafter by the new Polish government of “free and unfettered elections as soon as possible on the basis of universal suffrage and secret ballot,” Stalin resisted all suggestions that those elections be observed and supervised by American, British, and Soviet representatives.20

When Presidential aide Admiral William Leahy read the compromise document on Poland submitted at the plenary meeting on February 10, he remarked to FDR that it was “so elastic that the Russians can stretch it all the way from Yalta to Washington without technically breaking it.” To this, FDR replied: “I know, Bill — I know it. But it’s the best I can do for Poland at this time.”21

Two other issues discussed at Yalta are noteworthy in the context of this topic. Of the greatest importance to Stalin was the matter of reparations from Germany. After considerable discussion, the actual amount to be paid by the Germans was to be decided by a reparations commission which would sit in Moscow. FDR, prodded by Harry Hopkins, finally agreed that this commission should “take in its initial studies as a basis for discussion, the suggestion of the Soviet Government, that the total sum of reparations should be 20 billions and that 50 percent should go to the Soviet Union.” However, a historian close to Roosevelt has opined that in accepting Hopkins’ advice, FDR believed that “he had left the door open for all sorts of deliberations in the future.”22 Subsequent events were to prove that FDR’s judgment on this issue was very much on target.

A decision on another issue related to Germany could not so easily be deferred by the device of referring it to a committee. This issue was the question of an occupation zone for France and the related matter of a seat for France on the Allied Control Commission (ACC), to be established in Berlin immediately after the surrender of the Third Reich. Churchill took the initiative on this issue, arguing with great vigor that France be given both an occupation zone and a seat on the ACC. The British prime minister was understandably anxious to engage France in the task of occupying and controlling Germany, and in general to rebuild French power with a view to help offset the Soviet military presence in Central Europe. After substantial behind-the-scenes persuasion by Hopkins, Bohlen, and senior U.S. diplomat H. Freeman Matthews, FDR was finally convinced that France should be given a seat on the ACC.23 Stalin then agreed, but it should be noted that this decision in no way affected the size and location of the Soviet Zone of occupation. It had always been understood that any zone for France would be formed out of part of the British and American Zones, already delineated.

Churchill’s concern about these particular issues undoubtedly reflected his apprehension that the United States would not maintain an armed presence in Europe very long after the defeat of Germany. During the British prime minister’s visit to Moscow in the fall of 1944, Stalin had noted that “a long occupation of Germany would be required.” In reply, Churchill stated that he “did not think the Americans would stay very long.” This opinion was subsequently confirmed for Churchill by FDR in a telegram of November 18, 1944, in which the latter stated inter alia: “You know, of course, that after Germany’s collapse I must bring American troops home as rapidly as transportation problems will permit.”24 It thus came as no surprise to Churchill when FDR at Yalta, during the discussion of the French role in the occupation of Germany, remarked that American occupation troops would not remain in Germany much more than “two years.”25 At a later session at Yalta, he amended this statement to some extent by explaining that he had made it with current American attitudes in mind; if an international organization was created, FDR thought the American people were much more likely to take part in “world activity.”26

Finally, Stalin accepted a watered-down Declaration on Liberated Europe, one based on an American draft. While little more than a statement of intent to consult about the achievement of democratic governments in “liberated” Europe, it at least kept the door open for discussions to this end. It is necessary to add here that FDR — for whatever reasons, perhaps in part because he did not wish to complicate the negotiations with Stalin on issues which he regarded as more important, and probably also because of his reluctance to get the United States too involved in the complex affairs of Eastern Europe — declined a State Department proposal that a High Commission for Liberated Europe be established to enforce the Declaration. The absence of such an entity undoubtedly made it easier for Stalin to accept the Declaration and may have helped convince him that Roosevelt was really not very concerned about the implementation of its high principles.27

Before leaving this summary of the deliberations at Yalta, it is pertinent to consider briefly several questions which have aroused differences among both historians and participants in the wartime Summits.

  • The first of these questions concerns the state of FDR’s health at Yalta and the extent to which this factor might have affected his performance. Witnesses disagree on FDR’s physical condition at Yalta, although the long trip and the demands of the negotiating schedule must have been taxing on a man in increasingly declining health. Perhaps Anthony Eden has provided the best answer we are likely to get to this question: “I do not believe,” he concluded. “that the President’s declining health altered his judgment, though his handling of the Conference was less sure than it might have been.”



  • Another question involves the issue of the dismemberment of Germany, which had been discussed at Tehran. At the outset of the first Political Plenary Session at Yalta on February 5, Stalin recalled FDR’s suggestion at Tehran that Germany be divided into five parts; he stated that he associated himself with this view. In response, Churchill indicated that while in principle all of the Big Three were agreed on the dismemberment of Germany, the method it would be accomplished was too complicated to settle in a few days. It would require further examination by a special committee.

    If Stalin had hoped that FDR would support him on this issue, he was disappointed. Roosevelt argued that if dismemberment were to become a matter of public discussion, there would be numerous different opinions. He therefore urged that the three foreign ministers should produce a specific plan. After further discussion about the desirability of including a reference to dismemberment in the surrender terms to Germany, this question, too, was referred to the foreign ministers. The final result of the subsequent deliberations on this issue at Yalta, as set forth in the Protocol of the Conference, was merely an agreement to fudge on the question. A committee was established in London, chaired by Eden and including the American and Soviet ambassadors to London.The first meeting on March 7, 1945, resulted in the drafting of a directive for the committee by Soviet Ambassador Gusev. This directive was sent to Moscow for approval; Stalin and Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov found it unsatisfactory. In its place, Gusev was instructed on March 24 in effect to stall.When the second meeting of the committee convened on April 11, Eden indicated that all its members were in agreement on the issue of dismemberment. On the next day, FDR died at Warm Springs, Georgia, and shortly thereafter, on May 9, Stalin declared in his address to the Soviet people that the USSR was not going “either to dismember or destroy Germany.” A Russian scholar, Lydia V. Pozdeva, has noted the difficulty in giving a full answer to the question of why Stalin, in effect, scuttled the Dismemberment Committee and thus “struck the issue of Germany’s division off the diplomatic agenda.” Pozdeva has observed that historians in 1994 still did not enjoy “proper access to Stalin’s archives.” She has guessed, however, that one motive for changing the Soviet position was Stalin’s disinclination to take the initiative by proposing any Soviet plan for dismemberment, thereby laying greater responsibility on the USSR for this action. Pozdeva has also noted that the “irritable tone” of Molotov’s message to Gusev on this issue “squares with the strong Soviet démarche on coincident conversations in Switzerland on the possible surrender of German forces in Italy to the Anglo-American armies there.”29


7. Eubank,Summit at Tehran, 357.

8. Ibid., 111-116. For an interesting insight into the importance Stalin placed on his relations with FDR after the Tehran Summit, see Vladislav Zubok and Constantine Pleshakov, Inside The Kremlin’s Cold War: From Stalin to Khrushchev (Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 1996), 39. The authors bring a Russian viewpoint into their treatment of the topic of their book. This writer would add the obvious fact that the FDR-Stalin relationship matured during WWII when a common enemy had provided a major incentive for settling or living with outstanding differences in ideology and general approach to problems.

9. Charles E. Bohlen, Witness To History 1929-1969. (New York: W.W. Norton, 1973), 127-132; and Feis, Churchill-Roosevelt-Stalin, 217-223. For FDR’s thinking on the boundaries of Poland and on the dismemberment of Germany at Tehran and Stalin’s reaction, see Eubank, Summit at Tehran, 357, 369-370.

10. Robin Edmonds, The Big Three: Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin In Peace And War. (New York: W.W. Norton, 1991), 350.

11. The quotations are taken from Frances Perkins, The Roosevelt I Knew. (New York: Harper and Row, 1946), 83-84. Perkins also recalls FDR confessing that he didn’t really understand the Russians and asking her for material to help him understand “what makes them tick.” Ibid, 85-86. Professor Eubank has observed that “no other source has corroborated Roosevelt’s account [of the episode reported by Perkins] which he certainly embroidered.” Eubank, Summit at Tehran, 351.

12. Bohlen, Witness to History, 141.

13. Eubank,Summit at Tehran, 379.

14. Bohlen,Witness to History, 251-253.

15. The Soviet leadership were kept aware of US and UK efforts to build an atomic bomb by a number of American and other spies. For details, see David Holloway, Stalin and the Bomb: The Soviet Union and Atomic Energy. (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1994).
When the first American atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima on August 6, 1945, this action was responsible for the slight hastening of the Soviet offensive in Manchuria. In turn, this offensive together with the shock generated by the two American atomic attacks, were instrumental in bringing the Japanese to surrender. The actions of the Japanese emperor in precipitating this surrender were critical and remain a noteworthy feature of this episode. See Gerhard L. Weinberg, A World At Arms: A Global History of World War II. (Cambridge, Eng.: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 884- 893. FDR had earlier agreed with Churchill that the Western allies would not share their knowledge of the atomic project with the USSR, but he did not live to learn of the first successful test of the atomic bomb in July 1945.

16. Bohlen, Witness to History, 196; and Burns,Roosevelt: The Soldier of Freedom, 574-577. See also David Fromkin, In The Time Of The Americans: FDR, Truman, Eisenhower, Marshall, MacArthur. (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995), 480; and Eric Larrabee, Commander in Chief: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, His Lieutenants, and Their War. (New York: Simon Schuster, Touchstone Edition, 1988), 203.

17. Bohlen,Witness to History, 177. For FDR’s primary objectives at Yalta, see Edward R. Stettinius, Jr., Roosevelt and the Russians: The Yalta Conference. (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1949), 139- 150, 171-172. See also Bohlen,Witness to History, 200; and Fromkin, In the Time of the Americans, 479.

18. William D. Leahy, I Was There. (New York: Whittlesey, 1950), 310; and Bohlen, Witness to History, 194. In practice, Ukrainian and Belorussian membership in the United Nations General Assembly had little impact during the Cold War, and at the present time both are independent nations and entitled to their seats.

19. Winston S. Churchill, Triumph and Tragedy. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1953), 365.

20. Ibid., 336-387; and Bohlen,Witness to History, 187-192.

21. Leahy,I Was There, 315-316.

22. Sherwood, Roosevelt and Hopkins, 862. Gromyko has written that at Yalta, Stalin himself wondered about FDR’s real position on reparations for the USSR. Andrei Gromyko, Memoirs. (New York: Doubleday, 1989, translated by Harold Shukman), 87-88.
Stalin also obtained western agreement that the reparations to be extracted from Germany should include the “use of German labor.” Feis,Churchill-Roosevelt-Stalin, 536-538. When this writer arrived in Moscow in the summer of 1948 on his first assignment to the American Embassy there, he found German prisoners of war working as laborers on construction projects within a few blocks of the Kremlin.

23. Bohlen,Witness to History, 184-185. At the first Political Plenary on February 5, FDR and Stalin had agreed with Churchill’s compromise proposal that France should be offered a zone in Germany but that her “status” (i.e., membership on the ACC) should be the subject of “separate discussions”.
Professor Gerhard L. Weinberg has pointed out to this writer that at one point, shortly before the Tehran Summit, FDR had proposed a zonal division of Germany in which the American and Soviet occupation zones met in Berlin. While this is certainly a pertinent observation, it seems clear that FDR was primarily concerned about avoiding any reliance on transit rights across France to supply US occupation forces and that this concern was met by providing for an American enclave around Bremerhaven in the proposed UK Zone of occupation. In any case, as Kennan has written, on May 1, 1944 Washington approved the boundaries of the Soviet zone as already agreed upon by both the British and USSR governments. See George F. Kennan, Memoirs: 1925-1950. (New York: Bantam Books, 1969), 174-182.

24. Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill, Road to Victory 19411945. Vol. VII, (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1986), 995, 1059. For the full text of FDR’s telegram to Churchill dated November 18, 1944, see Kimball, Correspondence, Vol. III, 394.

25. Feis, Churchill-Roosevelt-Stalin, 531.

26. Ibid., 532

27. For Molotov’s recollections of Stalin’s attitude toward the Declaration, see p.l7 in the FDR telegram text. See also Fromkin, In the Time of the Americans,483.
For a crisp treatment of two secondary issues dealt with at Yalta — the effort to bring representatives of the Yugoslav government-in-exile into the new régime being established in Yugoslavia by Marshal Tito and the return of POWs — see Gerhard L. Weinberg, A World at Arms, 808-809. The POW issue in WWII had dramatic repercussions in the next East-West armed conflict, the Korean War. It led to a firm US position against the involuntary repatriation of North Korean and Chinese Communist prisoners. All of this, of course, occurred after the death of FDR.

28. Cited in Diane Shaver Clemens, Yalta. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1970), 104. For a discussion of the impact of FDR’s health on his performance at Yalta, see the Appendix in Warren F. Kimball, Forged in War: Roosevelt, Churchill, and the Second World War. (New York: William Florrow, 1997), 339-341. Kimball reaches a conclusion similar to Eden’s, cited by Clemens.

29. Lydia V. Pozdeeva, “The Soviet Union: Territorial Diplomacy,” in Allies At War: The Soviet American, and British Experience, 1939-1945. (New York: St. Martin’s, 1994),373-374. For Churchill on dismemberment at Yalta, see Gilbert,Winston S. Churchill, 1178. For the opinion of a member of the UK delegation at Yalta on Stalin’s reaction to Churchill’s statement, see Ibid., 1179.

Part III

Criticisms of FDR and Stalin
for their Actions at Yalta

With the substantial benefit of hindsight, it is easy to be critical of FDR and his approach to certain issues at Yalta. For example, it has been argued, among others by Eden, that Stalin needed no encouragement to enter the war against Japan following the defeat of Nazi Germany.30 One can also argue that it was unrealistic to expect Stalin to honor the Yalta Declaration on Poland. Indeed, on the eve of Yalta, George F. Kennan, then the Minister-Counselor of the U.S. Embassy at Moscow, wrote a prophetic letter to his friend, Chip Bohlen, expressing profound skepticism about the prospects for cooperating with the Soviets in postwar Europe.31

Yet, especially given the general climate of public opinion in early 1945, I find persuasive the broad counter–argument enunciated at the 1982 convention of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies by scholar–diplomat John C. Campbell, who during World War II worked in the research division of the State Department. “No one in the U.S. government,” he has held, “on the eve of victory over Germany and with the prospect of Soviet entry into the war against Japan, was prepared to break up the alliance over issues [in Eastern Europe] the American people would not understand, or to write off the world security organization before it was born.”32

Whatever history’s final judgment on FDR’s policy toward the USSR, it is only fair to point out that Stalin himself was not error-free either at Yalta or in his general approach to the West. As Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., has observed: “Signing the Declaration [on Liberated Europe] was from the Soviet point of view a grave diplomatic blunder. . . because the Declaration laid down standards for Eastern Europe, and Stalin’s subsequent violation of these standards exposed him, once the club was out of the closet, to persuasive charges of bad faith and of breaking the Yalta accords.”33 Many years after Yalta, Molotov told a Russian biographer that he had warned Stalin at the time that the American draft was “going too far.” According to Molotov, Stalin responded, “Don’t worry. . . work it out. We can deal with it in our own way later.”34

Additionally, one has to wonder about Stalin’s agreement at Yalta to the holding of free and unfettered elections in Poland. Ambassador Averill Harriman, who was at Yalta and saw more of Stalin than any other American during the crucial years between 1943 and 1945, believed that Stalin changed his mind about permitting free elections in Poland when the Polish Communist leader, Bierut, told him a few days after Yalta that if such elections were held, “any free democratic leader such as Mikolajczyk would have become the rallying point for an overwhelming majority of the Polish people.”35

It may be useful to conclude this consideration of the FDR- Stalin relationship at the time of the Yalta Conference with the following points:


  • FDR summarized the rationale behind his approach at Yalta on the countries of Eastern Europe, especially Poland, to a small group of Senate leaders in Washington, D.C., just prior to his departure for the Crimea. FDR explained that the Russians had the power in Eastern Europe, that it was obviously impossible to have a break with them [presumably because of the need for Soviet military power to defeat the Germans and the Japanese], and that, therefore, the only practicable course was to use what influence we had to ameliorate the situation.


  • As for Stalin, I turn to Milovan Djilas, the one-time Yugoslav leader who had several direct and lengthy meetings with the Soviet leader from 1944 through early 1948:Today [he wrote in the early 1960s] it is truly difficult to decide how much of Stalin’s action [at the Yalta Conference] was play acting and how much was real. . . . With him, pretence was so spontaneous that it seemed he himself became convinced of the truth and sincerity of what he was saying. He easily adapted himself to every turn in the discussion of any new topic. . . .37

    From Yalta to Warm Springs, 1945

    Whatever one might conclude about FDR’s priorities at Yalta and the reasons underlying Stalin’s position there, FDR had begun to doubt after Yalta whether his hopes were going to be realized that Stalin would in good faith carry out the spirit of the agreements. In the two months between the end of the conference and his death, he was confronted with several Soviet actions which must have weighed on his mind during the last weeks of his life. These actions came in rapid succession shortly after he left the Crimean conference.

    Specifically, FDR was confronted with

    • the installation of a Communist-dominated government in Romania in late February,
    • the downgrading of Soviet participation in the April conference in San Francisco to draft the UN Charter by making it clear that Foreign Minister Molotov would not head the USSR delegation,
    • the disagreement over the Western response to soundings for the surrender of German forces in Italy, and
    • the deadlock in the negotiations in Moscow designed to broaden the Soviet puppet régime in Poland.

    One might speculate as to the reasons for the immediate post-Yalta actions by the Kremlin which aroused concern in both Washington and London. Stalin probably concluded that the Declaration on Liberated Europe gave him considerable leeway in Romania, especially in view of the “percentages” agreement Stalin believed he had reached with Churchill in Moscow the previous October, under which the USSR was granted 90 percent “predominance” in Romania, while the UK was given 90 percent “of the say” in Greece.

38 In addition, given Stalin’s extremely suspicious nature, he appears to have been seriously concerned at the time about the abortive German soundings for the surrender of their forces in Italy, fearing that the United States and the UK were engaged in secret negotiations with the Third Reich (of the sort he himself had conducted with the Nazi régime in 1939). In a message to FDR on April 3, Stalin stated that his “military colleagues. . .are sure” that such negotiations occurred. And in response to FDR’s prompt and vigorous rebuttal, Stalin noted that important towns in western Germany were being surrendered “without any resistance” and asked Roosevelt to admit “that this behavior on the part of the Germans is more than strange and unaccountable.”39

For a variety of reasons, including the atrocities perpetrated by the Germans in the USSR and the reciprocal actions by the Red Army in East Prussia, it is not surprising that many Germans, both civilian and military, acted on their preference for Western rather than Soviet occupation. Nonetheless, it was probably unrealistic to expect that a man like Stalin would have credited this explanation grounded in the military facts of life confronting the German people in the early spring of 1945.

Whatever the reason for Stalin’s actions in the immediate post-Yalta environment, both Harriman and Bohlen have cited specific examples of FDR’s unhappiness with this behavior by the Soviet dictator. Additionally, a reliable British source has recorded a noteworthy instance involving Senator Arthur Vandenberg, who was a member of the American delegation to the founding UN Conference in San Francisco. Senator Vandenberg told Harold Nicholson on January 28, 1946, that he had visited Roosevelt shortly before he died and that FDR had asserted: “At Conference after Conference I have been forced to agree to things with which I did not agree, in fear lest Russia should make a separate peace. She will now blackmail us again by threatening to withdraw from the U.N.0.”40

Even allowing for the fact that FDR, the consummate politician, was speaking informally to Vandenberg, a leading Republican spokesman on foreign policy, there is still a ring of truth in this statement. Moreover, the question of his real intentions in the matter of Lend-Lease shipments to the USSR after the end of the war in Europe remains unclear. According to one source, on the day he left Washington, D.C. for the last time en route to Warm Springs, Roosevelt orally expressed unhappiness with Stalin and instructed the administrator of foreign aid to shut off Lend-Lease shipments “the moment Germany is defeated.” While the Administration subsequently opposed a similar amendment submitted by Senator Taft, this action was apparently motivated by what was seen as a threat to Presidential authority and power.41

Whatever Stalin’s innermost thoughts during this crucial period, the situation created by his actions has led certain scholars to conclude that had FDR lived, he might well have stiffened the overall U.S. posture toward the USSR at a much earlier date than occurred under President Truman.42 Others have argued that FDR would not have fundamentally changed his policy toward Stalin.43 Still other scholars have suggested that FDR might have taken a middle ground. For instance, as the British historian Robin Edmonds has speculated, FDR would have handled the announcement to Stalin of American possession of the atomic bomb differently than President Truman did at Potsdam.  Moreover, Edmonds believes that it would surely have occurred to Roosevelt, as it did not to Truman or Secretary of State James F. Byrnes at Potsdam, to make use of Stalin’s request for an American loan for the reconstruction of the devastated USSR.44

My own view is that a dying FDR — described by Professor Warren Kimble as a “creative procrastinator” — had really not come to grips with the major problem of what to do if Stalin’s posture on the Polish and other problems remained as rigid as it appeared to be at the time of his death. Or, put another way, he wished to defer any major decision on American relations with the USSR for the time being, especially as the atomic bomb had not yet been tested and Japan had still not been defeated.

Some Broader Themes:
Criticisms and a Rebuttal

A broader criticism of Roosevelt’s approach and actions at Yalta is that wartime conferences at the Summit were not really the best forum for the conclusion of Allied agreements relating to the conduct of the war and the structure of the post-war world. One historian of the period, Professor Russell Buhite, has concluded that “all things considered, summit conferences have had serious deficiencies. . .” and that Yalta “was a conference in which the West had only a marginal chance of success.”45

All of which leads one to the question of why both FDR and Churchill were so eager to confer personally with Stalin that they traveled thousands of miles to meet the Soviet leader in places, in effect, chosen by him and very much closer to Moscow than to Washington or London. Louis Fischer has suggested that:

Roosevelt, pre-eminently, and Churchill too, loved the drama of great confrontation, especially with so powerful, and at that time so enigmatic, a figure as Stalin. Few leaders can resist the limelight when there seems to be a chance to remake the world or at least to make history.46

There are other factors involved in this broad question. I submit that a critical one was the key role of Stalin in all major Soviet decisions. The record is replete with examples of the difficulty of getting subordinate officials to do or say anything without clearance from the Soviet dictator. No one but Stalin himself would do.47

Even more importantly, as George Kennan has pointed out, the wartime Summit conferences had a“distinct value as practical demonstrations of our readiness and eagerness to establish better relations with the Soviet régime and of the difficulties we encountered in our effort to do so. . . . Had we not gone into them, it is my guess that we would still be hearing reproachful voices saying: You claim that cooperation with Russia is not possible. How do you know? You never even tried.”48

Turning to other basic issues, one can also question certain fundamental assumptions of both FDR and Stalin. It seems clear, for example, that FDR overestimated the power of the UK in the postwar period; one can speculate that this reaction was stimulated by his close wartime relationship with Churchill. He was not to live to see the overwhelming electoral defeat of Churchill in the UK elections held in the summer of 1945.

Still, it is difficult to resist the validity of two elements involved in FDR’s wartime posture toward Stalin. Specifically, Roosevelt was undoubtedly aware of the burden borne by the USSR in the military effort to defeat Nazi Germany. Moreover, prior to the Tehran Conference, FDR had reason for concern that Stalin might seek a separate peace with Hitler. Indeed, there are indications that the Kremlin on more than one occasion probed the possibility of such a peace, especially in the important period in 1943 between the German recapture of Kharkov in mid-March and early September. While Hitler always declined to consider seriously a separate peace with the USSR, FDR could not have been certain of the refusal of the Nazi leader to take this step, which would have freed German power to concentrate on the struggle with the Western powers.49

Whatever the motives and calculations of FDR and Stalin, it is important to recall the basic dilemma confronting the American leader throughout most of the war. There was no possibility of a compromise peace with a man like Hitler, and the Western Allies, fighting Japan as well as Germany (and Italy until late in 1943), may not have had the military capability to defeat the Germans without total Soviet participation in the war against the Third Reich.50



30. Anthony Eden, Memoirs – The Reckoning. (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1965), 591. See also Kennan,Memoirs, 85.
Chip Bohlen mistakenly wrote that the committee never met; Bohlen, Witness to History, 183.

31. Bohlen, Ibid., 174-177. Some historians have also criticized FDR for his call for the “unconditional surrender” of the Axis, delivered publicly at the close of the Casablanca Conference in January 1943. On balance, however, this writer concludes that FDR’s critics on this issue have not taken sufficient account of the special circumstances which moved FDR to announce this policy when he did so. See Feis,Churchill-Roosevelt-Stalin, 108-113; and Burns,Roosevelt,545-546, 548-550. For a more recent treatment of this issue, see Robert James Maddox, Weapons For Victory: The Hiroshima Decision Fifty Years Later, (Columbia, Missouri: University of Missouri Press, 1995), 6-17.

32. Cited from an illuminating paper entitled “Kremlinology and Eastern Europe: The Wartime Record”, delivered by John C. Campbell at the 1982 National Convention of the American Association for the Advancement of Slavic Studies (AAASS), 18.

33. Edmonds, The Big Three, 418.

34. Felix Chuev, Molotov Remembers: Inside Kremlin Politics. (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1993), 51. Edited with an Introduction and Notes by Albert Resis. See also Bohlen, Witness to History, 193.

35. W. Averill Harriman and Elie Abel, Special Envoy To Churchill and Stalin, 1941-1946. (New York: Random House, 1975), 444-445. Ambassador Kennan has opined that the attitudes of Stalin and his senior colleagues on Poland were probably strongly influenced by the knowledge on their part of the wholly inexcusable murder by Beria’s establishment of many thousands of Polish officers at Katyn and elsewhere. Stalin’s only reasonably sure hope of avoiding a scandal lay in the preservation of a Polish government which he and his colleagues could dominate. Cited in a letter from Ambassador Kennan to this writer dated January 17, 1994. See also Weinberg,A World at Arms, 468. For a translation of the key Soviet document authorizing the Katyn massacre, see Appendix Five in Pavel and Anatoli Sudoplatov with Jerrold L. and Leona P. Schecter, Special Tasks. (Boston: Back Bay Books [Paper], 1995), 476-478.

36. FDR’s statement on Eastern Europe is cited in Robert L. Messer, The End of an Alliance: James F. Byrnes, Roosevelt, Truman and the Origins of the Cold War. (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1982), 42. This particular statement in a private meeting with a relatively small number of Senators is an illustration of FDR’s ability to conduct what one historian has described as “Roosevelt’s dual foreign policy: a ‘foreign’ foreign policy, characterized by realism and designed for negotiating situations, and a ‘domestic’ foreign policy designed for home consumption and characterized by idealism”. Other examples could be cited including FDR’s decision to keep from Stalin any information about the massive effort to develop atomic weapons. The description of FDR’s “dual foreign policy” is cited in Richard Crockett, The Fifty Years War: the United States and the Soviet Union in World Politics, 1941-1994. (New York: Routledge, 1995), 70. On FDR’s atomic policy, see Ibid., 55, and Burns,Roosevelt, 455-459, 550. For the massive Soviet espionage operations which kept Stalin informed about Western efforts to develop atomic weapons, see Sudoplatov, Special Tasks, 172-220, 436-475. For the pitfalls involved in any effort by U.S. leaders to conduct the kind of “dual foreign policy” described above, see Burns, Roosevelt, 551-552.

37. For Djilas’ evaluation of Stalin, see Milovan Djilas, Conversations with Stalin. (New York: Penguin Books, 1963), 77. For Stalin’s view on the role of the military in the imposition of communist power in eastern Europe, asserted shortly after FDR’s death to a small group of Soviet and Yugoslav Communist leaders, see Ibid, 90. For Stalin’s toast at Yalta on February 8, 1945, see Feis, Churchill-Roosevelt-Stalin, 557-558. Djilas died in Belgrade on April 20, 1995, and the Balkans in particular and the West in general lost an outstanding writer and a courageous man.

38. Churchill,Triumph and Tragedy, 226-235.

39. For the text of these and other messages exchanged between FDR and Stalin, see Stalin’s Correspondence With Churchill, Attlee, Roosevelt and Truman, 1941-45. (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1958). Stalin’s suspiciousness was proverbial. For a graphic example of this trait of his personality, see Elliott Roosevelt, “Why Stalin ‘NEVER FORGAVE’ Eleanor Roosevelt”, Parade Magazine, February 9, 1986, 14-17. In late November of 1946, during a Kremlin interview granted to Elliott Roosevelt by Stalin, the Soviet dictator charged that “the Churchill gang” poisoned FDR and that this gang “continue to try to poison me”. Indeed, the thought that Stalin had, at the very least, pronounced paranoid tendencies has occurred to several Western biographers of the Soviet leader. For greater details, see the outstanding two-volume biography of Stalin by Robert C. Tucker.

40. Harold Nicholson, Diaries and Letters 1945-62. (London: Collins-Fontana Books, 1971), 47. For Bohlen’s example of FDR’s unhappiness with Stalin, see Bohlen,Witness to History, 208-209.

41. Jim Bishop, FDR’s Last Year April 1944-April 1945. (New York: Pocket Books, 1975), 711-712. The Taft amendment was narrowly defeated, with Vice-President Truman casting the decisive vote.

42. See, e.g., Adam Ulam, The Rivals: America and Russia Since World War II. (New York: Viking Press, 1971), 33; and Robert Dallek, Franklin D. Roosevelt and American Foreign Policy, 1932-1945. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979), 534.

43. See, e.g., Robert Nisbet, Roosevelt and Stalin: The Failed Courtship. (Washington, D.C.: Regnery Gateway, 1988), 5. A.W. DePorte has speculated that FDR might “in the end have given the highest priority to maintaining the entente with the USSR, particularly after the advent of the atomic bomb”. However, DePorte also concedes that to follow this course of action, FDR “would have had to swallow much bitter medicine … not only in terms of his own postwar. plans but also of the impact on American opinion of Soviet proceedings in Eastern Europe”. A.W. DePorte, Europe Between the Superpowers: The Enduring Balance. (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1986), 111.

44. Edmonds,The Big Three, 462.

45. Russell D. Buhite, Decisions At Yalta: An Appraisal of Summit Diplomacy. (Wilmington, Del.: Scholarly Resources, 1986), 132- 136. It is also clear that until Harriman’s arrival in the fall of 1943, FDR’s penchant for special envoys to the Kremlin understandably vexed Admiral William H. Standley, Harriman’s predecessor as the American Ambassador to the USSR. See, e.g., Rudy Abramson, Spanning the Century: The Life of W. Averill Harriman, 1891-1986. (New York: William Morrow, 1992), 344-351. FDR was, of course, not the only American President to engage in this particular practice.

46. Louis Fisher, The Road to Yalta: Soviet Foreign Relations, 1941-1945. (New York: Harper and Row, 1972), 142.

47. See, e.g., Eubank,Summit at Tehran, 296-297.

48. George F. Kennan, American Diplomacy 1900-1950. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951), 86.

49. There is disagreement among Russian and German sources on the timing and motivation of Soviet peace feelers toward Nazi Germany, both in the immediate period after Hitler’s invasion of the USSR and subsequently in the period in 1943 between the German recapture of Kharkov and early September. By the latter date, Stalin was confronted with a new situation created by the important Soviet victory at Kursk and by the Allied invasion of Italy coming shortly after their conquest of Sicily.

Whatever differences exist in the available sources, all are agreed that in the end Hitler rejected all efforts to reach a separate peace with the USSR. For details from a German source about the probes for a separate Soviet-German peace, see Peter Kleist, The European Tragedy. (Isle of Man: Times Press and Anthony Gibbs and Phillips, 1965), 139-141, 144-155, 162- 171. Kleist makes the valid point that “there will probably always be a veil of mystery over all that happened” concerning this particular subject. Ibid., 132.

For other German sources, see Klaus Hildebrand, The Foreign Policy of the Third Reich. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1973), translated by Anthony Fothergill), 127-128, 131. For details on German Foreign Minister Ribbentrop’s feeble efforts to initiate peace feelers to Moscow, see John Weitz, Hitler’s Diplomat: The Life and Times of Joachim von Ribbentrop. (New York: Ticknor Fields, 1992), 302, 321.

For Russian sources, see the updated edition of Sudoplatov,Special Tasks, 145-148, 376-380; and the Russian language edition of Dmitri Volkoganov, Triumph and Tragedy. Book II, Part I. (Moscow: Novosti,1989), 172-173.

About concerns on the Western side regarding a separate German-Soviet peace, see Sherwood, Roosevelt and Hopkins, 734; and Edward M. Bennett, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Search for Victory: American-Soviet Relations, 1939-1945. (Wilmington, Del: Scholarly Resources, 1990), 92. See also, on this intriguing subject, Vojtech Mastny, Russia’s Road to the Cold War: Diplomacy, Warfare and the Politics of Communism, 1941-1945. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1979), 74-85; Walter Laqueur, Stalin: The Glasnost Revelations. (New York: Scribner’s, 1990), 221-223; and especially the two books by Gerhard L. Weinberg, Germany, Hitler, and World War II: Essays In Modern German And World History. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995), 298, 305; and Weinberg, A World at Arms, 463-469, 609-614.

50. Mark A. Stoler, George C. Marshall: Soldier-Statesman of the American Century. (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1989), 126-127. For a more recent but similar conclusion by a British historian, see Richard Overy, Why the Allies Won. (New York: W.W. Norton, First American Edition, 1996), 323-325. Additional sources on this key issue are Warren F. Kimball, The Juggler: Franklin Roosevelt as Wartime Statesman. (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991), 395; and The Kennan-Lukacs Correspondence. (???????: University of Missouri Press, 1997), 41.
The question of whether the Western allies could have defeated the Third Reich and the Japanese Empire without the all-out participation of the USSR was — happily for the West — never put to the test.


 © Copyright 1997 by Charles Stefan

Charles Stefan spent thirty years, 1947 – 1977, in the U.S. Foreign Service, specializing in Soviet affairs. He had assignments in the Soviet Union and several East European countries, as well as the Department of State. Stefan holds a degree from the University of California at Berkeley and is a graduate of the Russian Institute at Columbia University and the National War College. Since retirement in Gainesville, Florida, he has written extensively on U.S.-Soviet relations.

The author wishes to express his warm appreciation to John C. Campbell, Arthur L. Funk, Robert C. Tucker, and Gerhard L. Weinberg, who have read and offered critical comments on this paper.


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