In February, 1945, the second ‘Big Three’ conference took place at Yalta in the Crimea. The first had been in Teheran in Persia. What was agreed at Yalta changed the face of Europe, prepared the ground for the Cold War, and put millions of ordinary people into a condition of near-slavery. The three major protagonists were the respective leaders of the United States, Great Britain, and Russia – Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin. The first was dying slowly but certainly, the second was old and exhausted, and the third was younger, fitter, and unable to see any point of view that was not his. He was also a fully-qualified dictator.
The conference was held to arrange what should happen after the Second World War was over, but especially in Germany, Poland and the Far East. The leading allies had already agreed that Germany should be divided into military zones overseen by American, British and Russian armed forces. The Big Three ratified this agreement, but Churchill, no doubt ‘inspired’ by de Gaulle, was able to persuade Stalin to accept a French military zone as well. Unconditional surrender by Germany was again insisted on. She would lose her armed forces, and pay reparations. This last clause had also been demanded at the Treaty of Versailles, and was one of the direct causes of the second war, in that Hitler rose to power promising Germans that he alone would stop the reparations which had brought about gigantic inflation (the million mark loaf): and ensure that Germany would regain her national pride through national socialism.
Meanwhile, in Poland Stalin had already set up a communist-controlled provisional government. Neither Roosevelt or Churchill liked this, so ‘Uncle Joe’ promised to include ‘democratic leaders from Poland and abroad’. He added that ‘free elections’ would be held there. Naturally these promises, easy enough to make, were not kept.
Stalin, on the ball as usual, wanted to hand over a large part of eastern Germany including many ancient principalities and original kingdoms to Poland (which he already controlled) as compensation for any Polish territory already grabbed by Soviet Russia. He also pledged the entry of Russia into the war against Japan, three months after the war with Germany was concluded. But this would happen only if Russia recovered what she had lost at the Treaty of Portsmouth following the Russo-Japanese War of 1904/5. This agreement would include the lease of Port Arthur and management of the Manchurian railways. The Americans were astounded to hear Stalin agree to an American occupation of Japan. Roosevelt, reduced to moving in a wheelchair, and struck by polio and lung troubles, knew that Russian soldiers would be in Korea before US troops. He persuaded Stalin to agree to Russian occupation of Korea above the 38th parallel, and American occupation below it. Here then was the leading cause of the eventual Korean War, as these arrangements were meant to be temporary.
Churchill and Roosevelt, backed by their high-ranking conference companions, then agreed to send back to Russia all Soviet citizens who had left Russia because of the war, though several prominent newspapers and authors claimed this represented a certain death sentence. By September 1945 more than two millions, mainly from the Balkans had been forced to return, and most were shot on sight without trial, as collaborators with Hitler’s Germany. Those who were not killed were placed in forced labour camps, where most would die anyway.
The Soviet Union, ably represented by Stalin, agreed to the proposed establishment of a world-wide organisation to be called The United Nations, but would not agree to the idea of self-determination of peoples. This negative position was inspired by the real possibility that many ‘republics’ forced into the USSR would claim independence when they were in the position to do so. This did indeed happen, as we know, but only after decades of semi-slavery.
Roosevelt and the Yalta agreements were heavily criticised in the US, for they had greatly strengthened Stalin’s position both in Europe and the Far East, but, as one distinguished commentator pointed out, without actually declaring war on Russia at the conference, neither the United States or Britain could do anything about it, as Soviet troops already occupied most of Germany/Austria and Eastern Europe. Also, both Britain and the USA wanted to get Stalin’s agreement to deal with Japan, something considered essential if the war there were to be successfully concluded. Back home from this potentially disastrous conference, Franklin Delano Roosevelt commented, “I didn’t say it was good, I said it was the best I could do”.