An astute reappraisal of the Yalta Conference.
The Big Three—Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt and Joseph Stalin—met under heavily guarded, secret conditions over eight days in February 1945 to establish a blueprint of geopolitical interests for the anticipated peace after World War II. Churchill was eager to preserve British “spheres of influences” in Europe from Soviet Communism; Franklin Roosevelt, in faltering health, was insistent on securing Soviet cooperation in a world peace organization and a democratic government in Poland; Joseph Stalin wanted to preserve the new territorial borders granted under the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939. The war in Europe had turned, due largely to the Russian thrust against the Germans, and the Soviets had already taken Bucharest, Sofia, Budapest and Belgrade and were headed for Berlin. The Western allies were alarmed about the Communist takeover of Eastern Europe. Subjects to be wrangled among the diplomats included the winter military offensive; Germany’s “dismemberment”; a “bombline” defining aerial operations; the cost of Soviet participation in the war in the Pacific; the division of the Balkans; and the ultimate sellout of Poland. Above all, FDR desired to remain “on friendly footing” with Stalin, even if Churchill was frequently slighted. With the onset of the Cold War, the Americans paid the price for their amiable legitimizing of Soviet concerns. Enlisting documents from all sides—there was no official record kept of the conference, and the Soviets had the Livadia Palace effectively bugged—Plokhy (Harvard Univ.; The Origins of the Slavic Nations, 2006, etc.) gets at the secret dealmaking and shades of deceit present at the conference. High expectations for the “spirit of Yalta” in both the West and East collapsed into mutual suspicion soon after Roosevelt’s death, and the author effectively addresses the fateful aftermath.
Fresh research drives this scholarly study of the complex blend of Yalta’s personalities and ideas.