Sunday, the 4th of February 1945 marked the beginning of the Yalta Conference. Exactly seventy-two years ago this week, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin convened in Yalta, Crimea to discuss the future of a post-Axis world. The meeting primarily concerned the fate of Germany, Japan and Poland following an inevitable Allied victory. However, in subsequent years, the outcome of the Yalta Conference was harshly criticised by many in the United States and the greater Western Bloc as a step towards the Cold War.
Each leader came to Yalta with a different goal in mind. Roosevelt wanted to finalise plans for the United Nations and to ensure Soviet reinforcement in the war against Japan. Churchill wanted to protect the British Empire and to limit the Soviet control over Europe. Stalin wanted recognition of Soviet power in eastern Europe and harsh reparations for Germany.
The Yalta Conference resulted in frustration for all parties.
In the end, Stalin pledged assistance against the Japanese, contingent on the promise of a Soviet sphere of influence in Manchuria and the reclamation of several Japanese isles. The United States and Britain recognised the influence of the Soviet Union in parts of eastern Europe. Stalin’s control over Poland was cemented when Roosevelt and Churchill permitted the Soviets to establish a ‘more broadly based’, primarily Polish and democratically elected government. However, Stalin did not abide by his promise; no democratic elections were held and communism reigned supreme until the end of the 20th century.
Roosevelt achieved consensus on the United Nations. However, only three out of sixteen Soviet republics were secured representation in the General Assembly; a win for Roosevelt and Churchill, but a loss for Stalin.
Ultimately, no one left the Yalta Conference satisfied.
In years to come, as tensions escalated between the United States and the Soviet Union, many Americans condemned Roosevelt’s actions in Yalta, believing that he allowed for the spread of communism and Soviet influence by releasing Poland and parts of Japan into communist hands. People saw this as a harbinger of tension between the Western and Eastern Blocs.
In actuality, It is likely that Roosevelt and Churchill didn’t have much of a choice. At the time of the Yalta Conference, Soviet armies controlled vast swaths of eastern Europe. Tensions were high before Yalta, and high after Yalta. Even without the decisions made in Crimea, the tensions between West and East in the Cold War were inevitable.