(WAR in EUROPE, 1941-45 – continued)

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WAR in EUROPE, 1941-45 (8 of 10)

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The Yalta Conference

In February 1945, the Soviet Union's Red Army was in control of much of East Europe. Soviet forces were 200 miles from Berlin. Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill met at the Crimean town of Yalta, in a former palace of the tsars. Stalin remained committed to a continuing friendship with Britain and the United States against the possibility of a resurgent Germany.

At Yalta the most contentious issue was Poland. Stalin agreed that, in place of the Soviet-sponsored government established at Lublin, a "provisional government of national unity" would be created that included leaders from the Polish government in exile in London. He agreed that "free and unfettered elections based on universal suffrage and the secret ballot" would take place in Poland as soon as possible.

Looking beyond Poland, the "Big Three" agreed that in all the countries occupied by the Allies the "last vestiges of Nazism and Fascism" would be destroyed. They agreed that the occupied countries would be allowed "to solve by democratic means their pressing political and economic problems" and that they would be able to create "democratic institutions of their own choice."

The "Big Three" confirmed their support for Germany's unconditional surrender and agreed that Germany would be divided into zones of occupation – zones to be overseen by an administration consisting of representatives of the three powers – and that France would administer one of the zones.

Stalin was interested in reparations from Germany. Churchill and Roosevelt less so, remembering the mistaken reparations against Germany after World War I. It was agreed that the amount of damages that Germany would pay, largely to the Soviet Union, would be decided after Germany's final defeat (leaving Russia to take what it could before then).

The "Big Three" agreed that the founding meeting of the United Nations would take place in San Francisco in April and that they should consult with each other regularly and with the United Nations.

They confirmed their agreement that the Soviet Union would enter the war against Japan within two or three months after Germany's surrender. Stalin claimed that he would need to explain to the Soviet people why, after all they had sacrificed, they were going to war against Japan. So it was agreed that the Soviet Union was to receive as a reward territories in East Asia: the Kurile Islands, the southern part of Sakhalin Island, a lease of the naval base at Port Arthur and a joint Soviet-Chinese operation of the railway in Manchuria to give the Soviet Union land access to Port Arthur.

Stalin demanded that at the end of the war all Soviet citizens be repatriated to the Soviet Union whether they wanted to or not, and Churchill and Roosevelt agreed, unknowingly condemning many dissidents and old Russian exiles to death. It was widely believed that only traitors would not want to return to the Soviet Union.

During a dinner and many toasts, Stalin spoke for continued good relations, but he wanted to prepare Britain and the U.S. for realities ahead and he cautioned everyone that after the war would come a difficult time when they would become divided by "diverse interests."


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