Beginnings (World War II)

On June 22, 1941. Hitler, ignoring the German-Soviet non-aggression pact, began his campaign, Operation Barbarossa into the motherland of Russia. This would be one of the largest military operations in history. Stalin, hesitated for action against the invasion, despite being warned from Russian intelligence, and therefore, after taking control of Poland rather quickly with the help of the Soviets, the Nazi's penetrated deep into Soviet Territory under their strategic tactic of Blitzkrieg, reaching even Moscow by October of the same year. This resulted in major casualties for the Soviet population, numbers of wounded reaching 4.3 million* by the end of 1941.
The reasons for launching such a campaign, for the Germans, were simple. One reason was for the intention of Lebenstraum or living space, as well as the racist nature of the Nazi policy itself. Hitler's ideal outcome of the war was for complete domination of the world under Nazi rule, and conquering the east would help to create a stronghold against the rest of Western Europe, as Germany would no longer be contested on two fronts.
Luckily for the Soviets, the crippling Russian winter and Hitler's miscalculation of the duration of his operation severely weakened the Nazi assault force, allowing the USSR to eventually overcome the invasion in the Battle of Moscow, which triggered the upcoming retreat and later defeat of the Nazis. The USSR were not without losses though. Both sides had enormous numbers of wounded; up to an estimated 7 million Soviet soldiers died over the course of the war.

*Roberts, Geoffrey (2006), Stalin's Wars: From World War to Cold War, 1939–1953, Yale University Press, ISBN 0300112041

Wartime Conferences

Tehran Conference
During World War II, Allied leaders held high-profile wartime conferences to discuss their strategies and exchange opinions on how the war should be handled. Two of the wartime conferences were held in Tehran, Iran and at Yalta, USSR and both conferences are particularly important in ending the war through the Western and Eastern countries’ cooperation.

Before the Tehran Conference, that was held from November 28, 1943 to December 1, 1943, Italy and Mussolini just surrendered to the Allies but, Germany is still expanding, even to its former ally, Italy as Germany occupies Rome at September 1943. Because of Germany’s strength, Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin decided to meet in Tehran, Iran to discuss their war plans, despite their opposing ideologies.

Since the “Big Three” met for the first time during this conference, this conference was significant because it showed the willingness of the three powers to work together despite their initial disagreements. During this conference, they decided on the date for Operation Overlord or D-Day where the Allies open a Western Front in Vichy France and simultaneously, the USSR will open an Eastern front.

With this operation, German troops would be forced to split in two and it would be much easier to defeat two separate armies than a unified and strong German army. Furthermore, the USSR pledged that it would help the US in their war against Japan. With the successful Operation Overlord and winning the Battle of the Bulge, Allies knew that victory was imminent and post-war issues arose.

Yalta Conference

During World War II, the Yalta conference was held in Crimea on February 4 – 11, 1945. The three big allied leaders, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Roosevelt and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin met here. It was the second of the wartime conferences, the first being Tehran and Potsdam was the last.

They were to discuss the organization of Europe after the war. The common objective of the alliance was to defeat Hitler, but the three of them had different agendas and goals on their minds when they met. Jeremy Isaacs and Taylor Downing who wrote a book on the Cold War, state "Yalta revealed cracks in the Grand Alliance. Only the common objective of defeating Hitler had kept it together."

Contrary to their cooperative natures during the Tehran conference, each leader had a different goal in their minds during the Yalta Conference.In this conference, the three leaders disagreed in the partitioning of Europe after the war.

Stalin, representing from the Soviet Union, was on the far left of the political spectrum while Churchill and Roosevelt believed in capitalism. One of Stalin’s main concerns, if not his biggest one, was the protection of the Soviet Union and preventing any threats it might face.Stalin wanted to maintain the Eastern sphere of influence through the occupation of the states they have captured while Roosevelt and Churchill wanted free and democratic elections on those states. Stalin pushed for the Western countries' recognition of the Soviet Bloc and that the Bloc should extend from the Baltic States, Poland, Southern Europe, Germany and Yugoslavia.

According to historians, Stalin's insistence on maintaining the Eastern bloc planted the seeds for the Cold War. Furthermore, Stalin wanted to keep Poland because historically, the invasion of Poland meant trouble for Russia. During the war, Stalin began the "Sovietization of Poland" by killing 15,000 Polish officers and he clearly exhibits that he wants to maintain control of the Eastern bloc.

Roosevelt wanted Stalin to join the war in the Pacific and pushed for the formation of the United Nations. Roosevelt’s health was declining and he was soon to be replaced by Truman. Many have said that Roosevelt took a naive view about Stalin, believing that Stalin could be trusted.

Churchill did not trust Stalin, but at that time, Britain was not as much of a superpower as the States or the Soviets. He tried to restore the powerful position of France and to resist disciplinary reparations of Germany to avoid another war. Roosevelt and Churchill wanted free and democratic elections in Eastern Europe while Stalin wanted to establish a Soviet sphere of influence in that area.

A large concern of this conference was about Poland. Poland was one of the reasons war was declared against Stalin in the first place. Poland has historically served as a corridor of attack on the Soviet Union and thus, Stalin wanted some control over Poland. Churchill was determined to keep communism out of Poland.

Stalin agreed to fight Japan and also to join the United Nations with a veto on the Security Council. In exchange, he wanted to cover the security of the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was to get Manchuria after Japan’s defeat. Stalin received much of Eastern Poland and Poland was given pieces of Germany in return. The Red Army already controlled much of Poland and Stalin agreed to include democratic leaders in Poland.

The exiled leader Stanislaw Mikolajczyk became deputy prime minister. However, the communists came into power later and Mikolajczyk had to flee into exile once again. Churchill wrote to Stalin with displeasure at these events. Poland would not gain sovereignty until years later.

Churchill and Roosevelt have been criticised for giving way to Stalin, but A. J. P. Taylor, a historian at Oxford, wrote "Soviet armies controlled most of Eastern Europe, and the Western Allies had no resource other than Stalin's good will, unless they fell back belatedly on an alliance with Hitler - a course which no-one contemplated."

Many Americans celebrated Yalta as a sign that American – Soviet cooperation would carry into the postwar period, but this was short-lived.

The Big Three agreed however that Germany will be demilitarized and denazified through the Nuremberg Trials and that Germany be divided into occupational zones. But they all disagreed on how Germany was to be divided. They decided to include France in the postwar governing of Germany. Germany was to take some, but not all reparations in the war. From the disagreements regarding the partitioning of Europe and the fate of Poland in the Yalta Conference, the tension between the Communists and the Capitalists increased dramatically.

Without Stalin holding up the entire Eastern front with some help from the US and Britain, the Axis Powers could have won if two fronts were not established to divide the German forces.

Potsdam Conference
The Potsdam Conference, held in the Summer of 1945, involved the leaders of the United States, the United Kingdom, and Soviet Russia; President Truman, Prime Minister Clement Attlee, and Joseph Stalin, respectively. The main purpose of the conference was to discuss post-war treaties, national boundaries, and to restore order after the war was to be finished.
Nearing the end of the war, Soviet forces had expanded over eastern and some of central Europe, spreading their wave of communism to all occupied territories. This forceful takeover of the East raised suspicion from the Western powers. Stalin had also wished to address reparations to pay for the damages Soviet Russia suffered over the war. The Soviet Union was in a state of crisis, 31,000 factories were destroyed, and the agricultural sector was in deep trouble. Food was severly rationed among the people, which accounted for the lack of production, since more people were starving to death. Therefore, they expected for Germany to pay a large amount of those reparations to suffice. Stalin suggested to set the reparation price at $20,000,000,000, but the catch was that the Soviets would take half of the money.There were also arguments over the control of Eastern European states which the Soviet Union now occupied. It was decided that in order to maintain a safe economy, the Allies would only take enough reparations so the people in the other state, for example Germany would be only be able to provide only their most basic needs. It was also decided that reparations can be taken by newly occupied zones, which most benefitted Stalin himself, as he had pushed the Nazi forces from the Soviet Union to 40 miles from Berlin. This granted Stalin many eastern states, including Poland, Ukraine, and Yugoslavia. In addition to newly occupied territories Stalin was granted 10% of industrial equipment removed from the western side of Europe, plus an additional 15% in order to boost their economic situation.
There had been talks during the Yalta conference that the USSR was to join the rest of the Allied forces in the war against the Japanese, but only three months after the surrender of Germany, but this was no longer needed. During the Potsdam Conference, Truman spoke of the creation of the atomic bomb, and his intention to use it against the Japanese. This announcement also acted as a strong statement towards the USSR, as President Truman was more wary of the Communists than Roosevelt, the previous president, was, and he feared the spread of communism against democratic values. This would later spur the beginnings of the Cold War between the USSR and the United States, in an attempt to topple the other in military and technological strength.

Sources used:
History of the Modern World; R.R Palmer, Joel Colton, Lloyd Kramer

Berlin Blockade

The Berlin Blockade, effective from June 24, 1948 to May 11, 1949 was seen as one of the primary international conflicts of the Cold War. Implemented as per Stalin’s request, the USSR blocked all road and rail access to the Western zone of Berlin. Prior to the conflict, Germany had been partitioned into zones of occupation between the US, the USSR, Britain and France. In addition, Berlin, which was situated within the Soviet zone of Germany, was also divided between the “Big Four”. Shortly after the partition, the notion of “Two Germanys” was evident, consisting of the unification of US, British and French zones, into a West German state or Federal Republic of Germany, versus the Soviet sector of Germany or the German Democratic Republic.

This distinct division of political and economic ideologies was heightened upon the Western powers introduction of the Deutschmark to counter inflation. The Soviets in turn rejected the new currency and responded by introducing the Ostmark. In addition, they implemented the Berlin Blockade as a means of expressing their distaste towards the Western attempt of treating Germany as a single economic unit, a clear violation of the wartime agreement to partition Germany. Although the official reason for the retaliation was said to be in response to the introduction of the new mark, the Blockade provided Soviets with the opportunity to test the Western powers degree of commitment to their current policy in Europe as well as to potentially reopen negotiations concerning the fate of Germany as a whole.

The issue at hand was as follows: If the West were to abandon Berlin, they could potentially lose all authority within Europe, thus encouraging Soviet expansion. Therefore, the US High Commissioner in Germany, General Clay’s initial solution to the blockade was to utilize armored convoys to transport supplies through Soviet Germany. Bevin, the British foreign minister, recognized the folly in this as such actions would be perceived by the Soviets as a significant threat, thus leading to a full scale war. Instead, Bevin proposed that as three air corridors allocated to the allies existed over the Soviet zone, the transportation of supplies via cargo planes could not be perceived as a threat.

Although a solution had been devised, the potential for failure still existed. At the time of the Blockade the population of West Berlin only had approximately five weeks worth of supplies, thus if Western forces did not act quickly, starvation would occur and the need for Soviet aid would be apparent. If this occurred, it would allow the USSR controlled regions to supply Berlin with supplies therefore giving the Soviets control over the entire city. The expansion of the Soviets into Berlin could ultimately lead to the expansion of the USSR into all of Europe, as supported by the insight of Soviet politician and diplomat Vyacheslav Molotov: “What happens to Berlin happens to Germany; what happen to Germany happens to Europe.”

The Berlin Blockade prompted the realization of the need to maintain and expand “spheres of influence”, a theme commonly perceived throughout the duration of the Cold War. Through this event, the clear distinction and potential clash between communism and capitalism on a world scale was also recognized. It is possible that through this international crisis, future notions and events including the Red Scare, the Domino Effect and the Cuban Missile Crisis were set into motion as a result of the realization of the foreign policies which existed on both sides of the political spectrum.

Sources used:
History of the Modern World; R.R Palmer, Joel Colton, Lloyd Kramer