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How did Joseph Stalin react to the German invasion during WWII?
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Created page with "Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin ruled over the Soviet Union between 1920 and 1953 acting as a supreme leader of the USSR. Holding the post of the General Secretary of the Central..."
Joseph Vissarionovich Stalin ruled over the Soviet Union between 1920 and 1953 acting as a supreme leader of the USSR. Holding the post of the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, he was effectively the dictator of the state. Stalin introduced his own highly centralized command economy, launching a period of industrialization and collectivization that resulted in the rapid transformation of the USSR from an agrarian society into an industrial global power. Between 1934 and 1939 Stalin mercilessly carried out a series of massive political extra-judicial executions, known as the Great Purge, of major Communist Party and government rival figures as well as many Red Army high commanders without any proper trials - all convicted of treason or considered a threat. These “enemies of the working class” were imprisioned, exiled, sent to forced labor camps or executed, without due process.
In the meantime Germany revitalized under Adolf Hitler’s leadership, worked to revise the post-World War I organizational structure of Europe, imposed by the United States, England and France.
==Reaching the Molotov–Ribbentrop Non-Aggression Pact between the USSR and NAZI Germany and their initial warming economic relations==
After the Nazis rose to power in Germany in 1933, relations between Germany and the Soviet Union, as the two sworn enemy regimes, began to deteriorate rapidly, and trade between the two countries decreased and almost froze. Following several years of high tension and rivalry, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union eventually began to improve relations in 1939. German economy thrived at a fast pace by exporting manufactured goods and industrial equipment in exchange for importing raw materials. In turn, the USSR being an agrarian state, rich in natural resources, was struggling with transition towards industrialization. The Soviets had to purchase and import more than half of the necessary factory machinery from the United States. It occurred that both Stalin and Hitler, therefore, were at odds with the West. Driven by their mutual resentment for the West, each for his own reasons and interests under the circumstances, Communist USSR and NAZI Germany seemed to have much in common and be close to reaching a German-Soviet cooperation via a natural alliance.
In 1939, London and Paris invited Moscow to co-sign an Anglo-French guarantee to protect Poland and Romania from possible German aggression. The Soviets agreed only upon permission from Lithuania, Poland and Romania to allow the free passage of Soviet troops in the event of war. However, Poland refused to grant its permission, fearing Soviet’s secret agenda to take over its territory. The West prolonged Soviet-Allied negotiations since the Great Powers feared the spread of the communist regime and considered the Soviet Union as an outlaw state for its established social and political structures through internal subversion, armed violence and terrorism. USSR in turn advocated the overthrow of all capitalist regimes.<ref>Stalin's Secret War Plans: Why Hitler Invaded the Soviet Union - http://www.wintersonnenwende.com/scriptorium/english/archives/articles/stalwarplans.html</ref>
After failure of the negotiations with Britain and France, Stalin eventually turned to Germany. As a result, on 23 August 1939 the Soviet Union entered into a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany. The pact, known as Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, was named after the USSR and NAZIS foreign affairs political figures at the time. Hitler no more had to fear the possibility of a war on two fronts. Moreover, Stalin and Hitler signed numerous secret protocols dividing the entire territory of Eastern Europe into Soviet and Nazi spheres of influence. The Soviets would recover eastern Poland, formerly part of Imperial Russia. The Germans also supported the USSR's claims on Bessarabia (eastern part of Romania) and agreed to define Eastern Europe's Baltic (Poland, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, Lithuania) and Balkan states as belonging to the Soviet “sphere of interest.” Furthermore, after signing the pact, the countries rapidly expanded their economic relationship by entering into a commercial agreement whereby the Soviet Union sent critical raw materials and ingredients to Germany in exchange for weapons, military technology, civilian and manufacturing machinery. Thereafter, Germany received significant amounts of petroleum, grain, rubber and manganese, all necessary for its future war efforts.
==Violation of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact and World War II: former allies eventually turn against each other==
The signed secret protocols dividing central Europe between Stalin and Hitler, efectively let both the USSR and the NAZIS to invade freely countries listed within their “spheres of influence”. However, the agreement between Germany and the Soviet Union could not be sustainable for long and did in fact settle stage for the start of the World War II.
On 1 September 1939, within days of signing the pact and the secret protocols, Hitler invaded Poland, now confident that the Soviets would not oppose him. In response, Britain and France declared war on Germany. A couple of weeks later, the Soviet Union invaded Poland from the east to grab its share. In 1940, the USSR followed up by occupying Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and the Romanian province of Bessarabia. Britain and France protested but with their forces already at war against Germany, they could not afford fighting Stalin as well. Indeed, initially, the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact worked quite well and showed how similar the two states really were. Unfortunately, it did not last for long.
Once the Soviets seized a generous portion of Eastern Europe, they also tried to invade Finland. Despite being tremendously outnumbered and outgunned, the Finns improvised a defense and made the best of the terrain and the ferocious winter weather. At the same time, the German army conquered France without suffering appreciable losses and the British withdrew from the continent. The Germans were astonished at how badly the Soviets performed in the fighting with the Finns. This encouraged them that the USSR and Stalin were already weakened by the war affairs and thus Hitler could in turn defeat Stalin in a rapid campaign (Blitzkrieg) even before finishing off the withdrawn Brits in the west. <ref>The pact between Hitler and Stalin that paved the way for World War II was signed 75 years ago - http://www.pri.org/stories/2014-08-21/pact-between-hitler-and-stalin-paved-way-world-war-ii-was-signed-75-years-ago</ref>
In the early morning of 22 June 1941, Hitler officially violated the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact and invaded the Soviet Union. Historians claim that Stalin was stunned by the invasion and for quite some time refused to accept the news was true. The Soviet leader had ignored all warnings received from the US, British and his own intelligence officers regarding a potential invasion. He even retreated in despair for several days and did not participate in the leadership decisions.
Economic and diplomatic relations between the two countries rapidly deteriorated and abruptly terminated. The Soviets were not prepared for a war against Germany with the Red Army troops scattered and dispersed among several fronts. Furthermore, Stalin’s purges of army officers in the 1930s had crippled the Soviet military machine and in the early days of the war, the Red Army, lacking trustworthy and skillful generals, suffered disastrous losses letting NAZI troops almost reach Kremlin gates. <ref>Joseph Stalin and World War II - http://www.history.com/topics/joseph-stalin</ref>
However, within weeks Stalin manage to recover from the shock and called for reinforcements. Although German troops had made huge advances into the heartlands of the Soviet Union and the rest of the government had been evacuated from Moscow, Stalin remained in the Kremlin and begun to take control of the country’s ailing military infrastructure. As German troops approached the Soviet capital of Moscow, Stalin directed a devastating defensive policy, destroying any supplies or infrastructure that might benefit the enemy. Fresh competent USSR military commanders loyal to Stalin were allowed to take control of important strategic positions and military divisions.
==Decisive battle for Stalingrad and Soviets offensive doctrine==
In 1942, failing to achieve his Blitzkrieg and with the advance of winter and severe weather conditions, Hitler shifted his primary goal from an immediate victory in the East, to the more long-term goal of securing the southern Soviet Union and its oil fields, vital to a long-term German war effort. The invading Germans aimed at Stalingrad as essential to their campaign strategic point in southern Russia while the Soviets were determined to defend the city as a vital industrial and transportation center at all cost. Both Stalin and Hitler understood the symbolic importance of the only city to bear the Soviet dictator’s name.
However, the tide turned for the Soviets with the monumental Battle of Stalingrad, from August 1942 to February 1943, during which the Red Army defeated the Germans and eventually drove them from Russia in a fierce combat and resistance. <ref>Battle of Stalingrad - http://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/battle-of-stalingrad</ref>On February 2, 1943, left with no provisions and surrounded by the reinforced Red Army, the Germans were forced to surrender. About 150 000 Germans had died in the fighting for Stalingrad. Furthermore, although there were over 2.5 million Soviet casualties, the Soviet victory at Stalingrad permitted the USSR to turn back offensive for the rest of the war on the Eastern front.
Stalingrad was a great humiliation for Hitler. He then became more distrustful than ever of his generals. Stalin, on the other hand, gained confidence back in his military. <ref>Stalin's Role in WWII - http://yesterday.uktv.co.uk/warzone/article/stalins-role-wwii/</ref>
As the WWII progressed, confident of an oncoming Allied victory over Germany, Stalin contacted Western diplomats requesting two agreements. He aimed at reaching a mutual assistance/aid pact and a recognition that after the war the Soviet Union would gain the territories in countries that it would take war actions against Hitler on the Eastern front.
==Teheran and Yalta Conferences: Iron will of Stalin and Soviet dictator’s agenda for post-war USSR zone of influence and interest==
Stalin skillfully started to jostle for post-war position with the other allied countries against NAZI Germany. Between November 28 and December 1, 1943, Stalin took part in the so-called Tehran Conference. The chief discussion of the meeting, held by the US President Franklin Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Stalin, centered on the opening of a “second front” in Western Europe.
Stalin agreed to conduct an eastern offensive operations to coincide with the forthcoming Western Front, and in return he asked the western leaders to proceed with formal preparations for their long-promised invasion and regaining of German-occupied France. Stalin also insisted on retaining the territories provided by the German-Soviet Non-aggression Pact of 1939 and additionally requested the Baltic coast of East Prussia as a compensation for the USSR’s enormous role and great number of casualties. <ref>Teheran Conference - http://www.britannica.com/event/Tehran-Conference</ref>
In implementation of the Tehran Conference decision, in May 1944 joint Britain and US troops launched an invasion of France, opening the so-called “second front” in the West. Their actions allowed the Soviet Union to make significant advances across Eastern Europe toward Germany. The end of the war was near and it was time for another meeting of the Allies.
Yalta Conference took place in February, 1945. This was the second wartime meeting of the “Big Three” the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin and US President Franklin Roosevelt). Each brought his own agenda to the Yalta Conference. The British wanted to maintain their empire, the Soviets wished to secure and obtain more land and secure positions in their new zones of influence and interests, and the US wanted to insure the Soviet’s entry into the Pacific war and discuss postwar settlement. From the very opening, Stalin made it clear that his demands regarding Poland were not negotiable: the Soviets were to gain “their territory” from the eastern portion of Poland and Poland was to compensate for that by extending its Western boarders, thereby forcing out millions of Germans. Negotiators even signed a declaration forcing the Polish to provide inclusion of Soviet Communists in their postwar national government.
Moreover, Roosevelt main goal was to obtain a commitment from Stalin to participate in the United Nations in order to secure future peace and alliance. As for the other Eastern European countries, the Americans and the British generally agreed that the future governments of the nations bordering the Soviet Union should be “friendly” to the Soviet regime as long as the Soviets pledged to allow free elections in all territories liberated from Nazi Germany. Unfortunately, neither Poland, nor any other Eastern European country had the opportunity of holding free elections for the next almost 50 years.
<ref>Yalta Conference - http://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/yalta-conference</ref>
Furthermore, the Big Three agreed to require Germany’s unconditional surrender and ratified their agreements regarding NAZI Germany postwar division: there were to be four zones of occupation, one zone for each of the three dominant nations plus one zone for France. Berlin itself, although within the Soviet zone, would also be divided into four sectors, and would eventually become a major symbol of the Cold War socialists-capitalists separation due to the infamous Berlin Wall, which was constructed and maintained by the Soviets.
The Soviets led by Stalin were keen on regaining lost territories and Yalta Conference was their best chance to do that. As a result Stalin even agreed to enter the Pacific war against Japan in exchange for more territories granted, including portions of Sakhalin, Port Arthur, Manchurian railroads and the Kurile Islands. However, already in poor health, President Roosevelt failed to acknowledge Stalin’s true objectives. Roosevelt readily met Stalin’s conditions, since the Soviets eventually agreed to join the United Nations and Pacific war. The two leaders even secretly negotiated a voting formula with a veto power granted solely to the permanent members in the UN Security Council, providing themselves with more control in the world affairs and greatly weakening the UN power in the oncoming disputes.
Overall, Roosevelt and the other Allies felt confident that Yalta had been successful. Nevertheless, the true Conference winner was once again Joseph Stalin.
==Post war doctrines, conference reactions and consequences==
Although, the initial reaction to the Yalta agreements was celebratory, it was also very short lived. In 1945, the administration of the new US president Harry Truman clashed with the Soviets over their influence in Eastern Europe, and over the United Nations. Many Americans began to criticize Roosevelt’s handling of the Yalta negotiations due to the following lack of Soviet cooperation and even giving Eastern Europe and Northeast Asia away to the Soviet Union. Numerous Central European nations also often regard the Conference in Yalta as the “Great Western betrayal” since it allowed the USSR to intervene freely in their domestic affairs, abandoning democratic policies and turning them into Soviet satellites, effectively introducing Communist regimes with impunity. At the Yalta conference, the Big Three “attempted to sacrifice freedom for the sake of stability”, and many believe the decisions and concessions of Roosevelt and Churchill during the summit led to the following power struggle during the Cold War. Nevertheless, Stalin essentially got everything he wanted: a significant territorial sphere of influence and interest as a buffer zone.
The German invasion in the USSR and pressing back to victory in the East required a tremendous sacrifice by the Soviet Union. And Stalin skillfully used that during the wartime conferences in pursue of his postwar Soviet empire expansion. Soviet military casualties totaled approximately 35 million with over 15 million killed, missing or captured. One in four Soviets was killed or wounded. More than 1 700 towns and 70 000 villages were destroyed and the Soviet civilian death toll reached over 25 million. Thereafter, Stalin was often referred to as one of the most influential men in human history. Although, Stalin was responsible for the deaths of over 20 million people during his brutal rule, he was even nominated for Nobel Peace Prize twice – in 1945 and 1948. He continued to prosecute a reign of terror, purges, executions, exiles to labor camps and persecution in the postwar USSR, suppressing all dissent and anything that represented foreign–especially Western–influence. Stalin established communist-satellite governments throughout Eastern and Central Europe.
However, despite all, Soviet dictator’s iron will and deft political skills let Stalin play the loyal ally while never abandoning his true vision of an expanded postwar Soviet empire.
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