What were Joseph Stalin's goals as World War Two ended?

Stalin, Roosevelt and Churchill in 1945

What were the goals Stalin and the Soviet Union in the aftermath of the Second World War? The Soviet Supreme leader was an incredibly ambitious man and hoped to expand the Soviet Empire, after the defeat of the Third Reich and the Empire of Japan. Stalin sought to achieve four specific objectives. After the calamnity of World War Two, he wanted ensure the security of the Soviet Union, the expand of Communism beyond the Soviet Union, secure his position in world affairs and create of a Soviet empire. As he set out to secure each of these goals in the wake of World War two, he laid the foundations for the Cold War.

Securing Soviet borders at Tehran Conference

Stalin in 1945

Stalin skillfully started to jostle for his regime's post-war position, while he and the western allies were engaged in an all-out war NAZI Germany. Between November 28 and December 1, 1943, Stalin took part in the 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 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 a greater number of casualties. [1]

The western allies, especially Churchill, did not like what Stalin proposed and saw it as opportunistic. However, they reluctantly agreed to Stalin's demands as they needed to keep the alliance strong in order to decisively defeat the Third Reich. [2] In accordance with decisions taken at the Tehran Conference, 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. In particular, they advanced upon the territories that they had lost during the German invasion. The end of the war was near and the changing geopolitical situation, especially in Europe meant that it was time for another meeting of the Allies. [3]

Cement territorial and political gains at Yalta

Soviet soldiers in Berlin in 1945

The 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 ensure the Soviet’s entry into the Pacific war and discuss postwar settlement.[4] 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. Poland was to compensate for that by extending its Western borders, 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.[5]

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[6]. Unfortunately, neither Poland nor any other Eastern European country had the opportunity of holding free elections for the next almost 50 years.[7]

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[8]. 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 on 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 [9].

Post war doctrines, conference reactions and consequences

Stalin, Truman, and Churchill at Potsdam Conference in 1945

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.[10] Numerous Central European nations also 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. Yalta effectively allowed the USSR to install Communist regimes in Central Europe 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 pursuit 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.[11] 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.[12] 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. One of the key aims of Stalin, before and after the war was the retention of his won power and to make himself secure against all his real or imagined opponents.[13] However, despite all, Soviet dictator’s iron will and deft political skills let Stalin play the loyal ally while never abandoning his vision of an expanded postwar Soviet empire.

Establish Soviet style Regimes in Eastern Europe at war's end

Stalin prime aim at the various wartime conferences and in the immediate aftermath of the war, it has been argued was the defense of the Soviet Union. The Communist country had suffered greatly during the war and had suffered millions of casualties. Furthermore, Russia had been invaded during the First World War and had been invaded many times in its history. Stalin, a key student of history was very aware of this and he wanted to protect the Soviet Union, from further invasions. This partly explained his apparently inexhaustible hunger for land and territory.[14] Stalin may have driven the Germans from eastern Europe and after a brief war drove the Japanese out of Northern China and Northern Korea, however, he did not free these countries. In effect, these countries had communist regimes imposed on them. Local communists were elevated to positions of power in the liberated regions and nations and with the support of Stalin, they eventually became part of the Communist Bloc, which was led by Stalin, in Moscow.

Stalin was eager to extend the territories under his control in order to establish friendly nations on his borders.[15] The Soviet Supreme leader knew that if friendly governments ruled the territories surrounding his country, that they would be less likely to assist any enemy in attacking Russia. Furthermore, Stalin wanted friendly governments around his nation, in order to act as a buffer and to protect the Soviet Union from any invasion. Stalin also wanted to control countries that traditionally had threatened Russia and later the Soviet Union, such as Poland and Germany. This was all done to protect the Soviet Union from further attacks and invasions, especially from his former allies, the British and the Americans. He, like other communists, believed that a confrontation between Communist system and the Capitalist system was inevitable.[16]

Expansion of Communism

Stalin is often portrayed as a blood-thirsty and power mad dictator. This is true, but he was also a committed communist and was a firm believer in the tenets of Marxism-Leninism. This Communist doctrine foresaw a global revolution in which all the nations of the world would become communists and property and wealth would be distributed equally. The ultimate aim of Communism was to reform society and transform humanity by the common sharing of goods, which would end exploitation and conflict. Stalin had previously favored developing communism in the Soviet Union, in opposition to the call of Trotsky, to export communist revolution around the world. By 1944-1945, Stalin was well aware that the Red Army and its victories allowed an unprecedented opportunity to expand Communism.[17] This led him to adopt the policy of supporting Communist parties in eastern Europe.

In the years after the Soviet liberation of countries, such as Bulgaria, Romania, and Hungary, the Soviet Supreme leader, staged coups that deposed often democratically elected governments, often pro-western and replaced them with Communist administrations.[18] Stalin went to great lengths that the new governments were sympathetic to the particular brand of Communism espoused by him. He made sure that the Communist governments carried out his wishes and conformed to his repressive form of Communism. The desire to expand communism was one of the key drivers of Soviet policy in the aftermath of the end of the war.[19] However, this alarmed the west, especially Washington and this persuaded them to see Moscow as its chief enemy.

Build Soviet Empire in Europe

Stalin has often been referred to as the 'Red Tsar'. He wanted to build a great empire for himself and his nation. The Supreme Soviet Leader believed that the Soviet Union had all but won the war against the Germans, on its own. This meant that they were entitled to the spoils of war and that because of their great victory that they had won the right to dominate, politically and economically, smaller countries.[20] Stalin believed that the Soviet Union was entitled to be regarded as a great power. Now great powers, such as Britain and France had empires and so the Soviet Union was entitled to a great empire. Stalin's desire to establish an empire from the countries that his Red Army had recently liberated was one of the main goals of the communist leader, in the post-war period.

He wanted an empire not only for political reasons but also for economic reasons. Stalin wanted to establish puppet regimes in eastern Europe and they would provide the Soviet Union with resources and markets for their goods.[21] The Communist leader envisaged a series of puppet states in Eastern Europe that would be exploited so that they could help to make the Soviet Union prosperous. This was to be ultimately a mistake as in fact, the Soviet Union came to subsidize the Communist countries in the East of Europe. Stalin's domination of Eastern Europe was to greatly antagonize the west and was a contributory factor in starting the Cold War.[22]

Conclusion

Stalin believed that the Soviet Union's sacrifices meant that he and his nation were entitled to be treated like a great power and that they could create an Empire for their own strategic and economic benefit. The Soviet leader was eager to expand his territory in an effort to create a buffer around the USSR, in a bid to protect it from any invasion, possibly from the western powers. Stalin as a committed communist was also eager to expand communism around the world and to promote a global revolution, that would sweep away the capitalist system. Stalin did achieve many of his goals.[23] By the time of his death, he ruled or influenced almost one-fifth of the world's landmass and the USSR was acknowledged as only one of two Superpowers in the world. However, his ambitions meant that he caused the Cold War, that for four decades, threatened to turn into a nuclear conflict between the Communist bloc and the democratic western powers.

References

  1. Teheran Conference - http://www.britannica.com/event/Tehran-Conference
  2. Roberts, Geoffrey, Stalin's Wars: From World War to Cold War, 1939–1953. (Yale University Press, Yale, 2006), p. 156
  3. Roberts, p. 145
  4. Geoffery Roberts, "Stalin at the Tehran, Yalta, and Potsdam Conferences," Journal of Cold War Studies 9:4 (Fall 2007): 6-40
  5. Roberts, p. 245
  6. Roberts, p. 37
  7. Yalta Conference - http://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/yalta-conference
  8. Roberts,p 38
  9. Plokhii, Serhii. Yalta: The Price of Peace. New York, NY: Viking Press, NY, 2010), p. 145
  10. Plokhii, p. 119
  11. Conquest, p. 234
  12. Montefiore, p. 117
  13. Conquest, p. 213
  14. Boobbyer, Phillip, The Stalin Era (Routledge, London, 2000), p. 278
  15. Boobyear, p. 234
  16. Conquest, Robert. Stalin: Breaker of Nations. (Viking-Penguin, Hammondsworth, 1999), p. 212
  17. Conquest, p. 234
  18. Applebaum, Anne. Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944–1956 (Doubleday, London 2012), p. 117
  19. Boobyear, p. 277
  20. Montefiore, Simon Sebag. Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar. (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2003), p. 317
  21. Applebaum, p. 113
  22. Montefiore, p. 332
  23. Applebaum, p. 143

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