How Yalta changed the face of Europe
11 Februrary 2005, HAMBURG - In an old summer residence of the tsars, the Livadia Palace in the Crimean resort of Yalta, three men met 60 years ago to sign the documents which sealed the strategy for the final phase of World War II and the shape of Europe to come. The Big Three, allied leaders US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, had gathered to decide on arrangements for the postwar world which were to last for a half a century. It
11 Februrary 2005
HAMBURG - In an old summer residence of the tsars, the Livadia Palace in the Crimean resort of Yalta, three men met 60 years ago to sign the documents which sealed the strategy for the final phase of World War II and the shape of Europe to come.
The Big Three, allied leaders US President Franklin D. Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, had gathered to decide on arrangements for the postwar world which were to last for a half a century.
It was a meeting Churchill was at first reluctant to attend, telling Roosevelt in a telegram that Yalta was "a paradise for lice" and that a worse place could hardly have been found.
He was also mindful of the fact that Stalin was in a strong negotiating position. At the time, Germany was close to defeat. British, US and Canadian troops were still west of the Rhine while the Red Army had broken through on the eastern front following a winter offensive.
Despite the reservations the three leaders gathered on 4 February with the aim of consolidating decisions taken when they met for the first time at the Teheran Conference 14 months earlier.
However Yalta revealed cracks in the unequal alliance. Stalin's objective was to bring as much territory as possible under Soviet hegemony. Churchill was wary of a new Soviet threat after the impending defeat of Hitler and did not want to give way, leaving an ailing Roosevelt to fall into the role of mediator.
There was surprisingly little preparation for the conference. No agenda was followed and there was no clear list of problems to be dealt with. Instead the leaders met in a more or less formal fashion but also negotiated bilaterally - leaving the third party out of their talks.
The extension of Soviet influence was a contentious issue, especially in Poland where Stalin insisted the borders would be to his liking. He had already installed a provisional government in Poland and was ignoring the government-in-exile which had been operating throughout the war in London.
It is claimed Stalin put two pencils down onto a map where the Polish borders in the east and west stood before the war. He then moved both pencils a few centimetres to the left to enlarge the Soviet Union at the expense of Germany.
That this movement of Poland would mean expulsion and deaths for millions of people was not an issue at Yalta.
The Polish eastern border is today still where Stalin decreed, on the so-called Curzon line named after former British foreign secretary George Curzon.
As a result the Soviet Union was able to acquire much of eastern Poland while Poland was given tracts of eastern and northern Germany in return.
Stalin got his way on recognition for the communist-installed government in Poland and also won acceptance for Moscow's rule over eastern Europe. Romania, Bulgaria, Albania, Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and the occupied eastern part of Germany came under the Soviet sphere.
The Americans were also successful at Yalta with their more modest demands.
After World War I, US president Woodrow Wilson had initiated the new League of Nations but the organization was feeble and unable to assert any influence to hinder the looming new world war.
Roosevelt was anxious to get agreement on the formation of a more clearly structured and stronger organization.
It led six months later to the formation of the United Nations, after Stalin had first ensured that the Soviet Union would have a veto in the proposed executive body, the Security Council.
Stalin also agreed to join the war against Japan in the Pacific in exchange for the Sakhalin peninsula in the north Pacific.
France - although Charles de Gaulle was not invited to the talks - was given a zone of occupation in Germany at the expense of the United States and Britain. But Stalin refused to consider a zone for war combatants Canada, arguing that Yugoslavia would then also have to be given one.
An important issue remained unresolved: what future should defeated Germany play. The Western Allies had already rejected the Morgenthau plan to centre the German economy around agriculture.
Moscow was meanwhile seeking reparations of USD 20 billion, the dismantling of 80 percent of German industry and the division of Germany into small states.
However, the Germany issue was left out of the talks and shelved until the war had been concluded.
Yalta's legacy lingered on throughout the Cold War, and has only recently been overcome with Germany's reunification and the expansion of the European Union to include eastern and central European nations.
Subject: German news