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YALTA AS A MIRAGE: SOVIETOPHOBIA ALWAYS LURKED IN BRITISH FOREIGN POLICY

Michael Jabara Carley


As you all know, a lot has been said and written over the years about the Yalta conference. More will no doubt be published in the aftermath of these meetings. Yalta was supposed to mark the beginning of post-war Anglo-American-Soviet cooperation. There were high hopes. Plans were made for the United Nations. Germany was to be sorted out so it would not again threaten European security. An independent Poland was to be moved westward. The USSR would come into the war against Japan, and so on. All the cautious expectations for the postwar period, however, were dashed in a welter of later recriminations. The Big Three leaders were all criticised, but in the west Stalin was the principal villain. Deceitful, churlish, provocative, unreasonableStalin betrayed the Grand Alliance and duped his partners. Anyway, Yalta, whichever way you look at it, did not come up to expectations.

Too bad. If only things had been different. For example, if only FDR had lived, and Harry Truman had not become US president. Would FDR's continued presence in the White Househave made a difference to the Yalta outcome?

In November 1933 FDR and Maksim M. Litvinov, then commissar for foreign affairs, negotiated US recognition of the USSR. Both Roosevelt and Stalin wanted to conclude an agreement. It would allow for wider cooperation on political issues, mainly security against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. If these two powerful leaders wanted to get on better terms, a Soviet-American rapprochement should have started in 1933, not 1941. Why didn't it happen?

Can you guess? ... the State Department we know how constructive it can be intervened to scuttle the good start made by FDR and Litvinov. Would it have been any different in 1945, had Roosevelt lived? Not likely.

It was not just anti-communists in the United States, who contributed to the failure of Yalta, there were lots of Sovietophobes in London too. For the purposes of this paper, I propose to focus on British policy toward the USSR in sharing with you a few highlights of my research in the National Archives in Kew.

Anglo-Soviet relations were almost always bad between 1917 and 1941. When war broke out in September 1939, however, some government Conservatives woke up to the importance of having the USSR as an ally. This epiphany was temporarily interrupted by the Winter War, which isanother story. I will only say that Britain, goaded by France, came within an ace of war with the Soviet Union in March 1940.

With the war with Finlandout of the way, people inside the British government could think again about getting on better terms with Moscow. These British efforts increased after May 1940 when France collapsed like a house of cards, crushed by the Wehrmacht.

Couldn't the French have put up any resistance at all? an angry Stalin asked his colleagues. And the British, how could they allow Hitler... to crush them? Hell, now Hitler is going to beat our brains out.

But Stalin didn't accept British offers of collaboration. How could he? The Wehrmacht had just run the British army out of Europe. The French and Germans thought Britain would sue for peace in spite of Winston Churchill becoming Prime Minister in early May. Could Britain fight beyond the next few months? Not even Churchill knew the answer to that question. London betting shops took wagers on the day of a German invasion. You can see why Stalin did not jump at the chance of closer relations with Britain.

That would have to wait until 22 June 1941. Every intelligence agency in Europe knew that Hitler was going to attack the USSR. The various Soviet agencies knew too. Stalin may have been the only leader in Europe who did not believe that Hitler would invade.

On the British side Churchill broke out cigars when he heard the news of the German invasion. You can always count on Winston for a good quote: You know, he said: If Hitler invaded Hell, I would at least make a favourable reference to the Devil. On other matters he was not so enthusiastic in spite of a grand speech on BBC the evening of 22 June.

There was a heated debate in London about whether the Soviet national anthem, the Internationale, should be played on BBC radio along with the anthems of other British allies. The government refused to approve. Ministers were not even sure they wanted to call the USSR an ally. We can't after all be seen to be endorsing revolution. It was a touchy subject, and Churchill remained adamant until after the Soviet victory before Moscow in December 1941. Anthony Eden, the Foreign Secretary & a voice of reason, asked the PM to relent. All right, Churchill wrote on Eden's note. Churchill had a hard time deciding whether the Russians were barbarians or allies, even when the British needed them most.

That summer of 1941 Britain began to ship supplies to the USSR. Not much mind you, but the British were not in a position to offer important assistance. When Stalin suggested to Churchill that he send troops to fight on the Soviet front, Churchill would have nothing to do with it, though others in London felt guilty because the Red Army was doing all the fighting. David Low, the celebrated British cartoonist, drew a cartoon, asking when Britain would offer real help instead of mererhetorical flowers of praise. In July 1941 I.M.Maiskii, the Soviet polpred in London, raised the question of a second front in France. Not now, we can't, came the British reply.

After the Soviet victory in the battle to defend Moscow the Foreign Office debated what impact it would have on the course of the war. Stalin could opt out leaving Britain and the US in the lurch. For those of you who are interested in Anglo-Soviet relations, Sir Orme G. Sargent and Sir Alexander Cadogan, senior Foreign Office officials, were great Sovietophobes. Historians can always count on them for a nasty quote. In early February 1942 they didn't disappoint. They were worried, but maybe not in the way you think. The Red Army might win the war without any help from the West. According to Cadogan and Sargent, that would be a catastrophe.

Listen to Cadoganon 8 February 1942: ... we ought to hope for continued pressure by the Soviet, with erosion of German manpower & material and not too [in original] great a geographical advance [by the Red Army].

Eden responded on the same day: ... it remains broadly true that a German collapse this year will be an exclusively Soviet victory with all that implies. Therefore clearly we must do all in our power to resolve grievances & come to terms with [Stalin] for the future. This may also prevent him from double crossing us, but it will at least remove pretexts. He has these now... [to double cross us].

Can you imagine? Britain had no forces in Europe, fighting the Germans.The Red Army had already suffered more than 3 million casualties, not to speak of horrendous civilian losses, and the Foreign Office was worried about the Red Army winning too quickly.

Churchill knew what to do; he threw some more flowers to Stalin: Words fail me to express the admiration which all of us feel at the continued brilliant successes of your Armies against the German invader.... Just don't win too quickly, they thought in the Foreign Office.

In July 1941 the British and Soviet governments exchanged military missions. That was a good start, but the first three British heads of mission were failures. They were Generals Frank Noel Mason-Macfarlane, GiffardMartel and Brocas Burrows. The latter two Generals were true blue Sovietophobes. General Burrows had been in Murmansk during the British occupation (intervention) in 1918 1919. Burrows just could not hide his hatred of the USSR. He wanted to wear war medals in Moscow he had received from the White Guard government. In 1944 Burrows lasted only a few months before Stalin himself asked for his recall.

In the summer of 1944 Sovietophobia in the British War Office was so intense that some Foreign Office officials worried. Stalin, they thought, would certainly get wind of it. In August 1944 the Chiefs of Staff talked freely about the USSR as the enemy no. 1. The Foreign Office was concerned by the inability of British senior officers to conduct themselves diplomatically with their Soviet counterparts. To quote the head of the Northern Department, Christopher F. A. Warner, Anglo-Russian post-war relations will be irretrievably prejudiced with the most appalling results for perhaps 100 years. This is altogether too high a price to pay for the prejudices of the Chief of the Imperial General Staff [Field Marshal Sir Alan Brooke] (27 Sept. 1944).

In the months before Yalta Russophobia andSovietophobiaflourished in the senior ranks of the British army even as the Red Army was crushing the Wehrmacht in the East. And that was not all. In June 1944 Stalin proposed the formation of a Tripartite Military Commission to coordinate military planning with the western allies, they having finally landed in Normandy. After months of delay, the proposal was abandoned.

British military hostility also manifested itself in post-war planning documents. In several such documents written prior to the end of the war you can follow revisions where the generals slipped in preoccupations about a Soviet threat to British interests in the post-war period.

You'vve probably heard of the most outrageous of these planning documents. It was called Operation Unthinkable by the Joint Planning Staff (May-July1945), written only three months after Yalta. It was classified top secret, and you can see why. Unthinkable foresaw the contingency of military action against the Red Army only a fortnight after VE Day, making use of reconstituted German divisionsallied with British and US forces.

Now listen to this: The overall or political object is to impose upon Russia the will of the United States and British Empire. Of course, we'll offer the Russians a choice, said the generals, but if they want total war, they are in a position to have it. Oh la...

General Hastings Ismay, Churchill's military advisor, wrote to himin early June that Unthinkable was just the bare facts. The Chiefs of Staff felt that the less that was put on paper... the better. Churchill cautioned that the paper was a precautionary study of what, I hope, is still a purely hypothetical contingency. But it was Churchill who asked for the study. In the end he had to calm down his over-excitedRussia-hating generals.

You will find this extraordinary document in the British National Archives at Kewin a Cabinet file entitled Russia: Threat to Western Civilisation. I wonder if there are other files like this one, dated 2014,in top secret American and British government computers. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. The Head of the Northern Department Christopher Warner was righter than he knew when he warned of the danger of 100 years of Anglo-Russian hostility. We are at seventy years and counting from 1945. Ninety-eight years if you count from 1917.

This is why I propose to you that the Yalta conference was a mirage. As soon as the German danger subsided, it was back to business as usual in the West and a resumption of the cold war which began after 1917 and not after 1945. It's too bad, Yalta was a way forward, a missed opportunity, as well as a mirage.

     


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