Stalin And The Cold War Essay Research

Stalin And The Cold War Essay, Research Paper

As long as Stalin was running the Soviet Union a cold war was unavoidable. (JL Gaddis, We Now Know). Discuss this interpretation of the origins of the Cold War.

The war obliged Stalin to make radical changes in his foreign policy. Before the attack by Nazi Germany he could allow himself to observe the development of events and swim with the tide, choosing between Hitler or the West, but after June 22nd, 1941 he had to take positive action. In this new situation the characteristics of Stalinism were clearly displayed. One of the most notable features of Stalin’s diplomacy was rudeness. Understandably, however, he was obliged to take his allies into consideration and moderate his temper on the international stage. in his relations with Roosevelt, Stalin was to some extent successful, as he respected the power and strength of the country standing behind the president. However, it often did not seem to be the same with other Americans, or with the British, including the prime minister, with whom he was rude and over familiar.

There are many examples of this kind of conduct. In his memoirs Churchill wrote that he was snubbed more than once and many of his telegrams were not answered at all or a reply would be held up for days, but the prime minister was patient, understanding that patience was the key for any one who had dealings with the Kremlin. Once it came to the point where an indignant Churchill decided on a diplomatic demarche. On October 13th, 1943, in a series of messages, Stalin accused the British Government of intentionally avoiding earlier commitments on deliveries, posing a threat through the attempt to increase the number of British servicemen in the north of the USSR and to recruit Soviet citizens. When he received the letter Churchill did not believe that it had been written by Stalin and suggested it was the hand of the bureaucracy at work. Even so on October 18th, summoning the Soviet ambassador, Feodor Gusev, Churchill made a point of handing a message from Stalin back to him. The demarche had an effect, and, after a few days, Stalin actually apologised to the British Foreign Minister, Anthony Eden, in Moscow, declaring that he had had no intention of insulting anyone.

During the war Stalin had to explain the tone of his messages more than once, and almost always tried to pass off rudeness as frankness or talked his way out of a situation with idiosyncratic jokes and aphorisms. Thus, having accused General Brooke at the Teheran Conference of unfriendliness to the Red Army and received a firm rebuff, Stalin said jokingly, The best friendship begins in misunderstanding However sometimes Stalin was deliberately rude, Stalin handled at least three meetings in the same way. He played out the same scenario with Averell Harriman and Beaverbrook in September 1941, with Eden in December 1941 and with Churchill in August 1942. The first conversation went smoothly and Stalin was careful and correct, but the next day he was openly rude and capricious and behaved insultingly. Discouraged by such a reception the Western participants at the meeting went away puzzled. Attending the third meeting with some apprehension, Stalin, was however courtesy itself, good-natured and humorous, as if nothing had happened.

What was Stalin’s aim in acting in this way? The majority of Western authors willingly accept the evidence of those who witnessed Stalin’s Performances’ and suggest that, if He was not satisfied with his allies’ proposals or their reactions to his proposals, he tried to use his anger to overpower them. Judging by the results of the meeting mentioned above Stalin did not obtain immediate benefits. He did however succeed, in sowing confusion amongst his counter-parts, but this did not make them more compliant and there would develop long-term side effects. By periodically creating tension during personal meetings and by means of correspondence via ambassadors, Stalin skilfully cultivated a feeling of uncertainty in Western officials about the Soviet position and created the impression that, if they would go some way to meeting his demands, the uncertainty and misunderstanding would disappear by themselves.

The inherent suspicion and secrecy of Stalin’s diplomacy came to full flower during the war. For example, Stalin did not believe that Roosevelt’s death had been due to natural causes and, in a telegram to Truman persisted in asking for a post-mortem to be carried out on the president’s body, in case he had been poisoned. Furthermore Churchill’s statement that it was difficult to maintain good relations with Communists, as one did not know how to behave with them, showed that such Stalinist diplomacy brought its fruits. During personal meetings however, Stalin simply charmed his guests. It was not by chance that Roosevelt, Churchill and many other official personalities made numerous statements praising the Soviet leader. Such methods were effective as long as the threat from Germany continued, but as soon as that threat lessened, Stalin’s caprices and insults achieved the opposite result. This was demonstrated when Churchill, at the end of the war he wrote to the British Charge d’Affaires in Moscow (Frank Roberts), that is was no longer desirable to maintain detailed arguments with the Soviet government about their views and actions’.

Hardly any other diplomacy could compare with Stalin’s in the art of creating secrets. This is to say that built into the system of Stalinism, this diplomacy functioned strictly by its own rules – a caste system, a brutal hierarchy, espionage, the disclosure of limited amounts of information, unquestioning execution of orders and no initiative for colleagues outside the limits of their competence. The introduction of a special uniform for diplomats (May 23rd 1943), which was accepted by officials with great pleasure, struck foreigners by its vulgarity – shoulder straps, trouser stripes, a dagger, a tall sheepskin hat, and so on. Furthermore there no doubt that diplomats were kept under strict supervision. This did not escape the attention of Western politicians. Eden remembered how, when the Russian ambassador, Ivan Maisky came to see him he had to be accompanied by a young man who did not utter a word and just sat and listened throughout their talks. Furthermore Bohlen remembered how, at his first meeting with Andrei Gromyko, the latter seemed to be afraid to say anything, which would be unnecessary. Nevertheless despite supervision, Maksim Litvinov and Maisky, were clearly outside the well-co-ordinated ‘ensemble’ of Stalinist diplomacy. Both were highly educated and spoke several European languages with ease. They were distinguished by their greater sociability and had many friends and acquaintances in the West. This probably concerned Stalin and Molotov, but at that time, they were obliged to keep them as ambassadors in the USA and Great Britain.

The war compelled Stalin to return Litvinov to the foreign policy arena, since he was the most suitable person to organise aid to the USSR and mend relations with America. His services in this matter are indisputable, but as soon as a turning point in the war occurred and the situation in the country had improved and Stalin felt more confident, Litvinov was immediately removed from his post (in May 1943). Litvinov was probably the only diplomat of high rank who criticised the leadership. Documents from the US State Department showed that, before his departure from the USA, Litvinov paid a call on State Secretary Sumner Welles and drew his attention to the fact that Stalin’s isolation gave him a distorted idea of the West, which manifested itself in his underestimation of public opinion. Litvinov emphasised the inflexibility of the Soviet system and pointed out the baneful effect of Molotov’s control over the People’s Commissariat for Foreign Affairs. A year later, Litvinov met the American diplomat Edgar Snow in Moscow, and not without sarcasm, told him that the People’s Commissariat for Foreign Affairs was run by three men (Molotov, Vyshinsky, Dekanosov) and not one of them understood either America, or Britain.

Maisky was more careful in his statements, with conversations with English officials. Yet this did not help him, and he to was dismissed from this post two months after Litvinov. It is important to note that Churchill, in a conversation with Stalin during a visit to Moscow in 1942, called Maisky a good diplomat. The General Secretary agreed but immediately added, He talks too much and can’t keep a still tongue in his head.

They were replaced by others who distinguished themselves not only by their efficiency but also by their personal links with Stalin Litvinov was replaced by Gromyko, and Maisky by Gusev, both of whom were typical representatives of the Soviet bureaucracy. However Politicians of the time and contemporary historians have not seen Gromyko as an independent figure, since his opinion never differed from the opinion of the Soviet Government and Ambassador Gusev was also extremely unpopular in British circles. Churchill asked Clark Kerr about Gusev and he characterised the newly appointed ambassador as, a rude, inexperienced and bad-mannered person. To a certain degree, the appointments of Gromyko and Gusev reflected Stalin’s scornful attitude to the diplomatic service in general. In Stalin’s diplomatic practice an ambassador was simply there to provide information and carry out instructions with no independent influence on decision taking.

One important aspect was that, as the war went on, Stalin succeeded in creating the impression among the majority of Westerners who came into contact with him that he was limited in his choice of decisions and was dependent on the Supreme Soviet and the Politburo. This was supported by the fact that Stafford Cripps, (the British ambassador to Russia) in July 1941, considered that a struggle for power between the party and the military was under way. Furthermore a British delegation visiting the Soviet Union in August 1942 was unable to decide who really ruled in the USSR. Some suggested that Stalin was the tool of the Politburo. Churchill to noted a sharp change in Stalin’s behaviour as the result of pressure on the leader’ from the Soviet of People’s Commissars. In a letter to Eden in March 1943 the British prime minister suggested that there seemed to be two Stalins: (a) Stalin himself, personally cordial to me. (b) Stalin in council, a grim thing behind him which he and we have both to reckon with.

When dealing with the Americans Stalin often referred to the Supreme Soviet as the real power on which everything depended. By way of illustration, in his message of December 30th, 1944, Roosevelt asked Stalin to postpone summoning a provisional Polish government. Stalin answered, Of course, I quite understand your proposal. The fact is that on December 27th, the Presidium of the USSR Supreme Soviet, in responding to a similar inquiry from the Poles, stated that they were ready to recognise a provisional Polish government as soon as it was formed. This circumstance makes it impossible for me to carry out your wish.

In this way Stalin succeeded in continuously misleading his allies during the war years. To a certain extent this made it easier for the scale and strength of his power to escape Western notice. Some politicians simply lost their sense of reality however as demonstrated by a speech by Lord Beaverbrook. Speaking in New York in the winter of 1942 Beaverbrook exclaimed emotionally: Communism under Stalin has won the applause and admiration of all Western nations. Communism under Stalin has provided us with examples of patriotism equal to the finest in the annals of history. Communism under Stalin has produced the best generals in the world. The Persecution of Christianity? Not so. There is no religious persecution. Church doors are open. Racial persecution of minorities? Not at all. Jews live like other men. Political purges? Of course. But it is now clear that those who were shot would have betrayed Russia to her German enemies.

Despite the fact that Stalin led the Allies by the nose, and played out meeting scenarios before them in virtuoso fashion, he never understood the West and never took into account the democratic mechanisms for implementing power, their multiple stages, the presence of an opposition, and the impossibility of taking major political decisions quickly. It seemed suspicious to Stalin that Roosevelt and Churchill, in contrast to himself, were not able to take decisions and act quickly. References to Congress and Parliament did not satisfy him, since he made a comparison with his own Supreme Soviet, which had no real power.

Many historians have commented on Stalin s humour, which was distinctive to the point where it was sometimes impossible to distinguish a joke from an intentional insult. This was demonstrated when, Churchill asked Stalin to send him the music of the new Soviet Russian Anthem so that it could be broadcast before the summary of news from the Soviet-German front. Stalin sent the words and expressed the hope that Churchill would set about learning the new tune and whistling it to members of the Conservative Party’. While Stalin behaved with relative discretion with Roosevelt, he continually teased Churchill throughout the war. During the Teheran Conference Stalin announced over one dinner that it was necessary to shoot around 50,000 German officers and specialists on whom Hitler’s power depended. Churchill objected categorically. Trying to ease the situation and emphasise the humorous nature of the Soviet leader’s remarks, Roosevelt suggested that 49,000 should be shot, not 50,000. When the US president’s son, Elliott, rose in his place to support Stalin, Churchill flared up and walked off into the next room.

Another aspect, which, at first sight, may seem immaterial, also played its part in contacts with the Allies at a high level. This concerns the poor professional training of Soviet interpreters. Stalin’s principal interpreter for English and German was Pavlov. In 1940 Count Werner von der Schulenburg, (German ambassador), wrote to von Ribbentrop, that they translated texts into Russian in the embassy themselves as, from experience it was clear that Soviet translations were poor and full of inaccuracies. There was a similar situation with English during the war. British officials have drawn attention to Pavlov’s very bad interpreting and. doubts arose amongst British officials, about the adequacy of his interpreting, but this had little effect on Pavlov’s career, since Stalin trusted him.

In general however, one has to ask the question as to whether Stalin s diplomacy was competent and did it have any effect over post-war relations? The answer to this is not straight forward, as it has been suggested that during the war years it was effective, and that, except during the period 1939-41, Stalin and Molotov directed foreign policy competently and behaved wisely with their allies. Such a viewpoint is not completely convincing however, since it cannot be justified at all by the post-war realities. In fact, the growth of the USSR’s influence as a result of the war is identified with the activity of Soviet diplomacy. Furthermore there is a general conception that, as a result of Stalin’s diplomacy, the sort of image of the Soviet Union, which formed in the minds of the Allies, was grounded in a feeling of fear. Thus Churchill often considered Stalin’s actions as a policy of intimidation and at the end of the Second World War he wrote to Eden suggesting that the Russian threat enormous. The British historian Martin Kitchen has further concluded that the actions of the USSR during the war years stimulated feelings of hostility in the West and Great Britain in particular.

Therefore a diplomacy, which cultivates in itself an image of an enemy, cannot be considered competent. Furthermore individuals (such as Churchill and Truman) become quickly tired of such diplomacy, ultimately it and secrecy breeds at atmosphere of uncertainty and suspicion. Therefore it is understandable that following the end of the Second World War, the West began to adopt much more forceful methods in its relations with Stalin and the Soviet Union. Thus with Stalin at the helm of the Soviet Union ( and the ability of his legacy to live on ), the Cold War which followed the Second World War was inevitable.


As long as Stalin was running the Soviet Union a cold war was unavoidable. (JL Gaddis, We Now Know). Discuss this interpretation of the origins of the Cold War.


+ A Stephanson Rethinking Cold War History , Review of International Studies, 24 (1) January 1998 (review of JL Gaddis)

+ D Kirby Divinely Sanctioned: The Anglo-American Cold War Alliance and the Defence of Western and Christianity 1945-48 , Journal of Contemporary History, 35 (3) July 2000

+ DF Fleming, The Cold War and its Origins 1917-1960, Vol 1

+ G Warner, The Study of Cold War Origins in D Armstrong & E Goldstein, The End of the Cold War.

+ JL Gaddis, We Now Know: rethinking Cold War history (1997)

+ M McCauley, The Origins of the Cold War 1941-1949 (1995)

+ M Phythian The Cold War , Modern History Review, 12 (1) September 2000

+ Melvyn Leffler, “Inside Enemy Archives: The Cold War Reopened,” Foreign Affairs,

+ R Crockatt, The Fifty Years War: The United States and the Soviet Union in World Politics 1941-1991. (1996),Chapter 4

+ RN Lebow We Still Don t Know , Diplomatic History, 22 (4) Fall 1998 (review of JL Gaddis)

+ V Ingimundorson, Cold War Misperceptions: The Communist and Western Responses to the East German Refugee Crisis in 1953 , Journal of Contemporary History, Vol 29 (1994)

Vol. 75, no. 4 (July-August 1996)



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