The next chapter in Yalta: The Price of Peace, by S. M. Plokhy, is titled “Allies Should Not Deceive.” After a discussion of the living conditions for the conference participants, Plokhy covers Joseph Stalin’s dinner on the fourth night of the conference. The work day had been frustrating, with no agreement yet on Poland or French participation in the occupation of Germany. Despite these problems, personal relations among the Big Three were friendly and positive.
At this dinner, Lavrentii Beria, the head of the NKVD, made his international debut, to mixed reactions. Stalin described him to Franklin Roosevelt as “our Himmler,” and FDR did not find the comparison amusing. Beria played a leading role in the bugging of the Western allies at Yalta, which Plokhy recounts.
The dinner was interrupted frequently by toasts, many of which Stalin proposed. Some of these dealt with the future of the alliance. While Roosevelt said much less in his toast than Winston Churchill and Stalin proclaimed in theirs, he recognized the importance of their statements on the alliance and came away from the dinner prepared to make concessions.
“A Polish Surrender” is the title of the next chapter. While the photo shoot of the three leaders and their associates was cheerful and friendly, the plenary session that followed was marked by hard bargaining. Plokhy calls it the turning point of the Yalta Conference.
President Roosevelt had a new idea on Poland. He had achieved his two primary goals: Soviet membership in the United Nations and their agreement to enter the war against Japan. He did not want to risk these two goals by negotiating further with the Russians for a free and democratic Polish government. Instead he wanted a document on Poland that he could show to his constituents at home and that would satisfy the Soviets.
The United States proposal called for a Polish Provisional Government of National Unity made up of democratic elements from within Poland and from Poles abroad. This government would be “reorganized” in Moscow, in talks between Molotov and the two Western Allies’ ambassadors. This meant that the Americans were agreeing to the Soviet demand that the new government be “reorganized” based on the existing, Soviet-dominated government. It would aim to carry out free and unfettered elections at the earliest possible date.
While Molotov was surprised that their demands were being met in the American proposal, he still moved to ensure that this provisional government would be friendly to the Soviets. Churchill objected to adopting Molotov’s proposed amendments to the American plan without further discussion. Churchill insisted on retaining the original American proposal that the ambassadors to Poland would monitor the Polish elections, to ensure that they would be free and democratic. Churchill and Stalin discussed the election process, and Roosevelt joined in, siding with Churchill. Thus the day’s session ended in discord.
The next morning, in the foreign ministers’ meeting, Secretary of State Edward Stettinius dropped the American request to have the Western ambassadors report on the Polish elections. FDR had originated this concession, and Churchill was not pleased by it. Later that day, the seventh day of the Yalta Conference, Churchill went to meet with Stalin, to discuss Poland.
Churchill wanted to press on with having the Western ambassadors report on the Polish elections. When Stalin assured Churchill and Eden that Britain could have representatives in Poland with freedom of movement, Eden proposed that the ambassadors to Poland would inform their governments of the situation in Poland and dropped the idea of reporting on the elections. Stalin was satisfied with this.
While Churchill told Roosevelt that he had retrieved the situation on Poland, the final agreement was “an act of surrender to the Soviets,” according to Plokhy. The final question involved Poland’s western borders, which the participants agreed to leave for a future discussion with the new government of Poland.
While Roosevelt would incur much criticism for the Yalta agreement on Poland, he acknowledged at the time that the agreement was too elastic but “it’s the best I can do for Poland at this time.”