While I have been blogging about the Yalta Conference, I also have read most of Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar, by Simon Sebag Montefiore. This book sheds much light on Joseph Stalin and the people in his political and family circles.
Since Yalta is of such interest to me, I will focus on the chapter “The Swaggering Conqueror: Yalta and Berlin.” Security arrangements for the Yalta Conference included more than 600 in Stalin’s personal bodyguard plus four NKVD regiments, antiaircraft guns and 160 fighter planes guarding the conference. To ensure that no suspicious people remained in the area, 74,000 people were checked and 835 arrested.
Montefiore describes the elaborate preparations of Stalin’s living quarters for the conference, which included waiters from the leading Moscow hotels. In one of their first interactions, Franklin Roosevelt offended Stalin by letting Stalin know that he and Winston Churchill referred to Stalin as “Uncle Joe.” Stalin was assured that this was a joke.
During the first plenary session of the Yalta Conference, Stalin impressed a young Andrei Gromyko by speaking and working with no papers or notes and with a memory like a computer. Montefiore notes that Stalin made his famous remark, “How many divisions has the Pope?” during one of these plenary sessions.
Stalin liked Roosevelt and was even fascinated by him. Stalin showed emotions toward Roosevelt that Gromyko had not seen him demonstrate before.
Stalin held out for a strong Poland, which could no longer be a corridor for enemies to attack Russia. He also promised repeatedly to join the war against Japan, in return for Sakhalin and the Kuriles.
On February 8, 1945, Stalin hosted a dinner and invited Beria, whom he described to Roosevelt as “our Himmler.” This description upset FDR. At Churchill’s dinner on February 10, Stalin expressed confidence that Churchill would win the upcoming election.
In discussing the accusations that Roosevelt and Churchill “sold out Eastern Europe” to Stalin, Montefiore notes that Stalin always believed that force would decide who ruled Eastern Europe and that Stalin had 10 million troops occupying the area by the time of Yalta.
Stalin is an excellent book, although reading about his paranoia, the Terror and the character of some of the people around Stalin is rather dispiriting.