Chapter ten of S. M. Plokhy’s Yalta: The Price of Peace is entitled “In the Fuhrer’s Shadow,” and it opens by describing Hitler’s activities while the Big Three were meeting at Yalta.
Plokhy then profiles Maxim Litvinov, Molotov’s predecessor as foreign commissar, and describes Molotov and the Soviet Union’s relations with Germany during the time of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. That alliance offered Stalin “the hope of realizing the grand imperial vision of the tsars.”
Molotov continued to push for Stalin’s territorial ambitions in his meetings with Ribbentrop and Hitler during 1940 and 1941. These ambitions in Europe convinced Hitler that he must turn against the Soviet Union, and he approved plans for the invasion of the U.S.S.R.
Once Germany invaded, the Soviets negotiated with the British for expanded spheres of influence, although under the guise of “collective security” and treaties of “mutual assistance” with Finland and Rumania. At Yalta, Stalin and Molotov aimed to reclaim the areas that they were granted under the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact plus further areas that Stalin had intended to ask of Hitler. The Soviets rejected British proposals to reject spheres of influence.
“Dividing the Balkans” is the title of chapter 11. It begins with a look at American views on spheres of influence in Europe and then turns to Soviet plans for influence in Europe. This includes a quote from George F. Kennan’s views that the Soviet Union would follow the tsars’ aims of seeking control over areas bordering Russia and over the Dardanelles.
Plokhy tells the story of Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin’s October 1944 meeting in Moscow. As Soviet armies approached the Balkans, the British became concerned over control of Greece and thus their control over access through the Mediterranean to India. When Churchill proposed that he and Stalin divide up their influence over the Balkan nations, Stalin insisted that they consult Roosevelt first. While FDR argued against dividing Europe into spheres of influence, he finally relented and gave his consent to the Churchill-Stalin agreement, although with a three-month time limit.
Churchill hurried to meet with Stalin as Soviet armies advanced through the Balkans. Stalin agreed to give Britain a deciding role in Greece, and Churchill them made his proposal to give the Soviet Union and Great Britain a percentage interest in each Balkan nation. Stalin agreed quickly and then asked Churchill to support revising a 1936 agreement that gave Turkey control over the straits. Plokhy recounts further negotiations involving control in Italy and Bulgaria and the conclusion of the Moscow meeting, which relieved Churchill’s anxiety over Greece.
The chapter closes with a discussion of the idea of spheres of influence as considered by Soviet leadership and between the American diplomats George Kennan and Charles Bohlen. Plokhy concludes that the American delegation at Yalta determined to maintain their alliance with the Soviet Union at the price of the Soviets gaining a sphere of influence in Europe. “Like Bohlen, they probably believed that there would always be time to exercise other options.”