In Yalta: The Price of Peace, by S. M. Plokhy, chapter 13 is titled “‘What would the Ukrainians Say?’” It opens by describing Joseph Stalin’s animated and negative reaction to the proposals on Poland put forth by Franklin Roosevelt and Winston Churchill. He explained that Germany had twice invaded the U.S.S.R. through Poland and that the Soviet Union, therefore, wanted a free, independent and strong Poland. Soviet policy, however, also called for the Soviet Union completely to dominate Poland.
Stalin was arguing for setting the Curzon line as the eastern border for Poland. Plokhy tells the history of the disputed area around the town of Lviv (also Lvov or Lwow) and the efforts of the Ukraine to claim the territory.
Churchill and Roosevelt were concerned that they were losing the Poland debate to Stalin, and both of those leaders faced domestic political pressure to stand up for Poland. After the February 6, 1945, plenary session, FDR had Charles Bohlen draft a letter to Stalin, saying that he saw the possibility of a breach between the Soviets on one side and the Americans and British on the other. Roosevelt was determined to prevent that breach. As a solution, FDR advocated Churchill’s proposal that the Big Three form a new Polish government meeting at Yalta.
FDR proposed to bring representatives from the Lublin and London governments plus leaders from Poland to Yalta. FDR viewed the ability to reach an agreement on Poland as an indicator to the American public of the Big Three’s ability to agree on other topics in the future. He could only wait on Stalin’s reply to his appeal.
Chapter 14, “Counting Votes in the United Nations,” covers one of the issues lined up for discussion on February 7 and 8. February 7 began with a meeting of the foreign ministers, at which Edward Stettinius took the initiative. He asked whether anyone had questions about his previous day’s presentation on the United Nations. Molotov ruled the topic out of order.
Later that day, at the plenary session, Stalin steered the discussion to the United Nations (and away from Poland). The Soviets accepted the Security Council voting formula that the United States had proposed. This was a major victory for Roosevelt.
Molotov then turned to another United Nations issue: He asked that at least two Soviet republics be admitted as voting members of the general assembly. The Soviets had earlier asked that all 16 republics be admitted. The Soviets felt that they would be outnumbered by British Commonwealth nations voting with Great Britain and Latin American nations voting with the United States. FDR realized that this request was the price of Soviet acquiescence in the Security Council voting proposal.
Although Roosevelt attempted to shelve the question of Soviet votes, Churchill spoke in favor of the Soviet request. Plokhy recounts the tension that this created between the American and British leaders and delegations.
Plokhy gives another example of FDR’s clever maneuvering by telling of Stalin’s meeting with FDR before the February 8 plenary session. Roosevelt told Stalin that the agenda for that day’s plenary session would include discussion of giving Ukraine and Belarus votes in the United Nations. This was his way of softening up Stalin for the discussion of Soviet entry into the war against Japan. Stalin had used a similar maneuver in agreeing to the Security Council voting proposal as a way to soften up FDR on the Polish question.
This did not clear the way entirely, as the foreign ministers had not agreed on giving the U.S.S.R. three votes in their meeting before the plenary session. Stalin and Molotov also were not pleased that the two Soviet republics would be admitted only when the United Nations convened, not as initial members.
Also, FDR encountered resistance from his advisers on allowing the Soviets three votes. He decided that he would take the matter up with Stalin at another time. By steering this middle course, FDR demonstrated to Edward Stettinius that he was in good physical and mental shape. FDR achieved the goal that he really wanted: the birth of the United Nations.