The next chapter covered in this extended review of S. M. Plokhy’s Yalta: The Price of Peace is titled “Stalemate on Poland.”
On February 7, 1945, Franklin Roosevelt opened the Yalta plenary session by raising the issue of the Polish government. Joseph Stalin essentially turned down Roosevelt’s earlier proposal to bring Polish representatives to Yalta by saying that he could not reach all of them in time.
Soviet Foreign Commissar Molotov then presented a proposal for the Polish government that was at least a step in Roosevelt’s direction. The leaders turned the question over to the foreign ministers to discuss, and Winston Churchill, too, was pleased with the apparent progress.
On February 8, the Americans presented a new proposal for forming a government, which involved designating a presidential council. Molotov rejected this idea, citing the popularity of the Soviet-backed Lublin government. This inspired Churchill to respond in favor of the Polish government in exile, based in London. Churchill and Roosevelt wanted to reorganize the Polish government, while Stalin wanted to build from the Lublin government. Thus Stalin rejected Churchill’s argument.
Molotov’s proposal of the preceding day had included points on the new borders of Poland. Stalin was willing to give Poland a generous western border at Germany’s expense. He was even more generous than Roosevelt and Churchill would have liked. This generosity grew out of Stalin’s aim to make the new Polish government more loyal to Moscow.
This border extended along the Oder River and then along either the Eastern or Western Neisse rivers. Churchill and Roosevelt wanted the Eastern Neisse, while Stalin wanted the Western branch of that river. The Western allies were concerned about the high number of German refugees that the shifting western border of Poland would create. Stalin replied that the Germans would have fled ahead of the advancing Red Army in any case.
The chapter and that day at Yalta ended with the two sides still disagreeing over the Polish government and its borders.
Chapter 16, “The Bombline,” discusses military relations between the Western allies and the Soviets. The Americans were especially concerned about establishing direct contact with the Soviet high command. This was hampered by Soviets’ refusing to commit to any action without first having approval from Stalin. Another problem was the British reluctance to have such direct contact established, as they feared that they would be left out of the loop.
Plokhy describes the cases of two Russian officers who were subjected to Stalin’s paranoia toward high-ranking military personnel. They had risen rapidly through the ranks thanks in part to Stalin’s purge of the military in 1937-38. One survived but was demoted. These cases illustrate the reason that Soviet officers would make no decisions on their own without Stalin’s approval.
The three allies finally reached an agreement at Yalta on establishing the zones in which they would bomb Germany. Plokhy then describes the bombing of Dresden, which followed soon after the Yalta conference.