“The Far Eastern Blitz” is the next chapter in S. M. Plokhy’s Yalta: The Price of Peace, and it deals with the efforts at the Yalta Conference to have the Soviets enter the war against Japan.
The chapter opens with Joseph Stalin receiving a letter from Franklin Roosevelt in which Roosevelt agreed to the Soviet conditions for going to war with Japan: Russian control of southern Sakhalin and the Kurile islands, north of Japan.
The Soviets had signed a nonaggression pact with Japan in 1941 and thus had kept secret their territorial ambitions toward Japan. Plokhy tells of discussions between Stalin and Roosevelt at Teheran in which the Soviet leader also requested concessions in north China. Plokhy notes that the agreements on Soviet and United States cooperation against Japan were only spoken and thus not binding, and they remained so for the remainder of the war.
Roosevelt faced divisions within his administration over these concessions to the Soviets. While the military placed the highest priority on having the Russians enter the war against Japan, elements of the State Department opposed granting Russia control over Japanese and Chinese areas. The military’s plans for Soviet action against Japan were part of their plan for invading the Japanese mainland.
Roosevelt met with Stalin to discuss the matter, accompanied only by Foreign Commissar Molotov and Averell Harriman. A breakthrough for Roosevelt came when Stalin agreed to order his military to prepare for discussions with U.S. military leaders on joint operations against Japan.
Roosevelt and Stalin disagreed, however, over the Soviet demands that affected China. FDR was reluctant to commit to Soviet influence in north China without first consulting Chiang Kai-Shek. When Stalin countered that he must have these benefits to show to the Russian people to justify entering the war against Japan or he could not promise that the Soviets would take that step, Roosevelt suggested a secret agreement, and Stalin leapt at the opportunity.
The two leaders also reached an agreement on a trusteeship for Korea. This agreement did not include Great Britain, although it allowed for British participation if the British protested. Plokhy notes that the two leaders established an atmosphere of trust and understanding.
At about the same time as this meeting, the United States and Soviet military commanders met to discuss strategy against Japan. The Soviets seemed eager to cooperate with the U.S., although they could make no commitment about establishing American bases on Soviet soil without Stalin’s approval.
Plokhy closes by noting that Roosevelt paid a high price for Stalin’s agreeing to enter the war against Japan. He agreed to hand over territories even before the war had ended, a practice which he had condemned numerous times, notably in the Atlantic Charter. Roosevelt did so to shorten the war and save American lives. While he saw no alternative to meeting Stalin’s demands, the cost was indeed high.