Between Churchill and Stalin: The Soviet Union, Great Britain, and the Origins of the Grand Alliance

By Steven Merritt Miner | Go to book overview

INTRODUCTION

S ince the end of World War II, scholars have combed the history of wartime relations between the partners of the Grand Alliance, searching for the origins of the cold war. Historians seeking the causes of this conflict have returned again and again to the inter-Allied disputes, especially over Poland, that led directly to the breakup of the wartime alliance between Great Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union.1

But looking backward in history to find the causes of later conflicts can distort the relative importance of events and issues. All the attention lavished on the Polish imbroglio and the other diplomatic quarrels regarding Eastern Europe and the Balkans has partially obscured the fact that many of the issues over which the Allies clashed in the final years of the war -- Soviet territorial demands, the right of smaller nations to self-determination, and the balance of power in Europe, for example -- had already arisen between 1940 and 1942 because of Stalin's earlier territorial claims, to the Baltic States, Bessarabia, and Bukovina. Most histories of the Cold War only treat this vital, formative period of the Grand Alliance as a prologue to the events of 1943 and after.2

Stalin's claim to the Baltic States may merely have been a "pawn," or an "opening gambit," heralding much wider demands, but for that reason alone the history of this dispute is worth examining. The diplomatic, political, and moral issues that eventually sundered Britain's wartime alliance with the USSR were all present and appeared in miniature during the Anglo-Soviet negotiations over Stalin's first wartime territorial claims, between 1940 and the spring of 1942. A study of this period sheds light on the reasons why the alliance between the USSR and the West did not, and could not, outlast the war.

This book examines Anglo-Soviet relations during two critical years, 1940-42, from the early days of the Nazi-Soviet Pact to the signing of the Anglo-Soviet Treaty. During these years the two nations were transformed from virtual enemies into allies, albeit not terribly close ones. The transformation was not smooth, and this is a history both of Stalinist diplomacy

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