In December 1944, Charles de Gaulle together with Foreign Minister Georges Bidault discovered that, in spite of a considerable publicity campaign, their presence in Moscow went almost unnoticed among ordinary Russians. As a journalist in Moscow, Alexander Werth recounted how crowds of Russians waiting for a train pushed about the French general “as roughly as anybody else, ” and how Muscovites—perhaps under pressure from the Kremlin—paid attention to him only when they mocked his determination to attend mass at the city's little Catholic Church. 1 The reaction of ordinary Russians to de Gaulle's state visit symbolized the limits of France's attempt to improve its status and consequently its chances for a more independent foreign policy by concluding a treaty of friendship and cooperation with Stalin. It also demonstrated the anachronism of a diplomatic action in the tradition of Europe's balance of power at the dawn of the Cold War.
A few months earlier Italy had also looked East for the same reasons; the Badoglio junta secured recognition from the Soviet Union, first among the Allied coalition to do so. Between 1944 and 1947, what France and Italy managed to achieve in terms of status—and what they did not—can be in part ascribed to their simultaneous attempt to gain leverage versus the United States by making contacts with the Soviet Union. The two nations were also similar in the way they initially overestimated the success of their maneuvers, as well as in their subsequent disillusionment.