To this day I have never been able to understand why, when people choose to use the term Cold War to describe our relations with the Soviet Union, they begin with the end of World War II, as though there were some sharp difference between what went on after that time and what had gone before it. Indeed, one gains the impression that many people are only imperfectly aware that the Soviet Union existed prior to the Second World War.
-- George F. Kennan, 19821
A n overarching theme runs throughout Soviet-British relations during the initial years of World War II. As early as 1939, Stalin showed that he had reasonably clear war aims. He wanted to annex territory on the western border of the USSR -- the Baltic States, Eastern Poland, some or all of Finland, and Bessarabia and Bukovina. Given the sharp vicissitudes of the international situation between 1939 and 1942, the most remarkable thing about Soviet policy is how little these aims changed. Whether his partners were the Germans or the British, Stalin would advance roughly the same territorial demands. The force and stridency with which he advocated his interests would vary with the fortunes of the Red Army and the strength of his partners and opponents, but his goals remained relatively stable when contrasted with those of other wartime leaders.
This is not to accept the claims of the Stalin legend, which hold that the Great Leader understood the direction of history and foresaw each twist and turn in the international arena. Stalin's aims would change as the war progressed; his appetite would grow as new opportunities for the expansion of Soviet power presented themselves, although he would moderate his demands when faced with firm resistance. In this he was very different from Hitler. But throughout the war, even during the most bitter and dangerous periods of fighting -- as when Eden was in Moscow -- Stalin would display an overriding interest in shaping the postwar world to fit his pattern.