On this day in 1945, The Yalta Conference, also known as the Crimea conference and code named the Argonaut Conference, commences on the Black Sea. With the intention of discussing Germany and Europe’s post-WW2 architecture, Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin met for a week to redraw the world atlas.
Each of the three leaders had their own agenda for post-war Germany and liberated Europe. Roosevelt badly wanted Soviet support in the US Pacific War against Japan, specifically for the planned invasion of the mainland (Operation August Storm), as well as Soviet participation in the United Nations; Churchill pressed for free elections and democratic governments in Eastern and Central Europe (specifically Poland); and Stalin demanded a Soviet sphere of political influence in Eastern and Central Europe as an essential aspect of the USSR’s national security strategy. According to US delegation member and future Secretary of State James F. Byrnes, “it was not a question of what we would let the Russians do, but what we could get the Russians to do.”
The conference provided the illusion of more unanimity than actually existed, especially in light of Stalin’s reneging on his promise of free elections in those Eastern European nations the Soviets occupied at war’s end. Roosevelt and Churchill had believed Stalin’s promises, primarily because they needed to; they were convinced the USSR’s support in a total defeat of the Japanese was crucial. Meanwhile, having lost up to 20 million souls fighting the largest and strongest combinations of German forces, the USSR was on the inexorable and ill-tempered march to Berlin.
In fact, the USSR played much less of a role in ending the war in Asia than assumed, thanks to the Manhattan Project. But there was no going back. A divisive “iron curtain,” in Churchill’s famous phrase, was beginning to descend in Europe.