What Will Russia Do After the War?

From the Grand Alliance to the Cold War.

Top Image: Soviet and U.S. soldiers meet on the Elbe River. Courtesy of Sputnik.

Background:

On November 16, 1933, the United States established diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union. Although it was a strained relationship from the beginning, the relationship between the two countries was marked by a great deal of cooperation between the two countries during World War II (1941-1945) and it was essential in defeating Nazi Germany. Without the sacrifice of nearly 20 million Soviets on the Eastern Front, the United States and Great Britain would not have been able to defeat Germany.

When the Soviets signed a non-aggression pact with Germany in 1939, it appeared there was no hope for any kind of alliance. The Soviet occupation of eastern Poland in September and the “Winter War” against Finland in December made a potential alliance even more difficult. Despite the mounting tension between the two countries, President Roosevelt always understood Nazi Germany, not the Soviet Union, was the greatest threat to peace. Roosevelt was responsible for including the Soviet Union in the Lend-Lease bill passed in 1941. When Nazi Germany attacked the Soviet Union in June of 1941, the alliance between the Soviets and the U.S. was sealed. The first Lend-Lease aid began to arrive in the Soviet Union by October. In December of 1941 when the U.S. entered the war, the collaboration between the three major powers (Soviet Union, United States, and Great Britain) intensified. Their one goal was the unconditional surrender of Germany. The most important disagreement, which arose between the big three, was the opening of the second front. The Soviets were bleeding out on the eastern front and advocated for an invasion of France as soon as possible. Finally, the Normandy Invasion took place on June 6, 1944.

The next tensions between the Allies were the questions of post-war boundaries. The German defeat was obvious by early 1945. Confident of an Allied victory in February 1945 Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin met in Yalta to discuss the reorganization of Europe at the conclusion of the war. Churchill wanted free and fair elections which would lead to democratic governments in Central and Eastern Europe, especially Poland. Stalin wanted governments who were loyal and friendly to the Soviet Union, to act as a buffer zone against potential future German aggression. It was agreed Poland would be reorganized under a communist provisional government and free elections would be held at a later date. It was also agreed Germany and Berlin would be divided into four zones of occupation between the United States, Great Britain, France, and the Soviet Union. From July 17-August 2, 1945, a second conference was held in Potsdam, Germany. Roosevelt died in April of that year and the new President Harry Truman represented the United States. Truman was very suspicious of Soviet actions. He did not trust Stalin and questioned his true intentions.

How do you think Americans responded to this poll?

The Results:

The Soviet Union Occupies Eastern Europe

At the end of World War II, the Soviet Union occupied Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary, Poland and eastern Germany. Great Britain, the United States, France, and the Soviet Union divided Germany and Berlin into four occupation zones to be administered by the four countries. The Soviet Union was determined to establish governments in Eastern Europe who were friendly to the Soviet Union. While the war was still taking place, Soviet occupation troops assisted local communists in putting Communist dictatorships in Romania and Bulgaria in power. Yugoslavia and Albania supported the rise of communist dictatorships in their countries; however, both of these countries remained outside of the Soviet sphere of influence. In 1949 the Communist German Democratic Republic was established in the Soviet, German occupation zone. The East European satellite regimes depended on Soviet military power to maintain control of their communist governments. Over one million Red Army soldiers remained stationed in Eastern Europe. On March 5, 1946, Winston Churchill, speaking at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri with President Harry S. Truman on the stage with him, summed up the situation in Europe with what is known as the “Iron Curtain” speech: “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent.”  Churchill’s speech may have been the first shot fired in the Cold War which would last until 1989.

Illingworth cartoon Soviet influence

On 16 June 1947, British cartoonist Leslie Gilbert Illingworth illustrates the threat represented by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, who is methodically trying to extend his area of influence in Central Europe to include the countries of Western Europe. Published in the Daily Mail, June 16, 1947, London.

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WWII Polls

Public opinion polls give us unique insight into America in the WWII era. Each week, historians from the Institute for the Study of War and Democracy work with the archives of the Roper Center for Public Opinion Research at Cornell University to explore what Americans believed and how they felt about events and people related to the WWII years.

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Dan Olmsted

Dan Olmsted is a Research Historian in the Institute for the Study of War and Democracy. He started at the Museum in 2014 and, until his ...
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