Why did Stalin take control of Eastern Europe?
Explain Stalin’s need for internal security in its historical context
Discuss Stalin’s tactic for gaining Eastern Europe and the wartime agreements that carved Europe up into ‘spheres of influence’, e.g. Tehran, 1943, Percentages Agreement, 1944.
Discuss how tensions over Poland intensified Stalin’s need to create friendly states in Eastern Europe, i.e. Soviet massacre of Polish officer in the Katyn, Forest, 1940 and Red Army refusal to help Warsaw Uprising, 1944.
Discuss Western hypocrisy over British and French appeasement of fascist dictatorships in the 1930s and American support of Greece and Turkey in 1946, as justification for Stalin’s control of Eastern Europe.
Discuss the USSR’s claims to northern Iran and the Black Sea straits and the effect it had on Western assumptions/reactions about Soviet intentions, e.g. Truman’s ending of Lend-Lease.
Explain how the takeover of Eastern Europe was partly a reaction to American and Allied perceptions of the USSR, e.g. Riga Axiom, policy of Containment etc.
Evaluate Stalin’s aims and motivations after the war and weigh up the Soviet threat to the West, e.g. Stalin’s support for communist parties in Western Europe and his attitude towards the Percentages Agreement (Greece), Soviet reaction towards formation of NATO, 1949.
At the end of the war Stalin became convinced that the West was determined to destroy the Soviet Union. Russian diplomats reported at the time that the US monopoly of the atom bomb had thrown ‘the Kremlin leader off balance’ and this resulted in an obsession with security against a surprise attack from the West. This was confirmed by Khrushchev who noted that Stalin had placed anti-aircraft guns around Moscow on a 24 hour alert. Ruthless screening of all returning Soviet POWS seemed to confirm Stalin’s paranoia about Western influences or sympathies.
As a result of his fears, Stalin was determined to tighten rather than relax Soviet control of Eastern Europe as a way of creating a buffer zone against any renewal of Western hostility. He expected the West to accept separate spheres of influence in Europe ‘as agreed’ by Churchill in the ‘Percentages Agreement’ of 1944 and ratified at the Yalta and Potsdam conferences. Stalin justified Soviet actions in Eastern Europe as a matter of national security since some pre-war governments had been avowedly anti-communist, with Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria in particular, assisting the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union. The control of Poland, in particular, was crucial to Soviet security because Stalin viewed the country as ‘a corridor for attack on Russia’. Its government, therefore, had to be friendly towards the Soviet Union. For Stalin, this meant imposing a Soviet puppet as leader; for the Americans it meant allowing free elections. The outcome of the Polish question would ultimately determine the nature of the emerging East-West divide. However, the refusal of the Red Army to help the Warsaw Uprising of 1944 and the revelation of the Soviet massacre of Poles in the Katyn Forest of 1940 only intensified the traditional hostility that existed between Poland and Russia. It was in this context that that Stalin took firm and direct measures to ensure friendly governments in Eastern Europe.
The Western concern for democracy struck Stalin as a double standard, as all of the pre-war governments, except for Czechoslovakia had been dictatorships. Similarly, the West had at first tolerated and to some extent welcomed the fascist dictatorships of Mussolini, Franco and Hitler. Moreover, Stalin noted the determination of Britain and France to re-establish their empires around the world in defiance of national liberation movements and the Wilsonian ideals of self-determination. France, for example, was fighting a savage colonial war in Indo-China....
Bibliography: The Cold War, Bradley Lightbody
The Origins of the Cold War, Martin McCauley, Chapters 2 & 3
The USA and the Cold War, Oliver Edwards, Chapter 2
The Cold War, Steve Phillips, p.13-22
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