As important as was the alliance between “The Big Three” – Great Britain, the United States and the Soviet Union – during World War II, in late 1944, as the war was nearing its end, William Bullitt, the U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union, cabled President Franklin Roosevelt that Soviet leader Josef Stalin could no longer be trusted as a reliable ally. Bullitt, like many American and British diplomats and government officials, believed that Stalin intended to take complete control of the Eastern European nations, Poland in particular, that the Soviet armies were then “liberating” from German control as they steadily pushed retreating German troops out of Eastern Europe and back into Germany. Not incidentally, after each “liberation,” Soviet troops occupied those Eastern European nations, effectively controlling them.
“Stalin’s intent is to spread the power of Communism to the end of the earth,” Bullitt said in his cable. “Stalin, like Hitler, will not stop. He can only be stopped.”
Roosevelt, who thought he and Stalin saw eye-to-eye on most everything, replied, “I just have a hunch that Stalin is not that kind of man … He won’t try to annex anything and will work with me for a world of democracy and peace.” Roosevelt added, “It’s my responsibility, not yours, and I am going to play my hunch.”
Which he did during the second of the “Big Three” conferences in Yalta, in the Crimea, which ended this week (Feb. 11) in 1945. There, he and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill made it clear to Stalin that the puppet regime the Soviets had installed in Poland after taking control of it from Germany must be dissolved, and free and fair democratic elections be held. To Roosevelt’s satisfaction, Stalin agreed, signing at Yalta the Declaration of Liberated Europe, stating that all Eastern European nations occupied by Soviet troops would “create democratic institutions of their own choice.”
Alas, not long after the Yalta Conference ended, Stalin went back on that promise, and Poland remained under a Soviet puppet government controlled by Stalin. Angered, Roosevelt cabled Stalin, “I must make it quite plain to you that any solution which would result in a thinly disguised continuance of the present [puppet government] would cause the people of the United States to regard the Yalta agreements as having failed.”
Stalin was not swayed. On the contrary, he next ordered that the head of the government of Soviet-occupied Romania be replaced by another Soviet-puppet government.
In hindsight, Roosevelt’s “hunch” was wrong, but he would die within two months, therefore never knowing how spectacularly wrong, as – one by one – all of Eastern Europe came under what Churchill would later famously label “an Iron Curtain” of Soviet control.