In February, 1945, Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill and Franklin D. Roosevelt met to discuss what would happen after the Second World War. The conference was held in Yalta on the north coast of the Black Sea in the Crimean peninsula. With Soviet troops in most of Eastern Europe, Stalin was in a strong negotiating position. Roosevelt and Churchill tried hard to restrict post-war influence in this area but the only concession they could obtain was a promise that free elections would be held in these countries. Poland was the main debating point. Stalin explained that throughout history Poland had either attacked Russia or had been used as a corridor through which other hostile countries invaded her. Only a strong, pro-Communist government in Poland would be able to guarantee the security of the Soviet Union.
The historian, Christopher Andrew, who has made a close study of the KGB archive, has argued that Stalin was determined to discover what Allied leaders were thinking: "Yalta was to prove an even bigger success for Soviet intelligence than Tehran. This time both the British and the American delegations, housed respectively in the ornate Vorontsov and Livadia palaces, were successfully bugged. The mostly female personnel used to record and transcribe their private conversations were selected and transported to the Crimea in great secrecy. Not till they arrived at Yalta did they discover the jobs that had been assigned to them. The NKGB sought, with some success, to distract both delegations from its surveillance of them by lavish and attentive hospitality, personally supervised by a massive NKGB general, Sergei Nikiforovich Kruglov."
Alger Hiss, an American official at the Yalta Conference, pointed out in his autobiography, Recollections of a Life (1988): "As I look back on the Yalta Conference after more than forty years, what stand out strikingly are the surprising geniality as host and the conciliatory attitude as negotiator of Joseph Stalin, a man we know to have been a vicious dictator. I am also reminded that in almost all of the analyses and criticism of the Yalta accords that I have read, I have not seen adequate recognition of the fact that it was we, the Americans, who sought commitments on the part of the Russians. Except for the Russian demand for reparations, coolly received by the United States, all the requests were ours."
William Leahy, Roosevelt's chief of staff, later pointed out: "Stalin then brought up the question of reparations in kind and in manpower, but said he was not ready to discuss the manpower question. The latter, of course, referred to forced labour. Since the Russians were using many thousands of prisoners in what was reported to be virtual slave camps, they had little to gain by discussing the matter.... The proposal in brief was: Reparations in kind should include factories, plants, communication equipment, investments abroad, etc., and should be made over a period of ten years, at the end of which time all reparations would have been paid. The total value of the reparations in kind asked by the Soviet was 10 billion dollars, to be spread over the ten-year period... Churchill objected to the 10 billion-dollar figure, and he and Roosevelt agreed that a reparations committee should be appointed to study the issue."
Winston Churchill stated: "The peace of the world depends upon the lasting friendship of the three great powers, but His Majesty's Government feel we should be putting ourselves in a false position if we put ourselves in the position of trying to rule the world when our desire is to serve the world and preserve it from a renewal of the frightful horrors which have fallen upon the mass of its inhabitants." Joseph Stalin and Franklin D. Roosevelt agreed and at Yalta, the decision at Teheran to form a United Nations organization was confirmed. It was only on this issue that all three leaders were enthusiastically in agreement.
Anthony Eden, the British foreign minister, pointed out: "Roosevelt was, above all else, a consummate politician. Few men could see more clearly their immediate objective, or show greater artistry in obtaining it. As a price of these gifts, his long-range vision was not quite so sure. The President shared a widespread American suspicion of the British Empire as it had once been and, despite his knowledge of world affairs, he was always anxious to make it plain to Stalin that the United States was not 'ganging up' with Britain against Russia. The outcome of this was some confusion in Anglo-American relations which profited the Soviets. Roosevelt did not confine his dislike of colonialism to the British Empire alone, for it was a principle with him, not the less cherished for its possible advantages. He hoped that former colonial territories, once free of their masters, would become politically and economically dependent upon the United States, and had no fear that other powers might fill that role."
However, Alger Hiss disagreed with this analysis: "As I look back on the Yalta Conference after more than forty years, what stand out strikingly are the surprising geniality as host and the conciliatory attitude as negotiator of Joseph Stalin, a man we know to have been a vicious dictator. I am also reminded that in almost all of the analyses and criticism of the Yalta accords that I have read, I have not seen adequate recognition of the fact that it was we, the Americans, who sought commitments on the part of the Russians. Except for the Russian demand for reparations, coolly received by the United States, all the requests were ours. And, except for Poland, our requests were finally granted on our own terms. In agreeing to enter the war against Japan, Stalin asked for and was granted concessions of his own, but the initiative had been ours-we had urgently asked him to come to our aid."
At the time of Yalta, Germany was close to defeat. British and USA troops were advancing from the west and the Red Army from the east. At the conference it was agreed to divide Germany up amongst the Allies. However, all parties to that agreement were aware that the country that actually took control of Germany would be in the strongest position over the future of this territory. The main objective of Winston Churchill and Stalin was the capture of Berlin, the capital of Germany. Franklin D. Roosevelt did not agree and the decision of the USA Military commander, General Dwight Eisenhower, to head south-east to Dresden, ensured that Soviet forces would be the first to reach Berlin.
Christopher Andrew, the author of The Mitrokhin Archive (1999), is an historian who believes that Joseph Stalin completely out-negotiated Franklin D. Roosevelt and Winston Churchill at Yalta: "The problem which occupied most time at Yalta was the future of Poland. Having already conceded Soviet dominance of Poland at Tehran, Roosevelt and Churchill made a belated attempt to secure the restoration of Polish parliamentary democracy and a guarantee of free elections. Both were outnegotiated by Stalin, assisted once again by a detailed knowledge of the cards in their hands. He knew, for example, what importance his allies attached to allowing some 'democratic' politicians into the puppet Polish provisional government already established by the Russians. On this point, after initial resistance, Stalin graciously conceded, knowing that the 'democrats' could subsequently he excluded. After first playing for time, Stalin gave way on other secondary issues, having underlined their importance, in order to preserve his allies' consent to the reality of a Soviet-dominated Poland. Watching Stalin in action at Yalta, the permanent under-secretary at the Foreign Office, Sir Alexander Cadogan, thought him in a different league as a negotiator to Churchill and Roosevelt."
It has been argued by G. Edward White, the author of Alger Hiss's Looking-Glass Wars (2004) that Alger Hiss himself had a profound impact on the conference. "Hiss's increased access to confidential sources, especially after he became an assistant to Secretary of State Edward Stettinius, made it possible for him to funnel intelligence information of considerable value to the Soviets. For example, Hiss's placement, coupled with that of the British Soviet agent Donald Maclean, who held a high-level post in the British Embassy in Washington from 1944 to 1949, meant that Stalin had a firm grasp of the postwar goals of the United States and Great Britain before the Yalta Conference."
White points out that Hiss, Donald Maclean, Kim Philby and other British-based Soviet agents in "providing a regular flow of classified intelligence or (confidential) documents in the run-up to (Yalta.)" A recently released KGB document dated March 1945 shows that the Soviets were very pleased with Hiss's contribution during the Yalta Conference: "Recently ALES (Hiss) and his whole group were awarded Soviet decorations. After the Yalta conference, when he had gone on to Moscow, a Soviet personage in a cry responsible position (ALES gave to understand that it was Comrade Vyshinsky, deputy foreign minister), allegedly got in touch with ALES and at the behest of the military NEIGHBOURS (GRU) passed oil to him their gratitude and so on."
Poland was the main debating point. Stalin explained that throughout history Poland had either attacked Russia or had been used as a corridor through which other hostile countries invaded her. Only a strong, pro-Communist government in Poland would be able to guarantee the security of the Soviet Union.