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Stalin (Edvard Radzinsky)


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  An 1943 the Big Three met in conference at Teheran. The Western Allies were now themselves in a hurry to open a second front, before Stalin arrived in Europe. He had not grown out of Koba's youthful habit: he arrived a day late. Let them wait. He was the Boss now.

At Teheran he met Roosevelt for the first time. Roosevelt, whom Stalin saw as an idealist, and Churchill were comically incongruous partners. Which of them did he like better? Asked this by Molotov, he replied, "They're both imperialists," the appropriate answer to a person of Stone Arse's limited understanding. The fact was that they were both very much to his liking. He saw at once how he could cause a collision between Roosevelt, with his avowed aversion to under-the-table deals, and Churchill, who felt sure that without such deals they stood no chance against the dread Uncle Joe. "If I had to pick a negotiating team, Stalin would be my first choice," said Anthony Eden, the British Foreign Secretary.

During the Teheran honeymoon they exchanged protestations of eternal love. Churchill presented the Boss with the Stalingrad Sword. "Marshal Stalin," he said, "can take his place beside the major figures in Russian history, and deserves to be known as 'Stalin the Great."' The Boss modestly replied that "it is easy to be a hero when you are dealing with people like the Russians." The main subject of discussion was the second front. But Churchill couldn't resist asking about territorial claims once the war was won. Stalin answered that "there's no need to talk about that at present: when the time comes we shall have our say."

He knew even then that Churchill would suggest a tradeoff. In 1944 the Western Allies landed in Normandy, while Stalin's armies crossed the Soviet frontier and began rapidly overrunning Poland, Hungary, Romania, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia. Bulgaria and Finland withdrew from the war. The Balkans were at Russia's mercy. The Communist-dominated National Liberation Army took control of the whole of mainland Greece. A partisan army led by the Communist Tito, helped by Soviet forces, was victorious in Yugoslavia.

Churchill made haste. On October 9, 1944, he and Eden were in Moscow, and that night they met Stalin in the Kremlin, without the Americans. Bargaining went on throughout the night. Churchill wrote on a scrap of paper that the Boss had a 90 percent "interest" in Romania, Britain a 90 percent "interest" in Greece, both Russia and Britain a 50 percent interest in Yugoslavia. When they got to Italy the Boss ceded that country to Churchill. The crucial questions arose when the Ministers of Foreign Affairs discussed "percentages" in Eastern Europe. Molotov's proposals were that Russia should have a 75 percent interest in Hungary, 75 percent in Bulgaria, and 60 percent in Yugoslavia. This was the Boss's price for ceding Italy and Greece. Eden tried to haggle: Hungary 75/25, Bulgaria 80/20, but Yugoslavia 50/50. After lengthy bargaining they settled on an 80/20 division of interest between Russia and Britain in Bulgaria and Hungary, and a 50/50 division in Yugoslavia. U.S. Ambassador Harriman was informed only after the bargain was struck. This gentleman's agreement was sealed with a handshake.

The percentages--the idea that the Boss would accept anything less than one hundred percent authority--were a comic fiction.

Churchill knew very well that Stalin could not be trusted, and he tried to act in the way they both favored. But the Boss was unconcerned. He knew that Roosevelt would not countenance any breach of faith, however compelling the arguments in favor of it. When Churchill tried to enter into secret negotiations with Germany, the Boss immediately informed Roosevelt. Roosevelt indignantly protested and the talks were broken off. (When Roosevelt died on April 12, 1945, too soon to see Uncle Joe's new Europe, the Boss wrote to Churchill that "for my part I feel particularly the grievous loss of that great man, our common friend.")

Hitler, in any case, had succeeded in consolidating the alliance of the Big Three by the end of 1944. The Germans made a sudden attack on the Allies in the Ardennes and inflicted heavy losses. Stalin nobly came to the rescue, and distracted the Germans by launching a premature offensive. The help he gave them was to be credited to his account when the time came to divide Europe.

The Third Reich was within months of its end when the Allied powers met at Yalta. Roosevelt and Churchill were Stalin's guests in the Livadia Palace, the favorite home of the Last Tsar and his family. The Conference adopted high-sounding decisions on the peaceful Europe of the future, on the establishment of the UN, on the demilitarization of Germany. But its main business was to complete the partition of Europe, and help to give substance to the Great Dream. This time Stalin was able to include Poland in his maneuvers.

The monstrous Katyn affair caused complications. After the collapse of Poland more than twenty thousand captured Polish officers had been quartered in prison camps near the Soviet frontier. When Stalin was getting ready to attack Germany, the thought of keeping so many potential enemies within the Soviet Union alarmed him. He remembered the mutiny of the Czechoslovak prisoners of war in 1918. As usual, he found a quick and drastic solution: the prisoners were "liquidated." When General Anders began forming the Polish army in the West, Stalin released some two thousand Poles from the camps. But Poles abroad asked where so many thousands of officers had disappeared to. The answer given was that they had run away from the camps at the beginning of the war. The Polish government in exile was not satisfied, and persisted in asking about the missing officers.

A little play-acting was called for. In the presence of the Polish representative Stalin telephoned Molotov and Beria to ask whether all Poles had been released from Soviet jails. They both said yes. But when the Germans occupied Smolensk they had found in the nearby Katyn forest a gruesome burial ground containing row upon row of corpses with bullet holes in the backs of the neck, the remains of the Polish officers. Stalin of course accused Hitler of a grotesque provocation. He changed his story: the Poles had not run away, but had been transferred to the Smolensk area to work on building sites. There the Germans had captured them, shot them, and blamed the USSR for it. A special Soviet commission was set up, with the Boss's own writers, academics, and clergy as members. The commission, of course, confirmed his story. Roosevelt and Churchill had to take their ally's word. The monstrous scale of the tragedy has only recently become known. A. Krayushkin, head of one of the directorates of the Federal Security Service (as the former KGB is now called), at a press conference in Smolensk in April 1995, informed the Russian and Polish journalists present that the number of Polish prisoners killed in various camps was 21,857.

The documents concerning those shot were destroyed, with Khrushchev's consent, in 1959. What remains is a letter from A. Shelepin, then head of the KGB, informing Khrushchev that "in all, 21,857 people were shot on orders from the KGB, including 4,421 in the Katyn forest, 6,311 in the Ostashkovo camp (Kaliningrad oblast), and 3,820 in the Starobel camp near Kharkov."

Shelepin's letter then asks Khrushchev for permission to destroy the records of those shot, since they have "neither operational nor historical importance."

On the site of the terrible mass grave in the Katyn forest there now stands a dacha built by one of the "new Russians"--a rich businessman.

August 1944 was the month of the Warsaw rising, organized by the Polish government in exile. Stalin's armies had halted in sight of Warsaw, but he ordered them not to advance, and they stood there watching while the Germans destroyed the city. His main objective now was to get rid of the emigre Polish government. Repeated Allied attempts to talk to good old Uncle Joe about a democratic Poland were met with a sharp "no." The logic of his position was simple. He had won the war in order to have good next-door neighbors. He would allow the Western Allies to surrender Poland by easy stages: Roosevelt, he knew, had to think of the Polish vote at home. But that was as far as he would go. He had, then, in the final stages of the war erected the framework of a future Communist Eastern Europe.

He also had plans for Asia. At Yalta they had discussed the part Russia might yet play in the war against Japan. Stalin had of course consented to join in. It would enable his armies to move into China and onward, toward realization of the Great Dream.

At the very end of 1944 yet another ally arrived in Moscow--General de Gaulle, now Prime Minister of liberated France. The French visitors' rooms were bugged, and the Boss was kept informed of their regular conversations about the bloodthirsty Stalin.

At the Kremlin banquet lanky de Gaulle and the diminutive Boss made a comic duo. Stalin proposed a toast to Kaganovich--"a brave man. He knows that if the trains do not arrive on time"--he paused, and then concluded affectionately--"we shall shoot him." Then he proposed a toast to Air Marshal Novikov--"a good marshal, let's drink to him. And if he doesn't do his job properly"--with a kindly smile--"we shall hang him." The French no longer found him such a comic figure. He finished his teasing by saying laughingly, "People call me a monster, but as you see I make a joke of it. Maybe I'm not so horrible after all."

On the train de Gaulle said incredulously, "And these are the people we shall be dealing with for the next hundred years!" The French visitors, however, also carried away another impression. "In his behavior you caught a glimpse of something resembling the despair of a man who has reached such heights of power that he has nowhere else to go," one of them wrote. On that same occasion in the Kremlin, Hitler's conqueror had suddenly remarked to de Gaulle that "in the long run death is the only victor." It was December, and his sixty-fifth birthday was drawing near.


Read a comment by Radzinsky's editor, Jesse Cohen.
 
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Excerpted from Stalin by Edvard Radzinsky. Copyright © 1996 by Edvard Radzinsky. Excerpted by permission of Doubleday, a division of Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing Group, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.