Why Did Stalin Take Control of Eastern Europe?

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Model Essay Why did Stalin take control of Eastern Europe? Plan IntroductionExplain Stalin’s need for internal security in its historical context Block 1Discuss 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.

Block 2Discuss 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. Block 3Discuss 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. Block 4Explain 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.

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ConclusionEvaluate 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.

Furthermore, Truman’s support of Greece and Turkey indicated American willingness to support undemocratic right-wing regimes in the fight against international communism. This was ironic considering Greece and Turkey had exhibited those anti-democratic tendencies, which Truman had attributed to communism. When Stalin pressed the Soviet claim to northern Iran and the Black Sea Straits, it appeared to confirm a Soviet threat to the wider world. Stalin’s interest in Iran was border security in general and oil in particular.

A supply of oil was vital to the recovery of the Soviet economy after the war, but although Iran granted oil concessions to Britain, similar concessions were denied to the Soviet Union. Stalin ignored a deadline for the withdrawal of the Red Army from Iran, but it was a measure of Soviet weakness that he finally bowed to western pressure and complied. To the West, the threat of Soviet expansionism had been checked, but to Stalin the denial of oil supplies along with the ending of Lend-Lease, the rejection of reparations and the refusal to share nuclear technology added up to a western strategy of weakening the Soviet Union.

Truman also opposed the Soviet claim to the Black Sea Straits as ‘an open bid to gain control over Turkey’, despite the fact that the straits were the main gateway for Soviet trade and had long been the goal of Tsarist policy, let alone Stalinist policy. The economic revival of Europe and the liberal attitudes towards Germany in particular, alarmed Stalin, since the Soviet Union had been invaded twice by that country in recent memory. Stalin feared a ‘capitalist coalition’ against him and an inevitable war in five to six years time.

Stalin sought desperately to prepare the Soviet Union against this threat and talked of the need to rebuild and extend Soviet heavy industry in a speech to the Supreme Soviet on 9 February 1946. This address caused a storm amongst American analysts who misread Stalin’s intentions as a call to World War Three. American fears of global communist expansion subsequently gave rise to the policy of ‘containment’, which provided the ideological underpinning for the Truman Doctrine. Stalin looked to Fortress Russia for protection and created the Cominform in 1947.

It brutally enforced Soviet rule in Eastern Europe between 1947-49 and challenged the West in Berlin in June 1948. In each case, Stalin’s aim was to secure the new Soviet borders in Europe, but his aggression and unilateral decisions increased the sense of threat in the West. The British Foreign Office viewed Stalin’s actions as tantamount to establishing ‘a world dictatorship’. Stalin’s hostility towards Tito and his ambivalence attitude to the French and Italian communist parties, however, indicated that he was more interested in internal security than communist expansion.

Stalin’s actions panicked Western Europe into reviewing their own security and this culminated in the formation of NATO in 1949, shortly after the Berlin Crisis. The counter to NATO, the Warsaw Pact, however, was not formed until 1955 after the admittance of West Germany into NATO. In the light of recent history, Soviet fears of German rearmament came back to haunt Soviet minds, as did the threat of a capitalist coalition against it. Generally, the West misjudged the Soviet Union’s strength and intentions, with the US initially perceiving Moscow as posing no threat to its security, then regarding it as a threat to world peace.

The Soviet Union lacked any type of nuclear device and had no bomber planes to threaten the North American continent. Moreover, the Red Army gradually decreased from 11. 9 to 3 million men between 1945-8. Despite the lack of a military threat, Stalin’s pronouncedly paranoid and suspicious personality may have added to the misunderstanding over Soviet policy, since it precluded him from trusting any of his allies, or reaching any sort of compromise over the Soviet satellites in Eastern Europe.

Coupled with the American stance on liberal democracy, this made the Cold war inevitable as Soviet approaches to internal security led to changes in American policy after 1945. 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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