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Yalta Agreement: The Problems


The weakness of the Yalta Agreement

Yalta was the high-point of the wartime alliance. To Roosevelt and many Americans it seemed like the beginning of a post-war period of co-operation. There was enthusiastic cheering in the American Senate when the Agreement was read out. In fact, the Yalta Agreement was flawed in a number of important ways:


Yalta: The Problems

The Soviets and the Americans interpreted it differently. The Agreement talked about the need for 'democracy' and 'free elections'. For Roosevelt, democracy was the American system of free speech. Stalin's idea of democracy was a communist one, in which the communist party represented the people and no opposition was allowed.


Yalta raised false expectations in the USA. People expected that Stalin would now allow western-style governments to be set up in Eastern Europe. They were bitterly disappointed when this did not happen.


The Agreement tried to achieve compromise over the future of Poland. In fact, compromise was not possible. Either Poland was democratic or it was friendly towards the USSR. Leading figures in Polish society were anti-Russian. Stalin knew that he could only make sure that Poland was friendly by destroying free speech.


Yalta in practice

Roosevelt was proud of the Yalta Agreement. He was disappointed to see how Stalin put it into practice. Stalin paid only lip service to the idea of bringing non-communists into the government of Poland. At Yalta it was agreed that the Soviet Foreign Minister, Molotov would negotiate the details of the new Polish government with the British and American ambassadors to Moscow. These talks were not successful. Molotov refused to let the London Poles play a significant part in the government.


Harriman, the American ambassador, later said: 'We began to realize that Stalin's language was somewhat different from ours.' By the beginning of April, Harriman was reporting to Truman that the talks had achieved nothing. At the same time Polish opponents of communism were dealt with ruthlessly. In March, 16 leaders of the Polish Resistance went, at the invitation of Stalin, to have talks with the Soviet authorities near Warsaw. They were promised their own personal safety. They were arrested and were never seen again.