The Yalta Conference (1945)

The Yalta Conference, sometimes called the Crimea Conference and codenamed the Argonaut Conference, was the wartime meeting from February 4 to 11, 1945 between the heads of government of the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union. The delegations were headed by Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin, respectively.


The key Allied leaders, Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill, were known as the "Big Three" because of the might of the nations they represented and their peaceful collaboration during World War II. These three leaders met together only twice during World War II, but when they did conference, their decisions changed the course of history.

After the Tehran Conference, the three leaders promised to meet again, and this agreement came to pass at the Yalta Conference of February 1945. Although Stalin had expressed concern about Roosevelt's health during the Teheran conference, this concern did not translate into action. The Soviet dictator refused to travel further than the Black Sea Resort, Yalta, in the Crimean Riveria (then part of the Soviet Union, now part of Ukraine) for the next summit and, once again, Churchill and Roosevelt were both the ones taking long and tiring trips to attend the Yalta summit.

Each of the three powers brought their own agenda to the Yalta Conference. The British wanted to maintain their empire, the Soviets wished to obtain more land and to strengthen conquests, and the Americans wanted to insure the Soviet's entry into the Pacific war and discuss postwar settlement. Moreover, Roosevelt hoped to obtain a commitment from Stalin to participate in the United Nations. As the first topic on the Soviet's agenda for expansion, the subject of Poland immediately arose, and Stalin was quick to succintly state his case with the following words:

"For the Russian people, the question of Poland is not only a question of honor but also a question of security. Throughout history, Poland has been the corridor through which the enemy has passed into Russia. Poland is a question of life and death for Russia."

Accordingly, Stalin made it clear that some of his demands regarding Poland were not negotiable: the Russians were to gain territory from the eastern portion of Poland and Poland was to compensate for that by extending its Western borders, thereby forcing out millions of Germans. Reluctantly, Stalin promised free elections in Poland, notwithstanding the recently installed Communist puppet government. However, it soon became apparent that Stalin had no intentions of holding true to his promise of free elections. In fact, it was fifty years after the Yalta Conference that the Poles first had the opportunity to hold free elections. As mentioned earlier, at Yalta a principal aim of Roosevelt was to make sure that the Soviets would enter the Asian war, i.e., the war against the Japanese. Unfortunately, however, Roosevelt should never have spent any time agonizing over Soviet involvement in the Pacific war because Stalin did not need convincing. The Soviets themselves were keen to assuage the intense feelings of humiliation that resulted from a long ago defeat by Japan and loss of privileges in Manchuria during the Russo-Japanese War. The Soviets were keen on regaining lost territories and optimistic that they could obtain more lands.

However, Roosevelt was oblivious to Stalin's objectives because of Stalin's excellent 'poker face,' and he readily met Stalin's price, leaving the Yalta Conference exuberant because Stalin had agreed to enter the Pacific war against Japan. Moreover, the Soviets had agreed to join the United Nations given the secret understanding of a voting formula with a veto power for permanent members in the Security Council, there by providing the Soviets with more control in world affairs and greatly weakening the United Nations. Overall, Roosevelt felt confident that Yalta had been successful. The Big Three had ratified previous agreements about the postwar division of Germany: there were to be four zones of occupation, one zone for each of the three dominant nations plus one zone for France. Berlin itself, although within the Soviet zone, would also be divided into four sectors, and would eventually become a major symbol of the Cold War because of the division of the city due to the infamous Berlin Wall, which was constructed and manned by the Soviets.

The Big Three had further decided that all original governments would be restored to the invaded countries and that all civilians would repatriated. Democracies would be established, all territories would hold free elections, and order restored to Europe, as declared in the following official statement:

"The establishment of order in Europe and the rebuilding of national economic life must be achieved by processes which will enable the liberated peoples to destroy the last vestiges of Nazism and fascism and to create democratic institutions of their own choice."

In the postwar setting, Russia would gain the southern half of the Sakhalin Islands and Kuriles, half of East Prussia, Konigsberg, Germany, and control of Finland. In addition, Roosevelt let it slip that the United States would not protest if the Soviet Union attempted to annex the three Baltic States (Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) or establish puppet governments, therefore leaving Stalin as pleased with the overall results as Roosevelt, and more rightly so. The Yalta Conference is often regarded by numerous Central European nations as the "Western betrayal." This belief, held by countries such as Poland, Slovakia, Romania, and the Czech Republic, is rooted in the belief that the Allied powers, despite venerating democratic policies and signing numerous pacts and military agreements, allowed smaller countries to be controlled by and/or made Communist states of the Soviet Union. At the Yalta conference, the Big Three "attempted to sacrifice freedom for the sake of stability," and many believe the decisions and concessions of Roosevelt and Churchill during the summit lead to the power struggle of the ensuing Cold War.

The meeting

The conference was held in Yalta, a resort town on the Crimean peninsula in the Soviet Union (now in Ukraine). The American delegation was housed in the Tsar's former palace, while President Roosevelt stayed at the Livadia Palace where the meetings took place. The British delegation was installed in Prince Vorontsov's castle of Alupka. Key members of the delegations were Edward Stettinius, Averell Harriman, Anthony Eden, Alexander Cadogan, and Vyacheslav Molotov. According to Anthony Beevor, all the rooms were bugged by the NKVD. Stalin arrived by train on February 4. The meeting started with an official dinner on the evening of that day.

Major points

* There was agreement that the priority was the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany. After the war, the country would be split into four occupied zones, with a quadripartite occupation of Berlin as well.

* Stalin agreed to let France get the fourth occupation zone in Germany and Austria, carved out from the British and American zones. France would also be granted a seat in the Allied Control Council.

* Germany would undergo demilitarization and denazification.

* Creation of an allied reparation council with its seat in Moscow.

* The status of Poland was discussed but was complicated by the fact that Poland by this time was under the control of the red army. It was agreed to reorganize the Provisionary Polish Government that had been set up by the Red Army through the inclusion of other groups as the Polish Provisional Government of National Unity to be followed by democratic elections. (This effectively excluded the exile Polish government that had formed in London).

* The Polish eastern border should basically follow the Curzon Line, and Poland should receive substantial territorial compensation in the west from Germany.

* Citizens of the Soviet Union and of Yugoslavia were to be handed over to their respective countries, regardless of their consent.

* Roosevelt obtained a commitment by Stalin to participate in the United Nations once it was agreed that each of the five permanent members of the Security Council would have veto power.

* Stalin agreed to enter the fight against the Empire of Japan within 90 days after the defeat of Germany. The Soviet Union would receive the southern part of Sakhalin and the Kurile islands after the defeat of Japan.


Yalta was the last great conference before the end of the war and the last trip of Roosevelt abroad. To observers he appeared already ill and exhausted. Arguably, his most important goal was to ensure the Soviet Union's participation in the United Nations, which he achieved at the price of granting veto power to each permanent member of the Security Council, a condition that significantly weakened the UN. Another of his objectives was to bring the Soviet Union into the fight against Japan, as the effectiveness of the atomic bomb had yet to be proven. The Red Army had already removed Nazi forces from most of Eastern Europe, so Stalin essentially got everything he wanted: a significant sphere of influence as a buffer zone. In this process, the freedom of small nations was somehow expendable and sacrificed for the sake of stability, which would mean that the Baltic countries of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia would continue to be members of the USSR.