Relations between the Soviet Union and the West were poor throughout the interwar years due to the Soviet’s refusal to pay owed debts to the West, the Soviets nationalising of sectors of the economy and because of the murder of Tsar Nicholas II- cousin to King George V. Any attempts to form an alliance between the Soviets Union and the West seemed very unlikely because of the mutual mistrust and hostility. Further increasing tensions between countries, Britain and France pursued a policy of appeasement with Hitler and the Soviets agreed to the Nazi-Soviet pact of 1939. Both events were seen as acts proving the untrustworthiness of each country.
However, Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 saw a transformation of the Second World War with the USSR on the same side at Britain in resisting Nazi Germany. After the Japan bombing at Pearl Harbour, the USA joined the war resulting in the Soviet Union, USA and Britain becoming allies by the end of 1941, in what is known as the Grand Alliance. Although the USSR and the West were cooperating, in order to defeat Hitler and Nazi Germany, division and tensions remained.
One strain in the Alliance was over the timing of opening up a Second Front against Germany. The Soviet Union had borne the brunt of destruction caused in war against Germany, both in human and material losses, so for the Soviets opening up a second front to relieve pressure on the USSR was a necessity. However the refusal to do so from Britain and the USA until they thought the time was right caused Stalin to question their trustworthiness and to be suspicious of their motives. Even after the decision to open up another front, Stalin continued to be sceptical saying, “Until now there has always been something else” which could be seen as Stalin suggesting that the US and Britain had always made excuses when it came to opening a second front. This could also show him being suspicious of whether they will do it again when he says there will be a landing “if there is no fog”.
Discussions of post-war arrangements also developed the strains in the alliance particularly when it came to the matter of Poland. Poland’s fate was of most interest to Britain, who had fought for their independence, and the Soviet Union who were worried for the security of their country. These tensions over the future of Poland were increased after the Soviet forces refused to help the Poles fight off Germany in the Warsaw Rising in 1944. To the West this refusal was seen as a heartless act but to the Soviet’s it was a beneficial act because the Poles were in no condition to fight the Soviet army when they captured Warsaw in 1945. All the West could do was verbally protest. The alliance of the ‘Big Three’ had no reason for being after the defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945 and the tensions and differences that were ‘swept under the carpet’ had quickly surfaced.
Stalin’s foreign policy was based on the aim of taking advantage of the military situation in Europe to strengthen the Soviet’s influence and to prevent future invasions from the west. This resulted in establishing pro-Soviet governments in as many European countries as possible, which was seen an evidence of the expansionist nature of communism according to the West. Stalin was preoccupied with safeguarding the Soviet security, and after substantial losses form previous invasions and war, the need to ensure war was not again inflicted upon Russia was an important concern. One way Stalin thought would reduce this risk was by having a buffer zone of Soviet influenced countries to slow down invasions of Russia from the west. It was difficult for the US to understand Stalin’s obsession for security. The USA believed that the USSR was more concerned with in the spreading of Communism.
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