"We Can’t Do Business With Stalin"

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The United States and Britain protested, reminding the Russians of their obligations under the Atlantic Charter, the Yalta agreements, and the Rumanian armistice agreement to consult their allies and to maintain a broadly representative government, pending the promised free election. But by nightfall of March 6, the king saw no alternative other than submission. He dismissed Radescu and named Petru Groza, the Soviet choice, as premier of a new Coalition Cabinet, one thoroughly obedient to the will of the Russians. Here again Soviet proximity and power had prevailed.

Debarred from more forceful action, Washington and London refused to recognize the Groza regime. Roosevelt was fully aware that the overwhelming power at his command did not reach to Bucharest. On March 11, he wrote to Churchill:

 

“I am fully determined, as I know you are, not to let the good decisions we reached at the Crimea slip through our hands and will certainly do everything I can to hold Stalin to their honest fulfillment. In regard to the Rumanian situation, Averell [Harriman] has taken up and is taking up again the whole question with Molotov, invoking the [Yalta] Declaration on Liberated Europe, and has proposed tripartite discussions to carry out these responsibilities. It is obvious that the Russians have installed a minority government of their own choosing, but… Rumania is not a good place for a test case. The Russians have been in undisputed control from the beginning and with Rumania lying athwart the Russian lines of communications it is more difficult to contest the plea of military necessity and security which they are using to justify their action. We shall certainly do everything we can, however, and of course will count on your support.”

It seems pointless, therefore, to blame Roosevelt for entering into agreements that “gave Stalin almost complete control of the internal affairs of the ex-Nazi satellites in eastern Europe.” The gift was not his to make.

Imminent victory had other corrosive effects upon the wartime alliance. No single incident of the dozens that could be cited makes this point more eloquently than the falling out between Roosevelt and Stalin over the unfulfilled possibility of a German surrender to the Western Allies in northern Italy. Karl Wolff, the ranking S.S. officer in Italy, had approached Alien W. Dulles, then the Berne chief of the Office of Strategic Services, to explore terms for ending German resistance on that front. Dulles told Wolff there could be no negotiation over terms; the Allies would insist on unconditional surrender. When the American ambassador notified the Soviet government of this development on March 12,1945, Molotov raised no objection. He asked only that Soviet officers be allowed to take part in the talks. Since the Russians had no diplomatic relations with neutral Switzerland, he hoped the United States would intercede to make possible their participation in any future talks on Swiss soil.

The Combined Chiefs of Staff in Washington objected that the only purpose of the Berne contacts was to arrange for the appearance of German representatives at Allied headquarters in Caserta, Italy, where the Soviets could participate with no difficulty. Molotov furiously insisted that the contacts at Berne be broken off at once. There could be no surrender talks, he insisted, without Soviet participation.

Roosevelt promptly sent a message to Stalin, carefully explaining how the German overture was being handled and assuring the Russians that no deal would be concluded behind their backs. Stalin countered with a bitter accusation that the Germans were “opening their front to the Anglo-American troops in Italy” for an evil purpose—so they could shift troops to the east and concentrate their fire on the Red Army.

With scrupulous forebearance, Roosevelt replied that no surrender negotiations had been entered into; the Berne meeting had been solely for the purpose of arranging contact with competent German officers, and it had been fruitless; Soviet representatives could take part in future negotiations at Caserta, if any; and there could be no question of allowing the Germans to shift troops to the Eastern Front.

Stalin brusquely rejected Roosevelt’s careful explanation:

“You insist that there have been no negotiations yet.

“It may be assumed that you have not been fully informed. As regards my military colleagues, they, on the basis of data which they have on hand, do not have any doubts that the negotiations have taken place and that they have ended in an agreement with the Germans, on the basis of which the German commander on the western front, Marshal Kesselring, has agreed to open the front and permit the Anglo-American troops to advance to the east and the Anglo-Americans have promised in return to ease for the Germans the peace terms.

“I think that my colleagues are close to the truth.…”

Roosevelt was thunderstruck by this accusation. He had trusted Stalin; he expected to be trusted in return. Instead, he was now accused of betraying an ally, of being in league with the Nazis, and of being a liar or dupe as well. For the first time, in reply, he allowed his feelings to show:

“…It would be one of the great tragedies of history if at the very moment of the victory, now within our grasp, such distrust, such lack of faith, should prejudice the entire undertaking after the colossal losses of life, material and treasure involved.

“Frankly I cannot avoid a feeling of bitter resentment toward your informers, whoever they are, for such vile misrepresentations of my actions or those of my trusted subordinates.”