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British prime minister Winston Churchill, U.S. president franklin d. roosevelt, and Soviet premier Joseph Stalin met from February 4 to 11, 1945, at Yalta, in the Crimea. The conference—the last attended by all three of these leaders—produced an agreement concerning the prosecution of the war against Japan, the occupation of Germany, the structure of the United Nations, and the post–World War II fate of Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria. The Yalta agreement proved to be controversial, as many in the United States criticized Roosevelt for abandoning Eastern Europe to the Communists.
Roosevelt came to Yalta seeking early Soviet participation in the war against Japan. Fearing that Japan would not surrender easily, Roosevelt promised Stalin the return of territories lost following the Russo-Japanese War of 1905. Stalin agreed to declare war on Japan, but only ninety days after the surrender of Germany. With the surrender of Japan in August 1945, which followed the dropping of nuclear bombs by the United States on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Soviet Union obtained the promised territories after expending minimal military effort.
Roosevelt also sought Stalin's approval of the U.N. Charter, which had already been drafted. Stalin had previously insisted that each of the sixteen Soviet republics be represented and that the permanent members of the Security Council retain a permanent Veto on all issues, not just those involving sanctions or threats to peace. Roosevelt and Churchill objected to this proposal, and at Yalta, Stalin agreed to three seats for the Soviet Union in the General Assembly and a limited veto.
The postwar status of Germany was also settled at Yalta. Germany was to be divided into four zones of occupation by the three countries and France, as was the city of Berlin. Germany was to have its industrial base rebuilt but its armaments industries were to be abolished or confiscated. The leaders also approved the creation of an international court to try German leaders as war criminals, setting the stage for the Nuremberg Trials.
The most troublesome issue was the fate of the Eastern European countries that Germany had conquered during the war. The Soviet army occupied most of the territory, making it difficult for Churchill and Roosevelt to bargain with Stalin on this point. It was agreed that interim governments in these countries would give way to democratically elected regimes as soon as practicable. On Poland, Churchill and Roosevelt abandoned the London-based Polish government-in-exile, agreeing that members of this group must work with the Soviet-dominated group with headquarters in Lublin, Poland.
In the aftermath of World War II the results envisioned in the Yalta agreement on Eastern Europe proved illusory. Communist regimes were established by the Soviet Union, accompanied by the destruction of democratic political groups. The legacy of Yalta continued until the collapse of Communism and the emergence of democracy in the late 1980s and early 1990s.
Laloy, Jean. 1990. Yalta: Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow. Trans. by William R. Tyler. New York: Harper & Row.
Yakovlev, Alexander, ed. 1985. The Yalta Conference, 1945: Lessons of History. Moscow: Novosti Press Agency.