From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Harvard historian Plokhy (Unmaking Imperial Russia
) enhances his stature as a scholar of modern Russia in this convincing revisionist analysis of the February 1945 Yalta conference. Plokhy makes sophisticated use of Soviet sources to make a case that Yalta was anything but the diplomatic defeat for the West so often depicted in cold war literature. He describes Yalta in the context of a clash between different approaches to international relations. FDR was a liberal internationalist. Churchill and Stalin saw the world in terms of power and interests. And with the Red Army only 50 miles from Berlin, Stalin held the trump cards. Plokhy's detailed and highly engrossing narrative of the negotiations shows that the West did reasonably well. Roosevelt's agenda was global. He secured Stalin's commitment to join the war against Japan and participate in the U.N. Churchill, focused on Europe, preserved British interests in the Mediterranean. Stalin achieved recognition of the U.S.S.R.'s great-power status and a sphere of influence in Eastern Europe. The Yalta agreement was not the first conflict of the cold war but just a step toward a cold war that emerged only after three more years of failed negotiations. Maps. (Feb.)
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Revisiting the much-studied Yalta conference of February 1945, historian Plokhy capitalizes on his advantage over prior authors. He had better access to Russian archives, which permits him to vibrantly re-create the summit’s physical surroundings, interpersonal relations, and diplomatic fencing. Because dueling interpretations of Yalta’s protocols contributed significantly to the onset of the cold war, Plokhy’s fundamental thesis questions whether Yalta’s agreements were the best Churchill and Roosevelt could have wrung from Stalin. As Plokhy stresses, the conference participants had, beyond defeating Germany, divergent objectives: FDR wanted the UN and help against Japan; Churchill wanted a free hand in Greece and a restoration of France; Stalin wanted territory from Japan, reparations from Germany, and Communist governments in Eastern Europe. Within the framework of the tense negotiations that ensued, Plokhy brings forth the daily dynamics of Yalta and embroiders them with items behind subsequent recrimination about the conference results, such as FDR’s ill health and the presence of probable Soviet spy Alger Hiss. Releasing the subject from cold war historiography, Plokhy establishes a new standard on Yalta and its controversies. --Gilbert Taylor