Warning: do not approach this man
Stalin’s wartime letters show that he was as bad as Hitler – so why is it respectable to like him? By Simon Heffer
scholarly job in documenting the relationships Stalin had with Churchill and with Franklin Roosevelt through their epistolary contact. Churchill, as becomes a man of letters, dominates the book. Roosevelt plays a lesser role, though his messages to Stalin demonstrate, as the war goes on, how determined he was for the Russian leader to see him as his own man, and not as part of an anglophone collusion with Churchill.
The principal themes of the book are how essential the immense sacrifice of Russian lives on the Eastern Front was in crushing Nazi Germany, and how unreasonable, ungrateful, hypocritical and deceitful Stalin was to his allies. He was incapable of admitting error – indeed, his psychopathic treatment of his opponents suggests that he felt himself outside conventional morality.
So used had he been to ostracising or liquidating those in his own party who did not please him, that he found it easy to rebuke those who came to his aid when the Wehrmacht was racing towards Moscow in the summer of 1941. His letters to Churchill, especially, are full of outraged demands: “It seems to me,” he wrote on July 18 1941, less than a month after Barbarossa was launched, “that the military situation of the Soviet Union, as well as of Great Britain, would be considerably improved if there could be established a front against Hitler in the west – northern France – and in the north – the Arctic.”
The former demand would be made again and again over the next couple of years, until it was finally settled at Tehran in late 1943 that the invasion of Normandy would take place the following summer. The idea of an Arctic front – one presumes in Norway and Finland – was not pursued, but Stalin imagined that, in the summer of 1941, the British, fighting alone in the west, could supply naval and air support for the activities of Russian troops.
However, it showed the depths of his unrealism that he imagined Britain, a year after Dunkirk and with an empire to garrison, could put an army into France that would set the Wehrmacht on the run. Even when America came into the war in December that year – bringing Roosevelt into the correspondence – it would take