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

The Daily Telegraph - Review - - BOOKS -

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

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