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Churchill’s pragmatism

LAURENCE REES: So essentially, as you describe it, this isn’t really a moral war - since the Poles are to lose territory against their will, with the connivance of their Ally, Great Britain. This, in fact, is a deeply pragmatic war.

ANITA PRAŻMOWSKA: It is a war to survive, for the British it is a war to survive.

LAURENCE REES: And there isn’t really a principle at stake here? About listening to what the Poles actually want for their country after the war?  What it’s really about is the fact that we have to get on with Stalin?

ANITA PRAŻMOWSKA: We need him, we desperately need him. You can see that in the way that Churchill is negotiating with Stalin, although they bluster and then of course the negotiations take place on different levels,   what Churchill is telling his Chiefs of Staff is just come in here and we’ve got to pitch in, because we cannot open a Second Front. That’s really the issue. I mean there is the Mediterranean Front and then entering into Italy, but until the British and then the US are able to consider successfully opening a Second Front in Europe it is the Soviet Union that is fighting Germany.

LAURENCE REES: What about the view that Stalin came to have - that Churchill was deliberately keeping British troops out of the main theatre of the war as long as possible, so that the Germans and the Soviets bled each other dry. And the only downside was that Stalin might occupy Eastern Europe at the end of the war?

ANITA PRAŻMOWSKA:  My perspective is from the East, and from what I have seen as arguments put forward for the way the British are negotiating with the Soviet Union, I don’t see that premeditation there. There is the whole economic situation, which of course is dire, and then there is the Pacific War in which the British are dramatically overstretched, so while there is always the suspicion, and most certainly one that is voiced by the Russians, that the West wanted to see the Soviet Union weakened, that as such doesn’t appear to be articulated, and I personally think that because it is a battle for survival it’s not really quite evaluated in that cynical way.

LAURENCE REES: But surely it’s cynical of Churchill, in the summer of 1942, when he goes to Moscow, for him to say to Stalin that 'we are preparing a very great operation’ for the Spring of 1943, by which everybody thinks he means D Day?

ANITA PRAŻMOWSKA: Well, again there’s this thing about Churchill speaking as opposed to his advisers and Chiefs of Staff. His military men were very strongly opposed to these ideas, and he put forward the Balkan Front, for example, and they opposed that too, so he finds himself very often not just dealing with the Russians but dealing with his own men.

LAURENCE REES: But he’s stringing Stalin along?

ANITA PRAŻMOWSKA: He had no choice. In Britain they thought that if they told the Russians that they could not help them [it would be problematic], and also of course there were the North Convoys, which had to be terminated because of the rate of loss; but each of these events were treated by the Russians as tests of what Britain was doing. The fear was that if Britain was not seen shouldering its responsibility towards fighting the Germans then the Russians would push the Germans up to the border, the ethnic border, and then sign a treaty and do no more. And that is the reason why there is never an open statement saying that we are unlikely to open a Second Front in Europe.

LAURENCE REES: So Churchill is lying to Stalin deliberately?

ANITA PRAŻMOWSKA: Yes, but it is from the perspective of desperate dependence on the Soviet Union, so it’s not so much cynicism as desperation.

LAURENCE REES: He was a desperate liar rather than a cynical liar?

ANITA PRAŻMOWSKA: Ok, yes. I will agree with that one.

LAURENCE REES: And Stalin then clearly believes that this is the reason why the West can’t then subsequently be trusted in anything?

ANITA PRAŻMOWSKA: There was never ever any trust between the Soviet Union and Britain. I think ideologically there is an absence of any trust. There is also no military collaboration as such because the Eastern Front is an entirely autonomous one, although Churchill tries very hard to show that he’s willing to help by sending through the Northern Convoys. And then you actually have some very curious initiatives, for example De Gaulle is willing to send 2 fighter squadrons; all this symbolic contribution to show that we’re with you. In reality it’s an entirely autonomous Front and that means that there is a deep anxiety in the West, in Washington and London, which is that the Soviet Union is fighting there, and the West hopes that the Soviets do what they want them to do which is to defeat the Germans, and then they will go back home and take their toys with him them once they have defeated them. But the crux of that one is that there’s no way of actually influencing the Russians, because the relationship comes from the circumstances of war rather than any shared unity or even long term perspective.