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Warsaw and the Eastern Front

LAURENCE REES: Let's talk about what was happening on the Eastern Front around the time of the liberation of Paris. In particular, Stalin’s refusal to help the Polish Home Army in Warsaw. Do you think his decision not to aid the troops of the Home Army was simply because he wanted to see them destroyed by the Germans?

ANTONY BEEVOR: I don’t think there can be any doubt about Stalin’s intentions towards the Polish Home Army and their rising in Warsaw, because it was Soviet controlled radio programmes broadcasting from Moscow that had actually encouraged them to rise up.  At the time in Warsaw they were wondering, 'is this the right moment, can we be certain that they’ll come?' because they knew that they were there just the other side of the Vistula, but would they actually fight through? So they were actually convinced as a result of these two broadcasts, urging them to rise, that in fact they would have support from the Soviet armies on the other side.

But, as we know, they received no order to advance and, in fact, the NKVD arrested the rifle divisions at the front, and arrested any of the Poles either trying to get through to Warsaw to help fight the fight there, or even those who were escaping at the end. They were immediately rounded up and arrested by the Soviet security forces. So I don’t think there can be any doubt about his intentions. Also, Stalin’s refusal to allow any landing rights or any help - to the Polish squadrons particularly - and also Australians and others who were flying from Italy against tremendous odds and with tremendous courage to drop supplies to the embattled Home Army in Warsaw itself.

LAURENCE REES: But there were clear indications of the negative attitude that the Soviet authorities had towards Poland well before the Warsaw uprising, weren't there?

ANTONY BEEVOR: Well, I think there are several aspects here, one in the case of the Poles particularly. One has to remember how much Stalin loathed the Poles, and this goes back to his own humiliation in 1920 when Tukhachevsky criticised him and blamed him and Budyonny for the disaster on the Battle of the Vistula. So there was a real loathing of Poles, which came through at every possible moment. But the general attitude was that Stalin had been completely traumatized by the shock of 1941, by the invasion of Barbarossa, and the way that they were being caught out, and he was absolutely determined to have a cordon of satellite states to his West in case of any future invasion. And he still believed or suspected that there was a possibility - and this was his worst nightmare - that the Wehrmacht might be rearmed with American industry, and for him that meant they would have certainly been capable of destroying the Red Army. So, it was a mixture of vengeance, paranoia, determination never to be surprised again, and also, frankly, sheer arrogance towards the countries along the borders. Russia has always had this fear of encirclement, and that, in fact, is why it is much more of an expansive power than, say, China, or other major states.