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Stalin and Poland

MARTINA CARR: I would like to come back to the time when decisions regarding the future of Poland were made. Stalin always insisted on keeping Eastern Poland (today Western Ukraine and Western Belarus). Why was this territory so important to him?

KIRILL ANDERSON: Poland was a very sensitive question for Stalin. His perception of Poland and the Polish nation was influenced by his experience from Czarist Russia, when Poland was – from the Russian point of view - a catalyst of conflicts in Europe. The relationship between Poland and Russia was quite complicated. And for Stalin his position towards Poland was influenced by the 1920 war when Soviet Russia was defeated by Poland. This was even more complicated by the fact that from the civil war until the 1930s Poland was a base for many anti-Soviet armed activities. Stalin couldn’t get the same division of Poland as it was during the time of Catherine the second but at least he could limit Poland’s power.  Stalin didn’t trust Poland. And the Poles weren’t particularly fond of Russia. All this has long and complicated roots in the history of the relationship of these two countries. You also shouldn’t forget that many Poles were moved from what we call Western Ukraine to territories deep inside Poland. During the war, there were some Polish partisan units operating on Ukrainian territories taken by the Germans, and the Ukrainians themselves didn’t do much to help – it was a complicated story during which Stalin sided with the Ukrainians – he clearly didn’t do anything that would help the unification of Poland. 

MARTINA CARR: To what extent did Stalin plan that countries such as Poland and Hungary, for example, would become communist? Did he know that they would eventually turn to communism?

KIRILL ANDERSON: I don’t think it is possible to say that he knew it, but he was definitely preparing for it. In the Tehran and Yalta conferences, the spheres of interests were divided between the allies, and what was later called Eastern Europe became part of the Soviet sphere of interests. Of course, there had to be regimes that were close to the Soviet Union. But that happened gradually.  After the war, there were democratic regimes – not socialist, but neither bourgeois. Then they changed to a socialist regime, – with the help of the Soviets – that’s what happened in Hungary, Poland etc. So of course Stalin was getting ready for it, he planned it. The same way as Churchill wanted the pro-British government led by Sikorski to be installed in Poland.  It’s all part of geopolitics.