U.S.-Soviet Relations during the Second World War: History and Lessons for Today
“This year the world marks 70 years from the beginning of World War II. The United States and [the Soviet Union] were in different situations during that most terrifying war in history, but with the help of the United States … it was possible to stop fascism,” said Sergey Kislyak, Ambassador of the Russian Federation to the United States, at a 15 June 2011 conference cosponsored by the Kennan Institute and the Embassy of the Russian Federation to the United States.
Serhii Plokhii, Mykhailo S. Hrushevs'kyi Professor of Ukrainian History, Harvard University, and Author, Yalta: The Price of Peace, spoke on the Yalta Conference. In Plokhii’s words, the conference was not only about the agreements the world media reported on, but also about disagreements, which were caused by “value differences” between the Soviet Union and western powers. For example, Churchill supported spheres of influence for the Soviet Union, but did not agree with the idea of exclusive control of either power over parts of Eastern and Central Europe. Furthermore, Britain and the United States stood for free elections and democracy in the countries which had come under Soviet rule.
The Russian State Archives recently unclassified some documents related to the Lend Lease Act. Elena Tyurina, Director, Russian State Archives of Economics, provided information from the USSR People’s Commissariat of External Trade—particularly, details of the agreements between USSR and United Stated concerning the Lend Lease program. The program was approved by the United States Congress on 11 March 1941, under which the U.S. supplied the United Kingdom, France, the Soviet Union, and other allied nations with extensive amounts of war materials, food supplies and other assistance. The U.S and the USSR viewed Lend Lease as mutually beneficial for national security, according to Tyurina. John Haynes, Historian, Manuscript Division, Library of Congress, noted the important contribution of the Lend Lease program to the Soviet war effort. Without the United States’ contributions of supplies, Haynes argued that it was unlikely that the USSR would have emerged victorious over Germany.
On the contrary, Nikolai Nikiforov, Deputy Director, Military History Institute, Russian Armed Forces General Staff Academy, criticized the approach of some western historians in terms of understanding World War II. Nikiforov argued that the West does not fully recognize the role the USSR played in the victory over fascism, despite the existence of scholarship that supports the role played by the Soviet Union in the defeat of Nazi Germany; however, they also gave credit to Lend Lease for ensuring victory. “During the first days of the war the USSR lost territories where most of its industrial facilities were based,” noted Victor Gavrilov, Russian Military Institute, adding that the production of war equipment was planned to be moved to the Urals and Siberia, but there was not enough time to execute that plan, Nonetheless, Gavrilov concluded, Lend Lease assistance successfully arrived to the Soviet Union by three routes, despite the danger.
By Natalia Jensen
Blair Ruble, Director, Kennan Institute
William E. Pomeranz // Acting Director, Kennan Institute
Ambassador of the Russian Federation to the United States
Director, Russian State Archive
Mykhailo Hrushevsky Professor of Ukrainian History, Harvard University