On 4 February 1945 the Yalta conference began in at the Crimean resort town that had been mostly abandoned since the German invasion of Russia in 1941. Joseph Stalin hosted the only other two world leaders that mattered in early 1945, Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt. Together, it is said, they divided the postwar world between them at Yalta.
The truth is somewhat more prosaic, and somewhat more sad. FDR was dying, and that was obvious to everyone. Churchill commanded large forces, but they were fragile and dependent on the US for much. Stalin’s armies were killing three of every four Germans dying in the war, and he had the will and the might to do pretty much whatever he wanted to do…in Europe. Asia was a different matter, and if he had to cross an ocean even as small as the Yellow or South China Sea his power diminished tremendously. Still, he was capable to invading Japan from Korea, and everyone knew it.
It was at Yalta that it was decided that Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and much of the Balkans would fall under a Soviet “sphere of influence,” an irrelevant concession since the Soviets were already there or would be soon. FDR was in no position or state to argue about it, and Churchill lacked the power without Roosevelt’s insistence to resist Stalin’s “requests.”
In all, the Yalta conference did more to create a myth of “concessions” in Europe, but left unsettled the issues surrounding Japan, including the future of Korea. Kim Il-Sung, the grandfather of the current dictator of North Korea, was a Major in the Red Army of the Soviet Union, commanding a nominal battalion of Korean guerrillas at Vyatskoye on the Amur River. Soviet cooperation in an invasion of Japan was secured at the cost to Stalin of a French occupation zone in Germany.
Poland and China were the losers of the conference, primarily because their futures were decided without their direct participation. The winners were the Soviet Union…and the undertakers. The next half century would see how a truly divided world could work.