"To understand Europe and where we are today … we have to go back to the Europe that no longer exists."


The Big Three at Yalta

The 1945 Yalta conference shapes the post-war landscape by setting in place Soviet and Western spheres of influence.

Iron Curtains descends: East vs. West

The Iron Curtain symbolises the political separation between Western Europe and the Soviet-influenced communist countries of Eastern Europe.

The US aid programme to Western Europe

The United States undertakes the Marshall Plan, an initiative to aid Western Europe and help rebuild Western European economies.

The Big Three at Yalta

In the grounds of the Livadia Palace, Yalta, during the Three Power Conference the British wartime Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill, the 32nd President of the USA Franklin Roosevelt and the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin | PHOTO BY KEYSTONE/GETTY IMAGES
Essentially, Yalta shapes the postwar landscape

The end of World War II

  • World War II (1939-1945) involved 61 countries with 1.7 billion people (3/4 of the world's population).
  • Estimated 50-85 million people lost their lives - making it the deadliest conflict in human history.

Europe, divided by nationalism and devastated by war, was to have a new beginning, and it would be ordained by the leaders of Britain, the US and the Soviet Union in the Crimean resort of Yalta.

In February 1945, US President Franklin D Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin marked out a joint plan for a liberated Europe.

It set in place spheres of influence for Soviet and Western interests, and would lead to the creation of East and West Germany.

Why was the meeting in Yalta so important

  • It was the second wartime meeting between the ‘Big Three’ - British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, Soviet premier Joseph Stalin, and President Franklin D Roosevelt.
  • During the conference, the three leaders started plans that ultimately shaped the post war landscape of Europe, including the eventual positioning of the Iron Curtain.

What were the key agreements

  • Germany was required to unconditionally surrender, demilitarise and pay reparations.
  • The country would also be temporarily broken into 4 zones, each occupied by a different power: United Kingdom, United States, the Soviet Union and France.
  • Provisional governments would be established in every ‘liberated’ country. These governments would be supported in rebuilding their countries and, through democratic elections, choosing their own governments.

But Yalta went beyond allocating the spoils of war. It ushered in the beginning of a new grand narrative.

Iron Curtains descends: East vs. West

The speech by Sir Winston Churchill to the Westminster High School Of Fulton (Missouri) in the presence of the US President Truman remains famous for the denouncing of the Iron Curtain, on March 5, 1946. | PHOTO BY KEYSTONE-FRANCE/GAMMA-KEYSTONE VIA GETTY IMAGES
Stalin’s primary concern was security

The Iron Curtain became a political, military, and ideological barrier erected by the Soviet Union to seal itself and its satellite states from open contact with the West and non-Soviet-controlled areas.

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s famous 1946 address - which is sometimes referred to as the “Iron Curtain Speech” - is regarded as marking the commencement of the Cold War between the democratic Western world and the communist Eastern bloc with the Soviet Union as its political centre.

The US aid programme to Western Europe

US President Truman signs the Economic Assistance Act, a programme for the reconstruction of Europe. | PHOTO BY PHOTO12/UIG VIA GETTY IMAGES
Essentially it’s about making Western Europe in America’s own image

If the US was to challenge any Soviet aggression, then to American minds, a unified Western European bloc would be a vital bulwark.

What was the marshall plan

  • The Marshall Plan was an American initiative to aid Europe after the end of World War II. Funds were initially offered to Soviet Bloc countries as well, but were rejected by Stalin.
  • The United States gave over $13 billion in economic support to rebuild Western European economies.
  • The plan was in operation for 4 years beginning April 8, 1948.

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