The Kremlin Letters: Stalin’s wartime correspondence with Churchill and Roosevelt
Bloomsbury, $34.99 pb, 570 pp, 9781472966247
Joseph Stalin wanted this wartime correspondence published, and one can see why: he comes off best. As the authors comment, ‘the transcript of the Big Three meetings demonstrates Stalin’s careful mastery of the issues and his superior skill as a diplomatist, regularly keeping his silence but then speaking out in a terse and timely manner at key moments’. He is the one with his eye on the ball, always remembering what his main objectives are and keeping his correspondents off balance with his adroit switches between intimacy and admonition.
Compared with him, Winston Churchill is impulsive and over-emotional, and Franklin D. Roosevelt is lazy. The two Allied leaders were excited about the opportunity to ‘build a personal relationship with the hitherto reclusive Soviet leader’, while Stalin, pleased at being finally admitted to the A-league, looked forward to ‘the challenges of playing against (and with) his US and British interlocutors’. One way of reading the epistolary relationship is that Stalin, feigning a personal relationship because that’s what the others wanted, always remained a cold calculator of his nation’s interest. That’s the way Stalin himself surely liked to see it. But it may not be the whole truth.