Key Question 4: Who was to blame for the Cold War?

Conflicting aims in Central and Eastern Europe, 1945

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Conflicting aims in Central and Eastern Europe, 1945.

During the fighting the USSR had suffered by far the greatest loss of lives and property. It was determined to protect itself in the future.

Western Allies

  1. Support democracy. Hold free elections in all states

  2. Keep Poland’s western boundary as it was

  3. Help Germany to produce its own goods and food again and to take part in world trade.


  1. Create a ‘buffer’ of friendly states between Germany and the USSR. Ensure all new governments support the USSR.

  2. Re-draw Poland’s western boundary

  3. Keep Germany weak.

These differences could be seen in the increase in tensions between the Yalta Conference, February 1945, and the Potsdam Conference, July 1945.


Yalta was held with German still undefeated.

Present were Stalin (USSR), Roosevelt (USA), Churchill (Britain)

There was much AGREEMENT:

  • Germany was to be defeated and disarmed, and split into zones of occupation, and to pay reparations.

  • Eastern European countries were to hold free elections to choose their governments

  • USSR to join the war against Japan after the defeat of Germany

  • United Nations to be set up

There was little disagreement over the borders of Poland


Potsdam was held after the defeat of Germany

Present were Stalin (USSR), Truman (USA), Churchill then Atlee (Britain)


Over what to do with Germany. Truman did not want to repeat the mistakes of the Treaty of Versailles and cripple Germany too harshly.

Over reparations. Stalin want more compensation from Germany than Truman.

Over suspicions of Soviet policy in Eastern Europe. Stalin had imprisoned non-Communist leaders in Poland and set up a Communist government.

Truman did not tell Stalin than he intended to drop an atomic bomb on Japan

The end of the war meant that cooperation to defeat a common enemy was replaced by tension between the West and the USSR.

Points of tension

The atomic bomb

  1. Stalin was angry that Truman had not told him before using the bomb against Japan

  2. Suspicious of the USSR, the USA and Britain then refused to share the secret of how to make an atomic bomb

  3. This infuriated Stalin who feared the USA would use the threat of the atomic bomb to win world wide power. He ordered his scientists to develop a Soviet bomb.

  4. The USA, in turn, saw this as a possible threat.

Eastern Europe

  1. Rather than allowing free elections, the USSR began to impose Communist rule on the countries it had occupied.


Disputes arose over

  1. Reparations. The Western Allies accused the USSR of breaking agreements about what could be taken from Germany as reparations. In 1946 they stopped the arrangement giving reparations to the USSR from their zones.

  2. Reconstruction. The Western Allies wanted to help Germany recover as quickly as possible, whereas the USSR wanted a weak Germany.

  3. Democracy. The Western Allies wanted elections to be held throughout Germany. The USSR blocked moves to do this.

The ‘Iron Curtain’ speech, March 1946

Churchill described the frontier of Soviet occupied Europe as an ‘iron curtain’.

  1. He said that Eastern Europe was dominated by the Soviets and losing their democratic freedoms

  2. Stalin replied a few days later, accusing Churchill of stirring up a war against the USSR, and said that the USSR had to have loyal governments in Eastern Europe to ensure its future safety.

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