Winston Churchill did more to encourage a Soviet "sphere of influence" in Eastern Europe than has previously been realized, according to a document revealed in a recently published book.
In October, 1944, Churchill actually told Joseph Stalin, the Soviet dictator, that the two of them should disguise an agreement on sphere of influence in Eastern Europe "because the Americans might be shocked."
And in fact, Churchill never did explain fully to President Franklin D. Roosevelt or the American government precisely what he and Stalin had agreed to in Moscow on Oct. 9, 1977.
Diplomatic historians have long been intrigued by that Stalin-Churchill meeting. Some have concluded that Stalin probably interpreted Churchill's behavior then as acquiescence to a Soviet sphere of influence in Eastern Europe after the war.
The only first-hand account of the Oct. 9 meeting published previously was Churchill's own in volume five of his war memoirs. "Triumph and Tragedy." Charles E. Bohlen, the American diplomat, described the meeting in his memoirs as "an important one still clouded in mystery."
But Daniel Yergin, author of the new book "Shattered Peace" (published by Houghton Mifflin), discovered the official British minutes of the meeting in the military archives at Imperial College, London. Yergin found them in the personal papers of Gen. Hastings Ismmay, Churchill's chief of staff.
The minutes show that Churchill misreported the meeting with Stalin both in his memoir, and in a message to Roosevelt written two days after the meeting occurred.
In his memoir Churchill recounted his decision to jot down some figures on a half piece of paper and pass them to Stalin. The paper listed countries and "percentages" of influence that Russia and the western allies would have in each one.
Churchill allocated the Russians 90 per cent in Romania, 75 per cent in Bulgaria, 50 per cent in Yugoslavia and Hungary and 10 per cent in Greece (the Balkan country of greatest strategic importance to Britain).
In his memoir Churchill admitted his own nervousness about this piece of paper, he suggested to Stalin that it be burned. But Churchill also claimed that the percentage deal was not meant to have lasting significance. "We . . . were only dealing with immediate wartime arrangements," Churchill wrote. "All larger questions were reserved on both sides" for a later peace conference, he wrote.
In his personal letter to Roosevelt on May, 11, Churchill wrote from Moscow: "Nothing will be settled [during Churchill's Moscow visit] except preliminary agreements between Britain and Russia, subject to further discussion and melting down with you."
But the minutes of the meeting that Yergin discovered tell a different story. Churchill did not say the percentage arrangement was temporary at all. Stalin told the British prime minister that he "understood" him. The dictator noted that "it was a serious matter for Britain when the Mediterranean was not in her hands" - a reference to Churchill's desire for an upper hand in Greece.
So. Stalin said, Britain would enjoy "first say" in Greece, as Russia would have "first say" in Romania.
The minutes continued: "The Prime Minister said it was better to express these things in diplomatic terms and not to use the phrase 'dividing into spheres' because the Americans might be shocked. But as long as he and Marshall Stalin understood each other, he could explain matters to the President [Roosevelt]."
Yergin describes Churchill's willingness to cut this deal with Stalin as "paradoxical, if not cynical, in the light of Churchill's bitter denunciation of exactly such a devision (of Europe) in his Iron Curtain speech (at Fulton, Mo.) a year and a half later.
Yergin notes that Churchill suffered constantly from ambivalent feelings about Russia. He was a fierce anti-Communist, but also a practical war leader who believed Soviet help against the Nazis was crucial.
The only ranking American in Moscow when Churchill made his arrangement with Stalin was W. Averell Harriman, then the U.S. ambassador there. Harriman was included in several of the meetings, and Churchill wrote in his memoir that the American attended the crucial Oct. 9 session. Harriman said in his own memoir that this was not true - that he was "otherwise occupied."
Harriman only learned of the percentage deal on Oct. 12, when he visited Churchill at his guesthouse in Moscow. Churchill showed him the draft of a letter he planned to send to Stalin, reviewing the British understanding of the percentages agreed to on Oct. 9. Harriman advised him not to send the letter, according to his memoir, and added that Roosevelt would "repudiate the letter if it was sent."
"I don't understand now, and I do not believe I understood at the time, just what Churchill thought he was accomplishing by those percentages," Harriman recalled.
It is unclear why the British minutes of the Oct. 9 meeting have not emerged earlier. Yergin said in a telephone interview that the copy of them that should be in the British Public Records office in London is missing . He said he thought it was an unintended accident that he was able to find the minutes in the Ismay papers.