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Impossible Allies: The United States and the Soviet Union in WWII

An excerpt from Carnegie Center Moscow article by Andrei Kolesnikov and Dmitri Trenin

During World War II, the Soviet Union, the United States, and Great Britain joined forces to fight a mortal enemy. In partnering with Soviet leader Joseph Stalin to fight Hitler’s Germany, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt were guided by the understanding that it was impossible to defeat Nazi Germany alone, as well as by geopolitical realities. Having made that decision, they set aside ideological considerations.

It had taken many years for Soviet and Western leaders to recognize that Nazi Germany was their common enemy, and that the very survival of their countries depended on them joining forces against German aggression. But after Germany invaded the Soviet Union, London and Moscow became close allies, later joined by Washington after the United States was attacked by Japan at Pearl Harbor.

Once they did band together, Moscow, Washington, and London remained loyal allies, despite their conflicting interests and convictions. The three allies refrained from concluding separate peace deals at various times during the war, and the USSR fulfilled its promise to declare war on Japan three months after the end of fighting in the European theater.

Once the allies won the war and their common threat was eliminated, however, old differences came to the forefront. These differences escalated further when the allies set out to organize a postwar world. In just three years, the wartime alliance degenerated into a postwar confrontation between the United States and Great Britain on one side and the Soviet Union on the other. The fact that it was a “cold” confrontation was not a result of a gentleman’s agreement, but rather the result of the development of nuclear weapons, which threatened to end human civilization in the event of a new war.  

The experience of the wartime military alliance is not applicable to modern-day relations between Russia and the West. New threats that various observers have tried to compare to the threat of Nazism are far smaller in scale and far more uneven in their impact on the two sides. Furthermore, Moscow does not play a role in dealing with these new threats commensurate with the way it stood up to Nazi Germany in World War II, when the Soviet Union bore the brunt of the Wehrmacht’s onslaught and defeated the bulk of the German armed forces.

Finally, Washington now views Russia as a declining power. Moscow, of course, does not agree with that assessment, but any attempt on its part to revive the image of the anti-Hitler coalition to combine Russian and Western efforts to fight international terrorism, the pandemic, climate change, or anything else is futile and only baffles Russia’s would-be allies.

Even if a real partnership, rooted in common interests, were possible between Russia and the West at some future point, it would be very difficult to achieve conditions that Russia would find acceptable, and the success—or, even more so, failure—of such a partnership would only return the situation to the status quo of contradictions in interests and significant differences in ideologies.

See full article on Carnegie Center Moscow

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