The Yalta Conference was called to help the Allied Forces decide what should happen to Germany – and the rest of Europe – once Hitler had been all-but defeated and WWII had basically ended. It took place in February 1945, just a few months before the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany on 8 May. Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and American President Franklin D. Roosevelt all met up to have some serious talks about Europe during the conference. For some reason, the first thing they agreed on was that it would be best to divide Germany into four zones.
These zones were to be occupied by the Soviet Union, the US, the UK and France. Decisions in these zones were to be made by the Allied Control Council (ACC), a military governing body established after the war. However, decisions had to be unanimous and this was frequently not the case, since France was very cautious of allowing Germany to become strong again – you can’t blame them for that though, can you? When decisions were not unanimous, the military governor of each zone was free to implement decisions in their zone. This meant that to begin with after the war, policies were not consistent throughout the Western zones. So, not the best.
The next important thing you should know about the Yalta Conference is that it was the first time the percentages agreement and spheres of influence concept came into play. These are key things to remember, as they later contributed to post-war tensions by leading Stalin to believe that Churchill and Roosevelt had agreed to his control of Eastern Europe.
Time to back up a little bit though; just so you know, the percentages agreement was made between Stalin and Churchill, and scribbled on a piece of paper (official, or what?) Churchill agreed to it because he was anxious to moderate Stalin’s demands, and saw the deal as a way of keeping the Soviet leader out of Greece and of restraining his influence in other areas that the Red Army had freed from Nazi occupation.
The percentages agreement saw Churchill permit Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary to be shared between Britain and Russia on a 50-50 basis. Although the British sent troops to Greece, they failed to keep their promise to Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary and so these fell into the Soviet sphere of influence after WWII. Got all that? Great!
The Big Three next decided that free elections should be held in the liberated countries of Europe, and because of the percentages agreement, Stalin (wrongly) assumed the countries of Eastern Europe would fall within the Soviet sphere of influence. This was important to him because he wanted them as a buffer to protect the Soviet Union from the threat of an invasion from the West. He also wanted a divided and weak Germany because it had twice attacked Russia during the preceding three decades.
So, the percentages agreement fostered post-war tensions over the division of Europe, and contributed to the Cold War and Iron Curtain because Stalin believed Churchill had agreed the whole of Eastern Europe should fall into the Soviet sphere of influence. This was a bit naive of him – after all, Churchill was never keen on Communism.