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The Soviet Bloc and the Initial Stage of the Cold War: Archival Documents on Stalin's Meetings

with Communist Leaders of Yugoslavia and Bulgaria, 1946-1948

by Leonid Gibianskii

I. The Documents

Documents pertaining to Joseph Stalin's meetings with Eastern European communist leaders hold particular importance in the study of the initial stage of the Cold War. As a rule, records of such meetings, stored in Russian and Eastern European archives, contain extremely important materials for the purpose of clarifying: how relations developed between Moscow and its dominions (both individually and collectively) during the first postwar years; what kind of problems arose within the bloc; and what Soviet actions were taken to resolve them in the Kremlin's interests, what correlation existed at various times between Soviet policies and the people's democracies” regarding the state of their relations with the West; how these relations and developments in the international arena were viewed by Stalin and his Eastern European interlocutors; and what questions were discussed and what goals were set on the given topic. In this regard, the archival documents printed below on the 27-28 May 1946 meeting of the Kremlin boss with a visiting Yugoslav government delegation headed by Josip Broz Tito as well as the 10 February 1948 conference, also in Moscow, of Stalin and his inner circle members (Viacheslav Molotov, Andrei Zhdanov, Georgii Malenkov, Mikhail Suslov) with leading officials from Bulgaria and Yugoslavia, are of particular interest.

Both these meetings occupy important places in the early history of the Soviet bloc and have figured more than once in the historiography on this period. Until recently, however, the original documents pertaining to these meetings remained inaccessible in the archives of Moscow, Belgrade, and Sofia, and researchers could refer only to the descriptions of both meetings contained in the official biography of Tito, published after the SovietYugoslav conflict of 1948 and written by one of the leading Yugoslav propagandists of the time, Vladimir Dedijer,2 as well as with regard to the second meetingin the memoirs of two Yugoslav participants Milovan Djilas and Edvard Kardelj, published significantly later.3 In addition, these accounts, which for many years constituted the sole source of information for both these events and which were widely used in Western and Yugoslav historiography (the study of this topic was for a long time forbidden in the USSR and in most other communist countries), were not sufficiently complete; they omitted much of significance; inaccuracies and misrepresentations

also abound. In the case of Dedijer, who used the Yugoslav records of both meetings, the omissions and misrepresentations stemmed from deliberate selectiveness with data, made to correspond to the official Yugoslav version of events, formulated after the conflict of 1948.4 The same is also characteristic of Kardelj's memoirs, where this tendency was apparently further abetted by the fact that the author, one of the founding architects of the official Yugoslav version, came to believe, after many years of repetition, in his own inventions especially those concerning the 10 February 1948 meeting. At the same time he could not consult the original documents as he was dictating his recollections while seriously ill, only a few months before his death.Djilas, on the other hand, was

5 already a dissident when writing his memoirs and was not interested in following the official version, and in this respect his account is more trustworthy. However, in a number of instances he was let down by his memory, and as a result he allowed mistakes and inaccuracies and at times suffered the influence of by-then habitual stereotypes brought into usage by Dedijer. All of this was fully discovered only in recent years, when I was able, finally, to examine the original archival materials pertaining to both meetings.

With regard to Stalin's 27 May 1946 meeting with Tito and members of the Yugoslav delegation accompanying him, there are two known documents: a Yugoslav record in handwritten Serbo-Croatian discovered in the Josip Broz Tito Archive in Belgrade (Arhiv Josipa Broza Tita),6 and a signed typewritten copy of the Soviet record of the meeting, stored in the Archive of the President of the Russian Federation (APRF) in Moscow.7 The Yugoslav record was made by members of the Yugoslav delegation: Blagoe Neshkovich, at the time head of the Serbian Communist Party Central Committee and the Serbian government, and Koche Popovich, chief of the General Staff of Yugoslavia. The Soviet record was written down by the USSR Ambassador to Yugoslavia, Anatolii Lavrent'ev. Both records were co-published in 1993 in the Moscow journal Istoricheskii arkhiv (the Yugoslav record in Russian translation) by Yurii Murin, associate of the APRF, and myself, along with my introduction and footnotes. 8

As for the Soviet-Yugoslav-Bulgarian meeting on 10 February 1948, there are archival documents kept by each of the three sides. The Josip Broz Tito Archive in

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Belgrade has an extensive handwritten Yugoslav report by Djilas (in Serbo-Croatian using the Cyrillic alphabet), which he put together upon his return from Moscow on the basis of notes he took during the course of the meeting, and which was presented during the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Yugoslavia (CC CPY) Politburo meeting on 19 February 1948.9 In addition, the Tito archive contains a ciphered telegram reporting on the meeting and its results, sent from Moscow to Belgrade by the Yugoslav delegation on the day following the meeting with Stalin. 10 Among the documents of the former Central Party Archive of the Central Committee of the Bulgarian Communist Party (CC BCP), currently stored in the Central State Archive (Tsentralen d’rzhaven arkhiv) in Sofia, there is a stenographic record of the 10 February 1948 meeting, made by Traicho Kostov, at the time Georgii Dimitrov's closest associate in the Bulgarian government. 11 This same archive also contains a record made by Vasil Kolarov, another Bulgarian government official present at the meeting; it is essentially a repetition of Kostov's stenographic record, having been put together using Kostov's material, with the exception of a few stylistic corrections and small addenda. 12 Finally, the APRF contains a still-classified Soviet record of the 10 February 1948 meeting. This record, the text of which I was also able to examine (but which is not printed below), was made by the Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs of the USSR, Valerian Zorin, who attended the meeting.

13 For both the 1946 and 1948 meetings, the records of all the participating sides are on the whole compatible and sometimes almost entirely correspond in the essential contents of the discussions. At the same time, on certain questions touched upon at the meetings, the records of each side contain relatively significant discrepancies in their accounts of the course of the discussion and in their focus on the opinions expressed. At times, one record contains something that is not mentioned in another. As a rule, the Soviet records are shorter, drier, more formal, exhibiting a more generalized character, whereas the Yugoslav and Bulgarian records are more detailed, often punctuated with verbatim dialogue and expressions, particularly those of Stalin and Molotov. A comparative analysis of these archival documents allows one to piece together a fairly complete picture of both meetings, the reasons and reasoning behind them, the topics discussed, and the decisions arrived at.

Commission, and the Ministry of Industry), reiterated the proposal for Soviet participation in the exploitation of Yugoslav natural resources, by offering concession rights as well, to which Moscow replied by agreeing to the creation of joint enterprises, but not to concession rights. 15 In addressing the Soviet government in September 1945 and February 1946, Hebrang, in the name of the government of Yugoslavia, put forth a program for the establishment of such enterprises not only for excavation, but also for his country's refining industry and the construction of power plants and transportation systems. Despite its positive response, the Soviet side delayed practical ratification of these plans, and only in mid-April 1946 did the new USSR ambassador Lavrent’ev inform Kardelj and Hebrang of Soviet interest in the Yugoslav proposals. The ambassador, however, discovered a certain amount of hesitation on the Yugoslav side: in their preparations to send a delegation to Moscow for trade negotiations, they strictly limited its authority to the finalization of an agreement for bilateral shipment of goods for 1946, while postponing the discussion of fundamental questions of economic collaboration for a later time. This was noted by Lavrent’ev in his discussions with Kardelj and Hebrang.

17 The hesitation evident in Belgrade was brought about by complications within the Yugoslav government. By limiting the assignment of the delegation that was to go to Moscow, Tito lowered its status, thus allowing him, in turn, to designate the Minister of Foreign Trade, Nikolai Petrovic, as its leader, and not Hebrang, as was previously planned. Tito told one of his close associates that Hebrang could not be sent to the USSR, because he supported a misguided economic policy. When he found out about this, Hebrang asserted that Tito's main reason for not wanting to send him to Moscow was the fact that following Hebrang's visit there in January 1945, a number of telegrams from the Soviet government began to be addressed not any longer just to Tito or to Tito and Kardelj, but to Tito, Kardelj, and Hebrang.

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Hebrang believed that Tito viewed this as a sign of special relations between the Kremlin and Hebrang and a danger to the hierarchy which had formed within the Yugoslav government. During the discussion with Lavrent’ev on 17 April 1946, in response to the ambassador's question regarding the change in the Yugoslav position on economic negotiations, Hebrang did not mention his suspicions, but immediately following the meeting laid them out in a letter to Kardelj, apparently counting on his support. Kardelj, however, did not support Hebrang, and handed the letter over to Tito. 19 The latter promptly called a Politburo meeting on April 19, during which he sharply condemned Hebrang. During this and the following meeting on April 24, the Politburo sided with the condemnation and resolved to exclude Hebrang from the Politburo and remove him from the majority of his government posts. Alarmed by the apprehensions voiced by Lavrent'ev to Kardelj and Hebrang concerning the Yugoslav position on

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II. The Background

The 1946 meeting was first proposed by the Yugoslav side in connection with questions of further Soviet economic and military-technical assistance to the Communist regime in Yugoslavia. As early as 1944, Kardelj had raised the question of joint-stock enterprises with the USSR for the purpose of exploiting mineral deposits in Yugoslavia. 14 In the spring of 1945, CC CPY Politburo member Andrea Hebrang, the chief economic official (he headed the Economic Council, the Yugoslav Planning

the economic agreement with USSR, on April 18 Tito Yugoslav-Albanian relations. received the Soviet ambassador and announced that in the A week before his visit, Tito told Lavrent'ev that, in near future he himself would go to Moscow in order to addition to those issues mentioned above, the agenda for sign the agreement on economic cooperation.21

the Moscow talks should also include “general foreign In that same meeting with Lavrent'ev, Tito also said policy questions, including those pertaining to the that the projected economic cooperation must also include upcoming peace conference in Paris and the question of the Yugoslav military-industrial sector, meaning Soviet Yugoslav relations with Bulgaria.30 Clearly, he considassistance “in the establishment of infrastructure for

ered it important to discuss with the Soviet leadership the military production."22 Such assistance had been in part more significant aspects of the international situation given already rendered in the past, but Tito wanted it to be the unfolding Cold War, including the coordination of continued and further broadened, and as early as January actions between the USSR, Yugoslavia, and the other 1946 he had spoken regarding this matter with the previ- Soviet-bloc countries. Of course, the Yugoslav leader had ous USSR ambassador in Belgrade, Ivan Sadchikov, in to be particularly troubled by those international problems particular noting the possibility of using projected Soviet- that directly affected Yugoslavia: specifically, those Yugoslav joint-stock enterprises for building the Yugoslav concerning the Balkans and the Mediterranean-Adriatic military industry.23 There was a plan to send a special region. As for Yugoslav-Bulgarian relations, what was military delegation to the USSR to discuss these questions; implied was the completion of the Treaty of Friendship, candidates for this delegation were mentioned in the CC followed by the union of the two countries in a federation, CPY Politburo meeting on April 9.24 Now, in his discus- which had become a topic of discussion among Moscow, sion with Lavrent’ev on April 18, Tito announced his Belgrade, and Sofia as early as late 1944-early 1945. At intentions to conduct negotiations with the Soviet govern- that time, neither the plan for establishing the federation, ment on this matter himself during a visit to Moscow.25 nor the wish to sign a treaty of alliance between Yugosla

On April 29, Lavrent’ev informed Tito of the Soviet via and Bulgaria, could be implemented. The reasons for government's positive response towards the proposed visit this were the vetoes placed on these intentions by London to Moscow for the purpose of discussing the aforemen- and Washington as participants in Allied control over tioned questions.26 Later, the Soviet government abruptly Bulgaria, as well as disagreements over the structure of the moved forward the date of the visit: on May 7, the

future federative union: Yugoslavia wanted for Bulgaria to ambassador informed Tito that the visit had to take place have the same status as each of the six federation units of during the second half of May, and that in addition the Yugoslavia, that is, essentially become subordinate to the Soviet government wanted to discuss with him the

latter, whereas Bulgaria, supported by Stalin, was in favor question of the Yugoslav-Albanian Treaty on Friendship, of a “dual federation" with equal status between Yugoslathe completion of which was being planned by

via and Bulgaria. 31 Later, Tito's interest in the federation Belgrade 27 The treaty projected by Yugoslavia and its .

with Bulgaria waned significantly. He reacted negatively accompanying agreements on closer economic, military, to the Bulgarian proposal to return to the question of the and border cooperation, calculated to integrate Albania treaty and the federation, put forth in April 1946 by the with Yugoslavia in an increasing manner, drew serious Bulgarian envoy in Belgrade, Petro Todorov, pointing out attention in Moscow, where the possibility of Albania's that under current circumstances such steps would still be inclusion into the Yugoslav federation as a result of the inexpedient, in particular prior to the settlement of Yugoslav-Albanian talks was not being ruled out.28 While Bulgaria's postwar international situation. Tito notified not explicitly opposing Belgrade's special patronage Lavrent'ev of his position and requested Moscow's toward Tirane, the Soviet side nevertheless preferred to opinion on this account. 32 restrain the development of any further contacts, in particular by deferring, at least for the near future, the III. The Meetings completion of the secret Yugoslav-Albanian military

It is clear from the Soviet and Yugoslav records of the agreement planned by Belgrade and any decision on meeting between Stalin and Tito in the Kremlin on 27 May Albania's inclusion in the Yugoslav federation. In the 1946 (printed below) that the discussion centered primarily report "On the question of Yugoslav-Albanian relations," on questions of Soviet economic assistance to Yugoslavia compiled by the chief of the Balkan Sector in the USSR through the creation of joint-stock enterprises, on assisMinistry of Foreign Affairs (MFA), Aleksandr

tance in establishing the Yugoslav military industry and Lavrishchev, in preparation for Tito's visit to Moscow, this equipping the armed forces, and on Yugoslav-Albanian position was based on the need to avoid a possible

and Yugoslav-Bulgarian relations. negative reaction from the West which would have

The result of the discussion regarding the first two complicated Yugoslavia's and Albania's positions in the questions was the signing of an agreement on 8 June 1946, international arena.29 Whether this was the real reason for which provided for the establishment of a number of jointthe Soviet position or not, it is clear that the Soviet

stock enterprises in Yugoslavia (for extracting and refining leadership decided to hasten Tito's visit in order to sway crude oil, excavating bauxite, and producing aluminum, him towards the Kremlin's desired position with regard to excavating and producing lead, exploration and mining of

coal, ferrous metal production, civilian aviation, the Danube ship industry, the Yugoslav-Soviet Bank, and, in the future, lumber and cellulose-paper industry), as well as for Soviet technical assistance in many branches of the Yugoslav economy (in electrical, food, textile, chemical and metal-working industries, in the production of construction materials, and in agriculture,),33 and for an understanding to follow this with the signing of a concrete agreement on supplying the Yugoslav army through a long-term loan and shipments for the Yugoslav military

industry. 34

With regard to Yugoslav-Albanian relations, Stalin, judging from the records of the meeting, stated his endorsement of the closest possible alliance between Albania and Yugoslavia and even for Belgrade's patronage towards Tirane, but clearly strove to avoid Albania's direct inclusion in the Yugoslav federation. The archival documents obtained up to now do not clearly answer the question whether his arguments for postponing unification until the resolution of the Trieste question were a true reflection of the Soviet position or merely a tactical ruse, in actuality concealing the desire to obstruct completely Albania's unification with Yugoslavia. In either case, as a result of the Moscow negotiations, the question of unification was, for the time being, removed from the agenda. In addition, the Soviet side, having given its consent to the Treaty of Peace and Mutual Assistance and to an agreement for close economic cooperation between Yugoslavia and Albania, notified the Albanian government of its support for the signing of these agreements and "for orienting Albania toward closer ties with Yugoslavia,” and facilitated the signing of the aforementioned YugoslavAlbanian documents in July 1946.35

The Soviet and Yugoslav records demonstrate that during the meeting with Stalin, Tito argued his position against a federation with Bulgaria. But the Yugoslav record does not contain Stalin's disagreement with Tito's position, while the Soviet record directly states that Stalin insisted on the importance of such a federation, though he believed that at first one could limit oneself to the Treaty of Friendship and Mutual Assistance. It is unlikely that the Soviet record would contain something which Stalin did not actually say; thus, in this instance it is probably true to fact. However, it remains a mystery why Stalin rejected Molotov's observation at the meeting that it would be better to postpone the Yugoslav-Bulgarian treaty until the signing of a peace treaty with Bulgaria. Indeed, Molotov's remark was invariably the Soviet position both before and after the meeting. 36 Perhaps the answer to this mystery will be found in further research.

As for the discussion of “general political questions," mentioned by Tito before the trip, they were also touched upon: during the Kremlin meeting itself there was a discussion on a possible strategy with regard to the handling of the Trieste question in Paris, the current and future status of Yugoslav relations with Hungary and Greece, and, during further conversation at the evening

dinner in Stalin's dacha that followed the Kremlin meeting (and which is absent from the Soviet record but sparsely summarized in the Yugoslav version), among other things, problems of strengthening of the Soviet bloc, relations between Communist parties, the situation in Greece and Czechoslovakia, the Italian “craving for revenge," and the question of the Polish-Czechoslovak dispute over Tesin (Cieszyn) were mentioned. Judging by the handwritten notes made by Tito during the return-trip from Moscow, the visit also included a discussion of Austria, YugoslavAustrian relations and Yugoslav relations with the other Slavic countries. 37 However, as with much of the dinner discussions at Stalin's dacha, the contents of these are not mentioned in the document.

As for the Soviet-Bulgarian-Yugoslav meeting on 10 February 1948, this took place exclusively on the basis of Moscow's demands. The reasons were Stalin's strong dissatisfaction with the foreign policy moves of Sofia and Belgrade, undertaken without Soviet permission or even in defiance of Kremlin directives. 38 There had been three such moves. The first was the public announcement by the governments of Bulgaria and Yugoslavia in early August 1947 that they had agreed upon (i.e., were on the verge of signing) a treaty on friendship, cooperation and mutual assistance. This was done in direct defiance of Stalin's orders which specified that the Bulgarian-Yugoslav treaty had to wait until a peace treaty with Bulgaria had come into effect. Following a sharp, though not public, outcry from the Kremlin, Dimitrov and Tito, in a display of disciplined submission, acknowledged their mistake. However, in January 1948 two more moves were undertaken without Moscow's consent. First was Dimitrov's statement to the press regarding the possibility of a federation and a customs union of East European “people's democracies,” even including Greece, in which such a regime would be established. The other move was Tito's appeal to Hoxha for consent to deploy a Yugoslav division in Albania. In this appeal, to which Hoxha responded positively, the Yugoslav leader warned of a Westernsupported Greek invasion of Albania, but Djilas later maintained that in fact Tito wanted to use the deployment of forces to fortify the Yugoslav position in Albania, fearing a loss of ground as a result of growing Soviet participation in Albanian affairs. In either case, the Yugoslav move was taken without consultation with the Soviet leadership, which, having learned of the plans to send a division to Albania, sharply condemned such actions via Molotov's telegrams to Tito. Although subsequently the Yugoslav leader halted the deployment of the division, high-ranking Yugoslav representatives were swiftly sent to Moscow. At the same time, Bulgarian emissaries were also being sent there in connection with the aforementioned statement by Dimitrov, which had already been publicly condemned by Pravda, and subsequently Dimitrov himself went to the Soviet capital.

As for the course of the meeting in Moscow, sufficient coverage is provided by the Djilas report printed below

with the aforementioned corrections and additions from other records included in the footnotes. However, certain points of the 10 February 1948 meeting merit clarification or additional commentary.

39 The first and perhaps the most important is the continual Soviet insistence throughout the meeting that the aforementioned foreign policy moves undertaken by Belgrade and Sofia without Kremlin consent constituted serious mistakes, insofar as they might be used by the USA and Britain against the interests of the USSR and the "people's democracies.” In particular, as evidenced by the record of the meeting, Stalin placed special significance on the fact that these misguided moves might bolster the position of supporters of a more hard-line policy against the Soviet Union and its East European underlings, possibly enabling them to achieve success in the upcoming elections for the U.S. Congress and President in fall 1948. How much did this contention reflect the actual Soviet desire to avoid an unfavorable reaction in the West? And was there not some deliberate fomenting of fear on the part of the Soviets, as a means of precluding any kind of attempt at independent action, without consultation with Moscow, on the part of Bulgarian and Yugoslav leaders? At this time researchers do not have at their disposal the Soviet documents which would provide a clear answer to these questions. Undoubtedly, the Soviet leadership was sufficiently aware of potential Western reactions to particular statements or actions of either the Kremlin itself or the “people's democracies.” Nevertheless, while accusing Sofia and Belgrade of making moves leading to an undesirable deterioration in relations with the West, the Soviet side at the same time considered it entirely acceptable to implement its own plans, which were obviously fraught with a potential escalation of conflict with the Western powers. It is sufficient to recall the Sovietinduced Communist coup in Czechoslovakia in February 1948, or (to an even greater degree) Soviet measures to limit access to Western sectors in Berlin three months later, which led to the Berlin blockade crisis. It seems that the basis for Soviet condemnation of the Yugoslav and Bulgarian initiatives was, in the final analysis, the dissatisfaction with the independence of the decisions themselves, undertaken by Sofia and Belgrade without sanction from Moscow, although it is entirely possible that at the same time the Kremlin was genuinely apprehensive of possible Western reactions to these moves.

The other significant point was the question of the origin of Stalin's statement at the February 10 meeting of the possibility of creating three federations in East Europe: Polish-Czechoslovak, Hungarian-Romanian, and Bulgarian-Yugoslav-Albanian. As of now, historians do not have at their disposal documents which would provide a direct explanation for this. However, according to all records of the February 10 meeting, in speaking of the possibility of three federations, Stalin set this idea in opposition to the proposal for a federation or confederation of all East European countries, put forth by Dimitrov in the afore

mentioned statement to the press in January 1948. This prompts the suspicion that the Soviet leader, in speaking of three federations, was in actuality only pursuing the goal of sinking Dimitrov's proposal. It is perhaps significant, in this regard, that Stalin said nothing at all specific about either the Polish-Czechoslovak or the Hungarian-Romanian federations, mentioning them only in the most abstract form. Moreover, he spoke much more specifically of the federation of Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, and Albania. Clearly, only the latter of these was the immediate goal of his comment on federations, while the reference to the previous two seems more plausible as a strictly tactical move, used to camouflage his true intentions. As for the question of the Bulgarian-Yugoslav-Albanian federation, according to both the Djilas report, printed below, and the Soviet record of the meeting, Stalin stated that a union between Bulgaria and Yugoslavia must come first, only then followed by the inclusion of Albania into this Bulgarian-Yugoslav federation (the Bulgarian records do not contain such a statement). It is apparent that such a plan fundamentally differed from Belgrade's intentions to merge Albania with Yugoslavia, and was therefore put forth as a counterbalance to these intentions. Finally, the Djilas report, as well as all the other records (though the Soviet record is not as direct as the others on this point), notes Stalin's statement that the creation of the YugoslavBulgarian federation ought not be delayed. This raises the question: Did he really favor such a development, and if so, why? Documents currently at our disposal do not provide a clear answer. After 1948, the official Yugoslav version always maintained that Stalin was attempting to force a Bulgarian-Yugoslav federation as a means, using the more obedient government of Bulgaria, more effectively to control Yugoslavia. However, no documentary evidence was ever given in defense of this, while historiography contains numerous and entirely different readings of his statements in favor of a swift unification of Bulgaria and Yugoslavia. 40

The third point is, how did the question of the Greek partisan movement come up during the February 10 meeting? All records note that its discussion arose in connection with the question of Albania. However, according to the Djilas report and—though not so directly—the Soviet report, Stalin began to express his doubts concerning the prospects of the guerrilla war in Greece in response to Kardelj's conclusions regarding the threat of an invasion of Albania, while the Bulgarian records do not note such a connection. According to the Soviet record, still prior to the discussion of the Albanian question, Dimitrov was already asking Stalin concerning the prospects of future assistance to the Greek partisans. In any case, it is not clear from any of the records whether Stalin had planned before the meeting to discuss the future of the Greek partisan movement or whether the Greek question popped up spontaneously.

Finally, the fourth point is the manner in which Stalin raised the question of the importance of signing protocols

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