Soviet Policy on the Balkans in 1944: A British View

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The aim of this chapter is to try to present the evidence which we have from reliable historical sources on the policies of the Soviet Union towards the Balkan countries in 1944. I would like to pay particular attention to Bulgaria, whose position in the conflict at that time is relatively unknown but, I believe, extremely interesting. But I also want to look at my subject from a British point of view and to try to show how we saw the situation evolving in the Balkans at that time. At the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939 the political orientation of the Balkan states, as we in Britain saw it, was divided broadly speaking, into two groups: one, Yugoslavia, Greece and to some extent Romania, looked towards France as the main European power; and the other, including Bulgaria and Hungary, had special links with Germany. Albania, which had been occupied by Mussolini’s Italy in April 1939, was isolated from the main stream of European policies. Much of this alignment was based on traditional regional relationships and attitudes, and also on the loyalties stemming from the First Word War, as well as cultural and economic links with the two great European powers of that time.

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p>This study explores aspects of British policy towards the Balkans in the wake of the Moscow Conference of October 1943, and in particular the attempts of the senior policy-makers to formulate a viable political strategy for that region in the first six months of 1944. It considers certain questions - what did 'the Balkans' mean to the British; who were the key individuals involved in policy formulation; what impact did on-going events have upon those individuals (and therefore the plans they submitted for consideration); and what controversies and debates did this involve them in - and to resolve two key issues: on a general level, how and when did the British begin to shift policy from a war-time to a post-war orientation; and, more specifically, how did the British approach the question of the post-war settlement as it affected the Balkan region. At the same time, and most importantly, it undertakes a detailed analysis of the 'Politics of the War-time Alliance' - an examination of Britain's relations with her Great Power Allies, and in particular the Soviet Union, which, it argues, were far more influential in shaping British policy than local developments 'on the ground'. Bringing these various themes together, the study examines the background to and circumstances of the Anglo-Soviet 'Spheres of Activity' Arrangement of May 1944, and the diplomatic exchanges that followed. It argues that, far from wanting to divide the Balkans into classical 'spheres of influence' (as has often been suggested), the British proposal was little more than a short term military arrangement, designed to persuade their allies (and in particular Soviet Russia) to adhere to the policy of collaboration agreed at the 1943 Moscow Conference.</p
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