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The Cold War and Soviet Mistrust of Churchill’s Pursuit of Détente, 1951–1955


Uri Bar-Noi is Lecturer in the History Department of Bar-Ilan University, Israel. He is a former Research Fellow at Chaim Herzog Center for the Study of the Middle East and Diplomacy, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. He has published articles on Moscow and the Curtailment of British Exports as Part of the American-led Embargo of Trade with the Communist bloc, 1951–4; Georgi Malenkov’s Leadership and the Post-Stalinist Power Struggle in the Soviet Union, 1953–5; and the Rapprochement between the USSR and Palestinian Guerilla Organization following the 1967 War.

The release of previously unavailable Soviet archives has allowed a re-examination of Anglo-Soviet relations during Churchill’s peacetime administration, with special emphasis on the Kremlin’s motivation for resisting the Prime Minister’s attempts to end the Cold War. Throughout 1951–55, the time was not yet ripe for détente: the USSR and Western powers were less than willing to accommodate each other. Instead they engaged in the consolidation of their own blocs and the build-up of their defensive potential. With Winston Churchill becoming the most outspoken advocate of détente, the Kremlin greeted the return to power of the Conservative Party under his leadership with a general mistrust.

After Josef Stalin’s death in March 1953, détente remained a distant reality. The collective leadership was keen to reduce international tensions without modifying its predecessor’s foreign policy, or abandoning Soviet strongholds of central and eastern Europe. As part of its peace offensive, the Kremlin was prepared to improve the atmosphere in relations with Britain and increase the volume of Anglo-Soviet trade. However, the British remained mistrustful of the intentions of Stalin’s successors, and refrained from initiatives leading to a relaxation of export controls independent from American embargo policy.

The author demonstrates that Stalin’s heirs suspected that Churchill’s pursuit of détente was designed to secure far-reaching concessions. Moscow also felt that as a junior partner acting in full dependence on and in cooperation with US policy, Churchill was in no position to conciliate between the USSR and the USA. Engaged in a domestic struggle for power, members of the collective leadership were reluctant to allow their opponent, Georgi Malenkov, to negotiate single-handedly with western statesmen. It was only after Nikita Khrushchev’s ascendance to power and Churchill’s resignation from office that the Kremlin was prepared to participate in summit talks with the western heads of government.

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-176-4
Hardback Price: £55.00 / $67.50
Release Date: July 2007
Page Extent / Format: 1248 pp. / 229 x 152 mm
Illustrated: No



Introduction: Scholarly Debate on Churchill’s Postwar Diplomacy

1. The Cold War and East–West Pursuit for Bargaining Strength in the Early 1950s
2. Churchill’s Return to ‘Number 10’ and Soviet Distrust of his Initiative for Summit Talks, October 1951–January 1952
3. Soviet Peace Propaganda, Negotiations of the EDC Treaty and British Plans for ‘Let and Live’ Arrangements with Moscow, 1952
4. Stalemate in the Heart of Europe: Soviet Notes on Germany and the Deadlock on the Austrian State Treaty Negotiations, March–October 1952
5. A New Breeze from Russia: Conclusion of the Stalinist Regime and Churchill’s Aspirations for Détente, October 1952–April 1953
6. A Half-hearted Partnership for Peace: Moscow’s Deficient Interest towards Churchill’s Proposal for Summit Talks, May–July 1953
7. From Rapid Recuperation to Bitter Discontent: Churchill’s Failure to Promote his Initiative for Top-Level Talks, August–December 1953
8. Renewed Prospects: The Berlin Conference and the Interest within the Kremlin in Informal Anglo-Soviet Talks, January–March 1954
9. A Final Bid for Peace: The Far Eastern Conference and the Soviet Coup de Grâce to Churchill, April–July 1954
10. Tragic End: Malenkov’s Downfall and Churchill’s Resignation from Office, October 1954–April 1955

Conclusion: Soviet Resistance to Churchill’s Bid for Peace

Revisited Notes

Although there has been increasing scholarly attention to Winston Churchill’s post-war statesmanship and pursuit of East–West détente during his Premiership of 1951–1955, Bar-Noi argues that most of it has focused on the limitations of his détente policy and the causes for its failure and no attempt has been made to reassess soviet responses to Churchill’s proposals in light of new archival evidence from post-Soviet Russia. His study is intended to address that gap. Its main argument is that neither the Soviets nor the Americans were willing to seriously negotiate on contentious issues prior to consolidating their military potential and improving their bargaining positions relative to each other. On the Soviet side, this attitude mainly reflected the fear of Stalin and his successors of external aggression, which prompted them to prioritize the avoidance of war, the preservation of the Soviet regime, and the maintenance of hegemony in Eastern Europe as key diplomatic aims.
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