Winston Churchill and Joseph Stalin

British-Soviet Relations Archive Project

This joint project between LSE IDEAS, The British Academy, and the Russian Academy unlocks the archives of the early Cold War

Explore hundreds of newly released archive documents.

What makes this project unique is the fact that this is the first bilateral collaboration of British and Russian historians in many years on the Cold War and its aftermath...This dual approach makes it possible to create a more rounded and comprehensive picture of Soviet-British relationship.
Professor Vladimir O. Pechatnov

Gain new insight into how the Cold War began including declassified diplomatic cables, diaries, and reports of meetings between Russian and British leaders.

Explore the archive

About the project

Project Co-Directors

Academician Alexandr Oganovich Chubarian (Russian Academy of Sciences)

Professor Arne Westad (Harvard)

Editors

Professor Vladimir Olegovich Pechatnov (MGIMO)

Dr Svetozar Rajak (LSE)

Origins of the project   

The relationship between the UK and the Soviet Union was one of the key political and military relationships of World War II and the Cold War that followed it. Through the wartime alliance between the two powers it defined the outcome of the war against Germany and helped secure the defeat of the Nazi regime. But it also contributed to the increasing dissonance in the wider alliance and the tension that broke it apart. It is therefore very hard to understand both the results of World War II and the origins of the Cold War without studying the British-Soviet relationship in depth.

In 2004 Academician Alexander Fursenko of the Russian Academy of Sciences initiated a project to document British–Soviet relations during the Cold War. The British Academy, to which he turned for assistance on the UK side, asked Professor Arne Westad, then of the LSE, to help with putting together a team that could work on these materials in London. With the sad passing of Academician Fursenko in 2008, the project was held back for some time, until the prominent Russian historian Academician Alexandr Chubarian, also of the Russian Academy, came to spearhead it.

With the assistance of dedicated teams in Moscow and London the part of the project covering 1943-1953 has now been completed.

Staff and thanks

In Moscow, Professor Vladimir Pechatnov served as executive editor in charge of the Russian editorial group. The editorial work for 1944-1946 has been done by Dr. Iskander Magadeev and Professor Vladimir Pechatnov (MGIMO), for 1947-1953 by Professor Mikhail Lipkin and Research Fellow Stepan Eliseev (Institute of General History, Russian Academy of Sciences).

In London, Dr. Svetozar Rajak (LSE) served as executive editor of the British editorial group, and supervised and coordinated work on the final editing and preparation of material for web presentation. A number of young LSE scholars and staff contributed to the work of the British editorial group, namely Dr Vladimir Dobrenko, Dr Natasha Telepneva, Joseph Barnsley, Molly Avery, Ingrid Hampe, Jacqueline Ly, Jay Pan, Marta Kozielska and Indira Endaya.

We should like to thank Professor Natalya Kapitonova (MGIMO) and Dr. Artemy Kalinovsky (formerly with LSE, now at the University of Amsterdam) for their help in selecting and analysing documents. We should also like to express our gratitude to the staff of the Foreign Policy Archive of the Russian Federation, of the Presidential Archive and the Russian State Archive of Social and Political History for their assistance in identifying and making available documents in their charge. Special thanks are due to the Russian Academy of Sciences and the Siberian Coal and Energy Company for their financial support of the project.  

On the British side, we would like to thank Philip Lewis and Natasha Bevan from the British Academy, without whom this project would not have been completed; the Director of LSE IDEAS, Professor Michael Cox and all the staff of LSE IDEAS, Professor Patrick Salmon, Chief Historian at the FCO, and The National Archives in London for their assistance and support.

About the archive material

The documents that have been collected by this project will be helpful for anyone who would like to approach the British-Soviet relationship in the mid-twentieth century through the evidence that now exists.

Both Russia and the UK have declassified vast amounts of contemporary material from the highest levels of government, which can help us get much closer to understanding approaches and decision-making than was the case only a few years ago.

Especially on the Russian side, much of what we have included in this collection has not be available to scholars until very recently. Together with the British material it gives us a much fuller picture of government actions on both sides. 

The publication of this volume will be of great interest to researchers, especially in the framework of the ongoing discussions about the causes, the role of ideology and mechanisms of transition from wartime cooperation to confrontation during the early Cold War period.

The bulk of the Russian documentation comes from the Foreign Policy Archive of the Russian Federation (AVPRF), the Russian State Archive of Social and Political History (RGASPI) and Presidential Archive (APRF).

On the British side the material is collected from the UK National Archives (PREM, FO and CAB files), alongside a few selected documents from the Churchill Archives and the Labour Party Archives.

The documents are presented in an integrated chronological order in accordance with the dates of their signing or issuing. Some documents are reproduced with deletions of material that have no direct relation to the subject; all such omissions are indicated by square brackets.

All documents are provided with archival designations or publication references. Their titles are given by the editors unless they have titles of their own. The documents are provided with editorial commentary and note references in order to make them easier to understand for the reader.

Findings

As editors, we will not attempt to draw specific conclusions about the relationship based on the documents we have collected here. But three general observations may be in order, as general starting-points for further discussion.

First, one cannot help but being struck by the depth of suspicion that existed on both sides as World War II was coming to an end, in spite of the cooperation that had taken place during the war.  Britain and the Soviet Union had regarded each other as opponents during the inter-war years, and their leaders approached the post-war era very much with this former enmity in mind. The change in government in Britain in 1945 did little to ameliorate this fundamental lack of trust. On the contrary, it removed the potential effects of the personal relationship that had developed between the war-time leaders, including between Stalin and Churchill themselves.

Second, the degree to which the preoccupation of both sides already in 1944 turned to the post-war settlement stands out. Even though the war was far from won in 1944, both London and Moscow realized, roughly at the same time, that the war would end soon, and that regimes, borders, and alliances would have to be re-made. In both countries the top leadership studied the reports and proposals that came in very closely. Stalin’s deep personal involvement with these questions is evident from the documents. But the collection also shows how difficult it was, on both sides, to prepare for post-war challenges under war-time conditions. The realities of the battlefield kept getting in the way of strategic considerations for the post-war era.

Third, the collection confirms how post-war tension was almost unavoidable, but also how long a Cold War, with all its implications of an enduring, militarized conflict, seemed preventable. London had, at the beginning, few of the specific ideological assumptions about the East/West conflict that Washington had. And Stalin and the Soviet leadership to begin with expected as much discord between the British and Americans as between the two and Moscow. There was certainly room for compromise, if both sides had been in a position to make use of it. But, as it were, by 1948 neither Soviet nor British leaders saw much chance of building a relationship that was fundamentally different from the Cold War that ensued.

Launch Event

The launch of the online collection took place in the British Academy, on Wednesday 13 July 2016.

Speakers included Prof Ash Amin, Foreign Secretary of the British Academy, Academician Alexandr Chubarian of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Professor Michael Cox, LSE IDEAS Director, Professor Arne Westad and Professor Vladimir Pechatnov, Moscow State Institute of International Relations.

Arne Westad, the former director of LSE IDEAS and now ST Lee Professor at Harvard, who led the project with Academician A.O. Chubarian, underlined the significance of working together with Russian colleagues on historical research. “It would be good to see more projects of this kind in the future,” Westad said.

In his speech, Professor Cox said:

“IDEAS began life at the LSE thinking creatively about the influence of the Cold War upon the modern world. It is wonderful to see this brilliant project on the early years of the Cold War finally coming to fruition.”

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