As David Reynolds and Vladimir Pechatnov observe in The Kremlin Letters: Stalin’s Wartime Correspondence with Churchill and Roosevelt, the relationship between the three leaders was “largely an epistolary relationship” that ran from June 22, 1941 with the German invasion of the USSR to Franklin Roosevelt’s death on April 12, 1945. During those almost four years, the leaders of the Soviet Union, United States, and Great Britain only met together twice, for four days at Tehran and eight days at Yalta. Additionally, Churchill met Stalin alone in Moscow in August 1942 and November 1944. In place of personal discussions, the leaders exchanged 682 letters. As a point of comparison that reflects the nature of the Big Three’s relationship, Roosevelt and Churchill were in each other’s company for 113 days during the war and exchanged more than 1,600 letters. In addition, they often kept each other informed of the letters they individually sent to and received from Stalin
The “epistolary relationship” between Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin is studied in the documentary history The Kremlin Letters, edited by David Reynolds (Cambridge University) and Vladimir Pechatnov (Moscow State Institute of International Relations). The volume provides the full-text transcript of 75% of the letters exchanged between the three leaders, including all of the important messages, along with an extensive commentary that provides context and background to the correspondence. [The volume, however, does not include the first two messages Churchill sent to Stalin, the first sent on June 25, 1940 and the second composed on April 3, 1941.] While the Stalin-Churchill-Roosevelt correspondence has been published previously with the first edition being Correspondence between the Chairman of the Council of Ministers of the U.S.S.R. and the Presidents of the U.S.A. and the Prime Ministers of Great Britain during the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945 published in 1957, the reprinting of the letters with the accompanying commentary make this volume invaluable. The contribution of the Reynolds and Pechatnov goes far beyond adding brief explanatory notes to, instead, providing a full narrative on the Anglo-American-Soviet relationship during the Second World War. The commentary takes up more space than the full-text of the letters.
The correspondence exchanged between the three leaders was usually the result of drafting and redrafting before being sent. Churchill’s messages involved the contributions of the Cabinet, Foreign Office, and other relevant departments and officials and, likewise, Reynolds and Pechatnov observe that “team work and editorship were both essential in the composition of Stalin’s telegrams.” Roosevelt is thought to have been the “least involved in the nitty-gritty of composition” with many of his letters being drafted by Harry Hopkins, Leahy, or other officials. Roosevelt would, however, review and approve all the correspondence, making amendments as needed. In the volume the editors have included the “more significant alterations that they made in successive drafts,” with cuts and additions being demarked. Additionally, the correspondence had to be translated into and from Russian as well as enciphered for transmission between the capitals. On occasion, as Reynolds and Pechatnov note, the exact meaning was lost in the process with accompanying misunderstandings. The Kremlin Letters provides the version of Stalin’s letters in the form they were given to Roosevelt and Churchill.
Reynolds and Pechatnov comment that “despite all the diplomatic frills and bureaucratic red tape, many of the messages are intensely human.” The messages could be business-like or friendly, but also, as in the case of Stalin, sarcastic and rude or very rarely pleading, such as cable of May 6, 1942 asking for supplies to be urgently dispatched and quite astonishingly acknowledging the difficulties involved in sending the Arctic convoys. The editors correctly note that Churchill was “convinced of his own persuasive powers” and “relished personal diplomacy.” For the prime minister his messages to Stalin (and other leaders) were “surrogates” for personal conversation.
The Kremlin Letters: Stalin’s Wartime Correspondence with Churchill and Roosevelt is an outstanding work of scholarship.