When Joseph Stalin met Winston Churchill

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The Independent Culture
Here was Churchill, staunch anti-Bolshevist - the man who in 1919 had spearheaded Allied military intervention against the Red Army - flying off to Moscow to confer with that commissar of commissars Joseph Stalin. The irony was not lost on either man. But by August 1924, Russia had been under heavy German attack for 14 months, and the prime minister thought it politic to inform the Soviet marshal personally that his allies were not ready for a second front in Europe that year. Stalin would not be pleased.

State Villa No 7, where Churchill was taken upon arrival, was a luxurious country house with a more modern bathroom than the one at Chequers, and goldfish in the garden like those at Chartwell. The Soviet leader received Churchill at the Kremlin that evening and, as expected, did not like his news. Stalin exuded displeasure. A man not prepared to take risks could not win a war, he grumbled. Troops must be blooded in battle. Churchill kept his cool. He forbore mention of his host's not-so-distant non-aggression pact with their now shared enemy, and then placated him by divulging plans for Operation Torch, against German forces in North Africa.

Discord continued, but on the last evening, when Churchill came to say goodbye, Stalin softened. He suggested drinks at his house, which was reached by many twists and turns within the Kremlin. His daughter - a handsome redhead, Churchill observed - laid the table while her father uncorked various bottles. The hour that Churchill had planned for extended to seven. Talk and wine flowed freely, and in a moment of rare intimacy Stalin admitted that even the stresses of war did not compare with the terrible struggle to force the collective-farm policy on the peasantry. Millions of kulaks had been, well, eliminated. The historian Churchill thought of Burke's dictum, "If I cannot have reform without injustice, I will not have reform", but the politician Churchill concluded that with the war requiring unity, it was best not to moralise aloud