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Hitler's invasion of Russia in 1941 gave Churchill what looked like a heaven-sent opportunity to right the moral list of his policy, as it appeared to place Russia on the side of the angels. He knew very well that by allying with Stalin he was making a pact with the Devil, and said so more than once in private. But he made no attempt to introduce any principle into the alliance or define its aims beyond defeating Germany, and he did not arm himself with the proverbial long spoon. Quite the contrary, he sought close personal contact with Stalin, in the conviction that he would be able to charm and talk him round to his own views. Roosevelt also favoured informal meetings, and repeatedly boasted that he could "handle" Stalin.

In the event, it was Stalin who would charm and handle them. He immediately stated his claim to the slice of Poland he had taken in 1939 and his right to exert control over the rest of it. Not wishing to upset his new friend, Churchill ducked the issue and effectively acquiesced. Roosevelt was even more brazen. In flagrant contradiction to the principles he had recently proclaimed in the Atlantic Charter, he made it clear that the wishes of populations of countries such as Poland were irrelevant. He also went behind Churchill's back and even tried to humiliate him in order to impress Stalin. Playing the two Western leaders masterfully, Stalin encouraged them to demean themselves in pursuit of his favour. By the time the discovery of the mass graves at Katyn, in April 1943, revealed even to the most sceptical the extent of Russian genocide in Poland, neither of them was in any position to utter a word of reproof. In fact, they found themselves in the degrading position of having to cover up their Russian ally's crime.

At the November 1943 Tehran Conference, Stalin was able to dictate his terms on the post-war settlement in Europe, and the two Western leaders agreed to his plans for the future of Poland without even informing their Polish ally. By then the grand alliance had turned into a sordid ménage à trois, with Roosevelt trying to seduce Stalin by marginalising Churchill and suggesting the two of them decide the future not only of Germany but also of Britain's colony India. Churchill for his part sought Stalin's favour by demonstrating, with the help of a box of matches, how borders could be shifted without regard to populations and, with the aid of a grubby piece of paper, how Europe could be divided into "spheres of influence", suggesting in percentage terms how much of it each should have in each country. Both pandered to Stalin by putting forward a monstrous plan to destroy the entire German economy and turn the country into a "pastoral" wasteland.

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