November 19, 2015

1949. Joseph Stalin's Conditions for Lifting the Berlin Blockade

The Soviet Peace Offensive
Winston Churchill, Harry Truman, and Joseph Stalin at the Potsdam Conference in Germany, July 23, 1945 (source)
Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

January 31, 1949

The split Berlin press this morning greets the new peace proposals by Josef Stalin with faithful hysteria in the Russian-licensed publications—but with a kind of cynical hope in the newspapers publishing from inside the Soviet blockade.

The Russian-controlled newspapers shout, "STALIN READY FOR COOPERATION WITH THE UNITED STATES." The blockaded press asks, "A NEW SOVIET MOVE: STALIN READY TO LIFT BLOCKADE?" The difference is that the Western headlines all end with question marks.

General Clay and Ambassador Robert Murphy both have declined to comment on this latest diplomatic move from the Kremlin. They are in Frankfurt today for the regular meeting of Anglo-American zone officials.

What has intrigued observers here over the Stalin statement is that the Russian premier lists only two conditions for the lifting of the blockade: postponement of the formation of the West German government, and a simultaneous lifting of the Western Powers' counter-blockade.

If you remember back when the Russians slapped on their restrictions last June, the immediate cause given was currency reform—the introduction by America and Britain of new banknotes to stop the inflation and "cigarette economy" that was ruining the country.

As late as last October, Marshal Sokolovsky, Russian military governor for Germany, listed currency reform as the main cause of the Berlin blockade.

Marshal Stalin makes no mention of currency in his latest statements. It is conjectural as to whether the Russian position on this important point has changed.

Some authorities here see the Stalin statement as admitting the success of currency reform in West Germany and confirming the success of the airlift.

But they also point out that the Western Powers' position has been no negotiation under duress. Whether Stalin's latest proposals overcome this qualification is for Washington to decide.

Coinciding with the interview from the Kremlin, the weather here in Germany has improved. Fog has restricted the airlift for the past few days, but today the planes are flying full schedules from all airfields. Maybe the air really is being cleared.

This is Bill Downs in Berlin. Now back to CBS in New York.
Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

February 2, 1949

The news of Stalin's offer to meet President Truman coincides with this development in Berlin:

Today the Russian Army newspaper Tägliche Rundschau proposes that the United States and Soviet Russia sign a pact of peace as a means of ending the tensions between East and West.

The outright proposal of a peace pact has caused a stir among Western Power officials in Berlin because the Rundschau has long been a bellwether of Russian foreign policy.

The proposal is contained in a lengthy front page editorial signed by A. Nesterov, the paper's foreign analyst. Commenting on the recent Stalin interview, the Rundschau denies that the Russian premier's statements are only propaganda.

"The Stalin statement was made at a time of high political tension. It does not aim at propaganda but was inspired by honest concern about the fate of the man in the street in all the world," the editorial declares.

The conditions of this peace pact, according to Tägliche Rundschau, would be the postponement of the creation of a West German state, a meeting of the Foreign Ministers Council, and a meeting between President Truman and Premier Stalin to discuss the German problem on the basis of German unity.

The Soviet Union is also willing to talk about other worldwide problems, the Rundschau reports. It demands the withdrawal of occupation troops from Korea; the United States must stop using the United Nations as a branch of the State Department. The newspaper also proposes that armaments in the five major world powers be reduced by one-third.

The editorial declares: "Soviet foreign policy is consistent and unchanged. It is a policy of peace for all nations...Therefore the world expects readiness for peaceful settlement from the government of the United States."

"The American government," it concludes, "has the alternative to accept or reject the Soviet proposals. If it rejects them, then the world will know who must be blamed for the present unrest and troubles in the world, and who opposes peaceful general settlement."

This is Bill Downs in Berlin. Now back to CBS in New York.
Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

February 5, 1949

The brief flurry of hope for settlement of the Berlin crisis has now subsided, and this morning the city is settling down again to the humdrum of blockade life.

The situation might be described as a kind of international merry-go-round. Berlin is the center on which the whole thing pivots, but all the excitement takes place on the revolving outer edge of the diplomatic carousel.

As has been expected, the communist press is making propaganda hay out of America's refusal to accept Stalin's offer to renew negotiations. Russian-licensed newspapers now charge that the United States does not want settlement; that imperialist groups and monopolies are trying to capture Germany and prepare a capitalist war against the Soviet Union.

The Western Powers are taking new steps to crack down on the counter-blockade of the Russian zone of Germany. These moves have been in preparation for many weeks and are not a direct result of the rejection of the Stalin offer.

But additional police have been inspecting traffic into East Berlin confiscating chemicals, electrical equipment, and fine steel products now in critical demand by East German industry.

The new Anglo-American order banning foreign trucking from Western Europe into the Soviet zone further tightens the counter-blockade and puts additional pressure on the economy of Eastern Germany.

So today we are back where we started, diplomatically speaking.

The best indication of how the average Berliner reacts to the events is in the black market.

During the peace rumors early this week, the black market price of American cigarettes dropped to five marks a pack. That's a dollar and a half by the legal rate.

Today cigarette prices have risen about sixty percent. Black marketeers are now getting eight marks a pack.

This is Bill Downs in Berlin. Now back to CBS in New York.
Bill Downs

CBS Berlin

February 13, 1949

The communist-dominated government of Eastern Germany this morning is launching a so-called "peace offensive" of its own.

The Russian-licensed press and radio are issuing calls for a series of "peace demonstrations." One is set for tomorrow at Potsdamer Platz here in Berlin.

The purpose of the meetings, according to the initial propaganda, is to "challenge the warmongers with determination and join the peace movement which already has seized most of the workers of the world...The German people do not want to hunger in the frame of the Marshall Plan...they do not want to die for Western Union and the Atlantic Pact..."

In other words, the communists in Germany are starting a new and intensified sales campaign to discredit the Western Powers.

Why it is coming at this particular time is conjectural.

Authorities here say that it is possible that the German communists are trying to counter the unfavorable reaction caused by the trial of Cardinal Mindszenty in Hungary and the arrest of fifteen Protestant clergymen in Bulgaria.

But more likely, it said, the failure of Stalin's latest diplomatic move to stop the Atlantic Pact and halt formation of the West German state is the reason for the new communist propaganda drive in East Germany.

The German communists want to be ready to set up their own government in the East when the formation of a West German government is ready.

Today is the fourth anniversary of the great RAF air raid on the city of Dresden. This was one of the most disastrous of the aerial attacks on Germany; an estimated 32,000 people died in one night.

It is reported that the first of these so-called peace meetings is now going on in Dresden. The theme used is that the American and British air forces attacked the German people; and that the Russians, who incidentally didn't have much of a bombing force, only attacked military objectives.

But the most cynical of the communist propaganda statements is that these German "peace meetings" will only be held on days of special commemoration "of the worst horrors of the Second Imperialist War."

It is notable that last week's anniversary of the Stalingrad victory was ignored.

This is Bill Downs in Berlin. Now back to CBS in New York.