The imposition of Soviet-style regimes across the liberated nations of central and eastern Europe was not Stalin's initial aim after the second world war, says a leading Hungarian analyst.
Mihaly Fulop, deputy director general of the Hungarian Institute of International Affairs, currently an academic visitor at the Paris Sorbonne, argues that Stalin, like his British and American former allies, had hoped that the wartime alliance could be maintained in peace. It was only when talks over the peace treaty after Germany's defeat collapsed in 1947 that he initiated the full takeover.
Dr Fulop, in Montreal to speak to a specialised conference following the main international congress, said: "In 1945/46 there were free elections in Hungary, Finland and some other countries occupied by the Red Army. If he had chosen to impose Soviet-style regimes no physical force in the world could have stopped him. Of course he supported the Communists in these countries, but in Hungary for instance the main anti-Communist party won 57 per cent of the votes. He told the leaders of the Hungarian Communist Party that they should expect a 10-15 year wait before taking power. He did this because he respected the alliance."
He argues that the immediate postwar period has been neglected in conventional accounts of the Cold War, which he dates to the breakdown of the German peace talks. "The division was not between the victor nations but between victor and vanquished with treaties being negotiated with lesser German allies like Finland, Hungary and Italy."
This led to the irony of the main enemy, Germany, being the only one without a peace treaty when the breakdown of relations between the victors aborted the treaty process. Once the alliance broke down, Stalin had no reason not to impose his will on central and eastern Europe. "There was no longer any restraint upon him. Britain and France lost their influence in this region."
Dr Fulop argues that, having initiated the Cold War, the peacemaking process was then frozen by it. "It has only been concluded since the Cold War ended." But that process left a significant legacy - a network of agreements on frontiers guaranteed by the great powers. "This means that none of the borders settled under those treaties can be revised without the consent of all parties. And any such revision would set a precedent affecting all the others."