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Soviet Union–United States relations

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Soviet–American relations
Map indicating locations of Soviet Union and United States

Soviet Union

United States
Diplomatic mission
Soviet Embassy, Washington, D.C.United States Embassy, Moscow
U.K. Prime Minister Winston Churchill, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Soviet Leader Joseph Stalin in Yalta, Soviet Union in February 1945
U.K. Prime Minister Winston Churchill, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Soviet Leader Joseph Stalin in Yalta, Soviet Union in February 1945

The relations between the United States of America and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (1922–1991) succeeded the previous relations from 1776 to 1917 and predate today's relations that began in 1992. Full diplomatic relations between the two countries were established in 1933, late due to the countries' mutual hostility. During World War II, the two countries were briefly allies. At the end of the war, the first signs of post-war mistrust and hostility began to appear between the two countries, escalating into the Cold War; a period of tense hostile relations, with periods of détente.

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  • ✪ USA vs USSR Fight! The Cold War: Crash Course World History #39
  • ✪ The Cold War: Crash Course US History #37
  • ✪ Did the Soviets win WW2 due to US Support? The Impact of Lend-Lease
  • ✪ The oil wars: How America's energy obsession wrecked the Middle East | Eugene Gholz
  • ✪ Soviet Propaganda Film About America Against the Marshall Plan


Hi, I’m John Green, This is Crash Course World History and today we’re gonna talk about the Cold War, which actually lasted into my lifetime, which means that I can bore you with stories from my past like your grandpa does. When I was a kid, they made us practice hiding under our desks in the event of a nuclear attack, because, you know, school desks are super good at repelling radiation. [formica is magical stuff] Mr. Green, Mr. Green! Right, remember in elementary school there was this special guest who’d defected from the Soviet Union, and he had-- --Like this crazy Russian accent and he kept going on and on about how-- Reagan should spit in Gorbachev’s face instead of signing treaties with him. And I was like, whoa dude calm down. You’re in a room full of third graders. And then for like months afterward on the playground, we’d play Reagan:Gorbachev and spit in each other’s faces. Those were the days. Sometimes I forget that you’re me, Me from the Past. [ahhh… so sweet!] Yeah, it’s just really nice to talk to you and feel like you’re lis— You’re boring. Cue the intro. [ah ha! there it is.] [BEST] [intro music] [intro music] [intro music] [intro music] [intro music] [EVER!] So the Cold War was a rivalry between the USSR and the USA that played out globally. We’ve tried to shy away from calling conflicts ideological or civilizational here on Crash Course, but in this case, the “clash of civilizations” model really does apply. Socialism, at least as Marx constructed it, wanted to take over the world, and many Soviets saw themselves in a conflict with bourgeois capitalism itself. And the Soviets saw American rebuilding efforts in Europe and Japan as the U.S. trying to expand its markets, which, by the way, is exactly what we were doing. So the U.S. feared that the USSR wanted to destroy democratic and capitalist institutions. And the Soviets feared that the US wanted to use its money and power to dominate Europe and eventually destroy the Soviet system. And both parties were right to be worried. It’s not paranoia if they really are out to get you. [tinfoil hats, always in season] Now of course we’ve seen a lot of geopolitical struggles between major world powers here on Crash Course, but this time there was the special added bonus that war could lead to the destruction of the human species. That was new for world history, and it’s worth remembering: It’s still new. Here’s the period of time we’ve discussed on Crash Course. And this is how long we’ve had the technological capability to exterminate ourselves. So that’s worrisome. Immediately after World War II, the Soviets created a sphere of influence in eastern Europe, dominating the countries where the Red Army had pushed back the Nazis, which is why Winston Churchill famously said in 1946 that an “Iron Curtain” had descended across Europe. While the dates of the Cold War are usually given between 1945 and 1990, a number of historians will tell you that it actually started during World War II. Stalin’s distrust of the U.S. and Britain kept growing as they refused to invade Europe and open up a second front against the Nazis. And some even say that the decision to drop the first Atomic Bombs on Japan was motivated in part by a desire to intimidate the Soviets. That sort of worked, but only insofar as it motivated the Soviets to develop atomic bombs of their own— they successfully tested their first one in 1949. From the beginning, the U.S had the advantage because it had more money and power and could provide Europe protection what with its army and one of a kind nuclear arsenal while Europe rebuilt. The USSR had to rebuild itself, and also they had the significant disadvantage of being controlled by noted asshat Joseph Stalin. I will remind you, it’s not cursing if he’s wearing an ass for a hat. [way to hang your asshat on a technicality] Oh, I guess it’s time for the open letter. [professionally propels toward prop like a perfectly poised & practiced projectile] An Open Letter to Joseph Stalin. But first, let’s see what’s in the secret compartment today. Oh, it’s silly putty. Silly putty: the thing that won the Cold War. [gotta be a Reagan joke in there somewhere] This is exactly the kind of useless consumer good that would never have been produced in the Soviet Union. And it is because we had so much more consumer spending, on stuff like silly putty, that we won the Cold War. Go team! Dear Joseph Stalin, You really sucked. There was a great moment in your life, at your first wife’s funeral, when you said, “I don’t think I shall ever love again.” And then later, you had that wife’s whole family killed. [solid case for NOT putting a ring on it] Putting aside the fact that you’re responsible for tens of millions of deaths, I don’t like you because of the way that you treated your son, Yakov. I mean, you were really mean to him and then he shot himself and he didn’t die and you said, “He can’t even shoot straight.” And then later, when he was captured during World War II, you had a chance to exchange prisoners for him, but you declined. And then he died in a prison camp. You were a terrible leader, a terrible person, and a terrible father. Best wishes, John Green Alright, let’s go to the Thought Bubble. Europe was the first battleground of the Cold War, especially Germany, which was divided into 2 parts with the former capital, Berlin, also divided into 2 parts. and yes, I know the western part was divided into smaller occupation zones, but I’m simplifying. In 1948, the Soviets tried to cut off West Berlin, by closing the main road that led into the city, but the Berlin airlift stopped them. And then in 1961, the Soviets tried again and this time they were much more successful building a wall around West Berlin, although it’s worth noting that the thing was up for less than 30 years. I mean, Meatloaf’s career has lasted longer than the Berlin Wall did.[Oh y-- NOOO!!] The U.S. response to the Soviets was a policy called containment; it basically involved stopping the spread of communism by standing up to the Soviets wherever they seemed to want to expand. In Europe this meant spending a lot of money. First the Marshall Plan spent $13 billion on re-building western Europe with grants and credits that Europeans would spend on American consumer goods and on construction. Capitalism’s cheap food and plentiful stuff, it was hoped, would stop the spread of communism. The US also tried to slow the spread of communism by founding NATO and with CIA interventions in elections [looked better on paper] where communists had a chance, as in Italy. But despite all the great spy novels and shaken not stirred martinis, the Cold War never did heat up in Europe. Probably the most important part of the Cold War that people just don’t remember these days is the nuclear arms race. Both sides developed nuclear arsenals, the Soviets initially with the help of spies who stole American secrets. Eventually the nuclear arsenals were so big that the U.S. and USSR agreed on a strategy appropriately called MAD, which stood for “mutually assured destruction.” Thanks Thought Bubble. And yes, nuclear weapons were, and are, capable of destroying humanity many times over. [regardless of Iran's access to Photoshop] But only once or twice did we get close to nuclear war: during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and then again in 1983, when we forgot to give the Russians the heads up that we were doing some war games, which made it look like we had launched a first strike. OUR BAD! [closer to ultimate fail than epic fail] But even though mutually assured destruction prevented direct conflict, there was plenty of hot war in the Cold War. The Korean War saw lots of fighting between communists and capitalists, as did the Vietnam War. I mean, these days we remember “the domino effect” as silly paranoia, but after Korea and especially China became communist, Vietnam’s movement toward communism seemed very much a threat to Japan, which the U.S. had helped re-make into a vibrant capitalist ally. So the US got bogged down in one of its longest wars while the Soviets assisted the North Vietnamese army in the Viet Cong. But then we paid them back by supporting the anti-communist mujaheddin after the Soviets invaded Afghanistan in 1979. Of course, as we now know, nobody conquers Afghanistan …unless you are the mongols. [The tune of truly tendering terror to tons of tearfully troubled tribes] So after 10 disastrous years, the Soviets finally abandoned Afghanistan. Some of those mujahedeen later became members of the Taliban, though, so it’s difficult to say that anyone won that war. But it wasn’t just Asia: In Nicaragua, the US supported rebels to overthrow the leftist government; in El Salvador, the US bolstered authoritarian regimes that were threatened by left-wing guerrillas. The United States ended up supporting a lot of awful governments, like the one in Guatemala, which held onto power through the use of death squads. [like i said, looked better on paper] Frankly, all our attempts to stabilize governments in Latin America led to some very unstable Latin American governments, and quite a lot of violence. And then there were the luke-warm conflicts, like The Suez Crisis where British and French paratroopers were sent in to try to stop Egypt from nationalizing the Suez canal. Or all the American covert operations to keep various countries from “falling” to communism. These included the famous CIA-engineered coup to overthrow Iran’s democratically elected prime minister Mohammed Mossadeq after his government attempted to nationalize Iran’s oil industry. And the CIA helping Chile’s General Augusto Pinochet overthrow democratically elected Marxist president Salvador Allende in 1973. And lest we think the Americans were the only bad guys in this, the Soviets used force to crush popular uprisings in Hungary in 1956 and in Czechoslovakia in 1968. So, you may have noticed that our discussion of the Cold War has branched out from Europe to include Asia, and the Middle East, and Latin America. And in fact, almost every part of the globe was involved in some way with the planet being divided into three “worlds.” The first world was the U.S., Western Europe and any place that embraced capitalism and a more or less democratic form of government. The Second World was the Soviet Union and its satellites, mostly the Warsaw Pact nations, China and Cuba. The Third World was everyone else and we don’t use this term anymore because it lumps together a hugely diverse range of countries. We’ll talk more about the specific economic and development challenges faced by the so-called “Third World countries,” but the big one in terms of the Cold War, was that neither the U.S. nor the Soviets wanted any of these countries to remain neutral. Every nation was supposed to pick sides, either capitalist or communist, and while it seems like an easy choice now, in the 50s and 60s, it wasn’t nearly so clear. I mean, for a little while, it seemed like the Soviets might come out ahead, at least in the Third World. For a while, capitalism, and especially the United States, seemed to lose some of its luster. The US propped up dictatorships, had a poor civil rights record, we sucked at women’s gymnastics. Plus, the Soviets were the first to put a satellite, a man, and a dog into space. Plus, Marxists just seemed cooler, which is why you never see Milton Friedman t-shirts... until now available at I like that, Stan, but I’m more of a centrist. Can I get a Keynes shirt? Yes. That, now that’s hot. But Soviet socialism did not finally prove to be a viable alternative to industrial capitalism. Over time, state-run economies just generally don’t fare as well as private enterprise, and people like living in a world where they can have more stuff. More importantly, Soviet policies were just bad: collectivized agriculture stymied production and led to famine; suppression of dissent and traditional cultures made people angry; and no one likes suffering the humiliation of driving a Yugo. But why the Cold War ended when it did is one of the most interesting questions of the 20th century. It probably wasn’t Ronald Reagan bankrupting the Soviets, despite what some politicians believe. The USSR had more satellite states that it needed to spend more to prop up than the U.S. had to invest in its Allies. And the Soviet system could never keep up with economic growth in the West. But, probably the individual most responsible for the end of the Cold War was Mikhail Baryshnikov. [Um...] No? Mikhail Gorbachev? Well, that’s boring. [and far less lycra-clad] I always thought the Soviets danced their way to freedom. No? It was Glasnost and Perestroika? [not the cultural resonance of White Nights?] Alright. but Gorbachev’s Perestroika and Glosnost opened up the Soviet political and economic systems with contested local elections, less restricted civil society groups, less censorship, more autonomy for the Soviet Republics, more non-state-run businesses and more autonomy for state-run farms. Glasnost or “openness” led to more information from the west and less censorship led to a flood of criticism as people realized how much poorer the second world was than the first. And one by one, often quite suddenly, former communist states collapsed. In Germany, the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 [pulled down with the Gipper's own hands] and East and West Germany were reunited in 1990. In Poland, the Gdansk dockworker’s union Solidarity turned into a mass political movement and won 99 of the 100 seats it was allowed to contest in the 1989 election. Hungary held multiparty elections in 1990. The same year, mass demonstrations led to elections in Czechoslovakia. In 1993, that country split up into Slovakia and the Czech Republic, the happiest and most mutually beneficial divorce since Cher left Sonny. Of course sometimes the transition away from communism was violent and painful. In Romania, for instance, the communist dictator Ceaucescu held onto power until he was tried and put before a firing squad at the end of 1989. And it took until 1996 for a non-communist government to take power there. And in Yugoslavia, well, not so great. And in Russia, it’s a little bit Putin-ey. Ah! Putin. But just twenty years later, it’s hard to believe that the world was once dominated by two super powers held in check mutually assured destruction. [sure didn't work for Harry & Voldemort] What’s really amazing to me, though, is that until the late 1980s, it felt like the Cold War was gonna go on forever. Time seems to slow as it approaches us, & living in the post-Cold War nuclear age, we should remember that the past feels distant even when it’s near, and that the future seems assured— even though it isn’t. Thanks for watching. I’ll see you next week. [don't ask. you try & corral the talent when they're a NYT best-selling author] Crash Course is produced and directed by Stan Muller. Our script supervisor is Meredith Danko. Our associate producer is Danica Johnson. The show is written by my high school history teacher Raoul Meyer and myself. And our graphics team is Thought Bubble. [where time may be cold, but not too war-y] Last week’s phrase of the week was "Justin Bieber" [Johnny Bookwriter is a full-on Belieber] Thanks for that suggestion. [he said, sincerely] If you’d like to suggest future phrases of the week, you can do so in comments where you can also ask questions about today’s video that will be answered by our team of historians. [or fought out amongst yourselves with varying degrees of merit and clarity] Thanks for watching Crash Course and as we say in my hometown, don’t forget Folly and Desperation Are Ofttimes Hard to Tell Apart.” [Did you know John is a triple threat?] Ow.


Country comparison

Common name Soviet Union United States
Official name Union of Soviet Socialist Republics United States of America
Coat of arms
State Emblem of the Soviet Union.svg
Great Seal of the United States (obverse).svg
Flag Soviet Union United States
Area 22,402,200 km² (8,649,538 sq mi) 9,526,468 km² (3,794,101 sq mi)[1]
Population 290,938,469 (1990) 248,709,873 (1990)
Population density 6.4/sq km (16.6/sq mi) 34/sq km (85.5/sq mi)
Capital Moscow Washington, D.C.
Largest metropolitan areas Moscow New York City
Government Federal Marxist–Leninist one-party socialist state Federal presidential two-party constitutional republic
Political parties Communist Party of the Soviet Union Democratic Party
Republican Party
Most common language Russian English
Currency Soviet ruble US dollar
GDP (nominal) $2.659 trillion (~$9,896 per capita) $5.79 trillion (~$24,000 per capita)
Intelligence agencies Committee for State Security (KGB) Central Intelligence Agency
Military expenditures $290 billion (1990) $409.7 billion (1990)
Army size Soviet Army US Army
Navy size Soviet Navy (1990)[2]
  • 63 ballistic missiles submarines
  • 72 cruise missiles submarines
  • 64 nuclear attack submarines
  • 65 conventional attack submarines
  • 9 auxiliary submarines
  • 6 aircraft carriers
  • 4 battle cruisers
  • 30 cruisers
  • 45 destroyers
  • 113 frigates
  • 124 corvettes
  • 35 amphibious warfare ships
US Navy (1990)
  • 36 ballistic missiles submarines
  • 89 attack submarines
  • 17 aircraft carriers
  • 4 battleships
  • 42 cruisers
  • 52 destroyers
  • 103 frigates
  • 67 amphibious warfare ships
Air force size Soviet Air Force (1990)[3]
  • 435 bombers
  • 5665 fighters/attacks
  • 1015 reconnaissance
  • 84 tankers
  • 620 transports
US Air Force (1990)
  • 327 bombers
  • 4155 fighters/attacks
  • 533 reconnaissance
  • 618 tankers
  • 1295 transports[3]
Nuclear warheads (total) 37,000 (1990) 10,904 (1990)
Economic alliance Comecon European Economic Community
Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
Military alliance Warsaw Pact NATO
Countries allied during the Cold War Warsaw Pact:

Soviet Republics seat in the United Nations:

Baltic States as Soviet Republics:

Other Soviet Socialist Republics:

Other allies:


Status of the Baltic States during occupation:

Other allies:

Leaders of the Soviet Union and the United States from 1917 to 1991.

Woodrow WilsonWarren G. HardingCalvin CoolidgeHerbert HooverFranklin D. RooseveltHarry S. TrumanDwight D. EisenhowerJohn F. KennedyLyndon B. JohnsonRichard NixonGerald FordJimmy CarterRonald ReaganGeorge H. W. BushVladimir LeninJoseph StalinGeorgy MalenkovNikita KhrushchevLeonid BrezhnevYuri AndropovKonstantin ChernenkoMikhail GorbachevUnited StatesSoviet Union


Pre-World War II relations


American troops marching in Vladivostok following Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War, August 1918
American troops marching in Vladivostok following Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War, August 1918

In 1921, after the Bolsheviks took over Russia, won a Civil War, killed the royal family, repudiated the tsarist debt, and called for a world revolution by the working class, it became a pariah nation.

U.S. hostility towards the Bolsheviks was not only due to countering the emergence of an anti-capitalist revolution. The Americans, as a result of the fear of Japanese expansion into Russian held territory and their support for the Allied-aligned Czech legion, sent a small number of troops to Northern Russia and Siberia. After Lenin came to power in the October Revolution, he withdrew Russia from World War I, allowing the Germans to reallocate troops to face the Allied forces on the Western Front.[4]

U.S. attempts at hindering the Bolsheviks consisted less of direct military intervention than various forms of aid directed to anti-Bolshevik groups, especially the White Army. Aid was given mostly supplies and food. President Woodrow Wilson had various issues to deal with and did not want to intervene in Russia with total commitment due to Russian public opinion and the belief that many Russians were not part of the growing Red Army and in the hopes the revolution would eventually fade towards more democratic realizations. An aggressive invasion would have allied Russians together and depicted the U.S. as an invading conquering nation. Following World War I, Germany was seen as the puppeteer in the Bolshevik cause with indirect control of the Bolsheviks through German agents.[5]

"The fact is that while Germany in a way has been using the Bolshevik element either directly through bribes of some of its leaders or as a result of the principles of government they espouse and practice, Germany is appealing to the conservative elements of Russia as their only hope against the Bolsheviks".[6]

Beyond the Russian Civil War, relations were also dogged by claims of American companies for compensation for the nationalized industries they had invested in.[7]

By 1922, the Soviet Union was working its way back into European favor. The United States refused formal recognition, but did open trade relations and there was active transfer of technology.[8] The Ford Motor Company took the lead in building a truck industry and introducing tractors together with American architects like Albert Kahn who became consultants for all industrial construction in the Soviet Union in 1930.[9]

Recognition in 1933

Maxim Litvinov, the Soviet foreign minister (1930–1939) and ambassador to the United States (1941–1943)
Maxim Litvinov, the Soviet foreign minister (1930–1939) and ambassador to the United States (1941–1943)

By 1933, old fears of Communist threats had faded, and the American business community, as well as newspaper editors, were calling for diplomatic recognition. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was eager for large-scale trade with the Soviet Union, and hope for some repayment on the old tsarist debts. He negotiated with the Soviets, and they promised there would be no espionage so Roosevelt used presidential authority to normalize relations in November 1933.[10] There were few complaints about the move.[11] However, there was no progress on the debt issue, and little additional trade. Historians Justus D. Doenecke and Mark A. Stoler note that, "Both nations were soon disillusioned by the accord."[12] Many American businessmen expected a bonus in terms of large-scale trade, but it never materialized.[13]

The Soviets had promised not to engage in spying inside the United States, but did so anyhow.[14] Roosevelt named William Bullitt as ambassador from 1933 to 1936. Bullitt arrived in Moscow with high hopes for Soviet–American relations, his view of the Soviet leadership soured on closer inspection. By the end of his tenure, Bullitt was openly hostile to the Soviet government. He remained an outspoken anti-communist for the rest of his life.[15]

Map US Lend Lease shipments to USSR-WW2.jpg
World War II military deaths in Europe and Asia by theater, year
World War II military deaths in Europe and Asia by theater, year

World War II (1939–45)

Before the Germans decided to invade the Soviet Union in June 1941, relations remained strained, as the Soviet invasion of Finland, Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, Soviet invasion of the Baltic states and Joint German and Soviet invasion of Poland stirred, which resulted in Soviet Union's expulsion from the League of Nations. Come the invasion of 1941, the Soviet Union entered a Mutual Assistance Treaty with Great Britain, and received aid from the American Lend-Lease program, relieving American-Soviet tensions, and bringing together former enemies in the fight against Nazi Germany and the Axis powers.

Though operational cooperation between the United States and the Soviet Union was notably less than that between other allied powers, the United States nevertheless provided the Soviet Union with huge quantities of weapons, ships, aircraft, rolling stock, strategic materials, and food through the Lend-Lease program. The Americans and the Soviets were as much for war with Germany as for the expansion of an ideological sphere of influence. During the war, President Truman stated that it did not matter to him if a German or a Russian soldier died so long as either side is losing.[16]

Soviet and American troops meet in April 1945, east of the Elbe River.
Soviet and American troops meet in April 1945, east of the Elbe River.

The American Russian Cultural Association (Russian: Американо–русская культурная ассоциация) was organized in the USA in 1942 to encourage cultural ties between the Soviet Union and the United States, with Nicholas Roerich as honorary president. The group's first annual report was issued the following year. The group does not appear to have lasted much past Nicholas Roerich's death in 1947.[17][18]

In total, the U.S. deliveries through Lend-Lease amounted to $11 billion in materials: over 400,000 jeeps and trucks; 12,000 armored vehicles (including 7,000 tanks, about 1,386[19] of which were M3 Lees and 4,102 M4 Shermans);[20] 11,400 aircraft (4,719 of which were Bell P-39 Airacobras)[21] and 1.75 million tons of food.[22]

Roughly 17.5 million tons of military equipment, vehicles, industrial supplies, and food were shipped from the Western Hemisphere to the USSR, 94% coming from the US. For comparison, a total of 22 million tons landed in Europe to supply American forces from January 1942 to May 1945. It has been estimated that American deliveries to the USSR through the Persian Corridor alone were sufficient, by US Army standards, to maintain sixty combat divisions in the line.[23][24]

The United States delivered to the Soviet Union from October 1, 1941 to May 31, 1945 the following: 427,284 trucks, 13,303 combat vehicles, 35,170 motorcycles, 2,328 ordnance service vehicles, 2,670,371 tons of petroleum products (gasoline and oil) or 57.8 percent of the High-octane aviation fuel,[25] 4,478,116 tons of foodstuffs (canned meats, sugar, flour, salt, etc.), 1,911 steam locomotives, 66 Diesel locomotives, 9,920 flat cars, 1,000 dump cars, 120 tank cars, and 35 heavy machinery cars. Provided ordnance goods (ammunition, artillery shells, mines, assorted explosives) amounted to 53 percent of total domestic production.[25] One item typical of many was a tire plant that was lifted bodily from the Ford Company's River Rouge Plant and transferred to the USSR. The 1947 money value of the supplies and services amounted to about eleven billion dollars.[26]

Memorandum for the President's Special Assistant Harry Hopkins, Washington, D.C., 10 August 1943:

In War II Russia occupies a dominant position and is the decisive factor looking toward the defeat of the Axis in Europe. While in Sicily the forces of Great Britain and the United States are being opposed by 2 German divisions, the Russian front is receiving attention of approximately 200 German divisions. Whenever the Allies open a second front on the Continent, it will be decidedly a secondary front to that of Russia; theirs will continue to be the main effort. Without Russia in the war, the Axis cannot be defeated in Europe, and the position of the United Nations becomes precarious. Similarly, Russia’s post-war position in Europe will be a dominant one. With Germany crushed, there is no power in Europe to oppose her tremendous military forces.[27]

Cold War (1945–91)

Soviet Union-United States (including spheres of influence) relations
Map indicating locations of United States and Soviet Union

United States

Soviet Union

The end of World War II saw the resurgence of previous divisions between the two nations. The expansion of Soviet influence into Eastern Europe following Germany's defeat worried the liberal democracies of the West, particularly the United States, which had established virtual economic and political primacy in Western Europe. The two nations promoted two opposing economic and political ideologies and the two nations competed for international influence along these lines. This protracted a geopolitical, ideological, and economic struggle—lasting from the announcement of the Truman Doctrine on March 12, 1947 until the dissolution of the Soviet Union on December 26, 1991—is known as the Cold War, a period of nearly 45 years.

The Soviet Union detonated its first nuclear weapon in 1949, ending the United States' monopoly on nuclear weapons. The United States and the Soviet Union engaged in a conventional and nuclear arms race that persisted until the collapse of the Soviet Union. Andrei Gromyko was Minister of Foreign Affairs of the USSR, and is the longest-serving foreign minister in the world.

After Germany's defeat, the United States sought to help its Western European allies economically with the Marshall Plan. The United States extended the Marshall Plan to the Soviet Union, but under such terms, the Americans knew the Soviets would never accept, namely the acceptance of free elections, not characteristic of Stalinist communism. With its growing influence on Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union sought to counter this with the Comecon in 1949, which essentially did the same thing, though was more an economic cooperation agreement instead of a clear plan to rebuild. The United States and its Western European allies sought to strengthen their bonds and spite the Soviet Union. They accomplished this most notably through the formation of NATO which was basically a military agreement. The Soviet Union countered with the Warsaw Pact, which had similar results with the Eastern Bloc.

Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin with U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson at the 1967 Glassboro Summit Conference.
Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin with U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson at the 1967 Glassboro Summit Conference.

Nixon achieves détente

Détente began in 1969, as a core element of the foreign policy of president Richard Nixon and his top advisor Henry Kissinger. They wanted to end the containment policy and gain friendlier relations with the USSR and China. Those two were rivals and Nixon expected they would go along with Washington as to not give the other rival an advantage. One of Nixon's terms is that both nations had to stop helping North Vietnam in the Vietnam War, which they did. Nixon and Kissinger promoted greater dialogue with the Soviet government, including regular summit meetings and negotiations over arms control and other bilateral agreements. Brezhnev met with Nixon at summits in Moscow in 1972, in Washington in 1973, and, again in Moscow in 1974. They became personal friends.[28][29] Détente was known in Russian as разрядка (razryadka, loosely meaning "relaxation of tension").[30]

The period was characterized by the signing of treaties such as SALT I and the Helsinki Accords. Another treaty, START II, was discussed but never ratified by the United States. There is still ongoing debate amongst historians as to how successful the détente period was in achieving peace.[31][32]

President Gerald Ford, General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev, and Henry Kissinger speaking informally at the Vladivostok Summit in 1974
President Gerald Ford, General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev, and Henry Kissinger speaking informally at the Vladivostok Summit in 1974

After the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, the two superpowers agreed to install a direct hotline between Washington D.C. and Moscow (the so-called red telephone), enabling leaders of both countries to quickly interact with each other in a time of urgency, and reduce the chances that future crises could escalate into an all-out war. The U.S./USSR détente was presented as an applied extension of that thinking. The SALT II pact of the late 1970s continued the work of the SALT I talks, ensuring further reduction in arms by the Soviets and by the U.S. The Helsinki Accords, in which the Soviets promised to grant free elections in Europe, has been called a major concession to ensure peace by the Soviets.

Détente ended after the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, which led to the United States boycott of the 1980 Olympics in Moscow. Ronald Reagan's election as president in 1980, based in large part on an anti-détente campaign,[33] marked the close of détente and a return to Cold War tensions. In his first press conference, President Reagan said "Détente's been a one-way street that the Soviet Union has used to pursue its aims."[34] Following this, relations turned increasingly sour with the unrest in Poland,[35][36] end of the SALT II negotiations, and the NATO exercise in 1983 that brought the superpowers almost on the brink of nuclear war.[37]

Resumption of Cold War

Afghanistan 1979

The period of détente ended when the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan in 1979. The United States, Pakistan, and their allies supported the rebels. To punish Moscow, The U.S. pulled out of the Moscow Olympics. President Jimmy Carter imposed an embargo on shipping American wheat. This hurt American farmers more than it did the Soviet economy, and President Ronald Reagan resumed sales in 1981. Other nations sold their own grain to the USSR, and the Soviets had ample reserve stocks and a good harvest of their own.[38]

Reagan attacks "Evil Empire"

Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev with wives attending a dinner at the Soviet Embassy in Washington, 9 December 1987
Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev with wives attending a dinner at the Soviet Embassy in Washington, 9 December 1987

Reagan escalated the Cold War, accelerating a reversal from the policy of détente which had begun in 1979 after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.[39] Reagan feared that the Soviet Union had gained a military advantage over the United States, and the Reagan administration hoped to that heightened military spending would grant the U.S. military superiority and weaken the Soviet economy.[40] Reagan ordered a massive buildup of the United States Armed Forces, directing funding to the B-1 Lancer bomber, the B-2 Spirit bomber, cruise missiles, the MX missile, and the 600-ship Navy.[41] In response to Soviet deployment of the SS-20, Reagan oversaw NATO's deployment of the Pershing missile in West Germany.[42] The president also strongly denounced the Soviet Union and Communism in moral terms, describing the Soviet Union an "evil empire."[43]

End of Cold War

In December 1989, both the leaders of the United States and the Soviet Union declared the Cold War over, and in 1991, the two were partners in the Gulf War against Iraq, a longtime Soviet ally. On 31 July 1991, the START I treaty cutting the number of deployed nuclear warheads of both countries was signed by Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev and U.S. President George Bush. However, many consider the Cold War to have truly ended in late 1991 with the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

See also


  1. ^ "United States". Encyclopædia Britannica. Retrieved January 31, 2010.
  2. ^ "Soviet Navy Ships - 1945-1990 - Cold War".
  3. ^ a b a1c80d6c8fdb/UploadedImages/Mitchell%20Publications/Arsenal%20of%20Airpower. pdf "Arsenal of Airpower" Check |url= value (help). March 13, 2012. Retrieved July 28, 2016 – via Washington Post.
  4. ^ Fic, Victor M (1995), The Collapse of American Policy in Russia and Siberia, 1918, Columbia University Press, New York
  5. ^ Scott Reed (May 2007), American "Intervention" in the Russian Civil War: 1918–1920 – Why did President Woodrow Wilson decide to send American troops into Siberia and Northern Russia on August 16, 1918?, International Academy
  6. ^ Levin, N (1970), Gordon Jr. Woodrow Wilson and World Politics: America's Response to War and Revolution, Oxford University Press, New York, p. 19
  7. ^ Donald E. Davis and Eugene P. Trani (2009). Distorted Mirrors: Americans and Their Relations with Russia and China in the Twentieth Century. University of Missouri Press. p. 48.
  8. ^ Kendall E. Bailes, "The American Connection: Ideology and the Transfer of American Technology to the Soviet Union, 1917–1941." Comparative Studies in Society and History 23#3 (1981): 421-448.
  9. ^ Dana G. Dalrymple, "The American tractor comes to Soviet agriculture: The transfer of a technology." Technology and Culture 5.2 (1964): 191-214.
  10. ^ Smith 2007, pp. 341–343.
  11. ^ Paul F. Boller (1996). Not So!: Popular Myths about America from Columbus to Clinton. Oxford UP. pp. 110–14.
  12. ^ Justus D. Doenecke and Mark A. Stoler (2005). Debating Franklin D. Roosevelt's Foreign Policies, 1933-1945. pp. 18. 121.
  13. ^ Joan H. Wilson, "American Business and the Recognition of the Soviet Union." Social Science Quarterly (1971): 349-368. in JSTOR
  14. ^ Edward Moore Bennett, Franklin D. Roosevelt and the search for security: American-Soviet relations, 1933-1939 (1985).
  15. ^ Will Brownell and Richard Billings, So Close to Greatness: The Biography of William C. Bullitt (1988)
  16. ^ "National Affairs: Anniversary Remembrance". Time magazine. 2 July 1951. Retrieved 2013-10-12.
  17. ^ "American-Russian Cultural Association". roerich-encyclopedia. Retrieved 16 October 2015.
  18. ^ "Annual Report". Retrieved 30 November 2015.
  19. ^ Zaloga (Armored Thunderbolt) p. 28, 30, 31
  20. ^ Lend-Lease Shipments: World War II, Section IIIB, Published by Office, Chief of Finance, War Department, 31 December 1946, p. 8.
  21. ^ Hardesty 1991, p. 253
  22. ^ World War II The War Against Germany And Italy, US Army Center Of Military History, page 158.
  23. ^ "The five Lend-Lease routes to Russia". Engines of the Red Army. Archived from the original on 4 September 2013. Retrieved 12 July 2014.
  24. ^ Motter, T.H. Vail (1952). The Persian Corridor and Aid to Russia. Center of Military History. pp. 4–6. Retrieved 12 July 2014.
  25. ^ a b Weeks 2004, p. 9
  26. ^ Deane, John R. 1947. The Strange Alliance, The Story of Our Efforts at Wartime Co-operation with Russia. The Viking Press.
  27. ^ "The Executive of the Presidents Soviet Protocol Committee (Burns) to the President's Special Assistant (Hopkins)". Office of the Historian.
  28. ^ Donald J. Raleigh, "'I Speak Frankly Because You Are My Friend': Leonid Ilich Brezhnev’s Personal Relationship with Richard M. Nixon." Soviet & Post-Soviet Review (2018) 45#2 pp 151-182.
  29. ^ Craig Daigle (2012). The Limits of Detente: The United States, the Soviet Union, and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1969-1973. Yale UP. pp. 273–78.
  30. ^ Barbara Keys, "Nixon/Kissinger and Brezhnev." Diplomatic History 42.4 (2018): 548-551.
  31. ^ "The Rise and Fall of Détente, Professor Branislav L. Slantchev, Department of Political Science, University of California – San Diego 2014" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 23 October 2014. Retrieved 22 July 2014.
  32. ^ Nuti, Leopoldo (11 November 2008). The Crisis of Détente in Europe. ISBN 9780203887165. Retrieved 22 July 2014.
  33. ^ "Ronald Reagan, radio broadcast on August 7th, 1978" (PDF). Retrieved 22 July 2014.
  34. ^ "Ronald Reagan. January 29, 1981 press conference". 29 January 1981. Retrieved 22 July 2014.
  35. ^ "Detente Wanes as Soviets Quarantine Satellites from Polish Fever". Washington Post. 1980-10-19.
  36. ^ Simes, Dimitri K. (1980). "The Death of Detente?". International Security. 5 (1): 3–25. JSTOR 2538471.
  37. ^ "The Cold War Heats up – New Documents Reveal the "Able Archer" War Scare of 1983". 2013-05-20.
  38. ^ Robert L. Paarlberg, "Lessons of the grain embargo." Foreign Affairs 59.1 (1980): 144-162. online
  39. ^ "Towards an International History of the War in Afghanistan, 1979–89". The Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. 2002. Archived from the original on October 11, 2007. Retrieved May 16, 2007.
  40. ^ Douglas C. Rossinow, The Reagan Era: A History of the 1980s (2015). pp. 66–67
  41. ^ James Patterson, Restless Giant: The United States from Watergate to Bush v. Gore (2005). p. 200
  42. ^ Patterson, pp. 205
  43. ^ Rossinow, p. 67

Further reading

  • Bennett, Edward M. Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Search for Security: American-Soviet Relations, 1933-1939 (1985)
  • Bennett, Edward M. Franklin D. Roosevelt and the Search for Victory: American-Soviet Relations, 1939-1945 (1990).
  • Cohen, Warren I. The Cambridge History of American Foreign Relations: Vol. IV: America in the Age of Soviet Power, 1945-1991 (1993).
  • Crockatt, Richard. The Fifty Years War: The United States and the Soviet Union in world politics, 1941-1991 (1995).
  • Diesing, Duane J. Russia and the United States: Future Implications of Historical Relationships (No. Au/Acsc/Diesing/Ay09. Air Command And Staff Coll Maxwell Afb Al, 2009). online
  • Dunbabin, J.P.D. International Relations since 1945: Vol. 1: The Cold War: The Great Powers and their Allies (1994).
  • Foglesong, David S. The American mission and the 'Evil Empire': the crusade for a 'Free Russia' since 1881 (2007).
  • Gaddis, John Lewis. The United States and the Origins of the Cold War, 1941-1947 (2000).
  • Garthoff, Raymond L. Détente and confrontation: American-Soviet relations from Nixon to Reagan (2nd ed. 1994) In-depth scholarly history covers 1969 to 1980. online free to borrow
  • Garthoff, Raymond L. The Great Transition: American-Soviet Relations and the End of the Cold War (1994), In-depth scholarly history, 1981 to 1991,
  • Glantz, Mary E. FDR and the Soviet Union: the President's battles over foreign policy (2005).
  • Jensen, Ronald J. The Alaska Purchase and Russian-American Relations (1973).
  • LaFeber, Walter. America, Russia, and the Cold War 1945-2006 (2008).
  • Leffler, , Melvyn P. The Specter of Communism: The United States and the Origins of the Cold War, 1917-1953 (1994).
  • Nye, Joseph S. ed. The making of America's Soviet policy (1984)
  • Saul, Norman E. War and Revolution: The United States and Russia, 1914-1921 (2001).
  • Saul, Norman E. Historical Dictionary of Russian and Soviet Foreign Policy (2014).
  • Sibley, Katherine AS. "Soviet industrial espionage against American military technology and the US response, 1930–1945." Intelligence and National Security 14.2 (1999): 94-123.
  • Sokolov, Boris V. "The role of lend‐lease in Soviet military efforts, 1941–1945." Journal of Slavic Military Studies 7.3 (1994): 567-586.\
  • Stoler, Mark A. Allies and Adversaries: The Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Grand Alliance, and US Strategy in World War II. (UNC Press, 2003).
  • Taubman, William. Gorbachev (2017) excerpt
  • Taubman, William. Khrushchev: The Man and His Era (2012), Pulitzer Prize
  • Taubman, William. Stalin’s American Policy: From Entente to Détente to Cold War (1982).
  • Thomas, Benjamin P.. Russo-American Relations: 1815-1867 (1930).
  • Trani, Eugene P. "Woodrow Wilson and the decision to intervene in Russia: a reconsideration." Journal of Modern History 48.3 (1976): 440-461.
  • Unterberger, Betty Miller. "Woodrow Wilson and the Bolsheviks: The 'Acid Test' of Soviet–American Relations." Diplomatic History 11.2 (1987): 71-90.
  • White, Christine A. British and American Commercial Relations with Soviet Russia, 1918-1924 (UNC Press Books, 2017).
  • Zubok, Vladislav M. A Failed Empire: The Soviet Union in the Cold War from Stalin to Gorbachev (209)
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