Soviet Union

   The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was established in 1922 following the success of the Bolsheviks after the Russian Revolution of October 1917 and the Civil War in the former Imperial Russia. A one-party state committed to the principle of communism, beginning in 1924 the USSR was led by Joseph Stalin, who increasingly exerted dictatorial control. Until his death in 1953, Stalin led the USSR through rapid industrial development brutally imposed under Five-Year Plans. He enforced his views through a series of “purges” and show trials that resulted in the removal of any political opponents.
   The United States did not recognize the USSR until 1933, but relations were distant until both countries became allies in response to Adolf Hitler’s expansionist policies in 1941. Meetings between Stalin, Winston Churchill, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt at Tehran, Yalta, and Potsdam were reasonably successful, but once the war was over, old suspicions and rivalries based on fundamental ideological differences resurfaced. The presence of Soviet armies in Eastern Europe and the imposition of communist-backed governments in Poland, Czechoslovakia, and elsewhere led to a Cold War that dominated world affairs until the collapse of the USSR in 1991. In the immediate aftermath of the war, the new U.S. president, Harry S. Truman, was much less inclined than Roosevelt to be conciliatory, and he immediately stopped lend-lease aid to Russia and demanded that the USSR honor wartime agreements, even though they were sometimes rather ambiguous in meaning. In a speech in February 1946, Stalin reaffirmed the prewar view of irreconcilable differences between socialism and capitalism and the inevitability of conflict between the two. Soviet control in Eastern Europe was tightened and reinforced in 1947 with the establishment of the Communist Information Bureau (COMINFORM). In face of the perceived Soviet threat, Truman announced the Truman Doctrine and a policy of containment in March 1947, and a program of economic aid to Europe under the Marshall Plan was announced in June that year. Although the USSR was invited to participate in the plan, it rejected the notion of external inspections and withdrew, taking its eastern satellites with it. It instead established an equivalent Molotov Plan. The economic recovery of Western Europe sharpened differences over the future of Germany and demands for the payment of reparations to the USSR, which came to a head when the Western Allies— Great Britain, France, and the United States—established a common currency and began the economic unification of the West German sectors. The USSR responded by imposing a blockade on Berlin in June 1948, resulting in the Berlin Airlift which lasted until May 1949. The Western powers responded to the threatening Soviet action with the formation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in April 1949. When West Germany was included in NATO in 1955, the USSR established the Warsaw Pact among the communist states of Europe. The growing military confrontation was made more dangerous by the successful testing of an atomic bomb by the USSR in 1949 and by the support given to Mao Zedong’s communist China that year. While direct conflict was avoided, Stalin, perhaps reluctantly, supported the North in the Korean War.
   Although Cold War tensions eased to some extent following Stalin’s death, the confrontation between the USSR and the United States dominated international affairs until the 1990s, at times, as with the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, coming close to open conflict. Ultimately, however, the costs of this global struggle proved too much for the USSR, and despite attempted reform in the 1980s, it disintegrated with the withdrawal of separate states in 1991.

Historical Dictionary of the Roosevelt–Truman Era . . 2015.

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