Wednesday, January 19, 2011
The Allied nations of WWII made for a tenuous union at best. The main thing that held Britain, the U.S. and the Soviet Union together was their common enemy, Hitler. Not long after the end of WWII, the Western allies parted company with the Soviet Union and its leader, Joseph Stalin.
Stalin attended landmark meetings with the Allies at Tehran (1943), Yalta (1945), and Potsdam (1945). He became known as a power to be reckoned with; one which intended to expand Soviet influence throughout Eastern Europe.
After the end of WWII, Stalin succeeded in dominating many states which his armies had liberated from the Nazis. Stalin was driven by one overpowering fear; future attack of his western border. This was not an unfounded fear as there have been numerous attacks and invasions of Russia and the Soviet Union from the West throughout history. His collection of captive Eastern European states served as the barrier or shield he needed and became known as the Iron Curtain. This isolationist behavior and expansion of Communism fostered distrust on the part of the West and brought about the Cold War.
Stalin displaced about 1.5 million non-Russian occupants of the new Soviet republics. Most were Muslims labeled as Nazi sympathizers and, as a result, a direct threat to the Soviet. A variety of, so called, minorities from the Crimea, Caucasus, Bulgaria, Armenia and so on, were rounded up and hauled off to Siberia. The official justifications for these deportations was alleged collaboration with their former Nazi oppressors and resistance to Soviet control
Much to the dismay of the Allies, the nations of Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Yugoslavia all had communist governments by 1948. The Soviet Union controlled the region through trade agreements, their troops and diplomatic corps. The West did not have access to the resources of these Eastern European countries and this, coupled with the Soviet's control of the region, led to feelings of hostility on the part of the West. They soon figured that they could not stop the Soviets or have access to the countries behind the Iron Curtain short of another all out war.
The U.S. and its allies did have some success in removing Soviet control or influence from other lands such as Iran. In 1946, the Soviets were forced out of northeastern Iran and the Truman Doctrine of military support kept the Soviets from gaining a foothold in Turkey and Greece.
The U.S. presented the Marshall Plan in 1947. This was a plan for economic rehabilitation of European nations. The Soviet Union did not allow the communist controlled Eastern European nations to participate. As a result, Soviet dealings with Western Europe were reduced even further.
Tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union became especially strained over the division of Germany. At the Potsdam Conference of July-August 1945, the Allied Powers confirmed their decision to divide Germany and the city of Berlin into zones of occupation until the Allies would permit Germany to establish a central government. The eastern sector was placed under Soviet administration. This sector included the city of Berlin which was further divided between communist east and free sectors of the west. The balance of Germany was divided up into three more sectors each overseen by the U.S., Britain and France. This division of administrative power further enhanced the growing schism between the Soviets and their WWII allies.
Disagreements between the Soviet Union and the Western Allies soon arose over their respective occupation policies and the matter of reparations. Any hint of cooperation among the four allies disappeared in 1948 when the Western Allies decided to make currency reforms in their sectors of Germany. This action was in direct violation of their collective agreement that Germany would be dealt with as a single economic entity. The Soviets reacted by implementing their own economic reforms. On June 24,1948, the Soviet Union cut off the West's land access to the American, British, and French sectors of Berlin. Britain and the United States responded with an airlift operation of supplies and food to these sectors which went on until the Soviets lifted their blockade on May 12, 1949.
Following the Berlin Blockade, Germany was divided into two countries; East and West Germany with the East being communist. In time, ground travel was allowed between West Germany and West Berlin. This was relatively short lived when East Germany, with Soviet backing, built the Berlin Wall in 1962. The Wall became the symbol of the Cold War and the threats and hostilities between East and West. The Berlin Wall came down in November 1989, symbolizing the end of the Cold War and beginning of the ongoing thaw between Russia and the West.
The Berlin Blockade also became the catalyst for the Western allies and their friends to act upon their perceived need to protect themselves against Soviet aggression. Enter the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), formed in 1949, a collective security system under which conventional armies and nuclear weapons would offset Soviet forces.
The fundamental role of NATO is to safeguard the freedom and security of its member countries. It is one of the foundations on which the stability and security of the Euro-Atlantic area depends and it serves as an essential forum for transatlantic consultations on matters affecting the vital security interests of all its members. Its first task is to deter and defend against any threat of aggression against any of them. (NATO mission statement)
The NATO charter goes on to say, The fundamental commitment of all members of the Alliance to each other's security is enshrined in Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, which states that an attack against one member country is considered as an attack against all. The Alliance's integrated military structure and common defence planning procedures underpin this commitment to collective defence. They are at the heart of the Alliance's strength and credibility.
Today's NATO is considered a military alliance whose members include Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Spain, Turkey, United Kingdom and the United States.
The Soviet Union lost its influence in Yugoslavia. The country's communist government had come to power without benefit of Soviet assistance. Their leader, Josip Broz Tito, refused to bow to Stalin's control resulting in Yugoslavia's dismissal from the Communist Information Bureau (Cominform) in 1948. The Cominform had been created in 1947 to replace the Comintern abolished by Stalin in 1943.
To avert the rise of other independent leaders, Stalin purged many of the chief communists in other East European states. In Asia the Chinese communists, headed by Mao Zedong and assisted by the Soviet Union, achieved victory over the Guomindang in 1949. Several months afterward, in 1950, China and the Soviet Union concluded a mutual defense treaty against Japan and the United States. Hard negotiations over concessions and aid between the two communist countries served as an indication that China, with its independent party and enormous population, would not become a Soviet satellite, although for a time Sino-Soviet relations appeared particularly close.
Elsewhere in Asia, the Soviet Union pursued a vigorous policy of support for national liberation movements, especially in Malaya and Indochina, which were still colonies of Britain and France, respectively. Thinking that the West would not defend the Republic of Korea (South Korea), Stalin allowed or encouraged the Soviet-equipped forces of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) to invade South Korea in 1950. But forces from the United States and other members of the United Nations came to the aid of South Korea, leading China to intervene militarily on behalf of North Korea, probably at Soviet instigation.
Although the Soviet Union avoided direct participation in the conflict, the Korean War (1950-53) motivated the United States to strengthen its military capability and to conclude a peace treaty and security pact with Japan. Chinese participation in the war also strengthened China's independent position relative to the Soviet Union.
In the early 1950s, Stalin, now a man in his 70s, granted his subordinates in the Politburo more powers than ever before. Stalin's health was failing along with what was left of his sanity. Stalin became less and less involved in the day-to-day running of the Soviet Union, but maintained his hostility toward anyone he considered a potential enemy or threat.
The name of the ruling Soviet party was changed from the All Union Communist Party to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) in 1952. Originally the Bolshevik faction of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party, the party was named the Russian Communist Party (Bolshevik) from March 1918 to December 1925, then the All-Union Communist Party (Bolshevik) from December 1925 to October 1952. After the August 1991 Moscow coup, Russian president Boris N. Yeltsin banned the party in Russia and ordered its property turned over to the government.
In January, 1953, Stalin ordered the arrest of many Moscow doctors, mostly Jews, charging them with medical assassinations of several high ranking Soviet officials. This Doctor's Plot brought back chilling memories of the purges of the 1930's as many speculated that Stalin was gearing up for another purge aimed at persons such as Molotov and secret police chief Lavrenti Feria. What might have been another blood letting was avoided by Stalin's sudden, and mysterious, death on March 5, 1953, at the age of 73.
After his death and the end of his reign of terror, Stalin's name and regime were widely criticized by the Soviet authorities and people. He is remembered as a terrorist against his own people. Supporters of Stalin believe he saved his country from certain European domination; that the lives lost and/or ruined were necessary casualties for the greater good of the nation.
During his quarter-century of dictatorial control, Stalin had overseen dramatic development in the Soviet Union. The nation rose from a behind-the-times agricultural society to a strong industrial state. The literacy rate was, and still is, roughly 99 percent. While such achievements are certainly impressive, it is how Stalin accomplished them that is deplorable. Death and oppression were the hallmarks of his regime. Stalin's successors were left with task of figuring out how to manage the unwieldy giant that was the Soviet Union, the abject fear and distrust of the West and their tenuous relationship with China without using Stalin's tactics of terror.
Images Courtesy of Funet