Cold War: A retrospective on the most significant moments

A world in constant turmoil, where wars were always breaking out and where so much hatred existed between the West and the East that the end of the planet had been predicted several times.

Tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union flared up quickly in the wake of World War II, amid the still-smoldering ashes of Europe and Asia. The Allied base fell apart once their shared adversary was defeated. There had been talk of a third world war for 40 years, and it had never come to realization. This was the period of the Cold War, which began in 1946 and ended in 1991. It was at odds with two incompatible political systems: the capitalist, democratic, and liberal United States, and the communist, authoritarian Soviet Union.


Towards a bipolar world, 1946–1949

From 1946 on, the USSR imposed its will on the freed nations, bolstered by its triumph in Central Europe and the prestige of the Red Army. In response, the United States attempted to “contain” communism, which was seen as incompatible with liberalism. The Western European nations sided with them. Over the course of three years, tensions throughout the globe escalated, leading to military confrontations. But as the world braced for a third global war, problems arose on the periphery of the two countries without the two countries actually going to war with one another.

The causes of the Cold War and ideological incompatibility

There was nothing out of the ordinary about the schism that opened up in 1946 between the United States (and European democracies) and the Soviet Union. Indeed, its roots can be traced all the way back to the inception of the Soviet Union. There had been a genuine “ideological mismatch” between the two nations ever since the Russian revolution of 1917 and Lenin’s ascent to power. 

Both political and economic liberalism can be traced back to the United States, but the Soviet Union vilified capitalism and promoted a classless society in which the interests of the people trumped those of the individual. To counter Nazism during World War II, the Grand Alliance might be considered a transitional period. Due to Stalin’s lack of Western backing, the German-Soviet Pact, struck in 1939, obscured the true nature of this reconciliation.

But in the 1920s and 1930s, the setting was significantly different from what it was in 1946 for a number of reasons. From 1919 through 1922, Europe was rocked by Lenin’s demand for global revolution, workers’ insurrections, and the formation of the Comintern (or Communist International). But these insurgencies resulted in failure. The Soviet Union then addressed the problems inside its own borders and the dire economic situation in which it found itself.

In keeping with the Monroe Doctrine of 1823, the United States declined to meddle in Europe after 1922 and instead focused its power on the North American continent. The 1929 crash exacerbated the retreat. Consequently, after 1922, during the interwar era, both sides officially acknowledged the other as an enemy without actually fighting a war.

The two great victors of World War II

The setting shifted in 1946. Europe’s destruction in the war had diminished its might and magnificence. It was necessary for it to begin the process of remaking itself. And both the French and British colonial empires were regressing. After suffering tremendously throughout the war, the Soviet Union was now recuperating with a considerable reputation in Europe. This was due to the Soviet Union liberating the most territory from Nazi occupation.

In spite of the conflict, the United States was able to develop its economy and demonstrate its superior military might to the Soviet Union by dropping an atomic bomb on Japan. The United States and the Soviet Union, still allies at the moment, were two enormous countries capable of controlling the globe in the face of the absolute triumph over the Axis forces and the weakness of Europe.

After the “Iron Curtain” collapsed

Multiple factors in this setting explain the escalating hostility between the “two blocks.” It has been common practice in both the East and the West to attribute the origins of the Cold War to the opposite side. For Westerners, the Cold War was due to the non-respect of the Yalta agreements. In fact, Stalin did not permit free elections (as the Europeans understood the term) in the countries the Red Army conquered. The Soviet Union continued with Truman’s overtly anti-communist approach of containment. Since these factors are so intrinsically linked, isolating a single culprit is next to impossible.

Churchill and Stalin had already begun considering zones of influence before the war’s conclusion. As a result, both leaders compromised on the regions in which they might act as early as October 1944. It’s commonly stated that Europe was split in two, although that’s not technically accurate.

Indeed, it was more of an issue of reaching an agreement on the level of support provided to a certain government than it was of stealing a nation or setting its boundaries. In this way, Stalin promised not to back the communists in Greece and Yugoslavia, while Churchill said he wouldn’t back the liberals in Hungary and Romania.

However, the Yalta Conference of 1945 put into doubt this understanding by recognizing the right of freed nations to hold democratic elections. To Stalin, free elections meant something very different than what Truman understood. In the nations of the Eastern bloc, national communist parties seized power fast, and elections were routinely manipulated to ensure their victory.

Worried about it since 1945, Churchill spoke out against the Iron Curtain separating Europe in his Fulton address in 1946. Churchill’s speech was very influential despite the fact that he was no longer Prime Minister. No longer was the schism between the “free world” and the “communist world” something to be kept under wraps.

The Truman Doctrine in the United States

The Truman Doctrine 1

With the Bretton Woods Agreement, the United States began arming itself economically as early as 1944. In addition to affecting the Axis powers directly, these steps set the stage for the Truman Doctrine’s economic policies. The situation in Central Europe deteriorated to the point that President Harry S. Truman decided to pursue his containment strategy. He first spoke out about his March 12, 1947, prediction of a world split into two irreconcilable groups on this day. As the leader of the “free world,” the United States had taken the initiative in political, economic, and military efforts to stop the spread of communism.

The Marshall Plan in the United States

On June 5, 1947, the proposal for the Marshall Plan was made. Among its many goals were keeping the United States’ war-reshaped economy afloat via exports to Europe and preventing the spread of poverty in Europe, both of which would provide fertile ground for communism. Using this newfound wealth, European countries were able to purchase goods from the United States.

Despite Truman’s assurances that U.S. policy “was not designed against any nation or philosophy,” the plan’s execution effectively divided Europe in two. One side accepted and organized itself, with Western nations forming the OEEC to lay the groundwork for a unified Europe. Despite occasional Russian coercion, nations on the opposite side of the wall always said “no.”

The Zhdanov Report in the USSR

In September 1947, in response to containment and the Marshall Plan, the Soviet Union released the The Zhdanov Report, which blasted “American imperialism” and portrayed the Soviet Union as the world’s foremost bastion of democracy. In addition, the Cominform was established to monitor the conformity of national CPs to party doctrine. The Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (CMEA), established in Moscow in response to the Marshall Plan in 1949, was charged with coordinating the development of national industrial specializations.

Taking this step increased the communist bloc’s reliance on the Soviet Union and its other members. The Communists in Western European administrations (France, Italy) were symbols of this battle but found themselves in a precarious situation since neither the democracies nor the Cominform welcomed them anymore. This was why they abandoned the executive and joined the opposition.

The two blocks are established

The simmering discord flared into open hostility in less than a year. Members of the Grand Alliance finalized their divorce. In the two years that followed, violence spread across the Iron Curtain. The agreements reached at the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) leveled the playing field for international trade, building on the global economic process begun by the United States at Bretton Woods and expanded upon by the Marshall Plan. The pact, signed by 83 nations in January 1948, is considered the precursor of the World Trade Organization (WTO).

The Prague coup in 1948

Stalin, for his part, tightened his grip on the parts of Central Europe retaken by the Red Army. The February 25th, 1948 coup in Prague was emblematic of this dominance. President Bene of the Czechoslovak Republic was deposed in a genuine communist coup when he abandoned Marshall Plan funding. A popular democracy, Czechoslovakia was the only nation in Central Europe to have a true democratic heritage before the war. Because of this military coup, tensions between the East and West grew, and some people began to fear that World War Three was approaching.

The creation of NATO

For this reason, in July, Western European nations gathered in Washington to sign a military pact beyond the UN’s purview. In response, the Atlantic Alliance and its military wing, NATO, were established. In truth, April 1949 marks the beginning of this collaboration. Given that the Warsaw Pact wasn’t established until 1955, the Soviet Union’s response was tardy. However, the Red Army was still present in almost all of Central Europe. Its march against the Nazis was sufficient to provide an indication of its force.

Now that all the pieces were in place, the most dangerous part of the Cold War—crises and periphery conflicts—could begin. Especially because a new crisis area emerged when Mao’s Communist Party won the Chinese election in October 1949. In spite of this tension, a new countervailing force emerged: the Soviet Union’s mastery of nuclear weapons, achieved in large part because of its formidable espionage capabilities. After the Allies had defeated Germany and Japan, the Grand Alliance continued to function for another year.

The height of the Cold War was from 1949 to 1953

The optimism that came with the Allied triumph over the Nazis in 1945 gave way to antagonism between communism and liberalism since then. When it came to deciding what kind of policies should be implemented in the freed regions, the two major Allied countries found themselves at odds with one another.

Thus, the popular democracies of Europe that supported the Soviet Union formed the Eastern bloc, while those that supported the West formed the Western bloc. In 1946, Churchill criticized the Soviets in Eastern Europe for being secretive and said that the Iron Curtain divided the ancient continent in two. However, once the Communists won the Chinese civil war, the fighting swiftly extended to the rest of Asia. After Stalin’s death, tensions remained high for another four years, notably in Berlin and Korea.

Wartime blockade of Berlin

Central and Eastern Europe were ruled by communist governments after the Prague coup on February 25, 1948, while Western Europe backed the United States and worked to maintain its democratic system. Occupied by the Allies, Germany and, to a lesser degree, Austria became a flashpoint in the power struggle between the Soviet Union and the United States.

The Western countries of the United States, the United Kingdom, and France chose to hasten Germany’s economic recovery. To them, this was the most effective means of preventing the spread of communism and fostering peace between post-Nazi Germany and its neighbors. Thus, they planned to unite their occupation zones and establish a new currency, the Deutsch Mark, without informing the USSR. The ultimate goal was for the nation to be politically independent of the Soviet zone, if necessary at all.

Stalin’s response was swift: he ordered the blockade of Berlin, cutting off all transportation between West Berlin and the Western zone. In fact, no agreement guaranteed the Western Zone inhabitants’ right to freely travel about inside the boundaries of the Soviet Zone. It was out of the question for the West to give up Berlin to the Soviets. As a result, they swiftly planned an airlift, the legality of which was ensured by the occupation treaty. Berliners were supplied by thousands of aircraft until May 12, 1949.

Stalin eventually relented and removed the siege after nearly a year, but by then the rift between the occupiers was irreparable. The Western-occupied territory formally became the Federal Republic of Germany on May 25. The USSR’s response was the formation of the GDR in October, a few months later.

When the Western zones were combined, the Potsdam Agreement became null and void. For many years, West Germany was a symbol of the power struggle between the West and the East. Its rearmament was pushed by the United States beginning in 1950. However, the European Defence Community (EDC) concept that facilitated this rearmament was met with strong opposition, especially in France. Since Austria was an occupied territory with its own government, it was spared from these wars.

The crisis on the Asian ground

The Chinese nationalists succumbed in 1949 to Mao’s communists, despite American help. When the latter came to power, it shook up the geopolitical balance in Asia. To be sure, Japanese dominance throughout the war was a major factor in the development or escalation of nationalist demands, which often received backing from the United States, either in principle or in practice.

The Communists, on the other hand, were heavily involved in the struggle and had gained widespread support throughout China. The U.S. rethought its diplomatic strategy because it did not want to see the number of Communist nations in Asia grow. They were persuaded by this to contribute financially to France’s Indochina war effort. However, the two superpowers’ inevitable involvement in the Korean War posed the greatest threat to international stability.

Many historians believe that Stalin’s death on March 5, 1953, was a key factor in ending the war. The Cold War peaked during the Korean War, and its conclusion marked the beginning of a thaw. This shift in diplomatic relations was undoubtedly influenced by the change in leadership (Eisenhower replaced Truman as President of the United States in the same year).

Additionally, the war hastened Japan’s recovery in Asia because, as in West Germany, the United States desired a wealthy and allied Japan that could oppose China and the Soviet Union. The terms of independence and the end of occupation were laid forth in the Treaty of San Francisco in 1951. The United States hoped that by doing so, they might speed up the process of remilitarizing the nation to some extent. A deal on military aid was signed in August 1953, demonstrating this willingness.

Domestic ideological conflict

The war between the United States and the Soviet Union had an effect on domestic politics in both countries. Since 1939, Stalin had consolidated his control and the cult of personality in the Soviet Union. Its ideology hardened. This movement gained additional momentum in 1948–1949. Stalin said in 1952 that he planned to alter the way institutions operated. 

First and foremost, he had Pravda publish an article at the start of 1953 condemning the White Coats conspiracy. The trial signaled the beginning of a new purge directed against Jews, academics, and the top brass of established institutions. After Stalin’s death, Khrushchev publicly condemned it, and many of those affected were given second chances.

The Soviet Union was not alone in experiencing an ideological battle from the inside. McCarthyism, often known as the “Witch Hunt” or “Red Terror,” was the United States’ capitulation to the conspiracy theory. The same political and legal measures were used in this case. The United States established and publicized a committee in 1938 and 1947 to track and record domestic and foreign threats to national security. When Senator McCarthy began making accusations of communist infiltration into the American government in 1950, the situation shifted.

Since August 1949, the Soviet Union had been in charge of all nuclear weapons, further fueling American paranoia. The Rosenberg trial kept up the atmosphere of distrust, which was exacerbated in 1952 when McCarthy rose to power. Many public servants accused him of wrongdoing, resigned, or were fired as a result of his commission, which was often satisfied with suspicions to impeach. Some famous people in Hollywood even went into hiding. In 1954, when McCarthy falsely accused prominent military people, the atmosphere subsided.

Peace from 1953 to 1962

The 1950s and ’40s were the height of the Cold War. As global zones of influence were being mapped out, ideological conflict raged on. However, both sides in the Korean War were more cautious as a result of the stalemate: this was the balance of dread. The dispute entered a new era of peaceful coexistence when Khrushchev succeeded Stalin and Eisenhower succeeded Truman. However, each bloc’s sphere of influence was eventually formed and maintained, although with some bumps along the way.

Destalinization and the desire for a thaw in the East

Korean War ended, the Soviet Union began “de-Stalinization,” and Eisenhower, although not complacent towards communism, sought peace; all of these events in 1953 marked a turning point in the Cold War. This marked the start of a period of thawing relations between the two countries; throughout this time, hostilities were maintained but not escalated. Because of Stalin’s death and Khrushchev’s subsequent rise to power in September 1953, the Soviet Union’s domestic and foreign policies were drastically altered. The new Soviet leader resolved to abandon his predecessor’s policies, which had gradually distanced themselves from the original Bolshevik principles espoused by Lenin.

In 1956, during the 20th Congress of the CPSU, he presented a secret report that revealed the entire scope of his agenda. He came up with two key ideas for running the nation. His first target was the Stalinist period, which he condemned for its excesses, its cult of personality, and its World War II blunders. The “white coat plot” purges ended in 1953, and the new strong leader of the communist bloc made significant changes to the regime’s public face and inner workings.

The Gulag was made fairer and the ban on publishing certain materials was lifted. De-Stalinization had reached this point. Then, Khrushchev explained his concept of peaceful coexistence, which included things like not attacking each other or interfering with each other’s business and even the potential for economic collaboration with the United States. Although capitalism was still seen as the imperialists’ sworn enemy, war was no longer inevitable. Khrushchev’s policy successes and failures were on display in the Hungarian revolution.

Third-world countries now have a stake in the action

The Indochina War, in particular, exacerbated the already tense political climate in Asia after the ceasefire in Korea on July 23, 1953. After the Battle of Dien Bien Phu , the French were in a disastrous condition. The United States remained neutral when the French army was defeated. The crisis culminated on July 21, 1954, with the signing of the Geneva Accords, which officially acknowledged Indochina’s independence. It didn’t take long for the geopolitical landscape to flip on its head.

As a result of the successes of independence fighters in colonial conflicts like those in Indochina, a new force developed and convened in Bandung; the Third World. From April 18–24, 1955, Indonesia hosted the non-aligned conference, providing world leaders like Nasser and Nehru with a platform to make their voices heard. The nations represented strongly denounced colonialism and made it clear they had no intention of joining either alliance. They claimed to be a neutral party.

This readjustment culminated in the Suez Canal crisis at the year’s conclusion, 1956. Both the United States and the Soviet Union stepped in when France, England, and Israel invaded Egypt to stop the nationalization of the Suez Canal. They caved in to Nasser’s demands. A triumph for the Third World was achieved in this way, while the United States and the Soviet Union showed their readiness to keep some zones of influence more or less as they had been. 

France and England’s humiliation revealed that Europe could no longer assert itself internationally in the face of the two heavyweights. In 1956, the Hungarian Revolution brought fresh drama to Europe. The city rose up in October and November to protest the Communist administration and the presence of Soviet troops. 

Khrushchev’s response, sending in the military to put down the rebellion in blood, demonstrated the limitations of de-Stalinization. As a result, the respect for the zones of influence essential to peaceful cohabitation became a reality, and neither the European democracies nor the United States responded.

The nuclear arms race

This weapons race occurred at the same time as a relative thaw in diplomatic tensions between the two superpowers. The rise of McCarthyism may be traced in large part to the widespread fear that followed the Soviet Union’s development of the atomic weapon in 1949. The United States again showed its superiority with an H-bomb test on November 1, 1952. Hydrogen bombs, also known as nuclear fusion bombs, were far more destructive than A-bombs. As a comparison, the estimated power of the latter was measured in kilotons of TNT, whereas the power of the H-bomb was measured in megatons.

The United States hoped that with this new hardware, it would once again be a credible threat. However, the Soviet Union was able to develop a similar weapon in under a year. Allies of the United States also took part in this arms race, with Britain getting an atomic bomb in 1952 (and then an atomic hydrogen bomb in 1957) and France in 1960. As for the communists, China didn’t have the bomb until 1964.

In 1961, the Soviets conducted the most powerful H-bomb test in history. With a yield of 50–57 megatons, it was around 4,000 times more powerful than the bomb used to destroy Hiroshima. Also concurrent with these military developments was a struggle between the blocs in the sphere of space conquest, an area where the USSR launched the first moves.

Berlin and the Wall of Shame

While the division of Germany in 1949–50 seemed to have resolved the matter, the status of Berlin remained contentious. After WWII, Germany was effectively divided in half, with the eastern half aligned with the Soviet Union and the western half captured by the Allied powers (the United Kingdom, the United States, and France).

Four sections of Berlin were cut off from one another, creating a western enclave in the city’s eastern half. The Berlin Wall, which was erected in 1961 to divide the German Democratic Republic (GDR) and the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG), was constructed to stem the flow of East Germans to the West. More than 28 years passed before the “wall of shame” was finally torn down on the now-famous November 9, 1989.

Cuban Missile Crisis

The Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 brought a dramatic new twist to the struggle. Tensions between Cuba and the United States emerged after the Cuban revolution and Fidel Castro’s rise to power. Kennedy attempted to topple the government but was unsuccessful. The Cubans used this opportunity to form an alliance with the Soviet Union. While the United States was busy setting up launch pads in Europe, the Soviet Union was busy doing the same thing on the island of Cuba.

From 1962 to 1991, the end of the Cold War

The missile incident highlighted the limitations of peaceful cooperation. The potential of a Third World War was not eliminated since the arms race was not stopped and provocations were not ruled out. Similar to the situation during the Korean War, when a change in leadership on both sides ultimately resulted in a reversal of policy, the paroxysmal environment of this conflict ultimately led to a shift in strategy. The assassination of John F. Kennedy occurred on November 22, 1963, and Khrushchev was removed from office on October 15, 1964. That would pave the way for the start of a new era, the Détente period.

Detente from 1962 to 1974

After the struggle in Cuba, the two major “enemies” actually became closer to one another. In 1963, the iconic red telephone was placed between the Kremlin and the White House, and arms reduction accords were concluded. The killing of John F. Kennedy in Dallas on November 22, 1963, put an end to the cooperation between the two nations.

At the height of a procession, the American president was shot and killed. A few hours later, someone named Lee Harvey Oswald was taken into custody. Nikita Khrushchev was deposed from his position as chairman of the Soviet Union’s Communist Party in October 1964. This meant that Leonid Brezhnev of the Soviet Union and Lyndon Johnson of the United States would become the next heads of state.

Both sides wanted to improve communication and exchanges, so they agreed on detente. As a result, beginning in 1965, the United States became deeply embroiled in the Vietnam War. Since the 1950s, when the Geneva Accords were signed, the nation had been split and the fighting had continued.

The United States could not ignore the assault on American ships in the Gulf of Tonkin despite Kennedy’s efforts to interfere. They dropped bombs on the nation and sent in the military. In 1969, Richard Nixon became president and promptly kept the conflict going. Before the 1973 Paris Peace Agreement, progress had stalled in the fight. In 1975, the United States withdrew from the nation, and communist North Vietnam reunified the country by force.

The Soviets were preoccupied with the strength of their nation. Large amounts of resources were expended in order to restart the arms race. The expansion of Communism was now crucial. Czechoslovakia’s new leader, Alexander Dubek, enacted a slew of liberalizing changes when he took office in 1968.

These events are known as the Prague Spring. A few months later, Soviet soldiers from the Warsaw Pact responded swiftly, invading the nation. As a result of Dubék’s ouster, reforms were rolled back and some of the country’s independence was compromised.

During the détente, West German (FRG) Chancellor Willy Brandt’s Ostpolitik helped ease tensions with the Soviet-controlled bloc, so-called “the East.” Even though France was still a member of NATO, Charles de Gaulle’s government distanced itself from the United States and rescinded its membership in the Atlantic Alliance. Some 33 European countries, including the US and Canada, signed the Helsinki Accords in 1975. Many agreements between the two groups on issues like economic cooperation, freedom, security, and human rights were formalized by this contract.

Not everything was calm and collected in the world. In order to win the support of other communist nations, China severed ties with the USSR and its communist ideology. A meeting between Chinese and American representatives took place after the Vietnam War ended. China’s membership in the UN Security Council was approved. Battles in Asia seemed inevitable. Cambodia was ruled by the Khmer Rouge. The Cold War stoked the fires of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Africa kept working on decolonization as Latin America battled communism.

Conflict resumed in 1975 and ended in 1985

Nixon resigned in 1974 after the Watergate affair and the first oil shock devastated the United States. The isolation of the United States allowed the Soviet Union to expand its global influence. A new conflict was broken out. The war in Afghanistan (1979–1989) escalated the battle to a new level, despite the weapons deals agreed upon by Jimmy Carter and Leonid Brezhnev in 1979.

In an attempt to aid the communist movement in Afghanistan, the Soviet Union launched an invasion of Afghan territory in December 1979. As an added bonus, the Soviet Union placed missiles with a range to Europe on its borders in 1977. The Euromissile crisis was arrived. The United States responded with the Carter Doctrine and the 1980 Olympic boycott after Iran’s meddling in the Persian Gulf was seen to be intolerable.

When he was finally voted into office in 1981, Ronald Reagan became the 40th president of the United States. In the wake of the Soviet Union’s downing of a jet traveling from New York to Seoul in 1983, the conservative leader became more hostile toward the Soviet Union.

The next year, he announced the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), or “Star Wars,” as it was popularly known in the media. The protective barrier that might intercept incoming missiles over the nation. NATO aimed to settle the Euromissile problem by placing missiles with the range to strike the Soviet Union and by negotiating with the Soviets. In 1988, both parties were able to come to an understanding. Peace talks resumed.

The new relaxation from 1985 to 1991

In 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in the Soviet Union. After Leonid Brezhnev’s death in 1982, most of the old Communist Party leaders passed away, carrying the party’s harsh position with them. To show that he was part of a new, more laid-back generation, Gorbachev initiated perestroika, economic openness, and reorganization of the Soviet Union, and he also increased citizens’ liberties (glasnost). However, the region does not seem to be prepared for such changes, and it first experiences a political crisis before sinking into an economic one.

Large-scale military expenditure was resumed under Reagan’s two terms as president (1981-1989). The United States accelerated its technical breakthroughs, leaving the Soviet Union behind. In addition to internal strife, the armaments race was blamed for contributing to the fall of the Soviet Union. Gorbachev, upon taking office, expanded his foreign engagements and, in light of the country’s economic woes, issued a plea for worldwide disarmament. In 1990, the leader was recognized for all of his hard work and the many accords he signed by receiving the Nobel Peace Prize.

Speaking in 1988, Gorbachev criticized the use of force in international relations and defended people’s right to make their own decisions. There were now firmer pillars in place, and the Soviet military would no longer intervene to safeguard communist governments throughout Eastern Europe. Gorbachev declared he was pulling out of the Afghan conflict. The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 marked a turning point in the liberation of the people formerly under Soviet control. Because of this, the Iron Curtain was able to come down, communist governments in the East were overthrown, and Germany was able to be reunited.

The fall of the USSR and the end of the Cold War

Boris Yeltsin’s election as president of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic and the Moscow putsch (1991 Soviet coup d’état attempt) by “extreme” communists in 1991 further eroded the Soviet Union’s preexisting authority. Yeltsin’s republic backers and the newly elected leaders of Belarus and Ukraine sign the Minsk Accord, officially recognizing the sovereignty of the two countries.

Then, Mikhail Gorbachev stepped down, the USSR disbanded, and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) was established. After the demise of the Soviet Union, the United States became the only remaining superpower and established a new global order.


December 30, 1922: Foundation of the USSR

After the revolution of 1921, Russia officially became known as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). On January 31, 1924, a federal-style constitution was approved by Communist Party delegates. The Union consisted of Russia, Central Asia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Transcaucasia. Established in Moscow as the nation’s capital, the Soviet central government controlled the whole apparatus of the vast Soviet state. Socialist leaders declared a “dictatorship of the proletariat” and set out to eliminate the country’s former upper classes, including the bourgeoisie and aristocracy.

The Conference of Yalta, 4 February 1945

Churchill, Stalin, and Roosevelt met at the Yalta Conference in 1945, far before the conclusion of World War II, to determine the destiny of Germany and Japan.

The Conference in Potsdam, August 2, 1945

Decisions affecting Germany were formalized during the Potsdam Conference. Due to its partition by Austria and Poland, it lost a portion of its territory and was eventually split into three occupation sectors. The French-occupied territory didn’t come into existence until much later. The three main Allies last met at this summit before the Cold War began.

The Cold War officially began on March 5, 1946

Winston Churchill first used the phrase “Iron Curtain” in a speech he gave in Fulton, United States. To protect freedom and democracy, he advocated working against communist power. The Cold War had officially begun.

Truman revealed his ideology on March 12, 1947

President Harry Truman argued for his “containment” policy before the United States Congress. With the goal of preserving the sovereignty of European nations, he recommended establishing a system of economic and financial help for the continent. The Truman Doctrine said that the United States would stand as the guardian of the free world against Soviet efforts to subjugate it, with a particular focus on communists and the Soviet Union’s grip on key Central European nations. It paved the way for the Marshall Plan to be put into action. In response, the USSR released the Zhdanov report in September, which blasted American imperialism.

The Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe was announced on June 5, 1947

The United States Secretary of State, George Catlett Marshall, proposes a post-war rebuilding assistance package for Europe. This assistance, which was provided under the Truman Doctrine, was rejected by the Soviet Union, which in turn exerted pressure on the nations of Central Europe to reject the help as well. Aid was also favorably accepted in Western Europe, which established the Organization for European Economic Cooperation to disperse funds.

The Zhdanov Report (September 22, 1947)

With the Truman Doctrine’s call to “contain” communism, Zhdanov submitted a paper outlining the Soviet Union’s stance toward the United States. Zhdanov explained the new ideological lines of the Soviets while denouncing the imperialism of the latter with venom. Some of the subsequent initiatives included a greater emphasis on Cominform-based supervision over communist parties in the West.

The Cominform was established on October 5, 1947

The Cominform was established after a summit of nine European communist parties (CPs) was held in Poland. Although it was promoted as a return to the Comintern’s original goals, this information office was not at all interested in re-establishing the Communist International. It really narrowed its focus to Europe, and it was at this time that the Zhdanov report was published.

Zhdanov condemned the Communist Parties of France and Italy for supporting socialist regimes and called on them to join the struggle against “right-wing socialists.” The Comintern, which lasted from its founding until Stalin’s death, ensured that communists throughout Europe were following Moscow’s directives. So, the Yugoslavs were on the verge of being kicked out, and all the CPs would have to kick out the Titoists on grounds of doctrinal deviation.

Prague fell to the Communists on February 25, 1948

The “Prague coup” was executed by Czech communists after two weeks of Soviet coercion. The communists, headed by Klement Gottwald, were able to seize power via a combination of high-profile defections and the organization of mass demonstrations and strikes. Isolated and unable to rally support, President Edouard Benes withdrew and resigned, leaving a popular democracy in place and preventing a civil war.

This marked the end of Czechoslovakia as a unique case at the height of the Cold War. Being both politically and geographically situated at the intersection of liberal and communist paradigms, this country’s administration advocated a democratic coalition comprised of communists and socialists. It was after the Prague coup that Czechoslovakia was finally moved to the eastern side of the Iron Curtain.

The United Kingdom, France, and the Benelux countries signed an aid treaty on March 17, 1948

Britain, the Benelux nations, and France signed an agreement on mutual support in the event of an invasion after the Prague coup sparked fears of Kremlin-backed communist uprisings throughout Europe. After the 1945 ceasefire, political and military alliances changed targets from Germany to the Soviet Union for the first time since World War II ended. The prospect of a Third World War was terrifying for Europe at the time. The formation of NATO, a military alliance with a broader reach, was actually predated by this pact by a year.

German currency reform took effect on June 20, 1948

The United States, Great Britain, and France attempted economic reform in their occupied zones of Germany to put a stop to the economic and monetary instability that was producing excessive inflation. Because of this, the German Mark was born. The goal was to keep the nation from succumbing to the elements of unrest: instability and poverty.

Therefore, this reform followed the consolidation of the three zones in 1947 and 1948 and was an element of the postwar German government’s program of recovery that resulted in the establishment of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1949. The Soviet Union’s siege of Berlin was a direct result of this monetary revolution.

On June 24, 1948, a blockade of Berlin was imposed

The Allies angered Stalin when they combined the American, British, and French occupation zones to form the German Mark. Stalin orchestrated the blockade of Berlin after deciding that the Potsdam accords had been broken.

After two days of struggling, the Westerners figured out a way to save the city by arranging an airlift to bring in supplies. Although the war was averted, the schism between the two blocs and, by extension, between the two German halves, was finalized. Although the blockade only lasted a year, West Berlin remained cut off for another forty years.

The North Atlantic Treaty was signed on April 4, 1949

After the Soviet Union threatened Western democracy, 12 countries joined the North Atlantic Treaty in Washington. The Atlantic Alliance’s armed wing, this group allowed for the overturning of preexisting conditions that the United Nations had been unable to address. In order to counter the Soviet Union and the growing influence of popular democracies in the West, NATO was formed. Paradoxically, it only served a purpose in ex-Yugoslavia in 1995, after the USSR ceased to exist, as a weapon in the balance of terror.

On May 12, 1949, the Berlin blockade was lifted

Blockaded by the Soviet Union for over a year, West Berlin became an icon of defiance. Airdrops of supplies kept the city going. Despite this, it was cut off from the rest of the world for forty years, until the Berlin Wall came down in 1989.

On May 25, 1949, the FRG was established

On May 8, the constitution and essential provisions were finalized, marking the beginning of the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG). Four years of occupation by the United States, the United Kingdom, and France came to an end with this event. The Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) played a crucial role in the reconstruction of Europe and became one of the economic engines of the Old Continent despite its lack of an armed force and participation in the Marshall Plan.

Thus, the goal of ending the centuries-long wars that had plagued Germany and its neighbors was realized. In October 1949, the Soviet Union ended the occupation of its zone by establishing the German Democratic Republic (GDR). However, the latter showed a lot less autonomy. After the fall of the two blocs in 1991, the FRG and the GDR united.

Russia detonated its first atomic weapon on August 29, 1949

Russia conducted its first atomic bomb test in Kazakhstan. Successful espionage played a role in the acquisition of this technology. It will fuel widespread suspicion in the United States and help bring about the dreaded “witch hunt.”

Inauguration of the German Democratic Republic, October 7th, 1949

The Soviet Union’s German occupation zone became the “independent” nation of the German Democratic Republic as a response to the formation of the FRG (GDR). Following collectivization, the Soviet Union maintained oversight over the nation, which had adopted a communist economic system. The GDR had far less involvement in European affairs than the FRG did.

McCarthy’s witch hunt, or McCarthyism, began on February 9, 1950

In a public address, Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy claimed to have evidence connecting over two hundred members of the State Department to the Communist Party. This information resounded across the nation during the height of the Cold War, but McCarthy went too far, and widespread hysteria ensued.

During the destabilization of the Democrats in power that led to Eisenhower’s election in 1952, McCarthy was named head of the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations. Joseph McCarthy was ultimately ousted from power after receiving widespread criticism for his tactics.

On February 14, 1950, the Sino-Soviet Treaty was signed

When Mao Tse-tung took power in China in 1949, the Soviet Union was the first major power to officially acknowledge his authority. Despite their acrimonious relationship, Mao and Stalin were ultimately forced to work together for economic reasons. In order to formalize their partnership, the Soviet Union and the People’s Republic of China signed an alliance and mutual aid pact on February 14, 1950. Because of this deal, China was able to send troops to the Korean peninsula without worrying about being attacked by the United States.

In 1951, the U.S. military was given access to the Keflavik facility

Having been a member of NATO since 1949, Iceland approved of the American occupation of the Keflavik base under the alliance’s protection. While the British attempted to capture Icelandic territory from Denmark during World War II, the Americans ultimately succeeded in doing so.

Since 1940, the Nazis had occupied this nation. Following WWII, the United States was hesitant to withdraw its forces from Iceland because of strategic considerations. An agreement was reached in 1946 to end the ensuing fighting, and the United States was given temporary control of the airport for the next six and a half years.

The Rosenbergs received their death sentences on April 9, 1951

The Rosenbergs were found guilty of espionage and given a death sentence during their trial that started on March 6, 1951. The prosecution claimed that the pair, both of whom were members of the Communist Party, gave sensitive information about the A-bomb to the Soviet adversary, helping the USSR gain possession of the weapon.

The manner of the trial, which was handled by the prosecution without disclosing the evidence, provoked an uproar amongst worldwide observers despite the couple’s protestations of innocence. On the other hand, the United States was not likely to show mercy during the McCarthy era. Two years later, the pair were put to death.

MacArthur was relieved of his Korean command on April 11, 1951

At the height of the Korean War, General MacArthur was removed from command by President Harry Truman. Truman was for peace and had no intention of expanding his government by conquest, while the general wanted to include nuclear weapons in his plans to expand the war to China. MacArthur was removed from leadership and retired after publicly opposing government choices.

In 1952, the phrase “Third World” was first used

The demographer Alfred Sauvy coined the term “Third World” in an essay titled “Trois mondes, une planète” (Three worlds, one planet) that appeared in the French weekly Observateur (now the “Nouvel Observateur”). As he saw it, the Western world and the Soviet world were at odds, and this hostility prohibited the development of a third world that would consist of all of the impoverished nations that were desired by the two blocks.

The first H-bomb was detonated on November 1st, 1952

The first-ever thermonuclear bomb test was conducted by the United States. The name for it was “Mike.” It detonated on the Eniwetok atoll, which was located in the Marshall Islands archipelago in the Pacific. Nothing remained of the island once “Mike,” a weapon 1,000 times more powerful than the atomic bomb detonated in Hiroshima, exploded.

The white coat plan of January 13, 1953

An article was published in the Soviet government’s official newspaper, Pravda, condemning a scheme by nine physicians, six of whom were Jewish, to kill key members of the Communist Party. Stalin backed the anti-Semitic theory that the physicians had already murdered Andrei Zhdanov and Alexander Vasilevsky. A few weeks after Stalin’s death, the charges were dropped.

Stalin passed away in Moscow on March 5th, 1953

Joseph Stalin passed away from a brain hemorrhage on March 5th, 1953, at 9:50 p.m. The “man of steel,” at 73 years old, had ruled the country for almost two decades. Stalin, the great victor of World War II, made profound changes to the USSR that had terrible effects on the economy and on the lives of its citizens. At the time, severe repression and widespread collectivizations were hallmarks of the era.

The insurrection of East Berlin’s working class, June 17, 1953

An uprising broke out among East Berlin’s labor force as citizens protested the Soviet Union’s imposition of communist rule in the occupied city and its increased emphasis on overtime. There was an insurrection two months following Stalin’s death. The West stood by when Soviet forces brutally put down the uprising. Before the Berlin Wall was constructed in 1961, three million people fled from the East to the West.

The Rosenbergs were executed on June 19, 1953

Americans were already on edge over the prospect of a Soviet nuclear bomb, so Senator Joseph McCarthy went on his “witch hunt” to stoke those fears. Thus were Ethel and Julius Rosenberg apprehended and killed in 1953 by an electric chair. The duo were rumored to be Soviet spies. In spite of pleadings for mercy, McCarthyism prevented their release.

Beginning his reign as Soviet leader on September 7, 1953, Khrushchev

Nikita Khrushchev took over as the Communist Party’s top official after Joseph Stalin’s death. After being named premier, he publicly condemned the Stalinist purges and set about de-Stalinizing the Soviet Union. Thanks to his policies, the country’s farming, and manufacturing sectors experienced a renaissance. Even though he attempted to work with the United States, the Cuban missile crisis derailed his plans. And so he had to resign from his post as president.

The first nuclear submarine was launched on January 21, 1954

The USS Nautilus set off from Connecticut’s Croton shipyards. The Nautilus was the first ship in the world to be powered by nuclear reactors, and it was 298 feet (91 meters) long and weighed more than 3,000 tons. It was so-called in honor of Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Captain Nemo’s submarine. In September, it was put into regular use. The Nautilus could travel 87,000 miles (140,000 kilometers) while submerged for weeks at a time. It became the first ship to break through the North Pole ice cover in August 1958.

On this day in history, May 14th, 1955, the Warsaw Pact was officially established

In Warsaw, Poland, the communist states of Albania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Poland, the German Democratic Republic (GDR), Romania, the Soviet Union, and Czechoslovakia signed a military agreement. The idea of this treaty of friendship and mutual aid arose when the rearmed FRG joined the military forces of NATO, which the West had formed in 1949. It helped to solidify the divide between the East and the West. The military bloc finally disbanded in 1991, and Soviet soldiers withdrew from the former Pact nations.

Crimes committed by Stalin were condemned on February 24th, 1956

At the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the USSR, Nikita Khrushchev spoke out against the purges ordered by Stalin. His seven-hour reading of the report on Joseph Stalin’s atrocities and the calamitous results of his policies was the centerpiece of this event. As a consequence of this accusation, the Soviet Union and the faction of the Chinese Communist Party remained faithful to Stalin.

The first satellite, Sputnik, was launched on October 4, 1957

Sergei Korolev, who was motivated to work on the project by the German V2 rockets during World War II, was responsible for the R-7 rocket that launched the first artificial satellite into orbit for the USSR. The Americans were under considerably more duress now that they had joined the space conquest. Three months later, upon re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere, Sputnik was destroyed.

The first American satellite, Explorer-1, was launched on January 31, 1958

As a result of Wernher von Braun’s team’s efforts, the United States successfully launched its first satellite in early 1958, despite the failure of the Vanguard project. American recruiters saw potential in von Braun, a former Nazi SS engineer known for developing the V2 rocket. Despite being excluded from the project at first, his expertise ultimately made him a key player in the American space program.

Eisenhower established NASA on July 29, 1958

During Dwight Eisenhower’s presidency, a statute was passed to establish NASA in an effort to beat the Soviet Union in the so-called “space race” (National Aeronautics and Space Administration). To fulfill its mission, this organization had to conduct aerospace-related studies and expeditions. It had to catch up to the Soviet Union, which had been ahead of the United States for some time. The Apollo mission to colonize the Moon gave the organization a major boost.

The first communications satellite was launched on December 18, 1958

The United States launched the first communications satellite, codenamed “Score,” in 1958 for a 34-day mission. Seven communications were sent and received, including President Eisenhower’s address. The first satellite rebroadcast of American television to Europe occurred in 1962.

On January 2, 1959, the world witnessed the launch of the first space probe

In early 1959, the Lunik 1 space probe became the first artificial object to escape Earth’s gravitational pull. Its mission in orbit continued when it got within 3,730 miles (6,000 kilometers) of the Moon and sent back scientific data to Soviet engineers on Earth. Two months later, the United States sent the Pioneer probe into orbit with the identical intention.

It all began on January 2, 1959, when Fidel Castro seized control of Cuba

In order to overthrow Fulgencio Batista as dictator of Cuba, the revolutionary movement headed by Fidel Castro, Ernesto “Che” Guevara, and Camilo Cienfuegos captured Havana. Fidel Castro took office as President of the Cuban Council on February 16, 1959, marking the beginning of a period of significant societal change in Cuba.

Nikita Khrushchev arrived in the United States on an official visit on September 15, 1959

Nikita Khrushchev paid a visit to the United States and was received by President Dwight Eisenhower, with whom he discussed important topics, including Berlin and the avoidance of bloodshed. This tour represented the relative calm that prevailed throughout the Cold War era.

On the morning of May 1, 1960, an American jet was shot down over Soviet territory

At an altitude of 62,300 feet (19,000 meters), an American U-2 espionage aircraft was shot down by the Soviet Union over the Urals. With time to spare, the pilot ejected safely, but was later caught by the KGB, the Soviet Union’s secret police. The U.S. government, which had concluded that the pilot was killed, said the flight had been normal. Nikita Khrushchev, the Communist Party’s General Secretary, waited until May 7 to announce the situation and the pilot’s confession. The process of rapprochement eventually came to a stop as a result of this tragedy.

When the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier was launched on September 24, 1960

The 1,100-foot-long, approximately 93,000-ton “USS Enterprise,” or “Big E,” as its crew called it, was the largest starship ever built. It was the first carrier to use nuclear propulsion. She entered service in 1962 and was a part of the October naval blockade during the Cuban missile crisis. In the Vietnam War, it was deployed to evacuate the city of Saigon and made history as the first ship to deploy F14 “Tomcat” fighter jets.

On January 4, 1961, the first signs of trouble between Cuba and the United States emerged

Fidel Castro, the new prime minister of Cuba, immediately set about nationalizing major corporations, many of which were American. As a result of the negative light cast by this decision, the United States decided to impose an embargo.

A human being was sent into space on April 12, 1961

In the last space race, the Soviets came out on top by launching Yuri Gagarin, a 27-year-old astronaut, into orbit before the United States. In those brief 108 minutes, he did one full round of the planet and returned to Earth in Siberia.

The Cuban invasion of the Bay of Pigs occurred on April 17, 1961

As part of their plan to topple Fidel Castro’s government, the CIA recruited Cubans living in exile to carry out the operation. As soon as the fighters arrived on the island in the Bay of Pigs, they were met by an efficient resistance, and they were ultimately driven out. Fidel Castro, fortified by his achievements, remained the most effective barrier to U.S. imperialism.

The Wall of Shame was built on August 12, 1961

The Soviets decided to construct a wall between East and West Germany in an effort to stem the massive outflow of East Germans. On the evening of August 12–13, 1961, work on this building started in Berlin.

Display of force at Checkpoint Charlie, August 27, 1961

The United States responded to the erection of the Berlin Wall by stationing tanks at the border crossing between East and West Berlin. The Soviets even deployed tanks to the battle just to show they meant business. After many hours of tense negotiations, the two countries agreed to call off their planned military confrontation.

It all started on October 14, 1962, with the Cuban Missile Crisis

Thanks to a sneaky surveillance aircraft, America learned that the Soviets were building missile ramps in Cuba. This meant they were aimed squarely against the United States. The administration of President John F. Kennedy pushed for their destruction. The Cuban crisis officially began. Over a month passed, during which time tensions between the two blocs only increased until the USSR decided to remove the missiles. The crisis ended on November 20, 1962. The time for peace and harmony had come.

First female astronaut launched on June 16, 1963

In 1963, Valentina Tereshkova, then 26 years old and a Russian space explorer, traveled 1.24 million miles (2 million kilometers) into space, the equivalent of 48 Earth orbits. After 71 hours in space, she made history as the first woman to do it. On June 19th, she arrived in the Kazakh steppes. In 1969, Valentina Tereshkova rose through the ranks to become the International Democratic Federation of Women’s vice president. Yuri Gagarin became the first person to go into space on the Vostok 1 mission two years before.

John F. Kennedy’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech was given on June 26, 1963

U.S. President John F. Kennedy visits West Berlin on his European tour. He delivered an unforgettable speech in Rudolph Wilde Square, and the words “Ich bin ein Berliner” (I am a Berliner) are still remembered today. The reaffirmation of Kennedy’s support for West Germany and Berlin (which had been divided by the Wall of Shame) was a major victory for the latter.

Kim Philby, the spy, traveled to the Soviet Union on July 30, 1963

Turned double spy British officer Kim Philby hid underground in the Soviet Union. Ever since 1934, he had served as a spy for the Communists, and he had penetrated the highest echelons of British counter-espionage. He passed away in 1988 and was laid to rest at the Moscow cemetery reserved for KGB generals.

Nuclear test ban treaties signed on August 5, 1963

The Moscow Agreement was signed by the United States, the Soviet Union, and Great Britain 18 years after the United States dropped its first atomic bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The use of nuclear weapons in the atmosphere, ocean, or outer space was prohibited under these pacts. Covert experiments might still be conducted. One hundred countries signed on, but France and China, who were both busy building up their strategic arsenals at the time, refused to sign.

On September 21, 1963, President Kennedy proposed a joint U.S.-Soviet effort in space

Amid a thawing of relations between the superpowers, John F. Kennedy of the United States proposed to the United Nations that the United States and the Soviet Union work together to send humans to the Moon. Unfortunately, the Soviets did not seem interested in working together, thus this idea amounted to little more than the development of a satellite to be known as Echo-C.

On November 22, 1963, John F. Kennedy was shot and killed

President John F. Kennedy was critically wounded by three gunshots as he rode triumphantly through Dallas in a convertible Cadillac. Even after being rushed to the hospital, he passed away just 30 minutes later. Three years into his term as president, he mysteriously vanished at age 46. Several hours later, a man named Lee Harvey Oswald was taken into custody on charges of assassinating the president.

Nikita Khrushchev’s resignation came into effect on October 14, 1964

Supreme Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev was removed from office. Upon the death of Joseph Stalin, Leonid Brezhnev ascended to the leadership of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU). The Cuban missile crisis was the most well-known reason for Khrushchev’s negative reputation, although he also received criticism for his cult of personality and other irrational choices.

In 1965, on February 7th, the United States began bombing North Vietnam

The United States Air Force began its first direct air attack against North Vietnam after the last American families had been evacuated. The North Vietnamese communists’ networks for supplying weapons and gasoline were the targets of the United States and the South Vietnamese government. It was with these bombs that the Second Indochina War officially began. A growing number of U.S. Marines began arriving in South Vietnam in March.

First cosmonaut spacewalk, March 18, 1965

Russian cosmonaut Alexei Leonov spent around fifteen minutes in space while tethered to the Voskhod 2 spacecraft. Humanity had finally made its way out of space for the first time. On June 3, the Americans sent in Edward White for a 20-minute run of the same stunt.

On July 15, 1968, direct flight travel between the United States and the Soviet Union was once again possible

Once the first Russian jet from the Aeroflot corporation landed in New York, a direct air link was officially opened between the two capitals. Since the beginning of the Cold War in 1945, this incident represented the first indication of a diplomatic thaw between the United States and the Soviet Union.

On this day in 1968, Soviet tanks invaded Prague

The “Prague Spring” movement for political reform was crushed when the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia with 200,000 troops and 5,000 tanks. The Czechoslovak government’s effort to construct “socialism with a human face” was destroyed by the invasion. There were around 300 injuries and 30 fatalities as a result of the violence. To “normalize” the nation, Gustav Husak, the new First Secretary, did undo the liberal policies of his predecessor, Alexander Dubcek.

The Moon landing of July 21, 1969

American Neil Armstrong, as part of the Apollo 11 mission, became the first human to step foot on the Moon. All throughout the globe, people may watch this historic occasion on television. In short order, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, the second man to set foot on the Moon, joins Armstrong.

The first talks to restrict strategic weapons were held on November 17, 1969

Negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union to restrict strategic weapons started during a period of “Détente” in the Cold War. They paved the way for the SALT agreement, which put limits on anti-ballistic missiles and strategic offensive weapons.

Salyut, the first space station, was launched on April 19th, 1971

As a result of their failed Moon mission, the Soviets were now focusing on building a space station where humans might live. Three astronauts lived aboard the Salyut-1 space station from June 7th to June 30th, 1971. A pressurization issue killed them before they could return to Earth. However, the Salyut program ran for a total of 813 days and included almost 2,500 separate scientific investigations until it was canceled in 1986.

To the Soviet Union Nixon traveled on May 22, 1972

President Nixon’s formal journey to the Soviet capital of Moscow had begun. The last sitting American president to visit Soviet territory was Franklin D. Roosevelt, who traveled to Yalta, Ukraine, in 1945. Nixon and Brezhnev reaffirmed their readiness to prolong the Détente notwithstanding their disagreements on the Vietnam problem. Finally, a pact was struck to reduce the number of nuclear weapons in storage. Soon after, Nixon visited Poland, making him the first sitting U.S. president to set foot on Polish soil.

The SALT I Agreements were signed on May 26, 1972

As part of their ongoing “Détente” strategy, the United States and the Soviet Union signed the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) agreement. Part one of this treaty addresses anti-ballistic missiles, such as where they may be placed and how many radars they can have, while Part two addresses missile launchers, such as how many can be maintained.

There was a break in the Watergate scandal on June 17, 1972

Five spies were apprehended by authorities after they planted bugs in the Democratic Party offices at the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C. Two Washington Post reporters used their access to government records to establish that Richard Nixon was the one conducting these “wiretaps.” The current American president was actively campaigning for re-election. After a Senate probe, he reversed his initial denial of participation. They’ve started the impeachment process against him. He left in August of 1974.

The last American troops withdraw from Vietnam on March 29, 1973

While the Hanoi administration freed the American POWs, the final Marine returned to the United States. The Paris Peace Accords, which were signed on January 27, gave the United States 60 days to remove its soldiers from South Vietnam.

Richard Nixon resigned on August 8, 1974

Having been implicated in Watergate, the case involving eavesdropping on the headquarters of the U.S. Democratic Party, Richard Nixon is the subject of impeachment proceedings (impeachment). After being re-elected two years ago, the President of the United States first denied any involvement in the scandal. As part of a lengthy televised address given in August of 1974, he gave his resignation announcement. His successor was Gerald Ford.

Apollo-Soyuz, the first step toward collaboration, took place on July 18, 1975

Thomas Stafford, an American, and Alexis Leonov, a Russian, shook hands in space in a historic photo. It was established that the Apollo and Soyuz spacecraft would work together in the future. There was also a political dimension to the current situation. Ten years into their space competition, the two superpowers finally agreed to work together. The Mir space station was the starting point for this interplanetary coalition.

The SALT II Agreement was signed on June 18, 1979

After SALT I in 1972 and the Vladivostok Agreement in 1974, talks resumed between the two Cold War protagonists on the restriction of military weapons. For the first time, according to SALT II, the United States and the Soviet Union agreed upon a firm limit on the number of bombers and missile launchers each side could maintain without resorting to outright annihilation. The deal, however, was never implemented.

The Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan on December 27th, 1979

The head of the Revolutionary Council, Hafizullah Amin, was hanged on charges of being an American spy as 5,000 Soviet forces marched into the Afghan capital. On December 24, the 105th Soviet Airborne Division invaded Afghanistan under the guise of providing “fraternal help” to the two nations.

Somewhere in the neighborhood of 40,000 Russians amassed here. While this was happening, opposition to what was beginning to appear like an occupation was building in the mountain regions. The Soviet Union and Afghanistan were just starting a war that would last for ten years.

The 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow began on July 19

The XXII Summer Olympics opening ceremony was presided over by Leonid Brezhnev, president of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR. After the United States initiated a boycott in response to the Soviet Union’s military involvement in Afghanistan, only 80 countries showed up. This was one of the lowest participation rates seen since 1956. France, unlike other Western nations, attended the Olympics despite the protests. It took home 14 golds.

A strike in Gdansk, Poland, on August 14, 1980

An independent union member’s expulsion led to a walkout by 17,000 employees at Gdansk’s shipyards. There was an immediate nationwide expansion of strike action in Poland. We moved from a social to a political catastrophe. After Prime Minister Edward Babiuch’s resignation, the Communist administration began talks with Lech Walesa, the leader of an independent union of electricians.

The Gdansk Agreement, dated August 31, 1980

Poland had been in the grips of a developing crisis since July 1980. The increase in meat prices sparked a countrywide walkout, which ultimately led to the resignation of the Prime Minister. The communist administration in Poland was pressured into talks. It collaborated with Solidarnosc’s Lech Walesa to sign the Gdansk Agreement. Solidarnosc was abolished in 1982 by General Jaruzelski. As of 1989, it was once again sanctioned by law. In 1990, Lech Walesa won a free and fair election for president of Poland.

Poles declared war on one another on December 13, 1981

General Jaruzelski, the Communist Party’s new commander, declared war on Poland and became president. The military council that assumed control of Poland arrested 6,000 trade unionists and regime opponents, including Lech Walesa. On October 8, 1982, the Polish government outlawed Solidarnosc, a group that had emerged from the Gdansk strike. A wave of violent protests then ensued. Until 1989, Solidarnosc was forced to operate in the shadows.

March 23, 1983, the “Star Wars” project

The United States began work on a new weapons program named the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). The original name of the program was changed to “Star Wars,” but it was rechristened “Star Wars” to reflect its new purpose of defending the United States against nuclear assault. After Bill Clinton took office in 1993, it was finally scrapped.

Lech Walesa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1983

Lech Walesa, whose given name is Leszek Walesa, was a Polish trade union leader who received the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts. If the trade unionists were successful, Poland would become a parliamentary democracy, and the Cold War would finally come to an end. His wife, Danuta, flew to Norway to accept the award on his behalf since he was not allowed to leave Poland.

The Soviet Union announced their boycott of the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles on May 8

The Soviet Union and 13 other communist nations said they would boycott the next XXIII Olympiad in Los Angeles. This came after the United States boycotted the XXII Summer Olympics in Moscow in protest of the Soviet Union’s military incursion into Afghanistan.

When Gorbachev became leader of the Soviet Union on March 11, 1985

On March 10, 1985, when Konstantin Chernenko passed away, Mikhail Gorbachev, then 55 years old, took over as Communist Party General Secretary. In an effort to revive the Soviet Union’s flagging influence, he instituted sweeping changes there. The Soviet Union could not be saved by either perestroika (restructuring) or glasnost (transparency). Ultimately, Gorbachev resigned in 1991 as the communist bloc disintegrated.

On August 25, 1985, little Samantha Smith tragically passed away

Samantha Smith, who was 13 years old, perished in an aircraft accident with her father in Maine. In 1983, the little American girl had addressed a letter to then-President Yuri Andropov of the Soviet Union. During the height of the Cold War, she confided in him that she feared a nuclear conflict between the two countries. The leader of the Soviet Union extended an invitation for her to spend her vacation there. Unfortunately, she passed away on her way back after filming in England for a television show. A Caucasian peak was rechristened for her.

The Russian space station Mir was launched on February 20, 1986

On February 20, 1986, the Mir orbital station’s command and service module were launched into orbit. In Russian, the word for peace is Mir. The 21-ton, 8.2-foot (2.2-meter) diameter module was launched 217 miles (350 kilometers) from Earth on a Proton rocket. The first astronauts were scheduled to land on March 13, 1986, and further modules were to be added subsequently. In 2001, the station was demolished since it was no longer needed.

When the Soviet Union finally left Afghanistan, it was May 15, 1988

After eight long years of occupation, Russia was finally pulling its soldiers out of Afghanistan. Against the American-backed Afghan Mujahideen, they were unable to impose their will. After this occupation ended, a civil war sprang out between various ethnic groups, and eventually, the Taliban seized control and formed an Islamist state under Mullah Omar. In response to the assaults of September 11, 2001, the United States military deposed them.

In 1989, on November 9th, the Berlin Wall finally came down

Thousands of East Berlin residents fled to the West after receiving permission to do so from the East German government. After a march that drew almost a million people two days before, the communist administration stepped down. The Berlin Wall crumbled, 28 years after its completion.

Russia declared its independence from the Soviet Union on June 12, 1990

On Boris Yeltsin’s initiative, Congress passed “The Declaration of State Sovereignty of the Russian SFSR.” When Russia announced its separation from the Soviet Union, it hastened the fall of the communist state. There was no way this thing could make it through a year. Russia’s national holiday and the Declaration of Independence Day both fall on this day.

1991 Soviet coup d’état attempt occurred on August 19, 1991

Plotters from the Communist Party’s “hard line” aimed to seize power while Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev was on vacation in Crimea. A state of emergency was declared since the State Committee was given complete authority. Once Boris Yeltsin was sworn in as President of the Russian Republic, he rallied the people in Parliament Square to fight back against the coup and block the tanks’ path. The Soviet Union collapsed after Gorbachev’s December resignation.

The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) was established on December 8, 1991, by the Treaty of Minsk

Upon realizing that the period of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was finished, the presidents of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine met near Minsk (Belarus) and established the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). The CIS expanded to include eight more ex-USSR states with the signing of the Alma-Ata Protocol on December 21, 1991. The three Baltic states were the only ones that rejected joining the CIS in favor of joining the European Union.

The Soviet Union collapsed on December 25, 1991

On December 25, 1991, then-Soviet President and Communist Party General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev announced his resignation from both positions. Boris Yeltsin became president. It was official: the Soviet Union had collapsed. By December 8, when the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) was officially established and the Alma-Ata Protocol was signed, the Soviet bloc was already showing signs of weakness. The Soviet Union was replaced by fifteen sovereign nations.


  1. Franco, Jean (2002). The Decline and Fall of the Lettered City: Latin America in the Cold War. Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-03717-5. on literature
  2. Service, Robert (2015). The End of the Cold War: 1985–1991. Macmillan. ISBN 978-1-61039-499-4.
  3. Judge, Edward H. The Cold War: A Global History With Documents (2012), includes primary sources.
  4. Stueck, William (25 April 2013). Rethinking the Korean War: A New Diplomatic and Strategic History. Princeton University Press. ISBN 978-1-4008-4761-7
  5. Breslauer, George W. (2002). Gorbachev and Yeltsin as Leaders. ISBN 978-0-521-89244-5.
  6. Schudson, Michael (14 September 2015). The Rise of the Right to Know: Politics and the Culture of Transparency, 1945–1975. Harvard University Press. ISBN 978-0-674-91580-0. 
  7. Service, Robert (2015). The End of the Cold War: 1985-1991. Macmillan. ISBN 978-1-4472-8728-5.
  8. Leffler, Melvyn P.; Westad, Odd Arne, eds. (2010). Endings. The Cambridge History of the Cold War. Vol. III. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/CHOL9780521837217. ISBN 978-0-521-83721-7.
  9. Westad, Odd Arne (2017). The Cold War: A World History. Basic Books. ISBN 978-0-465-05493-0.

By Hrothsige Frithowulf

Hrothsige works at Malevus as a history writer. His areas of historical interest include the ancient world and early Europe, as well as the history of modern culture.