- Also known as the Soviet Bloc, the Eastern Bloc was the geopolitical region that included the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and its Eastern European satellites. At the end of World War II, the Red Army liberated much of Europe from fascist control, only to quickly assume the role of occupiers. As the result of tacit agreements with the United States and Great Britain on postwar spheres of influence, Joseph Stalin was able to achieve Communist control of a band of states from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea. In some cases, the local Communist party achieved power through elections manipulated by Moscow, while in other countries power was achieved through coup d’état.In 1946, Winston Churchill condemned the Soviet Union’s increasingly imperial control over the region, stating, “From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic an iron curtain has descended across the Continent.” By 1948, this group of states included East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and Albania; however, after the Sino-Soviet split, Tirana switched its allegiance to China. Yugoslavia was sometimes included as part of the Eastern Bloc due to its Communist system, but after 1948, Belgrade left the Soviet Union’s orbit and embraced neutrality. In 1949, Moscow established the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON) as an economic union of its client states; Mongolia, Vietnam, and Cuba later joined. In response to West Germany’s accession to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1955, the Soviet Union established the Warsaw Pact as a collective security organization uniting its client states in the region. The Soviet military intervened in the region on several occasions to prevent its allies from abandoning socialism, most dramatically in Hungary (1956) and Czechoslovakia (1968). The Soviet military maintained large garrisons across the region, and backed Eastern Communist leaders’ policies of restricting emigration, crushing dissident movements, and censoring the media. By the end of the 1970s, political and economic changes in the Eastern Bloc were afoot that laid the groundwork for the dramatic events of 1989. Through Bonn’s policy of Ostpolitik, East and West Germany initiated cultural and economic contacts after decades of being on a war footing. Fearful of Soviet intervention, the Polish government declared martial law on 13 December 1981 and crushed the labor movement Solidarity, which had hitherto threatened its control on society.Hungary was benefiting from its pro-market reforms, colloquially referred to as “goulash Communism,” which would serve as a model for the USSR’s attempts at economic acceleration (uskoreniie>). Romania, under Nicolae Ceauşescu, bucked Moscow’s lead, pursuing an independent foreign policy while maintaining Stalinism at home. With the ascendency of Mikhail Gorbachev, Soviet policy toward its satellites in Eastern Europe changed rapidly. In 1987, the Soviet premier stressed his desire that the Eastern Bloc, including Russia, would soon find its place in the “common European home,” suggesting an eventual end to ideological, military, and economic divisions of the past.By the end of the decade, Gorbachev formally abandoned the Kremlin’s stated policy of military intervention to prevent abandonment of socialism (a policy dubbed the Brezhnev Doctrine in the West). Instead, he instructed the Communist leaders of the bloc that they would be responsible for determining their own paths to political and economic development; Soviet Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennadi Gerasimov jokingly referred to this new approach as the Sinatra Doctrine. During the watershed year of 1989, the countries of the Eastern Bloc transitioned from one-party, socialist states to multiparty democracies with transitional market economies (Albania and Yugoslavia, members of the Eastern but not Soviet Bloc, experienced similar changes in the years to come). In most cases, these revolutions took place peacefully; however, in Romania, bloody street fighting and the televised execution of the Ceauşescus occurred on 25 December 1989.Gorbachev, preoccupied with the worsening ethnic situation in the Caucasus and economic difficulties across the Soviet Union, did virtually nothing to stop the Soviet empire in Eastern Europe from disintegrating. By mid-1991, the various states of the Eastern Bloc had formally ended their participation in the Warsaw Pact, COMECON, and many other treaties binding them to the USSR. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Boris Yeltsin strove to establish new, fraternal relationships with the countries of the former Soviet Bloc, though Russophobia in Poland and some other states made normal relations difficult. By the mid 1990s, most of the USSR’s former client states had applied for admission to NATO and begun the accession process with the European Union, effectively ending Russian dominance in the region.See also Cold War; Foreign relations.
Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. Robert A. Saunders and Vlad Strukov. 2010.
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