Cold War

   The Cold War refers to the nearly half-century-long ideological, military, economic, and cultural struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union. In the wake of World War II, the erstwhile allies fell into repeated disputes over the postwar settlement in Europe, and in particular, how to deal with a defeated Germany. By 1948, the conflict had boiled over into the near East, with the U.S. backing anti-Soviet regimes in Greece, Iran, and Turkey. In Moscow, the American strategy of “containment” of Soviet expansion was viewed as a calculated policy of encirclement, and the Kremlin responded by providing economic and military support to national liberation struggles in the Middle East, Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
   Three “proxy wars,” involving substantive military support of allies, were fought between the two powers: the Korean War (1950–1953), the Vietnam War (1959–1975), and the Soviet-Afghan War (1979–1989). Full-scale conflict between the two powers was dutifully avoided due to each side’s possession of large arsenals of nuclear weapons. The conflict was felt most keenly in Europe; the continent was divided along ideological lines, colloquially named the “Iron Curtain,” a division that cut Germany and its largest city, Berlin, in half. In the Eastern Bloc, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) wielded extensive control over both the foreign and domestic policies of its allies through the Warsaw Pact, while in Western Europe, the U.S. acted as a political hegemon via the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and a domineering partner through its domination of the neo-liberal economic system.
   Punctuated by periods of crisis and détente, frictions were intense during the first years of Ronald Reagan’s presidency before abating under the new Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev. The two leaders began negotiations on the reduction of their nuclear arsenals in the 1980s, which culminated in the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START), and laid the groundwork for START II which was signed by Boris Yeltsin and George H. W. Bush in 1993. Gorbachev’s internal reforms (particularly perestroika and glasnost) and his shift in policy toward the Soviet Union’s Eastern European satellites significantly lessened hostilities between the superpowers.
   From 1989 to 1991, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the abandonment of one-party totalitarianism in the Eastern Bloc, and the end of the Communist Party’s monopoly on power in the USSR led to an effective termination of the Cold War. The dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991 and new diplomatic relations between an independent Russian Federation in 1992 solidified this development.
   In recent years, there has been talk of a “new” Cold War in political media circles, a reaction to Vladimir Putin’s increasingly aggressive foreign policy and provocative actions, particularly against NATO aspirants Georgia and Ukraine. However, relations between Washington and Moscow remain relatively cordial compared to the period from 1948 to 1985.
   See also Foreign relations.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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