Soviet Foreign Policy (Part 2) 1941-1953 1941: Start of Great Patriotic War

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Soviet Foreign Policy (Part 2)


1941: Start of Great Patriotic War (German invasion of the USSR)
What factors enabled Stalin to defeat Hitler?

  • Since the economy in the USSR in 1941 was already highly centralized, it did not take much to transform it into the "total war" conditions.

  • In June 1941, the State Committee of Defense was established (Stalin of course was its Chairman) and through this, Stalin kept close control over the generals and made it clear that retreat or defeat in battle was not an option.

  • Stalin used propaganda and the restored position of the Orthodox Church to gain support through the war- "Great Patriotic War" fought to save Mother Russia rather than an ideological war to save communism.

  • Mistakes of the Germans- for Hitler the war was a racial war against the enemy and this was demonstrated by the brutality of the Nazi forces as they marched towards Moscow, Leningrad and Stalingrad. In many places there was support for the Germans as they were often seen as liberators (estimated that 2 million Soviet citizens fought on the side of the Germans) but this soon changed as the death toll of civilians increased from German policies of extermination.

  • The German troops were halted by the onset of winter that brought heavy snow. This halted their advance in 1941 and gave the Red Army time to recover.

  • The size of the Soviet Union- this meant that they could sacrifice territory to the advancing Germans and retreat eastwards- many factories could be dismantled and the infrastructure shipped east, re-assembled and brought back into production.

  • External help- Stalin received substantial aid from the US Lend-Lease arrangement that was given to USSR in summer of 1941.

  • End of the siege of Stalingrad by German defeat in North Africa and Allied invasion of Sicily which required German forces to retreat.

1943: Dissolution of the Comintern – Stalin starts his “Communism in One Nation”

campaign designed to convince the West that he is no longer interested in

starting an international communist revolution. Both Churchill and Roosevelt

seem naïve in their trust of Stalin.

1945: May – Last German troops retreat from USSR – the Great Patriotic War is won

Yalta Conference – The intent of the USSR was to

  1. Protect the Soviet Union and prevent external threats

  2. Maintain influence of the Eastern European sphere

  3. push for the recognition of an ‘Eastern Bloc’, which was to include the Baltic states, Poland, Southern Europe, Germany and Yugoslavia.

Many historians argue that it was Stalin’s insistence on a Soviet bloc that led to the start of the ‘Cold War’. At this point, US and Soviet relations start to deteriorate.

1946: Stalin viewed the reemergence of Germany and Japan as real threats and

anticipated another ‘Great Depression’ in the capitalist states following WWII, but

this didn’t happen.
1947: Truman Doctrine – announces a "general war against Communism". This has been

seen by many historians as the "formal declaration of the Cold War".

1949: COMECON (Council for Mutual Economic Assistance) – designed to serve as a

framework for cooperation among the planned economies of the Soviet Union, its allies in Eastern Europe and, later, Soviet allies in the Third World. The military counterpart to the Comecon was the Warsaw Pact.

1953: Stalin dies of a stroke in May
The Soviet Union emerged from World War II devastated in human and economic terms. But militarily it was one of the two major world powers, a position maintained for four decades through its hegemony in Eastern Europe, military strength, involvement in many countries through local Communist parties, and scientific research especially into space technology and weaponry.
The USSR's effort to extend its influence or control over many states and peoples resulted in the formation of a world socialist system of states.
KGB’ - ("Committee for State Security"), the bureau responsible for foreign espionage and internal surveillance- it was famous for its effectiveness. A massive network of informants throughout the Soviet Union was used to monitor dissent from official Soviet politics and morals.
To what extent should Stalin be blamed for the onset of the Cold War?

  • Expansionism after 1945; Stalin began to spread influence over Eastern Europe through "satellite states" in 1946 and 47 (Poland, Hungary, Rumania and Bulgaria). The governments in these countries, through the work of the Comintern, supported the USSR and communism. This was seen as a huge threat to Western powers as a sign of spreading communism in hope to crush capitalism- created tensions and led to end of Great Alliance and Western powers could no longer support USSR's expansion in Europe.

  • Rebuilding- Approximately 27 million people dead a s result of the war and huge amounts of agriculture land ruined as a result of the policy of "scorched earth" from 1941-43. Stalin therefore wanted to secure the countries around its borders (having been attacked twice during 1900s, this could be seen as reasonable). Issue of Poland during Yalta conference in 1945 shows that Stalin was determined create a buffer zone in Poland as during both wars, this is where Germany had invaded.

  • USSR did very little to support Communist Party in the Greek civil war 1945-49 and neither in France or Yugoslavia which shows that his actions might have been merely defensive.

  • Berlin Blockade however, does show some aggressive actions by Stalin- 1948-49, USSR soldiers stop a western military supply train heading for Berlin and sent it back to western Germany- intensified the Cold War and showed that actions were not merely defensive.

  • US actions give a strong argument that USSR was not to blame for the Cold War- The atomic diplomacy by President Truman in 1945 and refusal to share technology with USSR portrayed US military authority. 

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