The end of the Cold War

  • Created by: TessBlyth
  • Created on: 02-05-19 19:09

Gorbachev's new thinking

Mikhail Gorbachev became leader of the Soviet Union in March 1985, during this time, the USSR was facing a number of serious problems. Standards of living in the East were very poor, there was unrest in the satellite states and the Soviet Union had suffered poor leadership for years. 

Gorbachev was determined to reform communism and introduced a series of policies that would have major impact.

  • He proposed that the Soviet state and economy should be reformed to include some of the practices that made capitalism successful. This was called perestroika (reconstruction).
  • There should be more openness and less corruption in government. People should not fear the state or expressing their opinions. This policy of glasnost would allow opposition to the governmetn and give people a better idea of how the country was run.
  • The Brezhnev Doctrine was abandoned. The Soviet Union would no longer interfere with domestic affairs of other communist countries.
  • The Soviet Union would reduce spending on arms and defence and withdraw from Afghanistan. 
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The American Response

When Reagan had started his term as president in 1981, he promised that he would take a tough stand against communism. He had brought about a second cold war with an increase in spending on arms and a more confrontational approach to the USSR. 

However, when Gorbachev became leader in 1985, realtions between the USA and Soviet Union changed. Here was a Soviet leader who was not looking to expand communism, but instead, was determined to reform the Soviet Union internally and work with the USA to reduce Cold War tensions.

Regan saw that there was a real opportunity to end the Cold War and to adopt a more open approach to the Soviet Union, whilst at the same time sticking to his overall aim. 

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The summits of 1985-89

GENEVA, NOVEMBER 1985 - No formal agreements were made but Reagan and Gorbachev established a good working relationship and a mutual desire to improve relations between their countries.

REYKJAVIK, OCTOBER 1986 - the meeting once again ended with no formal agreements, but an improvement in relations.

WASHINGTON, DECEMBER 1987 - The Intermediate Range Nuclear Force Treaty (INF) was signed. This said that both countries would abolish all land-based missiles with a range of 500-500km.

MOSCOW, 1988 - complex detail relating to the INF treaty was resolved. Gorbachev travelled to the USA, where he made a speech at the UN announcing a reduction in Warsaw Pact troops and that the Soviet forces would leave Afghanistan.

MALTA, 1989 - both the USA and Soviet Union saw this meeting as marking the end of the Cold War.

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Collapse of Soviet Control of Eastern Europe

Once Gorbachev had announced that the Soviet Union was giving up on the Brezhnev Doctrine, the Soviet satellite countries were free to choose how they would be governed. They would no longer have fear that the Soviets would intervene as they had done in Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Gorbachev's reforms within the Soviet Union, restructuring the economy and introducing more openness to government, further encouraged the people of the satellite states to introduce changes that would improve their standard of living and increase individual freedoms. 

Gorbachev's reforms were not intended to bring an end to communism but instead were meant to strengthen communist government within the Soviet Union and within the satellite states in the Warsaw Pact.

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The fall of the Berlin wall

On a personal level, the fall of the Berlin wall meant that friends and families who had been separated for years, could be reuinted. There were scenes of great emotion as people realised that the restrictions that prevented them from crossing the border were gone. For days after, people hammered and chipped away at the wall, breaking off their own souvenir piece to take home.

In political terms, the fall of the wall was mainly a symbolic event. By November 1989, East Germans could already travel to the West through Austria and the East German leader had been sacked. Throughout eastern europe, communist governments were falling and the Soviet Union showed it had no intention of stepping in and to stop the wave of protest and deamnd for reform. 

For 30 years, the Berlin Wall had stood for the division of Europe. It was symbol of the Cold War and Soviet control. On 9 November 1989, its destruction became symbolic of the end of Soviet control and the end of the Cold War. 

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The end of the Warsaw Pact

The creation of the Warsaw Pact formally established that Europe was divided into two armed camps and throughout the period of the Cold War, the Warsaw Pact was seen as a potential threat to the democratic West.

The pact was also a symbol of Soviet dominance in Eastern Europe. It was a useful way for the Soviet Union to keep an eye on the activities of its communist allies and forcing decisions on them. It was also a means to co-ordinate forces to defend the communist East from any threat from the West. 

The events of 1989 saw communist governments coming under pressure across eastern europe and made it impossible for the warsaw pact to survive. Military cooperation between the member states ended early in 1990 and the Pact was formally dissolved in July 1991. The end of the Warsaw Pact was a highly significant moment in the history of the Cold War.

The end of the Pact led to many countries becoming truly independent of the Soviet Union and governing themselves for the first time in decades. They no longer had to follow policies created in Moscow, or run their economies to benefit the USSR. Every single one of its members abandoned communism.

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Gorbachev's fall from power

Losing control over the satellite states played a major part in the downfall of Gorbachev in the Soviet Union. Hard-line communists blamed him for losing control over Eastern Europe and threatening Soviet security. His position became worse when the Baltic states of Lithunia, Latvia and Estonia delcared themselves independent of the Soviet Union during 1990.

In August 1991, the communist hardliners staged a coup against Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin, the president of the Soviet republic of Russia railled the people of Moscow to oppose the coup and Gorbachev continued in government, but the coup severely damaged his authority.

The leaders of the Soviet republics took advantage of Gorbachev's weakness and 12 of them joined together in a Commonwealth of Independent States. Gorbachev could not continue under these circumstances and on 25 December 1991, announced his resignation as Soviet leader. The breakup of the Soviet Union immediately followed. 

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