The post-Stalin thaw

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  • Created by: Megan
  • Created on: 06-06-15 10:04

After Stalin

Soviet government dominated by:

  • Khrushchev
  • Malenkov

Malenkov's 'New Course':

Wanted to improve living standards so he proposed diverting resources from defence to consumer goods. He hoped this would reduce Cold War tension and achieve peaceful coexistence.

  • In 1953 the Soviet leadership contributed to the peace process in Korea.
  • 1954 Soviets gave up military bases in Finland
  • 1955 The Austrian Treaty reunited Austria and made it neutral
  • The Soviet Army was cut by 20%
  • Improved relations with Marshal Tito (Yugoslavia)
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Unrest in East Germany

Summer 1953:

  • Unrest in Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and Soviet zone of Germany
  • In East Germany there were serious protests against Ulbricht's austere socialist programme which had created low living standards and high inflation.
  • He also decided to increase work quotas by 10%
  • The Soviet leadership summoned Ulbricht to Moscow to advise him to modify his policies but he refused.
  • When new protests broke in June 1953 the Soviets had no choice but to back Ulbrichts regime.
  • Military forces were sen to crush the anti-communist risings.
  • This was a propaganda disaster for the Soviet Union.
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The Warsaw Pact 1955

May 1955:

A military alliance between the Soviet Union and seven Eastern European satellite states.

Formed in response to West Germany joining NATO in 1954

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Eisenhower's foreign policy

'New Look':

-Quickly initiated Operation Solarium; full review of US policy options.

  • National security was to include the defence of democratic and capitalist values as well as geographical territory
  • Achieve appropriate balance between defence needs and other spending priorities.
  • Cut conventional forces and concentrate on a nuclear aresenal.

-Appointed experienced foreign policy team led by Secretary of State, Dulles

Nuclear Weapons:

  • Believed that the leaders in the Kremlin would not seek nuclear confrontation.
  • He had no time for the concept of limited strikes.
  • He believed the threat of 'massive retaliation' would deter a Soviet offensive
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The Third World

Stopping Communism in the Third World involved:

  • Covert actions, planned and carried out by the CIA
  • During Eisenhower's presidency the CIA was expanded from 7 stations across the globe to 47
  • Between 1953-58 the CIA intervened in Iran and Guatemala
  • There was also a failed attempt to remove the Sukarno regime in Indonesia
  • A network of allianced were also developed such as SEATO and CENTO
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Problems for Eisenhower

  • Confused Third World nationalism with communism, so the US missed opportunities to work with nationalist groups.
  • 1957 Soviets won a propaganda victory; the launch of Sputnik and the successful testing of the intercontinental ballistic missile led to fears of a 'missile gap'
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Khrushchev's personality

Emerged as leader in 1955

  • Temperament was unpredictable
  • Sudden explosions of anger
  • Didn't always consult collegues 
  • Made wild claims about the Soviet Union's nuclear arsenal
  • Led to an attempt to remove him from leadership in 1957
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Khrushchev's policies

Domestic aims:

  • Agreed with Malenkov
  • Wanted to revitalise economy
  • Cut defence budget


  • Inconsistent approach
  • Threatened to 'bury' the West
  • Sometimes he was a passionate advocate of peaceful coexistence

Third World:

  • Tried to create allies in Asia and Africa
  • Recognised the Middle East, with vast oil reserves was economically important.
  • Established links with Egypt's President Nasser and helped fund the Awsan Dam project to challenge western dominance in the area
  • Built relationship with Castro after the Cuban Revolution in 1959
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The Secret Speech, 1956

25 February:

  • Speech began process of destalinisation
  • Criticised Stalin for establishing a 'cult of personality'
  • Stated Stalin had abused his position and perverted true Communism

Western intelligence obtained a recording and Radio Free Europe broadcast it across the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. It breathed new life into reformist groups and signalled a more liberal approach. But Khrushchev had no intension of losing control of Eastern Europe.

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Unrest in Poland 1956

Following the Secret Speech, the people of Poland began to challenge communist rule.

The first serious uprising took place as Poznan, a mining community. It focussed on:

  • Food shortages
  • Lack of consumer goods
  • Poor housing

In response, Khrushchev led a delegation to Warsaw to deal with Poland's communist leader Gomulka 

Gomulka made it clear that there were demands for reform but emphasised that this wouldnt affect Poland's relationship with the USSR. He had no intention of abandoning communism or the Warsaw pact.

The Soviet Union granted Gomulka the reforms his people wanted.

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Hungary 1956

Soviet leadership was keen to remove Rakosi, the hardline stalinist ruler of Hungary and replace with a Moscow nominee, Gero.

However students demanded a new leader, Nagy; a leading reformer.

He initial proposals were moderate but he started to advocate a radical break with communism including:

  • A multi party election system
  • Freedom for the press

On 4 November Soviet forces began to crush the rebellion and Nagy announced withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact and made a direct appeal to the United Nations for support against Soviet invasion.

In the Crisis 2700 died, Western powers were unwilling to act to support democratic reform in the Eastern bloc. Western leaders condemed Soviet intervention but took no action. Eisenhower was unwilling to risk nuclear conflict and only made public statements supporting Nagy. The crisis persuaded the West that the Soviet leaders had no real interest in peaceful coexistence.

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Geneva Summit 1955

What did it aim to do?

  • resolve the status of Germany and begin negotiations about arms control

What did Khrushchev propose?

  • A united and neutral Germany; US refused as it was central to defence of West Germany who had just joined NATO
  • Disbanding of NATO and Warsaw Pact; Eisenhower believed NATO was central to western security and refused.

What did Eisenhower propose?

  • arms limitation treaties backed by an 'open skies' policy; rejected as Khrushchev didnt want to West to 'spy'
  • limits on superpower military power

No agreement was reached but there was an acceptance of the status quo and an understanding neither wanted war. They agreed to meet again in 1960.

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U2 incident

14 days before Paris Summit

US U2 plane shot down over Siberia.

Eisenhower released cover story assuming the plane had been destroyed

But Soviet forces had captured the plane and pilot and could prove that Eisenhower had lied

Khrushchev had won an important propaganda victory.

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The Paris Summit 1960

Krushchev demanded apology for U2 incident. Although Eisenhower promised no further missions would take place he refused to apologise.

Khrushchev walked out of the Summit

Krushchev later singled the U2 incident out as the moment in which Kremlin hardliners lost faith in peaceful coexistence.

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The Vienna Summit 1961

Soviet Position:

Berlin, top priority. Under pressure from Ulbricht to stop ecodus of east germans to west germany. Also keen to assert his authority and exploit Kennedy's inexperience.

US position:

Disarmament. Reduced 'open skies' policy to just 10 annual inspections instead of 20.


Failed to reach agreement 

Khrushchev appeared to threaten Kennedy with military action if the US continued to support West Berlin.

Kennedy asserted his harline position and stated that if all else failed 'we will use nuclear weapons'

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The Berlin Crisis 1958-62

  • West Germany was building conventional forces and arguing for access to nuclear weapons which alarmed the USSR which had a deep-seated fear of an economically strong and militarised Germany.
  • Increasing number of East Germans were also escaping to the west; 1945 2.7 million had left East Germany.

Khrushchev made a speech in 1958 delivering an ultimaturm with a six-month deadline to Western powers demanding them to demilitatise West Berlin.

Eisenhower made it clear he wouldnt give in to demand and emphasised there would be drastic consequences.


  • Unable to force demilitarisation so began to build a physical barried in 1961
  • It became a symbol of division
  • Kennedy visited West Berlin and made speech to a crowd of over 300,000 stating the US would stand by West Berlin.
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