The Relationship of the United States with Russia : War

The Relationship of the United States with Russia : War


From 1922 to 1991, Russia was the largest part of the Soviet Union. Through most the final half of the 20th Century, the United States and the Soviet Union (known also as the USSR)were the principal actors in an epic battle, referred to as a Cold War, for global domination. This battle was, in the broadest sense, a struggle between communist and capitalist forms of economy and social organization.

Even though Russia has now nominally adopted democratic and capitalist structures, Cold War history still colors U.S.-Russian relations today.

World War II:

Prior to entering World War II, the United States gave the Soviet Union and other countries millions of dollars worth of weapons and other support for their fight against Nazi Germany. The two nations became allies in the liberation of Europe. At war’s end, countries occupied by Soviet forces, including a large part of Germany, were dominated by Soviet influence. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill described this territory as being behind an Iron Curtain.

The division provided the framework for the Cold War which ran from roughly 1947 to 1991.


Fall of the Soviet Union:

Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev lead a series of reforms which eventually lead to the dissolution of the Soviet empire into a variety of independent states. In 1991, Boris Yeltsin became the first democratically elected Russian president. The dramatic change led to an overhaul of U.S.

foreign and defense policy.

New Cooperation:

The end of the Cold War gave the United States and Russia new opportunities to cooperate. Russia took over the permanent seat (with full veto power) previously held by the Soviet Union at the United NationsSecurity Council. The Cold War had created gridlock in the council, but the new arrangement meant a rebirth in U.N. action. Russia was also invited to join the informal G-7 gathering of the world’s largest economic powers making it the G-8. The United States and Russia also found ways to cooperate in securing “loose nukes” in former Soviet territory, although there is still much to be done on this issue.

Old Frictions:

The United States and Russia have still found plenty over which to clash. The United States has pushed hard for further political and economic reforms in Russia, while Russia bristles at what they see as meddling in internal affairs. The United States and it allies in NATO have invited new, former Soviet, nations to join the alliance in the face of deep Russian opposition. Russia and the United States have clashed over how best to settle the final status of Kosovo and how to treat Iran’s efforts to gain nuclear weapons. Most recently, Russia’s military action in Georgia highlighted the rift in U.S.-Russian relations.


The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) is established. Russia is by far the largest member.

Formal Relations

The United States formally recognizes the USSR, and the countries establish diplomatic relations.


U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt gives the USSR and other countries millions of dollars worth of weapons and other support for their fight against Nazi Germany.


The United States and Soviet Union end World War II as allies. As co-founders of the United Nations, both countries (along with France, China, and the united Kingdom) become permanent members of United Nations Security Council with full veto authority over the council’s action.

Cold War Begins

The struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union for domination in certain sectors and parts of the world is dubbed the Cold War. It will last until 1991. Former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill calls the division of Europe between the West and those parts dominated by the Soviet Union an “Iron Curtain.” American expert George Kennan advises the United States to follow a policy of “containment” toward the Soviet Union.

Space Race

The Soviets launch Sputnik, the first manmade object to orbit the Earth. Americans, who had confidently felt they were ahead of the Soviets in technology and science, redouble their efforts in science, engineering, and the overall space race.

Spy Charges

The Soviets shoot down an American spy plane gathering information over Russian territory. The pilot, Francis Gary Powers, was captured alive.

He spent nearly two years in a Soviet prison before being exchanged for a Soviet intelligence officer captured in New York.

Shoe Fits

Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev uses his shoe to bang on his desk at the United Nations while the American delegate is speaking.

Missile Crisis

The stationing of U.S. nuclear missiles in Turkey and Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba leads to the mostdramatic and potentially world-shattering confrontation of the Cold War. In the end, both sets of missiles were removed.


A series of summits and discussions, including the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks, between the United States and the Soviet Union led to a thawing of tensions.

This effort was known as “detente.”

Space Cooperation

American and Soviet astronauts link their Apollo and Soyuz spacecrafts in Earth orbit.

Miracle on Ice

At the Winter Olympics, the American men’s hockey team scored a very surprising victory against the Soviet team. The U.S. team went on the win the gold medal.

Olympic Politics

The United States and 60 other countries boycott the Summer Olympics (held in Moscow) to protest the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

War of Words

U.S. President Ronald Reagan begins to refer to the Soviet Union as an “evil empire”.

More Olympic Politics

The Soviet Union and a handful of countries boycott the Summer Olympics in Los Angeles.


A nuclear power plant in the Soviet Union (Chernobyl, Ukraine) explodes spreading contamination over a huge area.

Near Breakthrough

At a summit in Reykjavik, Iceland, U.S. President Ronald Reagan and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev came close to agreeing to eliminate all nuclear weapons and share the so-called Star Wars defense technologies. Although the negotiations broke down, it set the stage for future arms control agreements.


A group of hard-liners stage a coup against Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev. They take power for less than three days.

USSR’s End

In the final days of December, the Soviet Union dissolved itself and was replaced by 15 different independent states, including Russia. Russia honors all treaties signed by the former Soviet Union and assumes the United Nations Security Council seat formerly held by the Soviets.

Loose Nukes

The Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction program launches to help former Soviet states secure vulnerable nuclear material, referred to as “loose nukes.”

More Space Cooperation

The first of 11 U.S. space shuttle missions docks with the Soviet MIR space station.

Space Cooperation Continues

Russians and Americans occupy the jointly built International Space Station for the first time.


U.S. President George Bush unilaterally withdraws from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty signed by the two countries in 1972.

Iraq War Dispute

Russia strongly opposes the American-led invasion of Iraq.

Kosovo Confusion

Russia says it will veto an American-backed plan to grant independence to Kosovo.

Poland Controversy

An American plan to build an anti-ballistic missile defense system in Poland draws strong Russian protests.

Transfer of Power?

In elections unmonitored by international observers, Dmitry Medvedev is elected president replacingVladimir Putin. Putin is widely expected to become Russia’s prime minister.

Conflict in South Ossetia

A violent military conflict between Russia and Georgia highlights a growing rift in U.S.-Russian relations.

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