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Joseph Stalin

By Stephanie L. McKinney, PhD, Contributing Writer

12 of 14

Stalin and the Cold War
Picture of Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin sitting in 1950.

Soviet Communist leader Joseph Stalin (1950)

(Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

Soviet Satellite States

Once World War II ended, the task of rebuilding Europe remained. While the United States and the United Kingdom sought stability, Stalin had no desire to cede the territory he had conquered during the war. Therefore, Stalin claimed the territory he had liberated from Germany as part of the Soviet empire. Under Stalin’s tutelage, Communist parties took control of each country’s government, cut off all communication with the West, and became official Soviet satellite states.

The Truman Doctrine

While the Allies were unwilling to launch a full-scale war against Stalin, U.S. President Harry Truman recognized that Stalin could not go unchecked. In response to Stalin's domination of Eastern Europe, Truman issued the Truman Doctrine in 1947, in which the United States pledged to help nations at risk of a being overtaken by Communists. It was immediately enacted to thwart Stalin in Greece and Turkey, which would ultimately remain independent throughout the Cold War.

The Berlin Blockade and Airlift

Stalin again challenged the Allies in 1948 when he attempted to seize control of Berlin, a city that had been divided among the victors of World War II. Stalin had already seized East Germany and severed it from the West as part of his post-war conquest. Hoping to claim the entire capital, which was located entirely within East Germany, Stalin blockaded the city in an attempt to force the other Allies to abandon their sectors of Berlin.

However, determined to not give in to Stalin, the U.S. organized a nearly year-long airlift that flew massive amounts of supplies into West Berlin. These efforts rendered the blockade ineffective and Stalin finally ended the blockade on May 12, 1949. Berlin (and the rest of Germany) remained divided. This division ultimately manifested in the creation of the Berlin Wall in 1961 during the height of the Cold War.

The Cold War Continues

While the Berlin Blockade was the last major military confrontation between Stalin and the West, Stalin’s policies and attitude toward the West would continue as Soviet policy even after Stalin’s death. This competition between the Soviet Union and the United States escalated during the Cold War to the point where nuclear war seemed eminent. The Cold War ended only with the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
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