The Berlin Wall, erected by East Germany in 1961 to separate East Berlin from West Berlin, had significant repercussions not only for Germany but for global politics as well. As commonly known, the United States and the Soviet Union were the two superpowers of the time, and their reactions to this divide were of great importance. In this blog post, we will explore how the USSR, also known as the Soviet Union, reacted to the construction of the Berlin Wall.
The Soviet Union’s Motivation:
To understand the USSR’s reaction, it is essential to recognize the Soviet Union’s motivations for the Berlin Wall’s construction. During the post-World War II period, a significant number of citizens from East Germany, which was under Soviet control, were defecting to West Germany. This brain drain was a major concern for the Soviet Union, as it was losing skilled workers and potential supporters.
Initial Approval and Support:
When the Berlin Wall was first constructed, the Soviet Union publicly supported East Germany’s decision. They viewed it as a legitimate measure to safeguard the state’s socialist ideals and protect it from the influence of the capitalist West. Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev even referred to the Berlin Wall as a “protective barrier,” highlighting the official stance of the USSR.
The Impact on East-West Relations:
The construction of the Berlin Wall had far-reaching consequences for relations between the East and the West. It solidified the physical division between the communist and capitalist blocs, also known as the Iron Curtain. The Soviet Union saw the establishment of the Wall as a way to assert control over East Berlin and limit contact between East and West Germany.
Response to West Berlin Access:
One important aspect of the Soviet Union’s reaction to the Berlin Wall was its response to the access points between West Berlin and East Berlin. Initially, the USSR limited movement across the border, strictly controlling the crossing points and requiring special permits for travel. This restriction was intended to prevent East Germans from defecting to the West. Over time, the Soviet Union did allow some limited access for specific purposes, such as visits by Western politicians or family reunions.
The Cuban Missile Crisis:
In 1962, the world was on the brink of a nuclear confrontation during the Cuban Missile Crisis. This event significantly influenced the USSR’s reaction to the Berlin Wall and its relationship with the United States. The Wall provided the Soviet Union with a sense of “stability” in Europe, as it reduced the possibility of further defections and potential uprisings in East Germany. This stability was crucial for the USSR during such a tense time in international relations.
The construction of the Berlin Wall had broader international implications beyond just the relationship between the superpowers. The Wall became a stark symbol of the division between communist and capitalist ideologies. The Soviet Union’s support for the Wall further solidified the perception of an “iron curtain” separating Eastern and Western Europe.
Reaction of Western Allies:
The United States and its Western allies condemned the construction of the Berlin Wall as an oppressive measure. They saw it as a violation of human rights and a display of the Soviet Union’s determination to maintain control over its satellite states. Consequently, relations between the USSR and Western nations became increasingly strained, contributing to the ongoing Cold War conflict.
Impact on the German People:
For the German people, both in the East and the West, the Berlin Wall brought about significant changes in their daily lives. Families were forcibly separated, and the movement between the two sides became extremely limited. This division heightened feelings of mistrust and resentment on both sides, exacerbating the tensions between East and West Germany.
The Fall of the Berlin Wall:
After 28 years, the Berlin Wall finally fell in 1989, symbolizing the end of the Cold War era. The USSR, under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev, did not actively intervene to prevent the reunification of Germany. Gorbachev’s policy of restructuring and greater openness (perestroika and glasnost) contributed to the eventual dismantling of the Wall.
As the Berlin Wall rose, the USSR initially expressed its support, as it aligned with its interest in preserving the socialist state and preventing defections. Its reaction resulted in increased tension between the East and West, further polarizing the world during the Cold War. However, as the years went by and international dynamics changed, the USSR’s stance evolved. The fall of the Berlin Wall marked a turning point in history, symbolizing the end of an era and the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union.
Understanding how the USSR reacted to the construction and eventual fall of the Berlin Wall helps us comprehend the complexities of the Cold War and its impact on both global politics and individual lives.
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