Foreign relations of the Soviet Union
|This article is part of a series on the
politics and government of
the Soviet Union
At the time of the founding of the Soviet Union (the USSR) in 1922, most governments internationally regarded the Soviet régime as a pariah because of its advocacy of communism, and thus most states did not give it diplomatic recognition. Less than a quarter century later the Soviet Union not only had official relations with the majority of the nation-states of the world, but had progressed to the role of a superpower.
By 1945 the USSR—a founding member of the United Nations—had become one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, giving it the right to veto any of the Security Council's resolutions (see Soviet Union and the United Nations). During the Cold War, the Soviet Union vied with the United States of America for geopolitical influence; this competition manifested itself in numerous treaties and pacts dealing with military alliances and trade agreements, and in proxy wars.
- 1 Ideology and objectives of Soviet foreign policy
- 2 Before World War II
- 3 World War II
- 4 The aftermath of World War II
- 5 Relations with Southeast Asian states
- 6 The 1970s onwards
- 7 Gorbachev and after
- 8 See also
- 9 Notes
- 10 Further reading
- 11 External links
Ideology and objectives of Soviet foreign policy
According to Soviet theorists, the basic character of Soviet foreign policy was set forth in Vladimir Lenin's Decree on Peace, adopted by the Second Congress of Soviets in November 1917. It set forth the dual nature of Soviet foreign policy, which encompasses both proletarian internationalism and peaceful coexistence. On the one hand, proletarian internationalism refers to the common cause of the working classes of all countries in struggling to overthrow the bourgeoisie and to establish communist regimes. Peaceful coexistence, on the other hand, refers to measures to ensure relatively peaceful government-to-government relations with capitalist states. Both policies can be pursued simultaneously: "Peaceful coexistence does not rule out but presupposes determined opposition to imperialist aggression and support for peoples defending their revolutionary gains or fighting foreign oppression."
The Soviet commitment in practice to proletarian internationalism declined since the founding of the Soviet state, although this component of ideology still had some effect on later formulation and execution of Soviet foreign policy. Although pragmatic raisons d'état undoubtedly accounted for much of more recent Soviet foreign policy, the ideology of class struggle still played a role in providing a worldview and certain loose guidelines for action in the 1980s. Marxist–Leninist ideology reinforces other characteristics of political culture that create an attitude of competition and conflict with other states.
The general foreign policy goals of the Soviet Union were formalized in a party program ratified by delegates to the Twenty-Seventh Party Congress in February–March 1986. According to the program, "the main goals and guidelines of the CPSU's international policy" included ensuring favorable external conditions conducive to building communism in the Soviet Union; eliminating the threat of world war; disarmament; strengthening the "world socialist system"; developing "equal and friendly" relations with "liberated" [Third World] countries; peaceful coexistence with the capitalist countries; and solidarity with communist and revolutionary-democratic parties, the international workers' movement, and national liberation struggles.
Although these general foreign policy goals were apparently conceived in terms of priorities, the emphasis and ranking of the priorities have changed over time in response to domestic and international stimuli. After Mikhail Gorbachev became general Secretary of the Communist Party in 1985, for instance, some Western analysts discerned in the ranking of priorities a possible de-emphasis of Soviet support for national liberation movements. Although the emphasis and ranking of priorities were subject to change, two basic goals of Soviet foreign policy remained constant: national security (safeguarding Communist Party rule through internal control and the maintenance of adequate military forces) and, since the late 1940s, influence over Eastern Europe.
Many Western analysts have examined the way Soviet behavior in various regions and countries supported the general goals of Soviet foreign policy. These analysts have assessed Soviet behavior in the 1970s and 1980s as placing primary emphasis on relations with the United States, which was considered the foremost threat to the national security of the Soviet Union. Second priority was given to relations with Eastern Europe (the other members of the Warsaw Pact) and Western Europe (the European members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization—NATO). Third priority was given to the littoral or propinquitous states along the southern border of the Soviet Union: Turkey (a NATO member), Iran, Afghanistan, People's Republic of China, Mongolia, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea), and Japan. Regions near to, but not bordering, the Soviet Union were assigned fourth priority. These included the Middle East and North Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia. Last priority was given to sub-Saharan Africa, the islands in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, and Latin America, except insofar as these regions either provided opportunities for strategic basing or bordered on strategic naval straits or sea lanes. In general, Soviet foreign policy was most concerned with superpower relations (and, more broadly, relations between the members of NATO and the Warsaw Pact), but during the 1980s Soviet leaders pursued improved relations with all regions of the world as part of its foreign policy objectives.
Before World War II
It is possible to detect three distinct phases in Soviet foreign policy between the conclusion of the Russian Civil War and the Nazi-Soviet Pact in 1939, determined in part by political struggles within the USSR, and in part by dynamic developments in international relations and the effect these had on Soviet security.
Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks, once in power, believed their October Revolution would ignite the world's socialists and lead to a "World Revolution." Lenin set up the Communist International (Comintern) to export revolution to the rest of Europe and Asia. Indeed, Lenin set out to liberate all of Asia from imperialist and capitalist control.
The first priority for Soviet foreign policy was Europe, above all Germany, which was the country that Lenin most admired and thought most ready for revolution. The historian Robert Service noted that Lenin and the other Bolshevik leaders had a very idealized picture of Germany that bore little relation to reality. Lenin was most disappointed when, following the October Revolution, a similar revolution did not break out in Germany as he had expected and hoped for, forcing him to sign the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk in March 1918 to take Russia out of World War I. Brest-Litovsk was an immense shock to the Bolsheviks, and afterwards a new policy emerged of both seeking pragmatic co-operation with the Western powers when it suited Soviet interests while at the same time trying to promote a Communist revolution whenever possible. In the immediate aftermath of World War I, the Soviets encouraged Communist uprisings in Germany and saw Béla Kun briefly establish the Hungarian Soviet Republic. Had it not been for the Russian Civil War, Lenin would have sent the Red Army into Central Europe into 1919 to export Communism. After the failure of these efforts, Lenin, assuming that capitalism was not going to collapse at once as he had hoped, made a major effort in the early 1920s to lure German corporations into investing in the Soviet Union as a way of modernizing the country. Lenin's Germanophilia was controversial within the Bolsheviks, with many of his colleagues complaining that he went too far with his liking for all things German. As part of the effort to join a German-Soviet alliance, the Soviets signed the Treaty of Rapallo in 1922.
Lenin's plans failed, although Russia did manage to hold onto the Central Asian and Caucasian domains that had been part of the Russian Empire. The revolutionary stage ended after the Soviet defeat in the war with Poland in 1921. As Europe's revolutions were crushed and revolutionary zeal dwindled, the Bolsheviks shifted their ideological focus from the world revolution and building socialism around the globe to building socialism inside the Soviet Union, while keeping some of the rhetoric and operations of the Comintern continuing. In the mid-1920s, a policy of peaceful co-existence began to emerge, with Soviet diplomats attempting to end the country's isolation, and concluding bilateral arrangements with capitalist governments. Agreement was reached with Germany, Europe's other pariah of the day, in the Treaty of Rapallo in 1922.
There were, however, still those in the Soviet government, most notably Leon Trotsky, who argued for the continuation of the revolutionary process, in terms of his theory of Permanent Revolution. After Lenin's death in 1924, Trotsky and the internationalists were opposed by Joseph Stalin and Nikolai Bukharin, who developed the notion of Socialism in One Country. The foreign policy counterpart of Socialism in One Country was that of the United Front, with foreign Communists urged to enter into alliances with reformist left-wing parties and national liberation movements of all kinds. The high point of this strategy was the partnership in China between the Chinese Communist Party and the nationalist Kuomintang, a policy favoured by Stalin in particular, and a source of bitter dispute between him and Trotsky. The Popular Front policy in China effectively crashed to ruin in 1927, when Kuomintang leader Chiang Kai-shek massacred the native Communists and expelled all of his Soviet advisors, notably Mikhail Borodin.
The following year, after defeating opponents from both the left (led by Trotsky and Grigory Zinoviev) and the right (led by Nikolai Bukharin), Stalin began the wholesale collectivization of Soviet agriculture, accompanied by a major program of planned industrialization. This new radical phase was paralleled by the formulation of a new doctrine in the International, that of the so-called Third Period, an ultra-left switch in policy, which argued that social democracy, whatever shape it took, was a form of social fascism, socialist in theory but fascist in practice. All foreign Communist parties – increasingly agents of Soviet policy – were to concentrate their efforts in a struggle against their rivals in the working-class movement, ignoring the threat of real fascism. There were to be no united fronts against a greater enemy. The catastrophic effects of this policy, and the negative effect it had on Soviet security, was to be fully demonstrated by Adolf Hitler's seizure of power in Germany in 1933, followed by the destruction of the German Communist Party, the strongest in Europe. The Third Way and social fascism were quickly dropped into the dustbin of history. Once again collaboration with other progressive elements was the key, in the form of the Popular Front, which cast the net still wider to embrace moderate bourgeois parties. Soviet–German cooperation, extensive until 1933, was now limited.
Hand-in-hand with the promotion of Popular Fronts, Maxim Litvinov, the Soviet Commissar for Foreign Affairs between 1930 and 1939, aimed at closer alliances with Western governments, and placed ever greater emphasis on collective security. The new policy led to the Soviet Union joining the League of Nations in 1934 and the subsequent conclusion of alliances with France and Czechoslovakia. In the League the Soviets were active in demanding action against imperialist aggression, a particular danger to them after the 1931 Japanese invasion of Manchuria, which eventually resulted in the Soviet-Japanese Battle of Khalkhin Gol.
However, against the rise of militant fascism, the League was unlikely to accomplish very much. Litvinov and others in the Commissariat for Foreign Affairs continued to conduct quiet diplomatic initiatives with Nazi Germany, even as the USSR took a stand in trying to preserve the Second Spanish Republic, and its Popular Front government, from the Fascist rebellion of 1936. The Munich Agreement of 1938, the first stage in the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia, gave rise to Soviet fears that they were likely to be abandoned in a possible war with Germany. In the face of continually dragging and seemingly hopeless negotiations with Great Britain and France, a new cynicism and hardness entered Soviet foreign relations when Litvinov was replaced by Vyacheslav Molotov in May 1939. The Soviets no longer sought collective but individual security, and the Pact with Hitler was signed, giving the Soviets protection from the most aggressive European power and increasing the Soviet sphere of influence.
World War II
Stalin controlled the foreign policy of the Soviet Union, with Vyacheslav Molotov as the foreign minister. Their policy was neutrality until August 1939, followed by friendly relations with Germany in order to carve up Eastern Europe. After he ignored repeated warnings, Stalin was stunned when Hitler invaded in June 1941. Stalin quickly came to terms with Britain and the United States, cemented through a series of summit meetings. The U.S. and Britain supplied war materials in large quantity through Lend Lease. There was some coordination of military action, especially in summer 1944. At war's end the central issue was whether Stalin would allow free elections in eastern Europe.
The aftermath of World War II
The Soviet Union emerged from World War II devastated in human and economic terms. But militarily it was one of the two major world powers, a position maintained for four decades through its hegemony in Eastern Europe (see Eastern Bloc), military strength, involvement in many countries through local Communist parties, and scientific research especially into space technology and weaponry. The Union's effort to extend its influence or control over many states and peoples resulted in the formation of a world socialist system of states. Established in 1949 as an economic bloc of communist countries led by Moscow, the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON) served as a framework for cooperation among the planned economies of the Soviet Union, its allies in Eastern Europe and, later, Soviet allies in the Third World. The military counterpart to the Comecon was the Warsaw Pact.
Moscow considered Eastern Europe to be a buffer zone for the forward defense of its western borders and ensured its control of the region by transforming the East European countries into subservient allies. Soviet troops crushed a popular uprising and rebellion in Budapest, Hungary, in 1956 and ended insubordination by the Czechoslovak government in 1968. In addition to military occupation and intervention, the Soviet Union controlled Eastern European states through its ability to supply or withhold vital natural resources.
The KGB ("Committee for State Security"), the bureau responsible for foreign espionage and internal surveillance, was famous for its effectiveness. A massive network of informants throughout the Soviet Union was used to monitor dissent from official Soviet politics and morals.
The Middle East
Relations with Israel
The first source of tension in relations between Israel and the Soviet Union occurred on February 9, 1953, when the USSR severed relations with Israel. The USSR used a bomb incident on Soviet Legation in Tel Aviv as an excuse to end relations and claimed that the government was responsible. The Israeli government received this news with shock and concern. This was the first breach in diplomatic relations that Israel had experienced with a superpower. There is a general consensus that Israeli charges against the Doctors' Plot and public want for improvement for the Soviet Jews were deciding factors. Without Israel’s fierce hostility to the false allegations of a Doctors' Plot, the Soviet Union most likely would not have ended relations. After the rupture, Israel continued to speak out against the Doctors' Plot, and successfully attracted international attention.
After the death of Stalin in 1953, the Soviet Union's foreign policy was less hostile. The new Soviet Prime Minister, Vyacheslav Molotov, presented a new policy of openness and peacefulness. This new policy inspired Israel to initiate relations with the USSR again, on condition that Israel would no longer criticize the USSR publicly, especially regarding the Soviet Jews. Moscow began to support the Arab states in the Arab-Israeli conflict in order to use this conflict for its own confrontation with the West.
On April 7, 1953 Egypt, Iraq, and Syria declared the establishment of a common federation. The destruction of Israel was their main goal. In 1955, the USSR made an arms deal with Egypt. This angered Israel. While Britain sided with the US and agreed to withhold further funding for the construction of Egypt's Aswan Dam in July 1956, they were also furious at the action and believed that America's withdrawal of aid had provided the opening for Soviet penetration of Egypt. Both Britain and Israel now saw Egypt as a threat to regional stability.
The Suez Crisis occurred in the fall of 1956. At this time, Britain, France and Israel invaded Egypt, claiming that they were protecting the Suez Canal. The USSR saw this event as a threat to its security and international prestige by the West. Britain and France lost prestige when the United States opposed the invasion and forced a withdrawal. The Suez Crisis was the first clash between Israel’s security interests and the strategic interests of the USSR in the Middle East.
On June 5, 1967 the Six-Day War commenced. Immediately, the Soviet Union went to the United Nations to stop the war and remove Israeli forces from the border. The USSR threatened to break off relations with Israel. The USSR never wanted a war to occur in the Middle East. By June 10, the Soviet Union threatened to intervene militarily if Israel did not stop its advance towards Syria.
While Israel and the Soviet Union originally were working towards the same goal, eventually, their interests became different, and the two nations drifted apart. Israel focused on regional peace while the USSR focused on global peace. The Soviet Union concerned itself with its own power and domination while Israel was concerned with its own safety. Because these two goals never coincided, the relations of the two dissolved.
Relations with the Arab states
In 1955, the Egyptians made an arms deal with Czechoslovakia. This was technically a deal between Egypt and the Soviet Union because Czechoslovakia had Soviet arms. At this point, Egypt was neutral towards the Soviet Union and made the deal to manipulate the United States into giving it financial aid. The arms deal was the Soviet Union’s first step in creating relations with other[clarification needed] Arab states and gaining a foothold in the Middle East for expansion and domination.
US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles was deeply suspicious of Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser, who he believed to be a reckless and dangerous nationalist. Following Egypt's arms deal with Czechoslovakia, however, others in the Eisenhower administration convinced Dulles that the American aid might pull Nasser back from his relationship with the Soviet Union and prevent the growth of Soviet power in the Middle East. In December 1955, Secretary Dulles announced that the United States, together with Great Britain, was providing nearly $75 million in aid to Egypt to help in the construction of the Aswan Dam on the Nile River. In response to Nasser's increasing attacks on Western colonialism and imperialism and Egypt's continued dalliance with the Soviet Union, Britain and the United States withdrew funds for the Aswan Dam in July 1956. That action drove Egypt further toward an alliance with the Soviet Union and was a contributing factor to the Suez Crisis later in 1956. Nasser responded to the aid cut by nationalizing the Suez Canal and the Soviets then rushed to Egypt's aid; the Aswan Dam was officially opened in 1964.
During the 1956 Suez Crisis, the Soviet Union sided with Egypt. The USSR viewed the nationalization of the Suez Canal as important to removing Western influence from the Middle East. Additionally, the Soviet Union was willing to fund Egypt because in return, it received access to warm-water ports, which it desperately needed to spread its influence. Though US President Dwight D. Eisenhower was also infuriated at the invasion and had successfully brought an end to end to Suez Crisis by pressuring the invading forces to withdraw from Egypt by early 1957, the United States continued to maintain good relations with Britain, France and Israel and sought to limit Soviet ally Nasser's influence, thus damaging its relations with the Middle East for the next 35 years. By continuing to side with Egypt, the Soviet Union gained more prestige in the Middle East and succeeded in intimidating its superpower opponent, the United States. Nasser's pan-Arab influence spread throughout the Middle East and he soon gained a popular image among those who resented Western colonialism. In spite of his alliance with the Soviet Union, Nasser would not sign a military alliance pact with the nation, made efforts to prevent the spread of Communism and other foreign influences throughout the Arab region by forming a civil union with Syria known as the United Arab Republic (UAR)—a nation which he had hoped other Arab states would eventually join as well—in 1958, and was a founding father of the Non-Aligned Movement in 1961; though the union with Syria collapsed in 1961, Egypt would still be officially known as the United Arab Republic for a while longer.
In 1966, a left-wing party in Syria gained power and intended to cooperate with the USSR. The Soviet Union was willing to take every effort to guarantee stability of the new regime in Syria in order to have support from a Communist regime in the Middle East. Once this regime gained power, the USSR’s activity in the Middle East intensified. The USSR encouraged the new Syrian regime and admonished Israel. The USSR wished to gain more dominance in the Middle East, so it aggravated the Arab–Israeli conflict. However, the Soviet Union did not want a war, so it prevented a war by pacifying Israel's policy towards Syria. The USSR desired to be the sole defender of the Arab world, and so did everything in its power to increase the Arab states' dependence.
On April 7, 1967, Syria executed terrorist attacks on Israel. The attacks were directed at an Israeli tractor working land in the demilitarized area on the Syrian–Israeli border. Syria and Israel exchanged fire all day. At the end of the battle, Israel had shot down seven Soviet-made Syrian planes. This was the first air battle between the two nations. The USSR supported Syrian attacks and blamed the violent acts on Israel. Syria did not hesitate to act because it believed that the other Arab states would support it and Israel was not capable of defeating it. In the UAR, the USSR motivated Nasser to have the UN forces leave Sinai and Gaza Strip and to blockade the Straits of Tiran. Like Nasser, the USSR didn’t believe that Israel would start a war on its own. Even if Israel did attack, it was unlikely that Israel would be capable of defeating the Arab states. Syria believed that, with the help of the UAR, it could beat Israel. On May 11, the USSR warned the UAR that Israel troops were gathering on the border with Syria and that an invasion was planned for May 18 to May 22. At this time, the USSR also began to publish accusations against Israel in order to cement the defensive unity of the UAR and Syria.
On June 5, 1967, the Six-Day War began. During the war, the UAR asked the Soviet Union for more arms, but the Soviet Union denied its request because it wanted the war to end. The war ended in the defeat of the UAR and Syria on June 10. Once the war was over, though, the Soviet Union was satisfied with the state of the Middle East and gave weapons to the Arabs in order to repair relations with them. For the Soviet Union, defeat meant that its position in the Middle East was impaired and its weapons and military training were given a poor reputation. Following this loss, Nasser agreed to allow the Soviets to keep military bases in the country
By 1969, Nasser had formed an alliance with Jordan's King Hussein and started to move towards cementing peace with Israel in exchange for the return of the Sinai Peninsula and the formation of a Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip and West Bank. On September 28, 1970, Nasser died of a heart attack and his vice president Anwar Sadat succeeded him. Though Sadat sought to maintain good relations with the Soviet Union, he was also willing to consider economic assistance from nations outside the Arab region and the Eastern Bloc as well. In 1971, Sadat, hoping to help the nation's economy recover from its losses in the Six-Day War, officially changed the UAR's name back to Egypt and signed a Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with the Soviet Union. In 1972, however, the direction of Soviet-Egypt relations changed dramatically when Sadat ordered Soviet military personnel to leave the country. Throughout the remainder of the 1970s, Sadat developed strong relations with the Western powers, repealed Egypt's Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with the Soviet Union in March 1976, made peace with Israel in March 1979 following the Camp David Accords—where it was agreed that Israel would depart from the Sinai Peninsula in exchange for making the area a demilitarized zone and that Egypt would not seek claims to a Palestinian state in the Gaza Strip and West Bank in exchange for annual economic and military aid from the United States— and distanced Egypt from the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union now focused on building relations with its three other principal allies in the Middle East, Syria, Iraq and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
In 1964, Nasser and other Arab League in Cairo Summit 1964 initiated the creation of the PLO to represent the Palestinian people. Despite establishing ties with the new organization, the Soviet government also feared the PLO would weaken their influence in the Arab region and reacted with skepticism towards the group's leadership. Following the Six-Day War, however, Soviet influence would further increase in the Arab region and PLO would follow suit. In March 1968, Yasser Arafat and his Fatah organization gained international attention and popularity in the Arab region when it engaged in a full-scale battle with an Israeli force at the city of Karameh in Jordan, where 150 Palestinians and 29 Israelis were killed. Two months later, the Fatah would join the PLO and Arafat was appointed as the organization's Chairman. Under Arafat's leadership, favoritism towards the USSR was firmly established within the ranks of the PLO and the organization would frequently buy Eastern Bloc military and equipment to carry out sporadic terrorist attacks against Israel.
In 1972, the Soviets declared the PLO the vanguard of the Arab liberation movement. Nevertheless, the Soviets still refused to let the PLO influence their standing in the Arab-Israeli peace process and sought to push their own proposed resolutions before the UN Security Council. In September 1978, however, Soviet influence over the Arab-Israeli peace progress weakened significantly after Egypt and Israel agreed to make peace with one another during the Camp David Accords. Afterwards, the Soviet President, Leonid Brezhnev, declared that “there is only one road” to a real settlement, “the road of full liberation of all Arab lands occupied by Israel in 1967, of full and unambiguous respect for the lawful rights of the Arab people of Palestine, including the right to create their own independent state.” At the end of Arafat's visit to Moscow, 29 October to 1 November 1978, the Soviet authorities finally recognized the PLO as the “sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people.”
Between 1958 and 1990, Soviet-Iraqi relations were very strong. The Soviet Union established diplomatic relations with the Kingdom of Iraq on 9 September 1944. The regime of King Faisal II was anti-communist and only established links with Moscow due its dependence on the United Kingdom and the Anglo–Soviet Treaty of 1942. In January 1955, the Soviet government criticised the Iraqi government decision to join the Baghdad Pact, which led to Iraq cutting diplomatic relations with the Soviets. After Faisal II was overthrown in a military coup on 14 July 1958, the newly proclaimed Republic of Iraq led by General Abd al-Karim Qasim re-established relations with the Soviet Union, and the Soviet Union began selling arms to Iraq. In 1967, Iraq signed an agreement with the USSR to supply the nation with oil in exchange for large-scale access to Eastern Bloc arms. In 1972, Iraq, by now arguably the nation's closest Arab ally, signed a Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with the Soviet Union.
Since 1966, Syria had obtained most of its military equipment from the Soviet Union. In 1971, when Air Force Commander Hafez al-Assad became President of Syria by way of a coup, he elected to maintain a strategic policy of close cooperation with the Soviet Union. The same year, Assad agreed to allow Soviet military personnel to keep a naval base in Tartus. In February 1972, Syria signed a peace and security pact with the Soviet Union as a means to strengthen its defense capability. During the year, Moscow delivered more than $135 million in Soviet arms to Damascus. In 1980, Syria signed a Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with the Soviet Union.
A secret protocol to the treaty reputedly detailed Soviet military obligations to Syria and gave the USSR to power to mandate the dispatch of Soviet troops to Syria in case of an Israeli invasion. Syrian defense minister Tlas warned in 1984 that the Soviet Union would dispatch two Soviet airborne divisions to Syria within eight hours in the event of a conflict with Israel. Tlas's has also stated that the Soviet Union would use nuclear weapons to protect Syria. Tlas's statements, however, were not endorsed by the Soviet Union. Syrian–Soviet nuclear cooperation was limited to a February 1983 agreement for cooperation and exchange for peaceful purposes. In addition to the PLO, Syria and Iraq, the Soviet Union also developed good relations with Libya, the Yemen Arab Republic and South Yemen.
Following its independence from Britain in 1962, the Soviet Union became one of the first nations to recognize the Yemen Arab Republic. On December 27, 1962, two treaties for setting up a study for economic projects and using soil and ground waters between the two countries. In 1963, the Soviet government appointed the first ambassador to the Yemen Arab Republic (YAR) in Sana'a. In September 1963, Russians finished constructing Arrahaba International Airport. On March 21, 1964, President of YAR Abdullah Assalal paid the first visit to Moscow. The visit resulted in signing a friendship treaty between the two countries in addition to conducting economic and military relations.
In 1967, the Soviet Union immediately recognized South Yemen after it gained independence from Britain. In 1969, South Yemen became the first and only avowedly Communist nation in the Middle East. Unaccepted by Muslim nations in the region, South Yemen relied on aid from Communist nations and allowed the Soviets to keep naval bases in the country. In 1972, after a war broke out between the two neighboring Yemen states, the Yemen Arab Republic and South Yemen agreed to eventually unify as one nation. In October 1979, the Soviet Union and South Yemen officially signed a Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation. Despite the aid it now received from the United States following a brief spat with South Yemen between 1978 and 1979, the Yemen Arab Republic would not break with the Soviets and later renewed its Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with the USSR in October 1984.
Although Libya was not as firm a Soviet ally as many Third World Marxist regimes were, Moscow developed close ties with the anti-Western regime of Qadhafi, who had overthrown Libya's pro-Western monarchy in 1969. The number-two Soviet leader at that time, Alexei Kosygin, went to Libya in 1975, and Qadhafi visited Moscow in 1976, 1981 and 1985. Soviet-Libyan trade volume during the 1970s and 1980s was approximately $100 million per year and relations between the two accelerated between the years 1981 and 1982. During this period, Moscow also supplied $4.6 billion in weaponry to Libya, providing about 90 percent of that country's arms inventory, and the Gaddafi regime assisted the Soviet Union by playing a key role in preserving the Communist regimes in both Angola and Ethiopia. According to Kommersant, "Libya was one of the Soviet Union's few partners that paid in full for the military equipment it purchased from the USSR," though the Gaddafi regime still maintained good relations with the Western nations of France and Italy and refused to sign a Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation with the Soviet Union. Libya, however, did run up a debt to Moscow during those years.
Throughout much of the Cold War, Syria and Iraq were each ruled by rival fractions of the pan-Arab Baath Party and the two nations were often tense towards one another despite their close relations with the Soviet Union. Their relationship, which had been lukewarm at best since 1963, started to change in a dramatic fashion when Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the Shah of Iran, was overthrown in February of 1979 and replaced with the pro-Islamist regime of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini. After seizing power, Khomeini established a system of laws which required the mostly Shiite population of Iran to follow strict adherence to the Twelver school of thought. Assad, himself a Shiite, soon formed a strong alliance with Iran and sought to use this new relationship to greatly weaken Israel's hold on power. On July 16, 1979, Ahmed Hassan al Bakr, who had ruled Iraq following a coup in 1968, stepped down from power and appointed his cousin Saddam Hussein, a strongly anti-Shiite Sunni, to be his successor and the Syrian government officially closed its embassy in Baghdad soon afterwards. In 1980, relations between Iraq and Syria officially broke apart when Syria declared its support for Iran during the Iran–Iraq War and Hussein, hoping to gain the advantage over Iran, expanded relations with the Western nations and recanted Iraq's previous position towards Israel.
In December 1979, relations between the Soviet Union and Iraq, though still very strong in private, soured greatly in public when Iraq condemned the Soviet's invasion of Afghanistan. After Iraq successfully invaded in September 1980, the Soviet Union, hoping to make Iran a new ally, cut off arms shipments to Iraq (and to Iran) as part of its efforts to induce a cease-fire. However, it also allowed Syria to continue to back Iran and also ship Libyan and Eastern Bloc weapons to the country as well. While Khomeini was strongly anti-American and had demonstrated this sentiment by calling United States "the Great Satan" and taking US embassy workers hostage, he also strongly opposed the Soviet Union, labeling the Communist belief a threat to Islam, and efforts by the Soviets to make Iran an ally further soured when Khomeini openly declared support the Afghan Mujahideen during the Soviet-Afghan War and refused to crackdown on pro-Afghan protesters who consistently attacked the USSR embassy in Tehran. In 1982, when it became clear that Iran would not align with the USSR after the Khomeini regime gained the upper hand in the Iraq-Iran War and successfully invaded Iraqi territory, the Soviets resumed regular arm shipments to Iraq, but relations between the two nations where still politically strained and would not become strong in public again until early 1988.
Since 1966, a large Soviet military presence developed in Syria. Syria eventually became not only the Soviet military's most favored client in the Middle East, but throughout the Third World as well. By mid-1984, there were an estimated 13,000 Soviet and East European advisers in Syria. Though relations still remained strong, the Soviets' stance towards Syria's support for Iran changed dramatically when Iran further advanced into Iraqi territory and drew strong ire from the Soviets as it continued to suppress members of the pro-communist Tudeh Party of Iran. As a result, many of the Eastern advisers were withdrawn in 1985 and between 2,000 and 5,000 remained by 1986. In February 1986, Iran successfully captured the Al-Faw Peninsula and the Soviet Union's stance in the Iraq-Iran War completely shifted towards Iraq.
The Soviet Union’s foreign policy in the Middle East was contradictory. While the USSR first supported Israel, this relationship soon disintegrated as the Soviet Union felt threatened by Israel’s need for security from the United States. The USSR turned to other Arab states in order to gain influence in the Arab world and to eliminate Western influence. The USSR viewed the Arab states as more important than Israel because they could help the USSR achieve its goal of spreading Communist influence. The USSR chose to support Egypt and Syria with arms in order to demonstrate its domination. The Soviet Union manipulated the Arab states against Israel in order to increase their dependence on the Soviet Union and to discourage Western powers from assisting Israel. The USSR hoped to be the only superpower influence in the Middle East.
Relations with Southeast Asian states
The Soviet Union gradually became heavily involved in the contest for influence in Southeast Asia. Although the Soviet Union is usually associated with its diplomatic support for North Vietnam during the Vietnam War, it also played a significant role in other Southeast Asian countries. Prior to the rise of President Suharto, the Soviet Union's largest recipient of arms aid between 1958-1965 was Indonesia.
The 1970s onwards
In the 1970s, the Soviet Union achieved rough nuclear parity with the United States, and surpassed it by the end of that decade with the deployment of the SS-18 missile. It perceived its own involvement as essential to the solution of any major international problem. Meanwhile, the Cold War gave way to Détente and a more complicated pattern of international relations in which the world was no longer clearly split into two clearly opposed blocs. Less powerful countries had more room to assert their independence, and the two superpowers were partially able to recognize their common interest in trying to check the further spread and proliferation of nuclear weapons (see SALT I, SALT II, Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty).
Elsewhere the Soviet Union had concluded friendship and cooperation treaties with a number of states in the non-communist world, especially among Third World and Non-Aligned Movement states. Notwithstanding some ideological obstacles, Moscow advanced state interests by gaining military footholds in strategically important areas throughout the Third World. Furthermore, the USSR continued to provide military aid for revolutionary movements in the Third World. For all these reasons, Soviet foreign policy was of major importance to the non-communist world and helped determine the tenor of international relations.
Although myriad bureaucracies were involved in the formation and execution of Soviet foreign policy, the major policy guidelines were determined by the Politburo of the Communist Party. The foremost objectives of Soviet foreign policy had been the maintenance and enhancement of national security and the maintenance of hegemony over Eastern Europe. Relations with the United States and Western Europe were also of major concern to Soviet foreign policy makers and, much as with the United States, relations with individual Third World states were at least partly determined by the proximity of each state to the border and to estimates of strategic significance.
Gorbachev and after
When Mikhail Gorbachev succeeded Konstantin Chernenko as General Secretary of the Communist Party in 1985, it signaled a dramatic change in Soviet foreign policy. Gorbachev pursued conciliatory policies toward the West instead of maintaining the Cold War status quo. The USSR ended its military occupation of Afghanistan, signed strategic arms reduction treaties with the United States, and allowed its satellite states in Eastern Europe to determine their own affairs. Post World War II issues about the status and borders of Germany were addressed in 1990, when the Soviet Union, along with the USA, Britain and France, signed a treaty on German reunification with the two German governments.
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia claimed to be the legal successor to the Soviet Union on the international stage despite its loss of superpower status. Russian foreign policy repudiated Marxism-Leninism as a guide to action, soliciting Western support for capitalist reforms in post-Soviet Russia.
- Dissolution of the Soviet Union
- Dates of establishment of diplomatic relations with the USSR
- History of the Soviet Union
- Iraq–Russia relations
- Sino-Soviet split
- East Germany–Soviet Union relations
- Japan–Soviet Union relations
- Cuba–Soviet Union relations
- Soviet Union–United States relations
- Ministry of External Relations
- Text used in this cited section originally came from: Chapter 10 of the Soviet Union Country Study from the Library of Congress Country Studies project.
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The hostility between Syria and Iraq began in the 1960s when both were ruled by rival branches of the Baath Party. Syria closed its embassy in Baghdad after Saddam Hussein took power in 1979.
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- Source: Soviet Union
- The Kremlin's Envoy, Who Rejected the Iranian Revolution
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