The informal term "Soviet Empire" has two meanings. In the narrow sense, it expresses a view in Western Sovietology that the Soviet Union as a state was a colonial empire. The onset of this interpretation is traditionally attributed to Richard Pipes's book The Formation of the Soviet Union (1954). In the wider sense, it refers to the country's perceived imperialist foreign policy during the Cold War. The nations said to be part of the Soviet Empire in the wider sense were officially independent countries with separate governments that set their own policies, but those policies had to remain within certain limits decided by the Soviet Union and enforced by threat of intervention by the Warsaw Pact (Hungary 1956, Czechoslovakia 1968 and Poland 1980). Countries in this situation are often called satellite states.
Alhough the Soviet Union was not ruled by an emperor and declared itself anti-imperialist and a people's democracy, critics argue that it exhibited tendencies common to historic empires. Some scholars hold that the Soviet Union was a hybrid entity containing elements common to both multinational empires and nation states. It has also been argued that the Soviet Union practiced colonialism as did other imperial powers. Maoists argued that the Soviet Union had itself become an imperialist power while maintaining a socialist façade. The other dimension of "Soviet imperialism" is cultural imperialism. The policy of Soviet cultural imperialism implied the Sovietization of culture and education at the expense of local traditions.
The history of relationship between Russia (the Soviet dominant republic) and these Eastern European countries helps to understand the reactions of the Eastern European countries to the remnants of Soviet culture, namely hatred and longing for eradication. Poland and the Baltic states epitomize the Soviet attempt at the uniformization of their cultures and political systems. According to Noren, Russia was seeking to constitute and reinforce a buffer zone between itself and Western Europe so as to potentially protect itself from potential and future attacks from hostile Western European countries. It is important to remember that the country lost between 26 and 27 million lives over the course the Second World War, if we combine the men provided by all 15 socialistic republics. To this end, the Soviet Union needed to expand their influences so as to establish a hierarchy of dependence between the targeted states and itself. Such a purpose could be best achieved by means of the establishment of economic cronyism.
The penetration of the Soviet influence into the "socialist-leaning countries" was also of the political and ideological kind as rather than getting hold on their economic riches, the Soviet Union pumped enormous amounts of "international assistance" into them in order to secure influence, eventually to the detriment of its own economy. The political influence they sought to pursue aimed at rallying the targeted countries to their cause in the case of another attack from Western countries and later as a support in the context of the Cold War. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia declared itself successor and recognized $103 billion of Soviet foreign debt while claiming $140 billion of Soviet assets abroad.
This does not mean that economic expansion did not play a significant role in the Soviet motivation to spread influence in these satellite territories. In fact, these new territories would ensure an increase in the global wealth which the Soviet Union would have a grasp on. If we follow the theoretical communist ideology, this expansion would contribute to a higher portion for every Soviet citizen through the process of redistribution of wealth.
Soviet officials from the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic intertwined this economic opportunity with a potential for migration. In fact, they saw in these Eastern European countries the potential of a great workforce. They offered a welcome to them upon the only condition that they work hard and achieve social success. This ideology was shaped on the model of the meritocratic, 19th-century American foreign policy.
Soviet satellite states
These countries were the closest allies of the Soviet Union and were often members of the Comecon, a Soviet-led economic community founded in 1949. In addition, the ones located in Eastern Europe were also members of the Warsaw Pact, sometimes called the Eastern Bloc in English and widely viewed as Soviet satellite states. These countries (except for Ethiopia, Nicaragua and Vietnam) were occupied or had a period occupied by Soviet Army and their politics, military, foreign and domestic policies were dominated by Soviet Union. The Soviet Empire is considered to have included the following states:
- Democratic Republic of Afghanistan
- Albania (before the Soviet–Albanian split over 1955–1961)
- People's Republic of Angola after the Soviet intervention in the Angolan Civil War
- China (before the Sino-Soviet split over 1956–1966)
- East Germany
- People's Democratic Republic of Ethiopia
- Nicaragua (due to the Nicaraguan Revolution)
- North Korea (1945–1991; after Chinese intervention in the Korean War in 1950, North Korea remained a Soviet ally, but rather used the Juche ideology to balance Chinese and Soviet influence, pursuing a highly isolationist foreign policy and not joining the Comecon or any other international organization of communist states following the withdrawal of Chinese troops in 1958)
- Romania (nominal Soviet ally after refusal to invade Czechoslovakia in 1968)
- South Yemen
- Vietnam (1976-1991) Unlike other countries, although Vietnam leaned towards the Soviet side, its domestic policy and foreign policy weren't dominated by Soviet Union.
- Tuvan People's Republic (annexed by Soviet Union in 1944)
- Yugoslav Partisans/Federal People's Republic of Yugoslavia (ended affiliation with the Soviet Union in 1948 due to Tito–Stalin Split)
Independent communist states
Some communist states were sovereign from the Soviet Union and criticized many policies of the Soviet Union. Relations were often tense, sometimes even to the point of armed conflict.
- Yugoslavia (Informbiro period; 1948–1955)
- Albania (following the Soviet–Albanian split in 1955 to the Sino-Albanian split in 1972)
- China (following the Sino-Soviet split)
- Cambodia (1975–1979; due to the Cambodian-Vietnamese War)
- Somalia (1977–1991; due to the Ogaden War)
- Romania (1968-1989; due to Nicolae Ceauşescu's refusal to participate in the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia)
Soviet involvement in the Third World
Some countries in the Third World had pro-Soviet governments during the Cold War. In the political terminology of the Soviet Union, these were "countries moving along the socialist road of development" as opposed to the more advanced "countries of developed socialism" which were mostly located in Eastern Europe, but that also included Cuba and Vietnam. They received some aid, either military or economic, from the Soviet Union and were influenced by it to varying degrees. Sometimes, their support for the Soviet Union eventually stopped for various reasons and in some cases the pro-Soviet government lost power while in other cases the same government remained in power, but ultimately ended its alliance with the Soviet Union. Some of these countries were not communist states (they are marked in italic) and included the following states:
- Egypt (1954–1973)
- Syria (1955–1991)
- Iraq (1958–1963, 1968–1991)
- Guinea (1960–1978)
- Mali (1960–1968)
- Burma (1962–1988)
- Somali Democratic Republic (1969–1977; at the outbreak of the Somali invasion of Ethiopia in 1977, the Soviet Union ceased to support Somalia, with the corresponding change in rhetoric, but Somalia broke diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union and the United States adopted Somalia as a Cold War ally)
- Algeria (1962–1990)
- Ghana (1964–1966)
- Equatorial Guinea (1968–1979)
- Peru (1968–1975)
- Sudan (1968–1972)
- Libya (1969–1991)
- People's Republic of the Congo (1969–1991)
- Chile (1970–1973)
- Cape Verde (1975–1990)
- Sao Tome and Principe (1975–1991)
- South Yemen (1967–1990)
- Indonesia (1959–1965)
- India (1971–1989)
- People's Republic of Bangladesh (1971–1975)
- Democratic Republic of Madagascar (1972–1991)
- Guinea Bissau (1973–1991)
- Derg (1974–1987)/ People's Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (1987–1991)
- Lao People's Democratic Republic (1975–1991)
- Democratic Republic of Vietnam (1950-1976)
- People's Republic of Benin (1975–1990)
- People's Republic of Mozambique (1975–1990)
- People's Republic of Angola (1975–1991)
- Seychelles (1977–1991)
- Democratic Republic of Afghanistan (1978–1991)
- People's Revolutionary Government of Grenada (1979–1983)
- Nicaragua (1979–1990)
- People's Republic of Kampuchea (1979–1989)
- Burkina Faso (1983–1987)
In addition, Guyana, Portugal, Sri Lanka and Tanzania constitutionally declared themselves to be socialist, although the Soviet Union never believed them to be "moving toward socialism".
The position of Finland was complex. In World War II, Finland had successfully resisted Soviet attack in 1944 and remained in control of most of its territory at the end of the war. Finland also had a market economy, traded on the Western markets and joined the Western currency system. Nevertheless, although Finland was considered neutral, the Finno-Soviet Treaty of 1948 significantly limited the freedom of operation in Finnish foreign policy. It required Finland to defend the Soviet Union from attacks through its territory, which in practice prevented Finland from joining NATO and effectively gave the Soviet Union a veto in Finnish foreign policy. Thus, the Soviet Union could exercise "imperial" hegemonic power even towards a neutral state. The Paasikivi–Kekkonen doctrine sought to maintain friendly relations with the Soviet Union and extensive bilateral trade developed. In the West, this led to fears of the spread of "Finlandization", where Western allies would no longer reliably support the United States and NATO.
Post-Soviet era reactions to persisting Soviet dominance
On 15 May 2015, President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko signed a set of laws that started a six-month period for the removal of communist monuments (excluding World War II monuments) and renaming of public places named after communist-related themes. At the time, this meant that 22 cities and 44 villages were set to get a new name. Until 21 November 2015, municipal governments had the authority to implement this; if they failed to do so, the provincial authorities had until 21 May 2016 to change the names. If after that date the settlement had retained its old name, the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine would wield authority to assign a new name to the settlement. In 2016, 51,493 streets and 987 cities and villages were renamed, and 1,320 Lenin monuments and 1,069 monuments to other communist figures removed.
Ukraine was also one of the most heavily influenced countries by the Soviet government and to this day by the Russian political power. The 41-year-old comedian Volodymyr Zelensky became the President-elect of Ukrainia on 21 April 2019. Zelensky unseated predecessor Petro Poroshenko, who became involved in the Ukrainian political life since 2004 and was appointed to different positions since then.
In 2018, Poland carries on with its project to continually demolish statues erected in favor of Soviet heroes and liberators. Warsaw justifies such radical measures by its counter-reactionary approach to persisting domination of the Soviet culture in satellite states like itself. This has sparked fervent controversy with Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov and Director of the Information and Press Department of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation Maria Zakharova, who have lashed out at Warsaw officials for destroying the history that links the two countries together. On the other hand, Poland is seeking to eliminate all materialistic reminders of a persisting Soviet dominance as they have historically been countless wars against the Russian Empire in the latter's efforts to invade Polish territory.
- American imperialism
- Anti-Russian sentiment
- Captive Nations
- Communist state
- Evil Empire speech
- Foreign relations of the Soviet Union
- Index of Soviet Union-related articles
- Russian imperialism
- Sino-Soviet split
- Bekus, Nelly (2010). Struggle Over Identity: The Official and the Alternative "Belarusianness". p. 4.
- Beissinger, Mark R. (2006). "Soviet Empire as 'Family Resemblance'". Slavic Review. 65 (2): 294–303.
Dave, Bhavna (2007). Kazakhstan: Ethnicity, Language and Power. Abingdon, New York: Routledge.
- Caroe, O. (1953). "Soviet Colonialism in Central Asia". Foreign Affairs. 32 (1): 135–144. JSTOR 20031013.
- Tsvetkova, Natalia (2013). Failure of American and Soviet Cultural Imperialism in German Universities, 1945-1990. Boston, Leiden: Brill.
- Noren, Dag Wincens (1990). The Soviet Union and eastern Europe : considerations in a political transformation of the Soviet bloc. Amherst, Massachusetts: University of Massachusetts Amherst. pp. 27–38.
- Ellman, Michael; Maksudov, S. (1 January 1994). "Soviet deaths in the great patriotic war: A note". Europe-Asia Studies. 46 (4): 671–680. doi:10.1080/09668139408412190. ISSN 0966-8136. PMID 12288331.
- Trenin, Dmitri (2011). Post-Imperium: A Eurasian Story. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. p. 144–145.
- "Виталий Лейбин: Экономическая экспансия России и имперский госзаказ - ПОЛИТ.РУ" (in Russian). Politic. Retrieved 20 April 2019.
- Cornis-Pope, Marcel (2004). History of the Literary Cultures of East-Central Europe: Junctures and disjunctures in the 19th and 20th centuries. John Benjamins. p. 29. ISBN 978-90-272-3452-0.
- Dawson, Andrew H. (1986). Planning in Eastern Europe. Routledge. p. 295. ISBN 978-0-7099-0863-0.
- Shin, Gi-Wook (2006). Ethnic Nationalism in Korea: Genealogy, Politics, and Legacy. Stanford University Press. p. 94. ISBN 978-0-8047-5408-8.
- Friedman, Jeremy (2015). Shadow Cold War: The Sino-Soviet Competition for the Third World.
- Crockatt, Richard (1995). The Fifty Years War: The United States and the Soviet Union in World Politics. London and New York City, New York: Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-10471-5.
- "The Empire Strikes Out: Imperial Russia, "National" Identity, and Theories of Empire" (PDF).
- "Finns Worried About Russian Border".
- Motyl, Alexander J. (28 April 2015). "Decommunizing Ukraine". Foreign Affairs. Retrieved 19 May 2015.
- Poroshenko signed the laws about decomunization. Ukrayinska Pravda. 15 May 2015
Poroshenko signs laws on denouncing Communist, Nazi regimes, Interfax-Ukraine. 15 May 2015
- Shevchenko, Vitaly (14 April 2015). "Goodbye, Lenin: Ukraine moves to ban communist symbols". BBC News. Retrieved 17 May 2015.
- ‹See Tfd›(in Ukrainian) In Ukraine rename 22 cities and 44 villages, Ukrayinska Pravda (4 June 2015)
- ‹See Tfd›(in Ukrainian) Komsomolsk in any case be renamed, depo.ua (1 October 2015)
- Decommunization reform: 25 districts and 987 populated areas in Ukraine renamed in 2016, Ukrinform (27 December 2016)
- Troianovski, Anton (21 April 2019). "Comedian Volodymyr Zelensky unseats incumbent in Ukraine's presidential election, exit poll shows". The Washington Post. Retrieved 22 April 2019.
- "Moscow Slams Demolition of Soviet Monuments in Poland as 'Crippling' History". Sputnik. Retrieved 19 April 2019.
- Crozier, Brian. The Rise and Fall of the Soviet Empire (1999), long detailed popular history.
- Dallin, David J. Soviet Russia and the Far East (1949) online on China and Japan.
- Friedman, Jeremy. Shadow Cold War: The Sino-Soviet Competition for the Third World (2015).
- Librach, Jan. The Rise of the Soviet Empire: A Study of Soviet Foreign Policy (Praeger, 1965) online free, a scholarly history.
- Nogee, Joseph L. and Robert Donaldson. Soviet Foreign Policy Since World War II (4th ed. 1992).
- Service, Robert. Comrades! A history of world communism (2007).
- Ulam, Adam B. Expansion and Coexistence: Soviet Foreign Policy, 1917–1973, 2nd ed. (1974), a standard scholarly history online free.
- Zubok, Vladislav M. A Failed Empire: The Soviet Union in the Cold War from Stalin to Gorbachev (2007) excerpt and text search.