Donald Nuechterlein: Russia is testing the United States and Europe again | Don Nuechterlein

After Stalin’s death in 1953, his successors wanted a period of reflection with Washington. President Dwight Eisenhower obliged them with a period called “detente”. This lasted until 1960, when a new Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev rejected Eisenhower’s explanation as to why Gary Powers was on reconnaissance missions over Soviet territory. The trigger ended when he was shot.

Khrushchev tested the new US president, John Kennedy, after the Bay of Pigs disaster in Cuba in 1961 and concluded after meeting him that Kennedy was a weak leader who could be intimidated. That summer, the Soviet leader erected a massive wall along the entire Soviet occupation zone of Germany, designed to prevent East Germans from escaping west.

The following year, 1962, Khrushchev sought to increase his advantage by secretly installing missiles in Cuba that could strike the entire eastern United States. This time Kennedy responded with a threat of war and prepared to invade Cuba. After tense negotiations, Khrushchev agreed to withdraw the missiles, and Kennedy withdrew American missiles from Turkey. Khrushchev was quickly ousted, and the new Soviet leadership was careful not to challenge the United States, even after their disastrous Vietnam War turned the United States away from Europe. However, Moscow built a strong military force that its leaders intended to pressure Washington to give it a greater role of power in Europe and the Middle East.

A new American president, Ronald Reagan, decides in 1981 to confront the Soviet leaders. With the strong support of British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, Reagan forced the Soviet leadership to back down. In 1989, the Berlin Wall fell and East Germans poured into West Berlin. A new Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, came to power in 1985, but he failed to stem the tide of freedom that erupted in Eastern Europe. In 1991, a coup d’état in Moscow led to Gorbachev’s ouster, and the Soviet Union quickly collapsed.

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