Russia's sale of Alaska to the United States government in the 19th century marked an unofficial start of diplomatic relations between the two countries. Soon, the two countries pursued commercial joint ventures, and Imperial Russia even provided support for the United States during the American Civil War.
At the beginning of the 20th century, the two countries experienced tensions, but they continued to collaborate. Although the United States did not recognize the Soviet Union until 1933, the U.S. provided humanitarian assistance to the famine victims of 1921-1923. Although there were vast ideological differences between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, Soviets and Americans fought a common enemy during the Second World War, Nazi Germany, and the Soviet Union participated in America’s Lend-Lease program under which the United States provided the Allies with supplies.
That period of cooperation ended with the beginning of the Cold War as each country’s respective alliances opposed each other in Europe and worldwide. As tensions escalated, the two countries’ leaders often agreed to bilateral summits to solve problems inherent to their relationship in the hope of bringing peace to their relationship. This article explores the series of summits between the U.S. and the Soviet Union throughout the Cold War and beyond and how the leaders of the Soviet Union and the U.S. collaborated despite differences.
1943 Tehran Conference
The Tehran Conference was a meeting between the President of the United States Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, and Soviet Prime Minister Joseph Stalin in November 1943.
During the conference, the three leaders coordinated their military strategy against Germany and Japan, making a series of important decisions about the final stages of the war and the post-war world. Roosevelt, Churchill, and Stalin discussed the logistics of Great Britains’s and the United States' invasion of northern France, Operation Normandy. The Soviets, which for a long time had pushed the allies to open a second front, agreed to launch another important offensive on the Eastern front to divert German troops out of the Allied countryside in northern France to improve the effectiveness of Operation Normandy. Stalin has also agreed to declare war against Japan after an allied victory over Germany.
International cooperation became a central theme of the negotiations in Tehran. Roosevelt described to Stalin his vision of a potential international organization, soon to be called the United Nations, that would be dominated by “four policemen” (the United States, Britain, China, and the Soviet Union) who “would have the power to deal immediately with any threat to the peace and any sudden emergency which requires action.”
1945 Yalta & Potsdam Conferences
The leaders of the Soviet Union, Britain, and the U.S. met in July 1945 in Potsdam, Germany on to negotiate terms for the conclusion of World War II. After the Yalta Conference in February 1945, Stalin, Churchill, and US President Franklin Roosevelt agreed to a summit after Germany's surrender to determine the post-war order.
The most significant challenge in Potsdam was deciding how to deal with Germany after the war. In Yalta, the Soviets had demanded that Germany pay massive post-war repairs, half of which should be handed over to the Soviet Union. Although Roosevelt sympathized with these demands, Truman was determined to soften the punishments on Germany and pushed for the only compensation to come in the form of new occupied territories. Truman wanted to avoid a recurrence of the consequences of the Treaty of Versailles, as many experts at that time agreed that the severe punishment imposed by the Treaty of Versailles hindered the German economy and contributed to the rise of Hiter’s regime.
Despite differences, the Allied leaders managed to reach an agreement in Potsdam on several key issues. For example, the negotiators approved Germany’s demilitarization and disarmament and split the country into four Allied occupation zones. They agreed that Germany should be completely disarmed and demilitarized, all aspects of German industry that can be used for military purposes be dismantled, and that all German troops and paramilitary forces be eliminated.
1955 Geneva Summit & 1958 Washington Summit Between President Eisenhower and Premier Khrushchev
The 1955 Geneva Summit is considered to be a significant step toward strengthening understanding and more open exchanges between the leaders of the Big Four (the U.S., Soviet Union, Britain, and France). The central goal was to create an international community to alleviate global tension and distrust and serve as an important foundation for a more united world in which fewer trade barriers and common interests promote diplomacy. This summit paved the way for further discussions on international relations and cooperation ahead of other major summits such as SALT I and the 1973 Washington Summit.
The Cold War had a major impact on the issues discussed at Geneva. International tensions between the U.S. and the Soviet Union reached their peak during the Cold War, and as tensions intensified, Eisenhower and Krushev thought it was a good idea to unite for a common cause of peace in Geneva. They discussed issues related to security, armaments, German unification, and strengthening East-West relations.
Four years later In 1959, Nikita Khrushchev became the first Soviet leader to visit the United States. After the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953, Khrushchev came to power in the Soviet Union. He condemned the "excesses" under Stalin's rule and declared that he was striving for "peaceful coexistence" with the United States.
This visit was carried out at a time when people were worried that the Cold War that was going on at the time was the force that triggered a nuclear war. This visit helped alleviate these fears. Khrushchev and Eisenhower agreed informally that there is no fixed deadline for the fate of Berlin, and a solution will be worked out at the four-nation summit. The Prime Minister left the room after establishing a personal relationship with Eisenhower and having the opportunity to relax with the Americans.
“Geneva Summit.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., www.britannica.com/event/Geneva-Summit-1955.
Glass, Andrew. “Nikita Khrushchev Visits the United STATES, SEPT. 15, 1959.” POLITICO, 15 Sept. 2017, www.politico.com/story/2017/09/15/nikita-khrushchev-visits-the-united-states-sept-15-1959-242555.
U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of State, history.state.gov/milestones/1937-1945/potsdam-conf.
U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of State, history.state.gov/milestones/1937-1945/tehran-conf.
“U.S. Relations With Russia - United States Department of State.” U.S. Department of State, U.S. Department of State, 3 Sept. 2021, www.state.gov/u-s-relations-with-russia/.