U.S.- Russia Relations

The United States and Russia have been in contact since the U.S. declared its independence in 1776, with formal relations established in 1807. For more than two centuries, and despite being situated in different hemispheres, the U.S. and Russia, as they grew to become global superpowers, have had a profound effect on each other's foreign policy and economy.

During the early 19th century, the countries had a period of active relations and co-operation, leading in 1867 to the sale of Alaska by Imperial Russia for $7.2 million. The countries continued to co-operate, and when both had trading interests in China, they operated as military allies in the Boxer Rebellion (1899-1901), and later when the United States entered World War I in 1917.

It was the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917 which would alter the course of U.S.-Russian relations for the remainder of the 20th century, the threat of Communist insurgency and revolution a constant fear for American governments and public. In 1918, U.S. troops were deployed in the ports of Vladivostok and Archangel and they provided the anti-Bolshevik White Army with supplies and food. The United States refused to recognize the newly formed Soviet Union until 1933. At the outbreak of World War II, the Soviet Union was allied with Nazi Germany while the United States maintained neutrality. Circumstances changed radically in 1941, however, with Germany's attack on their former Russian allies in June of that year followed by Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor in the December, seeing the United States and Soviet Union in the war as allies.

The U.S. utilized its vast industrial resources by creating the Lend-Lease program to supply the allies, including the Soviet Union. Nonetheless, the two countries remained suspicious toward each other. Uncertainty about post-war intentions contributed to the tension. America's development and use of the Atom bomb created further suspicions.

Following the end of the war in Europe, the Soviets extended their influence by developing client governments in what was to become East Germany, plus the other states which they had liberated from the Nazis, including Poland, Romania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia. In 1949, the United States responded by leading the formation with Britain of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, NATO. The period of the Cold War had begun and an international arms race got under way.

While in the 1920s and 1930s, Stalin's Soviet Union had held show trials against anyone who dared display a lack of loyalty to the state or the Communist party, in the 1950s, American fear of the "Red Threat," reached levels of near-paranoia, which mainfested itself in "McCarthyism," the practice of making accusations of treason without proper evidence, highlighted by a series of hearings led by Senator Joseph McCarthy at the House Committee on Un-American Activities.

There was no quick thaw in the Cold War. In 1960, there was a marked deterioration in relations between the countries when U.S. pilot Gary Powers was captured while flying a U-2 spy plane over Soviet territory. Powers spent two years in a Soviet prison before being exchanged for a Soviet agent, caught in New York. While America and its NATO allies had built up its armed forces in Europe, in 1962, the U.S.S.R. started to build missile bases in Cuba, all within rocket range of American east coast cities, including Washington. In a tense 12-day period when the world came closest to an all-out nuclear war, U.S. President John F. Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev negotiated and eventually agreed that Soviet missiles would be withdrawn and American missiles would be removed from Turkey. Following this Cuban Missile Crisis, a series of summits resulted in important arms control treaties.

After some years of an easing of tension, when President Ronald Reagan came to power in 1980, he announced that the U.S. would follow a policy of rearmament, which forced concessions at the 1986 Reykjavik summit. With the collapse of Communist governments in eastern Europe between 1989 and 1991, including the break-up of the Soviet Union, the Cold War came to an end. The new Russian Federation introduced democratic institutions more acceptable to the U.S., and the countries became important trade partner. While the two countries still held different positions over key issues, the terrorist attacks of September 11 2001 started a new strategic partnership.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

Russia and America: From Rivalry to Reconciliation
George Ginsburgs; Alvin Z. Rubinstein; Oles M. Smolansky.
M. E. Sharpe, 1993
Old Myths and New Realities in United States-Soviet Relations
Donald R. Kelley; Hoyt Purvis.
Praeger, 1990
The United States and Russia
Goldgeier, James M.
Policy Review, October-November 2001
The U.S. and Russia after Iraq
Saunders, Paul J.
Policy Review, June-July 2003
Between Ideology and Realpolitik: Woodrow Wilson and the Russian Revolution, 1917-1921
Georg Schild.
Greenwood Press, 1995
The USA in the Making of the USSR: The Washington Conference, 1921-1922, and "Uninvited Russia"
Paul Dukes.
Routledge, 2004
The Cold War: The United States and the Soviet Union, 1917-1991
Ronald E. Powaski.
Oxford University Press, 1998
The Great Transition: American-Soviet Relations and the End of the Cold War
Raymond L. Garthoff.
Brookings Institution, 1994
War Scare: Russia and America on the Nuclear Brink
Peter Vincent Pry.
Praeger, 1999
China, the United States, and the Soviet Union: Tripolarity and Policy Making in the Cold War
Robert S. Ross.
M. E. Sharpe, 1993
Containing Coexistence: America, Russia, and the "Finnish Solution"
Jussi M. Hanhimäki.
Kent State University Press, 1997
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