How Did the Soviet Union React to the Construction of the Berlin Wall?
When the Berlin Wall was erected in 1961, it had a profound impact on both the people of Berlin and the geopolitical landscape of the Cold War. The Soviet Union, who controlled East Berlin, played a crucial role in the construction and subsequent reaction to the wall.
Background: The Construction of the Berlin Wall
Before delving into the Soviet Union’s reaction, it is important to understand the context of the Berlin Wall’s construction. After World War II, Germany was divided into four zones, each controlled by one of the Allies: the United States, the Soviet Union, Britain, and France. Berlin, located in the Soviet zone, was also divided into four sectors. However, tensions began to rise as many East Germans chose to emigrate to West Germany to seek better opportunities and escape Soviet control. This led the Soviet Union to take drastic action, resulting in the construction of the Berlin Wall.
The Soviet Union’s Motivations
The Soviet Union had several motivations behind the construction of the Berlin Wall:
- Securing East Germany: The Soviet Union was determined to prevent the loss of skilled workers and intellectuals to the West. By erecting the wall, they aimed to halt the mass emigration and ensure the stability of East Germany.
- Symbolic Divide: The Berlin Wall became a physical representation of the ideological division between the communist East and the capitalist West. It was a statement to the world that East Germany was under Soviet influence and would remain so.
- Bolstering Propaganda: The Soviet Union utilized the construction of the wall as a propaganda tool. They portrayed the creation of the wall as a necessary step to protect East Germans from the perceived threats of Western influence and espionage.
Initial Soviet Reaction
At the time of the wall’s construction, the Soviet Union publicly claimed that it had no involvement, attributing it to the actions of the East German government. However, it is now known that the decision and implementation were heavily influenced by the Soviet leadership.
Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev primarily led the charge in supporting the construction and regarded it as a necessary measure to stabilize East Germany. The Soviet Union’s initial reaction was therefore one of support and approval.
East Germany’s SED and Mutual Support
The Socialist Unity Party of Germany (SED), the ruling party in East Germany, closely aligned itself with the Soviet Union. Following the construction of the wall, the SED signaled its unwavering support for the Soviet Union’s decision.
The SED and the Soviet Union collaborated in implementing strict border controls, fortifying the wall, and enforcing a shoot-to-kill policy for those attempting to escape. This collaboration demonstrated the mutual determination to maintain East Germany’s isolation from the West.
International Reactions to Soviet Union’s Role
Internationally, the Soviet Union faced criticism and condemnation for its role in constructing the Berlin Wall. Western powers viewed it as a blatant violation of human rights and a stark symbol of the division of Europe.
However, the Soviet Union and other Eastern Bloc countries defended their actions, asserting that the construction served as a necessary means to protect their socialist societies from the influence of the capitalist West.
The Soviet Union’s reaction to the Berlin Wall was primarily motivated by its desire to secure East Germany, highlight the ideological divide, and utilize propaganda. While publicly denying involvement, it was clear that the Soviet Union played a pivotal role in the construction and enforcement of the wall. The wall stood as a tangible reminder of the divide between East and West for almost three decades, until its eventual fall in 1989.
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