In East Germany, there the Soviet Union had created its most industrially productive European satellite, fully integrated into Comecon. Strategically East Germany was of great importance to the USSR; control over East Germany enabled the Soviets to keep Poland surrounded and to keep communist troops within easy reach of West Germany.
The Second World War
In eastern Europe, the new first secretary to the Soviet Communist party, Nikita Khrushchev (1894-1971), sought to heal the breach with Tito. In May 1955 he went in person to Belgrade and publicly apologized for the quarrel.
Relations between Tito and Moscow improved, although the Yugoslays never abandoned their ties to the West. Khrushchev even went so far as to declare that many prominent victims of the Titoist purges had been executed wrongly. But in making these admissions Khrushchev opened the door to new troubles.
The Korean War, which broke out in June 1950, was in some measure a Soviet-sponsored operation, although the Soviets contributed only support and sympathy and allowed their Chinese ally to take the military lead.
Korea had been a target of Soviet interest in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, but the Japanese triumph over the Russians in 1905 had led instead to Japanese annexation of the country in 1910.
Also in 1948, the Soviets faced a rebellion from a country that had previously seemed the most pro-Soviet of all the new communist states of eastern Europe—Yugoslavia. Yugoslavia had overthrown a pro-German government in 1941 and throughout World War II remained a scene of intense guerrilla action against the Germans and Italians.
The Soviet Union moved rapidly to consolidate its territorial position. Using the Red Army, the Soviets created “people’s republics” in Poland, Romania, Hungary. and Bulgaria, which became Soviet satellites.
The devastation wrought by the war, including the war in the Pacific, greatly exceeded that in World War I: at least 50 million dead, more than half of them civilians, and more than $2,000 billion in damage.
Despite a sharply rising birth rate and vast programs of economic reconstruction, such losses could never be fully repaired. Moreover, new and terrifying problems faced the world. Atomic weapons, hydrogen bombs, and guided missiles made real the fear that a new general war might exterminate all life on this planet.