The Cold War, from 1945-1989, is broadly defined as a geopolitical struggle between the West and the East, democracy and communism. In reality, the Cold War was an extremely complex situation, with many layers to it, ranging from politics to proxy wars. One of the biggest sources of tension between the two sides was the competition for influence in developing countries between the Soviet Union and the United States. The post World War II world included rebuilding and developing countries after many years of war. These countries found themselves with a power vacuum, one the United States and the Soviet Union were eager to fill. The Soviet Union sought to expand its influence in most third world countries, including countries in Africa and the Middle East, most notably Afghanistan. One of the first of Khrushchev’s “wars of national liberation”, Cuba emerged as the primary focus of the Soviet Union in the western hemisphere.
The most notable Soviet success in a third world country was found in Cuba. In 1953, Fidel Castro led a communist revolution in Cuba which finally succeeded in 1959 and resulted in Castro taking power and founding a communist regime. Subsequently, relations between Cuba and the Soviet Union tightened over the next several decades. In 1964, officials from both countries formed a Soviet-Cuban Friendship Society in Moscow. The highly publicized event included remarks from Hero of the Soviet Union Yuri Gagarin and was designed to broadcast warm relations between the two countries (Pogosov). In an interview with Pravda in 1977, Castro stated that the “Cuban revolution was a great demonstration of the Soviet Union’s internationalist spirit for the entire world” (17 Moments). In this interview, Castro also stressed the influence of Lenin and the Soviet Union on his country. Castro also praised the Soviet Union for its endeavors around the world to preserve peace, solve hunger and poverty, and that “mankind will owe an eternal debt of gratitude to the October Revolution, Lenin, and the Soviet people” (17 Moments).
The Soviet Union strengthened its influence in Cuba in several ways. Economically, the United States had established a global trade embargo on Cuba and terminated an economic relation with the country., allowing the Soviet Union to move in. The Soviet Union and other Eastern European nations established a multilateral trade agreement with Cuba in 1961 (Walters). Annually, the Soviet Union provided billions of dollars a year in economic aid to Cuba, peaking with $4.7 billion in 1982 (CIA). Militarily, the Soviet Union sent advisers, soldiers, weapons, and equipment to Cuba to assist its military. One of the most recognized Cold War events, the Cuban Missile Crisis, concerned Soviet-Cuban military relations. The location of Cuba was especially important to the Soviet Union. Cuba is a mere 90 miles away from the United States, and establishing a Soviet foothold in the American sphere of influence would deal a blow to American prestige throughout the world. Soviet-Cuban relations remained strong throughout the rest of the 20th century until the Gorbachev era. Relations between the two countries broke apart during Gorbachev’s administration and the two country’s alliance was terminated in 1991 with the fall of the Soviet Union.