When President Nixon lands in Moscow next week for summit talks with Soviet leaders, it will be another landmark in the 30-year history of contact between the top men of the two nations.
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Background: When President Nixon lands in Moscow next week for summit talks with Soviet leaders, it will be another landmark in the 30-year history of contact between the top men of the two nations.
World War Two -- into which both countries were plunged by enemy attack -- left America and Russia as undisputed big powers in world politics. Ideological differences wee buried while both fought on the same side, and during the first meetings between Stalin and Roosevelt -- and later, Truman.
Peaceful co-existence was the aim. But the fundamentally opposed philosophies of the two super-powers led to a decade of confrontation during the period of the Cold War.
It was not until Stalin died in 1953 that contact between the two was re-opened. Stalin's ebullient successor Nikita Khruschev, stumping around the globe being alternately aggressive and conciliatory, seemed to put a human face on Soviet communism. His outburst at the United Nations, when he took off his shoe and thumped the table, and his impromptu exchange of opinions with the then Vice-President Nixon while touring a Moscow exhibition, were typical of him.
But, when it seemed that the Soviet Union and the United States might close the Cold War chapter and start afresh, the acrimony between Moscow and Washington spilled over into the U.2 spy-plane affair.
Khruschev and President Eisenhower were already in Paris preparing to meet in 1960, when the American U.2 was shot down over Soviet territory. Khruschev walked out on the summit meeting and flew home.
With the diplomatic advantage in their hand, the Russians immediately put the new American president, John F. Kennedy, to the test. In 1962, a Soviet missile base was discovered in Cuba by American reconnaissance aircraft. This serious threat to American security was met by an ultimatum from Kennedy for the Soviet weapons to be withdrawn. The drama focussed on a Russian cargo ship heading for Cuba with missiles on board. It steamed for the Caribbean, while American forces remained on the alert.
At last, the ship altered course and returned home. Within weeks, the Cuban missile bases were dismantled. In this show of determination, the United States won an important tactical victory. If America was determined to meet threat for threat, it became clear that the old diplomacy of force was out-dated.
As a result, the two nations agreed to give emphasis to disarmament talks. They began in Geneva and were carried on through the 1960's and early 70's in Stockholm and Vienna. The outcome was agreement to limit the use of nuclear weapons and strategic arms.
In 1967, Soviet Premier Kosygin went to the United States for talks with President Johnson. They met for two days at Glassboro, New Jersey and established the principle of 'hot-line' diplomacy -- the instant communication between the two nations in moments of crisis.
By 1972, the Soviet Union was prepared to entertain the first American President to land on their soil since Roosevelt. President Nixon went to Moscow for a state visit. Here again, the emphasis had changed. The talk was not only about armaments and power. This time, trade agreements were reached, enabling Soviet industry to have access to American know-how, and Soviet consumers to buy American surplus wheat.
It was a long way from the wary, tentative meetings of thirty years ago, when the Stalin regime snubbed the first friendly gestures from an American ally.
Today, there are new considerations, too. The emergence of The People's Republic of China as a new super-power and its back-door threat to Soviet influence, has forced Moscow to mellow its line towards Washington.
When President Nixon returns to Moscow next week, it could lead to further detente between two nations which, over the past three decades, have armed themselves to the teeth -- out of fear of each other.