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Russia, Relations with


RUSSIA, RELATIONS WITH. During the Revolutionary War, American leaders were eager to establish diplomatic ties with as many nations as possible, and Congress hoped that tsarist Russia might be willing to not only recognize the new nation diplomatically but also to help in its struggle for independence. Catherine the Great, although considered an enlightened monarch, despised both the British for their inability to crush the rebels in the colonies and the Americans because she was no friend of revolutions. When Catherine worked with Charles Gravier, comte de Vergennes, to set up a League of Armed Neutrality in 1780 to impede British commercial power, she did so because it aided Russian interests, not to support the American Revolution. In 1782 Congress sent Francis Dana to St. Petersburg in the hope of establishing diplomatic ties. Dana, speaking neither Russian nor French, the language of the diplomats, failed over the course of two years to persuade Russia to recognize the United States.

Formal Russian recognition of the United States did not come until 1809, when Russia entered into war against England on the side of France. Hoping for increased trade between the two nations, Washington was eager to establish friendly relations with Russia after the Nonintercourse Act of 1809 had prohibited U.S. trade with Great Britain and France. Exports to Russia increased noticeably during the next few years (from $12,000 before the Embargo Act of 1807 to $6 million) but could not make up for the loss of transatlantic trade with traditional European commercial partners.

In September 1821, Russia issued a prohibition on all foreign trade within 100 miles of the Pacific coast of North America and claimed exclusive trading rights in the North Pacific as far south as the 51st parallel. The Monroe Doctrine, which was promulgated in 1823, declared the United States the dominating power in the Western Hemisphere and was a direct result both of Russia's attempts to restrain trade and also of its unwillingness to recognize the independence of the newly created republics in Latin America. The Russo-American Treaty of 1825, restricting Russian influence to north of 54° 40', was negotiated between Russia and the United States; this was the first formal agreement between the two nations.

Relations remained friendly during most of the rest of the nineteenth century, despite differences over the Russian suppression of the Polish rebellion in 1830 and its support for Austria during the Hungarian uprising of 1848–1849. The arrival of Russian warships in Union ports in 1863 during the Civil War was hailed by many Northerners as a sign of support for their cause. However, the ships were not intended to reinforce the Union navy but to safeguard the Russian fleet and to be in place for possible use of American ports as bases for activities against Great Britain and France. When the American minister to St. Petersburg, Cassius Clay, approached his Russian counterparts after the war with an offer to buy Alaska, the Russian government responded eagerly because it believed that eventually America would take the area in any case. American commercial influence in that region had increased since the 1820s, and the Russian Trading Company, which ran Alaska, was highly dependent on American supplies. As early as 1856, Russia had considered selling Alaska; the Russian chargé d'àffaires in Washington, D.C., Baron Eduard von Stoekl, was authorized in December 1866 to sell the Russian colony for at least $5 million. Finding the Americans eager buyers, he pushed the price to $7.2 million; Alaska changed hands in an agreement signed on 30 March 1867.

The two nations became estranged around the turn of the twentieth century, when Russia's rejection of an Open Door policy in Asia became obvious and when news of anti-Jewish pogroms and discrimination against Jewish American businessmen in Russia reached the United States. Open friction erupted over China. Although all nations involved in putting down the Boxer Rebellion in 1900 had agreed to withdraw immediately after hostilities ceased, Russia continued to occupy Manchuria in an attempt to annex that region. With its own plans of expansion, Japan attacked Russian forces at Port Arthur on 8 February 1904. The United States sympathized with Japan because it hoped Japan would uphold the Open Door policy; President Theodore Roosevelt acting as mediator, helped negotiate the agreement that ended the war. The Portsmouth Treaty, signed on 5 September 1905, favored Japan, allowing it to become the dominant power in the Far East.

The fall of the tsarist regime in March 1917 was welcomed by many Americans, and the provisional government was immediately recognized. The weakness of the government of Aleksandr F. Kerenski, increased German pressure on the battlefield, and general war-weariness in Russia soon led to the Bolshevik seizure of power in November 1917. The Bolsheviks almost immediately announced their willingness to make a separate peace with Germany. That declaration and Soviet propaganda encouraging workers in all capitalist countries to stop fighting the capitalist's war and, instead, rise against their bourgeois oppressors, frightened and alienated many Americans. The United States did not recognize the new government. After Russia signed the Treaty of Brest Litovsk (March 1918) ending the war with Germany, the Allies intervened in order to maintain eastern front against the Central Powers. British and American forces were to secure Allied stores at Murmansk, Archangel, and Vladivostok, and they were assigned to support the so-called Czech legion, which was to leave Russia and be transported to the western front, where it could continue fighting against the Central Powers for an independent Czechoslovakia. Allied forces, some of which continued operating in northern Russia after the end of World War I (November 1918), did so, at least in part, in an effort to overthrow the Bolsheviks. Not until June 1919 did the United States extract all its troops from Russia; thus, by 1920, the United States was faced with a regime in Russia that was not only antagonistic to American society and its political system but also had been alienated by an obvious attempt to overthrow the Bolsheviks. This hostility was mirrored in the sharp anticommunism that culminated in the red scare and the Palmer Raids of the 1920s. Russia was not invited to participate in the Versailles peace talks ending World War I, and the United States continued to exclude the Soviet Union from other meetings long after the 1922 German-Soviet Treaty of Rapallo had led to the recognition of the communist regime in Russia by most nations. Attempts by the Soviets to establish diplomatic relations were brushed aside on legalistic grounds by the staunchly anticommunist administrations of Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover. Nonetheless, semiprivate operations, such as the American Relief Administration, led by then-Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover, provided Russian famine relief from 1921 to 1923.

Official nonrecognition did not prevent increasing trade between the two nations. By 1925 the volume had expanded to $65 million, and in the 1930s, President Franklin D. Roosevelt saw an opportunity to stimulate exports to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.) through diplomatic recognition, thus creating jobs in the United States. He appointed William Bullitt as special assistant secretary of state for Soviet affairs. Agreement was reached on the settlements of debts and the propaganda disseminated by the supposedly independent international communist organization Comintern. At the end of 1933, Bullitt became the first U.S ambassador in communist Moscow. But constant friction with his Soviet hosts over domestic staff, who turned out to be Soviet agents; arrests of American citizens not reported to the embassy; and decreasing trade because of Soviet red tape soon dashed hopes of friendly relations. The signing of a nonaggression pact with Nazi Germany and the attack on Finland in 1939, the seizure of the Baltic states in 1940, and the Russo-Japanese Neutrality Pact of 1941 considerably strained relations between Washington and Moscow.

When Germany invaded the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941, public and official sympathy for the Soviet Union was high; the United States almost immediately announced support of the U.S.S.R., offering aid on a cash and carry basis. Lend-lease was offered on 7 November and, by the end of World War II, the United States had furnished $9.5 billion in aid. After Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor (7 December 1941) and the declaration of war on the United States by Germany and Italy on 11 December 1941, Roosevelt assured Joseph Stalin that a second front would be opened in France before the end of 1942 to help ease the pressure of German forces in the east. By Mid-1942, it had become obvious that this promise could not be kept, and Soviet distrust of the United States and Britain, only slightly covered by the common goal of defeating Nazi Germany, resurfaced. Allied landings in Africa and in southern Italy did little to lessen the pressure on the Soviet Union until the invasion of Normandy on 6 June 1944.

In a series of wartime conferences—meetings of Roosevelt, Stalin, and British leader Winston Churchill in Teheran (November to December 1943) and in Yalta (February 1945)—the United States, the Soviet Union, and the United Kingdom agreed on war and on peace aims. The leaders affirmed their demand for unconditional surrender of the Axis powers. They also decided on the division of Germany into zones of occupation, the future of the eastern European states, and creation of a United Nations organization. The Soviet Union promised to enter the war against Japan as soon as Germany had been defeated. At the last of the "big three" conferences (17 July to 2 August 1945) in Potsdam, Harry S. Truman, who had become president on th death of Roosevelt in April, learned of the successful test of the atomic bomb. Great Britain and the United States had worked together in building the device but had agreed not to disclose the project to the Soviets. Without consulting Stalin, Truman ordered atomic bombs to be dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima to force Japan to surrender and also possibly as a show of power directed at the U.S.S.R.

Concurrently, the United Nations was being organized; it held its inaugural meeting on 25 April 1945 in San Francisco. It was agreed that the major powers—China, France, the Soviet Union, the United Kingdom and the United States—would be permanent members of a Security Council and have the right to veto a Council decision. The Soviet delegation, however, had initially insisted that these powers have the right to prevent Council discussion of an issue. Although the Soviet Union relented after Truman sent an envoy to Stalin, this conflict foreshadowed a number of confrontations in the coming years.

Wartime cooperation soon turned into bitter hostility when continued Soviet promulgation of world revolution and anticapitalist propaganda alienated the United States. The Cold War that developed was marked by the Truman Doctrine of 1947, the Marshall Plan of 1948–1952, the communist coup in Czechoslovakia in 1948, the Berlin Crisis of 1948–1949, the establishment of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1949, and the signing of the Warsaw Pact in 1955. In this period, the Soviet Union became viewed in the United States as an offshoot of Nazi Germany, an attitude that found expression in National Security Council document NSC-68 picturing the conflict as a struggle between good and evil and calling for a massive increase in military spending. Communism was envisioned as a monolithic bloc, its headquarters located in Moscow. Thus, the Chinese-supported invasion of South Korea by North Korean troops in 1950 was taken as a possible smokescreen for a Soviet attack on Western Europe. Political containment, as proclaimed in July 1947 by George F. Kennan Jr., turned into military containment, and nations were discouraged from trading with the Soviet Union.

After Stalin's death in 1953, a new Soviet leadership sent conciliatory signals to Washington. In 1959 Vice President Richard M. Nixon traveled to Moscow, and Nikita Khrushchev visited the United States. Only a year later, relations were again strained considerably when an American U-2 spy plane was shot down over Soviet territory on 1 May 1960. The failed American-backed invasion at the Bay of Pigs by CIA-trained Cuban refugees on 17 April 1961 and the erection of the Berlin Wall in August 1961 displayed on different continents the frictions between the two nations but also showed how careful both sides were to avoid slipping into direct military confrontation. Despite stark differences in character, President John F. Kennedy and Khrushchev had developed the beginnings of détente until the deployment of Soviet missiles on Cuba and the subsequent Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962 brought the two nations to the brink of war. In 1963, the nations signed a nuclear test-ban treaty, and much of the antagonism of the preceding decade abated. Meanwhile, the Vietnam conflict was deepening. Partly because the Vietnam War was deemed to be guided by Soviet interests, Kennedy began shifting American resources to the region. President Lyndon B. Johnson, who

had succeeded Kennedy after his assassination in late 1963, engaged the United States in the escalating conflict, paying little attention to other international issues.

After Khrushchev fell from power in October 1964, Leonid Brezhnev and Alexei Kosygin strove to achieve nuclear parity with the United States. In June 1967, Kosygin visited the United States, and a slow process of deescalation and negotiations about arms reduction began. Rapprochement between the two nations was slightly set back when the reform movement in Czechoslovakia was suppressed by the Soviet Union in 1968, but both nations appeared to accept coexistence. Substantial American discontent with Soviet involvement in internal struggles in lesser-developed nations in Africa, Southeast Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean; the establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and the People's Republic of China; and, finally, the Soviet invasion in Afghanistan in December 1979, again led to a deterioration of relations.

When Ronald Reagan, an ardent anticommunist, became president in 1981, he denounced détente as a one-way street; in a speech on 8 March 1983, Reagan called the Soviet Union an "evil empire." This new Cold War only abated when Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in the Soviet Union in 1985. He seemed willing to reestablish friendly relations with the United States and to initiate democratization in the U.S.S.R. Reagan, seeing a chance to achieve a place in history as peacemaker, grasped the opportunity for personal diplomacy and, with a meeting in Reykjavik on 11 and 12 October 1986, began a process of mutual reassurance and accommodation that his successor, George H. W. Bush, continued after initial hesitation. Political changes in Eastern Europe, particularly in Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Romania, and the German Democratic Republic, and the disintegration of the power of the Communist Party in the U.S.S.R. led to unification of Germany and to a considerable lessening of the military threat the Soviet Union had posed to the United States. As the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991 after a failed attempt by reactionaries to oust Gorbachev, the United States recognized the independence of the Baltic states. In December 1991, Boris Yeltsin, who had become the leading Soviet politician, conferred with leaders of Ukraine and By Elorussia to dissolve the Soviet Union and to form a Commonwealth of Independent States. On 31 December 1991, the U.S.S.R. ceased to exist.

The instability of the new regime, the fear that Yeltsin was much less predictable than Gorbachev, and anxiety about the safety of the nuclear arsenal, again led to strained relations between the United States and Russia. During the presidency of Bill Clinton (1993–2001), the integration of Russia with the West was thought likely; the administration of George W. Bush proved to be much cooler to that idea. However, the war against international terrorism after the attacks of 11 September 2001 on the United States led to increased cooperation, particularly in matters of intelligence. Despite unresolved issues, including the expansion of NATO, the missile defense system proposed by Bush, and the war in Chechny a, the United States and Russia signed an unprecedented arms reduction treaty in Moscow on 24 May 2002.The NATO-Russia Council was also established, and Russia was accepted as a junior partner in NATO at the Rome summit meeting on 28 May 2002.


Boyle, Peter G. American-Soviet Relations: From the Russian Revolution to the Fall of Communism. New York: Routledge, 1993.

Jensen, Oliver, ed. America and Russia: A Century and a Half of Dramatic Encounters. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1962.

Laserson, Max M. The American Impact on Russia: Diplomatic and Ideological, 1784–1917. New York: Macmillan, 1950.

Loth, Wilfried. Overcoming the Cold War: A History of Détente, 1950–1991. New York: Palgrave, 2002.

Paterson, Thomas G. Meeting the Communist Threat: America's Cold War History. New York: Oxford University Press, 1988.

Tarsaïdzé, Alexandre. Czars and Presidents. New York: McDowell, Obolensky 1958.


See alsoNorth Atlantic Treaty Organization ; andvol. 9:American Diplomacy .

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Russia, relations with

Russia, relations with. The search for the North-East Passage to Asia in the 1550s opened up a direct route to Russia, and led to a mutually advantageous trade until the 1620s. But once Russia became the leading power in the Baltic from 1709, Britain (with her huge demand for naval stores from that region) had to take considerable account of this new force. In 1780 Catherine the Great organized the Armed Neutrality coalition in response to Britain's naval blockade methods during the American War of Independence. By the end of the century Britain was also beginning to fear Russian expansion at the expense of the Ottoman empire. The two powers co-operated in the overthrow of Napoleon (1814–15), but only for each to feel that the other had profited excessively from the war. Competition was soon renewed over the Ottoman empire and to some extent in Persia. Fear of Russia in central Asia was the cause of two British bids to turn Afghanistan into a client state (1839–42 and 1878–80).

Meanwhile in Europe Russia was distrusted as an ultra-reactionary power which seemed all too anxious to interfere in the affairs of other states, though first Canning (1826–7) and then Palmerston (1839–41) worked briefly with Russia in Near Eastern crises. Later fears of Russian ambitions at the expense of the Ottoman empire and outrage among British progressives against Russia as the defender of autocracy led to the Crimean War (1854–6). Russia and Britain nearly came to blows again in the Near East in 1878 as well as over Penj-deh (Afghanistan) in 1885. Only defeat by Japan and revolution at home in 1905 forced Russia to conclude an Entente with Britain in August 1907. The two were rarely comfortable partners, even during the First World War.

The Bolshevik triumph in November 1917 was followed by civil war in which Britain gave some support to the counter-revolutionaries (the Whites). Anglo-Soviet relations in the inter-war years were at best distant and usually frigid. Despite the rise of Nazi Germany from 1933 it was not until the British guaranteed Poland in March 1939 that they saw the need for some sort of agreement with the USSR. The half-heartedness of British approaches was only partly responsible for Moscow's final decision to opt for the Nazi–Soviet pact in August 1939. From June 1941 Britain and the USSR were allies in the war against Germany, the Anglo-American landings in northern France in June 1944 being dependent on the Soviet pressure on Germany in the east. But British worries soon began to accumulate concerning the scale and implications of post-war Soviet and communist influence in Europe. For 40 years from the late 1940s Britain was deeply involved in the Cold War struggle with the USSR, though the governments of Churchill, Eden, and Macmillan in particular helped to pioneer the search for greater restraint in the conduct of East–West rivalries.

C. J. Bartlett

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