As you no doubt already know, Soviet Union leader Joseph Stalin was pretty much singlehandedly responsible for transforming Russia’s peasant society into an industrial and military superpower with the help of Communism during the Cold War. One of the ways Stalin was able to do this was through the creation of Soviet satellite states. Because context is important, let’s take a step back for a moment and look at how he was able to do this.
As something of a thank you for helping the Western Allied Forces eradicate the Nazis in WWII, Stalin had been permitted to set up Soviet satellite sites across Eastern Europe by the other two members of the Big Three. But once his Soviet forces were installed in the Eastern European satellite states, Stalin set about rigging elections to ensure that Communist governments came to power.
As you might imagine, this didn’t make the other two members of the Grand Alliance too happy, because they really weren’t keen on Communism. Sadly, there wasn’t much UK PM Winston Churchill or US President Franklin D. Roosevelt could do to stop Stalin by this point; the 1944 Percentages Agreement drafted up by Churchill in a bid to control Stalin’s influence in the post-war world had led the Soviet Leader to believe the UK and US were happy for him to control Eastern Europe. Oops!
Just so you know, the initial 1944 agreement was that Romania would be split, with Russia getting 90 per cent and the others 10 per cent; Greece would be Great Britain 90 per cent and Russia 10 per cent. Yugoslavia would be 50/50. Bulgaria would be Russia 75 per cent and the others 25 per cent. But in reality, Stalin took much more than what was agreed and by this point there was little that the Western Allies could do to stop him. By 1945, East Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and Albania had all been added to the list as Soviet satellite states.
One important thing to remember? Although Yugoslavia had a Communist government, Marshal Tito remained independent of control from Moscow. Generally speaking, though, the countries of Eastern Europe became Soviet satellite states not because they wanted to, but because Stalin did not remove the Red Army from the countries that it had freed from Nazi occupation.
Instead it became an army of occupation that helped minority Communist parties come to power in rigged elections that were held after the war. Stalin claimed that he carried out these elections because he wanted to ensure the countries of Eastern Europe were friendly towards the Soviet Union, whereas the US felt that Stalin was bent on spreading Communist influence (he was). This increased tensions because it raised the possibility that Stalin might also try to control parts of Western Europe. As a result, Stalin had much to be concerned about despite his growing influence.
Stalin’s main motive for the creation of Soviet satellite states in Eastern Europe was the need for security. When the war ended, the Soviet Union was the only Communist country in the world and Stalin believed that Western countries were bent on destroying it. These fears weren’t baseless; immediately after the Russian Revolution, Britain had sent troops to support the White Russians against the Communists. Churchill had also been outspoken throughout his career about the dangers of Communism. On top of this, the Soviet Union had been invaded from the West by Germany twice during the 20th Century. And so, Stalin believed that the satellite states of Eastern Europe would act as a buffer against future aggression.
If you’re wondering why the liberated countries went along with Stalin’s orders, there’s a pretty good reason. In order to survive politically, the leaders of the Soviet satellite states had to strive to be more like Stalin than Stalin himself. To this end, Stalin was celebrated as the liberator of Eastern Europe and the builder of socialism. The leaders of the Soviet satellite states were frequently called to Moscow, where it was explained that the economies and social structure of the satellite states had to closely reflect that of the Soviet Union. And so, they were centralised, collectivised and regulated by Five Year Plans. Spoiler alert: this didn’t work.