Nikita S. Khrushchev: The Making and Unmaking of Foreign Relations


The soviet way of living was transformed and, in many ways, liberalised after the rather abrupt end of the Stalin era, following the sudden demise of Joseph Stalin’s death. Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev, the party leader, succeeded Stalin’s position after defeating his main opponents, Georgy Malenkov and Lavrentiy Beria and made his place in history. As a prominent figure, the decisions he made changed the world politics as we know it.

His approach was very different to his predecessor in both domestic and international fronts. His career as the soviet premier focused on him denouncing the then Soviet hero, Stalin; dealing with the subsequent Chinese reaction, and his attempts at thawing the cold war by extending an olive branch to the west and coming together with President Dwight D. Eisenhower to maintain a peaceful coexistence.

From 1953 to 1964, Khrushchev maintained his position as the first secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) which later changed to the Soviet prime minister from 1958 to 1964. In 1956, Khrushchev delivered the ‘secret speech’ which declared Joseph Stalin as a criminal and revealed his many glaring faults that had allegedly crushed the soviet spirit and had resulted in the defeat faced by the USSR initially during the second World War. This famous speech was followed by a change in numerous domestic and foreign policies, which came to be known as ‘destalinization’.

Nikita S. Khrushchev and Mao Zedong

USSR’s relations with the People’s Republic of China had always been complicated: the two nations share a common border that has the misfortune stretching more than 3000 kilometers. It began rocking unstably in the 1930s with common skirmishes over the issue of controlling Manchuria and Mongolia. Stalin had taken advantage of the Japanese invasion and the civil war between Mao Zedong and Chiang Kai Shek by occupying and taking away rich coal fields in the Manchurian region which furthered the disparity between the two nations.

The year 1949 marked the victory of Mao Zedong and his accompanying communist ideology which changed China’s balance of power in the South Asian region. Bridged by the same beliefs, China and USSR were naturally presumed to be the dominating powers in the region and each other’s support. After his victory, Mao approach USSR for material assistance and sought back the lost Chinese territories that had been forcibly taken away under the rule of Tsars.

After Nikita Khrushchev’s appointment as the premier of USSR, he took it upon himself to help set up and develop the newly created communist state by exponentially increasing aid to China; it is estimated that the USSR sent over as much as seven percent of its national income between the years of 1954 and 1959. In addition to the aid, soviet experts were also provided for the development. In Khrushchev’s tour to China in 1954, he relented and made arrangement to return back the Port Arthur and Dalian, along with the soviet artillery that was there in those areas. This support and help provided by USSR to developing communist China was referred by historians as “the greatest transfer of technology in world history”.

However, the relations amongst the two were still strife and fractioned as they opposed each other’s policies. This was proven by Khrushchev’s reluctancy to agree and support China’s endeavors to jumpstart a revolutionary movement on a worldwide level and instead, he insisted on popularizing the communist ideology by setting the glorious examples of communist-bloc nations for the rest of the world. On the other hand, Mao expressed opposition to Khrushchev’s continuous efforts towards reconciling and establishing more cordial relations with the West as well as the Eastern European nations such as the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, as they were relatively liberal in comparison and therefore not worthy of acceptance.

Mao Zedong was displeased with the Soviet Union on several counts and this brought along many cracks in the relations. USSR had insisted on viewing Mao as unreliable and suspicious; his rise as a leader of a successful peasant revolution which lead to him assuming the position of leadership was a situation that the Marxist ideology deemed unfeasible. On the other hand, Zedong “naturally assumed that he was the leading light of communism, making him the historical pivot around which the universe revolved”– and he was well aware and resentful of the fact that the Russian premiers viewed him as a “caveman Marxist”.

Mao’s previous relations with Stalin set up the failure of the relationship of Mao and Khrushchev. On Stalin’s birthday in 1949, Mao’s first visit to Moscow was overshadowed by him being treated the same just as any other guest whereas he had believed that he would be treated with more importance and respect. He was accommodated in a shabby recreational center and only had one brief meeting with Stalin in the duration of weeks he was in Moscow. Stalin “extorted substantial concessions in return for paltry military aid, and when war broke out in Korea, the USSR insisted that China pay “to the last ruble” for the weapons it required to aid the North Koreans. Mao was left boiling with anger.” This incident set the precedent for when in 1954, Khrushchev went to visit China. Khrushchev’s translator described their receive as “No red carpet, no guards of honor, and no hugs,”. Mao treated Khrushchev as a dense student and refused to accept any defense initiatives being proposed by Khrushchev. The outcome of these talks was a very insulted Khrushchev who retaliated by removing all USSR advisors. His next visit in 1959 to Beijing was wrought with extreme fury where both were seething with rage and disrespected each other. Mao rejected the offers of military cooperation and worked against Khrushchev’s efforts to maintain peace and the period of détente with Eisenhower’s United States of America. Mao’s motivation was rooted in his anger from 1956 when the Secret Speech was made which the Chinese were not consulted about beforehand. Mao strongly believed that a mistake was made by Khrushchev and his state by destalinising and viewed it as a strong threat to his own leadership.

The constant squabbling of Khrushchev and Mao Zedong continued and by the year of 1966, a hot war between the two nations was barely held back. The deterioration of the relations consequently resulted in Sino-Soviet split leading to the two powerful communist nations going against each other. It later gave a rise to the Ping pong policy of Henry Kissinger and cooperation between China and United States of America.

Nikita S. Khrushchev and Dwight D. Eisenhower

The East-West relations took a turn towards the period of détente when President Dwight D. Eisenhower took office and watched the Soviet Union go through destalinisation and heard about Khrushchev’s secret speech.  Khrushchev had stated in his speech “Stalin had sanctioned in the name of the ‘Central Committee of the All Union Communist Party’ (Bolsheviks) the most brutal violation of socialist legality, torture and oppression, which led as we have seen to the slandering and to the self-accusation of innocent people.”

Khrushchev’s denouncement of Stalin and his actions piqued United States’ interest which in turn began to reassess the soviet premier. While Eisenhower had his doubts at first as highlighted by his statement to Winston Churchill- “Russia was . . . a woman of the streets and whether her dress was new, or just the old one patched, there was the same whore underneath.” -the East- West relations revived nevertheless. The thaw in the Cold War between the two states came about and its initiation can be attributed to USSR entering the Khrushchev Era and undergoing economic and political reforms. It encouraged the US president Eisenhower to take a step forward towards establishing diplomatic relations with USSR.

Eisenhower revolutionized United States’ approach to the national security policy in 1953 when he introduced his brainchild “New Look”. This multi-faceted approach focused on four areas: sustaining their economy while handling the cold war efficiently, to combat communist aggression and use nuclear weapons if necessary, utilizing the Central Intelligence Agency efficiently against the Soviet influence and lastly, extending their hand towards the nonaligned governments in order to gain the upper hand against the Soviet Union in the Cold War.

The first summit since the Potsdam summit of 1945, The Geneva Summit in 1955 was a gathering of the Soviet and Western leaders. Known as the “Spirit of Geneva”, the platform was used to discuss arms control and the “Open Skies” program proposed by Eisenhower which would have permitted both the states to utilize aerial surveillance to scope the other’s military capabilities. Whilst the powers failed to come to any conclusion regarding arms control and Khrushchev rejected Eisenhower’s proposal, tensions were eased amidst the US president and the Soviet premier.

Eisenhower chose to turn a blind eye towards the Khrushchev’s invasion of Hungary in 1956 since any form of intervention would have escalated the otherwise fragile understanding the Soviets and the United States had been able to form. The US government instead chose to highlight to the Soviet Union their intentions to build their peaceful relations.

Towards the end of his administration, the US president was hoping to produce a treaty with USSR pertaining the banning of nuclear testing. Khrushchev visited the United States in 1959 and the Camp David Summit took place which raised hopes; whilst no arm controls was agreed on, “the spirit of Camp David” was recognized which referred to the optimism with which the good relations were forming between the East and the West. There were discussions amongst Eisenhower and Khrushchev to meet the following year in 1960 with the British and the French leaders however the idea never came to fruition due to the unfortunate conflict over the U2 incident; a covert US plane surveilling the USSR territory was captured along with its pilot by the soviets. Khrushchev exploited the situation to its maximum and used it to demand an apology from Eisenhower. Whilst the US president took full responsibility for the failure of the mission, he refused to apologise to Khrushchev for his actions. What had been emerging as a successful period of peaceful coexistence failed along with the crash of the U2 plane and resulted in the second phase of the Cold War.


Nikita Khrushchev was an astute and a practical leader of the Soviet Union and this is reflected in his handling of the relations with the foreign powers. Whilst his relations with Mao Zedong may have concluded disastrously and resulted in the Sino-Soviet split, the split was inevitable. Both the nations followed the communist ideologies and would be considered to be natural allies by many, however their interpretations and the understanding of the ideology was very different. The conflicting views brought along the cracks. Arguably, Khrushchev could have dealt with the rising tensions with Zedong differently but the same could be said about any other relation. The same issue can be observed between the Soviet leader and the US president, Dwight Eisenhower. The competing ideologies of communism and socialism against democracy and liberalization made it near impossible for the two nations to build an open diplomatic relation based on trust and peace. Both were adamant to push their own agenda; there was a thaw, and détente was achieved for a short duration, but as all good things must come to an end so did the period of peaceful coexistence. All in all, Khrushchev’s efforts were noble and notable, and therefore hold an important significance in the course of how history changed.


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