The Origins of the Cold War are widely regarded to lie most directly in the relations between the Soviet Union and its allies the United States, Britain and France in the years 1945–1947. Those events led to the Cold War that endured for just under half a century.

Events preceding the Second World War, and even the Russian Revolution of 1917, underlay pre–World War II tensions between the Soviet Union, western European countries and the United States. A series of events during and after World War II exacerbated tensions, including the Soviet-German pact during the first two years of the war leading to subsequent invasions, the perceived delay of an amphibious invasion of German-occupied Europe, the western allies' support of the Atlantic Charter, disagreement in wartime conferences over the fate of Eastern Europe, the Soviets' creation of an Eastern Bloc of Soviet satellite states, western allies scrapping the Morgenthau Plan to support the rebuilding of German industry, and the Marshall Plan.

Tsarist Russia and the West
Differences between the political and economic systems of Russia and the West predated the Russian Revolution of 1917. From the neo-Marxist World Systems perspective, Russia differed from the West as a result of its late integration into the capitalist world economy in the 19th century. Struggling to catch up with the industrialized West as of the late 19th century, Russia upon the revolution in 1917 was essentially a semi-peripheral or peripheral state whose internal balance of forces, tipped by the domination of the Russian industrial sector by foreign capital, had been such that it suffered a decline in its relative diplomatic power internationally. From this perspective, the Russian Revolution represented a break with a form of dependent industrial development and a radical withdrawal from the capitalist world economy.

Other scholars have argued that Russia and the West developed fundamentally different political cultures shaped by Eastern Orthodoxy and rule of the tsar. Others have linked the Cold War to the legacy of different heritages of empire-building between the Russians and Americans. From this view, the United States, like the British Empire, was fundamentally a maritime power based on trade and commerce, and Russia was a bureaucratic and land-based power that expanded from the center in a process of territorial accretion.

Imperial rivalry between the British and tsarist Russia preceded the tensions between the Soviets and the West following the Russian Revolution. Throughout the 19th century, improving Russia's maritime access was a perennial aim of the tsars' foreign policy. Despite Russia's vast size, most of its thousands of miles of seacoast was frozen over most of the year, or access to the high seas was through straits controlled by other powers, particularly in the Baltic and Black Seas. The British, however, had been determined since the Crimean War in the 1850s to slow Russian expansion at the expense of Ottoman Turkey, the "sick man of Europe." With the completion of the Suez Canal in 1869, the prospect of Russia seizing a portion of the Ottoman seacoast on the Mediterranean, potentially threatening the strategic waterway, was of great concern to the British. British policymakers were also apprehensive about the close proximity of the Tsar's territorially expanding empire in Central Asia to India, triggering a series of conflicts between the two powers in Afghanistan, dubbed The Great Game.

The British long exaggerated the strength of the relatively backward sprawling Russian empire, which according to the Wisconsin school was more concerned with the security of its frontiers than conquering Western spheres of influence. British fears over Russian expansion, however, subsided following Russia's stunning defeat in the Russo-Japanese War in 1905.

Historians associated with the Wisconsin school see parallels between 19th century Western rivalry with Russia and the Cold War tensions of the post–World War II period. From this view, Western policymakers misinterpreted postwar Soviet policy in Europe as expansionism, rather than a policy, like the territorial growth of imperial Russia, motivated by securing vulnerable Russian frontiers.

Luciano Mende

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