Skip to main content

The Lost Battle: The Soviet Union and the United Nations under Stalin, 1945-1953

Ilya Gaiduk, Senior Research Fellow, Institute of World History, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, and Fellow, Woodrow Wilson Center

Date & Time

Mar. 13, 2006
10:00am – 11:00am ET


At a recent Kennan Institute talk, Ilya Gaiduk, Senior Research Fellow, Institute of World History, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, and Fellow, Woodrow Wilson Center, discussed Soviet leader Joseph Stalin's attitude and approach to dealing with the newly constituted United Nations.

Initially, reported Gaiduk, Stalin and other Soviet leaders were not enthusiastic about the international organizations formed after the conclusion of World War II, including the United Nations. The organization's predecessor, the League of Nations, failed to prevent war, and Stalin believed that the Western powers would work in harmony against the Soviet Union. Gaiduk stated that the Soviet delegation to the Dumbarton Oaks Conference (where the United Nations was conceived) was somewhat unprepared. Their instructions were limited to ensuring that the new organization was not used for "anti-Soviet interests."

The Soviets came to realize the UN offered the opportunity to enhance the Soviet Union's prestige as a great power. According to Gaiduk, the Soviets believed that the UN should be limited to maintaining peace. They were against the idea of granting power to the UN to resolve economic, cultural, or humanitarian issues. And they worked to consolidate as much authority as possible to the Security Council where they held a veto.

Gaiduk contended that it is not entirely legitimate to term the UN a failure for not living up to the hopes invested in it at its founding. He pointed out that the great powers were far from unified in creating the UN, and subsequent confrontations shaped the organization.

The first such confrontation came with Iran's protest of Soviet intervention in its territory. The Soviets protested that the matter was even brought before the Security Council, and issued their first veto in connection with the case. Gaiduk stated that the Soviets soon came to use the UN as an arena to combat "anti-Soviet" measures. By the fall of 1947, the Soviets had cast 17 of the 18 vetoes issued in the Security Council.

The frequent vetoes led to growing disappointment within the Kremlin over the UN, said Gaiduk. They were concerned that the United States and United Kingdom could force veto after veto from the Soviet Union, and thereby damage their international standing. The Security Council, which had been conceived as an arena of cooperation, had evolved into an arena of confrontation and ideology.

By 1950, according to Gaiduk, the Soviet Union seemed deprived of power in the UN. The Soviets demanded the expulsion of the Chinese KMT delegation in favor of the newly formed People's Republic of China. When the KMT was not expelled, the Soviets staged a walkout from the UN. According to Gaiduk, they believed that by walking out, they would remove legitimacy from the UN and the UN Security Council. Shortly after the Soviets walked out, the Security Council authorized intervention in the Korean conflict. Gaiduk argued that the Soviets had miscalculated—the boycott did not remove international legitimacy of Security Council resolutions.

The Soviets continued to struggle to increase their influence within the UN through their satellite states and through efforts to discredit and remove the UN Secretary General, Trygve Lie, who had helped push through the intervention in Korea. The Soviets even considered a plan to establish regional organizations to counter-balance the United Nations, which was they claimed was a tool of the United States and United Kingdom. In the end, Gaiduk said, Stalin was not prepared to take this step, as he was concerned of adverse consequences in world opinion.

Gaiduk concluded that Stalin's death and a period of détente was necessary to begin a new, more effective period of participation for the Soviet Union in the United Nations.


Hosted By

Kennan Institute

The Kennan Institute is the premier US center for advanced research on Russia and Eurasia and the oldest and largest regional program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. The Kennan Institute is committed to improving American understanding of Russia, Ukraine, Central Asia, the Caucasus, and the surrounding region though research and exchange.  Read more

Thank you for your interest in this event. Please send any feedback or questions to our Events staff.