The dominant theme of Soviet history from 1941 to 1953 is war. By far the most bloody battles of the Great Patriotic War, as the Second World War is still known in Russia, were fought on Russian soil and up to forty million soldiers and civilians lost their lives. And then, soon after the return of peace, the Cold War arose to make the task of reconstruction an even more painful task than it already would have been. At the death of Stalin in 1953, the Soviet Union was struggling to fulfil the difficult roles of the world’s second superpower and the titular leader of international socialism.
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