Satellite Nations: Definition & the Cold War

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  • 0:01 Definition
  • 1:05 The Road to Satellite Nation
  • 2:46 Satellite Nations…
  • 4:44 The End of Satellites
  • 5:59 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Erin Carroll

Erin has taught English and History. She has a bachelor's degree in History, and a master's degree in International Relations

In this lesson, you will learn about the satellite nations of the Cold War. Explore how they became satellites, how the Soviet Unions kept its control over them during the Cold War, and how they eventually regained independence.


When you think of a satellite, you might think about the structure that beams down signals from space to help you get all the TV channels you want. Satellites are launched into orbit over Earth, and held in place by the earth's gravity. So, how can a nation be like a satellite? When we talk about a satellite nation, we are talking about a nation that is aligned with and under the influence of another nation. It is caught in the orbit of the other country, just like a satellite is caught in the orbit of a planet.

The term satellite nation was first used to describe certain nations in the Cold War. These were nations that were aligned with, but also under the influence and pressure of, the Soviet Union. The satellite nations of the Cold War were Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, and East Germany. Countries in the West (like the U.S.) began using the term 'satellite nation' to describe these countries, because they were held in the orbit by the gravitational pull of the Soviet Union.

The Road to Satellite Nation

So, how did these countries come to be satellites of the Soviet Union? Many of them had long historical relations with Russia due to their geographical proximity and were established well before World War II. Worried about aggressive German expansion, many Eastern European countries looked to their bigger neighbor, the Soviet Union, to protect them.

It wasn't until WWII that the satellites drew closer to the Soviet Union. Nazi Germany swept through Eastern Europe, conquering every country in their path before trying to defeat the Soviet Union. At the 1942 Battle of Stalingrad, the Soviets were able to stop the Germans, eventually pushing them all the way back to Berlin. Soviet forces liberated Eastern Europe along the way, and kept troops stationed in these countries. By the end of the war, the Soviet Union controlled most of Eastern Europe.

At the 1945 Yalta Conference, the leaders of the United States, England, and the USSR discussed what the post-war world should look like. The Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin, argued that the Soviet Union should take the lead in rebuilding and assisting Eastern European countries like Poland. He promised to honor free elections and to let these countries determine their own futures. In reality, though, Stalin intended to maintain control over the Eastern European countries to create a kind of protective zone against future invasions from the west.

The Allies agreed to Stalin's plan, unaware of his true intentions. With Soviet troops still occupying these Eastern European countries, Moscow sent in agents with instructions to rig elections to ensure that pro-Soviet communist governments won. These countries would look independent, but would be totally tied to the Soviet Union.

Satellite Nations During the Cold War

Very soon after WWII, it became clear that the communist Soviet Union and capitalist United States would clash. Each side wanted to show strength and power. It became more important for the Soviet Union to keep its satellite nations under its control, so it created three organizations to bind the satellites together politically, economically, and militarily.

In 1947, the Soviet Union organized Cominform, the Communist Information Bureau. Cominform enforced ideological and political conformity under the direction of Moscow. As Europe struggled toward economic recovery after the war, the United States initiated the Marshall Plan, which promised aid to any country that applied for help. Worried that some Eastern European countries might look to the U.S. for help, the Soviet Union responded by creating Comecon in 1949. Comecon promised economic aid to its members and kept the economies of the satellites tied to the command economy of the Soviet Union.

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