United States Recognizes Russia’s Bolshevik Regime Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The United States and the Soviet Union established formal diplomatic relations in November of 1933, ending sixteen years of disagreement regarding the legitimacy of the Communist government in Moscow.

Summary of Event

Prior to 1933, the U.S. government refused to recognize the legitimacy of the government of the Soviet Union because the Bolsheviks (later renamed Communists) had seized power through force rather than through democratic means. During the Russian Civil War (1918-1921), Russian Civil War (1918-1921) the United States even sent troops to Russia to assist opponents of the Bolshevik regime. Americans also opposed the Soviets’ support of communist propaganda Propaganda;Bolsheviks in other nations (especially in democratic states) and their refusal to repay debts owed by previous Russian governments. Moscow’s hostility toward the League of Nations during the 1920’s further complicated the Soviet Union’s reputation in world affairs. [kw]United States Recognizes Russia’s Bolshevik Regime (Nov. 16, 1933) [kw]Russia’s Bolshevik Regime, United States Recognizes (Nov. 16, 1933)[Russias Bolshevik Regime, United States Recognizes (Nov. 16, 1933)] [kw]Bolshevik Regime, United States Recognizes Russia’s (Nov. 16, 1933) Soviet Union;U.S.-Soviet relations[U.S. Soviet relations] Bolshevik regime, U.S. recognition [g]Soviet Union;Nov. 16, 1933: United States Recognizes Russia’s Bolshevik Regime[08450] [g]United States;Nov. 16, 1933: United States Recognizes Russia’s Bolshevik Regime[08450] [c]Diplomacy and international relations;Nov. 16, 1933: United States Recognizes Russia’s Bolshevik Regime[08450] [c]Government and politics;Nov. 16, 1933: United States Recognizes Russia’s Bolshevik Regime[08450] [c]Trade and commerce;Nov. 16, 1933: United States Recognizes Russia’s Bolshevik Regime[08450] Roosevelt, Franklin D. [p]Roosevelt, Franklin D.;Soviet-U.S. relations[Soviet U.S. relations] Litvinov, Maksim Maksimovich Hull, Cordell Stalin, Joseph [p]Stalin, Joseph;Soviet-U.S. relations[Soviet U.S. relations] Bullitt, William Troyanovsky, Alexander

Nevertheless, during the 1920’s American businesses—including prominent companies such as American Locomotive, Du Pont, General Electric, Radio Corporation of America, and Standard Oil—signed trade agreements with Soviet agencies that promised assistance in developing the nation’s economy. In 1929, Ford Motor Company Ford Motor Company signed a contract to build a plant in Russia that would produce one hundred thousand vehicles annually. Many Americans traveled to the Soviet Union to help design and build industrial facilities and to participate in other economic projects. Many Americans also provided major assistance during the massive famine that took place in the Soviet Union in the period 1921-1923. Relief agencies in the United States and other Western states helped ameliorate widespread hardship by providing food and medicines.

By the early 1930’s, Washington had begun to reconsider its policy toward the Soviet Union. Several major governments already had given diplomatic recognition to the Soviet Union: Germany (1922), Great Britain, Italy, and France (1924). The United States was one of the last major world powers to withhold this acknowledgment. Furthermore, the Great Depression was having an adverse effect on American farmers, who needed to find markets for their surplus grain. The possibility of selling grain to Russia through government-sponsored arrangements was extremely appealing. Similarly, manufacturers hoped to increase sales of industrial products by opening their market to the Soviet Union. The Communist Party’s ability to maintain power for more than a decade had proved that the regime would not disappear, and this reality had to taken into consideration by those dealing with Russia’s role in the international diplomatic scene.

By the early 1930’s, the development of other issues had raised concerns in both Washington and Moscow. The rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party in Germany and the growing power of militaristic Japan and its invasion of Manchuria in 1 931 were sources of concern to both the United States and the Soviet Union. Americans were particularly aware that their interests and territorial possessions in the western Pacific could be threatened by increased Japanese influence and expansion in the region.

The 1932 election of Franklin D. Roosevelt as president was the deciding factor in the creation of the opportunity for a change in U.S. policy. The new president and his congressional majority took massive steps to promote economic recovery—the New Deal—and simultaneously modified several other well-established policies. Among other changes, Roosevelt’s administration ended Prohibition (overriding the Eighteenth Amendment) and expressed a willingness to open negotiations with Moscow. At the same time, the Soviet Union had reached a point that made a diplomatic opening possible. Joseph Stalin’s government had enunciated a more cooperative policy toward the Western democracies and the League of Nations, and it had participated in economic and disarmament conferences in the early 1930’s. Furthermore, as it confronted Japan’s conquest of Manchuria along the Soviet frontier, the Soviet Union saw the United States as a potential ally who could help counter further Japanese expansion. Maksim Maksimovich Litvinov, who favored better relations with the West, became foreign minister in 1930, and he used his position to help mend U.S.-Soviet relations.

During the first half of 1933, Roosevelt solicited detailed studies and other relevant information to help him decide whether to approach the Russians for a possible rapprochement. Secretary of State Cordell Hull submitted a lengthy report to the president in September outlining reasons to contact the Soviet government with a goal of opening diplomatic relations and resolving other points of dispute. Many others encouraged a review of the existing policy. Roosevelt agreed with their views, and in mid-October he wrote to the Russian authorities with an American proposal to open high-level negotiations on issues of interest to both states. The Soviets replied positively, and formal talks began in Washington on November 9. Foreign Minister Litvinov headed the Soviet delegation, and Hull led the Americans.

The talks made quick progress and the agreements, signed on November 16, 1933, dealt with most of the major issues. Roosevelt personally took part in several of the negotiations with Litvinov. These agreements covered a variety of important topics: financial arrangements (which focused on increasing U.S. trade credits to the Soviet Union), the establishment of formal diplomatic relations between the two states, the outline of procedures for protection of legal rights and religious freedoms of American citizens in the Soviet Union, and the ban of hostile communist propaganda and other disruptive activity directed toward the United States.

The agreements and public statements never used the word “recognition,” referring instead to the creation of “normal diplomatic relations.” On November 17, 1933, the United States announced that William Bullitt would be the new American ambassador to the Soviet Union, and on November 20, the Soviet government named Alexander Troyanovsky as its ambassador to the United States. Both governments agreed to meet to deal with unresolved issues, and in January of 1937, they reached a compromise settlement on claims of American property seized by the Communists. Later negotiations led to a trade agreement in July of 1935, followed by one in August of 1937.


Moscow’s foreign policy during the 1930’s illustrated a willingness to take a more cooperative position in world affairs. The Soviet Union’s entry into the League of Nations in 1934 was an important step in this regard, as were the diplomatic and military agreements that the Soviet Union signed with several European nations during the decade.

The 1933 Soviet-American agreement had an uneven impact, and it failed to fill its American supporters’ high hopes. Increased Soviet-American trade did not reach predicted levels. Promises regarding religious freedom and legal rights of U.S. citizens in the Soviet Union meant relatively little. Communist propaganda and revolutionary activities, emanating from Moscow and the Comintern (Communist International), continued in the United States throughout the decade. Hull later wrote that the results fell far short of creating meaningful trust and cooperation, and by 1935 the relationship had deteriorated. Soviet leaders believed that the Soviet Union could benefit from the agreement without conceding any of its fundamental interests on major issues.

Behind occasional improvement in Soviet international behavior during the 1930’s remains the reality that the Soviet Union was a one-party dictatorship under the firm hand of Stalin and the Communist Party. No complete accommodation, cooperation, or trust could exist in the relationship between the Soviets and Americans, who represented diametrically opposed value systems and political institutions. Only during World War II, when both countries faced Germany as a common enemy, was a revitalized—but temporary—bond of cooperation created. Nonetheless, even during times of confrontation, the diplomatic understanding that began in 1933 provided the formal government-to-government contacts needed for important dialogue on many future issues. Soviet Union;U.S.-Soviet relations[U.S. Soviet relations] Bolshevik regime, U.S. recognition

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bennett, Edward M. Recognition of Russia: An American Foreign Policy Dilemma. Waltham, Mass.: Blaisdell, 1970. Discusses the political and legal aspects of the U.S. government’s decision.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Bishop, Donald G. The Roosevelt-Litvinov Agreements: The American View. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1965. Explanation of the issues negotiated.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Farnsworth, Beatrice. William C. Bullitt and the Soviet Union. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1967. Bullitt, the first ambassador to the Soviet Union, also participated in prior negotiations between the Russians and the Americans.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gambone, Michael D. Documents of American Diplomacy from the American Revolution to the Present. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2002. A good source for the correspondence between Roosevelt and Litvinov that restored diplomatic relations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Glantz, Mary E. FDR and the Soviet Union: The President’s Battles over Foreign Policy. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2005. Discusses changing U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union in 1933.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hull, Cordell. The Memoirs of Cordell Hull. New York: Macmillan, 1948. Personal recollections of the U.S. secretary of state on American-Russian relations.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Morris, M. Wayne. Stalin’s Famine and Roosevelt’s Recognition of Russia. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1994. Analysis of the economic factors behind U.S. recognition of the Soviet Union.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Richman, John. The United States and the Soviet Union: The Decision to Recognize. Raleigh, N.C.: Camberleigh & Hall, 1980. Valuable source with details not found in other accounts.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sibley, Katherine A. S. Loans and Legitimacy: The Evolution of Soviet-American Relations, 1919-1933. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1996. Traces the impact of economic ties on decisions in Washington and Moscow.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Wilson, Joan H. Ideology and Economics: U.S. Relations with the Soviet Union, 1917-1933. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1974. Assesses advocates and opponents of American recognition in the debate over potential benefits.

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Categories: History