Sputnik Escalates the Cold War
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Bessarabia

Southeast European territory covering some 17,600 square miles in present-day Moldavia and Ukraine, bounded by the Prut, Danube, and Dneister rivers and the Black Sea. Its population in 1945 was approximately 2 million. Moldavians made up about 50 percent of the population, while Ukrainians were 20 percent; the remainder were Russians, Germans, Bulgarians, and Jews.

Until 1812 Bessarabia, which was named for the Bassarab dynasty that ruled much of Wallachia in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, formed the eastern boundary of Moldavia, a vassal state of the Ottoman Empire. In the Treaty of Bucharest of May 1812 Russia annexed Bessarabia, and it remained part of the Russian Empire until 1918. Bessarabia was briefly independent following the end of World War I but chose to join Romania. This decision was confirmed by the Allied powers, which formally awarded the territory to Romania in 1920 as an additional buffer against communist Russia. The Russian government, however, continued to regard Bessarabia as its own territory.

In June 1940, in accordance with the German-Soviet Non-aggression Pact of 23 August 1939, the Soviet Union annexed Bessarabia and that August formed much of it into the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic (MSSR), although portions of it were also awarded to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (SSR). The Soviets also deported significant numbers of Bessarabians to Siberia. Romania retook Bessarabia following the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 in which Romanian forces participated. Approximately 65,000 of 75,000 Jews living in Bessarabia perished during the Holocaust.

The Soviet Union regained the region at the end of World War II. Although Romania became a communist state and entered the Soviet bloc after the war, there was continued acrimony between the Soviet Union and Romania over Bessarabia. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the MSSR declared itself independent and became the Republic of Moldova. Many in Romania continued to believe, however, that Moldova should be part of Romania.

Spencer C. Tucker


Further Reading
Dobrinescu, Valeriu Florin. The Diplomatic Struggle over Bessarabia. Iasi: Center for Romanian Studies, 1996.
 

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