Year
1988
Month Day
May 31

Three U.S. presidents close chapters on the Cold War

On May 30, 1988, three U.S. presidents in three different years take significant steps toward ending the Cold War.

Beginning on May 28, 1988, President Ronald Reagan met Soviet General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev for a four-day summit in Russia. Upon his election in 1980, Reagan had abandoned Nixon, Ford and Carter’s attempts to diffuse political tensions between the two superpowers and instead instigated an enormous build-up of arms and rhetoric against the Soviet Union. The Soviets could not keep up with the U.S.’s massive defense spending and this, along with Gorbachev’s policy of granting increasing freedom to Soviet citizens (glasnost), helped to erode hard-line communism within Russia. 

 In a remarkable and symbolic address to a group of Moscow University students on May 31, Reagan stood in front of an enormous bust of Lenin and spoke openly about freedom, technology, creativity and his desire to see the Berlin Wall torn down. He told the students your generation is living in one of the most exciting, hopeful times in Soviet history when the first breath of freedom stirs the air and the heart beats to the accelerated rhythm of hope, when the accumulated spiritual energies of a long silence yearn to break free.

READ MORE: The Myth That Reagan Ended the Cold War With a Single Speech

Two years to the day after Reagan’s 1988 visit, and just about a year after the 1989 demolition of the Berlin Wall, Reagan’s successor George H. W. Bush met with Gorbachev in the United States to discuss the reunification of East and West Germany. Bush and Gorbachev outlined a plan that would unite the separate communist and democratic spheres into one nation not seen since World War II. In 1991, after an aborted communist coup against Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin became president and the Soviet Union was officially declared over, dismantled and re-named Russia. Most of the former Soviet satellite territories were granted their independence. Russia then initiated tentative steps toward a capitalist economic system.

On this day in 1994, President Bill Clinton pledged continued cooperation with Russia in a New World Order, declaring that the U.S. would no longer point nuclear missiles at Russia, ending the antagonism and fear of mutually assured destruction that characterized the half-century-long Cold War between the two superpowers.

READ MORE: The Cold War Timeline

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

The Boer War ends in South Africa

In Pretoria, representatives of Great Britain and the Boer states sign the Treaty of Vereeniging, officially ending the three-and-a-half-year South African Boer War. The Boers, also known as Afrikaners, were the descendants of the original Dutch settlers of southern Africa. ...read more

Netanyahu elected prime minister of Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres is narrowly defeated in national elections by Likud Party leader Benjamin Netanyahu. Peres, leader of the Labor Party, became prime minister in 1995 after Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a right-wing Jewish extremist. Netanyahu, who promised ...read more

Architect of the Holocaust hanged in Israel

Near Tel Aviv, Israel, Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi SS officer who organized Adolf Hitler’s “final solution of the Jewish question,” was executed for his crimes against humanity. Eichmann was born in Solingen, Germany, in 1906. In November 1932, he joined the Nazi’s elite SS ...read more

Germans conquer Crete

On May 31, 1941, the last of the Allies evacuate after 11 days of battling a successful German parachute invasion of the island of Crete. Crete is now Axis-occupied territory. On the morning of May 20, some 3,000 members of Germany’s Division landed on Crete, which was patrolled ...read more