The problems in West Berlin

West Berlin was a worry and an embarrassment for the Soviet Union in 1961.

  • Nearly 2,000 refugees a day were fleeing to the West through West Berlin - damaging the Soviet claim that the Communist way of life was better than capitalism.
  • Many of those leaving were skilled and qualified workers.
  • The Soviets believed (rightly) that West Berlin was a centre for US espionage.

At the Vienna Summit of June 1961, therefore, Khrushchev demanded that the US leave West Berlin within six months. Kennedy refused and instead guaranteed West Berlin's freedom.

On 13 August, Khrushchev closed the border between East and West Berlin and started building the Berlin Wall. At first, the Russians regarded it as a propaganda success, but as time went on, it became a propaganda disaster - a symbol of all that was considered bad about Soviet rule.