“From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic,” Sir Winston Churchill said during an impassioned speech while visiting Missouri under the watchful eye of US President Harry Truman. “An iron curtain has descended across the Continent.” His remarks, made 77 years ago, came a year after World War 2, and just as the threat of the Soviet Union became unnervingly real. Dividing Europe into two separate entities in the aftermath of the bruising conflict, the Iron Curtain was supposedly brought down in 1991. But many believe history is moving towards repeating itself.
Russia’s hostility towards the West has endured despite the Cold War ending decades ago, its bloody war with Ukraine demonstrating Moscow’s ruthless desire to assert what it sees as lost control.
The war, which has seen NATO members ply Ukraine with military support, and humanitarian and financial aid to tackle Vladimir Putin’s invasion marked its grim one-year anniversary in late February, with thousands dead and little progress made.
As the months have gone on, with pressure piling on Putin to achieve a victory, the analyses of how the war could pan out have grown increasingly worrying.
Among the most concerning scenarios include Russia using nuclear weapons in Ukraine and its allies should the West become more directly involved in the conflict.
All of this has led to speculation around the Iron Curtain returning, including by Timothy Phillips, author of, The Curtain and the Wall: A Modern Journey Along Europe’s Cold War Border.
Speaking to TimesRADIO in October, Mr Phillips, who travelled the length of the former Iron Curtain, described how he felt the war could end up going — with the nuclear option still a significant possibility.
He said: “There is a growing division between the ethos and values of Eastern Europe, even the bits of Eastern Europe that are in the European Union and NATO in terms of cultural issues around gender politics and sexual politics and those things that do mean that when you cross you can still feel that you’re leaving one part of Europe and entering another.
“The nuclear issue is what caused Iron Curtain and the Cold War to go on for so long, and we still have that with us.”
Europe could well be on the brink of returning to a Cold War-type divide — many believe it has already happened.
“Nevertheless, we have a strategy… namely, as a defence, we consider weapons of mass destruction, nuclear weapons – it is all based around the so-called retaliatory strike. That is, when we are struck, we strike in response.”
More recently, the nation’s deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov said that Moscow could be forced to respond were the US to get further involved in the war. This is despite the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT) being in place.
He said the situation regarding the treaty was “causing more and more concern.” He continued: “The responsibility for the fact that the Treaty has not entered into force for more than a quarter of a century of its existence lies, in fact, with the United States, which defiantly refused to ratify it and is showing an obvious inclination to resume testing.
“We cannot remain indifferent to what is happening. If the United States nevertheless decides to take such a step and be the first to conduct nuclear tests, we will be forced to respond adequately. No one should have dangerous illusions that global strategic parity can be destroyed.”
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The Iron Curtain was created by the Soviet Union as a way of blocking itself and its nation’s satellites from being contactable via the west, and its allies. On the Curtain’s east lay the likes of the Soviet Union and other countries connected or influenced by it. On the other side included the likes of NATO and its allies.
Eventually, a massive 4,300 miles (7,000km) barrier made up of fences, walls, minefields and watchtowers was installed to divide the East and West, which also included the Berlin Wall.
Though already used as a phrase by author Alexander Campbell in his 1945 book It’s Your Empire, saying “an iron curtain of silence and censorship [which] has descended since the Japanese conquests of 1942”, it was popularised until Churchill’s speech the following year.
Churchill’s speech continued: “Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe.
“Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia; all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject, in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and in some cases increasing measure of control from Moscow.”
The Iron Curtain fell, historians say, on November 9, 1989, when the Berlin Wall was brought down, creating a new pathway for Germany and Europe to be reunified, and ending more than four decades of political and economic division between East and West.