Stalin launched the blockade of Berlin to stop the Allies’ introduction of the deutschmark in the city’s western zones, to stop the progress toward the creation of West Germany, and to prevent NATO.
Days before the blockade began, Stalin had expelled Tito’s Yugoslavia from the Communist bloc, Cominform. As a result, the possibility of defection from Moscow was no longer unthinkable. Stalin could not now show any weakness over Germany.
By keeping the western currency out of Berlin, the Soviets would have complete control of the city’s finances. By impeding the progress toward separate Germanys, he could help himself to western German goods.
When Russia banned traffic to Berlin, the Allies counter-blockaded, halting shipments and traffic from western Germany into the eastern zone. To Stalin’s surprise, the East was dependent on coal, steel, machine tools, and industrial commodities from the west. The Soviets also suffered because they had been siphoning food and industrial shipments from western Germany as hidden reparations.
The Berlin Airlift wasn’t seen as a permanent solution. Many in the west believed withdrawing from Berlin would be necessary. They raised humanitarian concerns, saying Moscow would bring in supplies for the city’s western zones.
The United States could not withdraw their occupation troops, however. The Russians could not be trusted. Western Germany’s leaders wanted the troops to stay; they had long experience with totalitarian methods and would never accept Russia’s terms for unification.
The Russians claimed they would not remove their troops because the Germans hated them; as a matter of national security, the must maintain forces in Germany.
The only policy toward the Soviet Union must be firm, vigilant containment of Russian expansion tendencies. The U.S. refused to turn 2,400,000 West Berlins over to the terror of communist rule. And Stalin backed down on the blockade.
Coming in February The Marshall Plan: Dawn of the Cold War by Benn Steil