Mark MacKinnon reviews renewed interest within Russia for the views of Sergey Karaganov, an important foreign-policy analyst who has the ear of President Putin. He notes that shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, Mr. Karagonov predicted the future need to defend Russian-speaking people in countries and territories that had become separated from Russia, including East Ukraine and Crimea.


It’s been more than 20 years since the last vestiges of the Soviet Union crumbled, the Berlin Wall fell and the Cold War ended. The latter terms were commonplace to older generations, but even some teachers today may not have been born when the Soviet Union dissolved. As current events in Ukraine now dominate the news cycles, students are hearing reports about Russia’s apparent desire to restore some of the territories of the old Soviet Union. In order for students to understand the implications of such a possibility they would need to understand better the old Soviet Union and the days of the Cold War. This lesson is a very brief overview of the era, focusing on the kinds of words and terms that students might hear these days, as a way of providing some context to current events in the news.

Getting Started

Appropriate Subject Area(s):

Social studies, political science, international studies

Key Question to Explore:

What was the Soviet Union prior to its collapse in 1991, and how is it relevant to the current crisis in Crimea and Eastern Ukraine?

New Terminology:

Soviet, Cold War, Communism, Warsaw Pact, Reds, Iron Curtain, USSR, CCCP, totalitarianism, Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD), ICBM, propaganda

Materials Needed:

Globe article, the Internet.

Study and Discussion Activity

Introduction to lesson and task:

This lesson will engage students in an activity that requires them to research facts about the former Soviet Union as preparation for a homework assignment in which they use the Globe article to prepare a short essay in which they argue for one of two resolutions: There is (is not) a chance that the old Soviet Union will be reunited.

Action (lesson plan and task):

Engage students in a short (10-minute) discussion about words and phrases from the Cold War era, emphasizing the role of the Soviet Union.

Questions to guide discussion:

  • What does the word “communist” mean to you? (Answers will vary, but the term usually refers to people living under a communist form of government, where the good of the whole, or the community, is valued above the good of the individual)
  • What is meant by CCCP? (This is the acronym, USSR—The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics—in the Cyrillic alphabet. For example, P = R)
  • How do you understand the term “propaganda”? (The use of skewed and/or selective facts, lies, and rhetoric to advance one view over an opposing view and thus influence a population)
  • What kind of war is described as “cold”? (A undeclared war that does not involve firing weapons)
  • What does “Mutually Assured Destruction” mean? (To prevent either the Soviet Union or the United States from launching a nuclear war, each side was allowed to have as many weapons as would be required to ensure that were they fired, each side in the conflict would be equally destroyed and neither side could claim victory)

Next, provide students with this worksheet which they may complete by working with a partner. They will need the Internet to complete these matching activities:

Consolidation of Learning:

  • Have students pass their completed worksheet to someone who is not their partner to evaluate it. Ask for a show of hands to see who had the most correct answers.
  • In the time remaining, engage students in a discussion about items in the exercise. For example: What was the significance of Sputnik? (It showed the United States that the Soviets were capable of sending objects into space—thus proving their ability to send missiles all the way to America, if necessary). What do the symbols on the Soviet flag stand for? (Agriculture and industry) Consider using the Internet to listen to a version of the Internationale. See if anyone recognizes the music. Note that it remains the anthem of Russia, and was heard during the Sochi Winter Olympics.
  • You may choose to add this homework assignment: use the Globe article to prepare a one-page essay in which you argue for one of two resolutions: There is (is not) a chance that the old Soviet Union will be reunited. Use evidence from the article as well as additional evidence that you may find on the Internet.
Success and Additional Learning

Success Criteria:

Successful completion of the matching exercise and homework assignment

Confirming Activity:

Evaluation of students’ completed work sheets and homework assignment