The Cold War was a political standoff between the Western allies of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO, and the countries of the Warsaw Pact, often referred to as the "Eastern Bloc." The latter was dominated by the Soviet Union and included Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria and East Germany. All of these countries underwent significant changes after the Cold War came to an end in 1991.
Breakup of the Soviet Union
The Soviet Union ceased to exist in December 1991, following the collapse of its Communist government. Earlier the same year, the three Baltic republics of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia had seceded from the union. With the formal end of the Soviet empire, the other constituent republics also became independent states. The largest of these is Russia; other former Soviet states include Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova and Georgia. The post-Soviet era saw a number of regional conflicts, including a short war between Russia and Georgia in 2008.
Reunification of Germany
During the Cold War period, West Germany and East Germany were two completely separate countries. They were reunited into a single Germany in October 1990. East Germany ceased to exist; it was absorbed into the Federal Republic of Germany, which was the official name for West Germany. The capital of the Federal Republic was moved from Bonn to Berlin, which was the capital of Germany before the Cold War. Geographically, Berlin was located in East Germany, although the city was split into Western and Eastern sectors by the infamous Berlin Wall. The destruction of the wall in 1989 is widely seen as marking the beginning of the end of the Cold War.
The Expansion of the European Union
The European Union, or E.U., began as an alliance of Western European countries, but it has since expanded to embrace many former members of the Eastern Bloc. Czechoslovakia split into two separate countries, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, in 1993; both these countries joined the E.U. in 2004. Hungary, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia joined at the same time, with Bulgaria and Romania following in 2007. Three of the former Eastern bloc countries -- Slovakia, Estonia and Latvia -- have adopted the standard European currency of the Euro.
New Members of NATO
When NATO was set up at the start of the Cold War, one of the main reasons for its existence was to act as a military foil to the Eastern Bloc nations. It is ironic, therefore, that most of those countries are now members of NATO. Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic joined in 1999, followed by Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania and Bulgaria in 2004. All of these countries were part of the "Coalition of the Willing" that liberated Iraq in 2003, as were a number of former Soviet republics including Georgia and Ukraine.
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