In March 1953, Soviet dictator Josef Stalin died of a stroke after several decades as the dominant figure in the USSR. American leaders, who had struggled to negotiate with the paranoid & merciless Stalin, responded by becoming hopeful but apprehensive, given the now-uncertain future of their chief Cold War opponent. Stalin's demise led rival high-ranking officials within the communist state to engage in a competition for leadership of the Soviet government. These figures included the bland Georgi Malenkov, the blunt Nikita Khrushchev, the disciplined Gen. Georgy Zhukov, & the predatory Laventry Beria. Eventually, dark horse Khrushchev would surprise the world by winning this power struggle, overcoming the diabolical Beria & his secret police. Khrushchev then broke with international Communist orthodoxy by publicly criticizing Stalin & his legacy of totalitarianism & terror. Nevertheless, the USSR would remain an autocratic & illiberal society, & Khrushchev's aggressive leadership would eventually cause major challenges for US foreign policy during the 1960s.
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