Malta Summit

The Malta Summit might have been the most important meeting between US and Soviet leaders since Yalta. Yalta and Malta: rhymes, doesn't it? Asides from the coincidence in naming, the Malta Summit did mark an unofficial end to the Cold War. Let's explore!

Mockup Schule

Explore our app and discover over 50 million learning materials for free.

Malta Summit


Lerne mit deinen Freunden und bleibe auf dem richtigen Kurs mit deinen persönlichen Lernstatistiken

Jetzt kostenlos anmelden

Nie wieder prokastinieren mit unseren Lernerinnerungen.

Jetzt kostenlos anmelden

The Malta Summit might have been the most important meeting between US and Soviet leaders since Yalta. Yalta and Malta: rhymes, doesn't it? Asides from the coincidence in naming, the Malta Summit did mark an unofficial end to the Cold War. Let's explore!

Malta Summit Date

To begin, it is important to know that the Malta Summit took place between 2-3 December 1989. At the time, Mikhail Gorbachev had become Premier of the struggling Soviet Union in 1985, and George W. Bush had been elected President of the United States in 1988.

Both leaders were relatively new to their roles as leaders of their respective nations, and the Malta Summit would demonstrate how these two superpowers began to resolve Cold War tension at the end of the 20th century.

Malta Summit 1989 Summary

On 2-3 December 1989, US President George W. Bush and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev met on a warship anchored in the Mediterranean off the coast of Malta.

The Malta Summit was called so that the two leaders could discuss the rapidly changing state of Europe. Only around three weeks previously, the Berlin Wall had fallen; in addition, the Iron Curtain was lifting across Europe as several of the Communist regimes in Eastern Europe had collapsed, marking a significant weakening in the USSR's power in Europe.

The aim of the summit was for the two superpowers to reassess their relationship after these events and try to set a new, more peaceful course for the future.

Where did the Malta Summit take place?

The Malta Summit took place on the Soviet vessel Maxim Gorkiy (not to be confused with the battleship Maksim Gorky, which was decommissioned and sold for scrap in the 1950s), anchored in Marsaxlokk, Malta.

Though the Maxim Gorkiy was used as the venue for the talks, for the duration of the summit, both the American and the Soviet delegations lived on their respective vessels. The American delegation stayed on the USS Belknap, and the Soviet delegation, on the Slava.

Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Slava was renamed the Moskva. The Moskva was sunk by Ukrainian anti-ship missiles during the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Choosing Malta as the venue for the summit was quite symbolic. Not only was Malta geographically located in the centre of the Mediterranean Sea, but Malta was a constitutionally-neutral state. Malta had declared its neutrality in 1980, following the withdrawal of the last remaining British forces from the island.

Malta Summit Maxim Gorkiy lunch StudySmarterFig. 1 - Malta Summit, Lunch on the Soviet Cruise Ship Maxim Gorkiy

During the summit talks, it was evident that the Soviet Union sought to improve its image and remove the association with totalitarianism. Yet, Gorbachev did genuinely want to revolutionise Soviet leadership and make the USSR more open and honest. Gorbachev's warm reception to change played a large part in the warming relations between the Soviet Union and the West.

Malta Summit Mikhail Gorbachev StudySmarterFig. 2 - Mikhail Gorbachev

George H. W. Bush, the newly elected President of the United States, who had been guarded and cautious in his appraisal of the Soviet Union's significant transformation throughout the majority of 1989, now appeared to have shown his support for Gorbachev's new policy of the new political reality. Most importantly, the two leaders established a trusting connection and partook in cordial discussions.

Malta Summit George H W Bush StudySmarterFig. 3 - George H. W. Bush

USA and USSR in the Malta Summit

The nature of the discussions at the Malta Summit has been quite hard to decipher, mainly because the transcripts of the event were kept highly secret until fairly recently!

What we do have gives us a fairly good overview of what was actually talked about. The main subjects of discussion were USA/USSR intervention in Europe, disarmament, and the potential reunification of Germany.

Issues in the Malta Summit

The following table gives an overview of the subjects discussed, followed by Bush and Gorbachev's opinion on them.

IssueBush's opinionGorbachev's opinion
German reunificationThis was a nerve-wracking topic, which Bush talked carefully about. He agreed with Gorbachev that the situation should unfold as naturally as possible, but diplomatically disagreed with Gorbachev's opinion of the German Chancellor Helmut Kohl (Gorbachev did not like him!).This was a difficult subject. Gorbachev was of the opinion that events in Germany should unfold as they were going to and that neither country should try and push a certain ideology or method of reunification onto the process.
DisarmamentBush wanted to eliminate chemical weapons and invited the USSR to join an arms limitation convention of which several Western nations were already a part. Bush also asked if the USSR would be more transparent with its military budget.Gorbachev agreed that a global ban on chemical weapons was essential. He also explicitly stated that the USSR had no intentions of gaining power in Central America, showing a willingness for disarmament. However, an area of contention did arise over sea-launched cruise missiles.
Intervention in EuropeBush asked Gorbachev if he would be willing to suspend the USSR's program of economic aid to Eastern Europe. He claimed it would better spent in the USSR and would remove an element of friction between the two countries.Gorbachev acknowledged the difficulty of the recent government collapses in Eastern Europe. While he certainly wanted a reunification of Europe, he did not want it to happen along 'Western values'. He feared that it would not be fair to the USSR as it would automatically give America more power.
Soviet ties to the WestBush expressed his sincere wish for the USSR to cooperate more with the US and the West, recognising that the way to move forward was through cooperation.Gorbachev agreed on more Soviet integration, and was very keen to get more involved in international economic organisations - though he did point out that the US had previously been against Soviet participation in these organisations, and hoped that this stance would not continue.

There was also much discussion of the philosophy of their respective political ideologies and how they might be transformed to fit the new world order.

Although no agreements were signed, the conversations at the Malta Summit were open and diplomatic, with each side being respectful of the other's opinions on a wide variety of issues. For the President of the USA and the premier of the USSR to sit down and talk in a calm and friendly manner was unprecedented.

Did you know? Transcripts of the Malta Summit record Gorbachev and Bush using relaxed language and even making jokes a couple of times! Of course, they weren't rolling on the floor with laughter, but it shows that both men were really trying to bring themselves and their countries closer together.

After the Summit

The Malta Summit positively reflected Gorbachev's and Bush's outlook on the new harmonious world order. As far as the two leaders were concerned, the Cold War was over. Never in history had the two superpowers reached a level of this proximity and cordial relations. As Gorbachev cogently put it:

The world is leaving one epoch and entering another. We are at the beginning of a long road to a lasting, peaceful era. The threat of force, mistrust, the psychological and ideological struggle should all be things of the past.1

Gorbachev's positive attitude to the advent of the new age of cordial East-West relations was also elaborated by President Bush.

We can realise lasting peace and transform the East-West relationship into one of enduring cooperation. That is the future that Chairman Gorbachev and I began right here in Malta.2

Two weeks following the summit, on 19 December 1989, Eduard Shevardnadze, the Soviet Minister of Foreign Affairs, visited the NATO headquarters in Brussels. A Soviet minister, especially that of Foreign Affairs, visiting the NATO headquarters was an impressive feat as the Warsaw Pact was still technically operational. During his visit, Shevardnadze met with Secretary General Manfred Woerner as well as the Permanent Representatives of NATO.

It is noteworthy that Shevardnadze's visit marked the first-ever official visit of a government minister of a central or eastern European government to the NATO headquarters. This visit also greatly aided the image of growing friendly relations not only between the Soviet Union and the United States but the Soviet Union and the West as a whole.

Malta Summit Eduard Shevardnadze StudySmarterFig. 4 - Eduard Shevardnadze

Malta Summit Significance

By the late 1980s, the situation had begun to shift as a result of a variety of factors. The handover of Soviet leadership to Mikhail Gorbachev was crucial because he chose to pursue a policy of détente with the US. He attempted to modernise the Soviet Union by introducing the policies of 'glasnost' and 'perestroika', a shift towards more political transparency and decreased state control in the Soviet Union.


The act of relaxing tense relations between states.


Literally meaning 'openness' in Russian, this was the name for Gorbachev's policy of transparency - he wanted the Soviet Government to be more open about its practices and allow people to criticise government policy and processes and suggest solutions.


This meant 'reconstruction' or 'restructuring' in Russian and was the name of Gorbachev's attempt at economic reform to pull Russia out of the Era of Stagnation.

At the same time, Communist governments of the Eastern Bloc were crumbling, Hungary had recently opened its border to the West and the famed Berlin Wall had fallen only weeks before, on 9 November 1989.

The two sides were aware that a new, multipolar world was emerging, with an integrated Europe, a strong Chinese presence in Asia, and an increasingly apparent coming-up of India. In this sense, a new political collaboration would be required to accommodate this brave new reality. It was past time for the USSR and the US to shed their obsolete adversarial image and prepare for a cooperative endeavour.

Did you know? The Eastern Bloc refers to all those states which were East of the Iron Curtain and were under the governance of Communist governments.

It can be said, that due to the rarity of similar summits, the Malta Summit was the last summit of the Cold War. Nevertheless, it is undeniable that Malta marked the first summit of a new era. In any case, it occurred at a time of rapid transition and reflected the first time when prospects for future cooperation outweighed continuing competition, although elements of both remained.

In the end, the Malta summit proved that it was the most important meeting of the heads of two global superpowers since the Yalta Conference in 1945.

Did you know? At the Malta Summit, President Bush gifted all participants of the conference a piece of the Berlin Wall.

Malta Summit - Key takeaways

  • The Malta Summit took place on the 2nd and 3rd of December 1989, only weeks after the collapse of the Berlin Wall.
  • This meeting can be seen as the most important meeting between heads of the US and the USSR since the Yalta Conference in 1945.
  • The Malta Conference informally marked the end of the Cold War and the beginning of more warm relations between the USSR and the US.
  • The main significance behind the Malta Summit is that, though informally, the thawing of tension between the East-West eventually established a somewhat amicable relationship between the two most powerful states on the globe.


  1. The New York Times, The Malta Summit; Transcript of the Bush-Gorbachev News Conference in Malta (4 December 1989)
  2. The American Presidency Project, Remarks of the President and Soviet Chairman Gorbachev and a Question-and-Answer Session With Reporters in Malta (3 December 1989)
  3. Joshua Shifrinson, The Malta Summit and US-Soviet Relations: Testing the Waters Amidst Stormy Seas (https://www.wilsoncenter.org/publication/the-malta-summit-and-us-soviet-relations-testing-the-waters-amidst-stormy-seas)
  4. Fig. 4 - Eduard Shevardnadze in 1987 (https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Eduard_Shevardnadze_in_1987.jpg) by RIA Novosti Archive (http://visualrian.ru/ru/site/gallery/#770216), licensed as CC BY SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/deed.en)

Frequently Asked Questions about Malta Summit

The Malta Summit was important because it began a new, peaceful chapter in US-USSR relations.

The Malta Summit marked an informal end to the Cold War.

The Malta Summit took place on the 2nd and 3rd of December, 1989.

The Malta Summit was a meeting between President George H. W Bush and General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev weeks after the fall of the Berlin Wall. During the meeting, the two leaders discussed their plans for peaceful coexistence.

The US President George H. W. Bush and the leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, met to discuss the future of Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the lifting of the metaphorical 'iron curtain'. It was considered by both to mark the end of the Cold War.

Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

What does perestroika literally mean?

Which western organisation did Eduard Shevardnadze visit two weeks after the Malta Summit?

True or False: Malta was chosen as the meeting place as it was geographically and politically neutral.


Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App

The first learning app that truly has everything you need to ace your exams in one place

  • Flashcards & Quizzes
  • AI Study Assistant
  • Study Planner
  • Mock-Exams
  • Smart Note-Taking
Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App

Sign up to highlight and take notes. It’s 100% free.

Entdecke Lernmaterial in der StudySmarter-App

Google Popup

Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App

Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App

The first learning app that truly has everything you need to ace your exams in one place

  • Flashcards & Quizzes
  • AI Study Assistant
  • Study Planner
  • Mock-Exams
  • Smart Note-Taking
Join over 22 million students in learning with our StudySmarter App