Watching 'The Crown' made me wonder whether the usage of 'Russian' is anachronistic in the show. I.e. whether common usage in the UK and the USA would have been 'Soviet Tanks' or 'the Soviets' when referring to armed conflict and political intrigue. Does anyone have any evidence for that from newspaper clippings or official transcript? One example I found supporting my hypothesis was the NY Times headlines "... Kennedy ready for Soviet Showdown" from the Cuban missile crisis.

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    I almost always used Soviet or USSR during the Cold War.
    – J. Taylor
    May 29, 2018 at 20:40
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    In the UK the Soviet Union was often referred to as simply "Russia" especially in the tabloid press. May 29, 2018 at 21:39
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    Russia was the dominant component of the Soviet Union in every respect, and the successor state to a land known as "Russia," so it's quite unsurprising to me that you would find the one substituted for the other even in sources like the New York Times or Time, especially in headlines. Compare at Turkey for the Ottoman Empire, or the British use of Holland to refer to the Netherlands, or the American use of England to refer to the UK.
    – choster
    May 29, 2018 at 22:52
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    Strictly speaking they are not the same thing. The Soviet Union was comprised of many republics, only one of which was Russia. Two categories of people might have used Russia when meaning the USSR - the less educated/uninformed e.g. @MichaelHarvey's tabloid readers, and also older people who had a perspective of pre-Soviet Russia. People like Churchill and de Gaulle would use "Russia", since their ideas were partly informed by "the age of empire" and 19th-century diplomacy.
    – WS2
    May 29, 2018 at 22:55
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    I'm afraid this question is not about the English language and its usage.
    – Kris
    Jun 15, 2018 at 7:30

2 Answers 2


I did searches in the Corpus of Historical American English and concluded that both phrasings were used often enough in America during the Cold War, with "soviet tank" being more common (depending on the year). The searches are as follows:

soviet tank*:

russian tank*:

I repeated the searches in the Time Magazine Corpus and although the graphs are slightly different, the conclusion is the same: both were used but "soviet tank" was more common.

soviet tank*:

russian tank*:

In these searches, tank* matches any word that starts with tank, such as "tank", "tanks", or "tankers". You can repeat these searches yourself by creating a free account here, then using the "chart" tab to search.


I'm not sure if it answers your question the way you wanted, but I got this:

The Soviet Union was a federal socialist state in Eurasia that existed from 1922 to 1991. So also in the Cold War. The countries we now know as Moldova, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Russia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Ukraine were all ONE country together back in the Cold War; the Soviet Union.

You can compare it to the United States, it was ONE country, with different states. And one of the 'states' was Russia, the biggest and most important one. So unless you want to specifically say something came from Russia I think 'Soviet Union' was more commonly in the Cold War.

After all, you say an American tank comes from America. It was made in one of the states but you don't mention the specific state it came from, saying it's from America is enough.

So in that year Soviet Tank is likely more common.

I hope this answers your question.

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