This article analyzes the landmark deal between the Italian automobile corporation Fiat and the Soviet government to build and operate the Volga Automobile Factory (VAZ). Drawing on formerly closed corporate records and declassified Soviet documents, the article traces how the Cold War helped shape the strategy of a West European multinational corporation in its attempts to manipulate the national and international political context in which it was acting. In Fiat's strategy toward the uncertain Soviet market, car production represented more of a bridgehead than an ultimate objective. Fiat's Ostpolitik was carefully planned and coordinated with the U.S. government and with other large Italian businesses. Italian-Soviet cooperation in building VAZ, the symbol of material well-being and peaceful industrial reconstruction, facilitated the requests of Soviet officials and Western corporations to lift East-West trade restrictions on non-strategic goods, thus conferring political legitimacy on trade with the Soviet Union.

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