History of Russia
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The history of Russia begins with that of the Eastern Slavs and the Finno-Ugric peoples. The state of Garðaríki ( "the realm of towns"), which was centered in Novgorod and included the entire areas inhabited by Ilmen Slavs, Veps and Votes, was established by the Varangian chieftain Rurik in 862 (the traditional beginning of Russian history). Kievan Rus', the first united East Slavic state, was founded by Rurik's successor Oleg of Novgorod in 882. The state adopted Christianity from the Byzantine Empire in 988, beginning the synthesis of Byzantine and Slavic cultures that defined Russian culture for the next millennium. Kievan Rus' ultimately disintegrated as a state because of the Mongol invasion of Rus' in 1237–1240. During that time a number of regional magnates, in particular Novgorod and Pskov, fought to inherit the cultural and political legacy of Kievan Rus'.
After the 13th century, Moscow came to dominate the former cultural centre. By the 18th century, the Tsardom of Russia had become the huge Russian Empire, stretching from the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth eastward to the Pacific Ocean. Expansion in the western direction sharpened Russia's awareness of its separation from much of the rest of Europe and shattered the isolation in which the initial stages of expansion had occurred. Successive regimes of the 19th century responded to such pressures with a combination of halfhearted reform and repression. Russian serfdom was abolished in 1861, but its abolition was achieved on terms unfavorable to the peasants and served to increase revolutionary pressures. Between the abolition of serfdom and the beginning of World War I in 1914, the Stolypin reforms, the constitution of 1906 and State Duma introduced notable changes to the economy and politics of Russia, but the tsars were still not willing to relinquish autocratic rule, or share their power.
The Russian Revolution in 1917 was triggered by a combination of economic breakdown, war weariness, and discontent with the autocratic system of government, and it first brought a coalition of liberals and moderate socialists to power, but their failed policies led to seizure of power by the Communist Bolsheviks on 25 October. Between 1922 and 1991, the history of Russia is essentially the history of the Soviet Union, effectively an ideologically based state which was roughly conterminous with the Russian Empire before the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. The approach to the building of socialism, however, varied over different periods in Soviet history, from the mixed economy and diverse society and culture of the 1920s to the command economy and repressions of the Joseph Stalin era to the "era of stagnation" in the 1980s. From its first years, government in the Soviet Union was based on the one-party rule of the Communists, as the Bolsheviks called themselves, beginning in March 1918. However, by the late 1980s, with the weaknesses of its economic and political structures becoming acute, the Communist leaders embarked on major reforms, which led to the fall of the Soviet Union.
The history of the Russian Federation officially starts in January 1992. The Russian Federation was recognized as the legal successor to the Soviet Union on the international stage. However, Russia has lost its superpower status as it faced serious challenges in its efforts to forge a new post-Soviet political and economic system. Scrapping the socialist central planning and state ownership of property of the Soviet era, Russia attempted to build an economy based on market capitalism, with often painful results. Even today Russia shares many continuities of political culture and social structure with its tsarist and Soviet past.
The discovery of some of the earliest evidence for the presence of modern humans found anywhere in Europe was reported in 2007 from the deepest levels of the Kostenki archaeological site near the Don River in Russia, which has been dated to at least 45,000 years ago
During the prehistoric eras the vast steppes of Southern Russia were home to tribes of nomadic pastoralists. In classical antiquity, the Pontic Steppe was known as Scythia. Remnants of these long gone steppe civilizations were discovered in the course of the 20th century in such places as Ipatovo, Sintashta, Arkaim, and Pazyryk. In the latter part of the 8th century BC, Greek merchants brought classical civilization to the trade emporiums in Tanais and Phanagoria. Gelonus was described by Herodotos as a huge (Europe's biggest) earth- and wood-fortified grad inhabited around 500 BC by Heloni and Budini. At about the 2nd century AD Goths migrated to the Black Sea, and in the 3rd and 4th centuries AD, a semi-legendary Gothic kingdom of Oium existed in Southern Russia until it was overrun by Huns. Between the 3rd and 6th centuries AD, the Bosporan Kingdom, a Hellenistic polity which succeeded the Greek colonies, was also overwhelmed by successive waves of nomadic invasions, led by warlike tribes which would often move on to Europe, as was the case with the Huns and Turkish Avars. A Turkic people, the Khazars, ruled the lower Volga basin steppes between the Caspian and Black Seas through to the 8th century. Noted for their laws, tolerance, and cosmopolitanism, the Khazars were the main commercial link between the Baltic and the Muslim Abbasid empire centered in Baghdad. They were important allies of the Byzantine Empire, and waged a series of successful wars against the Arab Caliphates. In the 8th century, the Khazars embraced Judaism.
Early East Slavs
The ancestors of the Russians were the Slavic tribes, whose original home is thought by some scholars to have been the wooded areas of the Pripet Marshes. The Early East Slavs gradually settled Western Russia in two waves: one moving from Kiev towards present-day Suzdal and Murom and another from Polotsk towards Novgorod and Rostov. From the 7th century onwards, the East Slavs constituted the bulk of the population in Western Russia and slowly but peacefully assimilated the native Finno-Ugric tribes, such as the Merya, the Muromians, and the Meshchera.
Scandinavian Norsemen, called "Vikings" in Western Europe and " Varangians" in the East, combined piracy and trade in their roamings over much of Northern Europe. In the mid-9th century, they began to venture along the waterways from the eastern Baltic to the Black and Caspian Seas. According to the earliest Russian chronicle, a Varangian named Rurik was elected ruler ( knyaz) of Novgorod in about 860, before his successors moved south and extended their authority to Kiev, which had been previously dominated by the Khazars.
Thus, the first East Slavic state, Kievan Rus', emerged in the 9th century along the Dnieper River valley. A coordinated group of princely states with a common interest in maintaining trade along the river routes, Kievan Rus' controlled the trade route for furs, wax, and slaves between Scandinavia and the Byzantine Empire along the Volkhov and Dnieper Rivers.
The name "Russia", together with the Finnish Ruotsi (which means "Sweden") and Estonian Rootsi (which means "Sweden"), are found by some scholars to be related to Roslagen. The etymology of Rus and its derivatives are debated, and other schools of thought connect the name with Slavic or Iranic roots.
By the end of the 10th century, the Norse minority had merged with the Slavic population, which also absorbed Greek Christian influences in the course of the multiple campaigns to loot Tsargrad, or Constantinople. One such campaign claimed the life of the foremost Slavic druzhina leader, Svyatoslav I, who was renowned for having crushed the power of the Khazars on the Volga. At the time, the Byzantine Empire was experiencing a major military and cultural revival; despite its later decline, its culture would have a continuous influence on the development of Russia in its formative centuries.
Kievan Rus' is important for its introduction of a Slavic variant of the Eastern Orthodox religion, dramatically deepening a synthesis of Byzantine and Slavic cultures that defined Russian culture for the next thousand years. The region adopted Christianity in 988 by the official act of public baptism of Kiev inhabitants by Prince Vladimir I. Some years later the first code of laws, Russkaya Pravda, was introduced. From the onset the Kievan princes followed the Byzantine example and kept the Church dependent on them, even for its revenues, so that the Russian Church and state were always closely linked.
By the 11th century, particularly during the reign of Yaroslav the Wise, Kievan Rus' displayed an economy and achievements in architecture and literature superior to those that then existed in the western part of the continent. Compared with the languages of European Christendom, the Russian language was little influenced by the Greek and Latin of early Christian writings. This was because Church Slavonic was used directly in liturgy instead.
A nomadic Turkic people, the Kipchaks (also known as the Cumans), replaced the earlier Pechenegs as the dominant force in the south steppe regions neighbouring to Rus' at the end of the 11th century and founded a nomadic state in the steppes along the Black Sea (Desht-e-Kipchak). Repelling their regular attacks, especially on Kiev, which was just one day's ride from the steppe, was a heavy burden for the southern areas of Rus'. The nomadic incursions caused a massive influx of Slavs to the safer, heavily forested regions of the north, particularly to the area known as Zalesye.
Kievan Rus' ultimately disintegrated as a state because of in-fighting between members of the princely family that ruled it collectively. Kiev's dominance waned, to the benefit of Vladimir-Suzdal in the north-east, Novgorod in the north, and Halych-Volhynia in the south-west. Conquest by the Mongol Golden Horde in the 13th century was the final blow. Kiev was destroyed. Halych-Volhynia would eventually be absorbed into the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, while the Mongol-dominated Vladimir-Suzdal and independent Novgorod Republic, two regions on the periphery of Kiev, would establish the basis for the modern Russian nation.
The invading Mongols accelerated the fragmentation of the Rus'. In 1223, the disunited southern princes faced a Mongol raiding party at the Kalka River and were soundly defeated. In 1237–1238 the Mongols burnt down the city of Vladimir (4 February 1238) and other major cities of northeast Russia, routed the Russians at the Sit' River, and then moved west into Poland and Hungary. By then they had conquered most of the Russian principalities. Only the Novgorod Republic escaped occupation and continued to flourish in the orbit of the Hanseatic League.
The impact of the Mongol invasion on the territories of Kievan Rus' was uneven. The advanced city culture was almost completely destroyed. As older centers such as Kiev and Vladimir never recovered from the devastation of the initial attack, the new cities of Moscow, Tver and Nizhny Novgorod began to compete for hegemony in the Mongol-dominated Russia. Although a Russian army defeated the Golden Horde at Kulikovo in 1380, Mongol domination of the Russian-inhabited territories, along with demands of tribute from Russian princes, continued until about 1480.
After the fall of the Khazars in the 10th century, the middle Volga came to be dominated by the mercantile state of Volga Bulgaria, the last vestige of Greater Bulgaria centered at Phanagoria. In the 10th century the Turkic population of Volga Bulgaria converted to Islam, which facilitated its trade with the Middle East and Central Asia. In the wake of the Mongol invasions of the 1230s, Volga Bulgaria was absorbed by the Golden Horde and its population evolved into the modern Chuvashes and Kazan Tatars.
The Mongols held Russia and Volga Bulgaria in sway from their western capital at Sarai, one of the largest cities of the medieval world. The princes of southern and eastern Russia had to pay tribute to the Mongols of the Golden Horde, commonly called Tatars; but in return they received charters authorizing them to act as deputies to the khans. In general, the princes were allowed considerable freedom to rule as they wished, while the Russian Orthodox Church even experienced a spiritual revival under the guidance of Metropolitan Alexis and Sergius of Radonezh.
To the Orthodox Church and most princes, the fanatical Northern Crusaders seemed a greater threat to the Russian way of life than the Mongols. In the mid-13th century, Alexander Nevsky, elected prince of Novgorod, acquired heroic status as the result of major victories over the Teutonic Knights and the Swedes. Alexander obtained Mongol protection and assistance in fighting invaders from the west who, hoping to profit from the Russian collapse since the Mongol invasions, tried to grab territory and convert the Russians to Roman Catholicism.
The Mongols left their impact on the Russians in such areas as military tactics and transportation. Under Mongol occupation, Russia also developed its postal road network, census, fiscal system, and military organization. Eastern influence remained strong well until the 17th century, when Russian rulers made a conscious effort to modernize their country. In popular memory, this period left a very unpleasant impression, and is referred to as the Tataro-Mongol Yoke.
Grand Duchy of Moscow
The Rise of Moscow
Daniil Aleksandrovich, the youngest son of Alexander Nevsky, founded the principality of Moscow (known as Muscovy in English), which eventually expelled the Tatars from Russia. Well-situated in the central river system of Russia and surrounded by protective forests and marshes, Moscow was at first only a vassal of Vladimir, but soon it absorbed its parent state. A major factor in the ascendancy of Moscow was the cooperation of its rulers with the Mongol overlords, who granted them the title of Grand Prince of Moscow and made them agents for collecting the Tatar tribute from the Russian principalities. The principality's prestige was further enhanced when it became the centre of the Russian Orthodox Church. Its head, the Metropolitan, fled from Kiev to Vladimir in 1299 and a few years later established the permanent headquarters of the Church in Moscow under the original title of Kiev Metropolitan.
By the middle of the 14th century, the power of the Mongols was declining, and the Grand Princes felt able to openly oppose the Mongol yoke. In 1380, at Kulikovo on the Don River, the Mongols were defeated, and although this hard-fought victory did not end Tatar rule of Russia, it did bring great fame to the Grand Prince Dmitry Donskoy. Moscow's leadership in Russia was now firmly based and by the middle of the 14th century its territory had greatly expanded through purchase, war, and marriage.
Ivan III, the Great
In the 15th century, the grand princes of Moscow went on gathering Russian lands to increase the population and wealth under their rule. The most successful practitioner of this process was Ivan III who laid the foundations for a Russian national state. Ivan competed with his powerful northwestern rival, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, for control over some of the semi-independent Upper Principalities in the upper Dnieper and Oka River basins. Through the defections of some princes, border skirmishes, and a long war with the Novgorod Republic, Ivan III was able to annex Novgorod and Tver. As a result, the Grand Duchy of Moscow tripled in size under his rule. During his conflict with Pskov, a monk named Filofei (Philotheus of Pskov) composed a letter to Ivan III, with the prophecy that the latter's kingdom will be the Third Rome. The Fall of Constantinople and the death of the last Greek Orthodox Christian emperor contributed to this new idea of Moscow as 'New Rome' and the seat of Orthodox Christianity.
A contemporary of the Tudors and other "new monarchs" in Western Europe, Ivan proclaimed his absolute sovereignty over all Russian princes and nobles. Refusing further tribute to the Tatars, Ivan initiated a series of attacks that opened the way for the complete defeat of the declining Golden Horde, now divided into several Khanates and hordes. Ivan and his successors sought to protect the southern boundaries of their domain against attacks of the Crimean Tatars and other hordes. To achieve this aim, they sponsored the construction of the Great Abatis Belt and granted manors to nobles, who were obliged to serve in the military. The manor system provided a basis for an emerging horse army.
In this way, internal consolidation accompanied outward expansion of the state. By the 16th century, the rulers of Moscow considered the entire Russian territory their collective property. Various semi-independent princes still claimed specific territories, but Ivan III forced the lesser princes to acknowledge the grand prince of Moscow and his descendants as unquestioned rulers with control over military, judicial, and foreign affairs. Gradually, the Russian ruler emerged as a powerful, autocratic ruler, a tsar. The first Russian ruler to officially crown himself " Tsar" was Ivan IV. Ivan III tripled the territory of his state, ended the dominance of the Golden Horde over the Rus, renovated the Moscow Kremlin, and laid the foundations of the Russian state. Biographer Fennell concludes that his reign was "militarily glorious and economically sound," and especially points to his territorial annexations and his centralized control over local rulers. However Fennell, the leading British specialist on Ivan III, argues that his reign was also "a period of cultural depression and spiritual barrenness. Freedom was stamped out within the Russian lands. By his bigoted anti-Catholicism Ivan brought down the curtain between Russia and the west. For the sake of territorial aggrandizement he deprived his country of the fruits of Western learning and civilization."
Tsardom of Russia
Ivan IV, the Terrible
The development of the Tsar's autocratic powers reached a peak during the reign (1547–1584) of Ivan IV ("Ivan the Terrible"). He strengthened the position of the monarch to an unprecedented degree, as he ruthlessly subordinated the nobles to his will, exiling or executing many on the slightest provocation. Nevertheless, Ivan is often seen as a farsighted statesman who reformed Russia as he promulgated a new code of laws ( Sudebnik of 1550), established the first Russian feudal representative body ( Zemsky Sobor), curbed the influence of clergy, and introduced the local self-management in rural regions.
Although his long Livonian War for the control of the Baltic coast and the access to sea trade ultimately proved a costly failure, Ivan managed to annex the Khanates of Kazan, Astrakhan, and Siberia. These conquests complicated the migration of the aggressive nomadic hordes from Asia to Europe through Volga and Ural. Through these conquests, Russia acquired a significant Muslim Tatar population and emerged as a multiethnic and multiconfessional state. Also around this period, the mercantile Stroganov family established a firm foothold at the Urals and recruited Russian Cossacks to colonise Siberia.
In the later part of his reign, Ivan divided his realm in two. In the zone known as the oprichnina, Ivan's followers carried out a series of bloody purges of the feudal aristocracy (which he suspected of treachery after the betrayal of prince Kurbsky), culminating in the Massacre of Novgorod (1570). This combined with the military losses, epidemics, poor harvests so weakened Russia that the Crimean Tatars were able to sack central Russian regions and burn down Moscow (1571). In 1572 Ivan abandoned the oprichnina.
At the end of Ivan IV's reign the Polish–Lithuanian and Swedish armies carried out a powerful intervention in Russia, devastating its northern and northwest regions.
Time of Troubles
The death of Ivan's childless son Feodor was followed by a period of civil wars and foreign intervention known as the " Time of Troubles" (1606–13). Extremely cold summers (1601–1603) wrecked crops, which led to the Russian famine of 1601–1603 and increased the social disorganization. Boris Godunov's (Борис Годунов) reign ended in chaos, civil war combined with foreign intrusion, devastation of many cities and depopulation of the rural regions. The country rocked by internal chaos also attracted several waves of interventions by the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. During the Polish–Muscovite War (1605–1618), Polish–Lithuanian forces reached Moscow and installed the impostor False Dmitriy I in 1605, then supported False Dmitry II in 1607. The decisive moment came when a combined Russian-Swedish army was routed by the Polish forces under hetman Stanisław Żółkiewski at the Battle of Klushino on 4 July [ O.S. 24 June] 1610. As the result of the battle, the Seven Boyars, a group of Russian nobles, deposed the tsar Vasily Shuysky on 27 July [ O.S. 17 July] 1610, and recognized the Polish prince Władysław IV Vasa as the Tsar of Russia on 6 September [ O.S. 27 August] 1610. The Poles entered Moscow on 21 September [ O.S. 11 September] 1610. Moscow revolted but riots there were brutally suppressed and the city was set on fire.
The crisis provoked a patriotic national uprising against the invasion, both in 1611 and 1612. Finally, a volunteer army, led by the merchant Kuzma Minin and prince Dmitry Pozharsky, expelled the foreign forces from the capital on 4 November [ O.S. 22 October] 1612.
The Russian statehood survived the "Time of Troubles" and the rule of weak or corrupt Tsars because of the strength of the government's central bureaucracy. Government functionaries continued to serve, regardless of the ruler's legitimacy or the faction controlling the throne. However, the " Time of Troubles" provoked by the dynastic crisis resulted in the loss of much territory to the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in the Russo-Polish war, as well as to the Swedish Empire in the Ingrian War.
The accession of Romanovs and early rule
In February 1613, with the chaos ended and the Poles expelled from Moscow, a national assembly, composed of representatives from fifty cities and even some peasants, elected Michael Romanov, the young son of Patriarch Filaret, to the throne. The Romanov dynasty ruled Russia until 1917.
The immediate task of the new dynasty was to restore peace. Fortunately for Moscow, its major enemies, the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and Sweden, were engaged in a bitter conflict with each other, which provided Russia the opportunity to make peace with Sweden in 1617 and to sign a truce with the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1619. Recovery of lost territories started in the mid-17th century, when the Khmelnitsky Uprising in Ukraine against Polish rule brought about the Treaty of Pereyaslav concluded between Russia and the Ukrainian Cossacks.
According to the treaty, Russia granted protection to the Cossacks state in the Left-bank Ukraine, formerly under Polish control. This triggered a prolonged Russo-Polish War which ended with the Treaty of Andrusovo (1667), where Poland accepted the loss of Left-bank Ukraine, Kiev and Smolensk.
Rather than risk their estates in more civil war, the great nobles or boyars cooperated with the first Romanovs, enabling them to finish the work of bureaucratic centralization. Thus, the state required service from both the old and the new nobility, primarily in the military. In return the tsars allowed the boyars to complete the process of enserfing the peasants.
In the preceding century, the state had gradually curtailed peasants' rights to move from one landlord to another. With the state now fully sanctioning serfdom, runaway peasants became state fugitives, and the power of the landlords over the peasants "attached" to their land had become almost complete. Together the state and the nobles placed the overwhelming burden of taxation on the peasants, whose rate was 100 times greater in the mid-17th century than it had been a century earlier. In addition, middle-class urban tradesmen and craftsmen were assessed taxes, and, like the serfs, they were forbidden to change residence. All segments of the population were subject to military levy and to special taxes.
Under such circumstances, peasant disorders were endemic; even the citizens of Moscow revolted against the Romanovs during the Salt Riot (1648), Copper Riot (1662), and the Moscow Uprising (1682). By far the greatest peasant uprising in 17th-century Europe erupted in 1667. As the free settlers of South Russia, the Cossacks, reacted against the growing centralization of the state, serfs escaped from their landlords and joined the rebels. The Cossack leader Stenka Razin led his followers up the Volga River, inciting peasant uprisings and replacing local governments with Cossack rule. The tsar's army finally crushed his forces in 1670; a year later Stenka was captured and beheaded. Yet, less than half a century later, the strains of military expeditions produced another revolt in Astrakhan, ultimately subdued.
Peter the Great
Peter the Great (1672–1725) brought autocracy into Russia and played a major role in bringing his country into the European state system. From its modest beginnings in the 14th-century principality of Moscow, Russia had become the largest state in the world by Peter's reign. Three times the size of continental Europe, it spanned the Eurasian landmass from the Baltic Sea to the Pacific Ocean. Much of its expansion had taken place in the 17th century, culminating in the first Russian settlement of the Pacific in the mid-17th century, the reconquest of Kiev, and the pacification of the Siberian tribes. However, this vast land had a population of only 14 million. Grain yields trailed behind those of agriculture in the West (that can be partly explained by the more challenging climatic conditions, in particular long cold winters and short vegetative period) compelling almost the entire population to farm. Only a small fraction of the population lived in the towns. Russia remained isolated from the sea trade, its internal trade communications and many manufactures were dependent on the seasonal changes.
Peter's first military efforts were directed against the Ottoman Turks. His attention then turned to the north. Peter still lacked a secure northern seaport except at Archangel on the White Sea, whose harbour was frozen nine months a year. Access to the Baltic was blocked by Sweden, whose territory enclosed it on three sides. Peter's ambitions for a "window to the sea" led him in 1699 to make a secret alliance with the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth and Denmark against Sweden resulting in the Great Northern War. The war ended in 1721 when an exhausted Sweden sued for peace with Russia. Peter acquired four provinces situated south and east of the Gulf of Finland, thus securing his coveted access to the sea. There, in 1703, he had already founded the city that was to become Russia's new capital, Saint Petersburg, as a "window opened upon Europe" to replace Moscow, long Russia's cultural centre. Russian intervention in the Commonwealth marked, with the Silent Sejm, the beginning of a 200-year domination of that region by the Russian Empire. In celebration of his conquests, Peter assumed the title of emperor as well as tsar, and Russian Tsardom officially became the Russian Empire in 1721.
Peter reorganized his government on the latest Western models, molding Russia into an absolutist state. He replaced the old boyar Duma (council of nobles) with a nine-member senate, in effect a supreme council of state. The countryside was also divided into new provinces and districts. Peter told the senate that its mission was to collect tax revenues. In turn tax revenues tripled over the course of his reign. Administrative Collegia were established in St. Petersburg, to replace the old governmental departments. In 1722 Peter promulgated his famous Table of ranks. As part of the government reform, the Orthodox Church was partially incorporated into the country's administrative structure, in effect making it a tool of the state. Peter abolished the patriarchate and replaced it with a collective body, the Holy Synod, led by a lay government official. Peter continued and intensified his predecessors' requirement of state service for all nobles.
Russia, by the end of Peter's reign, had become a great power. Peter the Great died in 1725, leaving an unsettled succession.
Ruling the Empire (1725–1825)
Peter I was succeeded by his second wife ( Catherine I, 1725–1728) who was merely a figure-head for a powerful group of high officials, then by his minor grandson ( Peter II, 1728–1730), then by his niece, Anna, daughter of Tsar Ivan V. In 1741 Elizabeth, daughter of Peter, seized the throne, assisted by the Preobrazhensky Regiment. She reigned for twenty years, a period marked by the establishment of Moscow University and the abolition of capital punishment, except in cases of high treason.
Nearly forty years were to pass before a comparably ambitious ruler appeared on the Russian throne. Catherine II, the Great, was a German princess who married the German heir to the Russian crown. Finding him incompetent, Catherine tacitly consented to his murder. It was announced that he had died of " apoplexy", and in 1762 she became ruler.
Catherine patronized arts, science and learning. She contributed to the resurgence of the Russian nobility that began after the death of Peter the Great. Catherine promulgated Charter to the Gentry reaffirming rights and freedoms of the Russian nobility, and abolishing mandatory state service.
Catherine the Great extended Russian political control over the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth with actions including the support of the Targowica Confederation, although the cost of her campaigns, on top of the oppressive social system that required lords' serfs to spend almost all of their time laboring on the lords' land, provoked a major peasant uprising in 1773, after Catherine legalized the selling of serfs separate from land. Inspired by another Cossack named Pugachev, with the emphatic cry of "Hang all the landlords!" the rebels threatened to take Moscow before they were ruthlessly suppressed. Catherine had Pugachev drawn and quartered in Red Square, but the specter of revolution continued to haunt her and her successors.
Catherine successfully waged war against the decaying Ottoman Empire and advanced Russia's southern boundary to the Black Sea. Then, by allying with the rulers of Austria and Prussia, she incorporated the territories of the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, where after a century of Russian rule non-Catholic mainly Orthodox population prevailed during the Partitions of Poland, pushing the Russian frontier westward into Central Europe. By the time of her death in 1796, Catherine's expansionist policy had made Russia into a major European power. This continued with Alexander I's wresting of Finland from the weakened kingdom of Sweden in 1809 and of Bessarabia from the Ottomans in 1812.
Napoleon made a major misstep when he declared war on Russia after a dispute with Tsar Alexander I and launched an invasion of Russia in 1812. The campaign was a catastrophe. Unable to decisively engage and defeat the standing Russian armies, Napoleon attempted to force the Tsar to terms by capturing Moscow at the onset of winter. The expectation proved futile. Unprepared for winter warfare in the cold Russian weather, thousands of French troops were ambushed and killed by peasant guerrilla fighters. As Napoleon's forces retreated, Russian troops pursued them into Central and Western Europe and to the gates of Paris. After Russia and its allies defeated Napoleon, Alexander became known as the 'savior of Europe,' and he presided over the redrawing of the map of Europe at the Congress of Vienna (1815), which made Alexander the monarch of Congress Poland.
Although the Russian Empire would play a leading political role in the next century, secured by its defeat of Napoleonic France, its retention of serfdom precluded economic progress of any significant degree. As West European economic growth accelerated during the Industrial Revolution, sea trade and colonialism which had begun in the second half of the 18th century, Russia began to lag ever farther behind, creating new problems for the empire as a great power.
Nicholas I and the Decembrist Revolt
Russia's great power status obscured the inefficiency of its government, the isolation of its people, and its economic backwardness. Following the defeat of Napoleon, Alexander I was willing to discuss constitutional reforms, and though a few were introduced, no thoroughgoing changes were attempted.
The tsar was succeeded by his younger brother, Nicholas I (1825–1855), who at the onset of his reign was confronted with an uprising. The background of this revolt lay in the Napoleonic Wars, when a number of well-educated Russian officers traveled in Europe in the course of the military campaigns, where their exposure to the liberalism of Western Europe encouraged them to seek change on their return to autocratic Russia. The result was the Decembrist Revolt (December 1825), the work of a small circle of liberal nobles and army officers who wanted to install Nicholas' brother as a constitutional monarch. But the revolt was easily crushed, leading Nicholas to turn away from the Westernization program begun by Peter the Great and champion the doctrine " Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and Nationality".
In the early decades of the 19th century, Russia expanded into South Caucasus and the highlands of the North Caucasus. In 1831 Nicholas crushed a major uprising in Congress Poland; it would be followed by another large-scale Polish and Lithuanian revolt in 1863.
Ideological schisms and reaction
In this setting Michael Bakunin would emerge as the father of anarchism. He left Russia in 1842 to Western Europe, where he became active in the socialist movement. After participating in the May Uprising in Dresden of 1849, he was imprisoned and shipped to Siberia, but eventually escaped and made his way back to Europe. There he practically joined forces with Karl Marx, despite significant ideological and tactical differences. Alternative social doctrines were elaborated by such Russian radicals as Alexander Herzen and Peter Kropotkin.
The question of Russia's direction had been gaining steam ever since Peter the Great's program of Westernization. Some favored imitating Europe while others renounced the West and called for a return of the traditions of the past. The latter path was championed by Slavophiles, who heaped scorn on the "decadent" West. The Slavophiles were opponents of bureaucracy, preferred the collectivism of the medieval Russian mir, or village community, to the individualism of the West. However, over the years since the Patriotic War of 1812 against Napoleon, Russia had been forced into involvement in the affairs of Europe, as part of the "Holy Alliance." The Holy Alliance was formed to serve as the "policeman of Europe." However, to be the policeman of Europe and maintain the Holy alliance needed large armies. Prussia, Austria, England and France, (the other members of the "Holy Alliance") had the large armies needed. Thus, the Holy Alliance needed Russia to supply the required armies. Consequently, as a result of Russia supplying the armies needed by the Holy Alliance to suppress the revolutionary uprisings in Europe in 1848 and 1849, Russia became deeply involved in the affairs of Europe. Luckily for Europe, their need for large armies fit the philosophy of Tsar Nicholas I.
Russia, however, expected that, in exchange for supplying the troops for the Holy Alliance to serve as the policeman of Europe, should be that Europe would leave Russia a free hand in dealing with the Ottoman Empire—the "sick man of Europe." Accordingly, some observers, including Karl Marx and Frederick Engels predicted that there soon would be a Russo-Turkish War. However, Marx and Engels predicted that any such Russo-Turkish War would necessarily become a European War.
Alexander II and the abolition of serfdom
Tsar Nicholas died with his philosophy in dispute. One year earlier, Russia had become involved in the Crimean War, a conflict fought primarily in the Crimean peninsula. Since playing a major role in the defeat of Napoleon, Russia had been regarded as militarily invincible, but, once pitted against a coalition of the great powers of Europe, the reverses it suffered on land and sea exposed the weakness of Tsar Nicholas' regime.
When Alexander II came to the throne in 1855, desire for reform was widespread. The most pressing problem which confronted the Government was that of serfdom. In 1859, there were 23 million serfs (total population of Russia 67.1 Million). Alexander II made up his own mind to abolish serfdom from above rather than wait for it to be abolished from below through revolution. The emancipation of the serfs in 1861 was the single most important event in 19th-century Russian history. It was the beginning of the end for the landed aristocracy's monopoly of power. Emancipation brought a supply of free labor to the cities, industry was stimulated, and the middle class grew in number and influence. The freed peasants had to buy land, allotted to them, from the landowners with the state assistance. The Government issued special bonds to the landowners for the land that they had lost, and collected a special tax from the peasants, called redemption payments, at a rate of 5% of the total cost of allotted land yearly. All the land turned over to the peasants was owned collectively by the mir, the village community, which divided the land among the peasants and supervised the various holdings.
Alexander's other important reforms included introduction of local self-government ( Zemstvo) for the rural districts and towns, reform of the judiciary, and of the military service.
In the late 1870s Russia and the Ottoman Empire again clashed in the Balkans. The Russo-Turkish War was popular among Russians, who supported the independence of their fellow Orthodox Slavs, the Serbs and the Bulgarians. However, the war increased tension with Austria-Hungary, which also had ambitions in the region. During this period Russia expanded its empire into Central Asia, which was rich in raw materials, conquering the khanates of Kokand, Bokhara and Khiva, as well as the Trans-Caspian region.
In the 1860s a movement known as Nihilism developed in Russia. A term originally coined by Ivan Turgenev in his 1862 novel Fathers and Sons, Nihilists favoured the destruction of human institutions and laws, based on the idea that such institutions and laws are artificial and corrupt. At its core, Russian nihilism was characterized by the belief that the world lacks comprehensible meaning, objective truth, or value. For some time many Russian liberals had been dissatisfied by what they regarded as the empty discussions of the intelligentsia. The Nihilists questioned all old values and shocked the Russian establishment. They moved beyond being purely philosophical to becoming major political forces after becoming involved in the cause of reform. Their path was facilitated by the previous actions of the Decembrists, who revolted in 1825, and the financial and political hardship caused by the Crimean War, which caused large numbers of Russian people to lose faith in political institutions.
The Nihilists first attempted to convert the aristocracy to the cause of reform. Failing there, they turned to the peasants. Their campaign, which targeted the people instead of the aristocracy or the landed gentry, became known as the Populist movement. It was based upon the belief that the common people possessed the wisdom and peaceful ability to lead the nation.
While the Narodnik movement was gaining momentum, the government quickly moved to extirpate it. In response to the growing reaction of the government, a radical branch of the Narodniks advocated and practiced terrorism. One after another, prominent officials were shot or killed by bombs. This represented the ascendancy of anarchism in Russia as a powerful revolutionary force. Finally, after several attempts, Alexander II was assassinated by anarchists in 1881, on the very day he had approved a proposal to call a representative assembly to consider new reforms in addition to the abolition of serfdom designed to ameliorate revolutionary demands.
Autocracy and reaction under Alexander III
Unlike his father, the new tsar Alexander III (1881–1894) was throughout his reign a staunch reactionary who revived the maxim of " Orthodoxy, Autocracy, and National Character". A committed Slavophile, Alexander III believed that Russia could be saved from chaos only by shutting itself off from the subversive influences of Western Europe. In his reign Russia concluded the union with republican France to contain the growing power of Germany, completed the conquest of Central Asia, and exacted important territorial and commercial concessions from China.
The tsar's most influential adviser was Konstantin Pobedonostsev, tutor to Alexander III and his son Nicholas, and procurator of the Holy Synod from 1880 to 1895. He taught his royal pupils to fear freedom of speech and press and to hate democracy, constitutions, and the parliamentary system. Under Pobedonostsev, revolutionaries were hunted down and a policy of Russification was carried out throughout the empire.
Nicholas II and a new revolutionary movement
Alexander was succeeded by his son Nicholas II (1894–1917). The Industrial Revolution, which began to exert a significant influence in Russia, was meanwhile creating forces that would finally overthrow the tsar. Politically, these opposition forces organized into three competing parties: The liberal elements among the industrial capitalists and nobility, who believed in peaceful social reform and a constitutional monarchy, founded the Constitutional Democratic party or Kadets in 1905. Followers of the Narodnik tradition established the Socialist-Revolutionary Party or Esers in 1901, advocating the distribution of land among those who actually worked it—the peasants. A third and more radical group founded the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party or RSDLP in 1898; this party was the primary exponent of Marxism in Russia. Gathering their support from the radical intellectuals and the urban working class, they advocated complete social, economic and political revolution.
In 1903 the RSDLP split into two wings: the radical Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, and the relatively moderate Mensheviks, led by Lenin's former friend Yuli Martov. The Mensheviks believed that Russian socialism would grow gradually and peacefully and that the tsar’s regime should be succeeded by a democratic republic in which the socialists would cooperate with the liberal bourgeois parties. The Bolsheviks, under Vladimir Lenin, advocated the formation of a small elite of professional revolutionists, subject to strong party discipline, to act as the vanguard of the proletariat in order to seize power by force.
The disastrous performance of the Russian armed forces in the Russo-Japanese War was a major blow to the Russian State and increased the potential for unrest. In January 1905, an incident known as " Bloody Sunday" occurred when Father Gapon led an enormous crowd to the Winter Palace in Saint Petersburg to present a petition to the tsar. When the procession reached the palace, Cossacks opened fire on the crowd, killing hundreds. The Russian masses were so aroused over the massacre that a general strike was declared demanding a democratic republic. This marked the beginning of the Russian Revolution of 1905. Soviets (councils of workers) appeared in most cities to direct revolutionary activity.
In October 1905, Nicholas reluctantly issued the famous October Manifesto, which conceded the creation of a national Duma (legislature) to be called without delay. The right to vote was extended, and no law was to go into force without confirmation by the Duma. The moderate groups were satisfied; but the socialists rejected the concessions as insufficient and tried to organize new strikes. By the end of 1905, there was disunity among the reformers, and the tsar's position was strengthened for the time being.
Bound by treaty, Tsar Nicholas II and his subjects entered World War I at the defense of Serbia. At the opening of hostilities in August 1914, the Russians took the offensive against both Germany and Austria-Hungary in support of her French ally.
Later, military failures and bureaucratic ineptitude soon turned large segments of the population against the government. The German and Ottoman fleets prevented Russia from importing supplies and exporting goods through the Baltic and Black seas.
By the middle of 1915 the impact of the war was demoralizing. Food and fuel were in short supply, casualties kept occurring, and inflation was mounting. Strikes increased among low-paid factory workers, and the peasants, who wanted land reforms, were restless. Meanwhile, public distrust of the regime was deepened by reports that a semiliterate mystic, Grigori Rasputin, had great political influence within the government. His assassination in late 1916 ended the scandal but did not restore the autocracy's lost prestige.
On 3 March 1917, a strike occurred in a factory in the capital Petrograd (formerly Saint Petersburg). On 23 February (8 March) 1917, International Women's Day, thousands of women textile workers in Petrograd walked out of their factories protesting the lack of food and calling on other workers to join them. Within days, nearly all the workers in the city were idle, and street fighting broke out. When the tsar ordered the Duma to disband, ordered strikers to return to work, and ordered troops to shoot at demonstrators in the streets, his orders triggered the February Revolution, especially when soldiers openly sided with the strikers. On 2 March (15), Nicholas II abdicated. To fill the vacuum of authority, the Duma declared a Provisional Government, headed by Prince Lvov. Meanwhile, the socialists in Petrograd organized elections among workers and soldiers to form a soviet (council) of workers' and soldiers' deputies, as an organ of popular power that could pressure the "bourgeois" Provisional Government.
In July, following a series of crises that undermined their authority with the public, the head of the Provisional Government resigned and was succeeded by Alexander Kerensky, who was more progressive than his predecessor but not radical enough for the Bolsheviks or many Russians discontented with the deepening economic crisis and the continuation of the war. While Kerensky's government marked time, the socialist-led soviet in Petrograd joined with soviets that formed throughout the country to create a national movement.
Lenin returned to Russia from exile in Switzerland with the help of Germany, which hoped that widespread strife would cause Russia to withdraw from the war. After many behind-the-scenes maneuvers, the soviets seized control of the government in November 1917, and drove Kerensky and his moderate provisional government into exile, in the events that would become known as the October Revolution.
When the national Constituent Assembly, elected in December 1917 and meeting in January 1918, refused to become a rubber-stamp of the Bolsheviks, it was dissolved by Lenin's troops. With the dissolution of the constituent assembly, all vestiges of democracy were removed. With the handicap of the moderate opposition removed, Lenin was able to free his regime from the war problem by the harsh Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (1918) with Germany, in which Russia lost the territories of Finland, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, the parts of the territories of Latvia and Belarus (line Riga-Dvinsk-Druia-Drisvyaty-Mikhalishki-Dzevalishki-Dokudova-r.Neman-r.Yelvyanka-Pruzhany-Vidoml), and the territories captured from the Ottoman Empire during World War I. On 13 November 1918 the Soviet government cancelled the Treaty of Brest.
Russian Civil War
The Bolshevik grip on power was by no means secure and a lengthy struggle broke out between the new regime and its opponents, who included the Socialist Revolutionaries, right-wing "Whites" and large numbers of peasants. At the same time the Allied powers sent several expeditionary armies to support the anti-Communist forces in an attempt to force Russia to rejoin the world war. The Bolsheviks fought against these forces and against national independence movements in the former Russian Empire. By 1921, they had defeated their internal enemies and brought most of the newly independent states under their control, with the exception of Finland, the Baltic States, the Moldavian Democratic Republic (which joined Romania), and Poland (with whom they had fought the Polish-Soviet War). Finland also annexed the region Pechenga of the Russian Kola peninsula; Soviet Russia and allied Soviet republics conceded the parts of its territory to Estonia ( Petseri County and Estonian Ingria), Latvia ( Pytalovo) and Turkey ( Kars). Poland incorporated the contested territories of Western Belarus and Western Ukraine, the former parts of the Russian Empire (except Galicia) east to Curzon Line.
Creation of the Soviet Union
The history of Russia between 1922 and 1991 is essentially the history of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics or Soviet Union. This ideologically based union, established in December 1922 by the leaders of the Russian Communist Party, was roughly coterminous with Russia before the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk. At that time, the new nation included four constituent republics: the Russian SFSR, the Ukrainian SSR, Belarusian SSR, and the Transcaucasian SFSR.
The constitution, adopted in 1924, established a federal system of government based on a succession of soviets set up in villages, factories, and cities in larger regions. This pyramid of soviets in each constituent republic culminated in the All-Union Congress of Soviets. But while it appeared that the congress exercised sovereign power, this body was actually governed by the Communist Party, which in turn was controlled by the Politburo from Moscow, the capital of the Soviet Union, just as it had been under the tsars before Peter the Great.
War Communism and the New Economic Policy
The period from the consolidation of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917 until 1921 is known as the period of war communism. Land, all industry and small businesses were nationalized and the money economy was restricted. Strong opposition soon developed. The peasants wanted cash payments for their products and resented having to surrender their surplus grain to the government as a part of its civil war policies. Confronted with peasant opposition, Lenin began a strategic retreat from war communism known as the New Economic Policy (NEP). The peasants were freed from wholesale levies of grain and allowed to sell their surplus produce in the open market. Commerce was stimulated by permitting private retail trading. The state continued to be responsible for banking, transportation, heavy industry, and public utilities.
Although the left opposition among the Communists criticized the rich peasants or kulaks who benefited from the NEP, the program proved highly beneficial and the economy revived. The NEP would later come under increasing opposition from within the party following Lenin's death in early 1924.
Changes in Russian society
While the Russian economy was being transformed, the social life of the people underwent equally drastic changes. From the beginning of the revolution, the government attempted to weaken patriarchal domination of the family. Divorce no longer required court procedure; and to make women completely free of the responsibilities of childbearing, abortion was made legal as early as 1920. As a side effect, the emancipation of the women increased the labor market. Girls were encouraged to secure an education and pursue a career in the factory or the office. Communal nurseries were set up for the care of small children and efforts were made to shift the centre of people's social life from the home to educational and recreational groups, the soviet clubs.
The regime abandoned the tsarist policy of discriminating against national minorities in favour of a policy of incorporating the more than two hundred minority groups into Soviet life. Another feature of the regime was the extension of medical services. Campaigns were carried out against typhus, cholera, and malaria; the number of doctors was increased as rapidly as facilities and training would permit; and infant mortality rates rapidly decreased while life expectancy rapidly increased.
The government also promoted atheism and materialism, which formed the basis of Marxist theory. It opposed organized religion, especially to break the power of the Russian Orthodox Church, a former pillar of the old tsarist regime and a major barrier to social change. Many religious leaders were sent to internal exile camps. Members of the party were forbidden to attend religious services and the education system was separated from the Church. Religious teaching was prohibited except in the home and atheist instruction was stressed in the schools.
Industrialization and Collectivization
The years from 1929 to 1939 comprised a tumultuous decade in Russian history—a period of massive industrialization and internal struggles as Joseph Stalin established near total control over Russian society, wielding virtually unrestrained power. Following Lenin's death Stalin wrestled to gain control of the Soviet Union with rival factions in the Politburo, especially Leon Trotsky's. By 1928, with the Trotskyists either exiled or rendered powerless, Stalin was ready to put a radical programme of industrialisation into action.
In 1929 Stalin proposed the First Five-Year Plan. Abolishing the NEP, it was the first of a number of plans aimed at swift accumulation of capital resources through the buildup of heavy industry, the collectivization of agriculture, and the restricted manufacture of consumer goods. For the first time in history a government controlled all economic activity.
As a part of the plan, the government took control of agriculture through the state and collective farms ( kolkhozes). By a decree of February 1930, about one million individual peasants ( kulaks) were forced off their land. Many peasants strongly opposed regimentation by the state, often slaughtering their herds when faced with the loss of their land. In some sections they revolted, and countless peasants deemed "kulaks" by the authorities were executed. The combination of bad weather, deficiencies of the hastily established collective farms, and massive confiscation of grain precipitated a serious famine, and several million peasants died of starvation, mostly in Ukraine and parts of southwestern Russia. The deteriorating conditions in the countryside drove millions of desperate peasants to the rapidly growing cities, fueling industrialization, and vastly increasing Russia's urban population in the space of just a few years.
The plans received remarkable results in areas aside from agriculture. Russia, in many measures the poorest nation in Europe at the time of the Bolshevik Revolution, now industrialized at a phenomenal rate, far surpassing Germany's pace of industrialization in the 19th century and Japan's earlier in the 20th century.
While the Five-Year Plans were forging ahead, Stalin was establishing his personal power. The NKVD gathered in tens of thousands of Soviet citizens to face arrest, deportation, or execution. Of the six original members of the 1920 Politburo who survived Lenin, all were purged by Stalin. Old Bolsheviks who had been loyal comrades of Lenin, high officers in the Red Army, and directors of industry were liquidated in the Great Purges. Purges in other Soviet republics also helped centralize control in the USSR.
Stalin's repressions led to the creation of a vast system of internal exile, of considerably greater dimensions than those set up in the past by the tsars. Draconian penalties were introduced and many citizens were prosecuted for fictitious crimes of sabotage and espionage. The labor provided by convicts working in the labor camps of the Gulag system became an important component of the industrialization effort, especially in Siberia. An estimated 18 million people passed through the Gulag system, and perhaps another 15 million had experience of some other form of forced labor.
The Soviet Union on the international stage
The Soviet Union viewed the 1933 accession of fervently anti-Communist Hitler's government to power in Germany with great alarm from the onset, especially since Hitler proclaimed the Drang nach Osten as one of the major objectives in his vision of the German strategy of Lebensraum. The Soviets supported the republicans of Spain who struggled against fascist German and Italian troops in the Spanish Civil War In 1938–1939, immediately prior to WWII, the Soviet Union successfully fought against Imperial Japan in the Soviet-Japanese Border Wars in the Russian Far East, which led to Soviet-Japanese neutrality and the tense border peace that lasted until August 1945.
In 1938 Germany annexed Austria and, together with major Western European powers, signed the Munich Agreement following which Germany, Hungary and Poland divided Czechoslovakia between themselves. German plans for further eastward expansion, as well as the lack of resolve from Western powers to oppose it, became more apparent. Despite the Soviet Union strongly opposing the Munich deal and repeatedly reaffirming its readiness to militarily back commitments given earlier to Czechoslovakia, the Western Betrayal led to the end of Czechoslovakia and further increased fears in the Soviet Union of a coming German attack. This led the Soviet Union to rush the modernization of its military industry and to carry out its own diplomatic maneuvers. In 1939 the Soviet Union signed a Non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany dividing Eastern Europe into two separate spheres of influence. Following the pact, the USSR normalized relations with Nazi Germany and resumed Soviet-German trade.
World War II
On 17 September 1939, seventeen days after the start of World War II and victorious German advance deep into the Polish territory, the Red Army invaded eastern portions of Poland stating the "need to protect Ukrainians and Belarusians" there, after the "cessation of existence" of the Polish state as the justification of the action. As a result, the Belarusian and Ukrainian Soviet republics' western borders were moved westward and the new Soviet western border was drawn close to the original Curzon line. In the meantime the negotiations with Finland about the Soviet-proposed land swap that would redraw the Soviet-Finnish border further away from Leningrad failed; and in December 1939 the USSR started a campaign against Finland, known as the Winter War (1939–40). The war took a heavy death toll on the Red Army but forced Finland to sign a Moscow Peace Treaty and cede the Karelian Isthmus and Ladoga Karelia. In summer 1940 the USSR issued an ultimatum to Romania forcing it to cede the territories of Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina. At the same time, the Soviet Union also occupied the three formerly independent Baltic states (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania).
The peace with Germany was tense, as both sides were preparing for the military conflict, and abruptly ended when the Axis forces led by Germany swept across the Soviet border on 22 June 1941. By the autumn the German army had seized Ukraine, laid a siege of Leningrad, and threatened to capture the capital, Moscow, itself. Despite the fact that in December 1941 the Red Army threw off the German forces from Moscow in a successful counterattack, the Germans retained the strategic initiative for approximately another year and held a deep offensive in the south-eastern direction, reaching the Volga and the Caucasus. However, two major German defeats in Stalingrad and Kursk proved decisive and reversed the course of the entire World War as Germans never regained the strength to sustain their offensive operations and the Soviet Union recaptured the initiative for the rest of the conflict. By the end of 1943, the Red Army had broken through the German siege of Leningrad and liberated much of Ukraine, much of Western Russia and moved into Belarus. By the end of 1944, the front had moved beyond the 1939 Soviet frontiers into eastern Europe. Soviet forces drove into eastern Germany, capturing Berlin in May 1945. The war with Germany thus ended triumphantly for the Soviet Union.
As agreed at the Yalta Conference, three months after the Victory Day in Europe the USSR launched the Soviet invasion of Manchuria, defeating the Japanese troops in neighboring Manchuria, the last Soviet battle of World War II.
Although the Soviet Union was victorious in World War II, the war resulted in around 26–27 million Soviet deaths (estimates vary) and had devastated the Soviet economy in the struggle. Some 1,710 towns and 70 thousand settlements were destroyed. The occupied territories suffered from the ravages of German occupation and deportations of slave labor in Germany. Thirteen million Soviet citizens became victims of a repressive policy of Germans and their allies on an occupied territory, where people died because of mass murders, famine, absence of elementary medical aid and slave labor. The Nazi Genocide of the Jews carried by German Einsatzgruppen, along the local collaborators resulted in almost complete annihilation of the Jewish population over the entire territory temporary occupied by Germany and its allies., , . During occupation, Russia's Leningrad, now Saint Petersburg, region lost around a quarter of its population. Soviet Belarus lost from a quarter to a third of its population. 3.6 million Soviet prisoners of war (of 5.5 million) died in German camps.
Collaboration among the major Allies had won the war and was supposed to serve as the basis for postwar reconstruction and security. However, the conflict between Soviet and U.S. national interests, known as the Cold War, came to dominate the international stage in the postwar period.
The Cold War emerged out of a conflict between Stalin and U.S. President Harry Truman over the future of Eastern Europe during the Potsdam Conference in the summer of 1945. Russia had suffered three devastating Western onslaughts in the previous 150 years during the Napoleonic Wars, the First World War, and the Second World War, and Stalin's goal was to establish a buffer zone of states between Germany and the Soviet Union. Truman charged that Stalin had betrayed the Yalta agreement. With Eastern Europe under Red Army occupation, Stalin was also biding his time, as his own atomic bomb project was steadily and secretly progressing.
In April 1949 the United States sponsored the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), a mutual defense pact in which most Western nations pledged to treat an armed attack against one nation as an assault on all. The Soviet Union established an Eastern counterpart to NATO in 1955, dubbed the Warsaw Pact. The division of Europe into Western and Soviet blocks later took on a more global character, especially after 1949, when the U.S. nuclear monopoly ended with the testing of a Soviet bomb and the Communist takeover in China.
The foremost objectives of Soviet foreign policy were the maintenance and enhancement of national security and the maintenance of hegemony over Eastern Europe. The Soviet Union maintained its dominance over the Warsaw Pact through crushing the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, suppressing the Prague Spring in Czechoslovakia in 1968, and supporting the suppression of the Solidarity movement in Poland in the early 1980s. The Soviet Union opposed the United States in a number of proxy conflicts all over the world, including Korean War and Vietnam War.
As the Soviet Union continued to maintain tight control over its sphere of influence in Eastern Europe, the Cold War gave way to Détente and a more complicated pattern of international relations in the 1970s in which the world was no longer clearly split into two clearly opposed blocs. Less powerful countries had more room to assert their independence, and the two superpowers were partially able to recognize their common interest in trying to check the further spread and proliferation of nuclear weapons in treaties such as SALT I, SALT II, and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.
U.S.-Soviet relations deteriorated following the beginning of the nine-year Soviet War in Afghanistan in 1979 and the 1980 election of Ronald Reagan, a staunch anti-communist, but improved as the communist bloc started to unravel in the late 1980s. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia lost the superpower status that it had won in the Second World War.
The Khrushchev and Brezhnev years
In the power struggle that erupted after Stalin's death in 1953, his closest followers lost out. Nikita Khrushchev solidified his position in a speech before the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party in 1956 detailing Stalin's atrocities.
In 1964 Khrushchev was impeached by the Communist Party's Central Committee, charging him with a host of errors that included Soviet setbacks such as the Cuban Missile Crisis. After a period of collective leadership led by Leonid Brezhnev, Alexei Kosygin and Nikolai Podgorny, a veteran bureaucrat, Brezhnev, took Khrushchev's place as Soviet leader. Brezhnev followed emphasis on heavy industry, instituted the Soviet economic reform of 1965, and also attempted to ease relationships with the United States. In the 1960s the USSR became a leading producer and exporter of petroleum and natural gas.
Khrushchev and Brezhnev years were time when Soviet science and industry peaked. The world's first nuclear power plant was established in 1954 in Obninsk. Baikal Amur Mainline was built.
The Soviet space program, founded by Sergey Korolev, was especially successful. On 4 October 1957 Soviet Union launched the first space satellite Sputnik. On 12 April 1961 Yuri Gagarin became the first human to travel into space in the Soviet spaceship Vostok 1. Other achievements of Russian space program include: the first photo of the far side of the Moon; exploration of Venus; the first spacewalk by Alexey Leonov; first female spaceflight by Valentina Tereshkova. More recently, the Soviet Union produced the world's first space station, Salyut which in 1986 was replaced by Mir, the first consistently inhabited long-term space station, that served from 1986 to 2001.
Breakup of the Union
Two developments dominated the decade that followed: the increasingly apparent crumbling of the Soviet Union's economic and political structures, and the patchwork attempts at reforms to reverse that process. After the rapid succession of former KGB Chief Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko, transitional figures with deep roots in Brezhnevite tradition, Mikhail Gorbachev announced perestroika in an attempt to modernize Soviet communism, and made significant changes in the party leadership. However, Gorbachev's social reforms led to unintended consequences. Because of his policy of glasnost, which facilitated public access to information after decades of government repression, social problems received wider public attention, undermining the Communist Party's authority. In the revolutions of 1989 the USSR lost its allies in Eastern Europe. Glasnost allowed ethnic and nationalist disaffection to reach the surface. Many constituent republics, especially the Baltic republics, Georgian SSR and Moldavian SSR, sought greater autonomy, which Moscow was unwilling to provide. Gorbachev's attempts at economic reform were not sufficient, and the Soviet government left intact most of the fundamental elements of communist economy. Suffering from low pricing of petroleum and natural gas, ongoing war in Afghanistan, outdated industry and pervasive corruption, the Soviet planned economy proved to be ineffective, and by 1990 the Soviet government had lost control over economic conditions. Due to price control, there were shortages of almost all products, reaching their peak in the end of 1991, when people had to stand in long lines and to be lucky enough to buy even the essentials. Control over the constituent republics was also relaxed, and they began to assert their national sovereignty over Moscow.
The tension between Soviet Union and Russian SFSR authorities came to be personified in the bitter power struggle between Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin. Squeezed out of Union politics by Gorbachev in 1987, Yeltsin, who represented himself as a committed democrat, presented a significant opposition to Gorbachev authority. In a remarkable reversal of fortunes, he gained election as chairman of the Russian republic's new Supreme Soviet in May 1990. The following month, he secured legislation giving Russian laws priority over Soviet laws and withholding two-thirds of the budget. In the first Russian presidential election in 1991 Yeltsin became president of the Russian SFSR. At last Gorbachev attempted to restructure the Soviet Union into a less centralized state. However, on 19 August 1991, a coup against Gorbachev, conspired by senior Soviet officials, was attempted. The coup faced wide popular opposition and collapsed in three days, but disintegration of the Union became imminent. The Russian government took over most of the Soviet Union government institutions on its territory. Because of the dominant position of Russians in the Soviet Union, most gave little thought to any distinction between Russia and the Soviet Union before the late 1980s. In the Soviet Union, only Russian SFSR lacked even the paltry instruments of statehood that the other republics possessed, such as its own republic-level Communist Party branch, trade union councils, Academy of Sciences, and the like. The Communist Party of the Soviet Union was banned in Russia in 1991–1992, although no lustration has ever taken place, and many of its members became top Russian officials. However, as the Soviet government was still opposed to market reforms, the economic situation continued to deteriorate. By December 1991, the shortages had resulted in the introduction of food rationing in Moscow and Saint Petersburg for the first time since World War II. Russia received humanitarian food aid from abroad. After the Belavezha Accords, the Supreme Soviet of Russia withdrew Russia from the Soviet Union on 12 December. The Soviet Union officially ended on 25 December 1991, and the Russian Federation (formerly the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic) took power on 26 December. The Russian government lifted price control on January 1992. Prices rose dramatically, but shortages disappeared.
Although Yeltsin came to power on a wave of optimism, he never recovered his popularity after endorsing Yegor Gaidar's " shock therapy" of ending Soviet-era price controls, drastic cuts in state spending, and an open foreign trade regime in early 1992 (see Russian economic reform in the 1990s). The reforms immediately devastated the living standards of much of the population. In the 1990s Russia suffered an economic downturn that was, in some ways, more severe than the United States or Germany had undergone six decades earlier in the Great Depression. Hyperinflation hit the ruble, due to monetary overhang from the days of the planned economy.
Meanwhile, the profusion of small parties and their aversion to coherent alliances left the legislature chaotic. During 1993, Yeltsin's rift with the parliamentary leadership led to the September–October 1993 constitutional crisis. The crisis climaxed on 3 October, when Yeltsin chose a radical solution to settle his dispute with parliament: he called up tanks to shell the Russian White House, blasting out his opponents. As Yeltsin was taking the unconstitutional step of dissolving the legislature, Russia came close to a serious civil conflict. Yeltsin was then free to impose the current Russian constitution with strong presidential powers, which was approved by referendum in December 1993. The cohesion of the Russian Federation was also threatened when the republic of Chechnya attempted to break away, leading to the First and Second Chechen Wars.
Economic reforms also consolidated a semi-criminal oligarchy with roots in the old Soviet system. Advised by Western governments, the World Bank, and the International Monetary Fund, Russia embarked on the largest and fastest privatization that the world had ever seen in order to reform the fully nationalized Soviet economy. By mid-decade, retail, trade, services, and small industry was in private hands. Most big enterprises were acquired by their old managers, engendering a new rich ( Russian tycoons) in league with criminal mafias or Western investors. That being said, there were corporate raiders such as Andrei Volgin engaged in hostile takeovers of corrupt corporations by the mid-1990s.
By the mid-1990s Russia had a system of multiparty electoral politics. But it was harder to establish a representative government because of two structural problems—the struggle between president and parliament and the anarchic party system.
Meanwhile, the central government had lost control of the localities, bureaucracy, and economic fiefdoms; tax revenues had collapsed. Still in deep depression by the mid-1990s, Russia's economy was hit further by the financial crash of 1998. After the 1998 financial crisis, Yeltsin was at the end of his political career. Just hours before the first day of 2000, Yeltsin made a surprise announcement of his resignation, leaving the government in the hands of the little-known Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, a former KGB official and head of the KGB's post-Soviet successor agency FSB. In 2000, the new acting president defeated his opponents in the presidential election on 26 March, and won a landslide 4 years later. International observers were alarmed by late 2004 moves to further tighten the presidency's control over parliament, civil society, and regional officeholders. In 2008 Dmitri Medvedev, a former Gazprom chairman and Putin's head of staff, was elected new President of Russia. However, Putin would take back Presidency 2012.
Nevertheless, reversion to a socialist command economy seemed almost impossible, meeting widespread relief in the West. Russia ended 2006 with its eighth straight year of growth, averaging 6.7% annually since the financial crisis of 1998. Although high oil prices and a relatively cheap ruble initially drove this growth, since 2003 consumer demand and, more recently, investment have played a significant role. Russia is well ahead of most other resource-rich countries in its economic development, with a long tradition of education, science, and industry.