The History of Russia
Below is a brief history of Russia. To find information other than history for Russia then visit
the Russia Country Page.
Human experience on the territory of present-day Russia dates back to Paleolithic times. Greek traders conducted extensive commerce with Scythian tribes around the shores of the Black Sea and the Crimean region. In the third century B.C., Scythians were displaced by Sarmatians, who in turn were overrun by waves of Germanic Goths. In the third century A.D., Asiatic Huns replaced the Goths and were in turn conquered by Turkic Avars in the sixth century. By the ninth century, Eastern Slavs began to settle in what is now Ukraine, Belarus, and the Novgorod and Smolensk regions.
In 862, the political entity known as Kievan Rus was established in what is now Ukraine and lasted until the 12th century. In the 10th century, Christianity became the state religion under Vladimir, who adopted Greek Orthodox rites. Consequently, Byzantine culture predominated, as is evident in much of Russia's architectural, musical, and artistic heritage. Over the next centuries, various invaders assaulted the Kievan state and, finally, Mongols under Batu Khan destroyed the main population centers except for Novgorod and Pskov and prevailed over the region until 1480.
In the post-Mongol period, Muscovy gradually became the dominant principality and was able, through diplomacy and conquest, to establish suzerainty over European Russia. Ivan III (1462-1505) was able to refer to his empire as "the Third Rome" and heir to the Byzantine tradition, and a century later the Romanov dynasty was established under Tsar Mikhail in 1613.
During Peter the Great's reign (1689-1725), Russia began modernizing, and European influences spread in Russia. Peter created Western-style military forces, subordinated the Russian Orthodox Church hierarchy to the Tsar, reformed the entire governmental structure, and established the beginnings of a Western-style education system. His introduction of European customs generated nationalistic resentments in society and spawned the philosophical rivalry between "Westernizers" and nationalistic "Slavophiles" that remains a key dynamic of current Russian social and political thought.
Peter's expansionist policies were continued by Catherine the Great, who established Russia as a continental power. During her reign (1762-96), power was centralized in the monarchy, and administrative reforms concentrated great wealth and privilege in the hands of the Russian nobility.
Napoleon failed in his attempt in 1812 to conquer Russia after occupying Moscow; his defeat and the continental order that emerged following the Congress of Vienna (1814-15) set the stage for Russia and Austria-Hungary to dominate the affairs of eastern Europe for the next century.
During the 19th century, the Russian Government sought to suppress repeated attempts at reform from within. Its economy failed to compete with those of Western countries. Russian cities were growing without an industrial base to generate employment, although emancipation of the serfs in 1861 foreshadowed urbanization and rapid industrialization late in the century. At the same time, Russia expanded across Siberia until the port of Vladivostok was opened on the Pacific coast in 1860. The Trans-Siberian Railroad opened vast frontiers to development late in the century. In the 19th century, Russian culture flourished as Russian artists made significant contributions to world literature, visual arts, dance, and music.
Imperial decline was evident in Russia's defeat in the unpopular Russo-Japanese war in 1905. Subsequent civic disturbances forced Tsar Nicholas II to grant a constitution and introduce limited democratic reforms. The government suppressed opposition and manipulated popular anger into anti-Semitic pogroms. Attempts at economic reform, such as land reform, were incomplete.
1917 Revolution and the U.S.S.R.
The ruinous effects of World War I, combined with internal pressures, sparked the March 1917 uprising, which led Tsar Nicholas II to abdicate the throne. A provisional government came to power, headed by Aleksandr Kerenskiy. On November 7, 1917, the Bolshevik Party, led by Vladimir Lenin, seized control and established the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic. Civil war broke out in 1918 between Lenin's "Red" army and various "White" forces and lasted until 1920, when, despite foreign interventions, the Bolsheviks triumphed. After the Red army conquered Ukraine, Belorussia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia, a new nation was formed in 1922, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
The U.S.S.R. lasted 69 years. In the 1930s, tens of millions of its citizens were collectivized under state agricultural and industrial enterprises. Millions died in political purges, the vast penal and labor system, or in state-created famines. During World War II, as many as 20 million Soviet citizens died. In 1949, the U.S.S.R. developed its own nuclear arsenal.
First among its political figures was Lenin, leader of the Bolshevik Party and head of the first Soviet Government, who died in 1924. In the late 1920s, Josif Stalin emerged as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) amidst intraparty rivalries; he maintained complete control over Soviet domestic and international policy until his death in 1953. His successor, Nikita Khrushchev, served as Communist Party leader until he was ousted in 1964. Aleksey Kosygin became Chairman of the Council of Ministers, and Leonid Brezhnev was made First Secretary of the CPSU Central Committee in 1964. But in 1971, Brezhnev rose to become "first among equals" in a collective leadership. Brezhnev died in 1982 and was succeeded by Yuriy Andropov (1982-84), Konstantin Chernenko (1984-85), and Mikhail Gorbachev, who resigned as Soviet President on December 25, 1991. On December 26, 1991, the U.S.S.R. was formally dissolved.
The Russian Federation
After the December 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation became its largest successor state, inheriting its permanent seat on the UN Security Council, as well as the bulk of its foreign assets and debt.
Boris Yeltsin was elected President of Russia by popular vote in June 1991. By the fall of 1993, politics in Russia reached a stalemate between President Yeltsin and the Parliament. The Parliament had succeeded in blocking, overturning, or ignoring the President's initiatives on drafting a new Constitution, conducting new elections, and making further progress on democratic and economic reforms.
In a dramatic speech in September 1993, President Yeltsin dissolved the Russian parliament and called for new national elections and a new Constitution. The standoff between the executive branch and opponents in the legislature turned violent in October after supporters of the Parliament tried to instigate an armed insurrection. Yeltsin ordered the army to respond with force to capture the Parliament building (known as the White House).
In December 1993, voters elected a new Parliament and approved a new Constitution that had been drafted by the Yeltsin government. Yeltsin has remained the dominant political figure, although a broad array of parties, including ultra-nationalists, liberals, agrarians, and communists, have substantial representation in the Parliament and compete actively in elections at all levels of government.
In late 1994, the Russian security forces launched a brutal operation in the Republic of Chechnya against rebels who were intent on separation from Russia. Along with their opponents, Russian forces committed numerous violations of human rights. The Russian Army used heavy weapons against civilians. Tens of thousands of them were killed and more than 500,000 displaced during the course of the war. The protracted conflict, which received close scrutiny in the Russian media, raised serious human rights and humanitarian concerns abroad as well as within Russia.
After numerous unsuccessful attempts to institute a cease-fire, in August 1996 the Russian and Chechen authorities negotiated a settlement that resulted in a complete withdrawal of Russian troops and the holding of elections in January 1997. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) played a major role in facilitating the negotiation. A peace treaty was concluded in May 1997. Following an August 1999 attack into Dagestan by Chechen separatists and the September 1999 bombings of two apartment buildings in Moscow, the federal government launched a military campaign into Chechnya. Russian authorities accused the Chechen government of failing to stop the growth of the rebels activities and failure to curb widespread banditry and hostage-taking in the republic. By spring 2000, federal forces claimed control over Chechen territory, but fighting continues as rebel fighters regularly ambush Russian forces in the region.