History of Russia
The history of 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 to, through diplomacy and
conquest, 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
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
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.
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