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
are now the 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.
Catherine the Great continued Peters expansionist policies and 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 that 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, the Union of Soviet Socialist
Republics (U.S.S.R.), was formed in 1922.
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, 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
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 remained
the dominant political figure, although a broad array of parties, including
ultra-nationalists, liberals, agrarians, and communists, had substantial
representation in the parliament and competed 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.
On December 31, 1999 Boris Yeltsin resigned, and Vladimir Putin was
named Acting President.
Duma elections were held most recently on December 7, 2003, and presidential
elections on March 14, 2004. The pro-government party, United Russia, won
close to half of the seats in the Duma. Combined with its allies, it controls
a two-thirds majority. The OSCE judged the Duma elections as failing to
meet international standards for fairness, due largely to extensive slanted
media bias in the campaign. In the March 2000 presidential election Vladimir
Putin--named Acting President following the December 31, 1999 resignation
of Boris Yeltsin--was elected in the first round with 53% of the vote.
Putin was re-elected to another four-year term with 71% of the vote in
March 2004. The Russian constitution does not allow presidents to serve
more than two consecutive terms.
Russian History Bibliography