Capital : Moscow (Moskva)
Size: 6 592 000 sq m Popn: 149 527 000
The Bosphoran Kingdom around the Crimean peninsula was part of the Roman world but the rest of this large group of territories remained outside it. It was here that the Huns made their first appearance in Europe in AD 170, affecting first the Ostrogoths in the Crimea and the Ukraine. Slavs from the Carpathian mountain area moved east and west in large quantities around the C6th and the Avars arrived from further east about the same time.
At this stage, the various tribes followed their own pagan religions but the struggle for supremacy between the Roman Catholic and Byzantine Orthodox Christian factions led to competition to convert the Slavs. There was a Christian church in Kiev by 867 and the Russian prince, Vladimir, was baptised in 988. As Islam spread from the east, the peoples around the Caspian and Black Seas and the eastern end of the Khazar Empire were converted from the late C7th on.
The Khazar Empire at the western end of the Eurasian steppe was the most civilised state in the region since the Scythian power collapsed in the C3rd BC. It was converted to Judaism in about AD 740 and controlled a large territory stretching from Sambat (later Kiev) south to Kherson at the tip of the Crimea and east to the Caspian where the capital, Itil, was one of the great commercial centres.
In the C9th and 10th, Swedish traders crossed the Baltic to visit markets in Kievan Russia and their leaders took over Kiev and Novgorod. The Vikings established and dominated waterway trade routes and the first Russian state emerged in order to prevent them controlling the surrounding lands. The Rus managed to hold the lands of the lower Prut, Dniester and Bug and to control the Dnieper route to Byzantium. Grand Prince Svyatoslav (962-72) decided to strengthen Russia by destroying the Khazar Empire but this allowed in the warlike Turkic nomads, the Pechenegs, who controlled the area until displaced by the equally fierce Polovtsy who sacked Kiev in 1093.
After 1054, the constant battle against the nomads broke the Kievan state into separate and sometimes hostile principalities. In 1169, the capital moved from Kiev to Vladimir (near Moscow) and Russian missionaries travelled extensively amongst the tribes but the Volga Bolgars prevented further eastern expansion. The C13th saw numerous Mongol raids by the Golden Horde, who overran the southern steppes in 1223, and continuous attacks from Sweden and Germany in the Baltic region. Prince Alexander Nevsky defeated the Swedes at the River Neva in 1240 and the Germans at Lake Peipus in 1242 but was forced to recognise Mongol overlordship. Although they soon withdrew to the steppe, Mongol influence and taxation did serious political and economic damage and the leading cities were destroyed.
The Principality of Moscow rose from a tiny area overshadowed by the Mongols in the east to dominate its neighbours but in the C15th became isolated from the western world. This increased in 1448 when the Russian Orthodox church declared its independence from Constantinople and elected its own bishops. Muscovy continued to grow in power, with Ivan III annexing the territory of the great City Republic of Novgorod in 1478, and declared independence from the Tartars of the south in 1480.
In the C16th Moscow annexed the Pskov Republic and began the great eastern expansion which was to acquire the Khanates of Kazan (1552) and Astrakhan (1556) which gave it control of the Volga river down to the Caspian Sea. Ivan IV 'the Terrible' fought a long war over Livonia but did not gain control of it and the Crimean Tartars sacked Moscow in 1571 but the fur trade in Siberia was extended to the Pacific coast in 1639, establishing Russian control over northern Asia and opening up the silk trade with China. Throughout the C17th, Russian colonization continued southwards across the Oka River, founding several new towns.
After the extinction of the Muscovite royal house, the 'Time of Troubles' (1598-1613) had ended with the election of Michael, the first Romanov Tsar. The Romanovs regained much of the land lost previously to Sweden, Lithuania and Poland and the Cossacks of the eastern Ukraine rose against Poland and swore allegiance to the Tsar in 1648. This began a period of warfare in which the Ottoman Turks were also involved which ended in a Treaty between Russia and Poland in 1686 which gave Russia control of Kiev and the middle Dnieper. After 1700, Peter I 'the Great' fought a long war with Sweden which gave him Estonia, Livonia and the port of Riga in a treaty of 1721. He founded the new port of St Petersburg, proclaimed himself Emperor instead of Tsar and modernized the bureaucracy and army. The Turkish wars of Catherine the Great continued Black Sea expansion, annexing the Crimean peninsula and recovering west Ukraine and White Russia. By the end of the C18th, Russia controlled the northern shore from Dniester to the Caucasus. Odessa, founded in 1794, became the main port for Russian exports to the Mediterranean.
Russia intervened in the Revolutionary (1798-1801) and Napoleonic (1805-07) wars in France and repelled Napoleon's invasion, taking part in his overthrow in 1812-14. By 1815, it had acquired much of the old Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth with the Congress of Vienna after the fall of Napoleon allowing the Tsar to become king of the reinstated Polish kingdom. It partially occupied Armenia, formerly under Ottoman control in 1804, extended into the Persian territories of Azerbaijan in the 1820s and in 1853 gained control of the Black Sea by sinking the Turkish fleet. This led to the Crimean War with Britain and France who invaded in 1854. Despite setbacks, including the startling incident of 'The Charge of The Light Brigade', Russia could not remove her attackers and in 1856 was forced to sign the Peace of Paris, agreeing not to keep a navy in the Black Sea or maintain bases on the shore. After invading the Balkans in 1877, Russia lost most of the land gained when the Congress of Berlin divided it between Austria and Turkey in 1878.
Eastern expansion was more successful. Campaigns took over the Caucasus from 1857 to 1864 and used it as a base to subdue central Asia; the Uzbek khanates of Khokand, Khiva and Bokhara, the Turkmen nomads and the Tadzhik and Kirgiz mountain tribes. There was a short-lived colonization of North America which ended with the sale of Alaska to the USA in 1867. In the Far East, treaties extended the Russian borders as far as the Amur River and the Pacific coast south of Vladivostock (founded 1860) and the southern part of Sakhalin was gained from Japan in exchange for the Kuril Islands in 1875. Russia obtained the warm-water harbour of Port Arthur on the Yellow Sea on lease from China in 1898 and the Trans-Siberian Railway was completed in 1903 to facilitate trade. After the abolition of serfdom, on terms unfavourable to the peasants, in 1861, there was industrial growth, a working-class movement began and revolutionary ideas spread, leading to the assassination of Alexander II in 1881. The Social Democratic Party was founded in 1898.
Hostilities with Japan over Manchuria and Korea led to the return of south Sakhalin to Japan in 1905 which encouraged revolution amongst an oppressed peasantry who were still virtually slaves despite Alexander II's attempts at reform. Tsar Nicholas II was compelled to form a parliament or duma and Prime Minister Stolypin began reform, especially in agriculture. In 1914, Russia became involved in WWI after rivalries with Germany over the Balkans. Heavy losses combined with resentment towards the Imperial family and economic problems to bring about the Revolution of 1917. Nicholas II abdicated in March 1917 and a period of 'dual power' between the duma and Soviets, or councils of workers, began, with the government supported by the Soviets' moderate Menshevik leaders and, initially, by the Bolsheviks.
The return from exile of Lenin changed the Bolsheviks' policies and they revolted in November 1917 (October by their new calendar). After three years of civil war during which the Tsar and his family were assassinated and around 13 million people died from war and famine, the Bolsheviks were victorious. The 'White' government that had been established in Siberia with Czech and Japanese assistance was defeated and the last foreign troops left in 1922. Lenin's Communist Party replaced Soviet rule and gradually relations with the west were re-established, with Britain recognising it in 1924 and the US in 1933.
When Trotsky was expelled in 1927, Stalin's policy of socialism in one country was adopted. During 1928-39, industry was developed and agricultural collectives were set up, causing millions of deaths in the famines of 1932-4 in the Ukraine and Kazakhstan. Political purges and liquidations led to more deaths in the 1920s and 30s, including leading party figures. Inner-party democracy gave way to an autocracy based around the personality cult of Stalin. After 1933, there was a policy of collective resistance to aggression and the USSR signed a non-aggression pact with Germany in 1939, with Poland divided between them. Around 25 million Russians died in WWII in which Russia joined those countries opposing Germany. Communism and Soviet Socialist influence spread to much of Eastern Europe and the USSR gave indirect support to Far Eastern anti-colonial movements and relations with the USA deteriorated during the period known as the Cold War.
Stalin died in 1953 and was replaced by a collective leadership including Khrushchev, Malenkov, Bulganin, Molotov and Kaganovich which removed the secret police chief, Leonti Beria, and introduced a new legal code. Political and economic differences developed within the group leading to a fierce succession struggle which was won by Khrushchev who combined the posts of prime minister and first secretary of the party in 1958. He introduced a new development programme intended to put the USSR ahead of the USA in economic terms by 1980. The first USSR hydrogen bomb went off in 1953 and the space satellite Sputnik I was launched in 1957. Krushchev's liberalization policy led to problems with the USSR's satellite states. There was a revolt in Hungary and relations with Yugoslavia and China were suspended. The poor harvests in over-cropped Kazakhstan, site of his 'virgin lands' cultivation campaign, and the Cuban Missile Crisis, led to Krushchev being ousted by the Central Committee in 1964.
A new collective leadership centred around Leonid Brezhnev, Alexei Kosygin, Nikolai Podgorny and Mikhail Suslov, was established. It abandoned Krushchev's reforms and gave priority to the expansion and modernization of the armed forces. This, and the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 led to a resumption of the Cold War in 1964-70. Brezhnev became dominant during the 1960s, governing cautiously and bringing leaders of the main organizations such as Yuri Andropov of the KGB, Marshal Andrei Grechko of the army and Andrei Gromyko of the diplomatic service into the Politburo. With prime minister Kosygin, Brezhnev gave priority to agriculture and the production of consumer goods and a new constitution of 1977 brought in the 'Brezhnev doctrine' which gave the USSR the power to intervene in order to 'preserve socialism' in Eastern Europe as it did in Czechoslovakia. There was a new détente with the West in the 70s and Brezhnev frequently met Western leaders. The Strategic Arms Limitation Talks (SALT) resulted in arms limitation agreements between the USA and USSR and the Helsinki Accord gave Western recognition to the post-war divisions of Europe. The influence of the USSR was extended when communist governments were established in Africa (Mozambique, Angola, Ethiopia) and in the Yemen but the détente ended after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979 and the Polish crisis of 1980-1.
Brezhnev's last years were marked by increasing corruption, economic stagnation and hardening policies. At his death in 1982, Andropov became leader of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and began radical economic reform and an anti-corruption campaign. He died in February 1984 and was replaced by the elderly Konstantin Chernenko, a Breznhev supporter whose only initiative during a 13-month rule was a renewed attempt at détente with the USA which was rejected by the hardline Reagan administration. When Chernenko died in March 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev, aged 54, became the youngest leader of the CPSU since Stalin, with Gromyko as president. Gorbachev began to introduce 'market socialist' policies in agriculture and bureaucracy and introduced the policies of glasnost ('openness') and perestroika ('restructuring'). There was even discussion of a restoration of monarchy with the current heir attending the Russian naval academy in St Petersburg during the 1980s.
Gorbachev met Reagan in Geneva, 1985 and Reykjavik, 1986 and at the Washington summit of 1987, the USSR and USA agreed to scrap intermediate range nuclear missiles. The new détente initiative led to the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan and reductions in the size of the USSR's armed forces. There was growing opposition from conservatives such as Ligachev and radicals led by Boris Yeltsin, the Moscow party chief, who was dismissed for being critical of the slowness of reform in 1987. In June 1988, the first All-Union Party Conference since 1941 overhauled the constitution, giving local soviets more authority and more democratic structures and introducing a 'super-legislature' the Congress of USSR People's Deputies, from which a full-time working parliament was to be elected. It elected Gorbachev as its chairman (i.e. state president) in May 1989. That year, Gorbachev explicitly renounced the 'Brezhnev doctrine', leading to the overthrown of communist regimes in Poland, Czechoslovakia and Romania by 'people's power'.
Calls for secession from the USSR increased, with Lithuania the first republic to declare independence. Gorbachev was obliged to reconsider his opposition to a multi-party system and in 1989-90 it appeared as if his reform programme had run out of control. Troops were sent to break up demonstrations in Tbilisi, Georgia and to quell fighting between the Armenians and Azerbaijanis and a state of emergency was declared.. In 1990, the constitution was amended to support self-determination and secession, ending the CPSU's monopoly of power.
Boris Yeltsin was elected president of the Russian Republic by the RSFSR parliament and left the Communist Party, as did foreign secretary Eduard Shevardnadze who joined other liberal reformers to create the Democratic Reform Movement. The Russian Republic declared economic and political sovereignty in June 1990 and began to challenge Soviet authority. In 1991, a plan to preserve the USSR as a renewed federation of equal sovereign republics was approved although the referendum was boycotted by six republics. In August, Gorbachev was removed from power by a coup led by hardline communists, Yanayev and Pavlov. It failed and he was restored to power but his position was undermined by Yeltsin who began the dissolution of the KGB, communist rule and existing communist structures. Several republics used the confusion of the coup attempt to declare independence and the three Baltic states were given formal recognition in September. The attempt to form a new Union of Sovereign States failed in November and Gorbachev resigned in December. A new federated arrangement, the Commonwealth of Independent States was created, joined by all the remaining republics except Georgia, in the midst of a civil war, and the USSR ceased to exist.
Russia, or the Russian Federation, was given official recognition as an independent country by the USA in December 1991 and joined the UN. It joined the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe in January 1992. Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Moldavia and the five Asian republics also became recognised as independent countries. Although the economy was weak, the Russian Federation was still a 'great power' and had inherited much of the USSR's strategic and diplomatic assets such as overseas embassies, nuclear and military arsenals and a permanent seat on the UN security council. Internal frictions increased but in March 1992, the leaders of 18 of the 20 main political sub-divisions signed a federal treaty giving the regional governments broad autonomy within a loose Russian Federation. Checheno-Ingush and Tatarstan refused to sign but Yeltsin would not give in to their demands for sovereignty within Russia.
Living standards declined rapidly and food shortages led to riots over the lifting of price controls early in 1992, but the situation was helped by a billion dollar loan from the International Monetary fund and food aid from the USA. In June, Yeltsin and Bush held the first official Russian-American summit and agreed to a major reduction in strategic nuclear weapons. Russia and Ukraine agreed to joint control of the Black Sea fleet until 1995 when it would be divided between them, effectively removing it from the command of the CIS.
This collection of names was compiled by Kate Monk and is ©1997, Kate Monk.
Copies may be made for personal use only.
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