The history of Russia

The early beginning history of Russia…

Tradition says that the Viking Rurik came to Russia in CE 862 and founded the first Russian Dynasty in Novgorod. However, the fact is that during the 9th Century Viking tribes from all over Scandinavia moved Southwards into what is now European Russia, tracing a path along the main waterway that connects the Black and Baltic Seas. These tribes were united by the spread of Christianity in the 10th and 11th centuries. Vladimir the Saint was converted to Christianity in 988. During the 11th century the grand dukes of Kiev held power.

In 1240 Kiev was destroyed by the Mongols, and this split the territory into smaller dukedoms, the Mongol Empire stretched across into Asia and Russia was put under the control of the Golden Horde. The next 2 centuries saw the rise of Moscow as the provincial capital and the centre of the Christian Orthodox Church.

In the 15th century Ivan III acquired Novgorod and got rid of the Mongol yoke. Ivan IV (Ivan the terrible – 1533-1584) was the first Muscovite Tzar and is considered to be the founder of the Russian State. He crushed the power of the rival princes and landowners, but Russia remained largely medieval until the reign of Peter the Great (1689-1725). He made extensive reforms that were aimed at westernisation, and through defeating Charles XII of Sweden in 1709 at the Battle of Poltava extended the boundaries to the West. Catherine the Great (1762-1796) continued with the westernisation and expanded territory by acquiring Crimea, Ukraine and part of Poland.

During the reign of Alexander I (1801-25), Napoleon tried to conquer Russia, but he was unsuccessful, his troops were defeated in 1812 and new territory was won including Finland (1809) and Bessarabia in 1812. Alexander also originated the Holy Alliance which for a time crushed the rising liberal movement in Europe. This eventually led to the Russian Revolution.

In the revolt of 1825 a group of young reformist military officers tried to force the adoption of a constitutional monarchy by preventing the accession of Nicolas I, they failed. This actually made Nicolas the most reactionary leader in Europe.

World war I uncovered Tsarist corruption and inefficiency, only patriotism held the army together for a time. In 1917 disorder broke out in Petrograd (now St Petersburg) with the defection of the garrison launching the Russian Revolution. Nicolas II was forced to abdicate on March 15th 1917, and he and his family were killed by revolutionists July 16th 1918. On November 7th 1917 a Bolshevik revolution engineered by Lenin (a pseudonym taken on by Vladimir Illich Ulyanov) and Leon Trotsky overthrew the government and gave authority to a Council of Peoples Commissars with Lenin taking the Premiership. These series of events in November are known as the October Revolution, as November 7th was actually October 25th under the old Russian calendar.

The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was established as a federation December 30th 1922, and the new economic policy started and installed the soviets as land and property owners. The death of Lenin January 21st 1924 started a struggle for power between Joseph Stalin and Trotsky who favoured swift socialisation at home and formation of revolution abroad. Trotsky was dismissed as a commissioner of war in 1925 and banished from the Soviet Union in 1929. He was murdered in Mexico city August 21st 1940 by a political agent. Stalin took over premiership May 6th 1941 after several purges of the ruling elite.

Soviet foreign policy took an abrupt turn 24th August 1939 with the signing of a non aggression pact with Nazi Germany. The following month Moscow joined in the German attack on Poland, seizing territory. This Soviet-German alliance came to an abrupt end June 22nd 1941 when Hitler launched a lightening attack and seized 500,000 square miles of Russian territory before Soviet defences, aided by the US and British armies halted it.

The USSR built a cordon of Communist states running from Poland in the North, to Albania and Bulgaria in the South, including East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Romania, composed of the territories the Soviet armies had seized by the end of the war. With the Eastern front solid, the Soviet Union launched a political offensive against the non Communist west, firstly by blocking Western access to Berlin. Western powers retaliated by using an airlift, completed unification of Western Germany and organized the defence of Western Europe with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Stalin died March 6th 1953 and was succeeded by Malenkov the next day.

The new power in the Kremlin was Khrushchev, first secretary of the party. He formalised the Eastern European system into the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecon) and a Warsaw Pact Treaty Organization to counteract NATO. Under his control, the Soviet Union launched the first rocket into space (Sputnik) in 1957, and Yuri Gagarin was the first man in space in 1961. However, his downfall stemmed from his decision to place nuclear missiles in Cuba, and when challenged by the US he backed down and removed them. He was forced to retire October 15th 1964 and was replaced by Brezhnev.

June 18th 1979 US president Jimmy Carter and Brezhnev signed the SALT II treaty, this set ceilings on the arsenal of intercontinental ballistic missiles each nation could have. The US senate refused to ratify the treaty because of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan on 27th December 1979. When Brezhnev died in 1982 Yuri Andropov was chosen to succeed him. Andropov died in 1984 after months of illness and was then succeeded by Chernenko. Under his reign the relationship with the West soured again, and led by Moscow all the Eastern bloc countries, bar Romania, boycotted the 1984 Summer Olympic games in Los Angeles. This was retaliation for the US led boycott of the 1980 Moscow games, at least that is what most observers concluded. Cherneko died after only 13 months in office as he had been ill most of that time. His successor was Gorbachev and at the age of 54 he was the youngest man to take control. Unfortunately on 24th April 1986 the Chernobyl nuclear power plant went into Meltdown and the Soviet Union was reluctant to give out any information on this and was heavily criticised for this decision. Gorbachev also started the process of reforming the system of power in the Soviet Union that would ultimately lead to the separation of the states to becoming independent nations.

Coming events

How to apply Medicine Study Abroad