Early history to the Middle Ages
Semi-nomads already lived in the regions of western Russia 5000 years ago, but it was only in the 9th century that Slavic tribes and Swedish warriors formed the “Kievskaya Rus” with the capital Kiev – today’s capital of Ukraine. Rus (from the Greek Rhos = sources) was originally the name for the Waragian upper class of the emerging empire and was gradually transferred to the East Slavic population in order to eventually become the homeland of the Russians as Russia. The Kievan Rus developed into the largest country in Europe in the following two centuries.
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In the 12th century, the empire fell into individual empires, and in the northwest of the European part of Russia Veliky Novgorod developed into an economically and politically powerful city republic. In particular, from the mediating role between the Baltic Sea region dominated by the Hanseatic League and Russia, the city-state managed to dominate large parts of the country in the north and east. In the first half of the 13th century, Russia was subdued by the armies of the Mongol ruler Genghis Khan (1240 conquest and destruction of Kiev).
In 1380, the Principality of Moscow defeated the Tatars of the Golden Horde and united the Russian heartlands by the mid-16th century. In 1478 Novgorod was subjugated, the upper class was forced to relocate and the Hanseatic offices existing in the city were closed.
In 1547 the crowning of Ivan the Terrible as the first tsar of all of the united Russia marked another turn. The colonization and development of Siberia began from Moscow. According to AbbreviationFinder, Ivan the Terrible also conquered the entire Volga region as far as the Caspian Sea, but his expansionary movements towards the west were blocked by Sweden, Denmark, Poland and Lithuania. Hundreds of thousands fell victim to the despot’s domestic terror regime, and Novgorod in particular became a symbol of the atrocities of the “terrible”: in 1570 the Tsar sentenced the city population to death and ordered the murder of more than 60,000 citizens of the city -state.
His successors also pursued an intensive expansion policy that extended the country’s power base far into the Ukraine and led to repeated conflicts with Sweden and the Ottoman Empire. The rule of the Romanov dynasty began in the 17th century and continued until 1917. Tsar Peter the Great came to power and after several trips to western countries, he began to reform the Russian administration and thus also initiated a fundamental modernization of the Russian social structure. After the Nordic War against Sweden, which lasted several decades, the Tsar Empire gained access to the Baltic Sea and within a short time had become a major European power alongside Austria, France and Great Britain.
18th and 19th centuries
The expansion of the empire continued in the 18th century. Southeastern Finland was occupied and the Don estuary on the Sea of Azov was occupied. Tsarina Catherine the Great ruled from 1762 to 1796 in the sense of an enlightened absolutism. The Black Sea coast between the Dnieper and the mouth of the Dniester was captured and the Crimea annexed. In the west, Poland was dissolved by three divisions and two thirds of its territory was incorporated into Russia. Domestically, Catherine the Great implemented a reorganization of the administration, which was accompanied by a restriction of the free peasantry. Numerous Germans immigrated to the lower Volga region at their behest in the second half of the 18th century.
The beginning of the 19th century brought the conquest of Georgia. Under Tsar Alexander I, the Russians succeeded in repelling Napoleon’s grand army. Against this background, the country could play an important role in the reorganization of Europe at the Vienna Congress in 1815. Finland and Bessarabia were occupied and the expansion to the east continued, which led to the founding of Vladivostok in 1860. Despite the military defeat in the Crimean War in the mid-19th century that halted Russia’s hegemonic position, the country managed to conquer Central Asia. Alaska was sold to the United States in 1867, and Manchuria and Korea became the focus of further hegemonic efforts. This brought Russia into conflict with Japan, which defeated Russia in 1904/05.
Domestically, the economic situation of the Russian population had deteriorated in the 19th century: by 1861, serfdom continued to hinder rapid industrial development, and the country had become economically less and less than the Western European states. But the abolition of serfdom did not bring about any fundamental change. Peasant riots formed the basis for the formation of secret societies that aimed to overthrow the tsar. In the middle of the 19th century industrialization in Russia started too late, Siberia was developed economically and a worker living in extremely bad conditions founded the first political representations towards the end of the 19th century, including the Social Democratic Workers’ Party in Minsk in 1898, which split into the radical Bolsheviks led by Lenin and the moderate Mensheviks in 1903.
In 1905 there was a revolution and workers’ councils took over, first in Moscow and St. Petersburg, then throughout the country. Tsar Nicholas II agreed to the election of a parliament, the Duma, and initiated an agricultural reform. After initial successes in the First World War, which began in 1915, the Russian army suffered a loss of territory. In the third year of the war, Russia faced an economic disaster. Tsar Nicholas II abdicated after mass demonstrations. The Russian multinational state was on the brink of disintegration: Finland, Estonia and Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Ukraine, Belarus and Georgia declared independence.
Soviet Socialist Republic
A bourgeois provisional government was formed, but was soon replaced by a Council of People’s Commissars chaired by Lenin. Russia formed the Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR) in 1922 together with Ukraine, Belarus and the Transcaucasian Federation. In the case of formal independence, the Soviet republics were brought into line in real politics and Russian elites formed the leading layer.
Lenin died in 1924 and his successor Stalin overran the country under a terror regime that killed millions of Soviet citizens. Violent collectivization of agriculture while large-scale industries developed led to devastating famines that killed millions more. Land gains through the non-aggression pact signed with Hitler’s Germany in 1939 brought the Baltic states, northern Bukovina and eastern Poland under Soviet control. In 1941 Russia successfully fended off the attack of German troops, in 1945 the Second World War ended with Germany’s unconditional surrender. The “Patriotic War” had killed over nine million Soviet soldiers and an even higher number of civilians.
But the victory had brought more land gains, so half of East Prussia, South Sakhalin and the states of Eastern Europe as vassals. Russia had become a superpower alongside the USA and – with restrictions – China and in 1949 a nuclear power.
The 1950s and 1960s were shaped by the Cold War in terms of foreign policy. In terms of domestic policy, after Stalin’s death in 1953, a phase of cautious political opening began under the new First State Secretary Khrushchev, who also became Chairman of the Council of Ministers in 1958. The Warsaw Treaty was formed in 1955 in response to the creation of NATO. In 1964 Khrushchev was overthrown and Brezhnev was appointed the first secretary of the Central Committee. Kosygin became prime minister. The 1960s brought about a renewed intensification of the Cold War in foreign policy, inter alia through the Berlin blockade and the Cuban Missile Crisis. Sovereignty in the Eastern Bloc countries was violently suppressed.
In 1970 the post-war borders were laid down in the German-Soviet Treaty. At the same time, efforts began in the 1970s with the United States to reduce the risk of an impending nuclear war through arms control contracts. The Soviet-American summit came in 1972 and the era of detente began under the formula of “peaceful coexistence”.
Opening to the west
Brezhnev died in 1982 and only Andropov, then Chernenko took over the official business in the Soviet Union for a few years. The country’s economic and domestic situation deteriorated and in 1985 the newly elected general secretary Mikhail Gorbachev, with the approval of the party, began a policy of economic and political opening that was associated with the terms “perestroika” (reconstruction) and “glasnost” (public). Gorbachev initiated the modernization of Soviet economic structures by including market economy elements, and the press was also given more freedom. In 1988 Russian troops withdrew from Afghanistan, and a year later the first free parliamentary elections were held since the beginning of the First World War. Russia signaled its readiness to disarm vis-¨¤-vis the West (1987 INF treaty on the destruction of medium-range nuclear weapons, 1991 START-I treaty on the reduction of intercontinental systems). The Eastern Bloc countries were also granted more political freedom of movement from the end of the 1980s. As a result, internal national conflicts on the one hand and the displacement of the communist regimes on the other hand increased within these states within these states.As a result, internal national conflicts on the one hand and the displacement of the communist regimes on the other hand increased within these states.
In 1990, a personal breakthrough was made between the German Chancellor Kohl and Gorbatschow regarding a unification of the two German states.
Commonwealth of Independent States
In 1991 the Warsaw Pact broke up, Russia became independent and, together with the countries Belarus, Ukraine, Moldova, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, which also declared themselves independent, founded the CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) as a successor organization the Soviet Union (Azerbaijan left 1992, Georgia joined 1993). The political changes caused an armed revolt in Moscow in 1993, which was put down by Boris Yeltsin, who was elected President of Russia in 1991.
The first democratic elections for a federation assembly followed and a constitution was passed by referendum. In 1994, according to the contract, the withdrawal of Russian troops from the former GDR began. Russia joined the Council of Europe in 1996, and at the same time, together with Belarus, founded the “Community of Independent Republics” with supranational common bodies. The NATO-Russia Basic Act followed in 1997 and a partnership and cooperation agreement with the European Union entered into force. Cooperation in the NATO-Russia Council (NRR, founded in May 2002) sees Russia as an important element of cooperation with the West. For the country, its full membership in the G8, acquired in 2002, means recognition as a power equal to the great economic democracies of the West.
Since the mid-1990s, the Russian government has faced independence movements and power struggles in numerous republics, including Chechnya, Yakutia and North Ossetia. From early autumn 1999 to early 2000, Russian troops took control of most of Chechnya. The result was massive waves of refugees, extensive destruction of the infrastructure and the international allegation of human rights violations.
The previously leading Communists (Russian Communist Party, KPRF) emerged as losers from the 1999 Duma elections; Although they remained the strongest party, they only made up just under a third of the MPs. After Yeltsin’s resignation, Vladimir Putin was appointed interim president. In 2000, Putin was confirmed in this post in free elections and continued to do so with great power even after the controversial re-election in March 2004. In the 2003 Duma elections, the United Russia party (ER), which is close to Putin, won the absolute majority of seats with 301 out of 442. The right-wing National Liberal Democrats (LDPR) also won votes, while opposition Communists lost (47 seats).
In March 2007, the opposition alliance “The Other Russia” called for a “march of the disagreed”. Special police units acted against a few thousand demonstrators with unprecedented severity. Foreign journalists were also targeted by the security forces. Relations with the United States reached their lowest level in years in 2007. Putin sharply attacked American foreign policy at the Munich Security Conference. Putin saw the US plan to base a missile screen with bases in Poland and the Czech Republic as a project directed against Russia and a threat to global security. In the 2007 parliamentary elections, the pro-government party “United Russia” (ER) won 315 of the 450 seats, by far followed by the Communists (57 seats), the Liberal Democrats (40 seats) and the “Just Russia” party (38 seats).
In May 2008, Vice-Prime Minister and Gazprom Chairman of the Supervisory Board Dmitry Medvedev followed Vladimir Putin two months after an internationally criticized election as President. This was preceded by a month-long struggle within the power elite for the successor. Medvedev was Putin’s preferred candidate and enjoyed his full support in the election campaign. At the height of his popularity, Putin was no longer allowed to run for reelection for the presidency; instead he took over the office of prime minister and almost simultaneously chaired the United Russia party.
The human rights organization Amnesty International stated in a report in February 2008 that the opportunities for expressing critical views in Russia have been shrinking in recent years. The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg cannot handle the five-digit pending cases against Russia; However, Russia is opposed to the Court being strengthened.
On August 8, 2008, Georgia launched a military offensive in the Russian-backed breakaway region of South Ossetia to regain control of the area. Russia answered this question by invading its own troops into a buffer zone in the Georgian heartland and in Abkhazia. Four days after the invasion, Georgia, Russia, South Ossetia and Abkhazia agreed – based on EU mediation – on a six-point plan to pacify the situation. In late August, despite all warnings from the United States and numerous European countries, Russia recognized the independence of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Moscow agreed to withdraw its troops from the Georgian heartland in early October.
In the Duma elections in December 2011, Putin-led United Russia lost its two-thirds majority, but was able to achieve an absolute majority. In March 2012, Putin was re-elected president. Medvedev took over the office of Prime Minister in May 2012. After some political reforms in response to the protests, an increase in authoritarian tendencies has been reported since May 2012. In summer 2012, legislation on non-governmental organizations and the right to hold assemblies were tightened considerably, and in 2013 a law against “homosexual propaganda” was enacted. Reforms implemented by Medvedev have been partially withdrawn. On the other hand, Russia’s economic and technical modernization is to be pursued further and the welfare state expanded.
In March 2014, Russia used the domestic political crisis in Ukraine to incorporate the mostly Russian-speaking Crimean peninsula. This resulted in sanctions from the USA and the EU.