From the 6th century, the Khazars (groups of Turkic and Iranian peoples who moved north) began to subjugate the Finno-Ugric and Slavic population living in the area of today’s western Russia. The Khazars created a prosperous empire that covered most of present-day Ukraine and southern Russia, and in 737 established a new capital, Itil, near the mouth of the Volga to the Caspian Sea. Meanwhile, the Vikings, making exploratory expeditions from Sweden, carved out a trade route from the Baltic to the Black Sea and Constantinople (present-day Istanbul) using the Dnieper River (the Dnieper trade route). First they founded Novgorod in the north and then advanced south and built Kiev. A number of Slavic tribes gradually united around this city, forming the powerful state of Kievan Rus. In 965, the strong Kiev prince Svyatoslav (died in 972) finally defeated the Khazars. In 988 Svyatoslav’s son Vladimir (960–1015) accepted the Christian faith. This event created strong bonds with the Greek Byzantine Empire, whose civilizing influences played a fundamental role in creating a distinctive Russian cultural identity.
According to Sunglasseswill, the reign of Vladimir I Svyatoslavovich and his son Yaroslav the Wise (1019–1054) was the period of greatest prosperity of Kievan Rus. However, the frequent raids of belligerent southern neighbors caused her constant trouble. In 1235, a new threat appeared from the east, when Tatar and Mongol invaders began to advance from the Asian steppes. The Mongol invasion of Russia was extensive and devastating. The Mongols burned cities and expelled their populations, slaughtered captives, and exacted tribute.
Northwest-lying Novgorod escaped Mongol raids, but had to face attacks from Swedes and Germans from the west. The legendary Novgorod prince Alexander Nevsky (1220–1263) eventually defeated his enemies in two major battles; one was fought against the Swedes on the Neva River in 1240, the second against the Germans in 1242 on the frozen Lake Čudské. By that time, however, the Mongols had already reached Europe and founded the Golden Horde empire, which had its capital in Sarajbat (near the Caspian Sea).
While the eastern regions of Kievan Rus’ remained under Mongol rule, the western part was occupied by Lithuania and Poland. However, at the end of the 13th century, a new powerful state began to grow. When Alexander Nevsky’s son Daniil Alexandrovich (1276–1304) became Prince of Moscow, he founded a dynasty of Muscovite rulers who ruled for the next three centuries until 1598. During this period, Moscow expanded rapidly, especially during the reign of Ivan III (Ivan the Great, 1440 –1505), who finally freed the Moscow region from Mongol servitude in 1480.
In 1472, he adopted the title “Ruler of all the Rus” and introduced the double-headed eagle emblem. In 1547, his grandson Ivan IV. (Ivan the Terrible 1530–1584) crowned the first Tsar of Russia.
The young tsar overcame the Khanate of Kazan and began a great Russian expansion to the east. Within half a century, Siberia was conquered, and in 1649 Jermak’s Cossacks reached the coast of the Pacific Ocean.
After the death of Ivan’s son Fyodor I (1557–1598), the Tatar nobleman Boris Godunov ruled as regent. His reign was a period of many uprisings in Russia and became known as the “Time of Troubles” (1595–1613); a period of famine, a total of 18 civil wars and rebellions, including the invasion of Poland, ended when Mikhail Romanov (1596–1645), the first representative of a dynasty that ruled Russia continuously until 1917, was elected Tsar.
Peter. I. called the Great (1672–1725), led by the desire to “open up to the West” and Europeanize his country, founded the new capital, Petersburg, at the mouth of the Neva River into the Gulf of Finland. With his military successes, the introduction of Western technology and harsh government reforms, he was able to transform Russia into a major European power. The expansion of the country’s influence and its Europeanization continued even under the reign of the German-born empress Catherine II. The Great (1729–1796).
Catherine’s grandson Alexander I (1777–1825) was at war with Napoleonic France for most of his reign. Although the defeat of Napoleon made Russian heroism famous, Russian society remained feudal and the Crimean War (1853–1856) revealed the backwardness of its industry. Alexander II (1818–1881) abolished serfdom and sought social and administrative reforms. However, the discontent of the Russian intelligentsia continued to grow and culminated in his assassination in 1881.
During the reign of Alexander II. Russia conquered the Caucasus and Kazakhstan and penetrated deep into Central Asia. Around 1900, it ruled a vast multinational empire that reached the borders of Persia, Afghanistan, India and China. After the disastrous war with Japan (1904–1905), domestic unrest forced Tsar Nicholas II. (1868–1916) to agree to the establishment of a Duma, or parliament. However, as it turned out, this concession was not enough and came too late.
The situation worsened further after 1914 when Russia entered World War I. Millions of people died in the fighting, the economy collapsed and the food supply was seriously threatened. In March 1917, following an uprising in St. Petersburg, the Tsar was forced to abdicate in favor of the Provisional Government. In November 1917, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin (born Ulyanov, 1870–1924) seized power in a coup that overthrew the Provisional Government. Lenin immediately ended Russia’s participation in the war at the cost of major concessions and decided to distribute land to the peasants. A period of devastating civil war and intervention followed (1918–1922), ending in 1922 with the establishment of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
After Lenin’s death, Josif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili, known as Stalin (1879–1953), won the power struggle by ruthlessly eliminating his rivals. In 1928, he announced the first five-year plan: a stage of intensive industrialization and forced collectivization of Russian agriculture. As a result, agricultural production fell and the subsequent famine in Ukraine in 1932 caused the death of millions of people. Many who opposed Stalin’s policies were executed or deported to Siberian labor camps. In 1934, Stalin began the systematic liquidation of all his political opponents, including top military officials. It is estimated that about 8 million people died in the mass terror of 1936-1938.
In 1941, after the outbreak of the Second World War, which caught the Soviet Union unprepared, a decisive part of the European part was occupied by Nazi Germany. Its defeat was achieved at the cost of huge sacrifices of the Russian people, which exceeded 20 million lives. In the first post-war years, the war-torn Soviet Union gained considerable international influence by creating six satellite communist regimes in the neighboring states of Central and Eastern Europe. The subsequent period of the Cold War, characterized by the development of atomic weapons and the arms race, led to the establishment of a military balance between the two major world powers, capable of destroying each other. In 1962, under Nikita Khrushchev, the world narrowly escaped war when the United States and the Soviet Union agreed to station Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba.Leonid Ilyich Brezhnev.
When Brezhnev failed to settle the growing rift between the Soviet Union and Communist China, he sought to make peace with the West. However, Brezhnev’s intensifying religious and political persecution, particularly of the Jews, caused an ebb of Western sympathy, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1980 drew widespread international condemnation.
This situation continued until March 1985, when Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev became General Secretary of the Communist Party. He introduced a new, more open style of leadership, focused on rebuilding the government and the economy. In 1988, he withdrew Soviet troops from Afghanistan and initiated disarmament talks with the West. At home, however, he had to deal with a stagnant economy, growing differences between individual republics, growing efforts for long-suppressed national sovereignty, and ethnic conflicts that began to break out in many parts of Russia.
In the late 1980s, as communist regimes collapsed across Europe, Gorbachev requested greater presidential powers in an attempt to prevent the dissolution of the Union. Boris Yeltsin and other radical reformers warned of a “new dictatorship”. However, at the beginning of 1990, the Communist Party practically gave up its monopoly of power and, with the loss of the support of the majority of the population, also lost the ability to control events in the country. As a result, in May 1990 Yeltsin became the first freely elected president of the Russian Federation.
Meanwhile, Gorbachev’s political success in the United States and Great Britain signaled the real end of the Cold War and further arms reductions. However popular Gorbachev was abroad, his popularity at home was rapidly declining. While the first union republics were declaring their independence, Gorbachev sought to preserve some degree of central authority under the new union treaty. However, in August 1991, a group of conservative hardliners attempted to seize power. The following mass demonstrations in Moscow and Leningrad did not allow the rock communists to complete the coup. Gorbachev, who was detained under house arrest in Crimea, returned to the capital, where his position of power was already shaken by Yeltsin, who resolutely opposed the coup. The failure of the coup plotters confirmed that the authority of the Communist Party is broken and the huge monolith of the Soviet Union has begun to crumble. It was formally dissolved in December 1991, and 11 of the 15 union republics, excluding the Baltic states and Georgia, formedCommonwealth of Independent States (CIS). Gorbachev had no choice but to resign.
Since then, Russia has been struggling to transform its economy, reform its political system, and find a new position in world politics. Despite the immense difficulties caused by Yeltsin’s reforms, the Russian people expressed their support for his leadership in a popular referendum in April 1993. The ongoing disruption of the economy and the noticeable decline in the standard of living of the majority of the population changed the political situation again. After Yeltsin’s clashes with the conservative parliament in October 1993, the populist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, the leader of the national fascist orientation, wins the following first free parliamentary elections. In 1996 Boris Yeltsin was elected in the elections, in 2000 Vladimir Putin was elected.