Russian History

IX CenturyRurik on the Millennium Statue in Veliky Novgorod
Slavic people from present-day Ukraine and Belarus move east, west and south. They convert to Christianity and the Cyrillic alphabet is introduced. Vikings, called Varangians, gradually take control of key Slavic trade routes, and in 862, Varangian leader Rurik of Jutland establishes the city of Novgorod. Rurik’s successor founds Kiev in 880 and the surrounding principalities unite in a loose conglomeration which comes to be called Rus, after the dominant Kievan Viking clan.

X & XI Centuries
An early version of the Russian language emerges, and in 988, Rus adopts Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Yaroslav the Wise reigns over the Golden Age of Kievan Rus until Kiev’s domination is undermined by a series of rampaging invasions from the east led by Batu Khan, the grandson of the Mongolian warlord Ghenghis Khan.

XIII - XVI Centuries
Rus becomes a khanate, part of the Golden Horde ruled by Batu and his successors, until Ivan the Great comes to power in 1462. Ivan reigns in the divided principalities, which become centralised around Moscow. In 1480, Ivan stops paying tribute to the Golden Horde.

XVI - XVII Centuries
After the death of his first wife, Ivan the Terrible takes out his frustrations in a reign of terror. He acquires new lands in the Volga region and defeats the surviving Tartar khanates. From 1598 to 1613, power struggles between landowners and the tsar, coupled with Swedish and Polish invasions, herald the beginning of a period of anarchy called the Time of Troubles.

XVII Century
Russia enters a new age of greater stability. New territories are acquired in Siberia and Ukraine. Then, in 1613, an assembly of the land elects 16-year-old Mikhail Romanov to be tsar – establishing a dynasty that will last till 1917. The new dynasty is supported by a strict serf system.

Peter the Great embarks on a ferocious modernisation campaign; he launches a naval fleet, establishes the new city of St. Petersburg, and supports his projects with a heavy tax burden. In 1712 Peter believes St. Petersburg will help reposition Russia as a European power. He transfers the capital from Moscow to St. Petersburg.

German princess Catherine the Great marries her way into the Russian royal family and launches a program of legislative and educational reform.

The seeds of dissent appear among the tsarist elite following the death of Tsar Alexander I. In December, a secret society of nobles and officers, who come to be known as the Decembrists, rally against the imminent coronation of the militaristic Nicholas I. Their uprising is crushed by Nicholas’ troops and the dissenters are executed and exiled.

In September, Russia’s first railway opens, to ferry the royal family between St. Petersburg and their country residences at Tsarskoe Selo.

Serfs are given more freedom allowing vital changes to occur in the economy and labour market.

There is a national uprising against tsarist rule, which comes to be called the ‘dress-rehearsal for 1917.’ It prompts the establishment of a national parliament (Duma) in 1906.

World War I begins; there are enormous losses, food shortages and widespread unrest. St. Petersburg is quickly renamed Petrograd to sound less German.

Wild-eyed, womanising Rasputin - a Siberian peasant who had Tsarina Alexandra under his spell because of his hypnotic ability to treat her son’s haemophilia - is murdered by Prince Felix Yusupov.

In February, revolution from above overthrows the tsarist system; then, in October, popular uprisings overthrow the new provisional government. The Bolshevik Party takes control. The Bolsheviks end the war and embark on massive economic and social reform programmes.

The Bolsheviks face opposition from all sides. In response, they execute Tsar Nicholas II and his family and spend the next four years fighting a devastating civil war.

In response to opposition, a less extreme economic policy is introduced, the New Economic Policy (NEP). Lenin moves the capital back to Moscow.

Lenin dies and Petrograd is renamed Leningrad. Stalin takes control of the Soviet Union The USSR is recognised by Great Britain, France and Italy.

Stalin implements his first five-year plan to build up Russia’s industrial and military might.

As Stalin embarks on his second five-year plan, the U.S. recognises the USSR.

The worst period of Stalin’s terror begins; it lasts until 1941. Millions are murdered or sent to GULAGs.

Trotsky is murdered in Mexico.

1941 - 1945
Germany attacks Russia on June 22 and the Great Patriotic War begins. After sustaining heavy losses, Russia begins to push German-forces back in 1943. Germany surrenders in May 1945.

The USSR tests its first atomic bomb.

Stalin dies. It’s estimated that 20 million people died as a result of his purges, camps and forced famines. In 1954, Krushchev succeeds him.

The first satellite (Sputnik) is launched.

Yuri Gagarin becomes the first man in space.

The cold war reaches its height with the Cuban missile crisis in October.

The Soviets send tanks to Czechoslovakia following the Prague Spring.

Alexander Solzhenitsyn wins the Nobel Prize for literature, and, in 1971, he is exiled from the USSR.

The Soviets invade Afghanistan, and in opposition, 64 countries boycott the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics.

Gorbachev becomes General Secretary of the Communist Party and calls for reforms including perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness).

The Berlin Wall comes down.

Gorbachev is awarded the Nobel Prize for peace.

Yeltsin becomes the first elected president of the Russian Federation in June. A coup against him in August fails, and he embarks on a dramatic program of market reform. One by one, the Baltic States declare their independence, and, in December, Yeltsin announces that the USSR no longer exists and proclaims the establishment of a new confederation called the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

Following a popular referendum in September, Leningrad is returned to its original name St. Petersburg.

Distribution systems, agriculture and industry fall into disarray. Yeltsin faces opposition from communists and nationalists in the Duma. In September, the Duma strips him of his presidential powers, and he responds by bringing in tanks. Yeltsin violently puts down the opposition, and an election in December ushers in a new government split between reformers, communists and nationalists.

Perhaps to appease popular nationalist sentiment, Yeltsin starts dabbling more and more in the affairs of the newly independent states (former Soviet states). At the end of the year, he launches an attack on the Muslim ethnic-republic of Chechnya, which declared independence in 1991. By 1995, Russian troops control the capital Grozny.

The signs of economic crisis become obvious. In response, the rouble is devalued. Overnight, banks close and millions of people’s savings are worth nothing.

In August Yeltsin appoints native Petersburger and former KGB-man Vladimir Putin prime minister. Following an apartment building bomb blast in Moscow (which killed 300 people) Yeltsin and Putin launch the second Chechen war.

In March, Vladimir Putin is elected president.

On May 27, St. Petersburg turns 300. Determined to make his hometown’s anniversary an international event, Putin gets behind a US$1.7-billion renovation plan to prepare the city for a celebration that includes 2600 events and an international summit with 45 world leaders.
On October 23, Chechen Muslim terrorists hold 850 people hostage in a Moscow theatre, demanding the withdrawal of Russian forces from Chechnya and an end to hostilities there. On the third days of the siege, Russian special forces stormed the building using knockout gas. 129 hostages are killed along with all 42 terrorists.

Chechen Muslim terrorists take 1200 schoolchildren and staff hostage at School No 1 in Beslan on September 1. After three days of siege, the situation comes to a tragic head with the deaths of 344 civilians, including 186 children and hundreds wounded.

Russia’s economy continues to grow in strength, based largely on the wealth of Russia’s natural gas and oil reserves. This hasn’t been completely problem free though. In January, a dispute breaks out between Ukraine and Gazprom, the state owned gas company, as Ukraine refused to allow the passage of Russia’s gas to Europe. Russia’s stable economic position enables it to pay back all it’s foreign debts.

Putin throws his support behind his ally, First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev as his preferred candidate in the March 2008 Election for the Presidency.

Medevdev becomes the third President of the Russian Federation in May with a star studded inauguration seen by all and sundry on tv. Putin moves to the White House as Russian Prime Minister. One of Medvedev's first iniatives is to tackle corruption.

Terrorism hits Moscow again as suicide bombers kill dozens in the Moscow metro stations of Lubyanka and Park Kultury. The tackle against corruption continues as plans to completely re-organise the country's police force are passed through parliament and with Obama the new US president, US-Russia relations begin to thaw.

Vladimir Putin is elected Russian President for the third time.

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