Discover Russia

Historical overview

From Slavic tribes to power of Grand Duchy of Moscow (7th - 17th Centuries)

Kievan Rus, Baptism of the Rus, Tatar-Mongols invasion, Rise of Moscow Principality, Ivan the Terrible, Time of Troubles, Romanovs on the throne

7-8 century: The Tribes of Eastern Slavs – the ancient ancestors of Russians occupied Eastern European Valley around 7th century, step by step they became the dominant power. Russians or Ruses were one of the Slavic tribes, but later this name was applied for the great number of people who settled in the area between Baltic, White, Caspian and Black seas.

9 century: Kievan Rus', a predecessor state to Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, was established. According to Russian chronicles, Rurik was elected as a ruler of Novgorod in 862. His successor Oleg the Prophet moved south and founded the state with the capital in town Kiev. That is why the country was called Kievan Rus’. Other major cities of Slavs were Suzdal, Chernigov, Rostov, Vladimir, Novgorod. Kievan Rus’ soon united most of East Slavic lands.

10-11 centuries: Kievan Rus' became the largest and most prosperous state in Europe. In 988 ruler of Kievan Rus’ prince Vladimir adopted Christianity from Byzantium as a dominant religion of the state.

12 century: Time by time, regional centers became powerful enough to claim independence from Kiev. Finally Kievan Rus’ transformed into the bulk of independent principalities. Kiev's dominance was lost, to the benefit of Vladimir-Suzdal in the north-east, Novgorod in the north-west and Galicia-Volhynia in the south-west.

13th century: Kievan Rus’ was attacked by Mongols. The separate armies of principalities were defeated one by one. The result was the destruction of Kiev and the death of about a half of total population of Rus'. The invaders, later known as Tatars, formed the state of the Golden Horde, which vassalized the Russian principalities for over three centuries. Pskov and Republic of Novgorod were the only regions which remained independent. Led by Alexander Nevsky, Novgorodians repelled the invading Swedes in the Battle of the Neva in 1240, as well as the Germanic crusaders in the Battle of the Ice in 1242, breaking their attempts to colonize the Northern Rus'.

14 century: The most powerful successor state to Kievan Rus' was the Grand Duchy of Moscow or "Moscovy" as it was called in the Western chronicles, initially a part of Vladimir-Suzdal principality. The advantage of Moscow was a remote and forested location, which prevented frequent Mongol attacks. Moscow began to assert its influence in Western Russia in the early 14th century. Moscow Princes managed to establish a good relations with Mongols and used it to increase the wealth and power of Moscow. Prince Dmitri Donskoy of Moscow, supported by Russian Orthodox Church gathered the united army of Russian principalities to beat the Mongols in the severe Battle of Kulikovo in 1380.

15 century: Ivan III (called Ivan the Great) finished the Tatar’s control and consolidated the whole of Central and Northern Rus' under Moscow's dominion. He was the first to take the title "Grand Duke of all the Russia". After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, Moscow claimed succession to the legacy of the Eastern Roman Empire. Ivan III married Sophia Palaiologina, the niece of the last Byzantine emperor Constantine XI, and made the Byzantine double-headed eagle his own, and eventually Russian, coat-of-arms. Finally, to the end of 15th century Moscovy gained control over the most of Russian lands and started exploring further. Kremlin walls and towers of red brick were built in Moscow with the help of Italian architects.

16 century: In development of the Third Rome ideas, the Grand Duke Ivan IV was officially crowned the first Tzar (Russian version of Byzantium "Caesar") of Russia in 1547. He went to history chronicles as Ivan the Terrible for his brutal and cruel treatment with his opponents and enemies. Under his reign Russia doubled its territory by conquering Tartar states along Volga river colonization of Siberia. By the end of the 16th century Russia was transformed into a multiethnic, multiconfessional and transcontinental state. Magnificent St. Basil’s Cathedral on Red square was built to commemorate victory over Kazan Khanate.

17 century: The death of Ivan's son marked the end of the old Rurik’s Dynasty wich led to the period of chaos and civil called Smutnoye Vremya (Time of Troubles). There were many candidates who fought for the crown. Unstable situation was used by Sweden and Poland, who invaded Russian territories and even captured Moscow in 1610. However Russia managed to fight back, with the help of merchant Minin and Prince Pozharsky (see the monument to them on the Red Square) who led the militia army and drove Poles out, reclaiming all the lost territory. The new Tzar was chosen in 1613. It was Mikhail Romanov who started 300 years reign of Romanov’s dynasty, which lasted until the revolution in 1917.

Russian Empire (18-beg. the 20th centuries)

Reforms of Peter the Great, reign of Catherine the Great, war with Napoleon, last Russian Tzar

18 century: Under the reign of Peter the Great, Russia was proclaimed an Empire in 1721 and became recognized as a world power. Peter the Great forced the development of Russia. He actively implemented reforms to modernize Russia’s military and administrative structure. He stimulated Russian nobles to get education in Europe and hired European engineers and scientists to serve in Russia. He believed that intensive contacts with Europe will have a positive influence on successful development of the country. Russia gained access to the Baltic Sea, defeating the Swedes in the Great Northern War. Peter founded Saint-Petersburg on the newly acquired Baltic shores in 1703. It was rapidly growing town and Peter moved here the capital of the Empire in 1712. Building of the new capital turned into ambitious project of constructing Saint-Petersburg as the most beautiful town of Europe.

Catherine the Great who ruled from 1762 to 1796, continued Peter’s efforts to establish Russia as one of the powerful countries of Europe. Under her rule the Russian Empire expanded, improved its administration, and continued to modernize along Western European lines. Catherine advanced Russia's boundary to the Black sea, colonized Alaska and even founded some settlements in California (Fort Ross). In 1820 the Russian expedition discovered the Antarctic continent. Catherine had a reputation as a patron of the arts, literature and education. Her patronage over the evolution of the arts in Russia was more than of any Russian sovereign before or after her. The world’s famous Hermitage Museum began as Catherine's personal collection. One of the most famous Saint-Petersburg highlights – the Bronze Horseman, a monument to Peter the Great – was constructed under the order of Catherine.

19 century: Napoleon's invasion to Russia at the height of his power in 1812 resulted in collapse of his army and finally, of his empire. This campaign is famous for battles in Borodino and Maloyaroslavets and mass guerrilla warfare organized by Cossacks and peasants. Russians ousted Napoleon from the country and drove through Europe back to Paris. Invasion to Russia was fatal for Napoleon. He lost 95% of his army. Finally, Napoleon was dethroned and exiled to St. Elena Island in 1815.

Several well-educated nobles wished to reform the country in a France revolution way. They attempted to make an armed revolt in 1825 in Saint-Petersburg and Ukraine, which was easily defeated by the state. Some rebels (called Decembrists as riot happened in December) were punished by death, other were exiled to Siberia. Their wives followed Decembrists to Siberia creating Russian expression “Decembrist’s wife” which means highest level of wife’s devotion to her husband.

The period of the Golden Age of Russian Poetry began in the beginning of the 19th with Alexander Pushkin, considered to be the founder of modern Russian literature and often described as the "Russian Shakespeare". It continued with the poetry of Mikhail Lermontov and Alexey Nekrasov, dramas of Aleksandr Ostrovsky and Anton Chekhov, and the prose of Nikolai Gogol, Ivan Turgenev, Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky. Some Russian writers, like Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, are known also as philosophers, while many more authors are known primarily for their philosophical works. Russian philosophy blossomed since the 19th century, when it was defined initially by the opposition of Westernizers, advocating Russia's following the Western political and economical models, and Slavophiles, insisting on developing Russia as unique civilization. Music in 19th century Russia was defined by the tension between classical composer Mikhail Glinka along with his followers, who embraced Russian national identity and added religious and folk elements to their compositions, and the Russian Musical Society which was musically conservative. The later Romantic tradition of Tchaikovsky, one of the greatest composers of the Romantic era, was brought into the 20th century by Sergey Rachmaninov, one of the last great champions of the Romantic style of European classical music.

Alexander the Second, known as a Liberator, enacted significant Great Reforms , including Peasant Emancipation Reform of 1861, industrialization , modernization of the Russian army. Russian forces successfully liberated Bulgaria from Ottoman rule during Russo-Turkish War.

However, many socio-economic conflicts were aggravated during Alexander III’s reign (1881-1894) and under his son, Nicholas II (1894-1917). Harsh conditions in factories created mass support for the revolutionary socialist movement. In 1905 Russia lost war with Japan, which led to mass unrest allover the country. Nicolas was forced to form parliament called Duma. In 1914 Russia entered the First World War. This war was a significant factor of the collapse of Russian Empire. Constant change for the worse of the living standards, ineffectiveness of the state system, lead to the numerous riots and strikes all over Russia and to the revolution of 1917.

Soviet Times (1917-1991)

Fall of the monarchy, Bolsheviks revolt and Civil war, birth of the USSR, Great Patriotic War, Gagarin - first man in space, Olympic Games -80, Perestroyka, collapse of the USSR

The first revolution that overthrew the Russian monarchy happened in February 27, 1917. Nikolay the Second handled the power to the Provisional Government – unstable coalition of different political parties. This government failed to gain control over the country and to solve many problems which had led to the February Revolution. Bolsheviks headed by Vladimir Lenin organized a revolt on October 25th and overthrew the Provisional Government. Following the October Revolution, a Civil war broke out between the new regime and the counter-revolutionary White movement. This cost the lives of millions people, economy and infrastructure were heavily damaged, Russia lost control over Poland, Finland, Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia. The country was in chaos until 1922, when the Bolsheviks won. Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic together with three other Soviet republics formed the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics on 30 December 1922. The number of republics shifted over the years, finally enlarged up to 15 republics. Moscow became the capital of the new state.

On 22 June 1941, Nazi Germany broke the non-aggression treaty and invaded the Soviet Union with the largest and most powerful invasion force in human history. 1941–1945 period of World War II is known in Russia as Great Patriotic War. Although the German army had considerable success early on, their onslaught was halted in the Battle of Moscow, then in the Battle of Stalingrad and the Battle of Kursk. Soviet forces started its victorious reconquest of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe and captured Berlin in May of 1945. After marking this by the Moscow Victory Parade of 1945, the Soviet Army ousted Japanese from China's Manchukuo and North Korea, contributing to the allied victory over Japan. The 9th of May has become a national holiday and is commemorated in a grand military parade on Red Square.

USSR lost about 25 million people in that war, but gained the status of one of the leading countries in the world. Soon after the war former allies became enemies as they had contrary points of view on the European future and the period of so-called Cold war began.

In 1957 the Soviet Union launched the world's first artificial satellite Sputnik 1, and the Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human being in space on April 12, 1961. Two years later Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space, soon after Alexey Leonov completed the first spacewalk.

In 1980 Moscow hosted the Summer Olympic Games and First World Youth Games in 1998.

Prior to 1991, the Soviet economy was the second largest in the world, but during its last years it was afflicted by shortages of goods in grocery stores, huge budget deficits and explosive growth in money supply leading to inflation. Starting from 1985, the last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev introduced his reforms: glasnost (free public access to information) and perestroyka (social and political restructuring) were claimed as instruments to modernize the country and implement democratic principles into the state system. However, the crisis was not overpassed which led to dissolution of the Soviet Union. After unsuccessful military coup against Gorbachev in August 1991, the Soviet Union finally collapsed.

Modern Russia (1991-2010)

Eltsyn reforms, Putin on the political stage, rise of the new Russia

When 15 republics of the USSR proclaimed their independence, Russian Federation became the successor of former Soviet Union. Russia took up the responsibility for settling the USSR's external debts, even though its population made up just half of the population of the USSR at the time of its dissolution. Under the 8 years of rule of first Russian President Boris Eltsyn the country completely changed. Eltsyn announced wide range of radical, market-oriented reforms along the lines of "shock therapy", including privatization and market and trade liberalization. This lead to the shocking price rise and mass unemployment. The depression of state and economy led to the collapse of social services; extreme lawlessness, rise of criminal gangs. But by the end of the 90s the country passed through several crisises and steady economical growth has started.

On 31 December 1999 President Eltsyn resigned, handing the post to the recently appointed Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, who then won the 2000 presidential election. Putin's leadership over the return of order, stability, improving the standard of living and increasing Russia's influence on the world stage has won him widespread popularity in Russia. On 2 March 2008, Dmitry Medvedev was elected President of Russia, whilst Putin became Prime Minister.

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