History of Russia

From Roses, Tulips, & Liberty

Premodern history

Administering justice in Kievan Rus'

In pre-Christian times, the territory of what is now modern Russia was populated by Iranic, Finnic, and Slavic nomads the west, with Turkic empires and Tungusic kingdoms dominating the east. Greeks and Goths established settled civilizations in southern Russia, leading to the Romans, Huns, and Khazars. In medieval times, the Kievan Rus, the Muslim Bulgars, and the Cuman nomads eclipsed the Khazars in the west. The Kirghiz empire expanded throughout the east, expelling the Uyghurs. The Georgian Empire and a diverse array of Iranic, Turkic, and Cauasian entities were established in the south.

The Kievan Rus entered a period of collapse in the 11th century. This was closely followed by the rise of the Mongols in the 13th century, a vast empire that united all of modern Russia under one state for the first time. By the end of the century, the Golden Horde dominated the west, while the Genghisid emperors ruled the east. In the 1300s, the Teutons, Poles, and various Russian principalities dismantled the Golden Horde. This eventually led to the rise of the Grand Duchy of Moscow as the pre-eminent Slavic state in the west, neighbouring the Siberian khanates of the center, ultimately flanked by the Mongol states and nomadic tribes of the far east.

Moscow ceased tribute to the Mongols in 1480 and rapidly blossomed in the next century. In 1547, the Russian Tsardom under the Rurikid dynasty was declared with Moscow as its capital. By 1600, the Russian state absorbed the Muslim Siberian khanates, reaching the Jenisej river. Further expansion east with enabled by Cossack-made routes and armies, such as the Babinov Road.

In the early 17th century, the Time of Troubles led to the end of the Rurikid dynasty. The Polish Vasa dynasty attempted to claim the throne of Russia but were eventually expelled. The Romanovs were crowned as Tsars soon after and would rule Russia for three centuries.

Late Romanov period (1701-1867)

The Tsar promulgated a new code of laws, established the first Russian feudal representative body, curbed the influence of the clergy, and introduced local self-management in rural regions. Ivan the Terrible doubled the already large Russian territory during his long reign by annexing the three Tatar khanates; Kazan, Astrakhan, and Siberia.

By the end of the 16th century, Russia expanded east of the Ural Mountains, transforming into a transcontinental empire. In the east, the rapid Russian exploration and colonization of the vast territories of Siberia were primarily led by Cossacks hunting for valuable furs and ivory. Russian explorers pushed eastward primarily along the Siberian River Routes. By the mid-17th century, there were Russian settlements in the Far East.

Colonization efforts in America

In 1788, the private Kurile Island Company was established for the purposes of representing Russian commercial interests in northeast Asia during the Kansei Restoration of Japan. However, the company was shortly after sponsored by the Russian government to explore and settle northwestern North America, in what was eventually to become Alyeska. The Aleutian Islands were eventually claimed for Russia in 1791. While initially instructed to maintain peaceful relations with the Aleuts and other indigenous peoples, Russian colonists soon began employing violence in order to expand and secure their settlements.

Russo-Dutch Treaty of 1832

Russian colonists, led by explorer Alexander Kolchak, settled on Kolchak Island (now part of Westerzee Province, Tussenland) in the early 19th century, competing with Dutch colonists of the Royal Tussenland Company. The colony soon became mismanaged and unprofitable, leading to the Kurile Island Company declaring bankruptcy and ceasing trade in the Salish Sea. In 1832, Russia and the Netherlands came to an agreement where Russia would give up claims to any territory south of the Gitimaet River claimed by the Dutch. This came to be known as the Russo-Dutch Treaty of 1832 and created the modern border between the sovereign nations of Alyeska and the Federation of Tussenland.

Attempts to revive the Kurile Island Company

The Kurile Island Company was revived in 1841, termed the Second Kurile Company to distinguish it from the first. After a disappointing twenty years of operation, the company was dismantled again. In 1861, the Russian Pacific Company was established as a successor, financed by the imperial government as well as several Russian, French, and Japanese aristocrats. Four years later, it would come to become the main governing body of the colony of Alyeska.

The Orange Reign (1867-1923)

The Great Game

Russia and Britain began competing for influence in central Asia in the 1840s, a region situated between Russian Siberia and British India. The installation of the pro-British Dogra dynasty in Tibet in 1840. After three decades of tensions and political maneuvering, the Great Game was concluded with the creation of the artificial buffer state of Serindia in the western Qing dynasty and the withdrawal of British and Russian troops from Afghanistan.

Russian Succession Crisis

The sickly Tsar Alexander III appointed his Dutch nephew-in-law, Henry-Williams, as a General-Admiral of the Imperial Navy in 1861 in order to reform and modernize the fleet. Over the 1860s, Henry-Williams had become extremely popular in Russia in contrast to the perceived dullness and lethargy of the Russian imperial family. After the long-awaited death of the Tsar in 1867, various members of the Senate and the gentry were split on who was to become the next monarch. The chronically ill Prince Ivan was heir presumptive, never being formally named, leading to a major governmental crisis.

Henry-Williams claimed the throne of Russia three days after the death of the Tsar. Eight months later, he was successfully crowned Tsar of Russia with the support of numerous members of the Russian media, the Netherlands, and his allies in the aristocracy. To appease the conservative and anti-Dutch factions of the gentry, Henry-Williams decided to officially co-rule with his Russian wife, Queen Anna Petrovna. In the press, they were commonly known by the epithet the 'Orthodox Monarchs of Russia', reflecting the grandeur and importance of the Catholic Monarchs of Spain.

Prince Ivan passed away in March of 1868, most likely due to coronary artery disease brought on by familial hypercholesterolemia, a genetic condition which possibly afflicted his father Alexander III as well. Tsar Henry-Williams used this fact to present his bloodline as pure and healthy, in contrast to the decaying line to which the Alexandrine monarchs had belonged to. On this note, Tsarina Anna Petrovna and her close friend Joseph Ivanovich Melukov are credited with beginning the eugenics movement in Russia, emphasizing the importance of pure bloodlines to the Russian people, to the detriment of Jews, Tatars, and others.

Genrican period (1868-1884)

Being a past naval reformer, Tsar Henry shifted his focus to the expansion of Russia's influence in the Pacific. He created a Trans-Siberian railway to connect Russia's European core to its territories in the Far East. In the 1870s, the Russian court carried out a series of land & economic reforms that took power away from the aristocracy.

Russo-Ottoman War
Date1884 - 1885 (1 year, 23 days)
Location
Balkans, Crimea, the Caucasus
Result Austro-Russian victory; Treaty of Angora
Territorial
changes
Belligerents
Ottoman Empire
Khanate of Crimea
Russia
Austria
Ottoman rebels
Moldavia (from April 1885)

Russo-Ottoman War

Due to the military and social reforms orchestrated under Tsar Henry-Williams, Russia's imperial ambitions in the south were greatly increased. A series of revolts in several Ottoman possessions in Europe during the early 1880s alerted Russia to the fragility of Ottoman rule in the region. Russia declared war in the April of 1884. After four months of war, Austria joined under the condition to annexing all Ottoman territories north of the Drin River. This promise made by Russia was ultimately unfulfilled in the resulting Treaty of Angora, with Austria only being able to annex Bosnia. This later upset relations between the two empires, a grudge which would manifest itself in the Great War, where Austria and Russia were on opposing sides.

In the final weeks of the war, Russia moved their soldiers into the eastern part of Moldavia, known as Bessarabia, eventually annexing it. This greatly aggravated the newly liberated country, which turned against Russia and maintained close relations with Austria and the Ottoman Empire as a response.

Formation of the Russian viceroyalties

The lands of the former Khanate of Crimea were transformed into the Crimean Viceroyalty. While the peninsula remained populated by indigenous Tatars, areas like Yedishkul, Oezue, and the Kuban were settled by Russians from the north. Many of these agricultural colonists left the Viceroyalty during the famines of the 1910s. Cities like Taganrog, Azov, Kazikermen, and Balisaray experienced rapid population growth, eclipsing nearby Russian settlements like Alexandrovsk and Sochi. Bessarabia, bearing the name Transpruthenia, would remain heavily populated by Vlachs and Bulgarians for the next several decades. A crucial Tatar minority of both Muslim and Christian faiths existed in the south, especially around the city of Akkerman.

During the Russian Revolution, Transpruthenia would be reannexed into the Moldavian National Republic. The Crimean Viceroyalty would be reconstructed as an autonomous national republic by 1930, with the Azov region being de-attached for strategic reasons.

National Republican Russia (1926-19xx)

Modern historiography in Russia divides its national republican history into distinct eras, each named to encapsulate the period's defining theme:

  • 1925-1928: Razdroblennost ("Fragmentation", Раздробленность) — the civil war era.
  • 1928-1941: Vosstanovlenie ("Restoration", Восстановление) — the period of National Republicans consolidating power across Russia after their victory in the civil war.
  • 1941-1963: Vmeshatelstvo ("Intervention", Вмеша́тельство) — the rise of Russia in global geopolitics and involvement in the Silent War
  • 1973-1978: Pyatiletka ("Five-year period", Пятилетка) — the five years of power struggle during the Russian Lustrum
  • 1978-197x: Demokratizatsiya ("Democratization", Демократизация)

Razdroblemnost (1925-1928)

Russian Civil War (1926-1928)

Razdroblemnost refers to the years disarray and discontent in Russia from 1925 to 1928, which eventually led to the overthrow of the monarchy and the fragmentation of the state, triggering a civil war. It ended when the National Republican forces won the civil war.

Russian Revolution (1925-1928)

The Russian Revolution of 1925 marked the end of the monarchy after republicans stormed the Winter Palace, driven by economic crises and widespread discontent. Shortly afterward, the republicans split into two main factions: the liberals and the nationalists. A brief civil war ensued in 1926, with the nationalists eventually emerging victorious, establishing their rule and declaring the formation of the Russian National Republic. Multiple breakaway states also emerged on the fringes of Russia, which the new National Republican regime cracked down on throughout the late 1920s to early 1930s.

Vosstanovlenie (1928-1941)

Vosstanovlenie refers to the period of the National Republicans consolidating power across Russia after emerging victorious in the civil war. From 1928 to 1943, Russia was ruled as a diarchy—a power-sharing agreement between Anastaze "Ozero" Muromsky, the chairman of the Russian National Republican Party, and Mikhail Orlov, the Supreme Commander of the All-Russian Forces.

Consolidation of power

Muromsky's primary focus was on reforming and building the institutions of national republicanism within Russia, while Orlov ensured the enforcement of these reforms and the suppression of any resistance. Throughout the 1930s, Muromsky successfully established National Republican control, effectively bringing the nation under Moscow's dominance by 1940, with numerous autonomous national republics and nominally-independent sister republics being established.

The era was dominated by revolutionary zeal and intense nationalism. While the political system allowed for a degree of democracy, it was strictly within nationalist parameters, limiting political freedom and ensuring that the National Republican agenda remained unchallenged. The period was also characterized by widespread conflict, marked by numerous domestic wars and internal strife. The Vosstanovlenie era was rife with racism and anti-Semitism, with discriminatory policies being systematically enforced against various minority groups.

Russia in the Great War

The Russian Bear At War, 1935 poster of Russia during the Great War

When the Corean Empire invaded the rump Qing state in 1931, triggering the Second Sino-Corean War, they effectively broke the 1888 treaty with Russia, which prohibited further expansion into Qing territory following the partition of Qing Manchuria during the First Sino-Corean War (1886–1888). The Coreans had hoped that Russia, having recently emerged from a civil war, would not intervene. However, Chairman Ozero Muromsky was determined to demonstrate Russia's strength and enforce its treaties, thus intervening in 1932.

Russia, along with Japan and China, declared war against the Corean Empire in 1932. Ending in 1935, the war resulted in the annexation of Poeja and an assertion of Russian influence in northeast Asia. The same year, Russia entered the Great War in the spring of 1935 when the Ottoman Empire declared war against them. Russia joined the United Kingdom, Portugal, and others in forming the Cordial League. In 1936, Tripartite League forces laid siege to the city of Kiev for months.

Muromsky was forced to sign the Treaty of Akmolinsk in 1937, granting independence to the new Orkhonist state of Turkestan. Also in 1937, the Russo-Ottoman Compromise created the Rumelian National Republic and made Constantinople a Russo-Rumelian condominium. Russia's claims were formally acknowledged in the Congress of Amsterdam.

Kuznetsovian economic reforms

Economically, the Vosstanovlenie era was influenced by the Kuznetsovian school of economic thought, imposing trade restrictions through tariffs, protectionist measures, and a strong emphasis on self-sufficiency. One of the most significant economic measures taken during this period was the nationalization of key industries. The government assumed control of vital sectors such as steel, coal, and oil, aiming to centralize economic power and increase production efficiency. Under state control, these industries experienced a significant ramp-up in production, which contributed to the nation’s rapid industrial growth.

Vmeshatelstvo (1941-1963)

The Vmeshatelstvo era (lit. Intervention) marked a period during which Russia adopted a more global role, intervening in various conflicts to spread the ideology of national republicanism and counter the influence of Great Britain, leading to their undeclared geopolitical rivalry known as the Silent War.

Founding of the International Republican Coalition (1941)

Muromsky had long envisioned the establishment of a coalition among allied national republican nations, dating back to the early days of the civil war, with the goals of promoting regional stability, mutual defense, and safeguarding member states from external threats such as western imperialism. However, it was not until the 1940s, following Russia's victory in the Great War and Muromsky's consolidation of power throughout the nation, that he acquired the authority and legitimacy to pursue this vision.

Muromsky personally engaged with leaders from several national republican nations to garner support for the coalition. In 1941, the International Republican Coalition (IRC) was formally founded, comprising 15 founding members spanning Eurasia. The creation of the IRC prompted a response from Britain and other Western nations, leading to the establishment of the Organization of Democratic Nations, intended as a counterweight to the growing influence of the national republican bloc.

Rise of Orlov and power struggle

Muromsky ruled the nation for 17 years until his unexpected death from a stroke in 1943. His demise led to a brief political power struggle, which was quickly resolved by Mikhail Orlov. Leveraging his popularity from the Great War and his ability to consolidate support, Orlov emerged victorious in the power struggle and assumed sole control of the nation.

The Summer of Blood (1943)

Upon becoming chairman, Orlov enacted a brutal purge of his rivals, a campaign known as The Summer of Blood (Russian: Лето крови). Widespread executions and arrests of his political rivals occurred throughout the mid-1940s, effectively eliminating opposition and solidified Orlov's dominance in the government.

Orlov's rule ended abruptly with his death in 1947, only ruling for 4 years. The party, seeking to move away from the intense personality cult of Orlov’s era, selected Semyon Kiselev as the new chairman. Kiselev was seen as the perfect candidate to succeed Orlov because of his more moderate and less controlling approach. His demise sparked controversies, with some alleging that he was assassinated by more moderate members of the National Republican Party to prevent them from being sidelined from power, but no evidence to support this was ever found.

Recession of 1955-1956

By the 1950s, Mosneft, a Russian state-owned oil company, faced revenue declines due to inefficient management and export restrictions. In February 1956, Mosneft implemented cost-cutting measures, including reduced investments in exploration and infrastructure, leading to extensive layoffs by March. This slowdown impacted Russia's industrial sector, a major employer, causing a significant drop in household income and consumer spending. The resulting economic downturn affected multiple sectors, leading to an 8.3% drop in Russia's Gross Production Index, the worst recession in Russia since the European Economic Crisis of 1922-1928.

To alleviate the crisis, new Russian chairman Semyon Kiselev relaxed export restrictions and initiated infrastructure projects, boosting his domestic popularity. While maintaining high tariffs, tariff policy became more specialized to balance economic stability with protectionist principles.

Transcaucasian unrest and reorganization (1950s-1960s)

In the 1950s, ethnic and political conflicts intensified in the Transcaucasian Autonomous National Republic (ANR), which dominated by Georgians and Russian Turks. In 1958, Chairman Ilya Kiselev intervened militarily, brutally suppressing dissent, culminating in the Baku Massacre with an estimated 50,000 deaths.

To stabilize the region, Kiselev subdivided the ANR into smaller units, and suppressing any protests against these divisions. This would set a precedent for Russia dividing various autonomous national republics across Russia to undermine their autonomy and consolidate central Russian control.

Imperialism

Russian colonization of Alyeska

Russia was the first European power to explore and settle the far northeast of North America. In 1788, the private Kurile Island Company, founded initially to explore the business opportunities in the Kurile Islands, was given by the Russian Tsar permission to explore the region of what is now modern-day Alyeska. A few years later, the tsar proclaimed the Ukase of 1790, which detailed the claims of Russia on the American continent. The Kurile Island Company was given a charter to the Aleutian Islands and eventually other parts of Alaska. Russians tried to settle Kolchak island in the south of their claimed land with the Port Alexander colony (1816 - 1832). However, the Russians eventually relinquished much of their claims in North America in the Russo-Dutch Treaty of 1832.

The part that they retained, Alyeska, was a mostly forgotten colony and a backwater for much of the 19th century, with a revolving door of colonization companies trying to find a way to profit from the region. Nevertheless, in the 1870s, after realizing the geopolitical importance of Alyeska to Russian interests, the Tsar founded and granted a monopolistic charter to the Russian Pacific Company to oversee the colonization and management of the territory. Since the company was state-funded, the Russian Pacific Company was able to pour more development into Alyeska than its private company predecessors. In the 1890s, gold was discovered in the Alyeskan territory. This resulted in an influx of immigrants from Russia and East Asia to Alyeska.

See also