A brief history of Russia

Peter the Great, a portrait made in 1838 / en.wikipedia.org

Peter the Great, a portrait made in 1838 / en.wikipedia.org

Russia is a vast area of land occupying most of eastern Europe and much of northern Asia. So little is known about this country that Winston Churchill said of it in 1939 “I cannot forecast to you the action of Russia: it is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.” But we do know that it has boundaries to the north with the Arctic Ocean; to the west with Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Belarus, the Ukraine (including the Crimean Peninsula) and the Black Sea. Latvia, Estonia, Belarus and the Ukraine were Soviet Republics when the USSR existed (Finland was Russian in the nineteenth century). Russia has borders to the south with Georgia, Azerbaijan,the Caspian Sea, Kazakhstan, China, Mongolia and North Korea. As might be expected, closeness to all these except the Caspian Sea has meant trouble of one kind or another. To the east there are the seas of Okhotsk and Bering.

   Swathes of this enormous country have housed settlements founded by Slavs, Turks and Bulgars in the third to the seventh centuries A.D., but the Byzantine Christian Church was also firmly established by the end of the tenth century. Moscow was the centre of political power during the 14th century and later. The Mongol ‘Golden Horde’ (q.v.) was challenged with varying success from 1380. One century later Ivan III known as ‘the Great’ made himself ‘Sovereign of All Russia’, while Ivan IV known as ‘the Terrible’ doubled the size of the Empire between 1533 and 1584, when death stopped him.

Internal disruptions, problems with Poland, disorder among the feudal nobility put the brakes on upward mobility until Peter the Great became Tsar. But it was under Catherine II the Great that Russia for the first time became less of a mystery and much more of a great power, extending territory into south and east Asia.

   Russia chose to do battle with the Japanese in 1904/5 and came off worst, but at least the battles brought Russia’s first constitution and parliament, following a minor revolution. Then the Russian Revolution, far from minor as it changed the world’s aspect, ended the Tsarist monarchy in a hail of bullets and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was formed in 1920. There were many republics in this union, but Russia was the dominant partner, covering 75% of the Soviet area, and 50% of the total population.

   We all know about Hitler’s non-aggression pact with Stalin (q.v.), which might have caused a Nazi victory in the Second World War had Hitler not broken it and invaded Russia. Hitler was not Bonaparte in any sense, and Bonaparte failed in the same attempt. The Union was broken up in 1991 after the fall of the Berlin Wall (q.v.), and Russia became a still colossal independent republic with a seat on the United Nations Security Council.

   Since then and to the present day in the Crimea and the Ukraine, relations with former Soviet republics have deteriorated. There were wars in Chechenya (1994), immense troubles in Georgia, and unrest almost everywhere, but the election of ex-KGB boss Vladimir Putin in the year 2000, following reforms made by Kruschev, Gorbachev, Yeltsin and others have improved the economy and asserted an ever-increasing degree of centralization.

Here is a list of Russian rulers, from 1283:

1283 – 1303                    Daniel

1303 – c.1328                 Yuri

c.1328 – 1341                 Ivan I (‘the Moneybag’

1341 – 1353                    Simeon (‘the Proud’)

1553 – 1559                    Ivan II (‘the Meek’)

1359 – 1389                    Dmitry Donskoi

1389 – 1425                    Vasili I

1425 – 1462                     Vasili II

1462 – 1505                    Ivan III (‘the Great’)

1505 – 1533                    Vasili III

1533 – 1584                    Ivan IV (‘the Terrible’)

1584 – 1598                    Fyodor I

1605/6                            ‘The False Dimitri’

1598 – 1605                    Boris Gudonov

1605                                 Fyodor II (‘the Very Brief’)

1605/6                             Vasili IV

1613 – 1645                   Michael Romanov

1645 – 1676                   Alexei Mikhailovitch

1676 – 1682                   Fyodor III

1682 – 1696                   Ivan V (shared the Tsardom as Co-Tsar with . . .)

1682 – 1725                   Peter I, the Great

1725 – 1727                   Catherine I

1727 – 1730                   Peter II

1730 – 1740                   Anna Ivanova

1762                                Ivan VI

1741 – 1762                   Elizabeth Petrovna

1762 – 1796                   Catherine II (‘the Great’)

1796 – 1801                   Paul

1801 – 1825                  Alexander I

1825 – 1855                  Nicholas I

1855 – 1881                  Alexander II

1881 – 1894                  Alexander III

1894 – 1917                  Nicholas II

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