Modern Historyof RussiaThe reigns of Peter I and Catherine theGreat in the late 1600s and the 1700s marked the beginning of Russia’sestablishment as a major European power. These rulers attempted to westernizethe traditional society of Moscow, and they ambitiously expanded Russianterritories. In the early 1800s, Alexander I began tocarry out further plans to westernize the government by attempting to createa Duma, or representative body. However, Russia became involved inthe Napoleonic Wars and played a key role in the alliance that overthrewFrench emperor Napolean I.
This firmly established Russia as a majorpower in Europe. The influence of Western Europe resultedin highly liberal political attitudes among some Russian students, nobles,and members of the upper middle class. Dissatisfied with the tyranny ofRussian government, they began to create secret political groups. A groupof officers led a revolt in 1825 and tried to form a new government. EmperorNicholas I put down the revolt very quickly and took measures to drivethe people into submission and to protect Russia from corrupting westernideas.
In opposition to Russia’s involvement in the Crimean War (1853-1856). The Russian people were tired of war and this encouraged a revolutionarymovement among workers, peasants, and minorities. The serfs rose up againstthe landowners and pillaged their estates. Alexander II became czar in 1855 and becameone of the greatest reformers in Russian history. He freed the serfsin 1861 giving freedom to almost 40 million people. However, it was notenough after many years of oppression and in 1881 he was assassinated.
He was replaced by his son, Alexander III, who suppressed all revolutionaryorganizations. Nicholas II began his reign in 1894. Oppression increased under Nicholas II, creating significant unrest. Atthe same time, Japan challenged Russian interests in Manchuria and attackedthe empire in 1904. The revolution mounted in 1905, and the empire wasoverwhelmed by a general strike, nationalist uprisings, unrest, and completedefeat in the war with Japan.
In August of 1914 Russia went to war withGermany and Austria to claim the Balkans. Severe losses over the next twoyears made the war unpopular throughout Russia, while repression and corruptioncontinued in the government. Shortages of food created mass rioting inthe capital of Petrogod in 1917. Soldiers deserted the government and joinedthe people in demanding changes in the government. The Duma demandedthat the Csar resign and Nicholas II abdicated his throne.
He andhis family were exiled and later executed, ending the Russian Empire. Russia was in turmoil in the early partof the 20th century until the Bolsheviks established the Union ofSoviet Socialist Republics (USSR) under Lenin in 1922. The RussiaSoviet Federated Union, the largest and most prominent republic of theUSSR, dominated the USSR for its entire 74 year history. Moscow, the capitalof Russia was also the capital of the USSR.
Boris Yeltsin was electedpresident of Russia in 1991 when the USSR broke up and Russia became anindependent country. Russia coordinated the formation of a political alliancewith former republics of the USSR, called the Commonwealth of IndependentStates (CIS). The conservative forces in Russia made it difficult for Yeltsinto achieve his goals of reform. He dissolved the Communist-controlledparliament in 1993 and later that year held new parliament elections. The dissolution of the parliament was not without cost.
Yeltsin usedthe army against the conservatives who armed themselves and occupied theparliament building. More than 140 people died in the rebellion. Russia’s domestic and political situation remained very unstable in themid-1990s, a result of a host of internal and external conflicts. On the last day of 1994, Russian troopslaunched a full-scale invasion of the republic of Chechnya in southernEuropean Russia, which had declared its independence from the Russian Federationin 1991. A devastating war ensued, and Yeltsin was heavily criticized forhis handling of the conflict. By early 1996 more than 30,000 people hadbeen killed.
In May 1996 Yeltsin and the acting Chechen president,Zelimkhan Yanderbiyev, agreed to a cease-fire, although fighting continuedon both sides. In July, Yeltsin defeated Communist opponentGennady Zyuganov in a run-off election, making Yeltsin the first democraticallyelected head of state in Russia’s 1,000-year history. In August, Chechenand Russian leaders signed a broad agreement, bringing the war in Chechnyato an end. The agreement called for the immediate withdrawal of Russianforces and for any decision on Chechnya’s political status to be postponeduntil December 2001.
On New Year’s Eve in December of 1999,Yeltsin announced his resignation and was succeeded by Vladimir Putin aspresident. Vladimir Putin is an ex-KGB officer and is aligned withmany ex-KGB officers and Communist conservatives.