This is the more condensed version of Russian history for those who do, sort of, want to learn what's been happening here but don't want to be screaming 'Too many letters!' at the screen midway through.
If you feel like you need a more detailed account, go to this article - History of Russia in 45 minutes.
If, on the other side, you feel that even this one is unnecessarily long and you would rather learn everything mostly by pictures, go here - Chronology of the most important Russian leaders with pictures.
And so it begins.
The entire Russian history can be and most often is split in 4 key periods: 1st royal dynasty (Ruriks), 2nd royal dynasty (Romanovs), Communist Russia, and Modern Russia. Each begins with a thick title in this article, so you can skip to the one you need if you feel like it.
The first Russian ruling dynasty known as Rurik dynasty founds the first Russian state on the territory of more or less modern-day Ukraine somewhere in the middle of 9th century A.D. They are said to have been an offshoot of Norse Vikings and didn't really have any Slavic origins at all. The country at that time is called Rus' (allegedly after the name of that viking tribe), the first capital is in Kiev (today's capital of Ukraine), people follow their own version of Nordic mythology and use runes for letters.
The dynasty is named after the first officially recorded Russian leader Rurik. Whether it was a name or a surname no one is quite sure. He was... Rurik - just like that.
One of Rurik's great grand children Vladimir the Great adopts Eastern Orthodox Christianity from Byzantine Empire as the official state religion of Rus' in 988 A.D.
A few generations later Yuri Dolgorukiy visits the city of Moscow for the first time, thereby creating the earliest historical record of it in 1147.
Kiev is invaded and burned to the ground by Mongols in 1240. A great number of Russians migrate further north as a result.
There's a long 200-year period of the so-called Mongol-Tatar Yoke, throughout which Russians are forced to pay Mongols not to be invaded again. The power at that time is divided between several competing provinces, each of which wants to be the new center of Russia. The country has no clear capital as a result.
Eventually, Moscow emerges from that period of divisiveness as the new power center and later becomes the new capital upon proclamation of liberation of Russia from any obligations to Mongols in 1480. Which is done by Ivan III.
His grand kid - Ivan IV (ruled: 1547-1584) starts actively attacking Mongols pushing them further east and annexing great chunks of their territories to Russia. The country grows richer and more powerful. Saint Basil's Cathedral is built to commemorate Ivan's military successes.
At home Ivan is increasingly suspicious and any potential dissent and executes people by thousands thereby postmortem gaining himself the nickname 'Terrible'. He is the first Russian leader to be officially crowned with the title Tsar. Everyone before had been Dukes or Counts (same thing, but depends on translation).
Ivan's son dies childless and leaves the country in a bit of a disarray. The period from 1598 to 1613 is called 'Times of Troubles' (or more literally from Russian 'Tumultuous Times'). Bloody sequence of pretenders, impostors and puppet leaders culminates with Polish invasion of Russia of 1610. They use the internal tumult to their advantage, bring their troops to the Kremlin and effectively exercise control over most of the European part of Russia for almost two years. In 1612, however, they are pushed back home, and Russia starts thinking of looking for the new royal dynasty.
The assembly of noble people elect one particular noble family - Romanovs to be the next ruling house of Russia. One of the biggest reasons was that one of their members was technically a grand nephew of Ivan the Terrible. This boy at the age of 16 is elected to be the new Russian Tsar in 1613 and becomes Michael I of Russia. The first Romanov to take power.
His son Alexei I (ruled: 1645-1676) dramatically expands Russia's territory eastward all the way to the pacific coastline and continues development of the country alongside traditional Russian customs, values and social structures.
His son Peter I (ruled: 1682-1725) very much does not follow his example, and, while maintaining the focus on turning Russia into the mightiest country in the world and himself into the strongest leader, he suddenly starts attacking Russian religion, fashion and some traditional customs. He forces everyone to dress more European, look more European and orders architects to build more European-looking buildings. He, as they say, 'opens window into Europe' for Russia and significantly changes the way it looks and feels. Major stop along the way of that transformation is foundation of Saint Petersburg in 1703, which formed part of the Baltic territories annexed to Russia as a result of a war with Swedish Empire. Built from the ground up, the city is the embodiment of Peter's new vision for Russia. He's so satisfied with the city, he proclaims it the new capital in 1712, re-crowns himself as Emperor of All Russia and changes the official name of the country to Russian Empire.
Peter's own daughter takes power in 1741 and becomes Elisabeth I of Russia. She continues to successfully build upon the European vision of her father, but eventually, finds herself without an heir. Lacking any other options, she decides to bring over to Saint Petersburg her nephew, German born and raised Peter, to make him the next Tsar. The 14-year-old has absolutely no desire of taking the position and by all available means tries avoid the responsibility. As a potential solution, a girl his age is brought from Germany as well to be made his wife. Sort of, that was supposed to turn Peter into an adult man and finally set him on the right track.
That plan doesn't change a thing, however. As Peter continues growing into the same isolated pro-German individual without spending much time with his wife at all.
Eventually, he is crowned as Peter III in 1762. But he holds the throne only for about half a year. Known for his pro-German views, he quickly started accumulating a line of people willing to remove him from power. He's overthrown and killed that same year by his own troops, and the throne by silent, unanimous consent of people behind the coup is given to his wife Catherine. That random German woman becomes one of the most successful leaders of the country - Catherine the Great of Russia.
Catherine is crowned also in 1762. She presides over the age of Russian enlightenment sponsoring arts and dramatically increasing the number of foreign artists visiting or permanently moving to Russia. The country absorbs the latest trends in architecture, painting and fine arts; and makes the biggest leap into the direction set out by Peter the Great of evolving Russia into a modern European power.
But that excitement about all things European come to an abrupt end soon after Catherine's death with the invasion of Russia by Napoleon in 1812.
Catherine's own grandson - Alexander I is in power at that time. After a few Russian defeats and inconclusive battles Napoleon finally advances into Moscow. The city is burned by the Russians almost to the ground prior to it. So despite the fact that Napoleon enters the city and stations himself and his troops in the Kremlin, he quickly runs out of supplies and starts loosing his people to starvation, cold and partisan war. About a month later he is forced to retreat without receiving coveted Russian surrender, and by the time he reaches Paris he only has 10% of his troops left (60 000 instead of 600 000).
Alexander I dies in 1825 and is succeeded by his youngest instead of the middle brother, who refuses to take the post. This sparks a big protest and results in a big revolution attempt. What would become known as the Decembrist Revolt is bloodily crushed by the new Tsar - Nicholas I.
Nicholas is the youngest brother who never expected to rule. So he becomes a very straightforward, authoritarian leader. As a reaction to it, his son, Alexander II, sees rising levels of underground revolutionary activities and Tsar assassination attempts.
Alexander II is forced to abolish serfdom (read slavery) in Russia in 1861. And despite that is still assassinated in 1881, as the reform doesn't fully deliver on all its promises.
The power is taken by his son Alexander III, who tries to exert even more authoritarianism as a means of revenge and restoring order. Which alienates even more people.
His son Nicholas II tries to continue his father's focus on nationalism and force-based power, but seems to everyone as a much less convincing personality. His dropping popularity, refusal to meet public demands and a devastating economic and agricultural situation throughout the WWI all lead to a revolution in February 1917 that forces Nicholas II to resign and put an end to the 300-year rule of the Romanovs.
Originally the power is taken by a provisional government that consists of noble people and tries to lead Russia in the direction of a more or less democratic state with a normal parliament. But that doesn't last long. Half a year later a radical revolutionary, Vladimir Lenin, returns from his self-exile in Switzerland, since all the orders on his arrest are not valid anymore without the Tsar.
Lenin organizes another, communist revolution in October same year (1917) and turns Russia into the first officially socialist state on the planet.
The new socialist government fights a 4-year civil war before taking firm control over the country. The so-called white movement opposes and actively, militarily fights Lenin's government. But it is forced to retreat in 1922 leaving the communist party as the sole, indisputable leading force in Russia. In the same year they manage to re-incorporate temporarily lost at the end of WWI territories like Ukraine, Belarus and the Baltic states marking birth of the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics - USSR.
Lenin's government creates a strong system of counter-intelligence against the threats of the Civil War espionage. The so-called CheKa (later NKVD and KGB) immediately introduces itself as an organization that would not shy away from using force as its primary means of achieving order in the country. Thousands of people start being arrested for political reasons and sent to firing squads or forced labor camps called GULAG (it's an abbreviation for Central Administration of Labor Camps).
Lenin dies in 1924, and his successor, Joseph Stalin, embarks on a series of radical economic reforms. Private property, essentially, abolished as a concept. All the heavy industry as well as agriculture is taken under government control. 5-year plans are introduced to speed up industrialization of the economy.
The system of forced labor camps starts being utilized in the implementation of those economic plans even more. Literally millions of people are sent to GULAG on trumped up political charges from where a lot of them don't return.
Against all odds Stalin pulls the country through the WWII where the Soviet Union looses another 27 million of its population.
Stalin refuses to accept any financial aid from the West for post-war restoration and instead forges his own chain of communist allies around the world and in Eastern Europe (which is simply left under Moscow's control after the war). This makes Russia the center of the entire block of countries staunchly opposing the western community and marks the beginning of the 20th century biggest confrontation - the Cold War.
Nikita Khrushchev succeeds Stalin after his death in 1953 and shortly after starts the so-called destalinization. The cult of Stalin, connected with all the horrible things like political assassination and labor camps, apparently started affecting Soviet Union's international reputation, and Khrushchev decided to fix it. This period is known as 'Khrushchev's Thaw'.
1960-1961 saw official closure of GULAG labor camps, removal of all Stalin's statues and images across the country, renaming of Stalingrad back to Volgograd and reburial of Stalin's body from the mausoleum on Red Square to a quieter place right behind it.
The Soviet Union enjoys international fame of the country that sent the first artificial satellite and man into Earth's orbit. Khrushchev also reshuffles military budget in favor of rockets and ballistic missiles after first successful Russian ICBM tests.
Khrushchev is forced to resign under pressure from the party as a result of a couple of unsuccessful reforms and Caribbean Crisis. He's replaced with Brezhnev in 1964 who leads the country through a lengthy period of 18 years of mostly stagnation and continuing proxy conflicts around the world between East and West.
Brezhnev is followed by two other guys who die in office each after spending only around 1 year there.
Gorbachev is later elected by the party to be the next leader partially because he was young and at least wouldn't die the next year. He's the youngest leader of the Union and is 54 when he takes power in 1985.
Gorbachev is convinced that the only way to fix the stagnating Soviet economy was to introduce serious reforms to how it and Soviet society in general functions. The programs of Perestroika and Glasnost' (Reconstruction and Openness) open the country to small and medium private businesses and freedom of speech. The reforms spin out of control and lead to the fall of the Berlin Wall and independence of the Eastern Block and, eventually, to the dissolution of the Soviet Union on 25th of December of 1991.
Collapse of the Soviet Union leads to a period of utter chaos and the wildest form of capitalism that the world's ever seen. All the huge state assets are divided in the least fair manner among the public that lets them all fall in the hands of very few people. The power throughout the 90s is held by Boris Yeltsin that functions mostly as a figurehead representing interests of that newly created class of oligarchs (read billionaires).
Yeltsin resolves a crisis with the parliament that tried to impeach him by shooting the parliament building with a battery of tanks in 1993. Then he leads the country through the period of the worst hyperinflation in Russian history and economic crisis that plunges his approval ratings literally into single digits.
The oligarchs behind him are concerned with the rising populist sentiments and Soviet nostalgia among the public, and are are desperately trying to find him a successor.
The answer is found in the face of Vladimir Putin - a former KGB operative (supposedly automatically patriotic for that reason) with a relatable working class family biography.
He shows up out of nowhere and is suddenly appointed to the head of the FSB (KGB successor), months later to the office of the country's Prime Minister, and months after that Yeltsin resigns right in his 2000 New Year address effectively making Putin the President of Russian Federation.
Putin is initially supported by the oligarch community who help him get officially elected after his appointment. They see him as the next younger Yeltsin that would continue the same advantageous government-business relations but with better people's approval.
That plan massively backfires as Putin immediately embarks on the program of making Russia great again, essentially. He backs his power with his KBG friends, most of whom are brought to the government or CEO posts of state-owned companies and become the new oligarch class. All of the 90s oligarchs who could present any potential political threat start being arrested or exiled. Among them the man who invested most in Putin's election campaign - Boris Berezovsky.
Ever since, the focus on Russian nationalism, traditional and conservative values, conspiracy-based anti-western paranoia and ever increasing Russian military presence and active campaigns around the world - all have been the leading trends that continue evolving till this very day (January 2019).
And this is how we get where we are now. Thanks for reading!
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