History Files
 

Please help the History Files

Contributed: 175

Target: 400

2023
Totals slider
2023

The History Files still needs your help. As a non-profit site, it is only able to support such a vast and ever-growing collection of information with your help, and this year your help is needed more than ever. Please make a donation so that we can continue to provide highly detailed historical research on a fully secure site. Your help really is appreciated.

European Kingdoms

Eastern Europe

 

Soviet Russia (USSR)
AD 1917 - 1991
Incorporating the House of Romanov

The Old Rus state began at Novgorod, but quickly moved its mother city to Kyiv in the ninth century. The 'Russias' were the Eastern European lands of the Rus, which gradually broke up into semi-independent principalities in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Superiority was taken by force from Kyiv and transferred to Vladimir-Suzdal in 1169, just a century or so prior to the arrival of the Mongols.

A new centre of Rus power emerged during the period of Mongol hegemony, in the form of Moscow. This quickly dominated the remaining Rus principalities to form a single, Moscow State which became an empire under the Czarate, and gained the Romanovs as its second major dynasty.

The Romanovs ruled with a fairly strict hand for the next three centuries, but resentment against the lack of reform began to spread during the second half of the nineteenth century, sparked in part by various popular revolts in western and Central Europe. The First World War brought matters to a head, with the February Revolution in 1917 removing the Romanovs from power.

The October Revolution which replaced the unstable 'February' republican government created a Bolshevik communist state in Russia, sweeping away the old administrative order in favour of regional 'soviets'. The new government, far from stable itself, also badly handled what remained of Russia's First World War effort, holding out for a beneficial peace agreement with Germany and being forced instead to accept the harsh terms of the Brest-Litovsk treaty.

As a result of that and far too many reforms in too short a period, the Soviet authorities began losing control over many of the former empire's outlying states and provinces, especially those which had been handed over to Germany under the terms of the treaty, such as Bessarabia, Byelorussia, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldavia, Russian Poland, and western Ukraine, plus Crimea, the industrial Donetz basin and, on 8 May 1918, the Don. It took the collapse of imperial Germany and three long years of civil war before the Russian empire could be reborn under more solid Soviet control.

As for the Romanovs, it was not until 1924 when the death of Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich was legally recognised (the civil war was a distraction until then). The subsequent claim of Grand Duke Vladimir Cyrillovich Romanov to be the rightful heir to Czar Nicholas II was not disputed then or for quite some time later. However, since his death in 1992 the divided branches of the House of Romanov (or more accurately Holstein-Gottorp-Romanov) have each put forward their own claimant as heir to the throne of the Russias.

Prince Nicholas Romanovich is recognised by most of the family, bearing direct descent from the uncrowned 'successor' to Nicholas II, Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich. Meanwhile, Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna, the daughter of Grand Duke Vladimir, upholds her claim because her father issued a controversial decree which recognised her as his successor.

Before that, the claim by Anna Anderson that she was one of Czar Nicholas' daughters was proved false but, as she could not claim the throne while a valid male heir still lived, she was not actually a pretender. Recognised successors of the last czar are shown below with a shaded background. Pretenders and other disqualified claimants are shown in green text.

The true power in Soviet Russia was the Marxist-Leninist single state party state which was usually headed by a single, strong figure (a typical feature throughout Russian history). These individuals are shown below in black text with no shading. Russia lay at the heart of the new Soviet empire so, although some purists disagree with using 'Russia' to refer to the Soviet regime, it seems to be the most logical way of describing events which related directly to Russia itself. Anything else is simply a case of semantics taking precedence over good reason.

The arrival of the Rus

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from the Brockhaus and Efron Encyclopaedic Dictionary (1906), from The Formation of Muscovy 1304-1613, Robert O Crummey, from History of the World: Volume 7, Arthur Mee, J A Hammerton, & Arthur D Innes (1907), from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the UCLA International Institute, Reuters, from the Almanach de Gotha (2012), from The History of the Baltic Countries, Zigmantas Kiaupa, Ain Mäesalu, Ago Pajur, & Gvido Straube (Eds, Estonia 2008), from Estonia: Return to independence, Rein Taagepera (Westview Press, 1993), from The First World War, John Keegan (Vintage Books, 2000), and from External Links: Reading Russia and the Soviet Union in the twentieth century, Ronald Suny (Cambridge History of Russia, 2008), and Russia Agrees to Full Withdrawal Of Troops in Estonia by Aug 31 (New York Times), and USSR Established (on this day) (History.com), and Britannica.)

1918

Liberalist and monarchist White Guard Russian forces (including supporters of the 'February' revolution) resist the imposition of a Bolshevik state, and fight a civil war against the Red Guard communist forces. In the newly-formed Tashkent SSR, anti-Bolshevik forces unite to liberate the former khanate of Khiva, the emirate of Bukhara, and Turkestan Krai. While Russia is preoccupied, Rumania gains the principality of Transylvania from Hungary, as well as some territory from Russia itself.

Lenin and the October Revolution
Vladimir Lenin was the figurehead of the October Revolution and also its key instigator and controller, but the revolution plunged Russia into three years of bitter civil war

FeatureWhite Guard forces are closing in on the location in Yekaterinburg in which the czar and his family are imprisoned. In the basement, Bolshevik soldiers gather together Tsar Nicholas II, his wife Alexandra, their four daughters, the grand duchesses Anastasia, Maria, Olga, and Tatiana, their son, Tsarevich Alexei, and four royal staff members, ostensibly for a photo.

Instead they murder all of their captives in a hail of bullets, completing the work with more bullets, bayonets, and rifle-butt clubbing (see feature link, right). The bodies are hurriedly buried in a mass grave in the Urals.

1918 - 1924

Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov / Lenin

Bolshevik & Soviet leader. Confirmed 1922.

1918 - 1984

Anastasia / Anna Anderson

Born 22 Dec 1896. Claimed youngest dau of Czar Nicholas.

1918 - 1924

The title of czar of all the Russias is vacant until an heir is selected in 1924, when the death of Michael II (by execution in 1918 - see above) is legally recognised in a court of law. However, Anastasia has already claimed to be the only survivor of the 1917 massacre of the imperial family, and she bears all of the physical similarities and internal palace knowledge necessary to convince many that her claim is true.

North Ossetia
The countryside which traditionally formed the territory of Alania in the North Caucasus, now the Russian republic of North Ossetia-Alania, is mostly mountainous scrub

However, her claim is never accepted by the surviving senior members of the Romanov family in Europe and America, and cannot be confirmed legally. Some critics point to a Polish peasant girl who had gone missing at the same time as Anastasia had appeared, and they claim it is a hoax. Anastasia's own admission in her last years, alongside DNA testing, confirms that she had indeed been the missing Polish girl.

1918 - 1919

During the Russian Civil War, the Ossetians form part of the Transcaucasian republic in 1918-1919, before forming one of several pockets of White Guard/Republican resistance against Moscow until 1920.

1920 - 1921

The Russian Civil War comes to an end with the Bolshevik forces victorious against the piecemeal attempts at resistance. The main threat had been Admiral Kolchak's anti-Bolshevik forces in Siberia, which assembled through Czechoslovakian intervention after interference by the Bolsheviks themselves. Russia and Turkey establish their respective borders with one another and the remaining independent Armenian lands fall under Russian control.

Russia also invades and re-conquers Georgia, and the Russo-Polish War results in the partitioning of disputed territory between the two as the Belarussian Soviet Socialist Republic and eastern Poland respectively.

Symon Petliura with Ukrainian troops in May 1920
A later dominant leader of the directorate of the Ukrainian People's Republic, Symon Petliura stands with Ukrainian troops in Kyiv in May 1920, prior to the Ukrainian-Polish 'Kyiv Offensive' which would ultimately fail

1922

Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich

Grandson of Nicholas II. Briefly hailed by White Army East.

1922 - 1924

The victorious Bolsheviks form the Soviet Union through the unification of the former empire's various new republics with the Russian republic. The other three founding members are the Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic, the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, and the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic.

In Central Asia, the Turkestan ASSR is divided into the Uzbek SSR, the Turkmen SSR, the Kara-Kirghiz Autonomous Oblast (Kyrgyzstan), and the Karakalpak Autonomous Oblast (modern Karakalpakstan, an autonomous republic of Uzbekistan). Initially, the Tajik ASSR is also adjoined to the Uzbek state.

Lenin is confirmed as the union's leader, but his death in 1924 leaves a troika (triumvirate) collective leadership in place. The Central Committee's general secretary, Joseph Stalin, quickly suppresses his opposition which is headed by Leon Trotsky, sometimes violently. He assumes the leadership of the union, still as the general secretary (although he assumes the dual role of Soviet premier from 1941).

Joseph Stalin
Joseph Stalin, who was born in Georgia, led the Soviet Union away from its initial idealistic concept of equal citizenship for all and instead instituted a brutal regime of fear

1924 - 1953

Joseph Stalin

Soviet leader (in the role of general secretary).

1924 - 1938

Grand Duke Cyril Vladimirovich

Grandson of Alexander II by his third son. Born 12 Oct 1876.

1932 - 1933

Less than a decade of Stalin's economic changes, plus the imprisonment of millions of people in correctional labour camps, and a brutal reorganisation of agricultural practices, results in a catastrophic famine. The breadbasket of Europe, Ukraine, is especially badly hit, with the famine being known as the Holodomor, 'extermination by hunger'. Other Soviet states also suffer, such as Armenia, but perhaps not quite as badly.

1934 - 1939

Undaunted by his failures to date, Stalin directs a massive purge of the Bolshevik party, the armed forces (decimating the officer class), government and intelligentsia. Millions of people, labelled enemies of the state, are killed or imprisoned, with the notoriously harsh gulags in Siberia being used to deposit many thousands of Stalin's victims.

1938 - 1992

Grand Duke Vladimir Cyrillovich

Son of Cyril. Born 30 Aug 1917. Died of natural causes 21 Apr.

1939 - 1940

As part of the wider conflict of the Second World War, Finland fights the Winter War against Soviet Russia following a Soviet attack in November 1939. The attack is prompted by the Soviet Union's (and Stalin's) almost paranoid need to restore the former Russian empire's borders in preparation for the expected German attack.

Finland is seen as a weak link in Russia's northern defences so it must be captured. The war is brief, and the Finns give the Soviets a bloody nose before agreeing peace terms that are very generous for Russia.

Berlin 1945
Poet Yevgeny Dolmatovski recites his works on Berlin's Pariser Platz just a few days after the German surrender - a remarkable poetry recital with the bullet-riddled Brandenburg Gate flanked by ruins and two tank barrels hovering above the heads of soldiers

In Continental Europe, the Soviets invade Poland from the east on 17 September 1940. As part of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact they annexe western Ukraine, west Byelorussia, and also Bessarabia on 28 September (the last of which is formed with Ukraine's Trans-Dniester region into the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic). About 1,433,230 Uzbek citizens are incorporated into the Red Army (amongst many millions of others) in the subsequent battles against the Nazis. A certain number also fight for the Germans against the Soviets.

1941 - 1942

The Continuation War is, as the name suggests, a renewal of the fighting of 1940 in Finland. With Nazi Germany now occupying Denmark and Norway, Finland finds itself between two major powers, with Germany doing its best to tempt Finland to become an ally and the Soviets frequently violating the border agreement.

With its people facing famine or the threat of invasion by Russia, there seems little choice but to take action, which the Finns do by sending forces to recapture the Aland Islands. The Soviets attack the troop convoys and launch coordinated bombing attacks on eighteen Finnish cities.

This is accompanied by further Soviet attacks over land and from the sea against Finnish targets, and a state of war exists without actually having been declared. With German weapons and some German units to assist, the Finns manage to halt the Russian advance into Finland but again have to agree peace terms.

Map of Scandinavia AD 1917-1944
The twentieth century wrought great changes on the borders of the Nordic countries with Finland, controlled from Moscow since 1809, now becoming a battleground between Soviet and German interests, while Denmark and Norway were occupied by Germany (click or tap on map to view full sized)

1944

Around 160,000 Meskhetian Turks are deported from Georgia to Uzbekistan by Stalin. Other ethnic groups are also imported into the Uzbek SSR, especially Russians and Ukrainians as the empire's industrial war efforts are moved farther east to remove them from the threat of German attacks. Russia's Great Patriotic War sees the country gradually turn the tide against the Nazis and begin to drive them back towards Poland and then Germany.

1945 - 1949

Germany is occupied by the forces of Soviet Russia, the United States, Britain and France until 1949. From 1945 until 1989-1991, the Soviet dictatorship establishes satellite states in occupied Bulgaria, Byelorussia, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania. The northern section of former East Prussia is annexed directly to the state as Kaliningrad.

1947

The 1944 armistice with Finland is confirmed through a peace treaty signed in Paris. Finland is saddled with a debt to the Soviet Union of 300 million dollars as well as the loss of the Karelian Isthmus, the northern port of Petsamo, the second largest city, Viipuri (modern Viborg), and the loss of access to Lake Ladoga.

Russia is also handed a fifty year lease for control of the Porkkala region. With the loss of Karelia, more than 420,000 Finns voluntarily migrate west across the new border between Finland and Russia, causing some social and housing problems.

1948

Russia reduces Finland's war debt by seventy-four million dollars. Thanks to this the balance of war reparations is paid off by Finland by 1952.

Russians in the 1950s
Despite the increasing frostiness of the Cold War and the slow recovery from the worst of Stalin's repressions, the post-war period saw a steady improvement in living conditions, and relative safety and security at home

1953 - 1964

Nikita Kruschev

Soviet leader (as first secretary & premier). Died 1971.

1953

Under Kruschev, the Soviet Union begins a process of de-Stalinisation, along with supplying economic and military aid to Afghanistan. The Russian space programme also accelerates in direct competition with the efforts by the USA as part of an increasingly chilly Cold War.

1955

The USSR forms the Warsaw Pact in direct response to the admission of the 'Federal Republic of Germany' (West Germany) into Nato whilst itself being barred from joining. The states involved in the founding of this eastern alliance are Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Russia.

1956

When Nikita Khrushchev denounces Joseph Stalin's crimes and personality cult in a secret report to the 20th Congress of the Soviet Communist Party in February 1956, Enver Hoxha of Albania decries Russia's revisionism. After some shrewd and ruthless political manoeuvring, he manages to overcome criticism of his own Stalinist policies and maintain power.

Nikita Kruschev and John F Kennedy
Photographed together here, John F Kennedy and Nikita Kruschev would, in 1962, play the world's biggest game of brinkmanship as the USA and Soviet Union vied for supremacy

1962 - 1964

One immediate result of the Cuban-Soviet alliance of 1959 is the placement of ballistic missiles on Cuba, precipitating the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. The USA 'blockades' Cuba, and only a last-minute climb-down by the Soviets avoids the spectre of nuclear war.

It may be this apparent failure among many other alleged failures by Kruschev which triggers moves by Supreme Soviet head, Leonid Brezhnev, to oust him in 1964. Indeed Kruschev gives him all the time he needs to complete his political manoeuvres by being absent from Moscow for five months. Summoned to Moscow, Kruschev is informed of his removal from office and accepts his fate without protest.

1964 - 1982

Leonid Brezhnev

Soviet leader (as general secretary). Died in office.

1979

Soviet troops are sent into Afghanistan as civil war erupts there. They spend the next decade locked in an unwinnable war against various guerrilla Mujahideen forces. These forces later reorganise to offer a much more effective fighting force (backed by the USA from 1986).

1982 - 1984

Yuri Andropov

Soviet leader (as general secretary). Died in office.

1984 - 1985

Konstantin Chernenko

Soviet leader (as general secretary). Died in office.

1985

Chernenko had already been in poor health when he replaced the late Andropov. He favours a return to Brezhnev policies in the face of a push for limited reform, but dies in office before being able to make any particular mark.

Russian invasion of 1979
The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the decade of war which followed left the country devastated, and starkly divided along factional lines

The turnover in general secretaries of a more senior level of experience now leaves an opening for younger, more reform-minded individual to make a mark on the Soviet Union. One of Mikhail Gorbachev's first actions is to remove from office Muhammetnazar Gapurow, first secretary of the Communist party in the Turkmen SSR.

1985 - 1991

Mikhail Gorbachev

Soviet leader (as general secretary and president).

1991

Thanks to behind-the-scenes manoeuvring by the newly-elected president of the Russian republic, Boris Yeltsin, on Christmas Day 1991 the USSR's President Gorbachev announces the termination of the Soviet communist state.

The Soviet republics become independent sovereign states (if they had not already become so since 1989), including Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, North Ossetia, Poland, Romania, Transnistria, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan.

The Chechen-Ingush ASSR is divided in two, creating the republic of Ingushetia and the Chechen republic. The latter proclaims the 'Chechen Republic of Ichkeria', which seeks full independence from the new Russian-led federation.

Belarussian independence in 1990
The Chernobyl disaster and the subsequent attempted cover-up by the Soviet authorities was the spark which brought down the already-fragile USSR, allowing Belarus amongst many other subject territories to gain its independence

The Eastern European states are only too happy to be rid of Soviet control, while many of those lying farther east elect to join the new Confederation of Independent States - still strongly controlled from Moscow. Cuba, a staunch Soviet ally, suffers badly from the fall of its only supplier of oil and many major foodstuffs.

Former East Prussia, or Kaliningrad as it now is, remains directly part of Russia, and is now an isolated enclave on Poland's north-eastern border. The core of Soviet Russia itself is now reborn in the form of the Russian Federation.

 
Images and text copyright © all contributors mentioned on this page. An original king list page for the History Files.