Russia has a history which stretches back over a thousand years. It begins with the period of Russian sovereigns centred in Kiev. Bloody civil wars between various Russian rulers weakened the area. The Tatar-Mongols overran the country in 1237 and ruled the Russian people for 240 years, although they maintained some autonomy. Moscow played a central role in the unification of the Russian countries into one state and the overthrow of the hated Mongols rulers. With the forming of the united Russian state at the end of the 15th century, Moscow became the most important political, economical and commercial centre of the new country. It also later became the centre of Russian culture. Amazing literary works were created, and painting and sculpture blossomed. This saw the printing of the first Russian books in 1564, which in turn encouraged the development of higher education, resulting in the founding of the Slav-Greek-Latin Academy in the 17th century.
The extensive Russian Empire was ruled by the Romanov tsars from 1613 until 1917. The Russian people have united on several occasions to defend Moscow from invasion, as Moscow is seen as the heart of Russia. They liberated the city from Polish invaders in 1612 and drove out the foreign invaders. The city also played a major role in the 1812 war against Napoleon. In the battle of Borodini, the French troops were dealt a blow from which they could not recover. Since this time, no foreign invading force has ever set foot in Moscow. In 1712, Peter the Great gave capital city status to St. Petersburg, which he had ordered built. However, Moscow remained the centre of Russian life and culture in the eyes of the people. Moscow remained immune to the westernisation which St. Petersburg received, maintaining its pure, genuine Russian spirit. After the Russian Revolution which began in St. Petersburg, Moscow was reappointed as capital in 1918, but now of the Soviet Union. After the fall of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, enormous changes have taken place and Moscow has been touched by this influence. A large amount of the city was renovated in 1997 in honour of the country’s 850th anniversary.
In 1914, Russia became entangled in the First World War, on the side of Britain, France and the United States. In 1917, Russia found itself in crisis; its people were starving and furious with the tsar and his generals for their ineptitude on the battlefield where thousands were dying each day. The Russian Revolution began in March of 1917, and workers in St. Petersburg, then the capital city, went on mass strike. Workers in other cities began to follow their lead. Troops were deployed to combat the situation but they mutinied and forced Tsar Nicholas II to vacate his post. Under Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, the leader of the Bolshevik Party, the first communist government took power in the country. The teachings of Karl Marx were central to the ideology. Marx believed that a country must not be divided into a rich minority who owned everything and a poor majority who worked for the rich. Instead of this, the state must own all of the land and industries so that everyone can profit from the fruits of the country’s labours. In 1922, the Russian Empire made way for the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. In 1924, Lenin died and Joseph Stalin took control of the party and the country. He became a ruthless dictator who would stop at nothing to achieve his goals. Every person who opposed his views was murdered or sent to concentration camps in Siberia. Tens of millions died during his reign of terror. Stalin wanted the USSR to become an important military and industrial country and ordered the construction of many large factories and iron ore and coal mines. As a result, the USSR was in a much better position at the outbreak of the Second World War than the First. When the German army invaded in 1941, it got as far as Stalingrad (now known as Volgograd). After a long, bloody battle the Germans were forced to withdraw, hotly pursued by the Red Army until the eventual fall of Berlin in 1945. Along the way, they liberated Romania, Yugoslavia, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Bulgaria and Poland from Nazi rule, and also had control of eastern Germany. However, Stalin was determined to spread the communist ideology across Europe, so he refused to leave these countries.
After the Second World War, a dividing line was drawn through Germany which became known as the ‘Iron Curtain’. The countries under Russian influence lay to the East of the Iron Curtain. These countries became collectively known as the Eastern Bloc. Once united against a common enemy, the US and USSR became fierce rivals, both convinced that their political system and industrial prowess were superior. Both sides began to invest astronomical amounts of money into weapons in an arms race to become the most powerful country in the world. This ‘Cold War’ lasted until 1985, when Mikhail Gorbachev became leader of the USSR. At this time, Russia’s progress was much lesser than the other industrialised nations in the world. So much money had been spent on the arms race that there was little remaining for anything else, such as modernisation of factories or the construction of new factories. Shortages of food and supplies were prevalent in much of Russia and the Eastern Bloc. Gorbachev called a halt to the Cold War and began negotiations with the US, freeing up money to invest in industry. Gorbachev allowed free elections, resulting in the Eastern Bloc countries voting against communist governments under heavy Russian influence. Encouraged by this, republics inside the USSR requested independence and an end to communism. The Communist Party were not pleased with this and led a coup to unseat Gorbachev in 1991 in an attempt to restore the party’s control over the USSR. The coup failed due to Boris Yeltsin, the president of the Russian Republic, who convinced the army not to support the rebels. At the end of 1991, the discontented republics declared themselves independent and the USSR ceased to exist. Eleven of the former republics formed the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), which was headed by the Russian Federation. The new countries of Georgia, Lithuania, Estonia, and Latvia initially decided not to join this union, although Georgia did join later.
The transfer to capitalism caused many problems. Many factories which had worked well under communist rule now had to compete against modern international companies, which severely threatened their future. Many workers lost their jobs as a result of this. Aside from industry, other institutions and services had to adapt to the new capitalist system. A stock exchange was established in Moscow, with offices in other cities. New banks were founded which specialised in loans for businesses. A new national telecommunications network was installed in order to allow the businesses to communicate with each other by fax and through computers. Business schools were created to teach capitalist management. It is a little early to say, but with a little time and money Russia has the potential to become one of the leading industrialised lands in the world.