Russia Modern History

By | January 30, 2023

Russia is a country located in Eastern Europe. With the capital city of Moscow, Russia has a population of 145,934,473 based on a recent census from COUNTRYAAH. For the next few years after World War II, Josef Stalin remained in power and society remained tightly controlled. Stalin’s successor Nikita Khrushchev took a softer line during the 1950s, but Khrushchev’s overthrew and the social climate tightened again. Only in the 1980s in the face of a growing economic crisis did a real reform policy “perestroika” under Mikhail Gorbachev. The opening led to rising tensions within and between the country’s sub-republics, and on December last, 1991, the Soviet Union disbanded and was replaced by 15 new states.

Shortly after Stalin’s death in 1953, the Stalinist cult of cult began to be criticized and the hard grip on cultural life softened somewhat. In 1956, successor Nikita Khrushchev gave his “secret speech” at the 20th Party Congress, condemning Stalin’s policies. Khrushchev wanted to reform the system, but he gained many enemies within the party through perpetual change.

Khrushchev was overthrown in 1964 and succeeded by Leonid Brezhnev, initiating an ideological and cultural austerity. Brezhnev’s conservative policy, which was more in line with Stalinist heritage, became clearer after the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968. With the West a period of relaxation began, but the repression within the country increased.

  • ABBREVIATIONFINDER: List of most commonly used acronyms containing Russia. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.

In the last years before Brezhnev’s death in 1982, the economic crisis for the Soviet system became apparent. Long queues outside stores with groceries spoke their clear language. The growth rate had begun to slow down as early as the 1950s and now the economy was suffering a severe stagnation. The centralized planning economy system was a large, inefficient bureaucracy, where it became more important to fulfill the plans quantitatively than to improve the goods and develop the technology. All serious economic reform activities are run in the future. Brezhnev’s death did not change anything in that respect, as he was succeeded by the almost as old and sick Yuriy Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko. Check best-medical-schools for more information about Russia.

When the much younger Michail Gorbachev took over the post of Secretary-General of the Communist Party in March 1985, the country was in deep crisis. The arms race with the United States had become an increasingly heavy burden for the Soviet Union as the economy stagnated. The Soviet Constitution of 1977 stated in its section six that the Communist Party was “the leading and guiding force of Soviet society and the core of its political system and in all state and social organizations”. The party controlled all organized life in society. Citizens’ opportunities to influence policy formulation were minimal.

Reform Politics

Gorbachev tried to reform and liberalize the communist system, but this rocked the whole system. His domestic policy reform program had three key words: glasnost, (openness in the press and political debate), perestroika (transformation of mainly economic life) and democratic (political democratization). He began to free the press and other mass media from the party’s control, continued with the organizational life and allowed so-called informal groups to be formed. He introduced elected parishes that were not under the control of the party. It increasingly undermined the authority of the party. Finally, in March 1990, section six on the Communist Party’s leading role was removed from the constitution. The process of change became much more far-reaching than Gorbachev had originally intended. He wanted to modernize and streamline business and society as a whole, but brought uncontrollable political forces to life. The Soviet Union began to crack in the joints, both as a political-economic system and as a Union formation.

The communist era ended with a failed coup d’├ętat on August 19-21, 1991. The coup was a desperate attempt by senior communists in the senior leadership to stop the development that Gorbachev had initiated. But the coup attempt was not supported by the military and other important groups in the community and quickly collapsed. The failure strengthened precisely the processes that the coup makers wanted to stop, that is, the disintegration of the Union and the dissolution of the communist system.

When Gorbachev returned to Moscow from his temporary house arrest in Crimea, it soon became apparent that the Soviet Union had changed. The political initiative had passed to Gorbachev’s rival Boris Yeltsin, who in June had been elected president of Russia, the largest sub-republic in the Soviet Union. While Gorbachev was imprisoned in Crimea, Yeltsin in Moscow had taken command of the entire opposition to the coup makers.

History after the dissolution of the Soviet Union

After the coup attempt, Yeltsin dissolved and banned the Soviet Communist Party. On December 8, 1991, representatives of the three Slavic Soviet republics of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus gathered in the Belarusian town of Beloveshkaja Pushtja and decided to dissolve the Soviet Union. They declared that they wanted to replace the Union with a looser form of cooperation between the former Soviet republics. The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) was formed on December 21, 1991 by eleven states (the Baltic States and Georgia did not participate). On December 25, Gorbachev resigned as President of the Soviet Union and Russia became an independent state.

By then, Yeltsin had presented a comprehensive economic reform program and set up a new government with the economist Jegor Gajdar as the driving force.

The transition from Soviet-centric planned, resource-wasting and inefficient production to a modern market economy became painful for the Russians. An important point in the new government’s program was to release prices. This led to large price increases and rapidly growing inflation. Consumer prices rose by 2500 percent from December 1991 to December 1992. For the citizens, the price increases became a shock. Inflation made their savings worthless. At the same time, a transfer of state property to private owners was initiated. The privatization was intended to improve the efficiency of businesses, but it also led to a large part of the state property being collected from a few financiers, later called oligarchs, while the standard of living of broad population groups fell sharply. Production decreased and many large industrial companies ceased to function. The state budget was drawn with constant deficits and Russia was heavily indebted.

Sharp contradictions at the top

Yeltsin and the government were soon subjected to harsh criticism of both economic policy and foreign policy. In Russian political life, there was no consensus on where the country was headed. The contradictions between the president and parliament were sharpened in 1992 and 1993. The 1978 constitution still applied but could not regulate the distribution of power in the new social system. The result was a power struggle and political blockade.

In September 1993, Yeltsin seized the right to dissolve parliament and call for elections to a new parliament. The communist and nationalist opposition described the measures as a coup d’├ętat, declared Yeltsin deposed and proclaimed a new government. Yeltsin’s opponents barricaded themselves in the White House parliament building and forcibly attempted to occupy the TV tower and the mayor’s building. Only after Yeltsin had the armed forces shoot the parliament building on October 5 was he able to defeat his opponents. It happened at the price of 150 people’s death.

The December 1993 parliamentary elections underlined the contradictions of reform policy. No political bloc gained a majority in the duma, which helped the government, despite the strong position of nationalists and communists, as a rule, be able to pilot their proposals through parliament.

At the same time as the parliamentary elections, a referendum was held on a new constitution, which gave the president great powers at Parliament’s expense.

War in the Caucasus

In December 1994, Russia intervened militarily to stifle the pursuit of independence in the republic of Chechnya in northern Caucasus. The intervention was intended as a simple and quick operation but developed into a bloody war (see Chechnya). The fighting, which demanded huge losses among both Russian conscripts and the civilian population of Chechnya, aroused strong reluctance abroad but also in Russia.

In the December 1995 parliamentary elections, the five percent block helped reduce the number of parties in the duma to four. The largest group became the Communists, but they did not get their own majority. The presidential election in the summer of 1996 was won by Yeltsin in the second round. His chief rival was Communist leader Gennady Ziuganov. Yeltsin’s first task after the election was to end the war in Chechnya. His agent Alexander Lebed succeeded in August 1996 in negotiating a preliminary peace agreement with the Chechen commander Aslan Maschadov. The war in Chechnya was thus over for that time.

The following years became troubled with constant contradictions between the government and parliament and frequent changes of prime ministers.

In August 1998, government finances collapsed. The state was unable to pay its domestic loans and the value of the ruble against other currencies decreased drastically. However, the financial crash proved to be a health cure for the Russian economy. That the value of the ruble fell favored exports as Russian goods became cheaper abroad. Imported goods rose in price, which stimulated domestic production. At the same time on the world market, oil prices rose to record highs, which greatly increased Russian export earnings. A period of steady growth of about 7 percent per year followed. The standard of living began to rise and consumption increased.

Yeltsin chooses Putin

In the fall of 1999, a generational shift in Russian politics began. Yeltsin then surprisingly appointed the former head of the security service, Vladimir Putin, as new prime minister and at the same time presented Putin as his candidate for the July 2000 presidential election.

In the North Caucasus, the situation had deteriorated sharply. Radical Islamists under the command of Chechen rebel leader Shamil Basayev and Saudi Chattab invaded the republic of Dagestan and took control of some mountain villages. Putin launched a major offensive and the rebels were driven out of Dagestan. The offensive continued with the aim of once and for all crushing the rebel activity in Chechnya and ending the lawlessness that prevailed in the mountain republic in recent years (read more in the chapter on the rebellion in Chechnya).

Unlike the 1994-1996 war, the new Russian offensive in Chechnya was initially widely supported by the Russian public and all leading political parties. A contributing cause was a series of explosions against apartment buildings in Moscow and other Russian cities in the early autumn. Hundreds of people were killed in the attacks, which were officially attributed to Chechen terrorists.

Putin’s vigorous action against Chechnya quickly made him Russia’s most popular politician. His popularity helped Unity, the party he supported, captured 23 percent of the vote in the December 1999 parliamentary elections and became the second largest party in the duma. As before, the largest became the Communist Party with 24 percent, but as a whole, the new duma became much more willing to cooperate with the government than its predecessors.

Putin becomes president

New Year’s Eve 1999, Yeltsin surprisingly announced that he would retire prematurely. In accordance with the Constitution, he handed over his powers to Prime Minister Putin. In the presidential election on March 27, 2000, Putin received more than 50 percent of the vote already in the first round.

Putin made clear that he wanted to strengthen state power in Russia and began in 2000 by limiting the power of regional leaders (see Political system). Putin also took action against the so-called oligarchs, who had gained disproportionately large influence in society during the Yeltsin era. The oligarchs’ financial empires emerged during the 1990s and included banks, oil companies, real estate, industrial companies and the mass media. Through their contacts with politicians on key posts and their control over important media, they were able to influence politics. Putin made it clear that the oligarchs could no longer expect to escape their tax debts and that the “dictatorship” he promised would also apply to the powerful world of finance.

Preliminary investigations into tax evasion, embezzlement and other irregularities were initiated against several large financial empires. Many were delighted that the President seemed prepared to break up the interplay between power and ownership in the new Russia. Others saw with concern how the strike was aimed primarily at oligarchs who controlled important mass media. The end result was an increased state influence over the mass media, especially TV.

In the summer of 2003, the authorities intervened in the large oil company Yuko’s business. The company’s main owner, Michail Chodorkovsky, was arrested, accused of illegally seizing state property during privatizations in the 1990s and for tax evasion. The real reason behind the strike was assumed to be that Chodorkovsky had shown his own political ambitions and had financially supported several opposition parties. Chodorkovsky was sentenced in 2005 to eight years in prison. In 2010, he was once again convicted of embezzlement.

Grand victory for Putintrogna

The 2003 Duma elections became a grand victory for the parties that supported President Vladimir Putin. The largest was the newly formed United Russia, which received just over a third of the votes. The Communist Party declined strongly. In total, two-thirds of the seats in the duma were occupied by members loyal to the president. Putin could thus easily push through all his proposals in Parliament.

The March 2004 presidential election became a walking victory for Vladimir Putin, who got about 70 percent of the vote. There were no serious irregularities in the election itself, but foreign observers criticized the media’s clear favoritism of Putin in the election campaign.

In parallel with Putin taking a firmer grip on power, terrorism became an increasingly real threat to Russians in everyday life. The second war in Chechnya had turned out even more drawn out and bloody than the first, and as the rebels were forced back into the battlefield, terrorist acts around the country increased.

Several notable terrorist acts, including an extended hostage frame at a theater in the fall of 2002 and a number of outdoor suicide attacks, had hit the capital Moscow with many deaths as a result. In September 2004, in Beslan in the Republic of North Ossetia, terrorists took children, teachers and parents hostage and threatened to blow up the entire building. The drama ended in a massacre that cost at least 340 people, including many children, life.

Referring to the Besland Framework, Putin explained that state power must be further strengthened. The election law was amended to make it more difficult for smaller parties to enter the duma. The barrier to small parties was raised to seven percent and the members of the dum would henceforth be appointed only in proportional elections according to party lists.

A disputed law that tightened state control of NGOs came into force in 2006. All NGOs must register and are banned from receiving grants from abroad. The rationale was to prevent the organizations from being used for espionage and overthrowing activities, but according to critics, the law threatened to stifle the burgeoning Russian civil society.

The turmoil in the Caucasus is spreading

The situation in the North Caucasus remained uneasy and showed that the conflict in Chechnya had spread to neighboring republics. In Kabardino-Balkaria, rebel groups carried out a series of coordinated attacks on police stations and other public buildings, resulting in more than 100 deaths. In many of the North Caucasian republics, poverty and unemployment were high and both corruption and crime thrived. This led many young men to seek radical Islamist groups with ties to the Chechen rebels.

When Putin’s term in office came to an end, he announced his intention to abide by the Constitution, which banned him from running for re-election (see Political system). Instead, Putin was aiming to become prime minister after the shift in the presidential post in 2008. As a result, he was in the Duma election in the fall of 2007 as a candidate for United Russia. The party won big with 63 percent and got 315 of the 450 seats in the duma. Two other Kremlin loyal parties also came in. It greatly reduced the Communist Party by 11 percent of the vote and 57 seats became the only opposition party in the Duma.

The international monitoring of the elections was small. The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) had only been granted a visa for 300 election observers. In its report, the OSCE said the election could not be called fair, because the opposition had had so little opportunity to make itself heard during the election campaign.

In December of the same year, United Russia and other Kremlin loyalist parties nominated Dmitry Medvedev, Deputy Prime Minister and Chairman of the board of energy company Gazprom as presidential candidate. Medvedev, who was a doctor of law, was for many years a close friend and co-worker of Putin.

Medvedev against victory

With Putin’s backing, Medvedev went for an obvious victory in the March 2008 presidential election.

In the election, Medvedev received close to 70 percent of the vote. Communist candidate Gennady Ziuganov got 18 percent and Liberal Democrat leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky 9 percent. The turnout was close to 70 percent. This election was also criticized by election observers, partly because independent candidates had not been given a fair chance to stand, and partly because the counter-candidates had little opportunity to appear on television.

Medvedev began his presidential term in 2008 by marking his intention to continue his representative Vladimir Putin’s policies. He also appointed Putin his prime minister with expanded powers. Control of the governors of the country’s regions was transferred from the president to the government, and several people from Putin’s administration as president were given ministerial posts in his government.

The new arrangement meant that for the first time Russia was given a system where two people together exercised the highest executive power. In the outside world, the arrangement was seen as a way for Putin to continue to be behind the scenes. Putin and Medvedev now performed in various roles. Medvedev took a more liberal stance and talked much about the need for modernization, of a free and active business sector without too much government involvement, a better justice system, a less corrupt government administration and freer mass media. Mr Putin emphasized the need for state control of the economy and social development as a whole, and was happy to point out that Russia was still a major force in international politics.

Because presidential parties had an overwhelming majority in parliament, the Duma, constitutional changes could easily be pushed through. In the fall of 2008, the duma passed a law that extended the president’s term of office from four to six years beginning with the election in 2012. The duma’s term of office was also extended, from four to five years.

The opposition remained weak and divided during Medvedev’s first year. The other opposition party represented in the duma was the Communist Party.

Economic problems

The economy deteriorated in the wake of the international financial crisis of 2008 and the decline in oil prices. As unemployment rose, signs of social unrest came, but as oil prices rose, the Russian economy recovered relatively quickly, although growth remained lower than before the financial crisis.

In the local and regional elections held in 2009 and 2010, Putin’s party United Russia won big. Both the opposition and the central election monitoring body Golos claimed that many irregularities had occurred.

When Putin announced in September 2011 that he intended to run in the March 2012 presidential election and it was clear that it had been settled for a long time that Putin and Medvedev would switch jobs with each other, it was the drop that caused the goblet to run over too many voters. Support for both Putin and Medvedev began to decline.

Demonstrations in the cities

In the December parliamentary election, Duma, Russia received only 49 percent of the vote compared to 64 just over 63 percent in the 2007 election. When the dumb vote was followed by a large number of reports of electoral fraud, new groups emerged on the streets to demonstrate. In the weeks following the election, several large demonstrations were organized with demands for re-election in Moscow and other cities.

The opposition movement continued to gather for manifestations in early 2012, although the meetings drew smaller crowds than before Christmas. At the same time, Putin’s supporters organized counter-demonstrations.

The loss of elections and demonstrations put Putin on the defensive for the first time since he became president in 2000, but Putin was far more popular than his party and he managed to win the presidential election held in early March 2012. Putin lacked credible opponents and was re-elected with just over 60 percent of the votes (he got over 70 at the 2004 election). Especially in the countryside Putin’s support was strong.

Read on in Current Policy.

READING TIP – read more about Russia in the UI’s online magazine Foreign
magazine Russian Revolution – inevitable and catastrophe (12/12/2017) Correcting
its past – a Russian story (2018-01-10)

Rebellion in Chechnya

During the collapse of the Soviet state in late 1991, the Chechens took the opportunity to proclaim independence. Two bloody wars were fought before the Russian leadership handed over the regime of the republic to a Moscow government.

The Chechens began their outbreak attempt when the Russian central power in Moscow was too preoccupied with internal power struggles to deal with it. Only when the then Russian President Boris Yeltsin had consolidated his position in Moscow at the end of 1993 were his eyes seriously focused on Chechnya and then it was too late to get the Chechens back. Their leader Dzjochar Dudayev insisted on the demand for full independence for Chechnya. At the same time, lawlessness spread in and around Chechnya. Trains passing through the area were looted. Chechen leagues made raids into neighboring areas, took hostages and hijacked vehicles. Dudayev himself was involved in idle clashes with domestic opponents.

First Chechnya War

By December 1994, Moscow had had enough. Large Russian ground allies marched into Chechnya to quell the uprising and restore Russian control over the area. The Russian defense leadership stated that it would be a quick deal in a few weeks.

But the war was drawn out and very bloody. Young Russian conscripts, often with only a few months of military training, died in the thousands. Attempts to seize the capital Groznyj with the help of paratroopers failed and turned into prolonged bombings and artillery attacks.

Everything was played out in front of an open curtain, in the presence of both Russian and foreign TV cameras and reporters who moved freely in the area. The Russian public, who daily watched the horrors of war on TV at home in the living room, distanced themselves from the entire company. The outside world also began to sharply condemn the Russian overwhelming force in Chechnya.

Before the Russian presidential election in 1996, the war in Chechnya had become such a huge burden on President Yeltsin that he forced a ceasefire agreement to cease and took away all Russian forces from there.

The issue of Chechnya’s position was postponed until 2001. In the meantime, the Chechens would be able to take care of themselves, even though the Republic of the name still belonged to the Russian Federation.

The settlement was greeted with relief in Russia. The war had cost about 80,000 people, most civilians. Cities and villages were torn apart and hundreds of thousands of people had fled their homes. The Russian armed forces had suffered great losses of prestige and Russia’s international reputation had been damaged. Now the Russians wanted peace and quiet down in the Caucasus.

But lawlessness seized itself in war-torn Chechnya. In many cities, gangster leagues terrorized the civilian population, and kidnappings became a way to make money. To this chaos contributed that Russia did not fulfill its promise of large-scale assistance for reconstruction of Chechnya.

Second Chechnya War

In August 1999, Chechen rebels made a raid into the neighboring Republic of Dagestan and seized several villages with the goal of establishing an Islamic republic.

Russia, fearing a new Caucasian Great War, responded with an extensive military effort to drive away the invaders. It went slow, which led to Yeltsin appointing the head of the Russian security service, Vladimir Putin, as new Russian prime minister. Putin launched a major offensive against the Chechen rebels and quickly drove them out of Dagestan.

Then came the next drop. Heavy explosive explosions exploded in apartment buildings in Moscow and Volgodonsk and about 300 people were killed in September 1999. The attacks created a crisis in Russia throughout. The old Russian fear of aggressive Islamic fundamentalism was diluted by the terror of international terrorism. Now the Russian public demanded action.

Putin announced that the “terrorist bases in Chechnya” would be crushed once and for all. Then a new major offensive started. Russia had learned from its own mistakes. Instead of a ground offensive, a merciless bombing of the Chechen territory was now initiated. Initially, it kept the Russian losses down, but the devastation became even greater for the civilian population.

Russian troops were eventually able to march into one society after another, eventually even in the capital Groznyj, but these were ruin cities. The Russian ground troops also met this time with stubborn resistance from well-armed and highly motivated rebels.

At home in Russia, Putin, who in January 2000 became Russia’s president, was supported by opinion for his hard line against the rebels, despite the fact that Russian losses soon exceeded the losses of the last war.

Russian forces crushed ever-greater resistance in the northern plains. The remaining rebels, a few thousand men, entrenched themselves in hard-to-reach mountain areas in the south, where the Russians could not reach them.

Despite repeated Russian assurances that “the war was largely over”, the Chechen forces noted occasional successes that echoed the mass media. The Russian forces avenged such attacks by conducting so-called “zatjistki” cleansing operations in villages suspected of harboring rebels. The clean-up actions often meant that all male sex chicks from the age of twelve and up were abducted and abused, some so severe that they died.

New terrorist acts in Russia

As rebel forces were forced back into the battlefield, terrorist acts increased, both in Chechnya and in other parts of Russia.

In October 2002, some fifty young Chechens, both men and women, stormed into a Moscow theater during an ongoing performance, threatening to blast both themselves and the audience into the air. Over 800 people were held hostage for several days before Russian forces released gas into the premises and stormed the theater. All rebels were killed during the storm and 130 hostages later died of the gas used in the exemption.

The bloodiest terrorist act happened in September 2005, when over a thousand children, teachers and parents were taken hostage in Beslan in North Ossetia, which is near Chechnya. After a few nightmare-like days, the drama dissolved into wild shootings and explosions that are estimated to have cost at least 330 people, many of them children.

As the fighting in Chechnya erupted, Moscow handed over control of Chechnya to a Moscow-based Chechen government. In 2007, the fierce Ramzan Kadyrov was named new Chechen president by President Putin in Moscow. By then, Kadyrov had already started a large program for reconstruction of Chechen cities and villages. In the following years tens of thousands of people were able to move into new modern housing in Grozny and other cities. Life stabilized, at least on the surface.

In 2009, Putin declared the operation in Chechnya closed, but under the surface the violence has continued with occasional attacks on Russian interests as well as constant reports of abductions, torture and murders that never clear up. Kadyrov’s private militia, which is notorious for its brutality, is accused of much of the abuse.

In the fall of 2016, Kadyrov was re-elected for a new five-year term.

Russia Modern History