History of Russia

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A Thousand Years of Russia ” (1862). Monument in front of the St. Sophia Cathedral in Novgorod

The history of Russia offers an overview of the prehistory, formation and development of the Russian state .

Based on the earliest settlement of today's Russian territory since the Paleolithic , this article deals with the emergence of the Empire of Kiev (from 980 to 1240), the Kievan Rus , the first East Slavic empire that was formed in the 10th century by the Adoption of Christianity from Byzantium (988/89) entered Christian ecumenism and finally fell victim to the Mongol invasion . The period of the successor empires followed from the conglomerate of East Slavic principalities left by the collapse of the Kiev Empire (in the west from the middle of the 13th to the middle of the 14th century, in the east until the second half of the 15th century). who fell under the rule of the Golden Horde . During this time, Russia became increasingly alienated from the rest of the western culture.

With the increasing disintegration of the Golden Horde and the simultaneous internal and external consolidation of the northeastern Rus around the Grand Duchy of Moscow , a territorial expansion began - favored by the spatial structure - which has had a decisive impact on Russian history since then. A phase of internal disruption, the so-called Smuta , at the beginning of the 17th century was followed by several wars against Poland-Lithuania and wars against the Ottoman Empire . With the reforms named after him, Tsar Peter I modernized the Russian Empire, which had been imperial since 1721, and brought it closer to Western Europe . In the course of the 18th century, the Russian Empire consolidated and expanded the great power status it had acquired at the beginning of the century. The rapid spatial expansion at this time, however, left hardly any state funds for internal development, as the real national product soon stagnated. After the defeat of the Grande Armée under Napoleon in the Russian campaign in 1812, the Russian Empire consolidated its dominance on mainland Europe until the middle of the 19th century. Due to the social structures such as autocracy and the serfdom introduced at the beginning of the 17th century , the agrarian empire was unable to keep pace with the rapidly developing industrial countries until finally Tsar Alexander II initiated a phase of internal reforms after the defeat in the Crimean War .

The reforms accelerated Russia's economic development, but the country was repeatedly destabilized by internal unrest, as the political changes were not far-reaching enough and large parts of the population were excluded. The tsarist rule over Russia was ended by the February and October revolutions in 1917 during the First World War and the socialist Soviet Union was subsequently founded, which lasted until 1991. After its dissolution, the Russian Federation went through a difficult process of transformation that initially caused major slumps both in national GDP and in the economic situation of many people. This was followed by a global economic upswing from 2000 onwards .

Early history

Topography of Russia

The space is characterized by seemingly endless expanses and the uniformity of huge levels. In the south and southwest, mountains ( Caucasus and Carpathians ) border the Eastern European table country . The coasts in the north ( White Sea ) and in the south are poorly structured. In the south, the European lowlands only reach inland seas ( Black Sea and Caspian Sea ). The Eastern European plain is open to the west and east. Neither the western swamps ( Pripjet swamps ) nor the Urals are real traffic obstacles. Western Siberia is a continental continuation of European Russia. A border runs on the edge of the mountainous Central and Eastern Siberia . Since there are no west-east mountains subdividing the Eastern European lowlands, the polar air sometimes extends deep into the south without being stopped. In terms of nature, the climatic conditions limit human settlement. Almost half of the soils are constantly frozen or only thaw a few days a year. Due to the open borders that offer little protection, the people in these areas were often endangered by external incursions (see also large Russian landscapes ).

Humans have been recorded on the vast territory of Russia for about 100,000 years. The settlement increased from 35,000 BC. In the extensive river areas and climatically favorable zones. The hunters and gatherers lived in hut-like and tent-like dwellings and caves. With their stone weapons they mainly hunted the mammoth . The transition to a rural culture took place in some areas from the 6th millennium BC. Very early, intensified since the 3rd millennium BC. BC, horses were tamed and bred. The people of the Kurgan culture , who spread from the Lower Volga and the Dnepr Basin , used the animal for riding and for pulling wagons. Many nomad tribes now traversed the vast steppes of Russia with their horses.

Since the 12th century, warlike equestrian nomads have repeatedly advanced from the Caucasus into the steppes of Russia, including from the Scythians and Sarmatians , and in some cases formed early empires. A precise tribal breakdown cannot be broken down for the time. A first kingdom of the Scythians was formed in the 7th century BC. In today's Azerbaijan , a second in the 6th century BC. On the northern edge of the Black Sea and in the forest steppe . In the 7th century BC In the course of their colonization movement, the Greeks also advanced into the Black Sea and founded cities on the south coast of the Crimea and on the Bug and Dnepr . These Greek cities were of great importance to the northern neighbors. After the storm of the Great Migration, they remained important political and economic bases of the Byzantine Empire, through which a brisk trade with the northern neighbors was carried out (see Chersonesus ). In terms of linguistic history, the dominance of Slavonic can not yet be determined. After 500 BC Apparently more solid communities developed. To the north of them, in the forest zone, there were Finno-Ugric peoples who pushed west and Balts .

Territories of the Eastern Slavs (dark green) in the 7th and 8th centuries

Slavs were originally tangible on the central Dnieper, north of Kiev. The origin of the name has not yet been clearly established. At least in part they were dependent on the Goths . After it was smashed, a movement to the north and north-east began. The Slavic tribes that settled directly on the territory of present-day Russia were Ilmenslawen , Krivich , Vyatich and Severjanen . They broke through the settlement belt of the Balts and Finno-Ugric tribes and colonized the forest areas around Lake Ilmen. By the end of the 10th century, a common East Slavic language began to develop in relation to the Slavic tribes that advanced west . Some of the Slavs came under the rule of the Khazar Empire , which arose between the Lower Volga and Don at the end of the 5th century. It included very different ethnic elements (including Magyars and Alans ). The Khazars, of Turkish origin, were only a minority, but made up the ruling elite.

Between 552 and 745 the Old Greater Bulgarian Empire was on a part of today's territory of Russia . Around 654, Greater Bulgaria was divided into three parts. From the 10th to the 14th century the land between the Volga and Kama belonged to the empire of the Volga Bulgarians .

The East Slavic tribes of the 9th century were in different stages of development. The Polyans on the Dnieper around Kiev and the Drewlyans had formed more solid associations under princes. There are no such indications for the other tribes. The different tribes were named after the landscape and were closely related to each other. A precise delimitation of the settlement areas of the tribes is not possible.

Generally speaking, the Eastern Slavs were sedentary farmers and ranchers. Due to the cool continental climate and the few productive soils (the fertile black earth region was in the more southerly steppe area), the associated periodic crop failures and famine, the traditional habitat of the Russians became the forest. Wood was the most important building and fuel material until the 20th century. The forest industry as well as forest beekeeping and hunting represented important branches of the economy for a long time. Wax and furs and other forest products were Russia's most important export goods for many centuries. Forests and swamps hindered traffic, which therefore usually crossed the rivers. The country was only populated like islands. Therefore, it was only possible to develop a manorial development from places that were on large traffic routes. These places formed Kiev on the Dnepr, Veliky Novgorod at the confluence of the Volkhov from the Ilmen Lake and Alt-Ladoga at the confluence of the Volchov into Lake Ladoga .

Kiev period (882-1240)

The oldest East Slav state in history was the Kievan Rus. It originated in the first half of the 9th century. In it a unified Old Russian nation developed, on the basis of which the Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian people were formed in the period that followed. This old Russian state existed for over three centuries. After the death of the last Grand Duke of Kiev, he broke up into several independent principalities in 1132. This began a period of feudal fragmentation, which was soon to contribute to the loss of the political independence of the Russian countries. The first clash with the Mongols occurred in the 1220s when the Mongol Generals Jebe and Subutai defeated the Russians at the Battle of the Kalka on their retreat into Mongolia . There were also looting of Russian cities.

Rise and Bloom

The expansion of the Kievan Rus around 1000:
The Russian land stretched from the left tributaries of the Vistula to the foothills of the Caucasus, from Taman and the lower reaches of the Danube to the coast of the Gulf of Finland and Lake Ladoga.

The first medieval state on the soil of later Russia was the Norman- Scandinavian rule over a Slavic population, especially along a trade route that connected Scandinavia with the Byzantine Empire ( route from the Varangians to the Greeks ). Due to the weakness of the Khazar Empire and the associated decline in Volga trade, this route became increasingly important in the early Middle Ages from the second half of the 9th century. Here were Veliky Novgorod and Kiev as the first centers. The territory of the East Slavic tribes settling here is known as the "Rus". The word " Rus " ( Russian Русь) is probably derived from a Varangian tribe that came from Sweden (cf. Finnish: "Ruotsi" for Sweden). The Varangians were Scandinavian men's associations with commercial interests that were held together as oath communities. They used Russia's river system as trade routes. In order to get enough furs and slaves, the Varangians needed large spaces. Hence, they expanded south and east at the same time. Therefore, the trading system became more comprehensive. In order to secure their trade routes, they set up a system of bases from the Baltic Sea via the Daugava and Dnieper rivers. Here they met the organizational structures of the Eastern Slavs, Volga Bulgarians and Khazars . So they met in Kiev and gained 839 feet there. Kiev was an important trading center with extensive connections as far as Spain and Baghdad. The products of purchase were honey, wax, furs and slaves. As the Kiev trade routes became more and more dangerous, the warrior merchants of the Varangians took over this place. They adopted culture, way of life and forms of organization and gradually developed more solid forms of organization. Due to the trade, which was mainly aimed at Constantinople, despite initial attempts at conquest by the Rus (see, inter alia, Siege of Constantinople (860) ), close contacts with Byzantium emerged in the following period.

The Varangians also prevailed in 862 in the north, around Old Ladoga . Various chronicles (u. A. Nestorchronik ) indicate that the Slavs called the Varangians there to be, so they gave up their tribal feuds. Rjurik in Novgorod became the tribal father of this Varangian rule in the north . Ryurik's successor Igor (878-893) also conquered Kiev in 882, where a Varangian rule had already formed. Igor made Kiev his residence and subjugated the neighboring East Slavic tribes. The Scandinavians residing in Russia were completely Slavic by the end of the 10th century. "The Rus" soon became the name of the inhabitants of this area, regardless of their tribal affiliation. So the name carried over from the immigrant Scandinavian ruling class to the long-established residents. At least eight political units worked alongside the long-established Slavic peoples such as Poljanen and Drewlanen in the formation and consolidation of the Russian state: Serbian, Finnish and Lithuanian tribes, the Varangians and Kazars, the Bulgarians on the Volga, the Byzantine Greeks as missionaries and Arabs as Mediator between Europe and Asia in international trade. This development was completed in the second half of the 10th century. Due to the large number of nationalities, this Kiev empire can therefore be considered the first major state in Eastern Slavic history and flourished in the following period. At the turn of the millennium, the merging of Scandinavians and Eastern Slavs with Byzantine culture and religion resulted in the population of the Kievan Rus, from which Russians , Ukrainians and Belarusians later emerged.

The Kiev rulers Oleg and Svyatoslaw I waged several wars against the Kazar Empire to the south, often with Byzantine support. In the 960s, Svyatoslav with the help of the Pechenegs finally succeeded in breaking the power of the Kazar Empire . As a result, Svyatoslav extended the influence of the Kievan Rus to the Don and the east coast of the Sea of Azov .

The Russian Orthodox Church influenced all areas of life. However, the church did not gain immediate secular power as in Western Europe. The bishops and abbots did not become princes. Nevertheless, the high clergy in particular were closely linked to politics.

Under Vladimir the Holy , Christianity was elevated to the state religion in 988/989 and the Kiev population was converted in mass baptisms. His grandmother, Princess Olga (893–924), was the first ruler of the Rurikid dynasty to be baptized, but was not yet able to enforce the Christian faith in the empire. Vladimir did not subordinate himself to the Byzantine Empire, but helped the emperor with troops from military distress and married his sister, which symbolized him equality and accepted him into the "family of kings". In 35 years, until 1015, the entire hitherto pagan Russia was converted. This led to the fact that the missionaries gave Vladimir the nickname Tsar after the death of Vladimir . The adoption of Byzantine Christianity also closed Russia off from a cultural relationship with Roman Christianity. For Byzantium at that time pursued its church policy in deliberate opposition to Rome and conveyed anti-Roman tendencies to the Eastern Slavs when they were converted. As a part of the Patriarchate of Constantinople , the Church of Kiev was initially administered by exarchs , which did not affect the political independence of the Kiev Grand Dukes. The Orthodox Church and its values ​​formed a supporting social pillar of the Russian Empire in the future.

The Russian nobility (the boyars ) were the political leaders of the empire. In contrast to Western Europe, the prince did not reward his followers with goods that they could dispose of for life. No feudal system developed from the followers, the relationship remained individualized. Even if boyars often took action against princes and tried to limit their power, they did not develop a counter-power in the form of a nobility .

During this period there was no fundamental difference between Russia and Western Europe . The Russian-Warsaw state developed politically and economically within the Romano-Germanic conglomeration of Europe. The grand princes of Kiev were in close contact with their mother country Sweden and the Scandinavian north at least until the middle of the 11th century. The friendly relations between Russia and Western European states developed particularly at the beginning of the 11th century under the rule of Yaroslav I (1019-1054), whose 40-year reign produced a peaceful diplomacy system based on widespread marriage relationships with the ruling house. As a result of this policy, the princes of Kiev in the 11th century were related to the royal houses in Norway, Sweden, France, England, Poland, Hungary, the Byzantine Empire, and the Holy Roman Empire . Under Yaroslav the Wise, the Kievan Rus reached a heyday and the height of their power. He managed to consolidate his rule, to open up important transport routes and to expand the tributary rule of Kiev. He had many churches, monasteries, writing schools and fortifications built throughout the empire based on the Byzantine model, reformed East Slavic legislation, put it into writing for the first time ( Russkaja Pravda ) and founded the first East Slav library in Kiev .

Partial princely particularism

From the middle of the 11th century onwards, many changes occurred in the Kiev Empire, which gradually ushered in the decline of the empire. Kiev was able to retain its position as an important trading center, but the empire increasingly divided into smaller principalities.

Like the Holy Roman Empire, the Kiev Empire was not a unified state, but consisted of a large number of autonomous sub-principalities ruled by the Rurikids . One of them inherited the dignity of Grand Duke and moved to Kiev to rule. The Kiev empire did not have a stable and undisputed order of succession to the throne. The empire was divided into individual sovereign principalities, over which a grand duke was superordinate. There was no written order of succession as a stabilizing element for the critical moment of the ruler's death. Rather, the senior council principle was followed . One rule always applied: the ruler had to come from the Rurikid dynasty. Decisive in the idea of ​​the Russian succession order was the equality of the individual princes. The princes referred to each other as "brothers". Finally, they graded the relationship to one another by adding “older” or “younger” in order to primarily reflect the ranking. An “older brother” could be younger than his “younger brother” and be higher up in the line of succession. The seniorate was the first consistent system of succession to the throne. It is not the eldest son who inherits the throne, as was the case with the primogeniture , but the next brother who previously ruled another part of the principality. When a prince died, a succession procedure developed among the brothers, which led to a change of residence for the brothers and sons until 1169. That is, the younger brother of the Grand Duke of Kiev took over his throne, then the next brother and, if he did not exist, the eldest son. The dignity of the grand duke was by no means hereditary in a house, but was given according to the priority of age in the dynasty.

In contrast to Western Europe, the Russian cities did not form
urban civil parishes that were legally demarcated from the country. The farmers could also participate in city life. There was no clear division of labor between town and country. Until the end of the 18th century. The boundaries between town and country remained fluid, and there were hardly any legal differences.

When the Polovz equestrian tribe threatened Kiev and devastated the surrounding area in the 11th century , the Slavic population moved from the south of the Kiev country to the forest zone in the north or west to the plains of Galicia and the hilly country at the foot of the Carpathian Mountains. This created settlements that rose to become new centers: the rich merchant town of Novgorod to the north and east , Galicia’s capital, Halych in the extreme southwest, and the cities of Vladimir , Rostov and Suzdal. Novgorod itself became an influential merchant republic with a Hanseatic office . Vladimir Monomakh (reign 1113–1125) was only able to restore the unity of the empire for a short time . Mostly through military pressure and the appointment of his sons as territorial princes, he tied the partial principalities more strongly to the center of Kiev. He campaigned for a swift end to the bloody feuds between the princes and for joint action against the Polovzians. Vladimir tried to enforce this view on several royal days (1097, 1100, 1103). After the meeting in Dolobsk in 1103, Vladimir Monomakh and the Russian princes allied with him succeeded in inflicting serious defeats on the Polovzians in the wake of several campaigns (1103, 1107, 1111) and in averting the danger from the warlike nomadic people from the Russian land.

The increasing political and economic independence of the cities and the quarrels between the feudal rulers caused increasing alienation, which quickly after his death from 1132 onwards led to the disintegration of the Kievan Rus through ongoing battles for succession for the title of Grand Duke. So Kiev was conquered in 1169 by Prince Andrei Bogolyubski of Vladimir-Suzdal . Instead of settling there, he took the title of Grand Duke, which had previously been linked to Kiev, with him north to his new residence near Vladimir . With that, the disintegration of the Kiev Empire continued. The largest states that had separated from Kiev after the decline were, in addition to the Principality of Kiev , the Principality of Chernigov , the Principality of Pereyaslavl , the Principality of Smolensk , the Principality of Polotsk , the Principality of Turov-Pinsk , the Principality of Vladimir-Suzdal , the Principality Ryazan and Galicia-Volhynia as well as the Novgorod region . According to the Nestor Chronicle , there were more than 100 cities in the Kiev empire in the 12th century and a total population of four to nine million people.

Mongol storm from the east

Partial principalities of Rus in 1237 at the beginning of the Mongol storm

The division of the princes facilitated the Mongol invasion of the Rus . The Rus and the Mongols met for the first time in 1223, and during this conflict the disagreement between the princes led the Rus to catastrophe. The Mongol generals J̌ebe Noyan and Sube'etai Ba'atur advanced into the territory of the Rus via Georgia and the Kipchak steppe. They had previously crossed the Caucasus and defeated an army of Kipchaks and Alans on its north side . The surviving Kipchaks under Kötan Khan fled to the Rus area, where they asked for military help against the invaders. The princes Mstislav von Kiev (r. 1214-1223), Mstislaw II. Von Tschernigow (r. 1220-1223) and Mstislav Mstislavich von Halitsch (r. 1221-1227) concluded an alliance with Kötan Khan and mobilized their troops. J̌ebe and Sube'etai had followed the Kipchaks, and in May 1223 the famous battle of the Kalka took place in what is now Ukraine . Since Mstislaw, Mstislaw II. And Mstislaw Mstislawitsch, because of their rivalries, led their armies separately and did not coordinate the troop movements, the outnumbered Mongols managed to win the battle without difficulty. The Rus troops were almost completely wiped out, Mstislaw and Mstislaw II were killed, only Mstislaw Mstislavich and Koethan Khan managed to escape. The Mongols did not pursue the refugees. J̌ebe Noyan was believed to have been killed prior to the Battle of the Kipchaks and Sube'etai Ba'atur moved east and returned to Mongolia. Genghis Khan's orders were not for conquest, only for exploration of the areas west of the Caspian Sea, and so the Mongols disappeared as suddenly as they had appeared.

It was also hidden from the princes that after Genghis Khan's death in 1227 the Mongols had elected his son Ögädäi as Grand Khan and that at his imperial assembly held in Qara Qorom, the seat of the ruler, in 1235, an attack against the West was decided. A grandson of Genghis Khan, Bātŭ , was appointed general . After a long period of preparation, the Mongol advance began. The first to fall victim to them were the Volga Bulgarians , whose empire around Kazan on the central Volga played an important role as a trading center. In the winter of 1237/38 the Mongols invaded the principalities of Ryazan, Vladimir and Suzdal. Grand Duke Jurij II and all his sons perished here. Bātŭ advanced as far as Toržak in the Novgorod border area, but turned back when the thaw turned the roads into swamps. As a result, Novgorod and the north-western principalities were spared. Bātŭ set up a residence in Sarai on the lower Volga and from there undertook attacks against the southeastern principalities. In 1239, Černigov and Perejaslavl fell, and on December 6, 1240 the old imperial capital Kiev. In a quick advance the Mongols roamed the southwestern principalities of the Rus, invaded Poland, took Cracow , devastated Wroclaw and moved from there to Hungary. While the Mongol advance remained an episode for the countries of Poland, Bohemia and Hungary, it meant permanent subjection to Mongol rule for the principalities of the Kievan Rus. At the same time, the Mongol storm and the constant threat to the East Slavic farming settlements near the steppes triggered a gradual shift of settlements, that is, a relocation of the farming settlements from the forest-steppe zones in the south and migration to the northern taiga .

Mongol rule and struggle for rule of the Rus (1240–1547)

The realm of the Golden Horde in 1389. Sarai is marked as a star. The light yellow area marks the Principality of Moscow, a tributary vassal of the Golden Horde.

With the establishment of Mongol rule, Eastern Europe entered a transition phase in its history from 1240 to the middle of the 14th century, which is known as the "dark" age. The Russian national historiography rates this period negatively. The Mongolian rule led to a break in relations with the West for two centuries and promoted the isolation of Orthodox Russia. The Russian principalities were under the control of the Golden Horde , but were able to retain a certain internal autonomy. Meanwhile, the Russian principalities in the north and west had to fend off attacks by Swedes, knights and Lithuanians. Among the divided and warring Russian principalities, the small and insignificant principality of Moscow proved to be the most assertive, dissolved Mongol rule and gradually recaptured the lost Russian lands.

The Russian principalities under the "Tatar yoke"

Eastern Europe now belonged to the sphere of influence of the Blue Horde , who nomadized in the Kyptschak steppe north of the Caspian and Black Seas and whose Khan resided in Sarai on the lower Volga . The Blue Horde subsequently became the most important part of the Golden Horde , which is why this is often referred to as simplification. Nominally, the Khan of the Golden Horde was subordinate to the Great Khan in the distant Karakoram . The Golden Horde later increasingly detached itself from the general khanate. The East Slav princes therefore primarily had to deal with the respective khan of the Golden Horde.

The form of rule over the Russian principalities was a loose one. A certain amount of autonomy remained as long as the Russian princes fulfilled their basic duties. The princes had to pay tribute and provide auxiliary troops. If this was not done, devastating penal campaigns followed as soon as the Mongols discovered resistance and disobedience. It is not uncommon for Russian princes to avail themselves of Mongolian military aid in disputes with their respective neighbors, some of whom were relatives.

A Horde baskake in a Russian city
  • The title of Grand Duke was an important factor in the rule . The Mongols appointed the first prince to be responsible for collecting the tribute. The Khan always appointed a man of his trust as the Grand Duke. When awarding the office of Grand Dukes - the "oldest of the whole Russian people" - they initially adhere to the traditional seniority order . The candidates for the dignity of the Grand Duke had to pay homage to the Khan by personal trip to Sarai in order to receive the appointment from his hand by means of a certificate of mercy (Jarlyk). Because only the strongest of the princes became grand duke, no inheritance was possible.
  • Rule was secured by sending so-called Baskaks , in English: pressers , as observers at the royal courts, who kept the Khan informed of the political events and immediately reported poor conduct to Sirai. Rebellious princes were then either ordered to Sirai by the Khan or forced to obey by a punitive expedition of Tatar troops.
  • The Orthodox Church was another power stabilizing factor, as the khans did not interfere in religious affairs. Further control measures were not necessary, since the Russian princes mistrusted each other and their general disagreement led to intrigues and mutual denigration of the Khan.

After the fall of Kiev, new important centers of power emerged in the hitherto peripheral areas, which developed independently of one another and strove to bind the neighboring small principalities economically, politically and culturally to themselves. In the subsequent regrouping process, four centers emerged:

  • In the extreme southwest, the Galician Principality emerged , stretching from the northern slopes of the Carpathian Mountains across what is now Eastern Galicia and Volhynia . The Pope gave the prince the royal crown. This kingdom existed until the middle of the 14th century and moved the Principality of Turow-Pinsk , the Principality of Kiev and the Principality of Chernigov into its domain. It formed the foundation for the later Ukrainian ethnic group .
  • In the north-western part of Old Russia, the Principality of Smolensk began to assert tendencies towards centralization. His western neighbor - the Principality of Polatsk - offered him no resistance. The Belarusian ethnic group gradually formed here and was incorporated into Lithuania during the 14th and 15th centuries.
  • In the north was the third center, the free city of Novgorod , with extensive land holdings in northern Russia from Lake Ladoga to the White Sea and the northern foothills of the Urals . Novgorod was closely connected with the autonomous republics of Pskov in the west and Kirov in the east. The trade republics managed to maintain their independence. Due to Novgorod's close trade relations with the West, the city remained uninterested in internal Russian conditions.
  • In the east, separated from the southern and western Russian land by large primeval forests, the principality of Vladimir-Suzdal had gained considerable power even before the Tatar invasion. His princes recognized the supremacy of the Tatars and tried to secure a privileged position as grand princes in the Golden Horde for themselves. At the beginning of the 14th century, the principality split up into several sub-principalities due to a lack of rulers: Pereyaslavl, Rostov, Suzdal, Yaroslavl, Moscow and Tver. The Grand Dukes of Vladimir did not reside in Vladimir , but where they each had their father's inheritance (votčina); that is, their rule was limited to the territory of their own sub-principality . This was first Tver and slowly moved (also institutionally) to Moscow. This later claimed that all areas of the former Grand Duchy of Vladimir were the paternal inheritance of the Moscow ruler.

Defensive battles against Sweden and the Teutonic Order in the north

Alexander Newski in the fight against the Swedes. Engraving by Boris Tschorikow (1802–1866)

In the north, the penetration of Mongolian rule was lowest, so that the center of anti-Mongol resistance formed here. Rapidly changing power structures between the individual Rus principalities and external attacks brought the north-east Rus to the edge of the abyss in the last quarter of the 13th century.

Due to the weakness of the entire Rus as a result of the Mongol invasions, the north was threatened by attacks by foreign powers who, for their part, wanted to take advantage of this situation. This particularly affected the Novgorod Republic, which had to maintain its independence. Under the leadership of Alexander Newski, Novgorod successfully fended off territorial claims by Sweden and the Teutonic Order :

  • The political goals which prompted the Swedes to launch this campaign are controversial in historical research. One explanation is that the Swedes wanted to conquer the mouth of the Neva in order to gain political and economic control over the Rus' lucrative Baltic Sea trade . Another explanation is that behind the Swedes stood the Pope, who also wanted church union from the north and tried again with the Teutonic Order after the defeat. In the Battle of the Neva , the numerically inferior army of Alexander Nevsky (since 1236 Prince of Novgorod) defeated the Swedish army on July 15, 1240, thereby securing the northern border. Ultimately, this battle stood in a long series of conflicts between Sweden and Novgorod over the influence of Karelia and Finland. A border between Sweden and Novgorod was only established in 1323. A war between Sweden and Novgorod in 1321 and 1322 had led to negotiations in Nöteborg , at the confluence of the Neva into the Ladoga (see Treaty of Nöteborg ). Sweden received Western Karelia and Novgorod received Ingrien and Ladoga Karelia (Eastern Karelia). North-eastern parts of Finland fell to the Novgorod Republic. The remaining part remained a province of its western neighbor Sweden.
  • German knights of the order conquered Izborsk and Pleskau , from where they undertook individual forays into the immediate vicinity of Novgorod. The Novgorodians had to bring back Alexander Nevsky, who had left the city because it did not grant him political rights, when the knights attacked. As Prince of Novgorod, he primarily had the function of a military leader; real power lay in the hands of an assembly of influential citizens and the council of lords. On the ice of Lake Peipus, he destroyed the troops of the Teutonic Order in 1242 (see Battle of Lake Peipus ). This battle was of great importance because it stopped the medieval German eastward expansion . In 1243 the Teutonic Order and Novgorod made peace. The Teutonic Knights expressly renounce any future expansion plans in the Novgorod region. The treaty formed the basis of mutual relations for a century and established the Baltic's eastern border with Russia for the following period.

A merger with the order would have meant a possible powerful defense against the Tatars and was also demanded by the west-oriented boyars of the city. Ultimately, Nevsky could not do anything against the Mongols either and sought a realistic policy, since a permanent Mongolian threat could be assumed. Instead of working with the order, he had fought it and now decided to cooperate with the Tatars. With the order, Catholicism would also have found its way into the Rus, and the Mongols, for their part, were known for their religious tolerance.

As Grand Duke of Vladimir-Suzdal (since 1252), Alexander Nevsky subordinated Novgorod to the Tatars in 1257. In 1263 the city ​​of Vladimir became the new center of the Russian Empire. In this way he saved the north-east Rus from serious incursions by the equestrian nomads and at the same time gave the Grand Duke the necessary support against Great Novgorod and the Principality of Tver , which were centers of anti-Mongolian currents. The autonomy was in danger again after his death, since his successors could not hold the strong position of Newski and created a power vacuum. The Grand Duchy of Vladimir-Suzdal therefore increasingly had to rely on Mongolian troops against the Russian princes (especially Novgorod).

Expansion of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the south and west

The rise of Lithuania to an Eastern European great power under Grand Duke Mindaugas I and his successors also led to the conquest of parts of the Rus countries.

Since the turn of the 12th / 13th In the 19th century, the western principalities were threatened by the Grand Duchy of Lithuania . Looting Lithuanian patrols were often called into the country as auxiliary troops in internal Russian feuds. The partial principalities of Polock, Smolensk , Turov-Pinsk and parts of Volhynia were affected . In the first half of the 13th century there were marriages between the families of East Slavic Dune princes and Lithuanian princes. A real threat developed between 1240 and 1250 when Mindowe completed the internal consolidation of Lithuania and a conception came into the Lithuanian expansionist efforts. The partial princely particularism as well as the beginning Mongol storm favored the expansive intentions of the Lithuanian grand dukes. Lithuania, for its part, was prevented from expanding to the west by the establishment of the Teutonic Order in Prussia as well as in Livonia and, since the beginning of the 14th century, by the strengthening of Poland, so that the Lithuanian grand princes had to take advantage of the power vacuum in the east.

After Mindauga's death in 1263, of the Lithuanian East Slavic acquisitions, only Black Rus on the upper Nyemen around Grodno and Nowogrodek remained under permanent Lithuanian rule. When Vytenis was able to reunite all Lithuanian power at the end of the 13th century , the decisive phase of expansion began. Vytenis itself finally incorporated Polock in 1307. His successor Gedimin (1316-1341) extended the Lithuanian sphere of influence to the western Bug and over the Pripyat and also gained influence in Smolensk. Algirdas (1345-1377) took in competition with the Polish king Casimir III. the Principality of Galicia-Volhynia in the pincer and was able to bring in Volhynia and Eastern Podolia from the long battles with Poland for the booty . With the conquest of Kiev and almost the entire central Dnepr basin, he ruled over 60 percent of the former Kiev empire.

Struggle of Moscow and Tvers for the dignity of the Grand Duke

In the slipstream of these conflicts, Moscow , which was still an insignificant castle town at the beginning of the 13th century but was well protected by a wide belt of forest swamps, became the dominant principality. By receiving the Grand Duke of Tver and moving the metropolitan seat to Moscow, Moscow won the claim to be the legitimate successor of the Kievan Rus.

Alexander Nevski's youngest son Daniil Alexandrowitsch received the small principality of Moscow as a fief from the Golden Horde. When Daniil Alexandrovich died in Moscow on March 4, 1303, he left his son Juri I. Daniilowitsch a dominion of still modest extent. It comprised the narrower territory of the royal seat of Moscow, as well as the most recent acquisitions of Kolomna , Serpuchow and areas on the left bank of the Oka as well as the inherited Pereslavl-Zalessky . Under Yuri I. Daniilowitsch, the rise of the Principality of Moscow, which had been noticeable for decades, entered a new phase. Already at the beginning of the reign of Yuri I Daniilowitsch this began with the expansion of his territory. In 1303 he conquered the principality and the strategically important fortress of Moshaisk , which brought the entire course of the Moskva under his control. A year later, the Khan of the Golden Horde confirmed that he owned the Principality of Pereslavl-Zalessky .

The defeated Mikhail Yaroslavich faces Uzbek Khan

The dignity of the Grand Duke began to become more attractive again at the beginning of the 14th century after a period of decline, because with this title the Khan transferred the right and obligation to collect the tributes to be paid for the entire Russian territory. In this system, the Grand Duke assumed a key position and thus a position of power, because, as once in Kiev, the claim to the whole was established through a territorially delimited Grand Duchy (e.g. the Principality of Tver): the holder of this title then represented the whole (principality) of Vladimir, rather than just the territory of one's own sub-principality in relation to the Tatars. This sparked disputes between Moscow and the Grand Duchy of Tver , which until then had held the title of Grand Duke of Vladimir.

Both principalities were initially equally strong in the power struggle. Tver was also centrally located and easily accessible; its forests offered refugees security and new livelihoods. Both royal towns were built as fortified border towns. In 1147 Moscow was founded against Chernigov , and in 1127 Tver against Novgorod . As principalities they were much younger. The Moscow Principality did not appear as an independent political organism until the 1290s, around thirty years later than the Principality of Tver. This had already received the grand prince in 1247. In 1304 Tver was once again given the title of Grand Duke. When Khan Özbeg came to power in 1314, Yuri I seized the opportunity and achieved the removal of the Grand Duke of Tver from the Khan. The position has now been transferred to Yuri I, which is the first time that a Moscow prince has received the dignity of Grand Duke. The fighting continued during the first quarter of the 14th century. In 1324 Tver was again granted the title of Grand Duke, but after an uprising in Tver a large-scale punitive action by the Mongols devastated the Principality of Tver. The beneficiary was Moscow, whose prince Ivan Kalita received the grand duke dignity in 1328, which since then has belonged to the Moscow dynasty and was no longer successfully challenged. Moscow was able to prevail against the Principality of Tver mainly because of its community of interests with Khan Özbeg, because Ivan I guaranteed the Mongols a relative calm in the Rus, as he acted as a reliable tax collector for the Golden Horde. This meant that if Tver allied with Lithuania and launched an attack on Moscow, Moscow would be militarily protected by the Mongols. In the period that followed, the title of the Grand Duchy was inflated. So there was not only the Grand Duke of Vladimir, but also the Grand Dukes of Tver, Yaroslavl and Ryazan . This situation arose because there were other Grand Dukes of Vladimir before the Muscovites and their heirs had added the title of Grand Duke to their territory. In order to distinguish himself on the one hand from the others and on the other hand to place himself above the other grand dukes , the grand duke Ivan I later changed his title to that of a "grand duke of all Russia" ( Velikij knjaz 'vseja Rusi ).

The "Metropolitan of Kiev and All Russia", Peter , moved his seat from Vladimir to Moscow in 1325/28, because the Prince of Tver rejected him as a candidate. Moscow supported him, and so the church under Peter and his successor Theognost strengthened the back of the Moscow man. Through his decision, he played a decisive role in the political upgrading of this originally insignificant prince's seat in the northeast.

Internal consolidation of Moscow rule

The wooden Moscow Kremlin under Ivan Kalita. A watercolor (1921) by Apollinari Wasnezow

Ivan Kalita (1325-1341) founded the rise of Moscow because he used much of the taxes or tributes collected throughout Russia for his own purposes. During his reign there were somewhat calmer conditions in the interior and an economic boom. The beginning decline in power of the Golden Horde and Moscow's rise in power had a positive effect. At that time Moscow was not yet in a position to completely banish the threat posed by external enemies or internal quarrels, but the degree of internal calm was much greater than in the previous hundred years. Around the middle of the 14th century, a sustainable economic upswing developed in the countries of the Rus after the plague waves of 1352/53 and 1360-1366 were overcome. Monumental construction activities revived, e.g. B. 1326 the construction of the first stone church in Moscow (predecessor of today 's Dormition Cathedral (Moscow) ) after the relocation of the seat of the head of the Russian church. In 1329 Ivan initiated the construction of the Moscow Kremlin and soon afterwards the construction of new wooden fortifications. More demanding branches of industry developed and the lifting activities were increased. A new start of your own coinage also occurs during this time. The internal colonization experienced a significant recovery in the second half of the 14th and beginning of the 15th century. Originally this was fanned as an evasive movement from the Tatars. This enabled the development of the taiga to be accelerated considerably. Small settlement groups migrated from the old settlements downstream towards the White Sea, into the previously undeveloped forest massifs.

The aristocratic servants played a major role in Moscow's rise. The Moscow grand dukes deliberately recruited princes. The transfer of the Ryurikids to Moscow services was not always involuntary, because the fragmentation of many principalities offered the small rulers, to a lesser extent, a decent life and protection against the annexation efforts of powerful neighbors. They secured both if they accepted their dependence on Moscow, which assured them, as service princes, of the highest rank in the Moscow hierarchy of service nobility. So Moscow received the military strength of these territories, and at the same time bleeding the remaining partial principalities through the emigration of the nobility to Moscow militarily to such an extent that resistance became pointless.

The rise of Moscow also contributed to the fact that, in contrast to other Russian principalities, the grand dukes succeeded in the long term in replacing the seniorate with the primogeniture and in preventing the division of their territory. At first it remained a matter of dispute who should be the successor within the Moscow line upon the death of the Grand Duke. When the Moscow Grand Duchy went through its first phases of development in the 14th century, as in the old Kiev Empire, there was no stable and undisputed order of succession to the throne. But initially the heirs Iwan Kalitas, Simeon (1341-1353) and Iwan II (1353-1359), could take over the successor unscathed, since the brothers Iwan Kalitas recognized Simeon as the oldest. When Ivan II died there were only initial problems, but one of his two sons died soon after Ivan II's death. In their time there were plague epidemics in 1353 and 1364 , which wiped out large parts of the royal family. This initially saved the principality from being divided. The Moscow rulers tried when the political conditions were there to influence the succession to the throne (in their favor). They wanted to eliminate the uncertainty factor that a grand duke's throne would become an object of contention between two or more rivals when the throne was changed. Dmitri Donskoi (1359-1389) was the first Grand Duke of Moscow to consider not only the (partial) Principality of Moscow, but also the Grand Duchy as a "paternal inheritance". This was the prerequisite for the beginning of a grand princely succession policy; the territory granted by the Tatar Khan could be inherited. So Dimitri developed a level order from the improvisation:

  • First, he stipulated the general contractual recognition of the sons' claim to the throne by other Russian princes,
  • this was followed by the recognition of the claim of a certain son and
  • finally, testamentary inheritance.

His attempt to determine the successor of his successor failed and provided the reason for a bloody feud. If the eldest son of a prince took the path of primogeniture on his own initiative and in such a case the younger brother of the deceased who was entitled to inheritance after the seniority did not give in, a dispute between uncle and nephew developed. This also happened in the uncle-nephew conflict that developed into the bloody Moscow feud of 1425-1453 between two branches of the Moscow dynasty. The main victims of this hard-fought civil war were the common people. After repeated local flares of the plague and the famines of 1417–1427, the following decades of war worsened the general misery to a prolonged period of desertification, which almost completely depopulated entire regions. It was Vasili II (1425–1462) who added an essential new element to the sequence of steps: the appointment of the heir to the throne as grand duke and co-ruler while he was still alive. This led to the idea that the Grand Duke's heir was the only legitimate successor to the Grand Duke's rule and that any struggle was hopeless from the outset for other aspirants. The settlement of the intra-dynastic conflict under Vasili II ushered in a blooming period of over a hundred years after the decline until 1453. Hardly threatened from inside or outside, the Moscow Empire was able to concentrate a large part of its forces inward. The settlement development reached a high phase; Urbanism, trade and commerce flourished again.

Collection of Russian soil and shedding of Tatar rule

The standing at the Ugra marked the end of Tatar control over Russia

With the conditions favorable for Moscow, the Grand Dukes of Moscow undertook the “ gathering of Russian soil ”, which meant the restoration of the Kievan Rus. This process was by no means straightforward or compulsive. Ultimately, the "gathering of the land" resulted in wars against all other subducal principalities. Therefore, the Moscow grand dukes had to gradually withdraw their power base from the competing partial princes in order to weaken them. The Moscow Grand Dukes withdrew their ability to act under international law from the Russian principalities. Even the most powerful states were incorporated (partly by purchase) and were subject to the comprehensive ban on foreign policy relations. Any attempt by the partial princes to pursue their own policy was considered a betrayal of Moscow.

In this way Moscow's most serious competitor, Tver, was eliminated. In contrast to Moscow, Tver had to experience dynastic divisions in 1319, 1333 and 1399 and its development was weakened by the battles of two competing dynastic lines between 1346 and 1360. In the second round of the decisive battle with Tver (1368-1375) Moscow was again able to keep the upper hand. The trigger was a domestic political crisis in Moscow. After some back and forth, the decision was made when the Moscow Grand Duke Dmitri Donskoy (1359-1389) anticipated that Grand Duke Mikhail von Tver would take power . He had received the Grand Duke jarlyk from Mamais' envoy on July 14th. Dmitri invaded the Grand Duchy of Tver with a large contingent of troops. On August 5th the siege of Tvers began. When the expected Lithuanian help failed to materialize, Mikhail von Tver agreed, after a month-long siege, to sign the contract of submission requested by Dmitri. Grand Duke Mikhail von Tver retained his independence, but had to recognize Dmitri Donskoy as a superior and accept foreign policy restrictions. This outcome demonstrated Moscow's increased authority. Dmitri was on his way to becoming the Grand Duke of all of Russia. Tver was weakened and Novgorod sank into internal strife, so that Grand Duke Dmitri Donskoy was able to incorporate several principalities across the Volga far to the northwest to Beloozero and Galitsch . In 1392 Dmitri succeeded in bringing the Grand Duchy of Suzdal-Nizhny-Novgorod , founded in 1341, under his control, which in the meantime had developed into a competitor to Moscow, but was ultimately also defeated. Nizhny Novgorod became Moscow's outpost against the Kazan Khanate.

The Tatars still dominated Moscow. Thus the rise of Moscow was in danger as long as this dependency persisted. Because the Tatars were suspicious of the rise of Moscow and increasingly supported the other Russian princes and weakened Moscow by the occasional devastation of its territory. So Moscow had to distance itself from the supremacy and from then on formed the Russian center of the anti-Mongol resistance. Dmitri felt strong enough to dare a quarrel with the emir after defeating Tver in 1375. After the murder of Khan Dschani Beg (1357), the Golden Horde had to endure a period of weakness that was characterized by frequent changes of the throne. Between 1357 and 1380, 25 khans replaced themselves. The failure of a generally recognized central power gave ambitious emirs in the peripheral provinces the chance to act on their own initiative. The occasion was the alliance of the Emir Mamai with Lithuania and the support of Tvers and Ryazan against Moscow. Dmitri won a victory over the Tatars at the Battle of Kulikowo , not far from the Don, because Dmitri struck before the Lithuanians arrived. However, this victory did not end the Tatar rule, as Khan Toktamish was able to conquer Moscow in 1382. Another great Tatar incursion occurred in the winter of 1408/09. The rural population suffered badly from the invasions, but Moscow was no longer conquered as in 1382. Ultimately, the Golden Horde could not recover from the blow. The princes of Tver and Ryazan were also discredited by their cooperation with Lithuania and the Horde, and Moscow was able to gain considerable reputation within the Rus. The decline of the Golden Horde continued unabated in the following decades. Edigü lost his dominant position in the turmoil from 1410 to 1412. He died in 1419 at the hands of one of the sons, Toktamish, at a time when the territorial breakup of the Golden Horde's domain could no longer be stopped. When the Kazan Khanate , the Crimean Khanate and the Astrakhan Khanate spun off from the territory of the Golden Horde at the beginning of the 15th century , the Tatars were finally too weak to prevent Moscow's further rise. Their ideas remained dangerous for a century and a half. After the death of Dmitri he was succeeded by Vasili I (1389–1425), who assumed a secure inheritance. He strengthened it externally through his marriage to Sofja, the daughter of the Lithuanian Grand Duke, and thus instilled so much respect for Khan Timurlenk that Moscow did not have to pay any tribute from 1395 to 1412.

Moscow had made a name for itself in the fight against Tatar rule, while the Golden Horde was in the process of disintegration. This gave Moscow space for the struggle within the Russian Federation to end small states. At the beginning of the 15th century, the political map of northeastern Russia had become much clearer. There were only four states left: Moscow, Novgorod, Tver and Ryazan. The sub-principalities, especially Moscow's competitors such as Tver and Novgorod, were anxious to maintain their statehood. In the bitter struggle, the remaining Russian principalities had to be united under the leadership of Moscow. On the upper Volga existed when Ivan III took office. (1462 to 1505) still insignificant remnants of the principalities of Yaroslavl and Rostov . Both had been vassals to the Moscow Grand Duke since the time of Dmitri Donskoy. Ivan III incorporated Yaroslavl in 1471 and Rostov in 1474 into the Moscow Empire. In 1478 Tver and the former regional power and city republic of Novgorod were forcibly annexed :

Novgorod Market Square, in the background the Novgorod Kremlin
  • Grand Duke Ivan III. opened the final battle for the incorporation of Novgorod on October 9, 1476 when he left Moscow with a large army. On November 27th, a siege ring closed around the city, the leadership of which, through numerous embassies to the Grand Duke's camp, had tried in vain to avert the disaster. After lengthy negotiations, in which the Grand Duke specified his tough demands (including the cession of land, tribute payments, dissolution of the previous political institutions of the city, etc.), the conditions of the submission contract were written down and the archbishop and the district representatives ordered to sign. On January 15, the Grand Duke sent his representatives to the city to oblige all residents to comply with the agreement. On January 22nd, the governors arrived in Novgorod, and on January 29th, the Grand Duke and a large entourage took possession of his “father's inheritance”. The connection of Novgorod was the climax of Ivan III's unification policy. but it was still not complete.
  • 1484 received Ivan III. News that the Prince of Tver Mikhail Borisovich had signed a treaty with the Grand Dukes of Lithuania, Casimir IV Jagiełło . The Grand Duke declared war on Tver. His troops besieged the city. After Prince Mikhail Borisovich had fled on the night of September 12, a delegation of townspeople signed the terms of surrender. Ivan III succeeded in annexing one of the last free principalities. He appointed his son and heir to the throne Ivan as prince and, as in 1478 in Novgorod, resorted to forced resettlement in order to break any resistance of the population. In the following years Ivan III wins. determining influence on Ryazan and Pskov.

Moscow now bordered the Grand Duchy of Lithuania to the west. A battle for the Belarusian principalities was now on the foreign policy agenda and had to be carefully planned. To do this, the Tatar suzerainty first had to be resolved. In 1476 the tribute payments to the Mongols ended. When two brothers of Ivan III. threatened its position of power, Kahn Achmat saw a possibility to weaken Moscow, whereupon he advanced with an army towards Moscow. Ivan III moved with his troops from Moscow to the Ugra in order to prevent a threatening union between the Tatar Khan Akhmat and the Polish king Casimir IV. This led to standing on the Ugra in 1480 . The withdrawal of the troops of the Golden Horde without a fight after several months of confrontation between the two armies is seen as the final end of Mongolian domination. With the liberation from the supremacy of the Tatars, Ivan III affirmed. the leadership role of the Moscow Empire in Russia for the upcoming fight against Lithuania.

Russo-Lithuanian struggle for rule over the whole of Russia

Grand Duchy of Moscow 1390–1525
A depiction of the Russo-Lithuanian War from the work of Jacob Pisos: The Battle of Kunig von Poln and with the Moscowite, 1514

With the strengthening of Moscow began a long-lasting conflict with Lithuania for supremacy. Both countries claimed control over the Rus for themselves. The Lithuanians represented the Latin, the Muscovites the traditional Orthodox faith. Since the Lithuanians were viewed as foreigners, Moscow was able to prevail in the wars due to a stronger internal cohesion of the areas and Lithuania steadily pushed west.

Lithuania's attempts to succeed the Kievan Rus in the course of its expansion in the 14th century had already failed due to the lack of acceptance by the population of the Rus countries. Attempts to restore Kiev as the old spiritual and cultural center of the Rus by establishing a metropolis directed against Moscow were unsuccessful.

A decisive turning point, which worked out favorably for Moscow, came in 1385 when the Lithuanian Grand Duke Jogaila married the Polish Queen Jadwiga and converted to the Roman Catholic faith. The formation of the Polish-Lithuanian Union made Moscow's neighbors even stronger, but Lithuania became increasingly embroiled in Polish affairs and increasingly turned its gaze to the west. The Lithuanian grand princes now also lacked legitimacy as Orthodox rulers. Olgard had not taken the decisive step of relocating his residence from Vilnius to Kiev and thus making a claim to the successor of the Kiev grand dukes for all to see. In his Ostpolitik there was no consequence, the lack of which in the following period, together with the entanglement in Polish interests and the defensive battles against the Teutonic Order, favored Moscow's later victory.

At the beginning of the 15th century, relations between Moscow and Lithuania had deteriorated again after they suffered a heavy defeat in the battle of the Vorerskla against the Tatars. Vytauta's defeat on the Worskla ended the Lithuanian expansion efforts into southern Ruthenia . His state also lost access to the Black Sea. The Lithuanians now focused on the struggle for more northern principalities like Smolensk . This led to a war with Moscow from 1406 to 1408 . This ended with the peace on the Ugra , which provided some stability.

When the Moscow-Lithuanian War broke out in 1492, a long series of military conflicts began between the Moscow state and its western neighbor Poland-Lithuania . The disadvantaged Orthodox nobility in the eastern parts of Lithuania hoped for more advantages and power if they converted to the Grand Duchy of Moscow. Between 1487 and 1493, at least four royal houses from the eastern provinces of the Grand Duchy joined the Moscow state. At the end of the 1490s, the princes Semjon Belski, Semjon and Iwan Moschaijski and Vasili Schemjatitsch left the Lithuanian association. Again and again there were border conflicts between the two empires. At the beginning of the Second Lithuanian-Russian War (1500–1503), the Lithuanian army suffered a heavy defeat in the Battle of the Wedrosch northeast of Smolensk. The Lithuanian military leadership did not succeed in coordinating the fighting with the allies (Livonian Order, Khan Achmat the Great Horde). At the end of the war, Lithuania had to cede the areas of Chernihiv , Novgorod-Severs , Gomel , Bryansk , Putivl , Starodub and Mtsensk to Moscow in 1503. So had Ivan III. At the end of his reign all the prerequisites were created to designate himself as Grand Duke of all Russia, since he united the territory of all of Russia, except for the territories conquered by Lithuania, to form the new Russian state.

Ivan III's successor, his son Vasily III. (1505–1533), endeavored to expand Russia to the west. A little later, in 1514, armed clashes broke out again between the armed forces of Moscow and Lithuania. During this time, under the leadership of Moscow, an anti-Yagelion alliance was founded with the aim of dividing the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and adding the Belarusian provinces to the Grand Duchy of Moscow. However, the victory that the troops under Konstantin Ostroschki's high command won over the Moscow army in the Battle of Orsha on September 8th held up Moscow's expansion to the west for the time being.

Under Vasily III. The last Russian principalities were annexed, the Pskov republic in 1510 and the southern principality of Ryazan in 1521 . At the same time, however, raids began from the south by the Crimean Tatars , who were not interested in the increasing inferiority of Lithuania. After the death of the Crimean Khan Meñli I. Giray in 1515, Moscow's temporarily close alliance with the Crimean Tatars finally broke. The relationship was severely strained in the previous years by numerous border crossings and repeated rapprochements with Lithuania. Under the new Khan Mehmed I. Giray , enthroned on April 13, the anti-Moscow direction gained the upper hand, while Moscow lost its previous dominant influence in the Kazan Khanate . During this period, the Moscow-Kazan Wars also took a turn that was unfavorable for Moscow. Wasili III tried in vain. averting the threatening endangerment of the south and south-east / east borders of his domain through direct contact with the Ottoman sultan . In the period that followed, the Crimean Tatars repeatedly advanced as far as Moscow and destroyed it.

Consolidation of the autocracy of the Moscow Grand Dukes

Ivan III took over the imperial double-headed eagle from 1487. In doing so, it ties in with the tradition of the Roman Empire or pursues this claim. Whether it is a direct takeover or perhaps a marriage coat of
arms from Ivan III. is dealing with Sofia Palaiologos , or it was chosen through another route, is unclear.

The Moscow grand princes were able to achieve an internal gain in power through the external increase in power and the elimination of internal Russian competitors, which led to an extremely powerful position of rulership, autocracy . Church and nobility were limited in their influence. The rulers were now succeeded by the primogeniture, and their independence was secured externally by the release and use of the tsar title. The establishment of a bureaucracy secured you the implementation of an orderly rule.

With the emergence of the Russian Empire around its center Moscow and the shaking off of the Tatar yoke, the importance of the Grand Dukes of Moscow grew at the end of the 15th century and allowed the Russian Empire to enter the European world in stages. The growing contacts with western countries were also reflected in the increasing number of trips abroad by Russians in order to expand their specialist knowledge. In addition, more and more Western experts were brought into the country. As economic specialists, diplomats, builders or weapons technicians, they took on service and exerted an important influence. A cultural exchange took place again between the upper classes of Western Europe and those of the Moscow Empire.

Morally and legally, however, this new Russian empire remained outside of the then officially recognized community of nations and nations. On the one hand, this was due to the independently developing state of Russia, i.e. without models such as Rome or Byzantium with their system of rule, legal and feudal systems, and, on the other hand, to the lack of historical recognition of Russia as a state among equals. A new title was necessary to ensure that her title was recognized internationally. The Grand Duchy of Lithuania , whose grand princes themselves bore the phrase “rulers of many Russian countries” in their title, had refused to recognize the Moscow grand prince as “ruler of all Russia” (title addition to the Moscow grand prince) until the forced armistice of 1494 large part of the Rus under Lithuanian sovereignty. The title of tsar presented itself as an option. The title of tsar had become free through the conquest of Constantinople and the shedding of foreign Tatar rule over Russia. Ivan III then married the niece of the last emperor of Byzantium . Because of this marriage, Ivan III saw himself. now also as the legal successor of the emperors of the fallen Byzantine Empire. Ivan III occasionally began to use the tsar title for himself unofficially in dealings with powers that were weaker from the Russian point of view.

Fundamental changes in the Orthodox Church could Ivan III. and incorporate it into his policy of consolidating and expanding one's own position of power:

  • The fall of Constantinople and the Council of Florence brought autocephaly to the Russian Church . This means that after his election the metropolitan no longer required the confirmation of the ecumenical patriarch, but that the approval of the Moscow Grand Duke was sufficient. The metropolitan was thus tied to the Moscow Grand Duke even more than before, because this change robbed the Moscow Church of its last support outside the Grand Duke's sphere of influence. As a result, the original Orthodox idea of ​​the equal rule of church and secular power was far exceeded in the following period. In this way the church itself helped the autocracy of the grand dukes into the saddle.
  • For reasons of ecclesiastical politics, a theocratic state theory emerged which declared Moscow to be the new (Orthodox) city of salvation. After 1453, a large number of Orthodox church members immigrated to Russia. At that time it was the only Christian Orthodox great power that was not occupied by Islamic conquerors. Since the “First Rome” deviated from the right faith from the Orthodox point of view and the “Second Rome” - Byzantium - could no longer perform this function, Orthodox church representatives declared Moscow to be the “ Third Rome ”. To the successors of Ivan III. the founder of the theory of Moscow as the "Third Rome", the monks Filofej, said:

“Because you know, you Christ lover and God lover: All Christian kingdoms have passed and have passed together into the one kingdom of our ruler, according to the prophetic books: that is the Russian Empire. [...] Because two Rome have fallen, but the third is standing and there will be no fourth "

- Filofej

Supported by this theocratic conception of the state of Filofeij as well as the doctrine of the third Rome, which has meanwhile been spun out by a descent legend, the autocracy was able to develop fully in the following period.

The Sudebnik from 1497

The Moscow Empire had grown rapidly in a short time. Due to the transition to a limited expansionary policy, the empire already counted two million square kilometers with a population of six to eight million inhabitants by 1500. This made a government reform necessary, which took into account the enlarged framework, since the rule could no longer be controlled by personal mandate. Through the expansion of the competencies of the grand ducal treasury ( Kazna ), the supreme administration of the grand ducal court estates ( Dvorets ) and the specialization of the secretaries working there in certain ongoing business in the Moscow Kremlin , pre-forms of a permanent central administrative head were established. By the middle of the 16th century, this bureaucratic apparatus had become so differentiated that independent business areas could be formed in the form of the Prikas . These took care of:

  • the military administration,
  • the care of the servants,
  • the current diplomatic business.

This structure principle of the highest administrative authorities, which arose out of pragmatic considerations without a transparent concept, led in the future to increasing competence overlaps and ultimately to bureaucratic torpor. In order to create the basis for uniform jurisprudence, the current customary law was codified in a code of law, the Sudebnik , in 1497 .

As Vasily III. Ivan IV died unexpectedly in 1533 and was just three years old. His future and that of autocracy were by no means secure. Ivan III. had determined in his will that not the brothers Wassilis, but his children should be the further heirs. For the first time, the renunciation of seniority in favor of primogeniture was officially declared. But that was still not undisputed. Vasily had established a reign until Ivan's coronation. The interests of the members of the reign clashed so hard that it came to hard and bloody fighting. Domestically, Helena Glinskaja , Ivan's mother, ensured a currency reform, promoted urban development and forbade monasteries to acquire additional property. After her death in 1538, however, these approaches were not continued. Instead, new power struggles broke out between rival boyar cliques. The nobility gambled away their chance to build a system of rule that would have secured them participation in power.

Tsarist Russia (1547-1721)

Depiction of the coronation of Ivan IV.
Woodcut from the series of pictures in the “Book of Tsarism” from 1547.

After the end of Mongol rule in 1480, the formerly hostile Russian principalities became an autocratically ruled and centrally administered unitary state with claims to great power. In 1547 Ivan IV was the first Russian ruler to be crowned tsar . On the one hand, the Russian rulers made it clear through the title of tsar that they had now completely freed themselves from Tatar supremacy, and on the other hand they showed that they had created something new and unique even compared to the West and were not prepared to accept the existing one to adapt to the European hierarchy system. In the following period, Tsarist Russia reached far beyond the previous limited expansion to regain the territories of the Rus and expanded to the Pacific in the east by 1700. Territorial expansion did not take place as a straightforward expansionist process, but also in response to attempts by neighbors to enrich themselves at Russia's expense. In the west, tsarism suffered setbacks in the struggle for control of the Baltic Sea and was only able to gain territorial gains from the second half of the 17th century. Inside, the grown empire froze, so that around 1700 major reform efforts were necessary in order to catch up with the western part of the European continent.

Reform period and internal terror

With Ivan IV , who was later nicknamed "the terrible" (Grozny correctly translated would be "the threatening"), followed a ruler who had a strong distrust of the boyars due to the bloody disputes in his childhood. Therefore he saw the service aristocracy and the administration as important pillars of his rule against the boyars . Ivan IV saw himself as an unrestricted autocrat and wanted to end the bloody power struggle of the boyars with the support of the Church. He needed a stable rule for his desired foreign policy expansion course. To this end, he surrounded himself with a group of advisors and continued the reform approaches of his two predecessors in accordance with the requirements of a large empire. The domestic political reforms pushed back the influence of the high nobility while at the same time promoting the service nobility.

  • In 1550 a new Sudebnik was put into effect, which contained detailed regulations to reduce the risk of abuse.
  • In the course of the administrative reform, a central pay system for employees was set up and replaced the previous self-sufficiency system, which had led to many excesses.
  • The independent power of the boyar governors, the namestniki , was broken.
  • Ivan IV granted the townspeople and free farmers the right to vote in the area of ​​local self-government.
  • An army reform now obliged the hereditary nobility to serve.
  • The lands of the hereditary nobility were examined to determine whether illegal property increases had occurred. In such cases, these lands were confiscated and distributed to the service nobility, who as a result were better off economically and thus even more closely tied to Ivan IV.

Ivan IV fell seriously ill in 1553. His succession arrangement in favor of his still underage son was not readily accepted by the boyars. This strengthened his distrust and he sensed betrayal in the ranks of the high nobility. The death of people close to him who had a balancing effect on the tsar, such as his wife Anastassija Romanovna Sakharjina in 1560 and the metropolitan Makarij , did the rest. The downsides of unrestricted autocracy became apparent, which increasingly took on terrorism. In 1560 the tsar banished some of his closest advisers. When a member of the Boyar Duma , Andrei Mikhailovich Kurbsky , defected to the Lithuanians in 1564, Ivan IV initiated countermeasures that led to the actual reign of terror and were openly directed against the aristocracy. At the end of 1564 Ivan IV withdrew to a suburb and separated from his rule in terms of territory and administration. The Tsar wanted to create panic and confusion in order to turn the people against the boyars. For this purpose he separated ever larger areas of the country since 1565 as Oprichnina (the separated) with its own Duma, its own administration and its own army and at the same time a special association of persons. Many of the boyars were killed, clipped to become monks, or evacuated. On their estates he settled a new layer of devoted servants, the oprichniki , who served as tools of his reign of terror. They were soon considered traitors themselves. They denounced each other and, in the end, were also largely murdered. Ivan IV lifted the seclusion of part of his territory and gave the land back to its rightful owners. As a result of the oprichnina, the nobility became the most powerful stratum in the empire. The old boyarism was shattered.

The rise of the service nobility increased the pressure on the service farmers. Peasants who did not want to completely submit to the estate economy fled in large numbers from central Russia to the south and sought protection with the Cossacks in the domination-free area between Russians, Poles, Turks and Crimean Tatars (→  Wildes Feld ). Because the number of workers in the core areas of the empire shrank rapidly and thus the existence of the settlers lived service nobility was at stake, the farmers were on the floe bound and her right to deduct suspended.

Elimination of the successor khanates in the south and east and conquest of Siberia

Kazan Khanate around 1500

The fall of power of the Golden Horde in central Russia had strengthened the position of the Moscow Grand Duchy, but the danger of the Tatars was not yet completely averted. The Tatars still owned the powerful Kazan Khanate on the central Volga and the Astrakhan Khanate on the lower Volga, as well as the Crimean Khanate . Russian diplomacy skilfully sought to play the khanates off against one another through a policy of divide et impera . At the same time, the military power of the Tatars sank, as they were affected by military developments such as the B. the European fortress construction and artillery, made insufficient use. Under such circumstances, Ivan IV was able to implement a new imperial power politics thanks to the economic potential that had developed over the decades. The choice for this fell on the Kazan Tatar khanate, with which the Moscow Empire had fought a number of military conflicts since the 15th century . Grand Duke Ivan III. had treated Kazan as his protectorate. Tsar Ivan IV had twice drawn against Kazan in vain, and the climatic and logistical problems proved insurmountable. Only the third campaign succeeded with the successful capture of the Tatar capital Kazan in 1552. With this, Tsar Ivan IV initiated a new phase of Russian foreign policy that went beyond the traditional gathering of the land of the Rus . The expansion policy aimed at gaining the entire Volga basin . When Astrakhan , the center of the Nogai Horde , fell in 1556 , the Russian tsarism had won most of the fertile black earth belt and, by removing the flank threat from the east, had opened up large parts of the rural settlement. In addition, the Volga trade route was secured along its entire length. This opened the way to colonize Siberia .

Crimean Khanate around 1600 ( Azov and the cities on the south coast of Crimea belonged directly to the Ottoman Empire)

The Crimean Tatar ruler Meñli I. Giray reacted to the Russian successes and submitted to the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II. He received the services of Ottoman auxiliaries and artillery for his dependency, which enabled him to go on the offensive. Crimean Tatar and Ottoman armies reclaimed the Volga region for Islam and advanced against Moscow. In 1571 a small army of Chans Devlet I. Giray managed to bypass the Russian fortifications undiscovered and to appear in front of Moscow. The suburbs were set on fire, whereupon the whole city burned down except for the Kremlin . Tens of thousands of people perished because the city was left without a defense. A year later, the Khan returned with a much larger army, hoping to finally overthrow a battered Russia. However, he suffered a heavy defeat in the Battle of Molodi , which limited the threat from the Crimean Khanate in the centuries that followed. Nonetheless, the raids and abductions of people in the southern border region continued for a long time. This was one of the factors that further promoted the development of the Cossacks as a defensive peasant. Nevertheless, the khanate of Crimea was increasingly unable to withstand the growing power of Russia. Catherine II took the last step in the 18th century by first occupying and then incorporating the khanate.

Vasily Surikov "Yermak's Conquest of Siberia"

During the Russian-Crimean Tatar War, the Turkic Khanate of Sibir politically approached the Crimean Khanate and attacked Russian settlements in the Urals that belonged to the influential Stroganov merchant family . The Tsar then gave them the right to raise their own troops to protect their lands and to take action against the Siberian Tatars. To this end, the Stroganov hired in the steppes between the Volga and Don live Cossacks on. Under their leader Yermak Timofejewitsch , the Cossacks launched a campaign against the Siberian Khanate in 1582 with almost a thousand men, but equipped with muskets and cannons . Skillfully exploiting the dissatisfaction of smaller Ugric peoples with Kütschüm Khan , they were able to advance inexorably and take his capital Qashliq by storm. The fact that it was not the Tsar but the Cossack leader Yermak who took advantage of the power vacuum on the other side of the Urals and attacked the weak West Siberian Tatar khantat is due to the military agony that the Russian Tsar was going through at that time. Only when the state regained its strength towards the end of the 16th century, under Tsar Boris Godunov , it was able to expand the bridgehead by sending troops and setting up bases (foundation of Tyumen in 1586, Tobolsk in 1587) and in 1598 by the final conquest of the khanate of all of western Siberia to back up. The Russian drive to the east was based on the need of the state to create fixed natural borders in the east. Since the power vacuum on the eastern border of the Russian Empire remained in the following centuries, the Russian expansion movement encountered the least resistance here.

The Russian settlement in the east went largely unnoticed by the European public. Since the acquisition of the Sibir Khanate in 1581 and the founding of Tomsk in 1604, the vast expanses of Siberia have been open to Russian settlement. The settlement was carried out by the Cossacks , a population made up of peasants who had fled serfdom and Tatars and who took on colonizing and military tasks as military farmers. In 1648 the eastern tip of Siberia was reached (see Russian conquest of Siberia ).

Beginning of the Age of Northern Wars

Siege of Polatsk 1579, contemporary illustration

Immediately after the conquest of Astrakhan, Tsar Ivan IV turned his foreign policy attention to the Livonian question. In overestimating the economic performance of Russian tsarism, Tsar Ivan IV risked a conflict with Poland-Lithuania and Sweden , which drew him into a grueling war for control of the Baltic coast region ( see: Livonian War 1558–1583). There had been conflicts over the rule of the Baltic Sea between Novgorod, the Teutonic Order and Sweden. With the incorporation of Novgorod in 1476, Moscow inherited the conflicts with Sweden and the Teutonic Order. 1492 put Ivan III. Russia's first Baltic port ( Ivanograd ) opposite the Narva order fortress . The fortress was also directed against Sweden, from whom Ivan III. Parts of Karelia demanded. However, after Russian attacks in 1496, the Swedes dragged Ivanograd before an armistice was signed the next year. The Teutonic Order did not want to accept Russia's appearance on the Baltic Sea either. A war broke out from 1501 to 1503.

The aim was to gain access to the Baltic Sea for Russia, which was largely isolated from the seas and trade . The occasion was the growing disagreement between church princes, Livonian order , cities and knighthood , which promised easy prey. The initial territorial gains in the Baltic were soon lost again, as Estonia submitted to Swedish and Livonia to Lithuanian sovereignty. So Tsar Ivan IV had to face two new opponents. After the peace treaties with Poland-Lithuania in 1582 and Sweden in 1583 , all conquests were lost, Poland-Lithuania could easily move its eastern border to the east and Sweden secured Ingermanland in the north-west for a century , isolating Russia from the Baltic Sea. Arkhangelsk , founded in 1584, became the only port through which Russia could still trade with the West . English merchants exploring their own trade route to China and India had made contact with Russia in 1553 through an expedition across the White Sea. Thereupon trade contacts were agreed with Russia and the Muscovy Company was founded. In 1554 she received the lucrative privilege of exclusive trade with Russia. For example, ships of the Muscovy Company regularly sailed to Arkhangelsk over the next centuries. Every spring the English merchant flotillas entered the Dvina estuary . In autumn they set sail again, now laden with goods. The English brought cloth, sugar, spices, precious stones, weapons, ammunition and goods from the Mediterranean to Russia; and they bought hides, leather, wax, hemp, tar, grain, candles, and wood.

Time of Troubles (Smuta)

Russian tsarism around 1600

In 1584 Ivan IV died completely emaciated. He left behind a shattered country on the inside and an unstable country on the outside and a mentally retarded son Fyodor I on the throne, for whom, however, the boyar Boris Godunov took over the business of government. After Fjodor's death in 1598, the centuries-old Rurikid dynasty died out, as Ivan the Terrible had previously killed another son in a fit of rage, while the other was later stabbed to death under mysterious circumstances. In the following thirty years it became apparent how little the tsarist autocracy was, although the coming period was initially characterized by relatively stable conditions. Because Boris Godunov was now crowned tsar. He was a gifted ruler, but acted against both the high nobility (who saw him as illegitimate) and against the peasants (consolidation of serfdom ), so that his position, especially after the severe famine from 1601 to 1603, became weaker and weaker. When he died in 1605, the country plunged into a time of serious political unrest ( time of turmoil ). Sweden and Poland tried to take advantage of the turmoil in Russia and to intervene. An adventurer who pretended to be Tsarevich Dmitri (the son of Ivan IV, who had died under mysterious circumstances) ( Pseudodimitri I ) was able to briefly ascend the Tsar's throne with Polish support, but failed because of the same contradictions as his predecessor, especially since his reform attempts were perceived as inspired by Poland. He was killed in a riot, which only made the situation in Russia more unstable. There was now a tsar from the boyar party, Vasily Shuiski , who was supported by the Swedes and a second false Dimitri , who was supported by Poles and Cossacks. When the Poles took Moscow in the Polish-Russian War from 1609 to 1618 in 1610 in order to make their King Sigismund Wasa tsar, their rule lasted only one year. A popular uprising led by Kuzma Minin and Dmitri Poscharsky led to the liberation of Moscow and the abandonment of Polish rule in Moscow.

Polish city map of Moscow, 1610

Despite the victory in Moscow, the Swedes were still in northwestern Russia. The King of Sweden in turn demanded the Tsar's crown for Prince Karl Filip in exchange for Novgorod. However, a foreign succession to the throne was no longer an issue. Russia was looking for a national, orthodox tsar. The newly formed Russian estates decided in Moscow in 1613 to elect 16-year-old Michael Romanov , a candidate of the nobility, as Russian tsar. The young man appeared to be a sufficiently weak tsar, from whom one did not have to fear a tyrannical autocracy . The electoral assembly, which constituted itself as a whole country, was represented by almost all social classes and groups with the exception of the non-free and the ruling peasants. In the two and a half years of the interregnum from 1610 to 1613, it was precisely these groups who had resisted foreign intervention and struggled to maintain an administration, but conditions were not imposed on Tsar-elect Mikhail before the election. This ended the interregnum phase in the Russian Empire and the remaining Polish troops withdrew to the Polish border. With this event the Smuta, the time of confusion, came to an end. The new tsar founded the Romanov dynasty , which ruled Russia until the October Revolution .

After another five years of war, the Deulino Treaty was signed in 1618 , in which Poland-Lithuania was awarded the area around Smolensk and Severien , which the Grand Duchy of Lithuania had lost to Russia in the treaty of 1522, and a 14½-year armistice was agreed. Through this treaty, tsarist Russia obtained the ceasefire that it urgently needed in order to be able to regenerate itself internally.

Moscow tradition and harbingers of modernization

It took the Russian tsarism until the middle of the 17th century to overcome the depression of 1560-1620. The power-political restraint that the exhausted country imposed on itself towards Poland-Lithuania was only interrupted from 1632 to 1634 when, as a result of a Polish interregnum after the death of the Polish King Sigismund III. Wasa in league with the Swede Gustav Adolf wanted to recapture the territories lost in 1618 without success.

The class consciousness developed during the time of the Smuta disappeared in 1622 after the emergency situation subsided in favor of the connection to the old autocracy. This process was supported by the Church, for whom tsarist power was traditionally a necessary addition to its own spiritual authority. The small and middle service nobility needed the tsar in turn as protection from the powerful high aristocracy. The Russian people, deeply rooted in the consciousness of autocracy, focused on security and prosperity after the chaotic times of the Smuta, and welcomed a strong hero in the person of the Tsar.

Sobornoje Uloschenije, Russian Соборное уложение, the collection of Russian laws published in 1649 by Tsar Alexei I.

The second tsar from the Romanov family, Alexei I , created an important control body with the establishment of the “ Prikas for secret state affairs”, which enabled him to exercise the power of government largely independently. His government is characterized by increased oppression of the peasants and an increase in tax burdens, which led to urban uprisings from 1648 (Moscow, Tomsk, Pskov and Novgorod). As a result, Alexei felt compelled to convene the national assembly ( Semski Sobor ) and in 1649 to issue a new imperial code , the Sobornoje Uloschenije , which cemented serfdom .

By clever tactics, Tsar Alexei was able to take advantage of the Khmelnytskyi uprising, which began in 1648, and in 1654, with the Treaty of Perejaslav, took over the patronage of the Ukrainian hetmanate . In the ensuing Russian-Polish War 1654–1667 , Russian troops were able to conquer Smolensk in 1654 . After further Russian successes in the following year, Sweden intervened in the war and Russia was able to take over the entire Grand Duchy of Lithuania . At the end of 1655, Russia concluded an armistice with Poland and turned against Sweden (→  Russo-Swedish War 1656–1658 ). After the new hetman Iwan Wyhowski sided with Poland-Lithuania with the Treaty of Hadjatsch in 1658 , Russia and Sweden agreed on the Valiesar armistice (1658). The war against Poland, which has now been resumed, was changeable (Lithuania was lost again), but ultimately Russia was able to secure itself in 1667 in the peace of Andrussowo Smolensk, Kiev and eastern Ukraine. In an easterly direction, Tsar Alexei expanded his empire with the conquest of Eastern Siberia to the border of China .

In 1658 Alexei fell out with the Patriarch Nikon over the church reforms he had initiated, the seat of the Patriarch remained vacant for eight years. The conflict led to the split in the Russian Orthodox Church in 1666 . The so-called Old Believers refused to accept the new rite and were then persecuted by the state, so that there was a considerable wave of emigration to the Baltic States , the Danube Delta and the Urals . Meanwhile, in 1662, the Moscow population rose again to revolt. The struggle of the oppressed peasants finally erupted in the Rasin uprising under Stepan Rasin of 1670/71, which, however, was quickly overthrown. In 1676 a massive Turkish aggression was repelled together with the Ukrainians . The international prestige during his reign had risen considerably.

When Alexei died, his 16-year-old son Fyodor III became. his successor. Fyodor III was very attached to both religion and the West. As a result, many reforms were initiated during his reign, but most of them could not be completed due to his brief reign. The most important reform was the abolition of the rank order in the military ( Mestnitschestvo ). Further reforms strengthened the centralization of the state apparatus and pushed back the influence of the patriarch, which he exercised over the affairs of state. At the same time, the reforms resulted in a deterioration in the social situation of the lower classes, which led to the Moscow uprising of 1682 .

The Russian Empire around 1700

An obstacle to the reforms was that Russia was almost all the time at war with the Ottoman Empire , which was not ended until 1681 with the peace of Bakhchisarai , which was advantageous for Russia . Fyodor III suffered from scurvy and died in 1682 without leaving a son to succeed him. Fjodor's sister Sophia Alexejewna took over the reign . The campaigns against the Crimean Khanate , which the regent and Golitsyn undertook in 1687 and 1689, were unsuccessful and ultimately led to their overthrow in early August 1689. The defeats in the war meant that the reputation of Peter I increased; his political commitment grew and popularity among the Russian population increased steadily. As Peter came of age, the danger of deposition became increasingly clear to Sofia and she and her allies planned an attack on Peter. Its agents had recognized this attack early and Peter was able to escape by fleeing. The victory over the controversy for the throne was finally won by the Peter I party, who banished Sofia to the Novodevichy monastery near Moscow.

Petrine reforms

Contemporary illustration of Nemezkaja sloboda , the
settlement of foreigners in northeast Moscow

Tsar Peter I , who had been in charge of government since 1689, gave the Russian state a new shape. He helped Russia, which in parts was still medieval, to achieve permanent integration into the Western European world. At the time, Russia was behind most Western European countries in terms of technology. The shielding policy of the state apparatus and the church, which only left gaps where the West was needed, had contributed to this. In the event of a warlike threat, the Moscow state also resorted to the aristocracy and, because of its weak financial strength, was not able to successfully protect the huge, inadequately developed territory everywhere.

The young ruler had a precise picture of Western Europe and his knowledge of Western Europe through stays in the suburb of Moscow for foreigners, Nemezkaja sloboda , and his stays during his first big trip abroad, the so-called Great Embassy in the Netherlands and England from March 1697 to August 1698 and its technology. The new tsar began to rebuild old Russia and its institutions based on the modern model. The overriding purpose was to increase the tax revenue in order to enlarge the army. Since there was initially no planned procedure, internal reforms that had already been started were frequently broken off or new approaches were completely rejected. The wars against the Ottoman Empire and Sweden , which have been almost uninterrupted since 1696, were intended to additionally influence the course, direction and implementation of the reform packages.

Peter I the Great at work
History painting by Vasily Pawlowitsch Chudojarow

The reforms began and took place without an overall concept in all fields, whereby not only financial or military, but also cultural and educational aspects played an important role. The Petrine reforms broke with the old Russian traditions and contributed to the modernization of the Russian Empire, which ultimately led to Russia's position as a great power in the 18th century. Below is an overview of the reforms undertaken:

  • Administration and state-building: Reforms require a capable bureaucracy. The existing administrative bodies were inadequate for this. Hasty initial reforms in this area were more carefully worked out after the Battle of Poltava . In many cases, foreign specialists and scholars drafted the regulations. The government reforms of 1708 and 1719 divided the empire into eight, then eleven governorates . In 1711 the Senate was founded in a ukase as the highest central authority. Initially, this served as a representative of the Tsar. In addition, the nine-man Senate was supposed to manage the judiciary and oversee domestic politics. The Senate also participated in the legislative process. The second phase of the reorganization of the central authorities was initiated by the ukase of December 15, 1717, during which the first colleges were established, which were the forerunners of the later ministries.
The newly built Saint Petersburg and Neva.
Copper engraving by Joseph Valeriani and Michail Iwanowitsch Machajew, 1753.

The new capital was regarded by the Russian people as a symbol of the strange and incomprehensible new. The negative attitude was caused by the great sacrifices demanded the construction of the city, and through the use of force in the Peuplierung the city.
  • Capital: Breaking Moscow traditions required a significant signal. This signal was offered after Russian troops had advanced to the Neva estuary on May 1, 1703. The tsar had the Peter and Paul Fortress built on May 16, according to his own plan , with the aim of establishing a permanent “window to the west” and thus making the opening for modernization clear. The first Dutch merchant ship arrived in November, and at the same time the first Russian commodity and exchange exchange was established. In the following years the expansion of Saint Petersburg was pushed forward. To do this, Peter I ordered 24,000 workers into the marshes of the Neva estuary for the summer months . From 1708 the number rose to 40,000. Riots broke out, especially in southern Russia. In 1712 the government was moved from Moscow to St. Petersburg. In order to promote the new central role of the city as a window to the west , Tsar Peter I forced the diversion of almost all Russian foreign trade from the most important Russian foreign trade port of Arkhangelsk to St. Petersburg from 1720 onwards .
  • Church: After the death of Patriarch Adrian I in 1700, the post of ecclesiastical head of the Russian Orthodox Church remained vacant. In the church reform of 1721, the church in Russia was finally subordinated to the state.
  • Economy: Peter's quest for increased war power presupposed economic independence. The army and the newly formed Russian navy had to be supplied with weapons, equipment and uniform uniforms. The Tsar therefore allowed members of all classes, aristocrats, merchants, craftsmen and farmers to set up all kinds of factories. Russian ironworks in the Urals , Tula and elsewhere began production in 1709 . When the new industries were built up, however, there was very soon a noticeable shortage of workers, so that the tsar created the category of so-called possession farmers who both had to cultivate the land and work in the factories.
  • Finances: In order to rationalize taxation, the poll tax was introduced in 1718 , according to which all male rural residents should be equally burdened with the entire tax burden of a village. Actually intended as a relief for the peasants, the situation of the peasants had deteriorated considerably due to the constant financial demands of the tsar.
Peter imposed a tax on the beards of his subjects. Tax evaders had their beards forcibly removed.
Contemporary wood engraving
  • Society: There was resistance to the reform policy in all sections of the population, which was expressed in popular uprisings, which in turn were suppressed. Tsar Peter I did not see that the oppressive tax burden, the peasants' bondage and serfdom were the main reasons for the slow progress in the Russian Empire. The opposition forces of the reform policy dictated from above included the church, which saw itself provoked by the break with traditions, as well as the nobility, who felt they had been left out of office. In 1722 a ranking table was introduced in the course of the nobility reform . It made possible the direct comparison of civil and military ranks, broke the supremacy of the old hereditary nobility , the boyars , and created a nobility that was dependent on the crown. Only a third of the nobility were allowed to devote themselves to community service; the military took precedence.
  • Education: In realizing his reform intentions - which had shaped him in particular during his shorter stays abroad in the Holy Roman Empire in 1711 and 1712/3 - the Tsar made use of the German Early Enlightenment, which was to become the predominant school of thought in Russia in the 18th century. In particular, the first important Russian scientists Wassili Nikititsch Tatishschew , Michail Wassiljewitsch Lomonossow and Wassili Kirillowitsch Trediakowski were influenced by German scholars such as Leibniz and Wolff . The Tsar issued numerous edicts that established schools of various types. Nevertheless, the secular school system remained in a mess because of a lack of money and teachers. Another project was the establishment of a Russian Academy of Sciences , which was founded in December 1725. In close connection with the founding of the academy was the exploration of his empire that he ordered. The I of Peter inspired research expeditions to the Far East such. B. Bering's expeditions , gave Russian science important impulses and promoted the economic and cultural development of the empire.
  • Culture: Peter had the impression that old traditions were being clung too much. In his opinion he was strengthened by impressions that he had gained on his trip to Western Europe. Among other things, flowing full beards were seldom seen in the countries he visited and the clothing of the countries he visited also seemed more functional to him than the robes of his subjects. He therefore resolved to change this in his kingdom. On September 5, 1698, Peter published an ukase , which urged men, except clergy and farmers, to shave off their beards. But resistance from those affected remained. He thereupon imposed a levy on full beard wearers, which was ordered again by the tsar in 1701 and 1705. Farmers who came to a town had to pay the tax if they wanted to keep their beard.
  • Military: Foreign advisors such as Patrick Gordon , François Le Fort and others laid the foundations for a modern army based on Western European models. The initial spark for the fundamental reform turned out to be the catastrophe following the Battle of Narva in the Great Northern War in 1700, in which the Russian army proved to be clearly inferior to a much smaller Swedish force.

Russia as the new Nordic great power

Conquest of Azov by Peter the Great
Adriaan Schoonebeck, 1699

In foreign policy, the Tsar first turned his attention to Russia's southern border. As part of the Great Turkish War , the Ottoman fortress Azov on the Black Sea was conquered in October 1696 after a year-long siege. But Russia could not take action independently against the Sublime Porte without its own fleet capable of ruling the Black Sea . The tsar devoted a large part of his energy to building a modern fleet, the problems of which the tsar had already familiarized himself with in England and Holland. However, the new war against Sweden delayed the battle for the Black Sea. Instead, it was now about access to the Baltic Sea and its control.

In the Great Northern War , from the Tsar to the Swedish King Karl XII. declared in August 1700, Russia and its allies initially suffered severe setbacks. In the battle of Narva on 19./30. November 1700, the Russian army was defeated by King Charles XII of Sweden. destroyed. This then turned back to Poland, while Tsar Peter in the meantime modernized the Russian army from the ground up. Charles XII. had in the meantime defeated August II and signed a victory peace on September 24, 1706. Now he turned again to Russia and began a campaign against Moscow in 1708. In the battle of Poltava on June 27th / 8th July 1709, Peter was able to achieve a decisive victory over the Swedish army, which marked the turning point of the war.

The fact that Russian power was also reaching its limits became evident in 1711 when, during another war against the Ottoman Empire, Tsar Peter I and his 38,000-strong army were taken prisoner on the Prut in July , but after two days Azov and the Russian Azov fleet was surprisingly released. After Russia had conquered the previously Swedish Livonia and Estonia , it replaced Sweden as the dominant Baltic superpower as a result of the Peace of Nystad in 1721 as a result of the Peace of Nystad . In addition, the Russian Empire, which was appointed by Tsar Peter Imperiale after the peace, was from now on again involved in general European history and became an integral part of the European system of states and alliances. Nevertheless, the Northern War had demanded the utmost performance from the Russian people. At times, 82 percent of the state's revenue was spent on the war.

Russian Empire (1721-1917)

Peter I.

Tsar Peter I ("Peter the Great") took the title "Emperor and autocrat ( autocrat ) of all Russians - Tsar of Moscow, Kiev, Vladimir, Novgorod, Kazan and Astrakhan" or "Emperor of all Russians " on October 20, 1721 and announced a month later on November 21 the title as "Imperial Majesty" ( Imperatorskoje Velitschestwo ). The trigger for the introduction of the Russian Empire was the supremacy of Russia in Eastern and Northern Europe achieved through the victory over the great power Sweden in the Great Northern War as well as Peter I's previous general efforts to reform the Russian state based on the Western European model, the equality of the Russian Empire should follow in the European power structure through the new title. The proclamation of Peter I as emperor caused a sensation in the European public and was perceived by the governments of most states as a provocation. It was difficult for Russian diplomacy to achieve international recognition of the new ruler's title.

Due to the legal act of 1721 by the All-Russian Emperor ( imperator vserossijskij ) Peter the Great, the official name of the Russian Empire changed. The term imperija (" Imperium ") replaced the previously used term zarstwo (" Reich , Zartum "). In official parlance, the Hellenized form Rossija , which had only been used occasionally, now finally replaced both the expression Rus and the middle name Moscow .

In the second half of the 18th century the empire rose to become a continental power; At the beginning of the 19th century, Alexander I became the “savior of Europe” from Napoleon. The expansion and international validity stood in opposition to the structural problems of the empire. The rigid social constitution in the form of serfdom was a challenge for themselves as enlightened rulers like Catherine II and Alexander I, at which they failed, while Nicholas I saw the strength of Russia in the preservation of the social constitution and with this vision in the Crimean War failed.

The immediate successors of Peter the Great

After Peter's death in 1725, his wife Catherine I succeeded him to the throne. She was under the influence of Alexander Danilowitsch Menshikov , to whom she left the affairs of state with practically no restrictions. But just two years after taking office, Katharina died. Her successor was the grandson of Peter the Great, Peter II , who soon ousted Menshikov and moved his court to Moscow . But Peter also died of smallpox soon after taking office without leaving an heir. After his death the court was relocated to St. Petersburg again.

His successor as Tsarina was his aunt, Anna Ivanovna . It put a brake on many of Peter the Great's reforms that were still in effect at the time. The money was withdrawn from promoting education and other endeavors and spent on lavish and lavish court ceremonies. The Persia question, a source of conflict vis-à-vis England and Austria, was initially defused in that Russia stopped pressing for expansion on the Caspian Sea and the Caucasus. Russia even withdrew from areas conquered under Peter I. In return, an alliance with Persia against the Ottoman Empire could be concluded and trade advantages achieved. After the Treaty of Kjachta in 1727, trade was also expanded with China . The exploration of the Far East was continued through various expeditions. The development of Kamchatka began and in 1731 an uprising of the locals there was suppressed. Kazakhstan finally came under control . Until 1740 the khans there placed themselves under the protection of the Russian emperor. A formal incorporation into the Russian Empire did not take place immediately. In Western politics, Russian diplomacy tried to act defensively after 1725 in order to maintain the newly won position on the Baltic Sea and in Poland in the alliances with Austria and France. By the beginning of the 1730s, a system of understanding developed based on an alliance with Austria and Prussia as well as an agreement with England. The first crisis in the system broke out in 1733 in the conflict over the successor to August II on the Polish throne. France tried to enforce their favorite Stanislaw Leszczynski . The Alliance of the Three Black Eagles consisting of Russia, Austria and Prussia tried to push through a Saxon candidate. In the War of the Polish Succession , mainly Russian troops ensured the victory of the Saxon candidate August III until 1736 . As a war gain, Kurland , which Prussia had actually aimed at, came under Russian influence.

Anna's cabinet

When the victory in Poland was certain, the decision to go to war against the Ottoman Empire was made in 1735. The reason for Russia's further advance in the Caucasus and the Black Sea was to gain commercial and strategic advantages. Burkhard Christoph von Münnich , an Oldenburg native who had gained influence particularly in oriental politics , pushed for the war . Under Anna, many Germans had gained considerable influence in the Russian state, including Ernst Johann von Biron and Heinrich Johann Ostermann . This led to accusations against Anna that the German party ruled under her . However, this picture is too simple. Most of the highest positions were occupied by Russians, who were in no way opposed to the Germans. This development was particularly favored by Anna's style of rule, who set up a personal advisory committee and condemned the once powerful ruling senate to political insignificance. Since 1735, however, the Empress has increasingly given up her handwritten signature. This led to an increasing favoritism among her favorite Ernst Johann Biron. The Russian-Austrian Turkish War took a militarily less favorable course than expected. In the Peace of Belgrade in 1739, Russia had to surrender almost all of its conquests, whereupon the Swedes, taking advantage of Russian weakness, concluded alliance treaties with the Ottoman Empire and France. The First Silesian War from 1740 to 1742 as part of the War of the Austrian Succession brought Russia further disadvantages. Prussia and Austria were now hostile to each other, France approached Prussia and thus gained further room for maneuver in foreign policy. When Anna died in 1740, von Biron briefly became regent for Ivan VI, who was only two months old . , Anna's great-nephew. Soon, however, he was sent into exile. Münnich, then again Ostermann gained new power.

Elizabeth I in Tsarskoye Selo , painting by Eugene Lanceray

In 1741 , with the help of the Guard, the daughter of Peter the Great Elisabeth Petrovna overthrew the ruling court party. Since this was identified in public with hated foreigners, the coup was almost considered a national Russian revolution. Ostermann and Münich were banished, Ivan VI. imprisoned and later killed in an attempt at liberation. Elizabeth's reign was less of a spectacular success, despite solid progress for Russia. After her coup d'état, Empress Elisabeth changed course to the side of France, which she had supported. With this backing she led a victorious war against Sweden from 1742 to 1743 . Elizabeth's reign was the opposite of Anna's model of rule. High state offices were again given to Russians, and modernization and further development of the country was initiated again. For example, Elizabeth supported Mikhail Lomonosov in founding the Moscow State University . Elisabeth Petrovna passed some very liberal laws, including the abolition of the death penalty in Russia and not once carried out during her reign. Elisabeth, who relied heavily on the nobility, promoted the arts and architecture, on her initiative the Winter Palace of Saint Petersburg, the Catherine Palace and many other famous buildings were built. St. Petersburg, also known as the Venice of the North, finally rose to become an important metropolis. During the reign of Elisabeth, Russia remained on the Austrian side in the course of the War of the Austrian Succession . The Russian Empire played a crucial role in the Seven Years' War . In the Renversement des alliances of 1756, Russia again remained on Austria's side, even with the risk of enmity with England, Russia's most important foreign trade partner. The Russian army operated very successfully and captured East Prussia . The death of Elisabeth in 1762, known as the miracle of the House of Brandenburg , averted the total defeat of Prussia.

Public announcement of the Peace of St. Petersburg

The German-friendly nephew (his father was the Duke of Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorp) of Elisabeth, Peter III. became Russian emperor. As the successor of Elizabeth, Peter III. kept away from state affairs, so that he ascended the throne without his own network of advisers. Peter III now gave back to Prussia all conquered territories. During his brief reign, on February 18, 1762, the manifesto on the liberation of the nobility from compulsory civil service was written. This gave the nobles the right not to serve the Russian state whenever they wished. The ukase was of particular benefit to the court nobility, while the majority of the small and medium-sized nobility had to remain in service on modest terms. In the long term, this ukase promoted the creation of a real society distanced from the government, but also created problems of legitimation for maintaining the peasant bondage. Because the duty of the peasants to serve was previously justified by the nobility in such a way that they also had to do the service for the emperor. This ethically defined service obligation has now become null and void. In addition, the emperor succeeded in completely secularizing the church property, so that the 800,000 church builders became state farmers. In addition, he abolished the discriminatory laws against non-orthodox religions. From the general dissatisfaction with the politics of Peter III. a conspiracy arose in the course of which his wife Catherine II ("the great one") came to power. This was preceded by a threat from Peter III to get a divorce. He was interned and murdered a few days later.

The Age of Catherine II

Katharina the great

On June 28, 1762, Katharina proclaimed herself empress with the support of the guard regiments and without the contradiction of the highest institutions of the empire (e.g. the governing senate ). Catherine II was on the whole the opposite of her husband. She was amenable to Russian customs and eager to learn. In order to secure her power, she pursued a policy in favor of the nobility and the civil service. The nobility policy of Catherine II was reflected in almost all internal reforms. To support her legitimation, Catherine II convened an assembly of elected representatives ( Legislative Commission ) in 1767 . This should discuss and draft a code of law. When the discussions dragged on and raised uncomfortable questions, this commission was dissolved again by Catherine II.

Economically, Russia made further progress under Catherine II. Inland trade was carried out duty-free, the road and canal network was improved and all stands were given greater scope and greater freedom in the settlement of newly acquired land, e.g. B. in Ukraine. To modernize agriculture, Catherine II founded the Imperial Free Economic Society . Russia became a leading manufacturer and exporter in some areas. This particularly affected the products iron and steel. The density and number of economically viable cities also increased. All in all, from the second half of the 18th century, Russia was considered a country developed according to contemporary European standards. However, Russia was to lose this advantage again in the first decades of the 19th century in the course of industrialization.

Together with her favorite Grigori Potjomkin , she devised a bold vision, the so-called "Greek Project". It intended to break the power of the Ottoman Empire in the Balkans and create a coherent Orthodox empire from the Aegean Sea to Russia. The straits and Constantinople should come under Russian control. A series of wars against the Ottoman Empire actually brought this goal closer, even if it was never fully realized. Large parts of southern Russia and southern Ukraine came to the Russian Empire. Numerous new cities such as Sevastopol , Odessa and Yekaterinoslav were founded in the new regions that were grouped under the name of New Russia . Catherine had great power in Poland-Lithuania and exercised great influence on its decisions and throne relationships. Finally, together with Prussia and Austria, they decided on the partition of Poland , in which Russia secured large areas.

Domestically, she was confronted with a massive peasant and Cossack revolt ( Pugachev revolt ) due to the extension of serfdom to the Ukraine in 1773/74 . Katharina was able to suppress the uprising with bloodshed, but large parts of the southern Volga and Ural region remained devastated by the civil war-like uprising for a long time. Many Germans were invited to Russia as settlers for the reconstruction and repopulation of these regions . Catherine also eliminated the autonomy of the Ukrainian Cossacks and instead gave them lands in the Krasnodar region . The French Revolution of 1789 finally dissuaded them from the liberal ideas that they had fostered in the early days of their rule.

By 1812 Finland , Georgia, and Bessarabia became Russian.

Russia in the age of the French Revolution

After Katharina's death, she was not followed by her grandson Alexander, as she had originally wished, but by her hated son Paul I (1796–1801) on November 17, 1796. On the occasion of his coronation as emperor in April 1797, he enacted a new law of succession to the throne that preferred the male line of succession. The eldest son or, if there were no sons, the eldest brother should automatically succeed him. This meant the establishment of a hereditary empire . So far, the Russian emperors were free to choose their successor.

He took part in the Second Coalition War against France, as Knights of the Order of Malta elected him Grand Master of the Order of Malta in October 1798 and appealed to him for help against France. He provided auxiliary troops for the British intended landing in the Netherlands, for the war in southern Germany and in Italy. Sultan Selim III. he sent a fleet of 4,000 soldiers to Constantinople to help. Russian troops achieved success in Italy, but the landing in the Netherlands ended in surrender. Emperor Paul attributed these failures to the allied commanders. He renounced the coalition and signed one with Sweden, Denmark and Prussia based on the model of the neutrality treaty of February 26, 1780 to restrict British sea power. Britain immediately responded with an attack on Copenhagen .

Domestically, his brief reign left a contradictory picture. At first he issued some charitable ordinances in favor of serfs and Old Believers . Another law separated part of the crown peasants as property of the imperial family under the name of Apana farmers . However, out of distrust of the revolutionary ideas of the French Revolution, Paul forbade attending foreign schools and universities, introduced increased censorship and strict supervision of all foreigners and foreign travelers living in the Reich, and punished freedom of expression. Paul increasingly isolated Russia from the rest of the world. The nobility in particular felt set back by Paul's policy, as he somewhat restricted serfdom and tried to impose taxes on the nobility. This led to rumors among the peasants that the emperor would abolish serfdom. As a result, a nobility conspiracy was formed. On the night of March 24th, members of the Palace Guard killed him.

Russia in the Napoleonic Wars

Meeting of the Russian and French monarchs on the Memel near Tilsit; Painting by Adolphe Roehn (1799–1864)

His 23-year-old son Alexander I (1801-1825) immediately renounced armed neutrality in a treaty with Great Britain. He soon realized that his cooperative course to France was only used by Napoleon to be able to switch to arbitrariness in Central Europe. In 1805 he joined the third coalition against France . But the Russian army was defeated. His friendship alliance with Friedrich Wilhelm III. faithful, Alexander came to Prussia in 1806 in the fourth coalition war to help. On July 7th, Alexander made the Peace of Tilsit with Napoleon . In a secret federal treaty, they shared power over Europe. More details were determined at a second meeting in Erfurt ( Erfurt Princely Congress , September to October 1808). Russia left Napoleon to rule Germany, Spain and Portugal and joined the continental blockade against Great Britain. In return, Russia was allowed to conquer Sweden and Turkey.

At the beginning of 1808 Russia had declared war on Sweden and had an army deployed in Finland, which was conquered in a short time; In 1809 Russian troops crossed the ice of the Gulf of Bothnia , occupied the Åland Islands and the opposite Swedish coast. Charles XIII Sweden had to make the Peace of Frederikshamn (September 17, 1809) and cede all of Finland to Russia as far as the Tornea River and the Åland Islands. The second victim of the Tilsit Alliance was Turkey. Provoked by Napoleon, she started the eighth Russo-Turkish War (1806–1812) on December 30, 1806 . The Russians invaded the Danube principalities and enforced the Treaty of Bucharest (May 28, 1812), which made the Prut the border between the two empires. A war with Persia was ended at the same time by the cession of a strip of land on the west bank of the Caspian Sea with Baku .

As soon as these wars were over, the war with France began in 1812 . The cause of the war was Napoleon's arrogance, who believed that he no longer needed Russia as an ally and wanted to rule Europe alone and called for the continental blockade to be tightened. In the summer of 1812, Napoleon crossed the Russian border with the great army of 477,000 men. The Russians were vastly outnumbered (about 200,000 men). Nevertheless, they defeated Napoleon by avoiding open field battles, retreating into the vast interior of the empire, and tiring the enemy with guerrilla warfare. In order to keep the population from any support for the enemy, the Orthodox religion was declared in danger and holy war was proclaimed. The main army under Napoleon took the direction of Moscow , reached Vilnius on June 28, Vitebsk on July 28, and only encountered the 116,000-strong Russian western army under Barclay de Tolly near Smolensk in mid-August . She resisted but was beaten on August 17th.

A. Smirnov: Fire in Moscow

On September 7, the Battle of Borodino, under the command of Mikhail Kutuzov, turned into a Pyrrhic victory for France. One day after Napoleon entered Moscow on September 15, the fire in Moscow began , which in six days burned almost the whole city to ashes and robbed the French of their means of subsistence. Napoleon could not spend the winter in Moscow, and after Alexander put off his peace proposals and then rejected them, he retreated on October 18. The army suffered terribly from the lack of food and the early cold, and was already in disarray when it reached Smolensk on November 9th. With difficulty, using the last of their strengths, the French forced November the transition over the Berezina . The exhausted remainder of the army reached Vilna on December 6th. The defection of Yorck from the French (December 30th) forced the French to evacuate the Vistula line.

The Russians conquer Paris in 1814.

The Russian troops, too, were greatly diminished and exhausted by the winter campaign, and there were many influential people at the Russian headquarters for an immediate and most advantageous peace with France. But Napoleon was by no means inclined to such, and ambition and lust for power as well as the desire to secure possession of all of Poland tempted Alexander to continue the war in league with Prussia (see Wars of Liberation ). The spring campaign of 1813 ended with the retreat to Silesia. In the second part of the war, however, when Austria, Great Britain and Sweden joined the sixth coalition, Napoleon was expelled from Germany. Along with Metternich , Emperor Alexander played the most important role in the Council of Allies . He brought about the restoration of the Bourbons and the protection of France in the first Peace of Paris . In 1815 Alexander I was celebrated in Europe as “the savior of Europe” and played a key role in the reorganization of Europe at the Congress of Vienna . At his suggestion, the Holy Alliance of Russia, Austria and Prussia was founded. Russia received the so-called Congress Poland as a special kingdom, which was also given its own liberal constitution. Its possessions now extended in the west to close to the Oder, while in the extreme east it spread over the Bering Strait over part of North America; it covered over 20 million square kilometers with about 50 million inhabitants. Russia now dominated continental Europe until the Crimean War in the 1850s put an end to this situation.

Russia's growth peaked in the 19th century.

Reform and persistence

Raised according to the principles of Rousseau , Alexander I raved about humane ideals, but without renouncing his unlimited rulership. In place of the colleges founded by Peter I, he set up eight ministries (1802), created the State Council (1810, also called Reichsrat ) to examine and advise on all new laws and measures of the government , sought to regulate the finances and put in place to reduce the Military colonies . He abolished serfdom in the Baltic provinces and eased it in Russia itself. The number of grammar schools and elementary schools was increased considerably, universities were newly established (in Kazan and Kharkiv ) or reorganized (in Dorpat and Vilnius ). The educated sections of the population in Russia saw themselves cheated of their hopes of achieving liberal freedoms with their victims in the war against Napoleon by the tightening of rule. A number of secret societies emerged which discussed the social and political possibilities of transformation and developed revolutionary programs for this purpose. Alexander died in Taganrog on the Sea of ​​Azov in late 1825 without leaving any descendants.

Decembrist uprising in St. Petersburg

According to the succession plan, his brother Constantine would actually have followed him on the throne; however, he had renounced the throne in 1822. Alexander had therefore secretly designated his brother Nikolaus Pavlovich as his successor. After Alexander's death, it was only Constantine who was proclaimed ruler; when he renounced, the situation at times became confused. When the St. Petersburg garrison was sworn in on Nicholas I , disappointment at the lack of domestic political reforms led to the Decembrist uprising in 1825 (Russian: dekabr = December). However, the coup on December 26th collapsed within a few hours. The group of liberal advocates in Russia was hit at the core by the subsequent judgments. Their political activity was paralyzed for a long time. Since the nobility also behaved passively, Emperor Nikolaus saw himself and the civil servants referred to in politics. Under his aegis, the secret police, later the Ochrana , was brought into being.

Nikolaus, who ruled until 1855, saw himself above all as the keeper of the existing internal and external order. He issued a large number of repressive regulations against the Jews in Russia , promoted the Russification of the various nationalities and supported the reaction in Europe. Several times he threatened an intervention army , for example in the case of the Belgian Revolution . Contemporaries in Europe therefore no longer regarded him as a liberator like his predecessor Alexander, but as the gendarme of Europe. His name is associated with the suppression of the uprisings in Poland in 1831 and - at the request of Austria - Hungary in 1849.

March 1856: Envoy to the Paris Congress that led to the Peace of Paris .

A world power under scrutiny and expansion in the Caucasus and Central Asia

The Russian attempts to control the straits between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean by means of a protectorate via the Ottoman Empire were rejected by France and Great Britain, but also by Prussia and Austria (see Dardanelles Treaty ). As early as the Russo-Turkish War (1828/29) Russia had won territories in the southern Caucasus from the Ottoman Empire and weakened it. Moldova, Wallachia and Serbia became autonomous and came under Russian influence. The Ottoman sultan himself was not ready to lean more against Russia, which put its claim to protectorate over the Christians in danger. In 1853 there were renewed military entanglements between Russia and the Ottoman Empire; Napoleon III seized the opportunity to re-establish France as the first power on the continent and to divert attention from its own domestic political difficulties. Great Britain and Austria were suspicious of Nicholas I's ambitions and a broad coalition against Russia was formed. In the Crimean War from 1853 to 1856, Russia was subject to an alliance of Great Britain, France, the Ottoman Empire and the Kingdom of Sardinia ; Austria also turned against its former ally without intervening directly in the war, and Russia, which only received benevolent neutrality from Prussia, found itself largely isolated. The war was fought not only in the Crimea itself, but also in the Balkans, the Baltic Sea, the White Sea, the Pacific and the Black Sea. During the war, Russia's backwardness made itself unpleasantly apparent; Despite good results in combat, the land army's equipment and supplies were inadequate, the Imperial Russian Navy was out of date and could not stand a test of strength with the British Royal Navy . Russia had to agree to the neutralization of the Black Sea and lost its leading position on the European continent to France since 1815. The formerly good relationship with Austria remained shattered.

Russian storm on the Dagestani village ( Aul ) Himry, painting by Franz Roubaud , 1891

As a result, Russia increasingly turned to Asia. The third and final phase of Russian expansion began in the Caucasus in 1856 (see Caucasus War (1817–1864) ). The pacification of 1864 was followed by the economic development and Russification of the 53 peoples and 14 tribes under the leadership of the Caucasian Committee .

The Russian attack on Khiva, picture by Vasily Vasilyevich Vereshchagin

The pacification of the Caucasus was followed almost seamlessly by the expansion into Central Asia . Russia expanded its sphere of influence to Turkestan in the early age of imperialism 1852–1888 . After the Russian wave of expansion against the Kazan, Astrakhan and Siberian khanates in the 16th century, Russia initially took up a defensive position on its southeastern borders, as it was heavily used in other areas. A long line of Cossack settlements was therefore built from the Caspian Sea to the Altai Mountains , the bases of which were Orenburg , Petropavlovsk , Omsk , Semipalatinsk and Ust-Kamenogorsk and were intended to prevent the Kazakhs from invading the Volga region and western Siberia . However, the Kazakhs often broke through the Russian lines and attacked the settlements. From the 20s of the 19th century, Russia finally tried to achieve more stable borders. With the elimination of the Small Horde in 1822 and the Middle Horde in 1824, Kazakh independence was undermined. Border posts were set up in the steppe. Unsuccessful expeditions against the Khiva Khanate followed . In the 1840s the bases were pushed out into the steppe. Russia now invaded the areas claimed by the Kokand Khanate but practically undefended. Kasalinsk was reached in 1853, and Alma-Ata was founded a year later . Due to the strain on the forces in the Crimean War, a phase of consolidation of the conquests followed. In order to secure the cotton supply - the world market prices for the raw material had risen considerably due to the consequences of the American Civil War - new operations began in 1864. In the same year a Russian contingent took Aulije-Ata , Jassy and Tschimkent . With this campaign, the Russians conquered the entire Chu valley and enclosed the entire Kazakh steppe in a ring of forts. On July 11, 1867, the newly won territories were converted into the Turkestan Oblast and placed under a military governor. Then the city of Khodschent was conquered, as a result of which the Khan of Kokand, Khudayar Khan, declared himself a vassal of the emperor. This was followed by a new campaign against the Emirate of Bukhara. In 1868 the Russians took Samarkand. The emir capitulated . The acquired areas were incorporated into the General Government of Turkestan.

In 1873 the Khiva Khanate was finally conquered. Of the three great Central Asian states that became Russian vassals, Kokand alone remained a factor of uncertainty. After an unsuccessful uprising, it was incorporated as an oblast in 1876. Russia had also already gained a foothold in the Trans Caspian region south of the Amur Darya . 1881–1885, the area was annexed during a campaign. a. came Ashgabat and Merv under Russian control. The southward expansion came to a standstill in 1887, when the Afghan northern border was established with the adversary Great Britain, which at the same time was established as the demarcation line of the spheres of interest and influence. Afghanistan thus became a buffer state between the two imperial powers, which was confirmed in the 1907 Treaty of Saint Petersburg (cf. The Great Game ). Vladivostok was founded on the Pacific in 1860 as a solid base for a more active Russian policy in the Far East.

Age of reforms and the beginning of industrialization

Russian farmers in the Russian Empire

As a reaction to Russia's backwardness, which was clearly evident in the defeat in the Crimean War, Alexander II (1855–1881) embarked on far-reaching reforms, the main components of which were the abolition of serfdom , reforms in the judiciary and a new military organization. Alexander pushed through these reforms against great internal resistance. Alexander II and the Russian public saw the greatest need for reform in the abolition of peasant bondage. As early as 1857, the emperor commissioned a committee to work out proposals for solving the peasant problem. This consisted mainly in the serfdom of the peasants, who made up over 80 percent of the population. The only ones who had shaken off serfdom were the Cossacks , who from the 16th century onwards were able to flee from serfdom to the undeveloped areas of the east. Aside from the master's right of disposal over the peasant, serfdom was associated with a wide range of services for the noble landowner. This system allowed neither initiative nor social change nor mobility nor more effective and more rational management methods. The service varied between the simple form of a body of interest ( Obrok farmers in Belarus, Ukraine, Voronezh and Kazan) and the often arbitrary form of compulsory labor ( Barschtschina scale farmers in Great Russia and in Western Siberia). So this reform got off to a slow start.

The production of the most important industrial products between 1887 and 1913 in millions of poods
Product Type 1887 1900 1913
cast iron 36.1 176.8 283
coal 276.2 986.4 2215
Steel and Iron 35.5 163 246.5
oil 155 631.1 561.3
cotton 11.5 16 25.9
sugar 25.9 48.5 75.4

While Alexander I still hoped that the nobility would release the peasants of their own accord and without pressure from above, Alexander II was no longer willing to wait for the nobility to be ready after the war, but instead took the initiative himself. After five years of deliberation, the manifesto on the abolition of serfdom was signed on March 2, 1861. The manifesto was followed by a law regulating the allocation of land to the peasants. The land shares were too small and were burdened with excessive burdens, as the farmers had to repay the compensation that the state had paid the landowners within 49 years. The result of the peasant liberation of 1861 was that the situation of the peasants worsened. The resulting population surplus could not be absorbed anywhere else, agriculture continued to work on the brink of the existential crisis, which is reflected in the recurring famines. The old dependence of the peasants on the landowners was transformed into a new dependency through heavy debts.

Oil tanks in Baku in 1912

The capital necessary for industrialization could not be released with the liberation of the peasants. Even the nobles were reluctant to become entrepreneurs. For lack of alternatives, the Russian state was only able to overcome the economic deficit by building a capitalist industrial economy by intervening in economic life from above. The government set up state-owned companies and financially supported entrepreneurs. The state also participated in the companies itself or granted funds to large enterprises in the metallurgical industry and in the construction of transport machinery and ensured the sale of their products. The state tried to protect local entrepreneurs from competition from foreign entrepreneurs through high import tariffs. The state renewed the credit system by creating government banks and thus the prerequisite for the import of Western capital. The State Bank was founded in 1860 . Railway construction in particular benefited from foreign capital . In 1857, with the help of foreign capital, the main Russian railway company was founded. The Russian route network increased from 960 kilometers by 1880 to 21,800 kilometers. In the mid-1880s and 90s, Russia nationalized most of the railways that connected the emerging industrial centers with the iron and coal regions, as well as with the central agricultural regions and the export ports on the Baltic and Black Seas. In this way, the economic development of the country and the formation of a large internal market became possible. With the construction of the railway, heavy industry and mechanical engineering were simultaneously driven, which became central areas of industrialization. From the second half of the 1880s there was a rapid industrial boom. The average growth rates were six percent, in the 1890s eight percent. Even in agriculture, grain and potato production rose by over two percent annually. Despite industrialization, Russia remained an agricultural country. Around 1900 agriculture contributed 53 percent to national income, and industry 21 percent. The workers, too, often kept their rural way of life and lived in workers' villages around the newly established industrial settlements. The industry was particularly concentrated in Saint Petersburg and Moscow, in Ukraine and in the oil regions of the Transcaucasus .

Since the state functions of the landed nobility were connected with the repealed serfdom order, the administrative and judicial systems in the province also had to be reorganized. The judicial reform of 1864 introduced the same legal norms that also prevailed in the West: legal equality, separation of justice and administration, independence of judges. The administrative reform of the same year created self-governing bodies at the district and government level, which were supplemented by those in the cities in 1870. The military reforms were of further importance. Right at the beginning of his rule, Alexander II abolished the military settlements and reduced the period of service. In addition, based on the newly created conscription on January 1, 1874, the army was converted into a modern mass army. The educational institutions were given autonomy, and the press also received censorship relief. On the basis of these freedoms, an opposition could be formed that was strongly supported by other European countries. The revolutionary potential, which was already evident in the Decembrist uprising of 1825, was reinforced by the slow changes. It was not just a limited adoption of elements of European culture, but a radicalization of the opposition began. Instead of just abolishing serfdom, they demanded socialism , instead of a constitution, anarchy , instead of solving the nationality problem, cosmopolitanism , and instead of freedom of conscience, atheism . These groups also advocated violence to achieve their goals. The individual revolutionary groups differed greatly, both in their origins and in the form of their ideas (cf. Russian nihilism ). Two political directions emerged at the end of the 1860s:

  • Rebel (buntari): These followed the ideas of Mikhail Alexandrowitsch Bakunin , the father of Russian anarchism.
  • Preparer (podgotowiteli): They followed Pyotr Lawrowitsch Lavrov , the Narodnikibewegung created. This movement, organized in small groups, tried to transform Russia in other ways, in patient reconstruction work. After disappointment over the inconclusive peaceful agitation and after numerous arrests of the 1870s formed a part of the Populists 1879, the secret society Narodnaya Volya ( People's Will ), which organized. The assassination of Alexander II in 1881 took place.

Alexander II was followed as emperor by his son Alexander III. who, also shaped by the murder of his father, took a course hostile to reform and ruled autocratically. In doing so, he relied primarily on the army and the secret police, the Ochrana . Traditionally, the army also performed police duties in the interior of Russia. The revolutionary movement was thereby weakened.

Russia in the age of imperialism

Construction work on the Trans-Siberian Railway

After the Turkish-Russian War 1877–1878, during which Russia achieved Bulgaria's independence from the Ottoman Empire , the idea of Pan-Slavism , i.e. the unification of the Slavic peoples under Russian rule, spread. These ideas were not new, but now they were increasingly being heard in Russia through a nationally minded press and agitators. At the Berlin Congress, however, Russia suffered a setback, because the creation of a Greater Bulgaria, as Russia was striving for, met fierce opposition from Great Britain and Austria-Hungary , who absolutely wanted to prevent Russia from breaking through to the Adriatic.

From 1891 to 1901 the Trans-Siberian Railway was built between Vladivostok and Chelyabinsk , which was to connect the west and east of the empire with one another; the settlement of Siberia was also favored by this. In 1896 Russia gained influence over Manchuria through the construction of a junction, the Transmandschurian Railway , but this led to conflicting interests with Japan ; both sought to expand at the expense of China.

So it came from 1904–1905 to the Russo-Japanese War . Japan, an ally of Great Britain since 1902, attacked the Russian base at Port Arthur without declaring war and sank part of the Russian Far East squadron. On April 13th there was a first sea battle, which ended with the victory of the Japanese. These now occupied the heights around the fortress Port Arthur and began the siege. From the heights they also took the Russian ships under fire; in August the remaining fleet tried a new breakthrough. There was another sea battle in which the remaining Russian ships were sunk. However, the tsar was stubborn and not yet ready for a peace, which was also demanded by large circles, from large industrialists to the military, in Russia. After the Russian Baltic Fleet had circled half the world, it came on 14-15. (27. – 28.) May 1905 near Tsushima in the Strait of Korea and Japan for the battle with the Japanese fleet under Admiral Tōgō Heihachirō . Again the Russian fleet was defeated by the Japanese, and after the fortress of Port Arthur had been captured by the Japanese, Russia had to agree to a peace brokered by US President Theodore Roosevelt , which took place on August 23 (September 5) 1905 in Portsmouth, New Hampshire , was signed. The defeat was perceived as a sensation, because only for the second time (after the Italian defeat in Ethiopia in 1896) was a European nation inferior to a non-European nation. Again Russia's backwardness was evident.

European Russia around 1888

Due to the lack of domestic political reforms and the conflict between supporters of rapprochement with the West ( Westerners ) and opponents of such rapprochement ( Slavophiles ), Russia was increasingly falling behind the other great powers economically. Corruption in the country was widespread and higher than in western countries. In addition, the strong centralization of the state was not always an advantage. In Moscow and Saint Petersburg , but also in other Russian cities, circles of intellectuals, communists and anarchists emerged. They were made by Tsar Alexander III. brutally persecuted. His successor, Nicholas II , maintained his father's policy. In addition, there were social problems that arose in the course of the industrialization of the country, as well as a famine in 1890. In 1898 the Social Democratic Labor Party of Russia (predecessor of the Communist Party of Russia ) was founded, in which the Bolsheviks under Lenin took over the leadership from 1903 . The defeat of Russia in the Russo-Japanese War only increased discontent and there were large demonstrations. After the St. Petersburg Bloody Sunday of 1905, the first Russian Revolution took place. Tsar Nicholas II had to vote for a parliament , the Duma , for the first time under sustained pressure . The first constitution, the basic state laws of the Russian Empire , he enacted in 1906 without his participation. Later he dissolved the Duma several times. Ultimately, the revolution was unsuccessful, but it showed the tsarist government the revolutionary potential in the country and the need for reform. The attempts of Prime Minister Pyotr Stolypin to create a broad stratum of wealthy peasants, however, ended with his assassination in 1911. After 1906, however, it also became apparent that the bulk of the population did not see the liberal, urban elites as their guardians. The Vyborg Manifesto in which the Cadet Party protested against the dissolution of parliament and called on the population to civil disobedience went unheard. This indicated that the next revolution would be shaped by more radical forces.

Opening of the Duma in 1906
The eerie summer of 1917, dacha near Moscow

In terms of foreign policy, Russia entered into an alliance with France in 1892 after the German Kaiser Wilhelm II refused to extend the reinsurance treaty in 1892. After the defeat in the Far East, Russia returned its attention to Europe and the Balkans. After the lost war, however, Russia was extremely weakened and had to watch as Austria-Hungary annexed Bosnia-Herzegovina in 1908 with the backing of the German Empire . Tensions in the Balkans continued to increase, because the Ottoman Empire, “the sick man on the Bosporus”, was increasingly falling apart. In 1907, Russia concluded an agreement with Great Britain that resolved the disputes in Asia and established mutual spheres of interest. There was an arms race in Europe. The general situation became increasingly gloomy and a major European war became more and more likely.

Russian soldiers march to the front

The First World War broke out in August 1914 . As an ally of Serbia, France and Great Britain, Russia stood against the powerful German Empire, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire. After some successes, especially in Galicia , Russia suffered several heavy defeats against the German army; Poland and the Baltic States were lost. Due to the defeat of the Russian armies, Nicholas II took over the command of the headquarters on September 9th. But after two years, Russia was facing economic and military collapse.

In March 1917, the February Revolution overthrew the monarchy in Russia. At first there was a dual rule of the Provisional Government set up by the Duma on the one hand and the Petrograd Soviet, which was dominated by left-wing workers and soldiers, on the other. Since the German government wanted to destabilize Russia and break out of the alliance with England and France, it had Lenin , a professional revolutionary living in exile in Switzerland , smuggled into Petrograd. Its supporters, the Communist Bolsheviks , unlike the Provisional Government, insisted that the war against Germany be ended immediately. After a few months they seized power in a coup d'état later known as the October Revolution . Since the Bolsheviks were only a minority in the Constituent Assembly , the election of which had been initiated by the overthrown Provisional Government, they dissolved this first democratically elected Russian parliament after just one session. After the October Revolution, Poland , Finland and the Baltic states declared their independence. At times, Belarus , Ukraine , Georgia and other areas also broke away from Russia.

RSFSR and Soviet Union (1917 to 1991)

Map of the RSFSR within the USSR

The immediate consequence of the October Revolution was the five-year Russian Civil War , at the beginning of which Lenin had the capital of Russia moved from Petrograd back to Moscow. After the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk signed with Germany in March 1918 , the Russian Federative Socialist Soviet Republic (RSFSR) was founded. Their sphere of influence, however, was almost reduced to the territory of the old Muscovite state, as most of the country was under the control of the anti-Bolshevik White Armies and foreign intervention troops. In the west a war developed with the newly formed Poland, in the south the British and French attacked, and in Siberia the Japanese, Americans and the Czechoslovak legions of the Red Army organized by Leon Trotsky , made up of former prisoners of war, faced. The civil war resulted in enormous civilian casualties. Gradually, the Red Army succeeded in conquering Belarus , Ukraine and Georgia and establishing Soviet republics there, which in 1922 together with the RSFSR founded the Soviet Union . The first Soviet constitution was adopted in 1924 .

During the Soviet Union, Russia in the form of the RSFSR was the largest and economically, socially and politically dominant Soviet republic. In Siberia in particular, settlement and economic development were promoted, often through the work of political and military prisoners (see History of Siberia ). During the rule of Stalin , in the so-called Stalinism , millions of citizens of the country were violently killed in camps or prisons - the exact number of victims is unknown ( see also: Archipelago GULAG ).

The Victory Parade in Moscow on June 24, 1945 in color

During World War II , the westernmost part of Russia was one of the main theaters of war, alongside Belarus and Ukraine . The German conquerors brought the worst suffering to the population under the sign of National Socialist racial ideology : the murder and deportation of several million Soviet civilians and prisoners of war , mass murders of Jews , Sinti and Roma , enslavement and exploitation of the occupied territories. Based on the Patriotic War against Napoleon Bonaparte , the Second World War was called the Great Patriotic War on Soviet territory . In the Battle of Stalingrad and the Battle of Kursk , the invading German Wehrmacht suffered decisive defeats, which heralded the turning point in World War II.

Towards the end of the war, Soviet troops also conquered and occupied Japanese territory in the Far East. In 1945, according to the Potsdam Agreement , the Soviet Union incorporated northeast Prussia with Königsberg as the Kaliningrad Oblast until the final peace agreement was reached ; In 1990, this was transferred by assignment on the basis of the two-plus-four contract on the part of Germany. In addition, she won the southern Sakhalin and Kuril Islands of Japan . In 1954, at the instigation of Nikita Khrushchev, the Crimea was transferred from the RSFSR to the Ukrainian SSR .

With the beginning of the 1980s, the Soviet economy fell more and more into a crisis. There was severe shortage in some areas of supply. After the death of Konstantin Tschernenko on March 11, 1985, the still relatively young Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev was appointed as his successor. In the course of his policy of perestroika and glasnost , the economic crisis became more and more evident. Due to the falling oil prices in the course of the First Gulf War between Iran and Iraq , oil exports - an important source of foreign exchange and a main source of income for the Soviet Union - lost their importance. The 1979 invasion of Afghanistan and the costly war that resulted also weighed heavily on the state budget. Gorbachev's attempts to end the arms race in order to introduce money for urgently needed domestic political reforms and modernization were not approved by the then US government ( Reagan cabinet ). Gorbachev was increasingly troubled domestically; his reforms did not go far enough for the reformers, and too far for the reactionary forces. In the up-and-coming Boris Yeltsin, Gorbachev was also an opponent who would soon push him into the shadows. The resentment of the Soviet population became more and more open and separatist tendencies increased in the republics. In 1991, when the Soviet government collapsed in power and after the unsuccessful coup against Gorbachev in August, the three Baltic countries Lithuania , Latvia and Estonia , and later the other Soviet republics , declared themselves independent. On December 8, 1991, the heads of state of the last three union republics - the Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian - decided to officially dissolve the Soviet Union . With the overwhelming majority of state practice, the Russian Federation in its capacity as a continuation state is seen as identical to the USSR.

Russian Federation (since 1992)

Skyscrapers of the new Moscow City

After the collapse of the Soviet Union , the question of the continuity of Russian history arose again. The Russian Federation is building on the time before the October Revolution. However, the borders of Russia do not correspond to those of the empire before 1917, but to those of the ethnically relatively uniform Russian tsarism in the 17th century. With the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia, together with Belarus and Ukraine, founded the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), which, with the exception of the Baltic states , was later joined by the other former Soviet republics, but this organization never achieved any real significance.

In 1992, the Russian President Boris Yeltsin signed a federation treaty that granted the subjects of Russia far-reaching powers. In 1993 there were bloody clashes in Moscow when the power struggle between the conservatively dominated parliament and the president came to a head (see Russian constitutional crisis 1993 ). In the same year a new constitution came into force, which provided for a strong presidential position. The first half of the 1990s was marked by so-called “economic shock therapy ”, growing dissatisfaction among the Russian population with the incomplete reforms, the ruble fall in 1994, the outbreak of the First Chechen War (1994–1996) and the defeat of the democratic camp in the Duma elections in December 1995. Yeltsin won the presidential elections that followed in the summer of 1996 after the powerful financial magnates ( oligarchs ) had given him massive financial and organizational support in advance. In 1998 there was a financial crisis in which the ruble had to be devalued and the decisive factor was a low wage level.

At the end of 1999, Yeltsin resigned as president. His successor was Vladimir Putin , who was confirmed in office in the spring 2000 elections. On March 2, 2008, Dmitry Medvedev was elected to succeed Vladimir Putin as President of Russia. Putin moved to the office of prime minister.

The economic situation had deteriorated further and further after the end of the Soviet Union. The connections that had grown were partly torn without new ones being able to be made. There was a lack of well thought-out concepts for resolving the crisis, so that social polarization intensified. A small number of profiteers contrasted with a large number of poor in the 1990s.

The transition from a central government economy to capitalism ( transformation economy ) began to normalize in the late 1990s, even though the Russian banking system collapsed in 1998 , causing many Russians to lose their credit. For the first time with the Primakov government from September 1998 to May 1999, the semi-presidential constitutional design came into effect; he tried to form a de facto coalition government. During this time, the presidential administration promptly lost its dominant role vis-à-vis the cabinet of ministers. It was exchanged to make way for Yeltsin's successor candidate selected by the informal power cartel of the “Kremlin family”. Overall, democratic essentials (mechanisms based on a division of powers, freedom of expression) were preserved during the Yeltsin years. Political scientists speak of a defective democracy at this time .

In the transition period in particular, centrifugal currents increased on the edges of the country due to the strengthening of regional autonomy after the end of the heavily centralized Soviet era. Since the mid-1990s, the Russian government has been confronted with independence movements and power struggles in numerous republics, including Chechnya, Yakutia and North Ossetia (see First Chechen War ). However, from early autumn 1999 to early 2000, Russian troops regained control of most of Chechnya . Since the withdrawal of around 20,000 Russian military personnel, Chechnya’s governing power has increasingly rested with its President, Ramzan Kadyrov , who was sworn in in 2007 . On April 16, 2009, on the instructions of Russian President Medvedev, Chechnya 's status of “anti-terrorist operation zone” was revoked. The problem of balancing centralized and decentralized rule has been a constant problem in the history of Russia. In order to preserve state unity and to prevent the country from falling apart, Putin regained the power of the headquarters in Moscow. The defective democracy became a managed democracy .

On March 10, 2010, the Russian opposition began a campaign entitled “ Putin must go ”. By February 4, 2011, around 75,000 Russian citizens had signed the appeal. There was also increasing criticism on the Internet, although Putin's ruling party is said to have also paid bloggers. The youth organization of his party is said to have financed a whole "network" of bloggers.

In terms of foreign policy, the Russian government has long been looking for a new location. Under Putin it was possible to gain more political weight again. The appearance in the context of the Iraq war in 2003 made it clear that Russia does not see itself as the plaything of the USA without, however, pursuing a confrontational course. In addition, Russia strives for close coordination within Europe and tries to enforce its interests through close partnership. Full membership in the G8 countries (2002–2014) meant a considerable gain in foreign policy prestige. Russia continued to try to expand or regain its influence in neighboring countries, especially in Central Asia and Belarus. An economic, defense and customs union was concluded with Belarus ( Russian-Belarusian Union ). In terms of foreign policy, Russia turned more and more away from the West after a few years of rapprochement. The US intention to set up parts of its planned missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic contributed to this. Longstanding tensions with Georgia escalated in August 2008. Georgia embarked on a military offensive in the Russian-backed breakaway region of South Ossetia to regain control of the area. Russia responded to this by marching in its own troops (see Caucasus conflict 2008 ).

Pressure is exerted on former Soviet republics with economic sanctions and punitive tariffs - for example the " gas war " with Ukraine. The Ukrainian website Newsplot recorded 15 cases of “food wars” Moscow waged against its neighbors between 2005 and 2013, for example against Georgian wine, dairy products from Belarus, Ukrainian chocolate and Moldovan wine.

The Crimean Federal District was founded on March 21, 2014 after the pro-Russian governments in the Autonomous Republic of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol declared their independence from Ukraine in the course of the Crimean crisis and applied to Russia for membership on March 18, 2014. The legitimacy of these steps under international law is controversial. Following the example of the Crimea, Transnistria also applied for membership on March 18, 2014.

Russia has been waging a covert war in Ukraine since April 2014 . Various historians and political scientists see the fighting in eastern Ukraine as being due to the danger to the Russian political system, which a democratized Ukraine could represent.

See also


Web links

Commons : History of Russia  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wikisource: Russia  - Sources and full texts

Individual evidence

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