USSR stands for Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. USSR consisted of Russia (dominant) along with 14 other present-day nations. It was by far the world’s largest country and home to more than 100 distinct nationalities with the most powerful army until 1991. Now there would be two questions that arise, how was USSR formed and how did it split?
It was during the time of the1900s when Russia was ruled by a powerful monarch named Tsar Nicolas II. He was the descendant from the House of Romanovs who were the reigning imperial house in Russia since the 1600s. Nicholas II was the last tsar of Russia under Romanov rule. He was abdicated from the throne in 1917 due to his poor administration during some of the major events that happened from 1900–17.
Russia was not a superpower nation in the 1900s. It was considered among one of the poorest countries.
The prime reason was Russia had exhausted its resources in a series of wars like the Crimean War (1853–56) in which Russia lost to the Ottoman Empire, Sardinia, France, UK. The reason was Russian expansion to the Danube region (present-day Romania) which was under Turkey and also the escalating religious tensions.
Then came the Russo-Turkish War (1877–78). Though Russia won this war, the series of constant wars proved too expensive. By the time 1900s arrived, the living conditions were harsh and the Russian population was booming.
The first major event that happened in these 17yrs (1900–17) was the Bloody Sunday massacre of 1905. Large protests by Russian workers against the monarchy led to this massacre of hundreds of unarmed protesters by Nicolas II’s troops.
Then arrived the WW-I in 1914–17 which was fought between the Central Powers (Germany, Austria, Hungary, and Ottoman Empire) and the Allied Powers ( France, Great Britain, Russia, Italy, Japan, and the US).
World War disrupted the entire Russian economy with millions of soldiers wounded and killed. Germany proved to be a strong nation against Russia during the war.
With time passing by, in early 1917, people started to revolt against Nicholas II. This was known as the February Revolution. He ordered the army to suppress the strike and riots happening across the country but were unsuccessful. Nicholas II was soon forced to abdicate the throne amid nationwide protests thereby ending the centuries rule of the House of Romanovs. The administration was then replaced by a provisional government (which consisted of Russia’s capitalist class in the administration) in Petrograd(Russia).
By the end of 1917, the Bolshevik Party leader Vladimir Lenin leading the leftist revolutionaries called for a new government to replace the provisional government. This was known as the Bolshevik Revolution or the October Revolution. Soon a new and the first communist government was formed with Lenin as its head.
The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk was signed on March 3, 1918, between the new Bolshevik government of Russia and the Central Powers of WW-I, with which Russia withdrew its participation in WW-I.
Russian Civil War (1917–23) broke out soon after the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. The civil war was fought between the Red Army which represented Lenin’s Bolshevik government and the White Army who were Anti-Bolsheviks.
The Russian Civil War ended in 1923 with Red Army winning and forming the Soviet Union (Russia).
The Romanovs were executed by the Bolsheviks on July 16, 1918.
The Treaty of Formation of USSR was signed on 29th December 1922 between Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Transcaucasia (which consisted of modern Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan) hence forming the USSR and Lenin taking control of the USSR.
Joseph Stalin rose to power after Lenin’s death and he transformed Russia from an agrarian country to a military superpower.
After the Great Depression of the 1930s, Russia participated in the Second World War. The war was fought between the Axis powers (Germany, Italy, and Japan ) and the Allied powers (France, Great Britain, US, the Soviet Union) from 1939–45. After WW-II, Germany was divided into East Germany and West Germany with the Berlin Wall separating the two countries.
Despite the US and Russian alliance in World War-II, the Cold War seemed inevitable in the coming years and happened from 1947–91.
The major reasons for the Cold War between the two nations were:
- By the end of WW-II, after the US detonated atomic bombs namely “Fatman” on Nagasaki and “Little Boy” on Hiroshima in Japan. This began the arms race between the two nations with each testing their bombs to show their true military powers to the world. Though in 1991 after USSR disintegrated the START Treaty (Strategic Arms and Reduction Treaty) was signed which required both the US and Russia to reduce their total number of nuclear warheads and bombs.
- Also, after the eastern expansion of the Soviet Union from WW-II, it was feared that Russia would take control over the world and communism would spread throughout.
- In 1950, the North Korean Communist army crossed the 38th Parallel border to invade South Korea. North Korea was supported by China and the Soviet Union whereas South Korea was backed by the US. By 1953, the Korean War ended.
- US formed the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) which represented the western bloc nations in 1949 to stand against the threat posed by the Soviet Union. In May 1955, West Germany joined NATO which further fueled the Soviet Union to form the Warsaw Pact which represented the eastern bloc nations. East Germany joined the Warsaw Pact. Though the pact was dissolved in 1991 after USSR was divided into separate nations. And Germany was reunified in 1990, almost a year after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
- They competed with each other in Space exploration. After Russia launched Sputnik in 1957- the world’s first artificial satellite, the US’s NASA launched Explorer One in 1958. Then Yuri Gagarin from Russia became the first man launched in space. Coming to the US, Alan Shephard from NASA was launched to space the same year after a month. The space war seemed to be on the US’s side when they landed on Moon with Neil Armstrong becoming the first man to set foot on Moon.
During the 1960s and 1970s, the elite people from the Communist Party of the USSR gained lots of wealth and power while millions of Soviets were starving. It was difficult for middle-class people to fulfill their basic needs. The Soviet economy had started a downfall. The younger generations had refused to adopt the communist ideology.
In 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev came to power after getting elected by the Politburo. Politburo was the highest policy-making authority in USSR.
Gorbachev had just come to power when the nuclear disaster at Chernobyl happened. With the administration already drowning, such a big nuclear disaster shook USSR.
Gorbachev in his tenure introduced two sets of policies namely: Glasnost ( which allowed the citizens to publicly discuss the political issues and potential solutions hence making the government transparent) and Perestroika (which meant to restructure the political and economic system of the Soviet Union).
But his two policies failed to create a strong impact on people. Hence the government was losing control over the Soviet people and the states were tearing apart.
Similarly, the Baltic Republics (which consisted of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania) and the Caucasus (which consisted of Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, few parts of Southern Russia) also demanded a separate nation.
With the nations in USSR demanding independence, Gorbachev resigned as the leader of the USSR. Then USSR split into 15 separate nations with Russia being the largest country.
Boris Yeltsin became the first president of Russia in 1991.
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