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Russia: Chronology

Learn all about the significant dates and events that have shaped Russia, and some of the key people involved with our timeline.

1905- 1914: The Duma era

As Russia were defeated by Japan in the Russo-Japanese War, the country was engulfed in a revolution that threatened to unseat Tsar Nicholas II. Whilst the liberal intelligentsia called for parliamentary reform, urban workers pushed for an improvement in conditions and peasants rioted over the economic hardship that resulted from redemption payments owed to the government. After the Tsar’s Cossacks had fired on unarmed protestors on ‘Bloody Sunday’, authoritarian control was lost until the granting of significant political concessions in the October Manifesto and the harsh repression of protests in Moscow. Once calm was re-established, the democracy promised in Witte’s Manifesto was gravely undermined by the Fundamental Laws, which reaffirmed the autocratic power of the tsar. Nevertheless, the following decade saw Nicholas II having to accommodate four separate parliaments (or Dumas), even though all decisions required his approval before they became law. Symbolically though, the existence of a parliament was significant and the third Duma in particular passed important land reforms under the guidance of Prime Minister Piotr Stolypin. However, the Dumas were limited by internal divisions and vote rigging which made them increasingly conservative in their outlook. When Russia declared war on Austro-Hungary and Germany in support of their Serbian allies in 1914, the Duma voluntarily dissolved itself and the Tsar’s autocratic power returned.

Key dates include:

January 22nd 1905 – Bloody Sunday

September 5th 1905 - The Treaty of Portsmouth

October 17th 1905 - The October Manifesto

December 1905 - The suppression of the Moscow Uprising

April 23rd 1906 - The Fundamental Laws

April-June 1906 - The First Duma

February-June 1907 - The Second Duma

November 1907–June 1912 - The Third Duma

November 1912-August 1914 - The Fourth Duma

July 30th 1914 - Russia mobilises troops in support of Serbia

1915-1918: War and revolution

The First World War was to have a profound impact on Russia. Although the Russian public was overwhelmingly supportive when war was declared, the Russian infrastructure and military fell woefully short of what was required to launch a successful campaign. By 1916, the transport system had ceased to operate, there were grave food shortages and peasant conscripts were deserting in large numbers. By making himself Commander in Chief and abandoning the capital Petrograd to head for the frontline, the tsar made himself responsible for the nation’s suffering. His reputation was further damaged by the influence of the scandalous mystic Rasputin and his German wife, Alexandra (who was left to rule in his absence). In February 1917, the Petrograd garrison refused to fire on protestors in the city and Nicholas was pressurised to abdicate by his own supporters as he hurried back to the capital. A Provisional Government of ex-Duma members was hurriedly formed to fill the void but struggled to maintain order as the Great War continued to take its toll. Unable to respond to demands for land reform and military victory, the government became increasing weakened after Alexander Kerensky became its leader in the summer of 1917. He made the fatal mistake of releasing Bolshevik agitators from jail in order to help defend Petrograd against a possible coup from an ex-tsarist commander, Kornilov and the Bolsheviks were then able to use their popularity amongst soldiers and workers to seize power with alarming ease. Within a few months, Lenin had proclaimed a communist state, withdrawn from World War One and focused his attention on internal opposition; the introduction of War Communism heralded the beginning of tight dictatorial control, grain requisitioning and a bloody civil war.

Key dates include:

September 1915 – Tsar Nicholas II becomes Commander in Chief

March 2nd 1917 – Abdication of Tsar Nicholas II

April 16th 1917 – Lenin publishes the April Theses

July 21st 1917 - Kerensky becomes prime minister

August 27th 1917 – The Kornilov Affair begins

October 25th 1917 – The Bolshevik Revolution

March 3rd 1918 – The Treaty of Brest Litovsk

June 28th 1918 – Lenin announces War Communism

July 17th 1918

– Tsar Nicholas II and his family are executed

1919 – 1927: Lenin’s Russia and its aftermath

The first two years of Lenin’s government were dominated by a civil war that revealed the extent of opposition to the Bolsheviks, from groups as varied as aristocratic tsarist supporters, peasants, foreign powers and other left-leaning parties like the Mensheviks. Yet the diversity of the ‘White’ armies prevented them from co-ordinating their efforts against the ‘Reds’ and the military genius and fanatical organisation of Trotsky enabled the Bolsheviks to solidify their control. The brutal suppression of an uprising amongst sailors at the Kronstadt naval base the following year confirmed that Lenin was prepared to use violence when his party’s position was threatened and there was little further open dissent. This enabled Lenin to relax economic control and focus on recovery after so many years of war and the New Economic Policy was declared at the 10th Party Congress. Although heavy industry remained nationalised, private trading was now tolerated and small scale industry began to recover. Politically, the policy was controversial because it was interpreted as a return to capitalism and in the years after Lenin’s death, economic policy was to dominate the power struggle between his potential successors. Although Trotsky seemed the most likely candidate to take over, he proved less successful at outmanoeuvring his opponents than the Party Secretary; Josef Stalin. After first aligning with Zinoviev and Kamenev and using their mistrust of Trotsky to criticise him, Stalin then aligned with ‘rightists’ of the Politburo (Bukarin, Rykov and Tomsky) to argue that his former allies’ belief in the abandonment of the NEP represented a betrayal of Lenin’s wishes. After the left-wing of the party had been side-lined, Stalin’s future as the next leader of the Soviet Union was confirmed.

Key dates include:

March 4th 1919 – The Comintern is founded

November 1920 – The Civil War ends in Bolshevik victory

February 23rd – March 17th 1921 – The Kronstadt Uprising

March 17th 1921 - The New Economic Policy (NEP) is declared

May 26th 1922 – Lenin suffers his first stroke

January 21st 1924 – Lenin dies

1926 – Trotsky, Zinoviev and Kamenev are ousted from the Politburo

1927 – Trotsky, Zinoviev and Kamanev lose their party membership

1928 – 1941: Stalin’s Russia

Stalin firmly believed that the Soviet Union required economic modernisation and increased self-sufficiency if it was to survive a war with hostile foreign powers. In 1941, his policies were put to the ultimate test when Nazi Germany invaded and occupied large areas of the Soviet Union. The years preceding this were some of the most controversial and tumultuous in Russian history, with Stalin combining industrial growth and agricultural reform with terror and purging on an unprecedented scale. Over twenty million people were caught up in the Stalinist purges and their supposed crimes ranged from economic sabotage to spying for the West. High profile Bolsheviks, including the former Politburo, were publically trialled and executed on the basis of forced confessions that were made in vain efforts to save the lives of the their families. In addition, millions of workers and peasants were sent to gulags or executed if the NKVD doubted their commitment to Stalinist policy. Life in the countryside was particularly brutal, with the collectivisation of agriculture failing to produce the surplus of grain Stalin desired. His increased requisitioning therefore resulted in widespread famine, particularly in the Ukraine. Resistance to Stalin’s rule was largely kept in check through the creation of a personality cult and owing to fear of the NKVD but the leader’s paranoia grew to increasingly bizarre proportions throughout the 1930s. Even the Red Army itself was purged, despite the focus on war preparations during the Third Five Year Plan.

Key dates include:

1928 - 1932 – The First Five Year Plan

November 1929 – Collectivisation begins

1932-3- The Ukrainian famine

1933-7 – The Second Five Year Plan

December 1st 1934 – Kirov is assassinated

December 1936 – The Show Trials of Zinoviev and Kamenev

March 1938 – The trial and execution of Bukharin

1938-41 – The Third Five Year Plan

June 22nd 1941 – The Soviet Union is invaded by Nazi Germany