Vladimir Serov

Russian Revolution

1917 Mar 8
, St Petersburg

The Russian Revolution was a period of political and social revolution that took place in the former Russian Empire which began during the First World War. This period saw Russia abolish its monarchy and adopt a socialist form of government following two successive revolutions and a bloody civil war. The Russian Revolution can also be seen as the precursor for the other European revolutions that occurred during or in the aftermath of WWI, such as the German Revolution of 1918. The Russian Revolution was inaugurated with the February Revolution in 1917. This first revolt focused in and around the then-capital Petrograd (now Saint Petersburg). After major military losses during the war, the Russian Army had begun to mutiny. Army leaders and high ranking officials were convinced that if Tsar Nicholas II abdicated, the domestic unrest would subside. Nicholas agreed and stepped down, ushering in a new government led by the Russian Duma (parliament) which became the Russian Provisional Government. This government was dominated by the interests of prominent capitalists, as well as the Russian nobility and aristocracy. In response to these developments, grassroots community assemblies (called Soviets) were formed.

Russian soldiers of the anti-Bolshevik Siberian Army in 1919

Russian Civil War

1917 Nov 7 - 1923 Jun 16
, Russia

The Russian Civil War was a multi-party civil war in the former Russian Empire sparked by the overthrowing of the monarchy and the new republican government's failure to maintain stability, as many factions vied to determine Russia's political future. It resulted in the formation of the RSFSR and later the Soviet Union in most of its territory. Its finale marked the end of the Russian Revolution, which was one of the key events of the 20th century. The Russian monarchy had been overthrown by the 1917 February Revolution, and Russia was in a state of political flux. A tense summer culminated in the Bolshevik-led October Revolution, overthrowing the Provisional Government of the Russian Republic. Bolshevik rule was not universally accepted, and the country descended into civil war. The two largest combatants were the Red Army, fighting for the Bolshevik form of socialism led by Vladimir Lenin, and the loosely allied forces known as the White Army, which included diverse interests favouring political monarchism, capitalism and social democracy, each with democratic and anti-democratic variants. In addition, rival militant socialists, notably the Ukrainian anarchists of the Makhnovshchina and Left Socialist-Revolutionaries, as well as non-ideological green armies, opposed the Reds, the Whites and foreign interventionists. Thirteen foreign nations intervened against the Red Army, notably the former Allied military forces from the World War with the goal of re-establishing the Eastern Front.

National delimitation in Central Asia

National delimitation in Central Asia

1917 Dec 1
, Central Asia

Russia had conquered Central Asia in the 19th century by annexing the formerly independent khanates of Kokand and Khiva and the Emirate of Bukhara. After the Communists took power in 1917 and created the Soviet Union it was decided to divide Central Asia into ethnically based republics in a process known as National Territorial Delimitation (NTD). This was in line with Communist theory that nationalism was a necessary step on the path towards an eventually communist society, and Joseph Stalin's definition of a nation as being “a historically constituted, stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up manifested in a common culture”.

NTD is commonly portrayed as being nothing more than a cynical exercise in divide and rule, a deliberately Machiavellian attempt by Stalin to maintain Soviet hegemony over the region by artificially dividing its inhabitants into separate nations and with borders deliberately drawn so as to leave minorities within each state. Though indeed Russia was concerned at the possible threat of pan-Turkic nationalism, as expressed for example with the Basmachi movement of the 1920s, closer analysis informed by the primary sources paints a much more nuanced picture than is commonly presented.

The Soviets aimed to create ethnically homogenous republics, however many areas were ethnically-mixed (especially the Ferghana Valley) and often proved difficult to assign a ‘correct’ ethnic label to some peoples (e.g. the mixed Tajik-Uzbek Sart, or the various Turkmen/Uzbek tribes along the Amu Darya). Local national elites often strongly argued (and in many cases overstated) their case and the Russians were often forced to adjudicate between them, further hindered by a lack of expert knowledge and the paucity of accurate or up-to-date ethnographic data on the region. Furthermore, NTD also aimed to create ‘viable’ entities, with economic, geographical, agricultural and infrastructural matters also to be taken into account and frequently trumping those of ethnicity. The attempt to balance these contradictory aims within an overall nationalist framework proved exceedingly difficult and often impossible, resulting in the drawing of often tortuously convoluted borders, multiple enclaves and the unavoidable creation of large minorities who ended up living in the ‘wrong’ republic. Additionally the Soviets never intended for these borders to become international frontiers.

During the Great Patriotic War, hundreds of thousands of Soviet women fought at the front against Nazi Germany on equal terms with men.

Women's rights in the Soviet Union

1917 Dec 1
, Russia

The Constitution of the USSR guaranteed equality for women - "Women in the USSR are accorded equal rights with men in all spheres of economic, state, cultural, social, and political life." (Article 122).

The Russian Revolution of 1917 established legal equality of women and men. Lenin saw women as a force of labor that had previously been untapped; he encouraged women to participate in the communist revolution. He stated: "Petty housework crushes, strangles, stultifies and degrades woman], chains her to the kitchen and to the nursery, and wastes her labor on barbarously unproductive, petty, nerve-racking, stultifying and crushing drudgery." Bolshevik doctrine aimed to free women economically from men, and this meant allowing women to enter the workforce. The number of women who entered the workforce rose from 423,200 in 1923 to 885,000 in 1930.

To achieve this increase of women in the workforce, the new communist government issued the first Family Code in October 1918. This code separated marriage from the church, allowed a couple to choose a surname, gave illegitimate children the same rights as legitimate children, gave rights to maternal entitlements, health and safety protections at work, and provided women with the right to a divorce on extended grounds. In 1920 the Soviet government legalized abortion. In 1922 marital rape was made illegal in the Soviet Union. Labor laws also assisted women. Women were given equal rights in regard to insurance in case of illness, eight-week paid maternity-leave, and a minimum wage standard that was set for both men and women. Both sexes were also afforded paid holiday-leave. The Soviet government enacted these measures in order to produce a quality labor-force from both of the sexes. While the reality was that not all women were granted these rights, they established a pivot from the traditional systems of the Russian imperialist past.

To oversee this code and women's freedoms, the All-Russian Communist Party (bolsheviks) set up a specialist women's department, the Zhenotdel in 1919. The department produced propaganda encouraging more women to become a part of the urban population and of the communist revolutionary party. The 1920s saw changes in the urban centers of family policy, sexuality, and women's political activism. The creation of the "new soviet woman", who would be self-sacrificing and dedicated to the revolutionary cause, paved the way for the expectation of women to come. In 1925, with the number of divorces increasing, the Zhenotdel created the second family plan, proposing a common-law marriage for couples that were living together. However, a year later, the government passed a marriage law as a reaction to the de facto marriages that were causing inequality for women. As a result of the policy implementation of the New Economic Policy (NEP) of 1921–1928, if a man left his de facto wife, she was left unable to secure assistance. Men had no legal ties and as such, if a woman got pregnant, he would be able to leave, and not be legally responsible to assist the woman or child; this led to an increase in the number of homeless children. Because a de facto wife enjoyed no rights, the government sought to resolve this through the 1926 marriage law, granting registered and unregistered marriages equal rights and emphasized the obligations that came with marriage. The Bolsheviks also established "women's soviets" to cater for and support women.

In 1930 the Zhenotdel disbanded, as the government claimed that their work was completed. Women began to enter the Soviet workforce on a scale never seen before. However, in the mid-1930s there was a return to more traditional and conservative values in many areas of social and family policy. Women became the heroines of the home and made sacrifices for their husbands and were to create a positive life at home that would "increase productivity and improve quality of work". The 1940s continued the traditional ideology - the nuclear family was the driving force of the time. Women held the social responsibility of motherhood that could not be ignored.

Dekulakisation. A parade under the banners "We will liquidate the kulaks as a class" and "All to the struggle against the wreckers of agriculture".


1917 Dec 1 - 1933
, Siberia

Dekulakization was the Soviet campaign of political repressions, including arrests, deportations, or executions of millions of kulaks (prosperous peasants) and their families. Redistribution of farmland started in 1917 and lasted until 1933, but was most active in the 1929–1932 period of the first five-year plan. To facilitate the expropriations of farmland, the Soviet government portrayed kulaks as class enemies of the Soviet Union. More than 1.8 million peasants were deported in 1930–1931. The campaign had the stated purpose of fighting counter-revolution and of building socialism in the countryside. This policy, carried out simultaneously with collectivization in the Soviet Union, effectively brought all agriculture and all the labourers in Soviet Russia under state control. Hunger, disease, and mass executions during dekulakization led to approximately 390,000 or 530,000–600,000 deaths from 1929 to 1933.

In November 1917, at a meeting of delegates of the committees of poor peasants, Vladimir Lenin announced a new policy to eliminate what were believed to be wealthy Soviet peasants, known as kulaks: "If the kulaks remain untouched, if we don't defeat the freeloaders, the czar and the capitalist will inevitably return." In July 1918, Committees of the Poor were created to represent poor peasants, which played an important role in the actions against the kulaks, and led the process of redistribution of confiscated lands and inventory, food surpluses from the kulaks.

Joseph Stalin announced the "liquidation of the kulaks as a class" on 27 December 1929. Stalin had said: "Now we have the opportunity to carry out a resolute offensive against the kulaks, break their resistance, eliminate them as a class and replace their production with the production of kolkhozes and sovkhozes." The Politburo of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) formalized the decision in a resolution titled "On measures for the elimination of kulak households in districts of comprehensive collectivization" on 30 January 1930. All kulaks were assigned to one of three categories:

  • Those to be shot or imprisoned as decided by the local secret political police.
  • Those to be sent to Siberia, the North, the Urals, or Kazakhstan, after confiscation of their property.
  • Those to be evicted from their houses and used in labour colonies within their own districts.
  • Those kulaks that were sent to Siberia and other unpopulated areas performed hard labor working in camps that would produce lumber, gold, coal and many other resources that the Soviet Union needed for its rapid industrialization plans.
"In the basements of a Cheka", by Ivan Vladimirov

Red Terror

1918 Aug 1 - 1922
, Russia

The Red Terror in Soviet Russia was a campaign of political repression and executions carried out by the Bolsheviks, chiefly through the Cheka, the Bolshevik secret police. It started in late August 1918 after the beginning of the Russian Civil Warge needed and lasted until 1922. Arising after assassination attempts on Vladimir Lenin and Petrograd Cheka leader Moisei Uritsky, the latter of which was successful, the Red Terror was modeled on the Reign of Terror of the French Revolution, and sought to eliminate political dissent, opposition, and any other threat to Bolshevik power. More broadly, the term is usually applied to Bolshevik political repression throughout the Civil War (1917–1922), as distinguished from the White Terror carried out by the White Army (Russian and non-Russian groups opposed to Bolshevik rule) against their political enemies, including the Bolsheviks. Estimates for the total number of victims of Bolshevik repression vary widely in numbers and scope. One source gives estimates of 28,000 executions per year from December 1917 to February 1922. Estimates for the number of people shot during the initial period of the Red Terror are at least 10,000. Estimates for the whole period go for a low of 50,000 to highs of 140,000 and 200,000 executed. The most reliable estimations for the number of executions in total put the number at about 100,000.

Polish infantry at the Battle of Warsaw

Polish–Soviet War

1918 Sep 1 - 1921 Mar 18
, Poland

The Polish–Soviet War was primarily fought between the Second Polish Republic and the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic in the aftermath of World War I and the Russian Revolution, on territories which were formerly held by the Russian Empire and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

New Economic Policy

New Economic Policy

1921 Jan 1 - 1928
, Russia

The New Economic Policy (NEP) was an economic policy of the Soviet Union proposed by Vladimir Lenin in 1921 as a temporary expedient. Lenin characterized the NEP in 1922 as an economic system that would include "a free market and capitalism, both subject to state control", while socialized state enterprises would operate on "a profit basis".

The NEP represented a more market-oriented economic policy (deemed necessary after the Russian Civil War of 1918 to 1922) to foster the economy of the country, which had suffered severely since 1915. The Soviet authorities partially revoked the complete nationalization of industry (established during the period of war communism of 1918 to 1921) and introduced a mixed economy which allowed private individuals to own small and medium sized enterprises, while the state continued to control large industries, banks and foreign trade. In addition, the NEP abolished prodrazvyorstka (forced grain-requisition) and introduced prodnalog: a tax on farmers, payable in the form of raw agricultural product. The Bolshevik government adopted the NEP in the course of the 10th Congress of the All-Russian Communist Party (March 1921) and promulgated it by a decree on 21 March 1921: "On the Replacement of Prodrazvyorstka by Prodnalog". Further decrees refined the policy. Other policies included monetary reform (1922–1924) and the attraction of foreign capital. The NEP created a new category of people called NEPmen (нэпманы) (nouveau riches). Joseph Stalin abandoned the NEP in 1928 with the Great Break.

Education in the Soviet Union

Education in the Soviet Union

1922 Jan 1
, Russia

Education in the Soviet Union was guaranteed as a constitutional right to all people provided through state schools and universities. The education system that emerged after the establishment of the Soviet Union in 1922 became internationally renowned for its successes in eradicating illiteracy and cultivating a highly educated population. Its advantages were total access for all citizens and post-education employment. The Soviet Union recognized that the foundation of their system depended upon an educated population and development in the broad fields of engineering, the natural sciences, the life sciences and social sciences, along with basic education.

An important aspect of the early campaign for literacy and education was the policy of "indigenisation" (korenizatsiya). This policy, which lasted essentially from the mid-1920s to the late 1930s, promoted the development and use of non-Russian languages in the government, the media, and education. Intended to counter the historical practices of Russification, it had as another practical goal assuring native-language education as the quickest way to increase educational levels of future generations. A huge network of so-called "national schools" was established by the 1930s, and this network continued to grow in enrollments throughout the Soviet era. Language policy changed over time, perhaps marked first of all in the government's mandating in 1938 the teaching of Russian as a required subject of study in every non-Russian school, and then especially beginning in the latter 1950s a growing conversion of non-Russian schools to Russian as the main medium of instruction. However, an important legacy of the native-language and bilingual education policies over the years was the nurturing of widespread literacy in dozens of languages of indigenous nationalities of the USSR, accompanied by widespread and growing bilingualism in which Russian was said to be the "language of internationality communication."

In 1923 a new school statute and curricula were adopted. Schools were divided into three separate types, designated by the number of years of instruction: "four year", "seven year" and "nine year" schools. Seven and nine-year (secondary) schools were scarce, compared to the "four-year" (primary) schools, making it difficult for the pupils to complete their secondary education. Those who finished seven-year schools had the right to enter Technicums. Only nine-year school led directly to university-level education.

The curriculum was changed radically. Independent subjects, such as reading, writing, arithmetic, the mother tongue, foreign languages, history, geography, literature or science were abolished. Instead school programmes were subdivided into "complex themes", such as "the life and labour of the family in village and town" for the first year or "scientific organisation of labour" for the 7th year of education. Such a system was a complete failure, however, and in 1928 the new programme completely abandoned the complex themes and resumed instruction in individual subjects.

All students were required to take the same standardised classes. This continued until the 1970s when older students began being given time to take elective courses of their own choice in addition to the standard courses. Since 1918 all Soviet schools were co-educational. In 1943, urban schools were separated into boys and girls schools. In 1954 the mixed-sex education system was restored.

Soviet education in 1930s–1950s was inflexible and suppressive. Research and education, in all subjects but especially in the social sciences, was dominated by Marxist-Leninist ideology and supervised by the CPSU. Such domination led to abolition of whole academic disciplines such as genetics. Scholars were purged as they were proclaimed bourgeois during that period. Most of the abolished branches were rehabilitated later in Soviet history, in the 1960s–1990s (e.g., genetics was in October 1964), although many purged scholars were rehabilitated only in post-Soviet times. In addition, many textbooks - such as history ones - were full of ideology and propaganda, and contained factually inaccurate information (see Soviet historiography). The educational system’s ideological pressure continued, but in the 1980s, the government’s more open policies influenced changes that made the system more flexible . Shortly before the Soviet Union collapsed, schools no longer had to teach subjects from the Marxist-Leninist perspective at all.

Another aspect of the inflexibility was the high rate at which pupils were held back and required to repeat a year of school. In the early 1950s, typically 8–10% of pupils in elementary grades were held back a year. This was partly attributable to the pedagogical style of teachers, and partly to the fact that many of these children had disabilities that impeded their performance. In the latter 1950s, however, the Ministry of Education began to promote the creation of a wide variety of special schools (or "auxiliary schools") for children with physical or mental handicaps. Once those children were taken out of the mainstream (general) schools, and once teachers began to be held accountable for the repeat rates of their pupils, the rates fell sharply. By the mid-1960s the repeat rates in the general primary schools declined to about 2%, and by the late 1970s to less than 1%.

The number of schoolchildren enrolled in special schools grew fivefold between 1960 and 1980. However, the availability of such special schools varied greatly from one republic to another. On a per capita basis, such special schools were most available in the Baltic republics, and least in the Central Asian ones. This difference probably had more to do with the availability of resources than with the relative need for the services by children in the two regions.

In the 1970s and 1980s, approximately 99.7% of Soviet people were literate.

Samantha Smith with Young Pioneers, 1983

Young Pioneers

1922 Jan 1 - 1991
, Russia

The Young Pioneers, was a mass youth organization of the Soviet Union for children and adolescents aged age 9–14 that existed between 1922 and 1991. Similar to the Scouting organisations of the Western Bloc, Pioneers learned skills of social cooperation and attended publicly funded summer camps.

Soviet censorship of literature

Soviet censorship of literature

1922 Jun 6
, Russia

Works of print such as the press, advertisements, product labels, and books were censored by Glavlit, an agency established on June 6, 1922, ostensibly to safeguard top secret information from foreign entities but in reality to remove material the Soviet authorities did not like. From 1932 until 1952, the promulgation of socialist realism was the target of Glavlit in bowdlerizing works of print, while anti-Westernization and nationalism were common tropes for that goal. To limit peasant revolts over collectivization, themes involving shortages of food were expunged. In the 1932 book Russia Washed in Blood, a Bolshevik's harrowing account of Moscow's devastation from the October Revolution contained the description, "frozen rotten potatoes, dogs eaten by people, children dying out, hunger," but was promptly deleted. Also, excisions in the 1941 novel Cement were made by eliminating Gleb's spirited exclamation to English sailors: "Although we're poverty-stricken and are eating people on account of hunger, all the same we have Lenin."

December 30, 1922, the I all-Union Congress of Soviets approved the agreement on the formation of the USSR.

Treaty on the Creation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics

1922 Dec 30
, Moscow

The Declaration and Treaty on the Formation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics officially created the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), commonly known as the Soviet Union. It de jure legalised a political union of several Soviet republics that had existed since 1919 and created a new federal government whose key functions were centralised in Moscow. Its legislative branch consisted of the Congress of Soviets of the Soviet Union and the Central Executive Committee of the Soviet Union (TsIK), while the Council of People's Commissars composed the executive.

The Treaty, along with the Declaration of the Creation of the USSR was approved on 30 December 1922 by a conference of delegations from the Russian SFSR, the Transcaucasian SFSR, the Ukrainian SSR and the Byelorussian SSR. The Treaty and the Declaration were confirmed by the First All-Union Congress of Soviets and signed by heads of delegations – Mikhail Kalinin, Mikhail Tskhakaya, and Grigory Petrovsky, Alexander Chervyakov respectively on December 30, 1922. The treaty provided flexibility to admit new members. Therefore, by 1940 the Soviet Union grew from the founding four (or six, depending on whether 1922 or 1940 definitions are applied) republics to 15 republics.

Hospital in the Soviet Union

Ministry of Health

1923 Jul 16
, Russia

The Ministry of Health (MOH) of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), formed on 15 March 1946, was one of the most important government offices in the Soviet Union. It was formerly (until 1946) known as the People's Commissariat for Health. The Ministry, at the all-Union level, was established on 6 July 1923, after the signing of the Treaty on the Creation of the USSR, and was, in turn, based upon the People's Commissariat for Health of the RSFSR formed in 1917.

In 1918 the Commissariat of Public Health was established. A Council of Medical Departments was set up in Petrograd. Nikolai Semashko was appointed People's Commissar of Public Health of the RSFSR and served in that role from 11 July 1918 until 25 January 1930. It was to be "responsible for all matters involving the people's health and for the establishment of all regulations (pertaining to it) with the aim of improving the health standards of the nation and of abolishing all conditions prejudicial to health" according to the Council of People's Commissars in 1921. It established new organisations, sometimes replacing old ones: the All Russia Federated Union of Medical Workers, the Military Sanitary Board, the State Institute for Social Hygiene, the Petrograd Skoraya Emergency Care, and the Psychiatry Commission.

In 1923 there were 5440 physicians in Moscow. 4190 were salaried state physicians. 956 were registered as unemployed. Low salaries were often supplemented by private practice. In 1930 17.5% of Moscow doctors were in private practice. The number of medical students increased from 19,785 in 1913 to 63,162 in 1928 and to 76,027 by 1932. When Mikhail Vladimirsky took over the Commissariat of Public Health in 1930 90% of the doctors in Russia worked for the State.

Spending on medical services increased from 140.2 million rubles per year to 384.9 million rubles between 1923 and 1927, but funding from that point barely kept up with population increases. 2000 new hospitals were built between 1928 and 1932.

The integrated model achieved considerable success in dealing with infectious diseases such as tuberculosis, typhoid fever and typhus. The Soviet healthcare system provided Soviet citizens with competent, free medical care and contributed to the improvement of health in the USSR. By the 1960s, life and health expectancies in the Soviet Union approximated to those in the US and in non-Soviet Europe. In the 1970s, a transition was made from the Semashko model to a model that emphasizes specialization in outpatient care.

The effectiveness of the new model declined with under-investment, with the quality of care beginning to decline by the early 1980s, though in 1985 the Soviet Union had four times the number of doctors and hospital beds per head compared with the USA.The quality of Soviet medical care became low by developed-world standards. Many medical treatments and diagnoses were unsophisticated and substandard (with doctors often making diagnoses by interviewing patients without conducting any medical tests), the standard of care provided by healthcare providers was poor, and there was a high risk of infection from surgery. The Soviet healthcare system was plagued by shortages of medical equipment, drugs, and diagnostic chemicals, and lacked many medications and medical technologies available in the Western world. Its facilities had low technical standards, and medical personnel underwent mediocre training. Soviet hospitals also offered poor hotel amenities such as food and linen. Special hospitals and clinics existed for the nomenklatura which offered a higher standard of care, but one still often below Western standards.

1929 cover of the Soviet magazine Bezbozhnik ("The Atheist"), in which you can see a group of industrial workers throwing Jesus Christ or Jesus of Nazareth in the trash.

League of Militant Atheists

1925 Jan 1
, Russia

The League of Militant Atheists was an atheistic and antireligious organization of workers and intelligentsia that developed in Soviet Russia under influence of the ideological and cultural views and policies of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union from 1925 to 1947. It consisted of party members, members of the Komsomol youth movement, those without specific political affiliation, workers and military veterans.The league embraced workers, peasants, students, and intelligentsia. It had its first affiliates at factories, plants, collective farms (kolkhozy), and educational institutions. By the beginning of 1941 it had about 3.5 million members from 100 ethnicities. It had about 96,000 offices across the country. Guided by Bolshevik principles of communist propaganda and by the Party's orders with regards to religion, the League aimed at exterminating religion in all its manifestations and forming an anti-religious scientific mindset among the workers.

Great Break (USSR)

Great Break (USSR)

1928 Jan 1 - 1929
, Russia

The Great Turn or Great Break was the radical change in the economic policy of the USSR from 1928 to 1929, primarily consisting of the process by which the New Economic Policy (NEP) of 1921 was abandoned in favor of the acceleration of collectivization and industrialization and also a cultural revolution.

Up to 1928, Stalin supported the New Economic Policy implemented by his predecessor Vladimir Lenin. The NEP had brought some market reforms to the Soviet economy, including allowing peasants to sell surplus grain on the domestic and international market.  However, in 1928 Stalin changed his position and opposed continuation of the NEP. Part of the reason for his change was that the peasants in the years before 1928 started hoarding grain in response to low domestic and international prices for their produce.

While collectivization did not meet with much success, industrialization during the Great Break did. Stalin announced his first Five-Year-Plan for industrialization in 1928. The goals of his plan were unrealistic – for example, he wished to increase worker productivity by 110 percent.  Yet even though the country was not able to meet these overambitious goals, it still did increase output to an impressive extent. 

The third aspect of the Great Break was the Cultural Revolution, which touched Soviet social life in three main ways. First, the Cultural Revolution created a need for scientists to demonstrate their support to the regime. The Cultural Revolution also affected religious life. The Soviet regime regarded religion as a form of “false consciousness” and wanted to reduce the masses' dependence on religion.  Finally, the cultural revolution changed the educational system. The state needed more engineers, especially “Red” engineers to replace the bourgeois ones. 

"Strengthen working discipline in collective farms" – Soviet propaganda poster issued in Soviet Uzbekistan, 1933

Collectivization in the Soviet Union

1928 Jan 1 - 1940
, Russia

The Soviet Union introduced the collectivization of its agricultural sector between 1928 and 1940 during the ascension of Joseph Stalin. It began during and was part of the first five-year plan. The policy aimed to integrate individual landholdings and labour into collectively-controlled and state-controlled farms: Kolkhozes and Sovkhozes accordingly. The Soviet leadership confidently expected that the replacement of individual peasant farms by collective ones would immediately increase the food supply for the urban population, the supply of raw materials for the processing industry, and agricultural exports via state-imposed quotas on individuals working on collective farms. Planners regarded collectivization as the solution to the crisis of agricultural distribution (mainly in grain deliveries) that had developed from 1927. This problem became more acute as the Soviet Union pressed ahead with its ambitious industrialization program, meaning that more food needed to be produced to keep up with urban demand.

In the early 1930s, over 91% of agricultural land became collectivized as rural households entered collective farms with their land, livestock, and other assets. The collectivization era saw several famines, as well as peasant resistance to collectivization. The death toll cited by experts has ranged from 4 million to 7 million.

Large notice board with slogans about the 5-Year Plan in Moscow, Soviet Union (c., 1931) by a traveler DeCou, Branson [cs]. It reads it's made by a state-run paper «Economics and Life» (Russian: Экономика и жизнь)

Five-year plans of the Soviet Union

1928 Jan 1
, Russia

The five-year plans for the development of the national economy of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republic consisted of a series of nationwide centralized economic plans in the Soviet Union, beginning in the late 1920s. The Soviet state planning committee Gosplan developed these plans based on the theory of the productive forces that formed part of the ideology of the Communist Party for development of the Soviet economy. Fulfilling the current plan became the watchword of Soviet bureaucracy. Several Soviet five-year plans did not take up the full period of time assigned to them: some were pronounced successfully completed earlier than expected, some took much longer than expected, and others failed altogether and had to be abandoned. Altogether, Gosplan launched thirteen five-year plans. The initial five-year plans aimed to achieve rapid industrialization in the Soviet Union and thus placed a major focus on heavy industry. The first five-year plan, accepted in 1928 for the period from 1929 to 1933, finished one year early. The last five-year plan, for the period from 1991 to 1995, was not completed, since the Soviet Union was dissolved in 1991. Other communist states, including the People's Republic of China, and to a lesser extent, the Republic of Indonesia, implemented a process of using five year plans as focal points for economic and societal development.

1925 propaganda poster: "If You Don't Read Books, You'll Soon Forget How to Read and Write"

Cultural Revolution in the Soviet Union

1929 Jan 1
, Russia

The cultural revolution was a set of activities carried out in Soviet Russia and the Soviet Union, aimed at a radical restructuring of the cultural and ideological life of society. The goal was to form a new type of culture as part of the building of a socialist society, including an increase in the proportion of people from proletarian classes in the social composition of the intelligentsia. The term "cultural revolution" in Russia appeared in the "Anarchism Manifesto" of the Gordin brothers in May 1917, and was introduced into the Soviet political language by Vladimir Lenin in 1923 in the paper "On Cooperation"e cultural revolution is... a whole revolution, a whole strip of the cultural development of the whole mass of the people".

The cultural revolution in the Soviet Union as a focused program for the transformation of national culture in practice often stalled and was massively implemented only during the first five-year plans. As a result, in modern historiography there is a traditional, but, in the opinion of a number of historians, the not completely correct, and therefore often contested, correlation of the cultural revolution in the Soviet Union only with the 1928–1931 period. The cultural revolution in the 1930s was understood as part of a major transformation of society and the national economy, along with industrialization and collectivization. Also, in the course of the cultural revolution, the organization of scientific activity in the Soviet Union underwent considerable restructuring and reorganization.

The Cultural Revolution, which touched Soviet social life in three main ways:

First, the Cultural Revolution created a need for scientists to demonstrate their support to the regime. During the NEP years, the Bolsheviks tolerated “bourgeois specialists” such as medical doctors and engineers, who tended to come from wealthier backgrounds from pre-revolutionary years, because they needed these specialists for their skilled labour. However, a new generation of Soviet children educated in Soviet ideology would soon be ready to replace the bourgeois specialists. These technically educated students would later be called “Red specialists.” The regime saw these students as more loyal to Communism and as a result more desirable than the old bourgeois remnants. Because the state would no longer need to rely so heavily on the bourgeois specialists, after 1929, the regime increasingly demanded that scientists, engineers, and other specialists prove their loyalty to Bolshevik and Marxist ideology. If these specialists did not conform to the new demands for loyalty, they could be accused of counterrevolutionary wrecking and face arrest and exile, as with the engineers accused in the Shakhty Trial.

The Cultural Revolution also affected religious life. The Soviet regime regarded religion as a form of “false consciousness” and wanted to reduce the masses' dependence on religion. The Soviet regime transformed previously religious holidays such as Christmas into their own, Soviet-style holidays.

Finally, the cultural revolution changed the educational system. The state needed more engineers, especially “Red” engineers to replace the bourgeois ones. As a result, the Bolsheviks made higher education free – many members of the working class would not otherwise be able to afford such education. The educational institutions also admitted individuals who were not sufficiently prepared for higher education. Many had not finished their secondary education, either because they could not afford it or because they did not need one to get an unskilled job. Furthermore, the institutions tried to train engineers in a shorter amount of time. These factors combined led to the training of more scientists and engineers, but of lower quality.

Construction of the Dnieper Hydroelectric Station. 1931

Industrialization in the Soviet Union

1929 May 1 - 1941 Jun
, Russia

Industrialisation in the Soviet Union was a process of accelerated building-up of the industrial potential of the Soviet Union to reduce the economy's lag behind the developed capitalist states, which was carried out from May 1929 to June 1941. The official task of industrialisation was the transformation of the Soviet Union from a predominantly agrarian state into a leading industrial one. The beginning of socialist industrialisation as an integral part of the "triple task of a radical reorganisation of society" (industrialisation, economic centralisation, collectivisation of agriculture and a cultural revolution) was laid down by the first five-year plan for the development of the national economy lasting from 1928 until 1932.

Engineers were invited from abroad, many well-known companies, such as Siemens-Schuckertwerke AG and General Electric, were involved in the work and carried out deliveries of modern equipment, a significant part of the equipment models produced in those years at Soviet factories, were copies or modifications of foreign analogues (for example, a Fordson tractor assembled at the Stalingrad Tractor Plant).

In Soviet times, industrialisation was considered a great feat. The rapid growth of production capacity and the volume of production of heavy industry (4 times) was of great importance for ensuring economic independence from capitalist countries and strengthening the country's defense capability. At this time, the Soviet Union made the transition from an agrarian country to an industrial one. During the Great Patriotic War, the Soviet industry proved its superiority over the industry of Nazi Germany.

Features of industrialisation:

  • As the main link were selected investment sectors: metallurgy, engineering, industrial construction;
  • Pumping funds from agriculture to industry using price scissors;
  • The special role of the state in the centralisation of funds for industrialisation;
  • The creation of a single form of ownership—socialist—in two forms: state and cooperative-collective farm;
  • Industrialisation planning;
  • Lack of private capital (cooperative entrepreneurship in that period was legal);
  • Relying on own resources (it was impossible to attract private capital in the existing external and internal conditions);
  • Over-centralised resources.
A train with Romanian refugees following the Soviet annexation of Bessarabia

Population transfer in the Soviet Union

1930 Jan 1 - 1952
, Russia

From 1930 to 1952, the government of the Soviet Union, on the orders of Soviet leader Joseph Stalin under the direction of the NKVD official Lavrentiy Beria, forcibly transferred populations of various groups. These actions may be classified into the following broad categories: deportations of "anti-Soviet" categories of population (often classified as "enemies of workers"), deportations of entire nationalities, labor force transfer, and organized migrations in opposite directions to fill ethnically cleansed territories.

Dekulakization marked the first time that an entire class was deported, whereas the deportation of Soviet Koreans in 1937 marked the precedent of a specific ethnic deportation of an entire nationality.

In most cases, their destinations were underpopulated remote areas (see Forced settlements in the Soviet Union). This includes deportations to the Soviet Union of non-Soviet citizens from countries outside the USSR. It has been estimated that, in their entirety, internal forced migrations affected at least 6 million people. Of this total, 1.8 million kulaks were deported in 1930–31, 1.0 million peasants and ethnic minorities in 1932–39, whereas about 3.5 million ethnic minorities were further resettled during 1940–52.

Soviet archives documented 390,000 deaths during kulak forced resettlement and up to 400,000 deaths of persons deported to forced settlements during the 1940s; however, Nicolas Werth places overall deaths closer to some 1 to 1.5 million perishing as a result of the deportations. Contemporary historians classify these deportations as a crime against humanity and ethnic persecution. Two of these cases with the highest mortality rates, the deportation of the Crimean Tatars and the deportation of the Chechens and Ingush, were recognized as genocides by Ukraine, three other countries, and the European Parliament respectively.

The Soviet Union also practiced deportations in occupied territories, with over 50,000 perishing from the Baltic States and 300,000 to 360,000 perishing during the expulsion of Germans from Eastern Europe due to Soviet deportation, massacres, and internment and labour camps.

Starved peasants on a street in Kharkiv, 1933

Soviet famine of 1930–1933

1932 Jan 1 - 1933
, Ukraine

The Holodomor was a man-made famine in Soviet Ukraine from 1932 to 1933 that killed millions of Ukrainians. The Holodomor was part of the wider Soviet famine of 1932–1933 which affected the major grain-producing areas of the Soviet Union. Some historians conclude that the famine was planned and exacerbated by Joseph Stalin in order to eliminate a Ukrainian independence movement. This conclusion is supported by Raphael Lemkin. Others suggest that the famine arose because of rapid Soviet industrialisation and collectivization of agriculture.

Ukraine was one of the largest grain-producing states in the USSR and was subject to unreasonably higher grain quotas, when compared to the rest of the country.This caused Ukraine to be hit particularly hard by the famine. Early estimates of the death toll by scholars and government officials vary greatly. A joint statement to the United Nations signed by 25 countries in 2003 declared that 7–10 million died. However, current scholarship estimates a range significantly lower, with 3.5 to 5 million victims. The famine's widespread impact on Ukraine persists to this day.

NKVD chiefs responsible for conducting mass repressions (left to right): Yakov Agranov; Genrikh Yagoda; unknown; Stanislav Redens. All three were themselves eventually arrested and executed.

Great Purge

1936 Aug 1 - 1938 Mar
, Russia

The Great Purge or the Great Terror was Soviet General Secretary Joseph Stalin's campaign to solidify his power over the party and the state; the purges were also designed to remove the remaining influence of Leon Trotsky as well as other prominent political rivals within the party. Following the death of Vladimir Lenin in 1924 a power vacuum opened in the Communist Party. Various established figures in Lenin's government attempted to succeed him. Joseph Stalin, the party's General Secretary, outmaneuvered political opponents and ultimately gained control of the Communist Party by 1928. Initially, Stalin's leadership was widely accepted; his main political adversary Trotsky was forced into exile in 1929, and the doctrine of "socialism in one country" became enshrined party policy. However, by the early 1930s, party officials began losing faith in his leadership following the human cost of the First Five Year Plan and Soviet collectivization of agriculture. By 1934 several of Stalin's rivals, such as Trotsky, began calling for Stalin's removal and attempted to break his influence over the party.

By 1936, Stalin's paranoia reached a crescendo. The fear of losing his position and the potential return of Trotsky drove him into authorizing the Great Purge. The purges themselves were largely conducted by the NKVD (People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs), the secret police of the USSR. The NKVD began the removal of the central party leadership, Old Bolsheviks, government officials, and regional party bosses. Eventually, the purges were expanded to the Red Army and military high command, which had a disastrous effect on the military altogether. Three successive trials were held in Moscow that removed most of the Old Bolsheviks and challenges to Stalin's legitimacy. As the scope of the purge began widening, the omnipresent suspicion of saboteurs and counter-revolutionaries began impacting civilian life. The NKVD began targeting certain ethnic minorities such as the Volga Germans, who were subjected to forced deportation and extreme repression. During the purge, the NKVD widely utilized imprisonment, torture, violent interrogation, and arbitrary executions to solidify control over civilians through fear.

In 1938, Stalin reversed his stance on the purges and declared that the internal enemies had been removed. Stalin criticized the NKVD for carrying out mass executions and subsequently executed Genrikh Yagoda and Nikolai Yezhov, who headed the NKVD during the purge years. Despite the Great Purge being over, the atmosphere of mistrust and widespread surveillance continued for decades after. Scholars estimate the death toll for the Great Purge (1936–1938) to be roughly 700,000.

1936 Constitution of the Soviet Union

1936 Constitution of the Soviet Union

1936 Dec 5
, Russia

The 1936 Constitution was the second constitution of the Soviet Union and replaced the 1924 Constitution, with 5 December being celebrated annually as Soviet Constitution Day from its adoption by the Congress of Soviets. This date was considered the "second foundational moment" of the USSR, after the October Revolution in 1917. The 1936 Constitution redesigned the government of the Soviet Union, nominally granted all manner of rights and freedoms, and spelled out a number of democratic procedures.

The 1936 Constitution repealed restrictions on voting, abolishing the lishentsy category of people, and added universal direct suffrage and the right to work to rights guaranteed by the previous constitution. In addition, the 1936 Constitution recognized collective social and economic rights including the rights to work, rest and leisure, health protection, care in old age and sickness, housing, education and cultural benefits. The 1936 Constitution also provided for the direct election of all government bodies and their reorganization into a single, uniform system.

Article 122 states that "women in the U.S.S.R. are accorded equal rights with men in all spheres of economic, state, cultural, social and political life." Specific measures on women included state protection of the interests of mother and child, prematernity and maternity leave with full pay, and the provision of maternity homes, nurseries, and kindergartens.

Article 123 establishes equality of rights for all citizens "irrespective of their nationality or race, in all spheres of economic, state, cultural, social, and political life." Advocacy of racial or national exclusiveness, or hatred or contempt, or restrictions of rights and privileges on account of nationality, were to be punished by law.

Article 124 of the constitution guaranteed freedom of religion, including separation of (1) church and state, and (2) school from church. The reasoning of the Article 124 is framed in terms of ensuring "to citizens freedom of conscience ... Freedom of religious worship and freedom of anti-religious propaganda is recognized for all citizens." Stalin included Article 124 in the face of stiff opposition, and it eventually led to rapprochement with the Russian Orthodox Church before and during World War 2. The new constitution re-enfranchised certain religious people who had been specifically disenfranchised under the previous constitution. The article resulted in members of the Russian Orthodox Church petitioning to reopen closed churches, gain access to jobs that had been closed to them as religious figures, and the attempt to run religious candidates in the 1937 elections.

Article 125 of the constitution guaranteed freedom of speech of the press and freedom of assembly. However, these "rights" were circumscribed elsewhere, so the erstwhile "freedom of the press" ostensibly guaranteed by Article 125 was of no practical consequence as Soviet law held that "Before these freedoms can be exercised, any proposed writing or assembly must be approved by a censor or a licensing bureau, in order that the censorship bodies shall be able to exercise "ideological leadership."

The Congress of Soviets replaced itself with the Supreme Soviet, which amended the 1936 Constitution in 1944.

Molotov (left) and Ribbentrop at the signing of the pact

Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact

1939 Aug 23
, Moscow

The Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact was a non-aggression pact between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union that enabled those powers to partition Poland between them. The pact was signed in Moscow on 23 August 1939 by German Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop and Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov and was officially known as the Treaty of Non-Aggression between Germany and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

Advancing Red Army troops, Soviet invasion of Poland, 1939

Soviet invasion of Poland

1939 Sep 17 - Oct 6
, Poland

The Soviet invasion of Poland was a military operation by the Soviet Union without a formal declaration of war. On 17 September 1939, the Soviet Union invaded Poland from the east, 16 days after Nazi Germany invaded Poland from the west. Subsequent military operations lasted for the following 20 days and ended on 6 October 1939 with the two-way division and annexation of the entire territory of the Second Polish Republic by Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union. This division is sometimes called the Fourth Partition of Poland. The Soviet (as well as German) invasion of Poland was indirectly indicated in the "secret protocol" of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact signed on 23 August 1939, which divided Poland into "spheres of influence" of the two powers. German and Soviet cooperation in the invasion of Poland has been described as co-belligerence.The Red Army, which vastly outnumbered the Polish defenders, achieved its targets, encountering only limited resistance. Some 320,000 Poles were made prisoners of war. The campaign of mass persecution in the newly acquired areas began immediately. In November 1939 the Soviet government annexed the entire Polish territory under its control. Some 13.5 million Polish citizens who fell under the military occupation were made Soviet subjects following show elections conducted by the NKVD secret police in an atmosphere of terror, the results of which were used to legitimise the use of force.

Finnish machine gunners in the winter war, 1940.

Winter War

1939 Nov 30 - 1940 Mar 13
, Finland

The Winter War, also known as the First Soviet-Finnish War, was a war between the Soviet Union and Finland. The war began with a Soviet invasion of Finland on 30 November 1939, three months after the outbreak of World War II, and ended three and a half months later with the Moscow Peace Treaty on 13 March 1940. Despite superior military strength, especially in tanks and aircraft, the Soviet Union suffered severe losses and initially made little headway. The League of Nations deemed the attack illegal and expelled the Soviet Union from the organisation. The Soviets made several demands, including that Finland cede substantial border territories in exchange for land elsewhere, claiming security reasons – primarily the protection of Leningrad, 32 km (20 mi) from the Finnish border. When Finland refused, the Soviets invaded. Most sources conclude that the Soviet Union had intended to conquer all of Finland, and use the establishment of the puppet Finnish Communist government and the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact's secret protocols as evidence of this, while other sources argue against the idea of a full Soviet conquest. Finland repelled Soviet attacks for more than two months and inflicted substantial losses on the invaders while temperatures reached as low as −43 °C (−45 °F). The battles focused mainly on Taipale along the Karelian Isthmus, on Kollaa in Ladoga Karelia and on Raate Road in Kainuu, but there were also battles in Salla and Petsamo in Lapland. After the Soviet military reorganized and adopted different tactics, they renewed their offensive in February and overcame Finnish defences.

Soldiers of the Red Army enter the territory of Lithuania during the first Soviet occupation of Lithuania in 1940

Soviet occupation of the Baltic states

1940 Jun 22
, Estonia

The Soviet occupation of the Baltic states covers the period from the Soviet–Baltic mutual assistance pacts in 1939, to their invasion and annexation in 1940, to the mass deportations of 1941. In September and October 1939 the Soviet government compelled the much smaller Baltic states to conclude mutual assistance pacts which gave the Soviets the right to establish military bases there. Following invasion by the Red Army in the summer of 1940, Soviet authorities compelled the Baltic governments to resign. The presidents of Estonia and Latvia were imprisoned and later died in Siberia. Under Soviet supervision, new puppet communist governments and fellow travelers arranged rigged elections with falsified results. Shortly thereafter, the newly elected "people's assemblies" passed resolutions requesting admission into the Soviet Union. In June 1941 the new Soviet governments carried out mass deportations of "enemies of the people". Consequently, at first many Balts greeted the Germans as liberators when they occupied the area a week later.

A Soviet junior political officer (Politruk) urges Soviet troops forward against German positions (12 July 1942).

Great Patriotic War

1941 Jun 22 - 1945 May 8
, Russia

The battles on the Eastern Front of the Second World War constituted the largest military confrontation in history. They were characterised by unprecedented ferocity and brutality, wholesale destruction, mass deportations, and immense loss of life due to combat, starvation, exposure, disease, and massacres. Of the estimated 70–85 million deaths attributed to World War II, around 30 million occurred on the Eastern Front, including 9 million children. The Eastern Front was decisive in determining the outcome in the European theatre of operations in World War II, eventually serving as the main reason for the defeat of Nazi Germany and the Axis nations.

The two principal belligerent powers were Germany and the Soviet Union, along with their respective allies. Though never sending in ground troops to the Eastern Front, the United States and the United Kingdom both provided substantial material aid to the Soviet Union in the form of the Lend-Lease program along with naval and air support. The joint German–Finnish operations across the northernmost Finnish–Soviet border and in the Murmansk region are considered part of the Eastern Front. In addition, the Soviet–Finnish Continuation War is generally also considered the northern flank of the Eastern Front.

German troops at the Soviet state border marker, 22 June 1941

Operation Barbarossa

1941 Jun 22 - 1942 Jan 7
, Russia

Operation Barbarossa was the invasion of the Soviet Union, carried out by Nazi Germany and many of its Axis allies, starting on Sunday, 22 June 1941, during the Second World War. It was and still is the largest land offensive in human history, with over 10 million combatants taking part. The German Generalplan Ost aimed to use some of the conquered people as forced labour for the Axis war effort while acquiring the oil reserves of the Caucasus as well as the agricultural resources of various Soviet territories. Their ultimate goal was to create more Lebensraum (living space) for Germany, and the eventual extermination of the indigenous Slavic peoples by mass deportation to Siberia, Germanisation, enslavement, and genocide.

In the two years leading up to the invasion, Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union signed political and economic pacts for strategic purposes. Following the Soviet occupation of Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina, the German High Command began planning an invasion in the Soviet Union in July 1940 (under the codename Operation Otto). Over the course of the operation, over 3.8 million personnel of the Axis powers—the largest invasion force in the history of warfare—invaded the western Soviet Union along a 2,900-kilometer (1,800 mi) front, with 600,000 motor vehicles and over 600,000 horses for non-combat operations. The offensive marked a massive escalation of World War II, both geographically and with the Anglo-Soviet Agreement and the formation of the Allied coalition including the Soviet Union.

The operation opened up the Eastern Front, in which more forces were committed than in any other theater of war in human history. The area saw some of history’s largest battles, most horrific atrocities, and highest casualties (for Soviet and Axis forces alike), all of which influenced the course of World War II and the subsequent history of the 20th century. The German armies eventually captured some five million Soviet Red Army troops. The Nazis deliberately starved to death or otherwise killed 3.3 million Soviet prisoners of war, and millions of civilians, as the "Hunger Plan" worked to solve German food shortages and exterminate the Slavic population through starvation. Mass shootings and gassing operations, carried out by the Nazis or willing collaborators,murdered over a million Soviet Jews as part of the Holocaust.

The failure of Operation Barbarossa reversed the fortunes of Nazi Germany. Operationally, German forces achieved significant victories and occupied some of the most important economic areas of the Soviet Union (mainly in Ukraine) and inflicted, as well as sustained, heavy casualties. Despite these early successes, the German offensive stalled in the Battle of Moscow at the end of 1941, and the subsequent Soviet winter counteroffensive pushed the Germans about 250 km (160 mi) back. The Germans had confidently expected a quick collapse of Soviet resistance as in Poland, but the Red Army absorbed the German Wehrmacht's strongest blows and bogged it down in a war of attrition for which the Germans were unprepared. The Wehrmacht's diminished forces could no longer attack along the entire Eastern Front, and subsequent operations to retake the initiative and drive deep into Soviet territory—such as Case Blue in 1942 and Operation Citadel in 1943—eventually failed, which resulted in the Wehrmacht's defeat.

Soviet assault troops in the battle

Battle of Stalingrad

1942 Aug 23 - 1943 Feb 2
, Stalingrad

The Battle of Stalingrad was a major battle on the Eastern Front of World War II where Nazi Germany and its allies unsuccessfully fought the Soviet Union for control of the city of Stalingrad in Southern Russia. The battle was marked by fierce close-quarters combat and direct assaults on civilians in air raids, with the battle epitomizing urban warfare. The Battle of Stalingrad was the deadliest battle to take place during the Second World War and is one of the bloodiest battles in the history of warfare, with an estimated 2 million total casualties. Today, the Battle of Stalingrad is universally regarded as the turning point in the European Theatre of war, as it forced the Oberkommando der Wehrmacht (German High Command) to withdraw considerable military forces from other areas in occupied Europe to replace German losses on the Eastern Front, ending with the rout of the six field armies of Army Group B, including the destruction of Nazi Germany's 6th Army and an entire corps of its 4th Panzer Army. The victory at Stalingrad energized the Red Army and shifted the balance of power in the favour of the Soviets.

Stalingrad was strategically important to both sides as a major industrial and transport hub on the Volga River. Whoever controlled Stalingrad would have access to the oil fields of the Caucasus and would gain control of the Volga. Germany, already operating on dwindling fuel supplies, focused its efforts on moving deeper into Soviet territory and taking the oil fields at any cost. On 4 August, the Germans launched an offensive by using the 6th Army and elements of the 4th Panzer Army. The attack was supported by intense Luftwaffe bombing that reduced much of the city to rubble. Notably, in the early stages of the battle, the Soviets would use human wave attacks to overwhelm German positions. The battle degenerated into house-to-house fighting as both sides poured reinforcements into the city. By mid-November, the Germans, at great cost, had pushed the Soviet defenders back into narrow zones along the west bank of the river.

On 19 November, the Red Army launched Operation Uranus, a two-pronged attack targeting the Romanian armies protecting the 6th Army's flanks. The Axis flanks were overrun and the 6th Army was cut off and surrounded in the Stalingrad area. Adolf Hitler was determined to hold the city at all costs and forbade the 6th Army from attempting a breakout; instead, attempts were made to supply it by air and to break the encirclement from the outside. The Soviets were successful in denying the Germans the ability to resupply through the air which strained the German forces to their breaking point. Nevertheless, the German forces were determined to continue their advance and heavy fighting continued for another two months. On 2 February 1943, the German 6th Army, having exhausted their ammunition and food, finally capitulated after over five months of fighting, making it the first of Hitler's field armies to surrender during World War II.

Soldiers of the Red Army entering the territory of the Lithuanian SSR

Soviet re-occupation of the Baltic states

1944 Jan 1
, Estonia

The Soviet Union (USSR) occupied most of the territory of the Baltic states in its 1944 Baltic Offensive during World War II. The Red Army regained control over the three Baltic capitals and encircled retreating Wehrmacht and Latvian forces in the Courland Pocket where they held out until the final German surrender at the end of the war. The German forces were deported and the leaders of Latvian collaborating forces were executed as traitors. After the war, the Baltic territories were reorganized into constituent republics of the USSR until they declared independence in 1990 amid the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Raising a Flag over the Reichstag, a photograph taken during the Battle of Berlin on 2 May 1945

Battle of Berlin

1945 Apr 16 - May 2
, Berlin

The Battle of Berlin was one of the last major offensives of the European theatre of World War II. After the Vistula–Oder Offensive of January–February 1945, the Red Army had temporarily halted on a line 60 km (37 mi) east of Berlin. On 9 March, Germany established its defence plan for the city with Operation Clausewitz.

When the Soviet offensive resumed on 16 April, two Soviet fronts (army groups) attacked Berlin from the east and south, while a third overran German forces positioned north of Berlin. Before the main battle in Berlin commenced, the Red Army encircled the city after successful battles of the Seelow Heights and Halbe. On 20 April 1945, Hitler's birthday, the 1st Belorussian Front led by Marshal Georgy Zhukov, advancing from the east and north, started shelling Berlin's city centre, while Marshal Ivan Konev's 1st Ukrainian Front broke through Army Group Centre and advanced towards the southern suburbs of Berlin. On 23 April General Helmuth Weidling assumed command of the forces within Berlin. The garrison consisted of several depleted and disorganised Army and Waffen-SS divisions, along with poorly trained Volkssturm and Hitler Youth members. Over the course of the next week, the Red Army gradually took the entire city.

Soviet troops crossing into Manchuria, 9 August 1945

Soviet Invasion of Manchuria

1945 Aug 9 - Aug 20
, Mengjiang

The Soviet invasion of Manchuria began on 9 August 1945 with the Soviet invasion of the Japanese puppet state of Manchukuo. It was the largest campaign of the 1945 Soviet–Japanese War, which resumed hostilities between the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the Empire of Japan after almost six years of peace. Soviet gains on the continent were Manchukuo, Mengjiang and northern Korea. The Soviet entry into the war and the defeat of the Kwantung Army was a significant factor in the Japanese government's decision to surrender unconditionally, as it became apparent that the Soviet Union had no intention of acting as a third party in negotiating an end to hostilities on conditional terms.

Mao Zedong and Joseph Stalin in Moscow, December 1949

Cold War

1947 Mar 12 - 1991 Dec 26
, Russia

The Cold War is a term commonly used to refer to a period of geopolitical tension between the United States and the Soviet Union and their respective allies, the Western Bloc and the Eastern Bloc. The term cold war is used because there was no large-scale fighting directly between the two superpowers, but they each supported major regional conflicts known as proxy wars. The conflict was based around the ideological and geopolitical struggle for global influence by these two superpowers, following their temporary alliance and victory against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan in 1945. Aside from the nuclear arsenal development and conventional military deployment, the struggle for dominance was expressed via indirect means such as psychological warfare, propaganda campaigns, espionage, far-reaching embargoes, rivalry at sports events, and technological competitions such as the Space Race.

The Western Bloc was led by the United States as well as a number of other First World nations that were generally liberal democratic but tied to a network of authoritarian states, most of which were their former colonies. The Eastern Bloc was led by the Soviet Union and its Communist Party, which had an influence across the Second World and was also tied to a network of authoritarian states. The US government supported anti-communist and right-wing governments and uprisings across the world, while the Soviet government funded left-wing parties and revolutions around the world. As nearly all the colonial states achieved independence in the period from 1945 to 1960, they became Third World battlefields in the Cold War.

The first phase of the Cold War began shortly after the end of World War II in 1945. The United States and its allies created the NATO military alliance in 1949 in the apprehension of a Soviet attack and termed their global policy against Soviet influence containment. The Soviet Union formed the Warsaw Pact in 1955 in response to NATO. Major crises of this phase included the 1948–1949 Berlin Blockade, the 1945–1949 Chinese Communist Revolution, the 1950–1953 Korean War, the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, the 1956 Suez Crisis, the 1961 Berlin Crisis, the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, and the 1964–1975 Vietnam War. The US and the USSR competed for influence in Latin America, the Middle East, and the decolonizing states of Africa, Asia, and Oceania.

Following the Cuban Missile Crisis, a new phase began that saw the Sino-Soviet split between China and the Soviet Union complicate relations within the Communist sphere leading to a series of border confrontations, while France, a Western Bloc state, began to demand greater autonomy of action. The USSR invaded Czechoslovakia to suppress the 1968 Prague Spring, while the US experienced internal turmoil from the civil rights movement and opposition to the Vietnam War. In the 1960s–1970s, an international peace movement took root among citizens around the world. Movements against nuclear weapons testing and for nuclear disarmament took place, with large anti-war protests. By the 1970s, both sides had started making allowances for peace and security, ushering in a period of détente that saw the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks and the US opening relations with the People's Republic of China as a strategic counterweight to the USSR. A number of self-proclaimed Marxist–Leninist governments were formed in the second half of the 1970s in the Third World, including Angola, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Cambodia, Afghanistan, and Nicaragua.

Détente collapsed at the end of the decade with the beginning of the Soviet–Afghan War in 1979. The early 1980s was another period of elevated tension. The United States increased diplomatic, military, and economic pressures on the Soviet Union, at a time when it was already suffering from economic stagnation. In the mid-1980s, the new Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev introduced the liberalizing reforms of glasnost ("openness", c. 1985) and perestroika ("reorganization", 1987) and ended Soviet involvement in Afghanistan in 1989. Pressures for national sovereignty grew stronger in Eastern Europe, and Gorbachev refused to militarily support their governments any longer.

In 1989, the fall of the Iron Curtain after the Pan-European Picnic and a peaceful wave of revolutions (with the exception of Romania and Afghanistan) overthrew almost all communist governments of the Eastern Bloc. The Communist Party of the Soviet Union itself lost control in the country and was banned following an abortive coup attempt in August 1991. This in turn led to the formal dissolution of the USSR in December 1991, the declaration of independence of its constituent republics and the collapse of communist governments across much of Africa and Asia. The United States was left as the world's sole superpower.

Soviet leader Joseph Stalin met Yugoslav officials in Moscow in February 1948, shortly before the split.

Tito–Stalin split

1948 Jan 1
, Balkans

The Tito–Stalin was the culmination of a conflict between the political leaderships of Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union, under Josip Broz Tito and Joseph Stalin, respectively, in the years following World War II. Although presented by both sides as an ideological dispute, the conflict was as much the product of a geopolitical struggle in the Balkans that also involved Albania, Bulgaria, and the communist insurgency in Greece, which Tito's Yugoslavia supported and the Soviet Union secretly opposed.

In the years following World War II, Yugoslavia pursued economic, internal, and foreign policy objectives that did not align with the interests of the Soviet Union and its Eastern Bloc allies. In particular, Yugoslavia hoped to admit neighbouring Albania to the Yugoslav federation. This fostered an atmosphere of insecurity within the Albanian political leadership and exacerbated tensions with the Soviet Union, which made efforts to impede Albanian–Yugoslav integration. Yugoslav support of the communist rebels in Greece against the wishes of the Soviet Union further complicated the political situation. Stalin tried to pressure Yugoslavia and moderate its policies using Bulgaria as an intermediary. When the conflict between Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union became public in 1948, it was portrayed as an ideological dispute to avoid the impression of a power struggle within the Eastern Bloc.

The split ushered in the Informbiro period of purges within the Communist Party of Yugoslavia. It was accompanied by a significant level of disruption to the Yugoslav economy, which had previously depended on the Eastern Bloc. The conflict also prompted fears of an impending Soviet invasion and even a coup attempt by senior Soviet-aligned military leaders, a fear fueled by thousands of border incidents and incursions orchestrated by the Soviets and their allies. Deprived of aid from the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc, Yugoslavia subsequently turned to the United States for economic and military assistance.

Aug. 29, 1949: First Soviet Atomic Test Stuns West.

Soviet atomic bomb project

1949 Aug 29
, Школа #21

The Soviet atomic bomb project was the classified research and development program that was authorized by Joseph Stalin in the Soviet Union to develop nuclear weapons during and after World War II. Although the Soviet scientific community discussed the possibility of an atomic bomb throughout the 1930s, going as far as making a concrete proposal to develop such a weapon in 1940, the full-scale program was not initiated and prioritized until Operation Barbarossa.

After Stalin learned of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the program was pursued aggressively and accelerated through effective intelligence gathering about the German nuclear weapon project and the American Manhattan Project. The Soviet efforts also rounded up captured German scientists to join their program, and relied on knowledge passed by spies to Soviet intelligence agencies.

On 29 August 1949, the Soviet Union secretly conducted its first successful weapon test (First Lightning, based on the American "Fat Man" design) at the Semipalatinsk-21 in Kazakhstan. Stalin alongside Soviet political officials and scientists were elated at the successful test. A nuclear armed Soviet Union sent its rival Western neighbors, and particularly the United States into a state of unprecedented trepidation. From 1949 onwards the Soviet Union manufactured and tested nuclear weapons on a large scale. Its nuclear capabilities served as an important role on its global status. A nuclear armed Soviet Union escalated the Cold War with the United States to the possibility of nuclear war and ushered in the doctrine of mutually assured destruction.

Soviet soldiers in Korea after the Manchuria Offensive, October 1945.

Korean War

1950 Jan 1 - 1953
, Korea

Though not officially a belligerent during the Korean War (1950–1953), the Soviet Union played a significant, covert role in the conflict. It provided material and medical services, as well as Soviet pilots and aircraft, most notably MiG-15 fighter jets, to aid the North Korean-Chinese forces against the United Nations Forces. Joseph Stalin had final decision-making power and several times demanded North Korea postpone action, until he and Mao Zedong both gave their final approval in spring 1950.

From left to right: Nina Kukharchuk, Mamie Eisenhower, Nikita Khrushchev and Dwight Eisenhower at a state dinner in 1959

Khrushchev Thaw

1953 Jan 1
, Russia

The Khrushchev Thaw is the period from the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s when repression and censorship in the Soviet Union were relaxed due to Nikita Khrushchev's policies of de-Stalinization and peaceful coexistence with other nations. The Thaw became possible after the death of Joseph Stalin in 1953. First Secretary Khrushchev denounced former General Secretary Stalin in the "Secret Speech" at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party, then ousted the Stalinists during his power struggle in the Kremlin. The Thaw was highlighted by Khrushchev's 1954 visit to Beijing, People's Republic of China, his 1955 visit to Belgrade, Yugoslavia (with whom relations had soured since the Tito–Stalin Split in 1948), and his subsequent meeting with Dwight Eisenhower later that year, culminating in Khrushchev's 1959 visit to the United States.

The Thaw allowed some freedom of information in the media, arts, and culture; international festivals; foreign films; uncensored books; and new forms of entertainment on the emerging national TV, ranging from massive parades and celebrations to popular music and variety shows, satire and comedies, and all-star shows like Goluboy Ogonyok. Such political and cultural updates altogether had a significant influence on the public consciousness of several generations of people in the Soviet Union. Leonid Brezhnev, who succeeded Khrushchev, put an end to the Thaw. The 1965 economic reform of Alexei Kosygin was de facto discontinued by the end of the 1960s, while the trial of the writers Yuli Daniel and Andrei Sinyavsky in 1966—the first such public trial since Stalin's reign—and the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 identified reversal of the liberalization of the country.

Virgin Lands campaign

Virgin Lands campaign

1953 Sep 1
, Kazakhstan

In September 1953 a Central Committee group – composed of Khrushchev, two aides, two Pravda editors, and one agricultural specialist – met to determine the severity of the agricultural crisis in the Soviet Union. Earlier in 1953, Georgy Malenkov had received credit for introducing reforms to solve the agricultural problem in the country, including increasing the procurement prices the state paid for collective-farm deliveries, reducing taxes, and encouraging individual peasant plots. Khrushchev, irritated that Malenkov had received credit for agricultural reform, introduced his own agricultural plan. Khrushchev's plan both expanded the reforms that Malenkov had begun and proposed the plowing and cultivation of 13 million hectares (130,000 km2) of previously uncultivated land by 1956. Targeted lands included areas on the right bank of the Volga, in the northern Caucasus, in Western Siberia, and in Northern Kazakhstan. The First Secretary of the Kazakh Communist Party at the time of Khrushchev's announcement, Zhumabay Shayakhmetov, played down the potential yields of the virgin lands in Kazakhstan: he did not want Kazakh land under Russian control. Molotov, Malenkov, Kaganovich and other leading CPSU members expressed opposition to the Virgin Lands campaign. Many saw the plan as not economically or logistically feasible. Malenkov preferred initiatives to make the land already under cultivation more productive, but Khrushchev insisted on bringing huge amounts of new land under cultivation as the only way to get a major increase in crop yields in a short amount of time.

Instead of offering incentives to peasants already working in collective farms, Khrushchev planned to recruit workers for the new virgin lands by advertising the opportunity as a socialist adventure for Soviet youth. During the summer of 1954, 300,000 Komsomol volunteers traveled to the Virgin Lands. Following the rapid Virgin-Land cultivation and excellent harvest of 1954, Khrushchev raised the original goal of 13 million new hectares of land under cultivation by 1956 to between 28–30 million hectares (280,000–300,000 km2). Between the years 1954 and 1958 the Soviet Union spent 30.7 million Rbls on the Virgin Lands campaign and during the same time the state procured 48.8 billion Rbls worth of grain. From 1954 to 1960, the total sown area of land in the USSR increased by 46 million hectares, with 90% of the increase due to the Virgin Lands campaign.

Overall, the Virgin Lands campaign succeeded in increasing production of grain and in alleviating food shortages in the short term. The enormous scale and initial success of the campaign were quite a historical feat. However, the wide fluctuations in grain output year to year, the failure of the Virgin Lands to surpass the record output of 1956, and the gradual decline in yields following 1959 mark the Virgin Lands campaign as a failure and surely fell short of Khrushchev's ambition to surpass American grain output by 1960. In historical perspective, however, the campaign marked a permanent shift in the North-Kazakhstani economy. Even at the 1998 nadir, wheat was sown on almost twice as many hectares as in 1953, and Kazakhstan is currently one of the world's largest producers of wheat.

The Vostok rocket at the All-Soviet exhibition Center

Soviet space program

1955 Jan 1 - 1991
, Russia

The Soviet space program was the national space program of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), active from 1955 until the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991. The Soviet space program served as an important marker of Soviet claims to its global superpower status.

Soviet investigations in rocketry began with the formation of a research laboratory in 1921, but these efforts were hampered by the devastating war with Germany. Competing in the Space Race with the United States and later with the European Union and China, the Soviet program was notable in setting many records in space exploration, including the first intercontinental missile that launched the first satellite and sent the first animal into Earth orbit in 1957, and placed the first human in space in 1961. In addition, the Soviet program also saw the first woman in space in 1963 and a cosmonaut performing the first spacewalk in 1965. Other milestones included computerized robotic missions exploring the Moon starting in 1959, with the second mission being the first to reach the surface of the Moon, recording the first image of the far side of the Moon, and achieving the first soft landing on the Moon. The Soviet program also achieved the first space rover deployment in 1966 and sent the first robotic probe that automatically extracted a sample of lunar soil and brought it to Earth in 1970. The Soviet program was also responsible for leading the first interplanetary probes to Venus and Mars and made successful soft landings on these planets in the 1960s and 1970s. It put the first space station into low Earth orbit in 1971 and the first modular space station in 1986. Its Interkosmos program was also notable for sending the first citizen of a country other than the United States or Soviet Union into space.

After WWII, the Soviet and US space programs both utilised German technology in their early efforts. Eventually, the program was managed under Sergei Korolev, who led the program based on unique ideas derived by Konstantin Tsiolkovsky, sometimes known as the father of theoretical astronautics. Contrary to its American, European, and Chinese competitors, who had their programs run under a single coordinating agency, the Soviet space program was divided and split among several internally competing design bureaus led by Korolev, Kerimov, Keldysh, Yangel, Glushko, Chelomey, Makeyev, Chertok and Reshetnev.

A Romanian TR-85 tank in December 1989 (Romania's TR-85 and TR-580 tanks were the only non-Soviet tanks in the Warsaw Pact on which restrictions were placed under the 1990 CFE Treaty[83])

Warsaw Pact

1955 May 14 - 1991 Jul 1
, Russia

The Warsaw Pact or Treaty of Warsaw was a collective defense treaty signed in Warsaw, Poland, between the Soviet Union and seven other Eastern Bloc socialist republics of Central and Eastern Europe in May 1955, during the Cold War. The term "Warsaw Pact" commonly refers to both the treaty itself and its resultant defensive alliance, the Warsaw Treaty Organization (WTO). The Warsaw Pact was the military complement to the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecon), the regional economic organization for the socialist states of Central and Eastern Europe. The Warsaw Pact was created in reaction to the integration of West Germany into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1955 as per the London and Paris Conferences of 1954.

Dominated by the Soviet Union, the Warsaw Pact was established as a balance of power or counterweight to NATO. There was no direct military confrontation between the two organizations; instead, the conflict was fought on an ideological basis and through proxy wars. Both NATO and the Warsaw Pact led to the expansion of military forces and their integration into the respective blocs. Its largest military engagement was the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia in August 1968 (with the participation of all pact nations except Albania and Romania), which, in part, resulted in Albania withdrawing from the pact less than one month later. The pact began to unravel with the spread of the Revolutions of 1989 through the Eastern Bloc, beginning with the Solidarity movement in Poland, its electoral success in June 1989 and the Pan-European Picnic in August 1989.

East Germany withdrew from the pact following German reunification in 1990. On 25 February 1991, at a meeting in Hungary, the pact was declared at an end by the defense and foreign ministers of the six remaining member states. The USSR itself was dissolved in December 1991, although most of the former Soviet republics formed the Collective Security Treaty Organization shortly thereafter. In the following 20 years, the Warsaw Pact countries outside the USSR each joined NATO (East Germany through its reunification with West Germany; and the Czech Republic and Slovakia as separate countries), as did the Baltic states which had been part of the Soviet Union.

Nikita Khrushchev

On the Cult of Personality and Its Consequences

1956 Feb 25
, Russia

"On the Cult of Personality and Its Consequences" was a report by Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, First Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, made to the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union on 25 February 1956. Khrushchev's speech was sharply critical of the rule of the deceased General Secretary and Premier Joseph Stalin, particularly with respect to the purges which had especially marked the last years of the 1930s. Khrushchev charged Stalin with having fostered a leadership cult of personality despite ostensibly maintaining support for the ideals of communism. The speech was leaked to the West by the Israeli intelligence agency Shin Bet, which received it from the Polish-Jewish journalist Wiktor Grajewski.

The speech was shocking in its day. There are reports that the audience reacted with applause and laughter at several points. There are also reports that some of those present suffered heart attacks and others later took their own lives due to shock at the revelations of Stalin's use of terror. The ensuing confusion among many Soviet citizens, raised on panegyrics and permanent praise of the "genius" of Stalin, was especially apparent in Georgia, Stalin's homeland, where the days of protests and rioting ended with the Soviet army crackdown on 9 March 1956. In the West, the speech politically devastated organised communists; the Communist Party USA alone lost more than 30,000 members within weeks of its publication.

The speech was cited as a major cause of the Sino-Soviet split by China (under Chairman Mao Zedong) and Albania (under First Secretary Enver Hoxha) who condemned Khrushchev as a revisionist. In response, they formed the anti-revisionist movement, criticizing the post-Stalin leadership of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union for allegedly deviating from the path of Lenin and Stalin. Mao strengthened his own cult of personality equivalent to Stalin. In North Korea, factions of the Workers' Party of Korea attempt to remove Chairman Kim Il-sung by criticizing him for not "correcting" his leadership methods, developing a personality cult, distorting the "Leninist principle of collective leadership" and "distortions of socialist legality" (i.e. using arbitrary arrest and executions) and use other Khrushchev-era criticisms of Stalinism against Kim Il-sung's leadership. The attempt to remove Kim failed and the participants were arrested and later executed, allowing Kim to further strengthen his own cult of personality as well. The speech was a milestone in the Khrushchev Thaw. It possibly served Khrushchev's ulterior motives to legitimize and consolidate his control of the Soviet Union's party and government after political struggles with Georgy Malenkov and firm Stalin loyalists such as Vyacheslav Molotov, who were involved to varying degrees in the purges.

The Soviet repression of the Hungarian Revolution saw T-54 tanks patrolling the streets of Budapest, until the Red Army temporarily withdrew on 31 October 1956.

Hungarian Revolution of 1956

1956 Jun 23 - Nov 10
, Hungary

The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 was a countrywide revolution against the government of the Hungarian People's Republic (1949–1989) and the Hungarian domestic policies imposed by the Soviet Union (USSR). The Hungarian Revolution began on 23 October 1956 in Budapest when university students appealed to the civil populace to join them at the Hungarian Parliament Building to protest against the USSR's geopolitical domination of Hungary with the Stalinist government of Mátyás Rákosi. A delegation of students entered the building of Hungarian Radio to broadcast their sixteen demands for political and economic reforms to the civil society of Hungary, but they were instead detained by security guards. When the student protestors outside the radio building demanded the release of their delegation of students, policemen from the ÁVH (Államvédelmi Hatóság) state protection authority shot and killed several protestors.

Consequently, Hungarians organized into revolutionary militias to fight against the ÁVH; local Hungarian communist leaders and ÁVH policemen were captured and summarily killed or lynched; and anti-communist political prisoners were released and armed. To realize their political, economic, and social demands, the local soviets (councils of workers) assumed control of municipal government from the Hungarian Working People's Party (Magyar Dolgozók Pártja). The new government of Imre Nagy disbanded the ÁVH, declared the Hungarian withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact, and pledged to re-establish free elections. By the end of October the intense fighting had subsided. Although initially willing to negotiate the withdrawal of the Soviet Army from Hungary, the USSR repressed the Hungarian Revolution on 4 November 1956, and fought the Hungarian revolutionaries until 10 November; repression of the Hungarian Uprising killed 2,500 Hungarians and 700 Soviet Army soldiers, and compelled 200,000 Hungarians to seek political refuge abroad.

March 27th 1958: Khrushchev becomes Soviet Premier.

Khrushchev consolidates power

1958 Mar 27
, Russia

In 1957, Khrushchev had defeated a concerted Stalinist attempt to recapture power, decisively defeating the so-called "Anti-Party Group"; this event illustrated the new nature of Soviet politics. The most decisive attack on the Stalinists was delivered by defense minister Georgy Zhukov, who and the implied threat to the plotters was clear; however, none of the "anti-party group" were killed or even arrested, and Khrushchev disposed of them quite cleverly: Georgy Malenkov was sent to manage a power station in Kazakhstan, and Vyacheslav Molotov, one of the most die-hard Stalinists, was made ambassador to Mongolia.

Eventually however, Molotov was reassigned to be the Soviet representative of the International Atomic Energy Commission in Vienna after the Kremlin decided to put some safe distance between him and China since Molotov was becoming increasingly cozy with the anti-Khrushchev Chinese Communist Party leadership. Molotov continued to attack Khrushchev every opportunity he got, and in 1960, on the occasion of Lenin's 90th birthday, wrote a piece describing his personal memories of the Soviet founding father and thus implying that he was closer to the Marxist-Leninist orthodoxy. In 1961, just prior to the 22nd CPSU Congress, Molotov wrote a vociferous denunciation of Khrushchev's party platform and was rewarded for this action with expulsion from the party.

Like Molotov, Foreign Minister Dmitri Shepilov also met the chopping block when he was sent to manage the Kirghizia Institute of Economics. Later, when he was appointed as a delegate to the Communist Party of Kirghizia conference, Khrushchev deputy Leonid Brezhnev intervened and ordered Shepilov dropped from the conference. He and his wife were evicted from their Moscow apartment and then reassigned to a smaller one that lay exposed to the fumes from a nearby food processing plant, and he was dropped from membership in the Soviet Academy of Sciences before being expelled from the party. Kliment Voroshilov held the ceremonial title of head of state despite his advancing age and declining health; he retired in 1960. Nikolai Bulganin ended up managing the Stavropol Economic Council. Also banished was Lazar Kaganovich, sent to manage a potash works in the Urals before being expelled from the party along with Molotov in 1962.

Despite his strong support for Khrushchev during the removal of Beria and the anti-party group, Zhukov was too popular and beloved of a figure for Khrushchev's comfort, so he was removed as well. In addition, while leading the attack against Molotov, Malenkov, and Kaganovich, he also insinuated that Khrushchev himself had been complicit in the 1930s purges, which in fact he had. While Zhukov was on a visit to Albania in October 1957, Khrushchev plotted his downfall. When Zhukov returned to Moscow, he was promptly accused of trying to remove the Soviet military from party control, creating a cult of personality around himself, and of plotting to seize power in a coup. Several Soviet generals went on to accuse Zhukov of "egomania", "shameless self-aggrandizement", and of tyrannical behaviour during WWII. Zhukov was expelled from his post as defense minister and forced into retirement from the military on the grounds of his "advanced age" (he was 62). Marshal Rodin Malinovsky took Zhukov's place as defense minister.

Khrushchev was elected Premier on 27 March 1958, consolidating his power—the tradition followed by all his predecessors and successors. This was the final stage in the transition from the earlier period of post-Stalin collective leadership. He was now the ultimate source of authority in the Soviet Union, but would never possess the absolute power Stalin had.

To counter the USSR, Chairman Mao met with US President Nixon, and established Sino-American rapprochement, in 1972.

Sino-Soviet split

1961 Jan 1 - 1989
, China

The Sino-Soviet split was the breaking of political relations between the People's Republic of China and the Soviet Union caused by doctrinal divergences that arose from their different interpretations and practical applications of Marxism–Leninism, as influenced by their respective geopolitics during the Cold War of 1947–1991. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, Sino-Soviet debates about the interpretation of orthodox Marxism became specific disputes about the Soviet Union's policies of national de-Stalinization and international peaceful coexistence with the Western Bloc, which Chinese founding father Mao Zedong decried as revisionism. Against that ideological background, China took a belligerent stance towards the Western world, and publicly rejected the Soviet Union's policy of peaceful coexistence between the Western Bloc and Eastern Bloc. In addition, Beijing resented the Soviet Union's growing ties with India due to factors such as the Sino-Indian border dispute, and Moscow feared that Mao was too nonchalant about the horrors of nuclear warfare.

In 1956, CPSU first secretary Nikita Khrushchev denounced Stalin and Stalinism in the speech On the Cult of Personality and its Consequences and began the de-Stalinization of the USSR. Mao and the Chinese leadership were appalled as the PRC and the USSR progressively diverged in their interpretations and applications of Leninist theory. By 1961, their intractable ideological differences provoked the PRC's formal denunciation of Soviet communism as the work of "revisionist traitors" in the USSR. The PRC also declared the Soviet Union social imperialist. For Eastern Bloc countries, the Sino-Soviet split was a question of who would lead the revolution for world communism, and to whom (China or the USSR) the vanguard parties of the world would turn for political advice, financial aid, and military assistance. In that vein, both countries competed for the leadership of world communism through the vanguard parties native to the countries in their spheres of influence.

In the Western world, the Sino-Soviet split transformed the bi-polar cold war into a tri-polar one. The rivalry facilitated Mao's realization of Sino-American rapprochement with the US President Richard Nixon's visit to China in 1972. In the West, the policies of triangular diplomacy and linkage emerged. Like the Tito–Stalin split, the occurrence of the Sino-Soviet split also weakened the concept of monolithic communism, the Western perception that the communist nations were collectively united and would not have significant ideological clashes. However, the USSR and China continued to cooperate in North Vietnam during the Vietnam War into the 1970s, despite rivalry elsewhere. Historically, the Sino-Soviet split facilitated the Marxist–Leninist Realpolitik with which Mao established the tri-polar geopolitics (PRC–USA–USSR) of the late-period Cold War (1956–1991) to create an anti-Soviet front, which Maoists connected to Three Worlds Theory. According to Lüthi, there is "no documentary evidence that the Chinese or the Soviets thought about their relationship within a triangular framework during the period."

Soviet T-55 tanks at Checkpoint Charlie, October 27, 1961.

Berlin Crisis

1961 Jun 4 - Nov 9
, Checkpoint Charlie

The Berlin Crisis of 1961 occurred between 4 June – 9 November 1961, and was the last major European politico-military incident of the Cold War about the occupational status of the German capital city, Berlin, and of post–World War II Germany. The Berlin Crisis started when the USSR issued an ultimatum demanding the withdrawal of all armed forces from Berlin, including the Western armed forces in West Berlin. The crisis culminated in the city's de facto partition with the East German erection of the Berlin Wall.

CIA reference photograph of Soviet medium-range ballistic missile (SS-4 in U.S. documents, R-12 in Soviet documents) in Red Square, Moscow.

Cuban Missile Crisis

1962 Oct 16 - Oct 29
, Cuba

The Cuban Missile Crisis was a 35-day confrontation between the United States and the Soviet Union, which escalated into an international crisis when American deployments of missiles in Italy and Turkey were matched by Soviet deployments of similar ballistic missiles in Cuba. Despite the short time frame, the Cuban Missile Crisis remains a defining moment in national security and nuclear war preparation. The confrontation is often considered the closest the Cold War came to escalating into a full-scale nuclear war.

In response to the presence of American Jupiter ballistic missiles in Italy and Turkey, the failed Bay of Pigs Invasion of 1961, and Soviet fears of a Cuban drift towards China, Soviet First Secretary Nikita Khrushchev agreed to Cuba's request to place nuclear missiles on the island to deter a future invasion. An agreement was reached during a secret meeting between Khrushchev and Cuban Prime Minister Fidel Castro in July 1962, and construction of a number of missile launch facilities started later that summer.

After several days of tense negotiations, an agreement was reached between the US and the Soviet Union: publicly, the Soviets would dismantle their offensive weapons in Cuba and return them to the Soviet Union, subject to United Nations verification, in exchange for a US public declaration and agreement to not invade Cuba again. Secretly, the United States agreed with the Soviets that it would dismantle all of the Jupiter MRBMs which had been deployed to Turkey against the Soviet Union. There has been debate on whether or not Italy was included in the agreement as well. While the Soviets dismantled their missiles, some Soviet bombers remained in Cuba, and the United States kept the naval quarantine in place until November 20, 1962.

When all offensive missiles and the Ilyushin Il-28 light bombers had been withdrawn from Cuba, the blockade was formally ended on November 20. The negotiations between the United States and the Soviet Union pointed out the necessity of a quick, clear, and direct communication line between the two superpowers. As a result, the Moscow–Washington hotline was established. A series of agreements later reduced US–Soviet tensions for several years, until both parties eventually resumed expanding their nuclear arsenals.

Brezhnev (center with Nikolai Podgorny) among the members of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR

Brezhnev Era

1964 Jan 2
, Russia

Most Western observers believed that Khrushchev had become the supreme leader of the Soviet Union by the early 1960s, even if this was far from the truth. The Presidium, which had grown to resent Khrushchev's leadership style and feared Mao Zedong's one-man dominance and the growing cult of personality in the People's Republic of China, began an aggressive campaign against Khrushchev in 1963. This campaign culminated in 1964 with the replacement of Khrushchev in his offices of First Secretary by Leonid Brezhnev and of Chairman of the Council of Ministers by Alexei Kosygin. Brezhnev and Kosygin, along with Mikhail Suslov, Andrei Kirilenko and Anastas Mikoyan (replaced in 1965 by Nikolai Podgorny), were elected to their respective offices to form and lead a functioning collective leadership. One of the reasons for Khrushchev's ousting, as Suslov told him, was his violation of collective leadership. With Khrushchev's removal, collective leadership was again praised by the Soviet media as a return to "Leninist norms of Party life". At the plenum which ousted Khrushchev, the Central Committee forbade any single individual to hold the office of General Secretary and Premier simultaneously.

The leadership was usually referred to as the "Brezhnev–Kosygin" leadership, instead of the collective leadership, by First World medias. At first, there was no clear leader of the collective leadership, and Kosygin was the chief economic administrator, whereas Brezhnev was primarily responsible for the day-to-day management of the party and internal affairs. Kosygin's position was later weakened when he introduced a reform in 1965 that attempted to decentralise the Soviet economy. The reform led to a backlash, with Kosygin losing supporters because many top officials took an increasingly anti-reformist stance due to the Prague Spring of 1968. As the years passed, Brezhnev was given more and more prominence, and by the 1970s he had even created a "Secretariat of the General Secretary" to strengthen his position within the Party.

Working on a vehicle in 1969 at the new AvtoVAZ plant in Tolyatti

1965 Soviet economic reform

1965 Jan 1
, Russia

The 1965 Soviet economic reform, sometimes called the Kosygin reform was a set of planned changes in the economy of the USSR. A centerpiece of these changes was the introduction of profitability and sales as the two key indicators of enterprise success. Some of an enterprise's profits would go to three funds, used to reward workers and expand operations; most would go to the central budget. The reforms were introduced politically by Alexei Kosygin—who had just become Premier of the Soviet Union following the removal of Nikita Khrushchev—and ratified by the Central Committee in September 1965. They reflected some long-simmering wishes of the USSR's mathematically-oriented economic planners, and initiated the shift towards increased decentralization in the process of economic planning.

The economy grew more in 1966–1970 than it did in 1961–1965. Many enterprises were encouraged to sell or give away excess equipment, since all available capital was factored into the calculation of productivity. Certain measurements of efficiency improved. These included rising sales per rouble worth of capital and falling wages per rouble of sales. The enterprises rendered large portions of their profits, sometimes 80%, to the central budget. These payments of "free" remaining profits substantially exceeded capital charges. However, central planners were not satisfied with the impact of the reform. In particular, they observed that wages had increased without a commensurate rise in productivity. Many of the specific changes were revised or reversed in 1969–1971. The reforms somewhat reduced the role of the Party in micromanaging economic operations. The backlash against economic reformism joined with opposition to political liberalization to trigger the full-blown invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968.

Czechoslovaks carry their national flag past a burning Soviet tank in Prague.

Prague Spring

1968 Jan 5 - 1963 Aug 21
, Czech Republic

The Prague Spring was a period of political liberalization and mass protest in the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic. It began on 5 January 1968, when reformist Alexander Dubček was elected First Secretary of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (KSČ), and continued until 21 August 1968, when the Soviet Union and most of Warsaw Pact members invaded the country to suppress the reforms.

The Prague Spring reforms were a strong attempt by Dubček to grant additional rights to the citizens of Czechoslovakia in an act of partial decentralization of the economy and democratization. The freedoms granted included a loosening of restrictions on the media, speech and travel. After national discussion of dividing the country into a federation of three republics, Bohemia, Moravia-Silesia and Slovakia, Dubček oversaw the decision to split into two, the Czech Socialist Republic and Slovak Socialist Republic. This dual federation was the only formal change that survived the invasion.

Soviet tanks marked with invasion stripes during the invasion

Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia

1968 Aug 20 - Aug 21
, Czech Republic

The Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia refers to the events of 20–21 August 1968, when the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic was jointly invaded by four Warsaw Pact countries: the Soviet Union, the Polish People's Republic, the People's Republic of Bulgaria and the Hungarian People's Republic. The invasion stopped Alexander Dubček's Prague Spring liberalisation reforms and strengthened the authoritarian wing of the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (KSČ).

About 250,000 Warsaw Pact troops (afterwards rising to about 500,000), supported by thousands of tanks and hundreds of aircraft, participated in the overnight operation, which was code-named Operation Danube. The Socialist Republic of Romania and the People's Republic of Albania refused to participate, while East German forces, except for a small number of specialists, were ordered by Moscow not to cross the Czechoslovak border just hours before the invasion because of fears of greater resistance if German troops were involved, due to the previous German occupation. 137 Czechoslovaks were killed and 500 seriously wounded during the occupation.

Public reaction to the invasion was widespread and divided. Although the majority of the Warsaw Pact supported the invasion along with several other communist parties worldwide, Western nations, along with Albania, Romania, and particularly the People's Republic of China condemned the attack. Many other communist parties lost influence, denounced the USSR, or split up or dissolved due to conflicting opinions. The invasion started a series of events that would ultimately see Brezhnev establish peace with U.S. President Richard Nixon in 1972 after the latter's historic visit to China.

After the invasion, Czechoslovakia entered a period known as normalization, in which new leaders attempted to restore the political and economic values that had prevailed before Dubček gained control of the KSČ. Gustáv Husák, who replaced Dubček as First Secretary and also became President, reversed almost all of the reforms.

Alexei Kosygin (right) shaking hands with Romanian communist leader Nicolae Ceaușescu on 22 August 1974

1973 Soviet economic reform

1973 Jan 1
, Russia

The 1973 Soviet economic reform was an economic reform initiated by Alexei Kosygin, the Chairman of the Council of Ministers. During Leonid Brezhnev's rule of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), the Soviet economy began to stagnate; this period is referred to by some historians as the Era of Stagnation. After the failed 1965 reform Kosygin initiated another reform in 1973 to enhance the powers and functions of the regional planners by establishing associations. The reform was never fully implemented, and members of the Soviet leadership complained that the reform had not even been fully implemented by the time of the 1979 reform.

The reform had the side effect of weakening the powers of regional planners over industrial policy even further. By 1981, roughly half of Soviet industry had been merged into associations with an average of four member enterprises in each association. A problem was that an association usually had its members spread over different raions, oblasts, and even republics, which aggravated the State Planning Committee's localisation planning.

The newly established associations made the Soviet economic system even more complex. Many associations increased production amongst member enterprises, such as the Gor'kii automobile plant in Leningrad, which was used as a "model example" by the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) to demonstrate a good association and a unified Primary Party Organisation (PPO). The Gor'kii plant did not share the same problems as some other associations, as all its members were located in the same city. The relations between an association and the PPO were much more strained if the association had members over a wide geographic area.

The reform had the effect of disrupting the CPSU's traditional allocation of resources between territorial and industrial agencies. Kommunist, a Soviet newspaper, noted that PPOs that supervised associations with members over a wide geographic area tended to lose touch with the local party and factory organisations, which prevented them from working effectively.

Scholars are generally unsure as to what effect the "Kosygin reform", named after its initiator Alexei Kosygin, had on economic growth

Era of Stagnation

1975 Jan 1
, Russia

The Brezhnev Era (1964–1982) began with high economic growth and soaring prosperity, but gradually significant problems in social, political, and economic areas accumulated. Social stagnation began following Brezhnev's rise to power, when he revoked several of Khrushchev's reforms and partially rehabilitated Stalinist policies. Some commentators regard the start of social stagnation as being the Sinyavsky–Daniel trial in 1966, which marked the end of the Khrushchev Thaw, while others place it at the suppression of the Prague Spring in 1968. The period's political stagnation is associated with the establishment of gerontocracy, which came into being as part of the policy of stability.

The majority of scholars set the starting year for economic stagnation at 1975, although some claim that it began as early as the 1960s. Industrial growth rates declined during the 1970s as heavy industry and the arms industry were prioritized while Soviet consumer goods were neglected. The value of all consumer goods manufactured in 1972 in retail prices was about 118 billion roubles. Historians, scholars, and specialists are uncertain what caused the stagnation, with some arguing that the command economy suffered from systemic flaws that inhibited growth. Others have argued that the lack of reform, or the high expenditures on the military, led to stagnation.

Brezhnev has been criticised posthumously for doing too little to improve the economic situation. Throughout his rule, no major reforms were initiated and the few proposed reforms were either very modest or opposed by the majority of the Soviet leadership. The reform-minded Chairman of the Council of Ministers (Government), Alexei Kosygin, introduced two modest reforms in the 1970s after the failure of his more radical 1965 reform, and attempted to reverse the trend of declining growth. By the 1970s, Brezhnev had consolidated enough power to stop any "radical" reform-minded attempts by Kosygin.

After the death of Brezhnev in November 1982, Yuri Andropov succeeded him as Soviet leader. Brezhnev's legacy was a Soviet Union that was much less dynamic than it had been when he assumed power in 1964. During Andropov's short rule, modest reforms were introduced; he died little more than a year later in February 1984. Konstantin Chernenko, his successor, continued much of Andropov's policies. The economic problems that began under Brezhnev persisted into these short administrations and scholars still debate whether the reform policies that were followed improved the economic situation in the country.

The Era of Stagnation ended with Gorbachev's rise to power during which political and social life was democratised even though the economy was still stagnating. Under Gorbachev's leadership the Communist Party began efforts to accelerate development in 1985 through massive injections of finance into heavy industry (Uskoreniye). When these failed, the Communist Party restructured (perestroika) the Soviet economy and government by introducing quasi-capitalist (Khozraschyot) and democratic (demokratizatsiya) reforms. These were intended to re-energize the Soviet Union but inadvertently led to its dissolution in 1991.

1977 Constitution of the Soviet Union

1977 Constitution of the Soviet Union

1977 Oct 7
, Russia

The 1977 Constitution of the Soviet Union, officially the Constitution (Fundamental Law) of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, was the constitution of the Soviet Union adopted on 7 October 1977 until its dissolution on 21 December 1991. Also known as the Brezhnev Constitution or the Constitution of the Developed Socialism, it was the third and final constitution of the Soviet Union, adopted unanimously at the 7th (Special) Session of the Ninth Convocation of the Supreme Soviet and signed by Leonid Brezhnev. The 1977 Constitution replaced the 1936 Constitution and introduced many new rights and duties for citizens along with rules governing the republics within the union.

The Constitution's preamble stated that "the aims of the dictatorship of the proletariat having been fulfilled, the Soviet state has become the state of the whole people" and no longer represented the workers and peasants alone. The 1977 Constitution extended the scope of the constitutional regulation of society compared to the 1924 and 1936 constitutions. The first chapter defined the leading role of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) and established the organizational principles for the state and the government. Article 1 defines the USSR as a Communist state, as did all previous constitutions:

The Union of Soviet Communist Republics is a Communist state of the whole people, expressing the will and interests of the workers, peasants, and intelligentsia, the working people of all the nations and nationalities of the country.

The 1977 Constitution was long and detailed, including twenty-eight more articles than the 1936 Soviet Constitution and explicitly defined the division of responsibilities between the Central Government in Moscow and the governments of the republics. Later chapters established principles for economic management and cultural relations. The 1977 Constitution included Article 72, which granting the official right of constituent republics to secede from the Soviet Union promised in previous constitutions. However, Articles 74 and 75 stated that when a Soviet constituency introduced laws in contradiction to Supreme Soviet, the laws of the Supreme Soviet would supersede any legal difference, but the Union law which regulated the secession was not provided until the last days of the Soviet Union.

Article 74. The laws of the USSR shall have the same force in all Union Republics. In the event of a discrepancy between a Union Republic law and an All-Union law, the law of the USSR shall prevail. Article 75. The territory of the Union of Soviet Communist Republics is a single entity and comprises the territories of the Union Republics. The sovereignty of the USSR extends throughout its territory.

The 1977 Constitution was repealed upon the dissolution of the Soviet Union on 21 December 1991 and the post-Soviet states adopted new constitutions. Article 72 would play an important role in the dissolution despite the lacuna in the Soviet law, which was eventually filled under the pressure from the Republics in 1990.

1979 Soviet economic reform

1979 Soviet economic reform

1979 Jan 1
, Russia

The 1979 Soviet economic reform, or "Improving planning and reinforcing the effects of the economic mechanism on raising the effectiveness in production and improving the quality of work", was an economic reform initiated by Alexei Kosygin, the Chairman of the Council of Ministers.

The 1979 reform was an attempt to reform the existing economic system without any radical changes. The economic system was centralised even more than previously. The effectiveness of the planned economy was improved in some sectors, but not enough to save the stagnation economy of the USSR. One of the major goals of the reform was to improve the distribution of resources and investment, which had long been neglected because of "sectorialism" and "regionalism". Another priority was the elimination of the influence "regionalism" had on the five-year plan.

The 1965 reform tried, with little success, to improve the quality of goods produced. In the 1979 reform Kosygin tried to displace gross output from "its commanding place" in the planned economy, and new regulations for rare and high-quality goods were created. Capital investment was seen as a very serious problem by the Soviet authorities by 1979, with General Secretary Leonid Brezhnev and Premier Kosygin claiming that only an increase in labor productivity could help develop the economy of the more technologically advanced Soviet Republics such as the Estonian Soviet Socialist Republic (ESSR). When Kosygin died in 1980, the reform was practically abandoned by his successor, Nikolai Tikhonov.

Painting of the 'first Stinger Missile kill in 1986'.

Soviet–Afghan War

1979 Dec 24 - 1989 Feb 15
, Afghanistan

The Soviet–Afghan War was a protracted armed conflict fought in the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan from 1979 to 1989. It saw extensive fighting between the Soviet Union and the Afghan mujahideen (alongside smaller groups of anti-Soviet Maoists) after the former militarily intervened in, or launched an invasion of, Afghanistan to support the local pro-Soviet government that had been installed during Operation Storm-333.

While the mujahideen were backed by various countries and organizations, the majority of their support came from Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the United States, the United Kingdom, China, and Iran; the American pro-mujahideen stance coincided with a sharp increase in bilateral hostilities with the Soviets during the Cold War.

Afghan insurgents began to receive general aid, financing, and military training in neighbouring Pakistan. The United States and the United Kingdom also provided an extensive amount of support to the mujahideen, routed through the Pakistani effort as part of Operation Cyclone. Heavy financing for the insurgents also came from China and the Arab monarchies of the Persian Gulf.

Soviet troops occupied Afghanistan's cities and all main arteries of communication, whereas the mujahideen waged guerrilla warfare in small groups across the 80% of the country that was not subject to uncontested Soviet control—almost exclusively comprising the rugged, mountainous terrain of the countryside. In addition to laying millions of landmines across Afghanistan, the Soviets used their aerial power to deal harshly with both rebels and civilians, levelling villages to deny safe haven to the mujahideen and destroying vital irrigation ditches.

The Soviet government had initially planned to swiftly secure Afghanistan's towns and road networks, stabilize the PDPA government under loyalist Karmal, and withdraw all of their military forces in a span of six months to one year. However, they were met with fierce resistance from Afghan guerrillas and experienced great operational difficulties on Afghanistan's mountainous terrain. By the mid-1980s, the Soviet military presence in Afghanistan had increased to approximately 115,000 troops, and fighting across the country intensified; the complication of the war effort gradually inflicted a high cost on the Soviet Union as military, economic, and political resources became increasingly exhausted.

By mid-1987, reformist Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev announced that the Soviet military would begin a complete withdrawal from Afghanistan, following a series of meetings with the Afghan government that outlined a policy of "National Reconciliation" for the country. The final wave of disengagement was initiated on 15 May 1988, and on 15 February 1989, the last Soviet military column occupying Afghanistan crossed into the Uzbek SSR.

Due to the length of the Soviet–Afghan War, it has sometimes been referred to as the "Soviet Union's Vietnam War" or as the "Bear Trap" by sources from the Western world. It has left a mixed legacy in the post-Soviet countries as well as in Afghanistan. Additionally, American support for the mujahideen in Afghanistan during the conflict is thought to have contributed to a "blowback" of unintended consequences against American interests (e.g., the September 11 attacks), which ultimately led to the United States' War in Afghanistan from 2001 until 2021.

Gorbachev at the Brandenburg Gate in April 1986 during a visit to East Germany

Rise of Gorbachev

1985 Mar 10
, Russia

On 10 March 1985, Chernenko died. Gromyko proposed Gorbachev as the next general secretary; as a longstanding party member, Gromyko's recommendation carried great weight among the Central Committee. Gorbachev expected much opposition to his nomination as general secretary, but ultimately the rest of the Politburo supported him. Shortly after Chernenko's death, the Politburo unanimously elected Gorbachev as his successor; they wanted him rather than another elderly leader. He thus became the eighth leader of the Soviet Union. Few in the government imagined that he would be as radical a reformer as he proved. Although not a well-known figure to the Soviet public, there was widespread relief that the new leader was not elderly and ailing.

1980s oil glut

1980s oil glut

1986 Jan 1
, Russia

The 1980s oil glut was a serious surplus of crude oil caused by falling demand following the 1970s energy crisis. The world price of oil had peaked in 1980 at over US$35 per barrel (equivalent to $115 per barrel in 2021 dollars, when adjusted for inflation); it fell in 1986 from $27 to below $10 ($67 to $25 in 2021 dollars). The glut began in the early 1980s as a result of slowed economic activity in industrial countries due to the crises of the 1970s, especially in 1973 and 1979, and the energy conservation spurred by high fuel prices. The inflation-adjusted real 2004 dollar value of oil fell from an average of $78.2 in 1981 to an average of $26.8 per barrel in 1986.

The dramatic drop of the price of oil in 1985 and 1986 profoundly influenced actions of the Soviet leadership.

Reactor 4 several months after the disaster. Reactor 3 can be seen behind the ventilation stack

Chernobyl disaster

1986 Apr 26
, Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant

The Chernobyl disaster was a nuclear accident that occurred on 26 April 1986 at the No. 4 reactor in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant, near the city of Pripyat in the north of the Ukrainian SSR in the Soviet Union. It is one of only two nuclear energy accidents rated at seven—the maximum severity—on the International Nuclear Event Scale, the other being the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. The initial emergency response, together with later decontamination of the environment, involved more than 500,000 personnel and cost an estimated 18 billion roubles—roughly US$68 billion in 2019, adjusted for inflation.



1987 Jan 1
, Russia

Demokratizatsiya was a slogan introduced by Soviet Communist Party General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev in January 1987 calling for the infusion of "democratic" elements into the Soviet Union's single-party government. Gorbachev's Demokratizatsiya meant the introduction of multi-candidate—though not multiparty—elections for local Communist Party (CPSU) officials and Soviets. In this way, he hoped to rejuvenate the party with progressive personnel who would carry out his institutional and policy reforms. The CPSU would retain sole custody of the ballot box.

The slogan of Demokratizatsiya was part of Gorbachev's set of reform programs, including glasnost (increasing public discussion of issues and accessibility of information to the public), officially announced in mid-1986, and uskoreniye, a "speed-up" of economic development. Perestroika (political and economic restructuring), another slogan that became a full-scale campaign in 1987, embraced them all.

By the time he introduced the slogan of Demokratizatsiya, Gorbachev had concluded that implementing his reforms outlined at the Twenty-Seventh Party Congress in February 1986 required more than discrediting the "Old Guard". He changed his strategy from trying to work through the CPSU as it existed and instead embraced a degree of political liberalization. In January 1987, he appealed over the heads of the party to the people and called for democratization.

By the time of the Twenty-Eighth Party Congress in July 1990, it was clear that Gorbachev's reforms came with sweeping, unintended consequences, as nationalities of the constituent republics of the Soviet Union pulled harder than ever to break away from the Union and ultimately dismantle the Communist Party.

Parade of sovereignties

Parade of sovereignties

1988 Jan 1 - 1991
, Russia

The parade of sovereignties (Russian: Парад суверенитетов, romanized: Parad suverenitetov) was a series of declarations of sovereignty of various degrees by the Soviet republics in the Soviet Union from 1988 to 1991. The declarations stated the priority of the constituent republic power in its territory over the central power, which led to the War of Laws between the centre and the republics. The process followed the loosened power grip of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union as a result of demokratizatsiya and perestroika policies under Mikhail Gorbachev. Despite the efforts of Gorbachev to preserve the union under a new treaty in the form of the Union of Sovereign States, many constituents soon declared their full independence. The process resulted in the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

The first top-level Soviet republic to declare independence was Estonia (November 16, 1988: Estonian Sovereignty Declaration, March 30, 1990: decree on the transition to the restoration of the Estonian statehood, May 8, 1990: Law on the State Symbols, which declared the independence, August 20, 1991: Law of the Estonian restoration of Independence).

Mikhail Gorbachev in 1987

Dissolution of the Soviet Union

1988 Nov 16 - 1991 Dec 26
, Russia

The dissolution of the Soviet Union was the process of internal disintegration within the Soviet Union (USSR) which resulted in the end of the country's and its federal government's existence as a sovereign state, thereby resulting in its constituent republics gaining full sovereignty on 26 December 1991. It brought an end to General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev's effort to reform the Soviet political and economic system in an attempt to stop a period of political stalemate and economic backslide. The Soviet Union had experienced internal stagnation and ethnic separatism. Although highly centralized until its final years, the country was made up of fifteen top-level republics that served as homelands for different ethnicities. By late 1991, amid a catastrophic political crisis, with several republics already departing the Union and the waning of centralized power, the leaders of three of its founding members declared that the Soviet Union no longer existed. Eight more republics joined their declaration shortly thereafter. Gorbachev resigned in December 1991 and what was left of the Soviet parliament voted to end itself.

The process began with growing unrest in the Union's various constituent national republics developing into an incessant political and legislative conflict between them and the central government. Estonia was the first Soviet republic to declare state sovereignty inside the Union on 16 November 1988. Lithuania was the first republic to declare full independence restored from the Soviet Union by the Act of 11 March 1990 with its Baltic neighbours and the Southern Caucasus republic of Georgia joining it in a course of two months.

In August 1991, communist hardliners and military elites tried to overthrow Gorbachev and stop the failing reforms in a coup, but failed. The turmoil led to the government in Moscow losing most of its influence, and many republics proclaiming independence in the following days and months. The secession of the Baltic states was recognized in September 1991. The Belovezh Accords were signed on 8 December by President Boris Yeltsin of Russia, President Kravchuk of Ukraine, and Chairman Shushkevich of Belarus, recognising each other's independence and creating the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) to replace the Soviet Union. Kazakhstan was the last republic to leave the Union, proclaiming independence on 16 December. All the ex-Soviet republics, with the exception of Georgia and the Baltic states, joined the CIS on 21 December, signing the Alma-Ata Protocol. On 25 December, Gorbachev resigned and turned over his presidential powers—including control of the nuclear launch codes—to Yeltsin, who was now the first president of the Russian Federation. That evening, the Soviet flag was lowered from the Kremlin and replaced with the Russian tricolour flag. The following day, the Supreme Soviet of the USSR's upper chamber, the Soviet of the Republics formally dissolved the Union.

In the aftermath of the Cold War, several of the former Soviet republics have retained close links with Russia and formed multilateral organizations such as the CIS, the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), and the Union State, for economic and military cooperation. On the other hand, the Baltic states and most of the former Warsaw Pact states became part of the European Union and joined NATO, while some of the other former Soviet republics like Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova have been publicly expressing interest in following the same path since the 1990s.

Tanks in Red Square

1991 Soviet coup d'état attempt

1991 Aug 19 - Aug 22
, Moscow

The 1991 Soviet coup d'état attempt, also known as the August Coup,was a failed attempt by hardliners of the Soviet Union's Communist Party to forcibly seize control of the country from Mikhail Gorbachev, who was Soviet President and General Secretary of the Communist Party at the time. The coup leaders consisted of top military and civilian officials, including Vice President Gennady Yanayev, who together formed the State Committee on the State of Emergency (GKChP). They opposed Gorbachev's reform program, were angry at the loss of control over Eastern European states and fearful of the USSR's New Union Treaty which was on the verge of being signed. The treaty was to decentralize much of the central Soviet government's power and distribute it among its fifteen republics.

The GKChP hardliners dispatched KGB agents, who detained Gorbachev at his holiday estate but failed to detain the recently elected president of a newly reconstituted Russia, Boris Yeltsin, who had been both an ally and critic of Gorbachev. The GKChP was poorly organized and met with effective resistance by both Yeltsin and a civilian campaign of anti-Communist protestors, mainly in Moscow. The coup collapsed in two days, and Gorbachev returned to office while the plotters all lost their posts. Yeltsin subsequently became the dominant leader and Gorbachev lost much of his influence. The failed coup led to both the immediate collapse of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) and the dissolution of the USSR four months later. Following the capitulation of the GKChP, popularly referred to as the "Gang of Eight", both the Supreme Court of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR) and President Gorbachev described its actions as a coup attempt.

Alma-Ata Protocol

Alma-Ata Protocol

1991 Dec 8
, Alma-Ata

The Alma-Ata Protocols were the founding declarations and principles of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). The leaders of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus had agreed to the Belovezh Accords on 8 December 1991, dissolving the Soviet Union and forming the CIS. On 21 December 1991, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan agreed to the Alma-Ata Protocols, joining the CIS. The latter agreement included the original three Belavezha signatories, as well as eight additional former Soviet republics. Georgia was the only former republic that did not participate while Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia refused to do so as according to their governments, the Baltic states were illegally incorporated into the USSR in 1940.

The protocols consisted of a declaration, three agreements and separate appendices. In addition, Marshal Yevgeny Shaposhnikov was confirmed as acting Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the Commonwealth of Independent States. Separate treaty was signed between Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine "About mutual measures in regards to nuclear weapons".

The signing ceremony at Viskuli Government House

Belovezh Accords

1991 Dec 8
, Viskuli

The Belovezh Accords are accords forming the agreement declaring that the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) had effectively ceased to exist and established the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in its place as a successor entity. The documentation was signed at the state dacha near Viskuli in Belovezhskaya Pushcha (Belarus) on 8 December 1991, by leaders of three of the four republics which had signed the 1922 Treaty on the Creation of the USSR:

  1. Belarusian Parliament Chairman Stanislav Shushkevich and Prime Minister of Belarus Vyacheslav Kebich
  2. Russian President Boris Yeltsin and First Deputy Prime Minister of the RSFSR/Russian Federation Gennady Burbulis
  3. Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk and Ukrainian Prime Minister Vitold Fokin
End of the Soviet Union

End of the Soviet Union

1991 Dec 26
, Moscow

On 25 December, Gorbachev resigned and turned over his presidential powers—including control of the nuclear launch codes—to Yeltsin, who was now the first president of the Russian Federation. That evening, the Soviet flag was lowered from the Kremlin and replaced with the Russian tricolour flag. The following day, the Supreme Soviet of the USSR's upper chamber, the Soviet of the Republics formally dissolved the Union.


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