|Nation Overview||Strategic Overview||CtW Information||History|
Different accounts on how the Russians got their demonym, or the word "Rus" is a subject still hotly debated today. Generally in the West, most assume that it was Rurik who lent his name to the country; others insist it was derived from the Viking word ruotsi, which means oarsmen.
Long before the arrival of the Slavs or the idea of Russia, the land we now know as Western Russia was fairly empty, consisting of forest and plain, crisscrossed by a network of rivers — of these, the Volga, the Don and the Dnipr are the most-well known. It is speculated that like the Germans, the original homeland of today's Russians of Slavic and German descent (see below) was actually in Scandinavia, from whence they then began fanning out across Europe. But before them, most of the lands we now know as Ukraine and southern Russia were the homes of a group of tribes collectively known as the Cimmerians, who were terrorised by various equestrian nomads hailing from Central Asia as early as the 7th century BCE. The earliest ones we know of are the Scythians and the Sarmatians. Russian archaeologists have identified the early Sarmatians with the Prokhorovo Itkul and Gorohovo cultures throughout Western Russia and the southern Urals, but unfortunately little else is known of the Sarmatians, for they themselves left no written records, and so it is to those great scholars of the Hellenistic Era and Late Antiquity, the Greeks and the Romans, that we must turn to for anything of edifying import.
The Scythians as they migrated into the Cimmerian homeland found it useful to form an alliance with the Assyrians, and eventually drive out the Cimmerians. Those who did not flee were assimilated by the Scythians, or were eventually enslaved, and sold to the Greeks. The alliance attempted to conquer new lands but the Scythians were contained by the other powers of the time to their Steppe lands. In 514 B.C. the Persians under Darius the Great attempted to invade Scythia with 700,000 troops but the nomadic Scythians avoided meeting the massive Persian army head on, preferring to harry Darius' host with hit-and run tactics. Without any cities to plunder or armies to defeat the Persians eventually gave up their invasion. Contact with the Greeks however made the Scythians become more sedentary and over the next few centuries they began to settle into villages. Under the leadership of their king, Atheas, the Scythians established themselves as the breadbasket for the Greeks, and middlemen between the Romans and Scandinavian tribes. In 339 B.C. King Atheas was killed in battle against Phillip of Macedon. While the Scythian kingdom remained strong and wealthy the Scythian Kingdom became splintered into small independent principalities, to be then subjugated by the Sarmatians. From the moment of their arrival from Central Asia, the Sarmatians would make forays into present-day southern Russia, a great portion of the Ukraine, Gallicia, and Moldavia, and dominated these countries for nearly three centuries. The natives were not expelled, but were subjugated and/or assimilated.
As with the Scythians, the military strength of the Sarmatian nation was composed of cavalry and the custom of their warriors to lead in their hand one or two spare horses enabled them to advance and to retreat with a rapid diligence, which surprised the security, and eluded the pursuit, of a distant enemy. This proved to be very useful in the Sarmatians' most notorious enterprise — slave raiding and tribute extortion. Despite the lack of proper ironworks, the Sarmatians were highly resilient and resourceful, and the most famous component of a Sarmatian's panoply was a scalemail cuirass which was capable of resisting a sword or javelin, though it was formed only of horses hooves, cut into thin and polished slices which were then sewn into a leather or fabric backing. The Sarmatians and the Pontic Greeks began to draw together in a military alliance, a most ambitious enterprise brokered by the Pontic king Mithridates VI. This alliance soon resulted in a clash with the Romans, as Sarmatians raiders were soon brought in to bear upon the Greek lands and the Balkans. Although punitive expeditions by Pompey and Caesar soon gutted the Pontic kingdom, the Sarmatians would continue to be a threat to Rome for another several centuries. The activities of the Han dynasts in distant China soon laid on more westward external pressures upon the Sarmatians who were soon forced to migrate south into the Caucasus (the Ossetians claim descent from them) and west into the Balkans. On the other hand, some tribes like the Siraces gave up their nomadic pastoral ways and became Hellenicised vassals of Rome, through association of which they became immensely wealthy through trade. It would've seemed that the Sarmatians had triumphed but their suzerainty was short-lived. With the arrival of the Asiatic Huns and the German Goths, the Sarmatians soon found themselves at their mercy. As political chaos in Europe and climate change intensified the bloodletting, the Sarmatians soon found themselves beleagured, outnumbered and were eventually destroyed by the 5th century CE.
The first RussiansEdit
In the 8th and 9th centuries, Scandinavians had expanded their trade and colonies across Europe. A Viking tribe known as the Varangians began to establish trade settlements with the Slavs, along the Neva River and Lake Ladoga. They did not only build trading posts but also fortifications to protect these settlements. So eventually in 862 a Viking warrior by the name of Rurik made himself ruler of the Slavic principaliy in Novgorod, and founded the Rurik dynasty.
How Rurik came about to become Prince of Novgorod remains a mystery - historians speculate that he defeated the Slavs in battle, conquering them; oral sources and Russophiles however assert that the Slavic Novgorodians originally defeated the Varangians, but then called them back when the Slavs started to bicker amongst themselves. What is clear however whas that by 880 Oleg, Rurik's successor, turned his attention towards Southern Russia and unified the region under one King, establishing the State of Rus centred around present-day Kiev.
The city of Kiev became the center of trade route between Scandinavia and Byzantine Empire. This relationship benefited the Russian State greatly. In 989, Vladimir I decided to strengthen his rule by establishing a state religion. He considered a number of different religions — Vladimir rejected Islam purportedly because he believed his people could not live under a religion that prohibited strong drink — but was impressed with the opulence of the Byzantines:
- "We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth. For on earth there is no such slendour or such beauty, and we are at a loss to describe it."
Thus, Orthodox Christianity became the official religion of the new Russian state. Besides its religion, the benefits of the association with the Byzantines also brought along its rich culture, architecture and the Cyrillic alphabet.
For a while, the Principality of Kiev was one of the world's richest and most cultured nations but it had one problem: it had rather hostile and dangerous neighbours, being the descendents of all the Asian tribes who had poured into Russia following the destruction of the Sarmatians. With the exception of the Jewish Khazars, most of them were hostile to the fledgling Russian nation, and forever posed a threat to the power of Kiev.
By 1054, however, due to internal power struggles and raids by a nomadic tribe known as the Cumans, the Russian state began to fragment into regional principalities again. It is at this time that Moscow began to emerge and grow in importance as Prince Yuri Dolgoruky established the Rostov-Suzdal principality in 1124 in Northern Russia to strengthen his rule over the region. Into the 13th century, Russia faced its greatest threat, when the Mongols began their conquest across Asia and Europe.
Under the Mongol yokeEditIn 1237 Batu Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan invaded and laid waste to all but two cities of the Russian principalities. The Russians were forced to become a tributary state to the Mongol Empire for the next 250 years. One of the Princes of these two remaining cities was Alexander Nevsky. He was the prince of Novgorod and managed to save his city from destruction through shrewd negotiations, and would even convince the Mongols to appoint him as the Grand Prince of the "Empire of the Golden Horde" in Russia, and his son as Prince of Muscovy, the other city that escaped destruction. Alexander Nevsky was not only a good politician but a great warrior as well. He received his surname when he defeated an invasion by the Swedes on the Neva River. Then, in 1242 he defeated the Livonian Brothers of the Sword, a branch of the order of Teutonic Knights, in the "Battle on the Ice" on Lake Chudskoye, arresting German territorial ambitions into Russia for centuries. Throughout his life he worked ceaselessly for the welfare of the Russian people and was eventually declared a Saint by the Russian Church at the Council of 1547. Despite some improvements under Mongol rule (ie improvements in civil and military administration in Muscovy), the period under Mongol rule for Russia was particularly unpleasant for the Russian people. Alexander Pushkin would compare this dark age of Mongol domination with that of the Moors in Iberia, likening the Mongol rulers of Russia as:
- "Arabs without algebra or Aristotle".
There were some uprisings but it wasn't until 1480 that the Russians were strong and united enough to begin throwing off Mongol rule. It started with Grand Duke Ivan III of Moscow (or Ivan the Great), who liberated the city and tore up the charter that bound it to Mongol rule, culminating with his grandson Ivan IV Grozny (or Ivan the Terrible) in 1556 when he freed the last of the Russian cities from Mongol control. Once again Russia was unified, and under the kynazy of Muscovy, even expanded into Siberia during his Ivan IV's rule.
Rise of the RomanovsEditIvan the Terrible was unfortunately a most unstable man. Accidentally clubbing his most eligible son to death (who would have become Ivan V), Ivan IV was succeeded by his remaining eldest son, Fyodor. However, Fyodor was not up to ruling in the shadows of the autocratic Ivan, and left most of the governing to his brother-in-law Boris Godunov. In order to secure the throne for himself, Godunov murdered Fyodor's younger brother Dmitri in secret. When Fyodor died, Godunov made himself the Tsar of Russia. However his ascension to the throne was not fully accepted, and the Russian state began to experience the "Time of Troubles", a period of political anarchy and foreign threats which ended with the rise of the Romanov dynasty in the 17th century, uniting Russia under a single government for the next 300 years.
The dynasty was established when In 1613, a descendent of Ivan the Terrible's first wife, Michael became Tsar after Grigory's armies deserted him, ushering in the Romanov dynasty. Michael left the majority of administrative work to his relations, and they managed to bring reform and peace. In 1617 and 1618, peace was made with Sweden and Poland respectively.Upon Michael's passing away in 1645, the tsar was succeeded by his young son Alexis. After initial difficulties, the Tsar won a victory for Russia with the Treaty of Andrusovo, which saw several territorial gains for Russia at the expense of the Poles who they had been at war with. Unfortunately, serfdom became a legal reality during his reign in order to prevent the lical peasants from running away and bankrupting the agrarian Russian economy. Alexis did encourage trade and links with the West (Europe) and thus expanded Russian influence and interest into that sphere. In 1676, Fyodor III succeeded his father Alexis to the throne of Russia. Despite increasing protestations from the clergy, Fyodor continued to emphasis building up relations with Russia's neighbours in Europe, but it was not until the arrival of Peter I (Peter the Great) by 1696 that Russia began opening up to Europe. He took a tour of Europe and returned full of new ideas. The turning of the tide came atPoltava in 1709, when Peter's new army managed to turn back the invading Swedes. Russia made several further territorial gains by the end of the war. Peter also worked on internal reforms and modernised the Russian army along European standards amd also began the construction of St Petersburg, one of the greatest cities in Russia.
Upon his death in 1725, a series of successions followed — Peter the Great had left no clear idea as to who was to succeed him after his death. It was in 1762 that stability and strong leadership was again brought to Russia with Catherine II (Catherine the Great). She began an aggressive expansionist policy that brought large territorial gains for Imperial Russia. After several Russian campaigns against the Turks, Frederick the Great of Prussia brought up the Polish question to divert further Russian expansion in the Balkans against the Turks. Russia actively participated in the first and second partitions (dismantling) of Poland, gaining large chunks of land as a result. Catherine continued the modernising and social reforms of Peter the Great, and was herself a skilled diplomat.During the end of her reign however, the populous ideals of the French revolution caused her to become increasingly defensive and conservative in her policies, and many of the liberal reforms she instituted early in her career were reversed and again the peasantry grew further towards distress. In 1812, Napoleon invaded Russia with a force of over half a million men. Marshal Kutukov of the Russian forces knew he could not defeat Napoleon's massive army head on. So he conducted a defensive campaign, raiding the French Forces whenever the opportunity presented itself. By the time Napoleon made it to Moscow, he has lost two thirds of his forces, and found the city deserted and devoid of supplies and even shelter. The Russians were still not ready to surrender, and waited for Napoleon to grow tired of waiting in Moscow for peace terms, which never came. Napoleon was forced to withdraw empty handed, unfortunately by then winter began to set in. His already withered forces were forced to endure a long match through a vast land battered by the Russian winter, and pursued by the Russian forces. By the time they returned to France, only 10,000 troops remained. Ironically, Russia emerged as more powerful and respected as a result of this invasion then she had been previously been, but there were storm clouds hovering on the horizon.
Fall of the TsardomEdit
- "What is going to happen to me and all of Russia?"
- — Tsar Nicholas II Romanovich
The Russian crown since the time of Ivan the Terrible enjoyed near autocratic rule over the nobility, largely at the expense of the ordinary peasantry. By the mid-19th century, this form of control over the people was no longer tolerable. Despite repeated military successes agains the Turks and the Persians, as well as the successful deterrence of further British progression into central Asia, conditions in Russia for the common peasant was so poor that political unrest began to build up. In 1825, a palace coup by some 3,000 soldiers was brutually put down. Next was a popular uprising in Poland, which again was thoroughly routed. Meanwhile, the tsarist government vaccilated between liberal reform and repression, all to no effect, although serfdom was finally abolished by the Emancipation Act of 1861 but this in turn merely crippled the country's growth further by destroying the sole source of effective labour in all Russia. Terrorism as well as anti-Semitic pogroms and persecution increased in intensity and sanguinity — the tsar Alexander II was killed by a bomb planted by anarchists in 1881.Prior to his death, Alexander II had been planning to convert Russia to a constutional monarchy, but his assassination ended any chances of reform — the last tsars to follow him all strengthened autocratic rule and repression further in an attempt to protect themselves, but to no avail. By 1868, a new nation, Japan was looming on the horizon in the north Pacific. Territorial ambitions bred tensions which led to overt military conflict, which resulted in the Treaty of Portsmouth in 1906, forcing Russia to cede Manchuria and part of the strategically located island to Sakhalin. A decade later, the Russians were drawn into the First World War, and again found itself unprepared in many aspects for modern warfare. Despite the Russian tsar personally joining the fight with his men against Austria and Germany in Poland, Russia continued to suffer defeat after defeat and the reactionary government eventually led the long-suffering people of Russia to finally revolt in 1917, resulting in the fall of the tsardom and the death of the tsar and his family, along with civil war throughout Russia between a variety of pro-tsarist, republican, communist, and anarchist factions as well as intervening expeditions sent by the foreign powers.
As the Civil War progressed eventually three groups came to dominate Russia: the Mensheviks, the Bolsheviks, and the Anarchists who dominated Ukraine and attempted to form a separate nation under Nestor Makhno.
The Communist EraEdit
Joseph Stalin succeeded Lenin in 1924 A.D. He ruled the nation with an iron hand, and executed or jailed anyone he did not trust or couldn't control. It was during his rule that Russia was again invaded by a foreign power. This time it was the Germans during the Second World War.
Stalin originally made a non-aggression pact with Hitler hoping to buy time for Russia to fully modernize itself, in particular its military. The Germans caught the Russian ill prepared for their invasion, and managed to push far into Russian territory. However in a battle of ego, Hitler decided that the taking of Stalingrad, the city named after the leader of the Soviet Union, was paramount. Stalin in turn thought the defense of the city was vital also. Siege was followed by counter siege, and the Germans found themselves running of time and supplies, as the Russian winter came.
This marked a turning point for the Germans. The Russians were eventually able to push them all the way back to Germany, taking as plunder many German Scientists. As soon as the war ended, the Russians began to exert its influence on the nations of Eastern Europe. Their system of government was diametrically opposite to those of its western democratic allies during the Second World War. Thus the so-called "Cold War" began.
The Soviet Union and Western powers with the United States as its leader fought in a game of political and scientific "one-up-menship". Indeed, the Soviet Union was the first nation in the world to successfully launch an artificial satellite in 1957 A.D, Sputnik I. These two superpowers also fought in a series of proxy wars. However, the economic inefficiencies of the communist system eventually caused the Soviet Union to collapse.
The Republic ResurrectedEdit
Russia still possessed the awesome military might of its former Soviet Empire, but now struggles to retain control of them and re-invent itself within the realities of a global market economy. However with its vast land and resources this struggle will at least be aided by opportunity.