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After the global flood, Noah and his family began to replenish and populate the world. From Japheth, Noah’s second son, arose tribes which settled in the Middle East, the Mediterranean, Eastern Europe, and modern-day Russia.
Around 862 A.D. the Varangians, a tribe of warrior traders and possible relatives of the Vikings, established their territorial domain in Novgorod, proclaiming it as Rus. As Prince Rurik became the first to rule the country, he started a line of rulers who governed Russia for roughly 700 years. Rurik’s successor, Oleg, eventually annexed Kiev and pronounced it as the capital. Vladimir I’s conversion to the Eastern Orthodox faith in 988 established the country’s official religion. Unlike many other nations, it chose to tie itself with Eastern Orthodoxy rather than with Roman Catholicism. Kievan Russia concluded with the reign of Yaroslav, who prescribed Russia’s first law code. After his death, the country was split into five districts amongst his five sons. This merely led to pandemonium amongst the different territories, eventually resulting in a civil war, which ultimately weakened the government of Kiev.
In the early thirteenth century, Genghis Khan united numerous tribes throughout Mongolia, forming the nearly unconquerable group of warriors from central Asia. When Russia went out to defend their country from the rampant Mongols, the Russians were badly outnumbered and easily defeated. Few people remained, as the nomad Mongols looted and obliterated everything in sight. During the Mongol rule, Russia lost its self-identity in conjunction with the crumbling of many Russian customs. For a period of time, it became disconnected with the rest of the world due to the Mongolian influence. However, this did not halt changes within the nation itself. As time progressed, Moscow became more significant and important to Russia. Eventually, it became the chief city-state and in the fifteenth century it became the nation’s capital.
Dissatisfied with the Mongol domination, Dimitri Donskoy, along with 150,000 men, went to battle against the Mongol horde in the late 1300s. Although his victory temporarily disrupted the Mongolian authority, it did not completely remove the foreigners from Russia. However, during the reign of Ivan III, better known as “Ivan the Great”, the Mongols were finally purged from the land. Ivan III, descendent of Rurik, attributed the title, Tsar (Caesar in Polish), to himself and helped strengthen connections with the Eastern Orthodox Church. Russia then saw the rise and fall of Ivan IV, often referred to as “Ivan the Terrible”. Despite the title, Ivan IV treated his subjects well during the first twenty-five years of his rule. However, after the death of his wife, Ivan IV fell to corruption and tyranny. When he died at the age of 54, he essentially left Russia without a capable leader, as he had killed his eldest son in an earlier violent fury. His lineage quickly died out, bringing an end to the Rurik dynasty.
During the early seventeenth century, Russia found itself in political and social chaos. After Poland captured the Russian capital, the Polish king made his son tsar in Moscow. Russia cried out for someone who would return peace and order to the nation. Around 1612, Philaret Romanov helped the country wrestle free from Poland’s dominion. His son, Mikhail, was elected as tsar and established the next Russian dynasty, which lasted over 300 hundred years.
Peter I emerged as the next great leader of Russia in the late 1600s. Known better as “Peter the Great”, his reign was filled with activity and disorder, as only a single year passed without war. Near the turn of the century, Peter disguised himself as a sailor and explored numerous countries in Europe. Peter was highly interested in the mechanics of industry and absorbed as much information as he possibly could. When he returned to Russia, he strived to modernize and reform Russia by introducing it to the Western European culture, technology, and military methods. Peter also minimized the power of the Russian Orthodox Church, thereby lowering the Church’s influence on the nation. During the Great Northern War in the early 1700s, Peter expanded the Russian borders to the Baltic coast. Later, in an attempt to create his “window to Europe”, he built the new Russian capital in St. Petersburg.
Catherine the Great continued to promote the Western culture when she took the throne midway through the eighteenth century. Originally named Sophia, she came to Russia as a German-born princess. After she married Tsar Peter III, she mastered Russian, and converted to Eastern Orthodoxy. Eventually, she dethroned her husband and claimed it for herself. During her reign, she warred with the Ottoman Empire, capturing the northern shore of the Black Sea. Catherine also partitioned Poland along with Austria and Prussia.
Contrary to the two previously mentioned Russian emperors, the tsars of the nineteenth century did very little to promote the Western culture. Tsar Alexander I, the son of Catherine the Great, came into power in 1801 and attempted to liberalize the Russian government. However, when Napoleon I invaded Russia, Alexander’s efforts were halted. Russia saw Nicholas I, Alexander’s brother, come to power, followed by the years under Alexander II and Alexander III.
As Russia approached the twentieth century, Nicholas II took the throne. Although industrial expansion doubled during the early years of his reign, Russian workers became disgruntled. After Russia built the Trans-Siberian Railroad, its completion triggered the eight-month Russo-Japanese War, in which Japan emerged as victor. Upset with the current state of the country, the Russian peasants demanded change. In response, the tsar eventually established the Duma, a national parliament. However, this form of government ultimately proved ineffective and was disbanded shortly thereafter. Russian Jews were blamed for the countires ills and Pogroms violently drove them from their homes. The 1905 and 1917 Russian Revolutions moved Russia from a Czardom to a Communist State.
Unprepared for the First World War, Russia nearly collapsed under the German oppression. Millions of Russian civilians were killed, wounded or taken prisoner during World War I. Russia lost a substantial amount of land and its economy plummeted. In March 1917, a riot took place in Petrograd (formerly St. Petersburg), leading to a revolution which led Tsar Nicholas II to abdicate. The Romanov dynasty finally came to an end when Nicholas and his family were arrested.
Rise of Communism
Communism rose to prominence near the end of World War I, as Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin organized a Marxist group. It eventually ousted the government which had temporarily replaced the tsar’s place. Thanks to the communist theory developed by Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Lenin was able to establish his vision of the “perfect system” in which everyone would share wealth. Lenin became the head of this new “government” and in 1923 he renamed the country the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). While he had control, Lenin organized reforms, including the seizing and partitioning of land, in which he declared all land property of the state. Lenin also endorsed Communism’s oppressive anti-religious stance when he separated the state from the Orthodox Church. Due to the Communist influence in Russia, this eventually developed into strong atheistic beliefs throughout the country.
In 1924, Lenin died, after which followed a furious power struggle between Joseph Stalin and Leon Trotsky. Stalin eventually gained control of the government and banished Trotsky in 1927. Stalin believed that a world revolution would occur once Russia became a fervent Communist nation. Many who opposed Stalin’s attempt to spread Communism faced severe consequences. During the 1930s and 1940s, Stalin issued numerous purges in which millions of innocent civilians were killed.
Prior to World War II, Stalin and Hitler signed a nonaggression pact, which permitted Germany to invade Poland without any Russian resistance. However as war erupted, Hitler violated the terms of the treaty when he invaded Russia in 1941. Over the next few years, Germany besieged multiple cities in Russia, as an approximate 20 million Soviets died as a direct result of the war. Interestingly enough, Russia emerged from World War II stronger than before, as they gained over 200,000 square miles of surplus territory in addition to reclaiming land it had lost.
After the two wars, Russia sought to exterminate capitalism and establish Communism as the preeminent form of government globally. The US was utterly opposed to this wave of Communism and fervently denounced it. As enmity between the Soviets and the Western nations began to increase, the Cold War began. During this political and ideological struggle to contain Russian expansionism, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) was formed. This military protection alliance pact joined the US with Canada and 10 Western European nations. In response to this treaty, the Soviets, led by Nikita Khrushchev, counterbalanced NATO with its own military alliance. In 1955, Khrushchev organized the Warsaw Treaty Organization (Warsaw Pact), which included communist nations from Eastern Europe such as Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary, Poland, and Romania.
The Cold War nearly came to a head in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The Soviets began to increase their military presence in Cuba, which resulted in U.S. President John F. Kennedy insisting that Khrushchev remove Soviet missiles from Cuba or face the threat of a possible nuclear war. In addition to Khrushchev eventually capitulating to Kennedy’s demands, he made several agricultural and economic gaffes. In 1964, the Soviet leader was removed from office and replaced with Leonid Brezhnev.
Under their new leader, the Soviets sought to relax the global tension through a policy of “détente”. Russia began to discover that they could no longer afford to compete with the Americans. Military expansion had come at a cost to the average Soviet’s standard of living. During the 1960s and 1970s, Brezhnev met with three different US Presidents, Johnson, Nixon, and Carter. Although the USSR and the US signed two arms treaties in the 1970s, the Soviets continued to develop their military strength. This eventually caused the US to rescind its pact with the Soviets.
Economic and Political Reforms
Several months after Brezhnev died (1982), Yuri Andropov took the reigns, but died shortly thereafter. His successor, Konstantin Chernenko, only held office for a year, as he died in 1985 due to a chronic illness. At 54, Mikhail Gorbachev took control of the USSR, which underwent radical changes under Gorbachev’s leadership. However, communism in Gorbachev’s Soviet Union and neighboring Eastern Europe was no longer the force that it was in the decades following the conclusion of World War II. Many Communist governments in Europe and Asia began to recognize the need for economic reform to revive their flagging economies. Joint venture business arrangements between Western companies and state-run enterprises gradually emerged.
Amidst all this change, Gorbachev introduced multiple reforms to loosen the government’s hold over agriculture and mend relations with foreign countries. Gorbachev recognized the ineffectiveness of the economy and lobbied for an organizational restructuring called perestroika. Over the next several years, political reform followed economic reform, as Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Romania, Poland and Hungary all overthrew their communist leaders. In addition, Gorbachev’s political reforms permitted non-Communist parties to run in elections, which further weakened the Communist control. Gorbachev also pushed for a pact with the US, which would reduce nuclear arsenals—furthering the earlier détente initiatives and reducing the Soviet’s military expenses. In December 1987, both sides signed the Intermediate-range Nuclear Force (INF) treaty, initiating a fragile but mutual trust between the Soviet Bloc and Western nations. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, it seemed that the Iron Curtain might finally collapse after years of conflict.
With the decline of Communism came the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the revitalization of the Russian Orthodox Church. In the late 1980s, attempts were made to resolve the relationship between Church and state. In 1988 the Russian Orthodox Church celebrated the thousand year aniversary. Although Communist persucution had reduced the number of churches from 70,000 in 1917 to 7,000 in 1988, the Kremlin promised a new religious toleration by releasing some religious prisoners and allowing of few churches to reopen. As religious revival stretched throughout the country, Communism’s influence on the church began to dissipate. Numerous members within the Communist party resigned, due to their impatience with Gorbachev’s slow pace of his reforms. Boris Yeltsin, leader of the Russian SSR, demanded independence from the Soviet Union. In March 1991, the Soviets elected Yeltsin as the president of a newly created Russian Republic. Desperate to keep Communism alive, a group of eight Communist officials launched a coup d'état by kidnapping Gorbachev on August 19, 1991. The following day, massive crowds demonstrated in Moscow and other major cities. On August 21, the coup attempt failed and Gorbachev was reinstated as president of the USSR. However, only three days later, he relinquished his role in the Communist party. Shortly thereafter, the government suspended all Communist activities. On Christmas day, Gorbachev formally relinquished his presidential office. Several days following, the Soviet Union disbanded and was officially replaced by the Russian Republic. Several "stans" such as Uzbekistan were created by the collapse of the U.S.S.R.
By 1992, Russia and the former Soviet Bloc members had amalgamated to form the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). During his initial year in power, Yeltsin organized several economic reforms and helped inaugurate a constitutional system. During elections in 1996, Yeltsin saw hints of a Communist resurgence, but ultimately thwarted the Communist uprising by winning a presidential runoff election. Yeltsin began to struggle with illnesses, as they became increasingly recurrent. On the final day of the twentieth century, he announced his retirement. In March 2000, Vladimir Putin was elected president of Russia. The evolution of the Communism’s hold on Eastern Europe came full circle in May 20004 with the European Union’s (EU) addition of ten new nations, including eight formerly Communist countries, to its roster.
History has shown that nations which sought to build an empire have eventually fallen. 20th century communists in Russia envisioned a Russian Empire with Communism as its foundation. Although leaders such as Lenin and Stalin may have initially had the desire to share wealth with the Russian people, their core atheistic beliefs prevented them from truly understanding the human heart. The end of Acts 2 speaks about the church sharing all it had, praising God, and watching the Lord grow the church. However, Communism promoted a godless society in that, while some of its ideals were valid, it could not adequately achieve prosperity without God. In 2001, the Russian president said, “Without Christianity, without the Orthodox faith and culture which sprang from it, Russia would have hardly existed as a state.” If nations refuse to honor God, they will ultimately miss out on His blessings and eventually fade away.