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OCTOBER 19
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Russia History - Part 2

During the second half of the 19th cent., Russia continued its territorial expansion, and industrialization was accelerated. The remainder of the Caucasus was acquired and pacified; the territories of what is now the Central Asian Republics, including Turkistan, were taken during 1864–65; and the southern section of the Far Eastern Territory was acquired from China. Russia thus reached the frontiers of Afghanistan and China and the shores of the Pacific Ocean. Vladivostok was founded in 1860; in the early 20th cent. It became an important naval base. The Trans-Siberian RR (constructed 1891–1905) opened much of Siberia to colonization and exploitation.

Alexander II (1855-81) pushed Russia's borders to the Pacific and into central Asia. Serfdom was abolished in 1861, but heavy restrictions were imposed on the emancipated class. Revolutionary strikes, following Russia's defeat in the war with Japan, forced Nicholas II (1894-1917) to grant a representative national body (Duma), elected by narrowly limited suffrage. However, the new democratic freedoms were curtailed, as the government again became reactionary. Although the Russian economy was mainly agricultural and underdeveloped, industry largely financed by foreign capital was growing rapidly in a few center, notably St. Petersburg, Moscow, and the Baku oil fields.

It was particularly among the industrial workers, who because of their geographic concentration possessed great political strength that the leftist Social Democratic party found its adherents. By promoting Pan-Slavism in the Balkan Peninsula and in Austria-Hungary, Russia played a leading role in the events that led to the outbreak (1914) of World War I. Ill-prepared and cut off from its allies in the West, the country suffered serious reverses in the war at the hands of the Germans and Austrians.

Inflation, food shortages, and poor morale among the troops contributed to the outbreak of the February Revolution of 1917. Nicholas abdicated in Mar., 1917 (he was executed in July, 1918). A provisional government under Prince Lvov, a moderate, tried to continue the war effort, but was opposed by the soviets of workers and soldiers. Finally, on Nov. 7, 1917, the Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, seized the government. Russia ended its involvement in World War I by signing the humiliating Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (Mar., 1918), under which it lost much territory to the Central Powers.

Shortly after the signing of the treaty, and partly because of the reaction to its poor terms, civil war (complicated by foreign intervention) broke out in Russia. It continued until 1920, when the Soviet regime emerged victorious. Poland, Finland, and the Baltic countries emerged as independent states in the aftermath of the civil war; Ukraine, Belorussia, and the Transcaucasian countries of Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia proclaimed their independence. In 1917, Russia was officially proclaimed the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic, which in 1922 was united with the Ukrainian, Belorussian, and Transcaucasian republics to form the see Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

After more than seven decades of Soviet rule, the regime of President Gorbachev marked the end of repressive political controls and permitted nationalist movements to arise in the constituent republics of the USSR. In 1990, Boris Yeltsin and other nationalists and reformers were elected to the Russian parliament; Yeltsin was subsequently chosen Russian president. Under Yeltsin, Russia declared its sovereignty (but not its independence) and began to challenge the central government's authority.

In March 1991, the Soviet people were asked to vote on a referendum on national unity engineered by President Gorbachev. The resultant victory for the federal government was tempered by the separate approval in Russia for the creation of a popularly elected presidency of the Russian republics. The bitter election contest for the Russian presidency, principally between Yeltsin and a Communist loyalist, resulted in a major victory for Yeltsin. He took the oath of office for the new position on July 10, 1991.

Reversing his relative hard-line position, Gorbachev together with leaders of nine Soviet republics signed an accord called the Union Treaty, which was meant to preserve the unity of the nation. In exchange the federal government would have turned over control of industrial and natural resources to the individual republics. An attempted took place on August 19, 1991, orchestrated by a group of eight senior officials calling itself the State Committee on the State of Emergency. Boris. On August 21 the coup committee disbanded, and at least some of its members attempted to flee Moscow. The Soviet parliament formally reinstated Gorbachev as president. Two days later he resigned from his position as General-Secretary of the Communist Party and recommended that its Central Committee be disbanded.

On August 29 the parliament approved the suspension of all Communist Party activities pending an investigation of its role in the failed coup. On Dec. 12, 1991, the Russian parliament ratified Yeltsin's plea to establish a new commonwealth of independent nations open to all former members of the Soviet Union. The new union was created with the governments of Ukraine and Belarus who along with Russia were the three original cofounders of the Soviet Union in 1922. After the end of the Soviet Union, Russia and ten other Soviet republics joined in a Commonwealth of Independent States on Dec. 21, 1991.

At the start of 1992, Russia embarked on a series of dramatic economic reforms, including the freeing of prices on most goods, which led to an immediate downturn. A national referendum on confidence in Yeltsin and his economic program took place in April 1993. To the surprise of many, the president program won by a resounding margin. Yeltsin convened a constitutional conference in June, which adopted a draft constitution in July. In September, Yeltsin dissolved the legislative bodies left over from the Soviet era. The impasse between the executive and the legislature resulted in an armed conflict on Oct. 3 with vice-president Rutskoi opposing the orders of Yeltsin and barricading the White House. Yeltsin prevailed largely through the support of the military which bombed the White House and arrested the Rutskoi and the opposing parliament members.

The southern republic of Chechnya's president accelerated his region's drive for independence in 1994. In December, Russian troops closed the borders and sought to squelch the independence drive. The Russian military forces met firm and costly resistance. In May 1997, the two-year war formally ended with the signing of a peace treaty that adroitly avoided the issue of Chechen independence. Yeltsin bounded back into the political fray in March 1997 after eight months' absence caused by sickness. His first action was to reshuffle the Cabinet to include new ministers with strong reform credentials. Overhaul taxation, housing, and welfare; the young reformers announced plans to restore central control over headstrong regional leaders; and curb the power of Russia's monopolies (natural gas, electricity and railways).

In March 1998 Yeltsin dismissed his entire government and replaced Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin with the young and little known fuel and energy minister Sergey Kiriyenko. Its financial crisis led to a long-term economic downturn and to political upheaval. President Boris Yeltsin then sacked Prime Minister Kiriyenko and reappointed Chernomyrdin. The Duma rejected Chernomyrdin, and on Sept. 11 elected foreign minister Yevgeny Primakov as prime minister. The repercussions of Russia's financial emergency were felt throughout the world.

Impatient with Yeltsin's chronic illnesses and increasingly erratic behaviour, the Duma attempted to impeach him in May 1999 on five charges: provoking the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union, using force to dissolve the parliament in 1993, starting the ill-conceived 1994-96 war in Chechnya, ruining the nation's military, and impoverishing the Russian people through ruinous economic policies - the charge regarding Chechnya was considered the only one with a chance of approval. But the impeachment motion was quickly quashed and soon Yeltsin was on the ascendancy again. Boris Yeltsin dismissed Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov and replaced him with Interior Minister Sergey Stepashin, who was confirmed by the Duma May 19. On August 9, 1999 Boris Yeltsin announced Vladimir Putin, former head of KGB, as new Prime Minister. The Chechnya conflict surged again after the government blamed Chechen terrorist for bombings in Moscow that had killed hundreds of people. On the last day of the century, Dec. 31, 1999, Boris Yeltsin announces his resignation. Vladimir Putin is his successor and is elected president of Russia on March 26, 2000.


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