A chronology of major events in Russian and Soviet history from 1922 to 2008.
Created by pov on Jun 17, 2011
Last updated: 07/13/11 at 04:03 PM
Tags: history USSR Russia Perestroika PBS doumentary television Gorbachev
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Putin is constitutionally barred from running for a third term, and selects Dmitry Medvedev to run for president. With television coverage exclusively promoting Medvedev, and several opposition candidates barred from the ballot due to "technical violations," Medvedev becomes president of Russia and immediately selects Putin as his prime minister. They rule together, although it is generally acknowledged that Putin has a great deal of control. (Photo from www.kremlin.ru via Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-3.0)
At a press conference, Putin declares that new textbooks will be written for teachers to help inspire a new generation of young Russian patriots. This signals a return to state control of the country's historical narrative.
Plagued by continuing economic problems, as well as accusations of drunkenness, Yeltsin steps down and place Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, a former KGB (state security) official, in charge. Elections follow shortly thereafter, formalizing the change. Over the next few years, independent television stations are taken over by government or government-run corporations. Putin is re-elected in 2004 with 71 percent of the vote. Under Putin, power is increasingly concentrated in the hands of the central government.
Gorbachev steps down from his position as president of the Soviet Union. The next day the country officially ceases to exist. Russia, the largest former republic, becomes an independent country, and Yeltsin remains president of Russia for the remainder of the decade. Privatization is encouraged, and wealth becomes concentrated in the hands of the oligarchs. Corruption runs rampant. New television channels are started, and they broadcast voices critical of the government. More Russians travel abroad than ever before.
The Communist Party is banned in Russia by Boris Yeltsin.
Gorbachev resigns as general secretary of the Communist Party. Within a month, all of the Soviet republics except Russia declare their independence. (Photo by Jialiang Gao via Wikimedia Commons, GFDL CC-BY-SA-3.0)
In order to stop the dissolution of the USSR, a faction of Communist hardliners within the Politburo launches a coup, placing Gorbachev under house arrest. During the coup, all television stations in Russia broadcast Swan Lake. Gorbachev is returned to his position, but all power resides with Yeltsin. Photo: Demonstration in the streets of Moscow during the 1991 coup d'etat attempt.
Boris Yeltsin handily defeats Gorbachev's preferred candidate, Nikolai Ryzhkov, to become the first president of Russia, the largest of the 15 republics in the USSR.
In the country's first multiparty elections, Gorbachev is elected the first (and only) president of the Soviet Union. He also continues in his role as general secretary of the Communist Party.
Lithuania, Estonia and Latvia are among the first Soviet republics to declare independence from the Soviet Union.
McDonald's opens its first Soviet restaurant in Moscow, a few blocks from the Kremlin. Hundreds of customers line up to buy Big Macs and milkshakes. McDonald's in Saint Petersburg. (Photo by Dirk Ingo Franke via Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA)
After the Communist East German government announces that its citizens could travel freely to democratic West Germany, Germans from both sides demolish the Berlin Wall. The fall of the wall leads to German reunification in 1990. The Berlin Wall, partly torn down. (Photo by Jurek Durczak from Poland (Blast from the past) via Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-2.0)
A series of revolutions sweep across Soviet-controlled Eastern Europe, resulting in the collapse of communist governments in Hungry, East Germany, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Romania.
Pepsi, the first American consumer product sold in the Soviet Union, also becomes the first American brand to air commercials — including ones featuring Michael Jackson — on Soviet Television. In 1988, Soviets buy one billion servings of Pepsi. The Pepsi logo in the Soviet Union. (Photo by Rones via Wikimedia Commons, GFDL or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0)
Gorbachev launches a series of radical reforms designed to loosen the Communist Party's grip on the government. The highest legislative body of the land, the Supreme Soviet, dissolves itself and is replaced by the Congress of People's Deputies, which allows ordinary people to participate in government for the first time. Families are glued to their television sets to watch the sessions, during which politicians begin to acknowledge publicly what has previously only been whispered in kitchens.
Billy Joel stages three shows in Moscow and three shows in Leningrad (St. Petersburg). In Leningrad, 17,500 listeners jump up and down, breaking hundreds of chairs, and then lift Joel and pass him around over their heads. Photo: Billy Joel’s Live in Leningrad
In a cultural exchange, Mr. Rogers appears on a Soviet children's television program, whose host then appears on Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. Photo: Fred Rogers of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood on PBS.
A series of political and economic reforms, termed "perestroika" ("reconstruction" or "rebuilding"), is introduced by Gorbachev. The reforms allow multiple candidates to run for the same office and private ownership of businesses. In the short term, these revitalization efforts backfire and lead to widespread food shortages. Perestroika soon becomes a vehicle for Soviets to criticize their society.
Gorbachev and Reagan sign the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty to reduce stockpiles of nuclear weapons in mutually verifiable ways. Photo: Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev
After abandoning Nixon's détente strategy in favor of a vigorous anti-communist policy, U.S. president Ronald Reagan implores Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall, the most visible symbol of the division between East and West.
With "glasnost" ("openness"), a policy of increased political transparency and greater freedom of information, Gorbachev hopes to revitalize the Soviet Union.
The Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Ukraine explodes and releases radiation over Ukraine, Belarus and Russia. Gorbachev's dedication to glasnost is tested as officials fail to protect the people living in those areas or the volunteers who end the fires. While the incident cripples the Soviet economy and is embarrassing for Gorbachev, it further demonstrates how necessary glasnost has become. The location of Chernobyl in Ukraine. (Photo by Holek via Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA-2.5-pl)
After just over a year in office, Konstantin Chernenko dies. Mikhail Gorbachev, a youthful 54, becomes the General Secretary of the Communist Party.
The First of September, also known as the Day of Knowledge, celebrates the new school year and the incoming class of first graders. Schools hold festive events, and students and parents give teachers flowers.
Less than two years after taking over leadership of the Soviet Union, Yuri Andropov dies. He is succeeded by 72-year-old Konstantin Chernenko.
Leonoid Brezhnev, the only leader Borya and the other children — now in their teens — have known, dies of a heart attack after 18 years of uninterrupted rule. Yuri Andropov, 68, succeeds him as the leader of the Soviet Union.
The United States boycotts the Summer Olympics in Moscow, protesting Soviet military operations in Afghanistan, which had begun a year earlier. During the Olympics, Soviet children are evacuated from Moscow so that they can avoid contact with foreigners.
The U.S. Olympic ice hockey team defeats the Soviet hockey team, considered the best team in the world, by a score of 4-3 during the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, N.Y. The U.S. hockey team would go on to win the gold medal. The Soviets took home silver. Photo: Sports Illustrated Cover, 1980
Elton John becomes the first Western rock musician to tour the Soviet Union, performing to sold-out crowds. In addition to his own songs, John plays a beloved Russian banquet song and a fragment of a Tchaikovsky concerto. Elton John (Photo by flickr user dubpics via Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic)
U.S. President Richard Nixon adopts a policy of "détente" ("relaxation") toward the Soviet Union. Nixon and Brezhnev sign the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT I), which prohibits the manufacture of nuclear missiles by both nations, taking a major step toward reducing the threat of nuclear war. Photo: Richard Nixon and Leonid Brezhnev
The Soviet novelist, who had been imprisoned in labor camps during the 1940s for criticizing Joseph Stalin, wrote about the Gulag — the forced labor camps that he had personally experienced — in many of his works, including The Gulag Archipelago. Solzhenitsyn is deported from the USSR in 1974, and returns to Russia in 1994, after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Photo: Alexander Solzhenitsyn in 1994
The Paul McCartney-penned song, the opening track of The White Album, includes lyrics such as "the Ukraine girls really knock me out" and the "Moscow girls make me sing and shout." In 2003, McCartney performs in the former Soviet Union for the first time, playing to 20,000 people, among them Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Beatles (Photo by United Press International / UPI Telephoto)
Mikhail Bulgakov's satirical novel, which criticizes Soviet society, is published more than 25 years after the author's death. The New York Times calls the novel "one of the truly great Russian novels of [the twentieth] century." Photo: The Master and Margarita, Penguin Classics edition
Supreme Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev forces Khrushchev's removal and takes over leadership of the Soviet Union.
Yuri Gagarin, of the Soviet Union, is the first human to enter outer space. Yuri Gagarin (Photo by NASA, via Wikimedia Commons)
John F. Kennedy, the newly elected president of the United States, meets Chairman Nikita Khrushchev for a political summit in Vienna. The two leaders discuss Cold War issues, and Khrushchev is reportedly charmed by first lady Jacqueline Kennedy. Photo: John Kennedy and Nikita Khruschev
Levi's 501® jeans appear as part of an American exhibit in Moscow. The exhibit, intended to increase cultural contact between the two nations, draws eager Soviet citizens, many of whom gawk at the displays. Subsequently, the Soviet government calls blue jeans a symbol of Western decadence. For the next twenty years, blue jeans are a coveted and rare item in the USSR. Blue jeans (Photo by Wikimedia user Henrike, GNU Free Documentation License)
Nikita Khrushchev begins a process of liberalization in the USSR. Three years later, he would denounce Stalin's brutality and abuses of power in a "secret speech" to the 20th Party Congress. Photo: Joseph Stalin and Nikita Khrushchev
The possibility of nuclear war leads President Truman to establish the Federal Civil Defense Administration, which produces Duck and Cover, a short classroom film. The film stars an animated turtle, Bert, who shows kids how to stay safe in the event of an attack.
The nuclear test by the USSR is a part of the increasingly heated arms race between the United States and the USSR.
The tense relationship between the democratic, Western world (including the United States) and the communist East (led by the USSR) is described as a "Cold War." The Cold War would last until 1991.
At the end of World War II, the USSR expands its sphere of influence over several nations in Eastern and Central Europe, including East Germany, Poland, Romania and Czechoslovakia. These nations are divided from countries in the West (members of the NATO alliance) by physical, military and ideological barriers that Winston Churchill labels the "Iron Curtain." Those who live behind the Iron Curtain are isolated by restrictions that prevent them from freely communicating with or traveling to Western nations. Photo: The Iron Curtain as it extended throughout Europe (Photo by User:Kseferovic, via Wikimedia Commons)
Twenty million Soviet citizens die during the course of World War II (in which the United States and Russia fight as allies), and the Soviet Union suffers an estimated $128 billion in economic damages. Soviet human and economic loss is unrivaled in the war.
Isaac Babel, considered one of the foremost writers in the USSR, is arrested, tortured and executed. His death is part of a large-scale political purge launched by Joseph Stalin in the 1930s.
Stalin sets unreachable grain quotas and a terror-famine is inflicted on the collectivized peasants of Ukraine. This famine results in the deaths of approximately 5 million people.
Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein releases The Battleship Potemkin, considered one of the greatest films of all time. The most famous scene in the film shows the (fictional) massacre of civilians on the Odessa steps and illustrates Eisenstein's theory on film montage. Numerous subsequent films, including The Godfather and The Untouchables, pay homage to Eisenstein's Odessa steps scene.
After Vladimir Lenin dies of a stroke, Joseph Stalin begins to consolidate power and eliminate his adversaries within the USSR. Stalin would rule the USSR with brutality until his death in 1953.
The Union of Soviet Socialist Republic (USSR), the world's first socialist state, is founded at the end of World War I and the Russian Revolution. Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin is the first head of the new state.