A Brief Look at Russian History

Russia is a country with a storied history, in part due to its unique geography; it is a large, diverse nation composed of over 180 different ethnic groups (many of which have their own national territories) that stretches over portions of eastern Europe and northern Asia. Here is a glance at that history through a brief video and short article.

A Video Overview of Russian History

This brief history of Russia from 1533 to the present is illustrated by birds-eye view maps so you can see the size of the country.

(Remember, YouTube is not a scholarly source. Little videos such as this are simply intended to supplement your research.)

Russian history from 862

The traditional beginning of Russian history is 862 A.D. Kievan Rus’, the first united East Slavic state, was founded in 882. The state adopted Christianity from the Byzantine Empire in 988, beginning with the synthesis of Byzantine and Slavic cultures that defined slavic culture for the next millennium. Kievan Rus’ ultimately disintegrated as a state because of the Mongol invasion of Rus’ in 1237–1240 and the death of about half the population of Rus’.

Russian Empire

The Great stand on the Ugra river (1480), ended Tatar rule in Russian history.

The Great stand on the Ugra river (1480), ended Tatar rule in Russia.

The Great stand on the Ugra river (1480), ended Tatar rule in Russia.After the 13th century, Moscow became a cultural center of Moscovia. By the 18th century, the Tsardom of Russia had become the huge Russian Empire, stretching from the Polish border eastward to the Pacific Ocean. Expansion in the western direction sharpened Russia’s awareness of its separation from much of the rest of Europe and shattered the isolation in which the initial stages of expansion had occurred.

Successive regimes of the 19th century responded to such pressures with a combination of halfhearted reform and repression. Peasant revolts were common, and all were fiercely suppressed. Russian serfdom was abolished in 1861, but the peasant fared poorly and often turned to revolutionary pressures. In following decades reforms efforts such as the Stolypin reforms, the constitution of 1906, and State Duma attempted to open and liberalize the economy and political system, but the tsars refused to relinquish autocratic rule or share their power.

Russian Revolution, Communism, and Socialism

The Russian Revolution in 1917 was triggered by a combination of economic breakdown, war-weariness, and discontent with the autocratic system of government, and it first brought a coalition of liberals and moderate socialists to power, but their failed policies led to seizure of power by the Communist Bolsheviks on 25 October. Between 1922 and 1991, the history of Russia is essentially the history of the Soviet Union, an ideologically-based state roughly sharing similar boundaries with the Russian Empire before the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.

The approach to the building of socialism, however, varied over different periods in Soviet history, from the mixed economy and diverse society and culture of the 1920s to the command economy and repressions of the Joseph Stalin era to the “era of stagnation” in the 1980s.

From its first years, government in the Soviet Union was based on the one-party rule of the Communists, as the Bolsheviks called themselves, beginning in March 1918. By the mid-1980s, with the weaknesses of its economic and political structures becoming acute, Mikhail Gorbachev embarked on major reforms, which led to the overthrow of the Communist party and the breakup of the USSR, leaving Russia again on its own and marking the start of the History of post-Soviet Russia.

Russian Federation

The Russian Federation began in January 1992 as the legal successor to the USSR. Russia retained its nuclear arsenal but lost its superpower status. Scrapping the socialist central planning and state ownership of property of the socialist era, new leaders, led by President Vladimir Putin, took political and economic power after 2000 and engaged in an energetic foreign policy. Russia’s treatment of Ukraine led to severe economic sanctions imposed by the United States and the European Union.


If you enjoyed this overview of Russian history, you may want to watch some of our other World Literature (E5) videos. If you wish to learn more about Russia and her writers, which we will study in World Literature Module 5.7, you can do so through the Encyclopedia Brittanica’s entry on Russia or check out our article Animal Farm and it’s Relationship to History.