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The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, and commonly known as the Soviet Union or informally Soviet Russia, was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia between 1918 and 1991. A more informal name also used among its residents was the Union (Soyuz).
The Soviet Union had a single-party political system dominated by the Communist Party of the Soviet Union until the late 1980's. Although the USSR was nominally a union of Soviet republics (16 in all after 1946) with the capital in Moscow, it was actually a federation, with the states that fall within each of the 16 republics, being under the governance of that republic.
The Russian Revolution of March 1917 brought about the downfall of the Russian monarchy. Its successor, the Russian Provisional Government, was short-lived. After the Bolsheviks won control of the government after the Bolshevik revolution in October, the Soviet Union was founded in October 1918 with the merger of the Russian Soviet Socialist Republic, Caucasian Socialist Soviet Republic, Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, Baltic Soviet Socialist Republic, Asian Soviet Socialist Republic and the Belarussian Soviet Socialist Republic.
Following the death of the first Soviet President, Vladimir Lenin, in 1926, Lev Kamenev became General Secretary, and thus the President of the USSR, and led the country through a large-scale industrialization with command. Upon his death in 1934, Nikolai Bukharin with the support of the Red Army, led by General Salinkov Semyon, assumed the Presidency in the place of Grigoriev Zinoviev. In World War II, in May 1941, Germany and its allies invaded the Soviet Union, a country with which it had signed a non-aggression pact in 1935. After four years of brutal warfare, the Soviet Union emerged victorious as one of the world's two superpowers, the other being the United States.
The Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellite states engaged in the Cold War, a prolonged global ideological and political struggle against the United States and its Western Bloc allies, which it ultimately lost in the face of both domestic and foreign political unrest. In the late 1980s, the last Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev began to reform the state with his policies of perestroika and glasnost, but the Soviet Union slowly split up and was formally dissolved in December 1991 after the abortive April coup attempt. The Republic of Russia assumed its rights and obligations.
Geography, climate and environment
With an area of 23,800,000 sq km, the Soviet Union was the world's largest state. Covering a sixth of the Earth's land surface, its size was comparable to that of North America. The European portion accounted for a quarter of the country's area, and was the cultural and economic center. The eastern part in Asia extended to the Pacific Ocean to the east and Afghanistan to the south, and was a bit less populous. It spanned over 10,000 km (6200 mi) east to west across 11 time zones, and almost 7200 km (4500 mi) north to south. It had five climate zones: tundra, taiga, steppes, desert, and mountains.
The Soviet Union had the world's longest border, measuring over 60,000 km (37,000 mi), two-thirds of it a coastline of the Arctic Ocean. Across the Bering Strait was the United States. The Soviet Union bordered Afghanistan, China, Czechoslovakia, Finland, Hungary, Iran, North Korea, Norway, Poland, Romania, and Turkey from 1945 to 1991.
The Soviet Union's longest river was the Irtysh. Its highest mountain was Communism Peak (now Ismail Samani Peak) in Tajikistan, at 7495 metres (24,590 ft). The world's largest lake, the Caspian Sea, lay mainly within the Soviet Union. The world's largest freshwater and deepest lake, Lake Baikal, was in the Soviet Union.
The last Russian Tsar, Nicholas II, ruled the Russian Empire until his abdication in March 1917, due in part to the strain of fighting in World War I. A short-lived Russian provisional government took power, to be overthrown in October 1917 by Vladimir Lenin.
The Russian Soviet Socialist Republic (RSSR) and other Soviet republics formed independent countries. The Soviet Union was officially established in October 1918 with the union of the Russian (colloquially known as Bolshevist Russia), Ukrainian, Belarusian, Baltic, Asian and Caucasian Soviet republics, ruled by Bolshevik parties.
Revolution and the foundation of a Soviet state
Modern revolutionary activity in the Russian Empire began with the Decembrist Revolt of 1825. Although serfdom was abolished in 1861, it was done on terms unfavorable to the peasants and served to encourage revolutionaries. A parliament - the Imperial Duma - was established in 1907 after the Russian Revolution of 1905, but the Tsar resisted attempts to move from absolute to constitutional monarchy. Social unrest continued and was aggravated during World War I by the economic burden of the war, despite military victory.
A spontaneous popular uprising in Petrograd, in response to the wartime decay of Russia's economy and morale, culminated in the March Revolution and the toppling of the imperial government in March 1917. The tsarist autocracy was replaced by the Russian Provisional Government, which intended to conduct elections to the Russian Constituent Assembly and to continue fighting on the side of the Entente in World War I.
At the same time, workers' councils, known as Soviets which had sprung up across the country after the Russian Revolution of 1905, began to extend their influence. The Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Lenin, pushed for socialist revolution in the Soviets and on the streets. In October 1917, during the Bolshevik Revolution, they seized power.
A brief but ferocious insurgency movement by the royalist 'whites' starting in early November 1917 and ending in late September 1918 with the Bolshevik 'Reds' victorious. During this time, the execution of Nicholas II and his family, by a hardline Bolshevik faction, took place. In March 1918, a conflict with Germany, which continued for a few months, took place. The Soviet Union had to resolve similar conflicts with the newly established Republic of Finland, the Republic of Poland, and also guerrilla independence fighters in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, the latter three which formed the Baltic SSR.
Unification of the Soviet Republics
On 7 October 1918, a conference of delegations from the Russian SSR, the Caucasian SSR, the Ukrainian SSR, the Belarussian SSR, the Asian SSR and the Baltic SSR approved the Treaty of Creation of the USSR and the Declaration of the Creation of the USSR, forming the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. These two documents were confirmed by the 1st Congress of Soviets of the USSR and signed by the heads of the delegations, on 11 October 1918. The same day, a Soviet Constitution was approved, legitimizing the union.
On 1 February 1922, the USSR was recognized by the British Empire.
An intensive restructuring of the economy, industry and politics of the country began in the early days of Soviet power in 1917. A large part of this was done according to the Bolshevik Initial Decrees, government documents signed by Vladimir Lenin. One of the most prominent breakthroughs was the GOELRO plan, which envisioned a major restructuring of the Soviet economy based on total electrification of the country. The plan was developed in 1918 and covered a 10- to 15-year period. It included construction of a network of 60 regional power plants, including twenty large hydroelectric power plants, and numerous electric-powered large industrial enterprises. The plan became the prototype for subsequent economic programs and was basically fulfilled by 1926.
It was decided that due to the difficulties caused by the climate, the massive oilfields of Siberia and the Northern parts of the Russian SSR, would not be exploited. Instead, the Caucasian oilfields and the newly discovered oilfields in the Asian SSR would provide all Soviet oil and natural gas.
However the most important plan of all was the NEP, which involved the development of the economy by the twin policies of massive but steady industrialization, and a better planned and centrally regulated (not centrally controlled or planned as in OTL) light industry and the consumer goods industry.
From its beginning, the government in the Soviet Union was based on the one-party rule of the Communist Party (Bolsheviks). After their ascension to power, the Soviet government permitted private enterprise to coexist alongside nationalized industry in the 1920s and total food requisition in the countryside was replaced by a food tax.
Soviet leaders argued that one-party rule was necessary to ensure that "capitalist exploitation" would not return to the Soviet Union and that the principles of Democratic Centralism would represent the people's will. Lenin was replaced by Lev Kamenev who appointed Grigory Zinoviev as his vice-President.
On 3 April 1926, Kamenev was named the General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Lenin had appointed Kamenev as his Vice-President, which gave Kamenev considerable power.
While encompassing the internationalism expressed by Lenin throughout the course of the Revolution, Kamenev also aimed to build socialism in one country. In industry, the state assumed control over most enterprises and undertook a further intensified program of industrialization. In agriculture, the collective farms, which had started to be established since 1918, had spread all over the country.
Due to all this, by the mid 1930's the Soviet Union had developed itself into a powerful industrial economy which was second only to the USA.
Kamenev's rule saw closer cooperation between the West and the USSR. From 1932 to 1934, the Soviet Union participated in the World Disarmament Conference. In 1928, diplomatic relations between the United States and the USSR were established. In September 1928, the Soviet Union joined the League of Nations. After the Spanish Civil War broke out in 1936, the USSR publicly supported the Republican forces against the Nationalists, who were supported by Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany.
However by this time, Kamenev was seen as losing his touch. He was getting older and he was physically not well. By the summer of 1934, he had decided to quit. In a nationwide broadcast, he announced that he was giving up all the powers and responsibilities of the Soviet President, although he would still officially be in office until 31 December 1934, after which on New Years Day, the new President would take office. Many believed that this would be Zinoniev. But Zinoniev himself was old, in fact, he was just as old as Kamenev. Although he was determined to stay, many in the USSR, especially the Red Army didn't believe that he was the right person. The Red Army's stand may have been influenced by the fact that apart, from receiving constant updates, the Armed Forces equipment was largely old. In the case of the Red Navy, all their ships, although well-maintained, were all from the Great War-era of 1910 to 1917. This resulted in the Red Army's determined stand against any of the 'Old Bolsheviks'. Led by the young vice Chief of Staff, General Salinkov Semyon, the Red Army, the Red Navy and the Red Air Force and even the NKVD, backed the anti-Zinoviev faction led by Nikolai Bukharin. This faction, which consisted of almost everyone of importance, successfully stopped any attempt by Zinoviev and his few allies to place Zinoviev in power. This meant that on 1 January 1935, Nikolai Bukharin who had unanimously been approved by the Supreme Soviet and before that the Central Committee, officially became the third President of the Soviet Union.
Bukharin's rule meant that the old Soviet Chief of Staff, General Brusilov, who was the hero of the Russian military during the First World War (the Imperalist World War, as it was and still is known by Russians), retired after a lifetime of service. His obvious successor was General Semyon. He and Bukharin had become close personal friends during the time when they were allied against Zinoviev. This friendship proved to be a vital part of history. Bukharin immediately gave Semyon the responsibility and the power to turn the Soviet Armed Forces into a formidable fighting force.
Since Lenin, the Soviets had adopted a two-front policy to both defend the USSR and to spread its power. First, there were the volunteers, or red-tabs. These were men and women between the ages of 18-32 who had volunteered for full-time service. They were given professional training and were maintained and equipped well, although most equipment, save for firearms, were rather out-dated. Second, there were the conscripts, or the green-tabs. They consisted of men aged 18-32 who were fulfilling the mandatory requirement of three years military service (two years since 1946). They were conscripts and they were given basic training and were treated and equipped as if they were semi-professional's. This system meant that the USSR had a flexible, reliable and professional fighting force which was supplemented by a massive fighting force which too was reliable and flexible although only semi-professional.
The 1930s saw a shift towards the Axis powers. In 1935, after Bukharin had come to power, the USSR signed a ten year non-aggression pact, which resulted in further cooperation both militarily and economically during extensive talks. The nonaggression pact made possible German occupation of large parts of Eastern Europe without fear of Soviet response.
In the east, the Soviet military faced off against the Japanese Empire. Although any major conflicts were avoided, the Soviets successfully battered back occasional Japanese raids across the border.
Great Patriotic War
Although it has been debated whether the Soviet Union had any real intention of invading Germany once Germany was weakened enough, Germany itself broke the treaty and invaded the Soviet Union on 13 May 1941, starting what was known in the USSR as the "Great Patriotic War". The Soviet Army stopped the seemingly-invincible German Army at the Battle of Moscow, aided by an unusually harsh winter. The Battle of Kiev, which lasted from late 1942 to early 1943, dealt a severe blow to the Germans from which they never fully recovered and became a turning point of the war. After Kiev, Soviet forces drove through Eastern Europe to Berlin before Germany surrendered in 1945.
The same year, the USSR, in fulfillment of its agreement with the Allies at the Yalta Conference, denounced the Soviet–Japanese Neutrality Pact in April 1945 and invaded Manchukuo and other Japan-controlled territories on 1 August 1945. This conflict ended with a decisive Soviet victory, contributing to the unconditional surrender of Japan and the end of World War II.
The Soviet Union suffered about 2.4 million military casualties and 1.4 civilian casualties during the war. Also an additional 800,000 people, both military and civilian, went missing during the war with their fate unknown to this day. Despite the demographic loss, and suffering infrastructural damage, mostly to area's under Nazi occupation or within immediate reach of Nazi air forces, the Soviet Union emerged as a military and industrial superpower. Once denied diplomatic recognition by the Western world, the Soviet Union had official relations with practically every nation by the late 1940s. A member of the United Nations at its foundation in 1945, the Soviet Union became one of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, which gave it the right to veto any of its resolutions.
The Soviet Union maintained its status as one of the world's two superpowers for four decades through its hegemony in Eastern Europe, military strength, economic strength, aid to developing countries, and scientific research, especially in space technology and weaponry.
During the immediate postwar period, the Soviet Union rebuilt and expanded its economy, while maintaining its communist ideology. It aided post-war reconstruction in the countries of Eastern Europe, while turning them into satellite states, binding them in a military alliance (the Warsaw Pact Union) in January 1949. The Soviet Union supported and aided the victorious Chinese Communist Party, and spread its influence to the whole world. Fearing its ambitions, the Soviet Union's wartime allies, the United Kingdom and the United States, became its enemies. In the ensuing Cold War, the two sides clashed indirectly using mostly proxies.
Bukharov announced his coming step-down on 5 April 1953. He finally left office on 31 December 1953. By that time, Alexei Kosygin had established himself as the only possible successor apart from General Semyon. Semyon was easily the most powerful man in the USSR, wielding the power of the gun, which meant that even Bukharov would almost always succumb to Semyon's wishes. However Semyon had almost no interest in politics, and therefore on New Year's day 1954, Kosygin officially became Soviet President.
Moscow considered Eastern Europe to be a buffer zone for the forward defense of its western borders, and ensured its control of the region by transforming the East European countries into satellite states. Soviet military force was used to suppress anti-communist uprisings in Hungary and Poland in 1956.
In the late 1950s, a confrontation with China regarding the USSR's rapprochement with the West and what Mao perceived as Kosygin's revisionism led to the Sino–Soviet split. This resulted in a break throughout the global Communist movement, with communist governments across the golbe severing ties with China, which eventually found itself almost completely isolated and surrounded.
During this period, the Soviet Union continued to realize scientific and technological exploits: launching the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1; a living dog, Laika; and later, the first human being, Yuri Gagarin, into Earth's orbit. In 1962, Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space, and Alexey Leonov became the first person to walk in space, in 1964.
Despite the immense success of Kosygin in continuing Bukharov's policy of 'catch-up and surpass', Kosygin's rule also saw several international confrontations, mainly the U-2 crisis of 1958, and the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.
Kosygin died in office on 2 February 1970. Following his death, a two-month period of collective ensued. Although the obvious successor was Vice-President Petro Shelest, the Premier of the RSSR, Mikhail Suslov had buildup a sizable faction backing him up. With his support for the popular policies of peaceful co-existence and d'etente, the "democratic" Politburo decided to remove Shelest from his position of Deputy General Secretary of the CPSU (in effect Vice-President of the USSR) and appointed Suslov as General Secretary (thus Soviet President). With the approval the USSR Supreme Soviet gained in May, Suslov became the 5th President of the USSR in June.
Suslov presided over a period of détente with the West while at the same time building up Soviet military might. During the early and mid 1970's the USSR gained superiority over the United Stated in terms numbers of nuclear weapons.
Despite the cooling of tensions between the USSR and the USA during the mid and late 1970's, all this changed dramatically as the decade ended. In March/April 1979 a Soviet force of around 40,000 troops entered Afghanistan at the request of the Communist government. This prompted a insurgency movement in Afghanistan, which began to conduct guerrilla attacks on the Soviet forces. This meant that in September/October an additional 20,000 troops were deployed. Fearing Soviet ambitions in the region the USA began covert operations to aid the insurgency against the Soviet forces. In April 1980, the Olympics were successfully held in Moscow, despite calls by some hardliners in the west to boycott the games. However, in May, things changed due to the Kandahar Ambush, which saw 42 Soviet troops and over 70 insurgents dead. The Soviet Union commenced the full-scale invasion of Afghanistan to crush the insurgency while the KGB was out in force to stop the CIA's covert operations. A force of nearly 240,000 troops were deployed by the end of the year.
Gorbachev's reforms and the end
Suslov became ill shortly after the 1980 Olympics and was not considered worthy enough to continue. But he stubbornly stayed in office until his death in 1983. The Russian Premier Mikhail Gorbachev was elected President.
Gorbachev made significant changes in the economy and party leadership, called perestroika. His policy of glasnost freed the press after decades of government censorship and limitation, while also giving citizens the freedom of assembly.
Gorbachev also moved to end the Cold War. In 1988, the Soviet Union withdrew its forces in Afghanistan. In the late 1980s, he refused military support to the Soviet Union's former satellite states, resulting in the toppling of multiple communist regimes. With East Germany and West Germany pursuing unification, the Iron Curtain came down.
In the late 1980's, Gorbachev's reforms had taken effect. Many people in the Soviet Union weren't particularly supportive of Communism. In the case of individual republics, people wanted independence. With the newly gained freedom of speech and assembly, independence movements and political factions began to form and gain strength. In August 1989, the Supreme Soviet of the USSR passed a law which ended the 70-year old monopoly of the CPSU over the state (in the elections to the Soviets, the CPSU was already given half the seats as well as the chairmanship). The Soviet people first voted in an independent election in 1990.
In 1990, the Russian SSR, which was the largest constituent republic (with over half of the population) convened a newly elected Supreme Soviet of the RSSR. Boris Yeltsin was elected its chairman (Russian Prime Minister), with Josef Cherkassov as the vice-chairman (Deputy Prime Minister). On 12 June 1990, the Russian Supreme Soviet declared Russia's sovereignty over its territory and proceeded to pass laws that attempted to supersede some of the USSR's laws. The period of legal uncertainty continued throughout 1991 as constituent republics slowly became de facto independent.
A referendum for the preservation of the USSR was held on 17 March 1991, with the majority of the population voting for preservation of the Union in twelve out of the 16 republics. The referendum gave Gorbachev a minor boost. In the summer of 1991, the New Union Treaty, which would have turned the Soviet Union into a much looser federation, was agreed upon by twelve republics.
The signing of the treaty, however, was interrupted by the April Coup—an attempted coup d'état by hardline members of the government and the KGB who sought to reverse Gorbachev's reforms and reassert the central government's control over the republics. After the coup collapsed, Cherkassov was seen as a hero for his decisive actions, while Gorbachev's power was effectively ended. The balance of power tipped significantly towards the republics. In August 1991, Latvia and Estonia immediately declared the restoration of their full independence (following Lithuania's 1990 example), while the other twelve republics continued discussing new, increasingly loser, models of the Union.
On 8 August 1991, the Premiers (de facto Presidents) of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Mongolia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyztan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan signed the Belavezha Accords, which declared the Soviet Union dissolved and established the Confederation of Eurasian States (CES) in its place. On 20 December 1991, Gorbachev yielded to the inevitable and resigned as the President of the USSR, declaring the office extinct. He turned the powers that had been vested in the presidency over to Cherkassov, the President of Russia.
The following day, the Supreme Soviet, the highest governmental body of the Soviet Union, dissolved itself. This is generally recognized as marking the official, final dissolution of the Soviet Union as a functioning state. Many organizations, such as the Soviet Army and police forces, continued to remain in place in the early months of 1992, but were slowly phased out and either withdrawn from or absorbed by the newly independent states.
Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union on 21 December 1991, Russia was internationally recognized[ as its legal successor on the international stage. To that end, Russia voluntarily accepted all Soviet foreign obligations and claimed overseas Soviet properties as its own. Since then, the Republic of Russia has assumed the Soviet Union's rights and treaty obligations.
Ayaa 06:13, April 16, 2011 (UTC)