Mikhail Gorbachev

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Posted by motoman 05/01/2009 @ 08:14

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Mikhail Gorbachev sells album of romantic ballads for £100000 - NME.com
An album of romantic ballads recorded by former Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev has sold for $164940 (roughly £100000) to an anonymous British bidder at a charity auction. 'Songs for Raisa' sees Gorbachev sing a number of Russian songs that were...
Revolution in Iran - Globe and Mail
It was a little bit like watching Mikhail Gorbachev. Iranian President Mohamed Khatami spoke directly to the US public on Wednesday, calling for peace and understanding between clashing civilizations. Offering his interpretation of American history,...
Gorbachev: 'Global perestroika' needed - Business Mirror
Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, writing in the Washington Post, called for a “global perestroika” in which the United States and the world replace a market- driven economic model with one that emphasizes “public needs and public goods” such as...
This hour of the Limbaugh Wire brought to you by "childish" Obama ... - Media Matters for America
Rush mentioned "Mikhail Gorbachev," then the "Imperial March" from Star Wars started up as Rush explained what a, ahem, "Gorbasm" is. Apparently it has something to do with a meeting between Reagan and Gorbachev during which the Washington, DC,...
Jaruzelski: Gorbachev helped communism fall - eTaiwan News
AP Poland's last communist leader says Mikhail Gorbachev was the first Soviet ruler "you could actually talk to" and that his rise to power provided the impulse for communism's fall. Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski told The Associated Press that Gorbachev...
Mikhail Gorbachev: Dialogue Only Way to Resolve Korea Crisis ... - The Moderate Voice
Mikhail Gorbachev, the last general secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and the USSR's last head of state, knows a thing or two about nuclear talks. This past weekend, Gorbachev contributed this article to Russia's Rossijskaya Gazeta...
Soviet reformer Gorbachev records album of love songs - Hindu
Moscow (PTI) Mikhail Gorbachev, the last President of Soviet Union before its collapse, has turned into a singer, recording an album of love songs dedicated to the memory of his wife Raisa who died of leukemia ten years ago....
Obama needs to change stance on Iran - Salt Lake Tribune
I am reminded of Ronald Reagan's initially neutral response to the crisis following the Philippine election of 1986, and of George HW Bush's initially neutral response to the attempted coup against Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991. Both Reagan and Bush were...
Obama's Three-Part Case on Iran - TIME
In 1985, when Mikhail Gorbachev came to power upon the death of his predecessor in the Soviet Union, many Republicans — both Reagan Administration officials and conservative intellectuals — dismissed him as a phony reformer who was only trying to save...
We had our perestroika; it's high time for yours - The News Journal
By MIKHAIL GORBACHEV • June 21, 2009 Years ago, as the Cold War was coming to an end, I said to my fellow leaders around the globe: The world is on the cusp of great events, and in the face of new challenges all of us will have to change,...

Mikhail Gorbachev

Mikhail Gorbachev

Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev (Russian: Михаи́л Серге́евич Горбачёв (help·info), Russian pronunciation: ; born 2 March 1931) is a Russian politician. He was the last General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, serving from 1985 until 1991, and also the last head of state of the USSR, serving from 1988 until its collapse in 1991. He was the only Soviet leader to have been born after the October Revolution of 1917.

Gorbachev was born in Stavropol Krai into a peasant family, and operated combine harvesters on collective farms. He graduated from Moscow State University in 1955 with a degree in law. While in college, he joined the Communist party of the Soviet Union, and soon became very active within it. In 1970, he was appointed the First Party Secretary of the Stavropol Kraikom, First Secretary to the Supreme Soviet in 1974, and appointed a member of Politburo in 1979. After the deaths of Soviet Leaders Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov, and Konstantin Chernenko, Gorbachev was elected General Secretary by Politburo in 1985.

Gorbachev's attempts at reform as well as summit conferences with United States President Ronald Reagan contributed to the end of the Cold War, ended the political supremacy of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) and led to the dissolution of the Soviet Union. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990. Gorbachev is currently the leader of the Union of Social-Democrats, a political party founded after the official dissolution of the Social Democratic Party of Russia on 20 October 2007.

Gorbachev was born in the village of Privolnoye, Krasnogvardeisky District, Stavropol Territory, in southern Russia into a peasant family. He faced a very tough childhood under the totalitarian leadership of Joseph Stalin. His paternal grandfather was sentenced to nine years in the Gulag for withholding grain from the collective's harvest. He was ten when Germany invaded the Soviet Union and Nazi troops occupied Stavropol, amid World War II. Although they left by February 1943, the occupation increased the hardship of the community and left a deep and lasting impression on the young Gorbachev. From 1946 to 1950, he worked during the summers as an assistant combine harvester operator at the collective farms in his area. Gorbachev was awarded the Order of the Red Banner of Labor in 1947 for his outstanding results in bringing in the crop. He would later take an increasing part in promoting peasant labour, which he describes as "very hard" because of enforced state quotas and taxes on private plots.

Gorbachev graduated from high school with a silver medal in 1950, and attended Moscow State University. Despite the hardship of his background, Gorbachev excelled in the fields and in the classroom. He was considered one of the most intelligent in his social class, with a particular interest in history and mathematics. He studied law, and graduated five years later with a law degree (in 1966 he obtained a correspondence degree as an agronomist-economist). During his time at the university, Gorbachev joined the Communist Party of the Soviet Union and was active in social and political causes. He met Raisa Maksimovna Titarenko, whom he would marry in a small wedding party on 25 September 1953. Raisa would give birth to their first child, a daughter named Irina, on 6 January 1957.

Upon his gradutation, Gorbachev briefly worked in the Prokuratura (Soviet State Procuracy) before transferring to the Komsomol, or Communist Union of Youth in Stavropol. He served as First Secretary of the Stavropol City Komsomol Committee beginning September 1956, later moving up to the Stavropol Krai (regional) Komsomol Committee, where he worked as Second Secretary starting April 1958 and as First Secretary from March 1961 onward.

Gorbachev attended the important twenty-second Party Congress in October 1961, where Nikita Khrushchev announced a plan to surpass the U.S. in per capita production within twenty years. At this point in his life, Gorbachev would rise in the Commuist League hierarchy and worked his way up through territorial leagues of the party. He was promoted to Head of the Department of Party Organs in the Stavropol Agricultural Kraikom in 1963. In 1970, he was appointed First Party Secretary of the Stavropol Kraikom, a body of the CPSU, becoming one of the youngest provincial party chiefs in the nation. In this position he helped reorganise the collective farms, improve workers' living conditions, expand the size of their private plots, and give them a greater voice in planning. He was soon made a member of the Communist Party Central Committee in 1971. Three years later, in 1974, he was made a Representative to the Supreme Soviet, and Chairman of the Standing Commission on Youth Affairs. He was subsequently appointed to the Central Committee's Secretariat for Agriculture in 1978, replacing Fyodor Kulakov, who had supported Gorbachev's appointment, after Kulakov died of a heart attack. In 1979, Gorbachev was promoted to the Politburo, the highest authority in the country, and received full membership in 1980. Gorbachev owed his steady rise to power to the patronage of Mikhail Suslov, the powerful chief ideologist of the CPSU.

During Yuri Andropov's tenure as General Secretary (1982–1984), Gorbachev became one of the Poliburo's most visible and active members. With responsibility over personnel, working together with Andropov, 20 percent of the top echelon of government ministers and regional governors were replaced, often with younger men. During this time Grigory Romanov, Nikolai Ryzhkov and Yegor Ligachev were elevated, the latter two working closely with Gorbachev, Ryzhkov on economics, Ligachev on personnel. Gorbachev's positions within the CPSU created more opportunities to travel abroad and this would profoundly affect his political and social views in the future as leader of the country. In 1972, he headed a Soviet delegation to Belgium, and three years later he led a delegation to West Germany; in 1983 he headed a delegation to Canada to meet with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau and members of the Commons and Senate. In 1984, he travelled to the United Kingdom, where he met British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

Upon Andropov's death in 1984, the aged Konstantin Chernenko took power; after his death the following year, it became clear to the party hierarchy that younger leadership was needed. Gorbachev was elected General Secretary by Politburo on 11 March 1985, only three hours after Chernenko's death. Upon his accession at age 54, he was the youngest member of Politburo.

Mikhail Gorbachev became the Party's first leader to have been born after the Revolution. As de facto ruler of the USSR, he tried to reform the stagnating Party and the state economy by introducing glasnost ("openness"), perestroika ("restructuring"), demokratizatsiya ("democratization"), and uskoreniye ("acceleration" of economic development), which were launched at the 27th Congress of the CPSU in February 1986.

Domestically, Gorbachev implemented economic reforms that he hoped would improve living standards and worker productivity as part of his perestroika programme. However, many of his reforms were considered radical at the time by orthodox apparatchiks in the Soviet government.

In 1985, Gorbachev announced that the Soviet economy was stalled and that reorganization was needed. Initially, his reforms were called uskoreniye (acceleration) but later the terms glasnost (liberalisation, opening up) and perestroika (restructuring) became more popular.

Gorbachev was not operating within a vacuum. Although the Brezhnev era is usually thought of as one of economic stagnation, a number of economic experiments (particularly in the organisation of business enterprises, and partnerships with Western companies) did take place. A number of reformist ideas were discussed by technocratic-minded managers, who often used the facilities of the Young Communist League as discussion forums. The so-called 'Komsomol Generation' would prove to be Gorbachev's most receptive audience, and the nursery of many post-Communist businessmen and politicians, particularly in the Baltic republics.

After becoming General Secretary, Gorbachev proposed a "vague programme of reform", which was adopted at the April Plenum of the Central Committee. He made a speech in May in Leningrad (now St. Petersburg) advocating widespread reforms. The reforms began in personnel changes; the most notable change was the replacement of Andrei Gromyko with Eduard Shevardnadze as Minister of Foreign Affairs. Gromyko, disparaged as 'Mr Nyet' in the West, had served for 28 years as Minister of Foreign Affairs and was considered an 'old thinker'. Robert D. English notes that, despite Shevardnadze's diplomatic inexperience, Gorbachev "shared with him an outlook" and experience in managing an agricultural region of the Soviet Union (Georgia), which meant that both had weak links to the powerful military-industrial complex.

The first major reform programme introduced under Gorbachev was the 1985 alcohol reform, which was designed to fight widespread alcoholism in the Soviet Union. Prices of vodka, wine and beer were raised, and their sales were restricted. People who were caught drunk at work or in public were prosecuted. Drinking on long-distance trains and in public places was banned. Many famous wineries were destroyed. Scenes of alcohol consumption were cut out from films. The reform did not have any significant effect on alcoholism in the country, but economically it was a serious blow to the state budget (a loss of approximately 100 billion rubles according to Alexander Yakovlev) after alcohol production migrated to the black market economy.

Perestroika and its attendant radical reforms were enunciated at the XXVIIth Party Congress between February and March, 1986. Nonetheless, many found the pace of reform too slow. Many historians, including Robert D. English, have explained this by the rapid mutual estrangement within the Soviet elite of the 'New Thinkers' and conservatives; conservatives were deliberately blocking the process of change. This was exposed in the aftermath of the Chernobyl disaster. In this incident, as English observes, Gorbachev and his allies were "misinformed by the military-industrial complex" and "betrayed" by conservatives, who blocked information concerning the incident and thus delayed an official response. Jack F. Matlock Jr. stresses that at the time Gorbachev demanded the authorities give "full information" but that the "Soviet bureaucracy blocked the flow". This situation brought international ire upon the Soviets and many blamed Gorbachev himself. Despite this, English suggests that there was a "positive fallout" to Chernobyl, as Gorbachev and his fellow reformers received an increased domestic and international impetus for reform.

Domestic changes continued apace. In a bombshell speech during Armenian SSR's Central Committee Plenum of the Communist Party the young First Secretary of Armenia's Hrazdan Regional Communist Party, Hayk Kotanjian, criticised rampant corruption in the Armenian Communist Party's highest echelons, implicating Armenian SSR Communist Party First Secretary Karen Demirchyan and calling for his resignation. Symbolically, intellectual Andrei Sakharov was invited to return to Moscow by Gorbachev in December 1986 after six years of internal exile in Gorky. During the same month, however, signs of the nationalities problem that would haunt the later years of the Soviet Union surfaced as riots, named Jeltoqsan, occurred in Kazakhstan after Dinmukhamed Kunayev was replaced as First Secretary of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan.

The Central Committee Plenum in January 1987 would see the crystallisation of Gorbachev's political reforms, including proposals for multi-candidate elections and the appointment of non-Party members to government positions. He also first raised the idea of expanding co-operatives at the plenum. Later that year, May would be a month of crisis. In an almost incredible incident, a young West German, Mathias Rust, managed to fly a plane into Moscow and land near Red Square without being stopped. This massively embarrassed the military and Gorbachev made sweeping personnel changes, beginning at the top, where he appointed Dmitry Yazov as Minister of Defence.

Economic reforms took up much of the rest of 1987, as a new law giving enterprises more independence was passed in June and Gorbachev released a book, Perestroika: New Thinking for Our Country and the World, in November, elucidating his main ideas for reform. Nevertheless, at the same time, the personal and professional acrimony between Gorbachev and Boris Yeltsin increased; after Yeltsin criticised Gorbachev and others at the October Plenum, he was replaced as First Secretary of the Moscow Gorkom Party. This move only temporarily removed Yeltsin's influence.

In 1987 he rehabilitated many opponents of Stalin, another part of the De-Stalinization, which began in 1956, when Lenin's Testament was published.

1988 would see Gorbachev's introduction of glasnost, which gave new freedoms to the people, such as a greater freedom of speech. This was a radical change, as control of speech and suppression of government criticism had previously been a central part of the Soviet system. The press became far less controlled, and thousands of political prisoners and many dissidents were released. Gorbachev's goal in undertaking glasnost was to pressure conservatives within the CPSU who opposed his policies of economic restructuring, and he also hoped that through different ranges of openness, debate and participation, the Soviet people would support his reform initiatives. At the same time, he opened himself and his reforms up for more public criticism, evident in Nina Andreyeva's critical letter in a March edition of Sovetskaya Rossiya. Gorbachev acknowledged that his liberalising policies of glasnost and perestroika owed a great deal to Alexander Dubček's "Socialism with a human face". When asked what the difference was between the Prague Spring and his own reforms, Gorbachev replied, "Nineteen years".

The Law on Cooperatives enacted in May 1988 was perhaps the most radical of the economic reforms during the early part of the Gorbachev era. For the first time since Vladimir Lenin's New Economic Policy, the law permitted private ownership of businesses in the service, manufacturing, and foreign-trade sectors. The law initially imposed high taxes and employment restrictions although these were ignored by some SSRs. Later the restrictions were revised to avoid discouraging private-sector activity. Under the provision for private ownership, cooperative restaurants, shops, and manufacturers became part of the Soviet scene. Under the new law, the restructuring of large 'All-Union' industrial organisations also began. Aeroflot, was split up eventually becoming several independent airlines. These newly autonomous business organisations were encouraged to seek foreign investment.

In June 1988, at the CPSU's XIXth Party Conference, Gorbachev launched radical reforms meant to reduce party control of the government apparatus. He proposed a new executive in the form of a presidential system, as well as a new legislative element, to be called the Congress of People's Deputies.

Elections to the Congress of People's Deputies were held throughout the Soviet Union in March and April 1989. This was the first free election in the Soviet Union since 1917. He became Chairman of the Supreme Soviet (head of state) on 25 May 1989. On 15 March 1990, Gorbachev was elected as the first executive President of the Soviet Union with 59% of the Deputies' votes being an unopposed candidate. The Congress met for the first time on 25 May. Their first task was to elect representatives from Congress to sit on the Supreme Soviet. Nonetheless, the Congress posed problems for Gorbachev. Its sessions were televised, airing more criticism and encouraging people to expect ever more rapid reform. In the elections, many Party candidates were defeated. Furthermore, Yeltsin was elected in Moscow and returned to political prominence to become an increasingly vocal critic of Gorbachev.

The rest of 1989 was taken up by the increasingly problematic nationalities question and the dramatic collapse of the Eastern Bloc. Despite international détente reaching unprecedented levels, with the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan completed in January and U.S.-Soviet talks continuing between Gorbachev and George H. W. Bush, domestic reforms were suffering from increasing divergence between reformists, who criticised the pace of change, and conservatives, who criticised the extent of change. Gorbachev states that he tried to find the middle ground between both groups, but this would draw more criticism towards him. The story from this point on moves away from reforms and becomes one of the nationalities question and the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union.

On 9 November, people in the German Democratic Republic (East Germany, GDR) broke down the Berlin Wall after a peaceful protest against the country's dictatorial administration, including a demonstration by some one million people in East Berlin on 4 November. Unlike earlier riots which were ended by military force with the help of USSR, Gorbachev, who came to be lovingly called "Gorby" in West Germany, now decided not to interfere with the process in Germany. He stated that German reunification was an internal German matter.

In contrast to his controversial domestic reforms, Gorbachev was largely hailed in the West for his 'New Thinking' in foreign affairs. During his tenure, he sought to improve relations and trade with the West by reducing Cold War tensions. He established close relationships with several Western leaders, such as West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, U.S. President Ronald Reagan, and British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher - who famously remarked: "I like Mr Gorbachev, we can do business together".

Gorbachev understood the link between achieving international détente and domestic reform and thus began extending 'New Thinking' abroad immediately. On 8 April 1985, he announced the suspension of the deployment of SS-20s in Europe as a move towards resolving intermediate-range nuclear weapons (INF) issues. Later that year, in September, Gorbachev proposed that the Soviets and Americans both cut their nuclear arsenals in half. He went to France on his first trip abroad as Soviet leader in October. November saw the Geneva Summit between Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan. Though no concrete agreement was made, Gorbachev and Reagan struck a personal relationship and decided to hold further meetings.

January 1986 would see Gorbachev make his boldest international move so far, when he announced his proposal for the elimination of intermediate-range nuclear weapons in Europe and his strategy for eliminating all nuclear weapons by the year 2000 (often referred to as the 'January Proposal'). He also began the process of withdrawing troops from Afghanistan and Mongolia on 28 July. Nonetheless, many observers, such as Jack F. Matlock Jr. (despite generally praising Gorbachev as well as Reagan), have criticised Gorbachev for taking too long to achieve withdrawal from the Afghanistan War, citing it as an example of lingering elements of 'old thinking' in Gorbachev.

On 11 October 1986, Gorbachev and Reagan met in Reykjavík, Iceland to discuss reducing intermediate-range nuclear weapons in Europe. To the immense surprise of both men's advisers, the two agreed in principle to removing INF systems from Europe and to equal global limits of 100 INF missile warheads. They also essentially agreed in principle to eliminate all nuclear weapons in 10 years (by 1996), instead of by the year 2000 as in Gorbachev's original outline. Continuing trust issues, particularly over reciprocity and Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), meant that the summit is often regarded as a failure for not producing a concrete agreement immediately, or for leading to a staged elimination of nuclear weapons. In the long term, nevertheless, this would culminate in the signing of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in 1987, after Gorbachev had proposed this elimination on 22 July 1987 (and it was subsequently agreed on in Geneva on 24 November).

In February, 1988, Gorbachev announced the full withdrawal of Soviet forces from Afghanistan. The withdrawal was completed the following year, although the civil war continued as the Mujahedin pushed to overthrow the pro-Soviet Najibullah regime. An estimated 28,000 Soviets were killed between 1979 and 1989 as a result of the Afghanistan War.

Moscow's abandonment of the Brezhnev Doctrine led to a string of revolutions in Eastern Europe throughout 1989, in which Communism collapsed. By the end of 1989, mass revolts had spread from one Eastern European capital to another, ousting the regimes imposed on Eastern Europe after World War II. With the exception of Romania, the popular upheavals against the pro-Soviet Communist regimes were all peaceful ones. (See Revolutions of 1989) The loosening of Soviet hegemony over Eastern Europe effectively ended the Cold War, and for this, Gorbachev was awarded the Otto Hahn Peace Medal in Gold in 1989 and the Nobel Peace Prize on 15 October 1990.

While Gorbachev's political initiatives were positive for freedom and democracy in the Soviet Union and its Eastern bloc allies, the economic policy of his government gradually brought the country close to disaster. By the end of the 1980s, severe shortages of basic food supplies (meat, sugar) led to the reintroduction of the war-time system of distribution using food cards that limited each citizen to a certain amount of product per month. Compared to 1985, the state deficit grew from 0 to 109 billion rubles; gold funds decreased from 2,000 to 200 tons; and external debt grew from 0 to 120 billion dollars.

Furthermore, the democratisation of the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe had irreparably undermined the power of the CPSU and Gorbachev himself. The relaxation of censorship and attempts to create more political openness had the unintended effect of re-awakening long-suppressed nationalist and anti-Russian feelings in the Soviet republics. Calls for greater independence from Moscow's rule grew louder, especially in the Baltic republics of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia which had been annexed into the Soviet Union by Stalin in 1940. Nationalist feeling also took hold in Georgia, Ukraine, Armenia and Azerbaijan.

In December 1986, the first signs of the nationalities problem that would haunt the later years of the Soviet Union's existence surfaced as riots, named Jeltoqsan, occurred in Alma Ata and other areas of Kazakhstan after Dinmukhamed Kunayev was replaced as First Secretary of the Communist Party of Kazakhstan. Nationalism would then surface in Russia in May 1987, as 600 members of Pamyat, a nascent Russian nationalist group, demonstrated in Moscow and were becoming increasingly linked to Boris Yeltsin, who received their representatives at a meeting.

Glasnost hastened awareness of the national sovereignty problem. The free flow of information had been so completely suppressed for so long in the Soviet Union that many of the ruling class had all but forgotten that the Soviet Union was an empire conquered by military force and consolidated by the persecution of millions of people, and not a union voluntarily entered into by local populations. Thus, the extremity of local desire for independent control of their own affairs took these leaders by surprise, and the leaders were unprepared for the depth of the long pent-up feelings that were released.

Violence erupted in Nagorno-Karabakh - an Armenian-populated enclave within Azerbaijan - between February and April, when Armenians living in the area began a new wave of protests over the arbitrary transfer of the historically Armenian region from Armenia to Azerbaijan in 1920 upon Joseph Stalin's decision. Gorbachev imposed a temporary solution, but it did not last, as fresh trouble arose in Nagorno-Karabakh between June and July. Turmoil would once again return in late 1988, this time in Armenia itself, when the Leninakan Earthquake hit the region on 7 December. Poor local infrastructure magnified the hazard and some 25,000 people died. Gorbachev was forced to break off his trip to the U.S. and cancel planned travels to Cuba and Britain.

In March and April 1989 elections to the Congress of People's Deputies took place throughout the Soviet Union. This returned many pro-independence republicans, as many CPSU candidates were rejected. The televised Congress debates allowed the dissemination of pro-independence propositions. Indeed, 1989 would see numerous nationalistic expressions protests. Initiated by the Baltic republics in January, laws were passed in most non-Russian republics giving precedence for the republican language over Russian. April 9 would see the crackdown of nationalist demonstrations by Soviet troops in Tbilisi. There would be further bloody protests in Uzbekistan in June, where Uzbeks and Meskhetian Turks clashed in Fergana. Apart from this violence, three major events that altered the face of the nationalities issue occurred in 1989. Estonia had declared its sovereignty in November, 1988, to be followed by Lithuania in May 1989 and by Latvia in July (the Communist Party of Lithuania would also declare its independence from the CPSU in December). This brought the Union and the republics into clear confrontation and would form a precedent for other republics.

Following this, in July, on the eve of the anniversary of the signing of the Nazi-Soviet Pact, it was formally revealed that the treaty did indeed include a plan for the annexation of the Baltic countries into the USSR (as happened in 1940) and the division of Poland between the two countries. The unsavory past was exposed and gave impetus to the peoples of the Baltic countries who could now even more legitimately claim that they were subject to oppression. Finally, the Eastern bloc collapsed in the autumn of 1989, raising hopes that Gorbachev would extend his non-interventionist doctrine to the internal workings of the USSR.

1990 began with nationalist turmoil in January. Azerbaijanis rioted and troops needed to be sent in to restore order; many Moldavians demonstrated in favour of unification with the post-Communist Romania; and Lithuanian demonstrations continued. The same month, in a hugely significant move, Armenia asserted its right to veto laws coming from the All-Union level, thus intensifying the 'war of laws' between republics and Moscow.

Soon after, the CPSU, which had already lost much of its control, began to lose even more power as Gorbachev deepened political reform. The February Central Committee Plenum advocated multi-party elections; local elections held between February and March returned a large number of pro-independence candidates. The Congress of People's Deputies then amended the Soviet Constitution in March, removing Article 6, which guaranteed the monopoly of the CPSU. The process of political reform was therefore coming from above and below, and was gaining a momentum that would augment republican nationalism. Soon after the constitutional amendment, Lithuania declared independence and elected Vytautas Landsbergis as President.

On 15 March, Gorbachev himself was elected as the only President of the Soviet Union by the Congress of People's Deputies and chose a Presidential Council of 15 politicians. Gorbachev was essentially creating his own political support base independent of CPSU conservatives and radical reformers. The new Executive was designed to be a powerful position to guide the spiraling reform process, and the Supreme Soviet and Congress of People's Deputies had already given Gorbachev increasingly presidential powers in February. This would be again a source of criticism from reformers. Despite the apparent increase in Gorbachev's power, he was unable to stop the process of nationalistic assertion. Further embarrassing facts about Soviet history were revealed in April, when the government admitted that the NKVD had carried out the infamous Katyn Massacre of Polish army officers during World War II; previously, the USSR had blamed Nazi Germany. More significantly for Gorbachev's position, Boris Yeltsin was reaching a new level of prominence, as he was elected Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the Russian SFSR in May, effectively making him the de jure leader of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. Problems for Gorbachev would once more come from the Russian parliament in June, when it declared the precedence of Russian laws over All-Union level legislation.

Gorbachev's personal position continued changing. At XXVIIIth CPSU Congress in July, Gorbachev was re-elected General Secretary but this position was now completely independent of Soviet government, and the Politburo had no say in the ruling of the country. Gorbachev further reduced Party power in the same month, when he issued a decree abolishing Party control of all areas of the media and broadcasting. At the same time, Gorbachev was working to consolidate his Presidential position, culminating in the Supreme Soviet granting him special powers to rule by decree in September in order to pass a much-needed plan for transition to a market economy. However, the Supreme Soviet could not agree on which programme to adopt. Gorbachev pressed on with political reform, his proposal for setting up a new Soviet government, with a Soviet of the Federation consisting of representatives from all 15 republics, was passed through the Supreme Soviet in November. In December, Gorbachev was once more granted increased executive power by the Supreme Soviet, arguing that such moves were necessary to counter "the dark forces of nationalism". Such moves led to Eduard Shevardnadze's resignation; Gorbachev's former ally warned of an impending dictatorship. This move was a serious blow to Gorbachev personally and to his efforts for reform.

Meanwhile, Gorbachev was losing further ground to nationalists. October 1990 saw the founding of DemoRossiya, the Russian nationalist party; a few days later, both Ukraine and Russia declared their laws completely sovereign over Soviet level laws. The 'war of laws' had become an open battle, with the Supreme Soviet refusing to recognise the actions of the two republics. Gorbachev would publish the draft of a new union treaty in November, which envisioned a continued union called the Union of Sovereign Soviet Republics, but, going into 1991, the actions of Gorbachev were steadily being overtaken by the centrifugal secessionist forces.

January and February would see a new level of turmoil in the Baltic republics. On 10 January 1991 Gorbachev issued an ultimatum-like request addressing the Lithuanian Supreme Council demanding the restoration of the validity of the constitution of the Soviet Union in Lithuania and the revoking of all anti-constitutional laws. In his Memoirs, Gorbachev asserts that, on 12 January, he convened the Council of the Federation and political measures to prevent bloodshed were agreed, including sending representatives of the Council of the Federation on a "fact-finding mission" to Vilnius. However, before the delegation arrived, the local branches of the KGB and armed forces had worked together to seize the TV tower in Vilnius; Gorbachev asked the heads of the KGB and military if they had approved such action, and there is no evidence that they, or Gorbachev, ever approved this move. Gorbachev cites documents found in the RSFSR Prokuratura after the August coup, which only mentioned that "some 'authorities'" had sanctioned the actions. A book called Alpha – the KGB's Top Secret Unit also suggests that a "KGB operation co-ordinated with the military" was undertaken by the KGB Alpha Group. Archie Brown, in The Gorbachev Factor, uses the memoirs of many people around Gorbachev and in the upper echelons of the Soviet political landscape, to implicate General Valentin Varennikov, a member of the August coup plotters, and General Viktor Achalov, another August coup conspirator and later a putschist against Yeltsin in 1993. These persons were characterised as individuals "who were prepared to remove Gorbachev from his presidential office unconstitutionally" and "were more than capable of using unauthorised violence against nationalist separatists some months earlier". Brown criticises Gorbachev for "a conscious tilt in the direction of the conservative forces he was trying to keep within an increasingly fragile coalition" who would later betray him; he also criticises Gorbachev "for his tougher line and heightened rhetoric against the Lithuanians in the days preceding the attack and for his slowness in condemning the killings" but notes that Gorbachev did not approve any action and was seeking political solutions.

As a result of continued violence, at least 14 civilians were killed and more than 600 injured from 11-13 January 1991 in Vilnius, Lithuania. The strong Western reaction and the actions of Russian democratic forces put the president and government of the Soviet Union into an awkward situation, as news of support for Lithuanians from Western democracies started to appear. Further problems surfaced in Riga, Latvia, on 20 January and 21, where OMON (special Ministry of the Interior) troops killed 4 people. Archie Brown suggests that Gorbachev's response this time was better, condemning the rogue action, sending his condolences and suggesting that secession could take place if it went through the procedures outlined in the Soviet constitution. According to Gorbachev's aide, Shakhnazarov (quoted by Archie Brown), Gorbachev was finally beginning to accept the inevitability of "losing" the Baltic republics, although he would try all political means to preserve the Union. Brown believes that this put him in "imminent danger" of being overthrown by hard-liners against the secession.

Gorbachev thus continued to draw up a new treaty of union which would have created a truly voluntary federation in an increasingly democratised Soviet Union. The new treaty was strongly supported by the Central Asian republics, who needed the economic power and markets of the Soviet Union to prosper. However, the more radical reformists, such as Russian SFSR President Boris Yeltsin, were increasingly convinced that a rapid transition to a market economy was required and were more than happy to contemplate the disintegration of the Soviet Union if that was required to achieve their aims. Nevertheless, a referendum on the future of the Soviet Union was held in March (with a referendum in Russia on the creation of a presidency), which returned an average of 76.4% in the 9 republics where it was taken, with a turn-out of 80% of the adult population. Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Armenia, Georgia and Moldova did not participate. Following this, an April meeting at Novo-Ogarevo between Gorbachev and the heads of the 9 republics issued a statement on speeding up the creation of a new Union treaty. Meanwhile, on 12 June 1991 Boris Yeltsin was elected President of the Russian Federation by 57.3% of the vote (with a turnout of 74%).

In contrast to the reformers' moderate approach to the new treaty, the hard-line apparatchiks, still strong within the CPSU and military establishment, were completely opposed to anything which might lead to the break-up of the Soviet Union. On the eve of the treaty's signing, the hardliners struck.

Hardliners in the Soviet leadership, calling themselves the 'State Emergency Committee', launched the August coup in 1991 in an attempt to remove Gorbachev from power and prevent the signing of the new union treaty. During this time, Gorbachev spent three days (19 August, 20 and 21) under house arrest at a dacha in the Crimea before being freed and restored to power. However, upon his return, Gorbachev found that neither union nor Russian power structures heeded his commands as support had swung over to Yeltsin, whose defiance had led to the coup's collapse. Furthermore, Gorbachev was forced to fire large numbers of his Politburo and, in several cases, arrest them. Those arrested for high treason included the "Gang of Eight" that had led the coup, including Kryuchkov, Yazov, Pavlov and Yanayev. Pugo was found shot; and Akhromeyev, who had offered his assistance but was never implicated, was found hanging in his Kremlin office. Most of these men had been former allies of Gorbachev's or promoted by him, which drew fresh criticism.

Between 21 August and 22 September, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikstan, and Turkmenistan declared their independence. Simultaneously, Boris Yeltsin ordered the CPSU to suspend its activities on the territory of Russia and closed the Central Committee building at Staraya Ploschad. The Russian flag now flew beside the Soviet flag at the Kremlin. In light of these circumstances, Gorbachev resigned as General Secretary of the CPSU on 24 August and advised the Central Committee to dissolve. Gorbachev's hopes of a new Union were further hit when the Congress of People's Deputies dissolved itself on 5 September. Though Gorbachev and the representatives of 8 republics (excluding Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia) signed an agreement on forming a new economic community on 18 October, events were overtaking Gorbachev.

With the country in a rapid state of deterioration, the final blow to Gorbachev's vision was effectively dealt by a Ukrainian referendum on 1 December, where the Ukrainian people voted for independence. The presidents of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus met in Belovezh Forest, near Brest, Belarus, on 8 December, founding the Commonwealth of Independent States and declaring the end of the Soviet Union in the Belavezha Accords. Gorbachev was presented with a fait accompli and reluctantly agreed with Yeltsin, on 17 December, to dissolve the Soviet Union. Gorbachev resigned on 25 December and the Soviet Union was formally dissolved the next day. Two days later, on 27 December, Yeltsin moved into Gorbachev's old office.

Gorbachev had aimed to maintain the CPSU as a united party but move it in the direction of social democracy. The inherent contradictions in this approach, praising Lenin, admiring Sweden's social model and seeking to keep the three Baltic states, were difficult enough. But when the CPSU was proscribed after the August coup, Gorbachev was left with no effective power base beyond the armed forces.

Following his resignation and the collapse of the Soviet Union, Gorbachev remained active in Russian politics. Especially during the early years of the post-Soviet era, he expressed criticism at the reforms carried out by Russian president Boris Yeltsin. When president Yeltsin called a referendum for 25 April 1993 in an attempt to achieve even greater powers as president, Gorbachev did not vote, and instead called for new presidential elections to happen soon.

Following a failed run for the presidency in 1996, Gorbachev established the Social Democratic Party of Russia, a union between several Russian social democratic parties. He resigned as party leader in May 2004 over a disagreement with the party's chairman over the direction taken in the December 2003 election campaign. The party was later banned in 2007 by the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation due to its failure to establish local offices with at least 500 members in the majority of Russian regions, which is required by Russian law for a political organisation to be listed as party. Later that year, Gorbachev founded a new political party, called the Union of Social-Democrats. In June 2004, Gorbachev represented Russia at the funeral of Ronald Reagan.

Gorbachev has also appeared in numerous media events since his resignation from office. In 1993, Gorbachev appeared as himself in the Wim Wenders film, Faraway, So Close!, the sequel to Wings of Desire. In 1997, Gorbachev appeared with his granddaughter Anastasia in an internationally-screened television commercial for Pizza Hut. The US corporation's fee for the 60-second ad went to his not-for-profit Gorbachev Foundation. In 2007, French luxury brand Louis Vuitton announced that Gorbachev would be shown in an ad campaign for their signature luggage.

Since his resignation, Gorbachev has remained involved in world affairs. He founded the Gorbachev Foundation in 1992, headquartered in San Francisco, California. He later founded Green Cross International, with which he was one of three major sponsors of the Earth Charter. He also became a member of the Club of Rome and the Club of Madrid.

In the decade that followed the Cold War, Gorbachev opposed both the U.S.-led NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999 and the U.S.-led Iraq War in 2003. On 27 July 2007, Gorbachev criticised U.S. foreign policy: “What has followed are unilateral actions, what has followed are wars, what has followed is ignoring the U.N. Security Council, ignoring international law and ignoring the will of the people, even the American people,” he said. That same year, he visited New Orleans, Louisiana, a spot hard-hit by Hurricane Katrina, and promised to that he would return in 2011 to personally lead a local revolution if the U.S. government had not repaired the levees by that time. He said that revolutionary action should be a last resort.

In September 2008 Gorbachev announced he is going to make a comeback to the Russian politics along with a former KGB officer, Alexander Lebedev. Their party is known as the Independent Democratic Party of Russia. He also is part owner of the opposition newspaper Novaya Gazeta.

On March 20, 2009, Gorbachev met with United States President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden in efforts to "reset" strained relations between Russia and the United States.

On March 27, 2009, Gorbachev visited Eureka College in Eureka, Illinois which is the alma mater of former president Ronald Reagan. He toured the campus and later traveled to Peoria, Illinois as the keynote speaker at the Reagan Day Dinner.

Gorbachev was baptised in the Russian Orthodox Church as a child. He campaigned for establishment of freedom of religion laws in the former Soviet Union.

Remarks by Gorbachev to Ronald Reagan in discussions during their summits, made the President deeply intrigued by the possibility that the leader of the Evil Empire might be a "closet Christian." Reagan seems to have seen this as the most interesting aspect of his meeting with the Soviet leader in Geneva.

In 2005, he said that Pope John Paul II's "devotion to his followers is a remarkable example to all of us" following the pontiff's death. "What can I say -- it must have been the will of God. He acted really courageously." In a 1989 meeting, he had told him "We appreciate your mission on this high pulpit, we are convinced that it will leave a great mark on history." On the other hand, some have alleged that Gorbachev signed a contract killing against the Holy Father back in 1979, which resulted in a failed assassination attempt. However, he has categorically denied this accusation.

Gorbachev was the recipient of the Athenagoras Humanitarian Award of the Order of St. Andrew Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople on 20 November 2005.

In November 2006, Gorbachev was admitted to a hospital in Munich, Germany after he reported that he was not feeling well. He had an operation on a carotid artery in his neck on 21 November 2006. He returned to Russia on 9 December 2006.

Gorbachev is the most famous person in modern times with visible naevus flammeus. The crimson birthmark on the top of his bald head was the source of much satire among critics and cartoonists. Contrary to some accounts, it is not rosacea. In his official photos as a Politburo member this birthmark was removed.

Though some suggested that it be surgically removed, Gorbachev opted not to, as once he was publicly known to have the mark, he believed it would be perceived as him being more concerned with his appearance than other, more important issues.

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Russia

Russia is Europe's key oil and gas supplier.[128]

Russia /ˈrʌʃə/ (help·info) (Russian: Россия, Rossiya), or the Russian Federation (Russian: Российская Федерация (help·info), Rossiyskaya Federatsiya), is a country extending over much of northern Eurasia (Europe and Asia together). It is a presidential republic comprising 83 federal subjects. Russia shares land borders with the following countries (counterclockwise from northwest to southeast): Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania (via Kaliningrad Oblast), Poland (via Kaliningrad Oblast), Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, China, Mongolia and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. At 17,075,400 square kilometres (6,592,800 sq mi), Russia is the largest country in the world, covering more than an eighth of the Earth’s land area; with 142 million people, it is the ninth largest by population. It extends across the whole of northern Asia and 40% of Europe, spanning 11 time zones and incorporating a great range of environments and landforms. Russia has the world's greatest reserves of mineral and energy resources, and is considered an energy superpower. It has the world's largest forest reserves and its lakes contain approximately one-quarter of the world's unfrozen fresh water.

The nation's history began with that of the East Slavs, which emerged as a recognizable group in Europe between the 3rd and 8th centuries AD. Founded and ruled by a noble Viking warrior class and their descendants, the first East Slavic state, Kievan Rus', arose in the 9th century and adopted Christianity from the Byzantine Empire in 988, beginning the synthesis of Byzantine and Slavic cultures that defined Russian culture for the next millennium. Kievan Rus' ultimately disintegrated and the lands were divided into many small feudal states. The most powerful successor state to Kievan Rus' was Moscow, which served as the main force in the Russian reunification process and independence struggle against the Golden Horde. Moscow gradually reunified the surrounding Russian principalities and came to dominate the cultural and political legacy of Kievan Rus'. By the 18th century, the nation had greatly expanded through conquest, annexation and exploration to become the Russian Empire, which was the third largest empire in history, stretching from Poland eastward to the Pacific Ocean and Alaska.

Russia established worldwide power and influence from the times of the Russian Empire to being the largest and leading constituent of the Soviet Union, the world's first and largest constitutionally socialist state and a recognized superpower. The nation can boast a long tradition of excellence in every aspect of the arts and sciences. The Russian Federation was founded following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, but is recognized as the continuing legal personality of the Soviet Union. It has one of the world's fastest growing major economies and has the world's eighth largest GDP by nominal GDP or seventh largest by purchasing power parity with the fifth largest military budget. It is one of the five recognized nuclear weapons states and possesses the world's largest stockpile of weapons of mass destruction. Russia is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, a member of the G8, APEC and the SCO, and is a leading member of the Commonwealth of Independent States.

The Russian Federation stretches across a large extent of northern Eurasia, comprising much of eastern Europe and northern Asia. Due to its size, Russia displays both monotony and diversity. As with its topography, its climates, vegetation, and soils span vast distances. From north to south the East European Plain is clad sequentially in tundra, coniferous forest (taiga), mixed and broad-leaf forests, grassland (steppe), and semi-desert (fringing the Caspian Sea) as the changes in vegetation reflect the changes in climate. Siberia supports a similar sequence but is taiga. The country contains 23 World Heritage Sites and 40 UNESCO Biosphere reserves.

The two widest separated points in Russia are about 8,000 km (5,000 mi) apart along a geodesic line. These points are: the boundary with Poland on a 60 km long (40-mi long) spit of land separating the Gulf of Gdańsk from the Vistula Lagoon; and the farthest southeast of the Kuril Islands, a few miles off Hokkaidō Island, Japan. The points which are furthest separated in longitude are 6,600 km (4,100 mi) apart along a geodesic. These points are: in the West, the same spit; in the East, the Big Diomede Island (Ostrov Ratmanova). The Russian Federation spans 11 time zones.

Russia has the world's largest forest reserves and is known as "the lungs of Europe", second only to the Amazon Rainforest in the amount of carbon dioxide it absorbs. It provides a huge amount of oxygen for not just Europe, but the world. With access to three of the world's oceans — the Atlantic, Arctic and Pacific — Russian fishing fleets are a major contributor to the world's fish supply. The Caspian is the source of what is considered the finest caviar in the world.

Most of Russia consists of vast stretches of plains that are predominantly steppe to the south and heavily forested to the north, with tundra along the northern coast. Mountain ranges are found along the southern borders, such as the Caucasus (containing Mount Elbrus, Russia's and Europe's highest point at 5,642 m / 18,511 ft) and the Altai, and in the eastern parts, such as the Verkhoyansk Range or the volcanoes on Kamchatka. The Ural Mountains, rich in mineral resources, form a north-south range that divides Europe and Asia. Russia possesses 10% of the world's arable land.

Russia has an extensive coastline of over 37,000 kilometers (23,000 mi) along the Arctic and Pacific Oceans, as well as the Baltic Sea, Sea of Azov, Black and Caspian seas. The Barents Sea, White Sea, Kara Sea, Laptev Sea, East Siberian Sea, Chukchi Sea, Bering Sea, Sea of Okhotsk and the Sea of Japan are linked to Russia. Major islands and archipelagos include Novaya Zemlya, the Franz Josef Land, the Severnaya Zemlya, the New Siberian Islands, Wrangel Island, the Kuril Islands and Sakhalin. The Diomede Islands (one controlled by Russia, the other by the United States) are just three kilometers (1.9 mi) apart, and Kunashir Island is about twenty kilometers (12 mi) from Hokkaidō.

Russia has thousands of rivers and inland bodies of water, providing it with one of the world's largest surface water resources. The largest and most prominent of Russia's bodies of fresh water is Lake Baikal, the world's deepest, purest, most ancient and most capacious freshwater lake. Lake Baikal alone contains over one fifth of the world's fresh surface water. Other major lakes include Lake Ladoga and Lake Onega, two largest lakes in Europe. Of Russia's 100,000 rivers, The Volga is the most famous—not only because it is the longest river in Europe but also because of its major role in Russian history. Russia has a wide natural resource base unmatched by any other country, including major deposits of petroleum, natural gas, coal, timber and mineral resources.

The climate of the Russian Federation formed under the influence of several determining factors. The enormous size of the country and the remoteness of many areas from the sea result in the dominance of the humid continental and subarctic climate, which is prevalent in European and Asian Russia except for the tundra and the extreme southeast. Mountains in the south obstructing the flow of warm air masses from the Indian Ocean and the plain of the west and north makes the country open to Arctic and Atlantic influences.

Throughout much of the territory there are only two distinct seasons — winter and summer; spring and autumn are usually brief periods of change between extremely low temperatures and extremely high. The coldest month is January (on the shores of the sea—February), the warmest usually is July. Great ranges of temperature are typical. In winter, temperatures get colder both from south to north and from west to east. Summers can be quite hot and humid, even in Siberia. A small part of Black Sea coast around Sochi has a subtropical climate. The continental interiors are the driest areas.

In prehistoric times, the vast steppes of Southern Russia were home to disunited tribes of nomadic pastoralists. In classical antiquity, the Pontic Steppe was known as Scythia. Remnants of these steppe civilizations were discovered in the course of the 20th century in such places as Ipatovo, Sintashta, Arkaim, and Pazyryk. In the latter part of the eighth century BC, Greek traders brought classical civilization to the trade emporiums in Tanais and Phanagoria. Between the third and sixth centuries BC, the Bosporan Kingdom, a Hellenistic polity which succeeded the Greek colonies, was overwhelmed by successive waves of nomadic invasions, led by warlike tribes, such as the Huns and Turkic Avars. A Turkic people, the Khazars, ruled the lower Volga basin steppes between the Caspian and Black Seas until the 8th century.

The ancestors of modern Russians are the Slavic tribes, whose original home is thought by some scholars to have been the wooded areas of the Pinsk Marshes. Moving into the lands vacated by the migrating Germanic tribes, the Early East Slavs gradually settled Western Russia in two waves: one moving from Kiev toward present-day Suzdal and Murom and another from Polotsk toward Novgorod and Rostov. From the 7th century onwards, the East Slavs constituted the bulk of the population in Western Russia and slowly but peacefully assimilated the native Finno-Ugric tribes, including the Merya, the Muromians, and the Meshchera.

The 9th century saw the establishment of Kievan Rus', a predecessor state to Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. Scandinavian Norsemen, called "Vikings" in Western Europe and "Varangians" in the East, combined piracy and trade in their roamings over much of Northern Europe. In the mid-9th century, they ventured along the waterways extending from the eastern Baltic to the Black and Caspian Seas. According to the earliest Russian chronicle, a Varangian named Rurik was elected ruler (konung or knyaz) of Novgorod around the year 860; his successors moved south and extended their authority to Kiev, which had been previously dominated by the Khazars.

In the 10th to 11th centuries this state of Kievan Rus' became the largest and most prosperous in Europe. The reigns of Vladimir the Great (980-1015) and his son Yaroslav I the Wise (1019–1054) constitute the Golden Age of Kiev, which saw the acceptance of Orthodox Christianity and the creation of the first East Slavic written legal code, the Russkaya Pravda.

In the 11th and 12th centuries, constant incursions by nomadic Turkic tribes, such as the Kipchaks and the Pechenegs, caused a massive migration of Slavic populations to the safer, heavily forested regions of the north, particularly to the area known as Zalesye. Like many other parts of Eurasia, these territories were overrun by the Mongols. About half of the Russian population perished during the invasion. The invaders, later known as Tatars, formed the state of the Golden Horde, which pillaged the Russian principalities and ruled the southern and central expanses of Russia for over three centuries. Mongol rule retarded the country's economic and social development. However, the Novgorod Republic together with Pskov retained some degree of autonomy during the time of the Mongol yoke and was largely spared the atrocities that affected the rest of the country. Led by Alexander Nevsky, Novgorodians repelled the Germanic crusaders who attempted to colonize the region. Kievan Rus' ultimately disintegrated as a state because of in-fighting between members of the princely family that ruled it collectively. Kiev's dominance waned, to the benefit of Vladimir-Suzdal in the north-east, Novgorod in the north-west and Galicia-Volhynia in the south-west. Conquest by the Golden Horde in the 13th century was the final blow and resulted in the destruction of Kiev in 1240. Galicia-Volhynia was eventually absorbed into the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, while the Mongol-dominated Vladimir-Suzdal and the independent Novgorod Republic, two regions on the periphery of Kiev, established the basis for the modern Russian nation.

The most powerful successor state to Kievan Rus' was Grand Duchy of Moscow. It would annex rivals such as Tver and Novgorod, and eventually become the basis of the modern Russian state. After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, Moscow claimed succession to the legacy of the Eastern Roman Empire. While still under the domain of the Mongol-Tatars and with their connivance, the Duchy of Moscow (or "Muscovy") began to assert its influence in Western Russia in the early 14th century. Assisted by the Russian Orthodox Church and Saint Sergius of Radonezh's spiritual revival, Russia inflicted a defeat on the Mongol-Tatars in the Battle of Kulikovo (1380). Ivan III (Ivan the Great) eventually threw off the control of the Tatar invaders, consolidated surrounding areas under Moscow's dominion and was the first to take the title "grand duke of all the Russias".

In 1547, Ivan IV (Ivan the Terrible) was officially crowned the first Tsar of Russia. During his long reign, Ivan IV annexed the Tatar khanates (Kazan, Astrakhan) along the Volga River and transformed Russia into a multiethnic and multiconfessional state. Ivan IV promulgated a new code of laws (Sudebnik of 1550), established the first Russian feudal representative body (Zemsky Sobor) and introduced local self-management into the rural regions. But Ivan IV's rule was also marked by the long and unsuccessful Livonian War against the coalition of Poland, Lithuania, and Sweden for access to the Baltic coast and sea trade. The military losses, epidemics and poor harvests weakened the state, and the Crimean Tatars were able to burn down Moscow. The death of Ivan's sons, combined with the famine of 1601–1603, led to the civil war and foreign intervention of the Time of Troubles in the early 1600s. By the mid-17th century there were Russian settlements in Eastern Siberia, on the Chukchi Peninsula, along the Amur River, and on the Pacific coast. The Bering Strait between Asia and North America was first sighted by a Russian explorer in 1648.

Under the Romanov dynasty and Peter I (Peter the Great), the Russian Empire became a world power. Ruling from 1682 to 1725, Peter defeated Sweden in the Great Northern War, forcing it to cede West Karelia and Ingria (two regions lost by Russia in the Time of Troubles), Estland, and Livland, securing Russia's access to the sea and sea trade. It was in Ingria that Peter founded a new capital, Saint Petersburg. Peter's reforms brought considerable Western European cultural influences to Russia. Catherine II (Catherine the Great), who ruled from 1762 to 1796, continued the efforts to establish Russia as one of the Great Powers of Europe. In alliance with Prussia and Austria, Russia stood against Napoleon's France and eliminated its rival Poland-Lithuania in a series of partitions, gaining large areas of territory in the west. As a result of its victories in the Russo-Turkish War, by the early 19th century Russia had made significant territorial gains in Transcaucasia. Napoleon's invasion of Russia at the height of his power in 1812 failed miserably as obstinate Russian resistance combined with the bitterly cold Russian winter dealt him a disastrous defeat, in which more than 95% of his invading force perished. The officers in the Napoleonic Wars brought ideas of liberalism back to Russia with them and even attempted to curtail the tsar's powers during the abortive Decembrist revolt of 1825, which was followed by several decades of political repression.

The prevalence of serfdom and the conservative policies of Nicolas I impeded the development of Russia in the mid-nineteenth century. Nicholas's successor Alexander II (1855–1881) enacted significant reforms, including the abolition of serfdom in 1861; these "Great Reforms" spurred industrialization. However, many socio-economic conflicts were aggravated during Alexander III’s reign and under his son, Nicholas II. Harsh conditions in factories created mass support for the revolutionary socialist movement. In January 1905, striking workers peaceably demonstrated for reforms in Saint Petersburg but were fired upon by troops, killing and wounding hundreds. The abject failure of the Tsar's military forces in the initially-popular Russo-Japanese War, and the event known as "Bloody Sunday", ignited the Russian Revolution of 1905. Although the uprising was swiftly put down by the army and although Nicholas II retained much of his power, he was forced to concede major reforms, including granting the freedoms of speech and assembly, the legalization of political parties and the creation of an elected legislative assembly, the Duma; however, the hopes for basic improvements in the lives of industrial workers were unfulfilled. Droughts and famines in Russia tended to occur on a fairly regular basis, with famine occurring every 10–13 years. The 1891-92 famine killed approximately half-million people. Cholera epidemics claimed more than 2 million lives.

Russia entered World War I in aid of its ally Serbia and fought a war across three fronts while isolated from its allies. Russia did not want war but felt that the only alternative was German domination of Europe. Although the army was far from defeated in 1916, the already-existing public distrust of the regime was deepened by the rising costs of war, casualties (Russia suffered the highest number of both military and civilian deaths of the Entente Powers), and tales of corruption and even treason in high places, leading to the outbreak of the Russian Revolution of 1917. A series of uprisings were organized by workers and peasants throughout the country, as well as by soldiers in the Russian army, who were mainly of peasant origin. Many of the uprisings were organized and led by democratically-elected councils called Soviets. The February Revolution overthrew the Russian monarchy, which was replaced by a shaky coalition of political parties that declared itself the Provisional Government. The abdication marked the end of imperial rule in Russia, and Nicholas and his family were imprisoned and later executed during the Civil War. While initially receiving the support of the Soviets, the Provisional Government proved unable to resolve many problems which had led to the February Revolution. The second revolution, the October Revolution, led by Vladimir Lenin, overthrew the Provisional Government and created the world’s first socialist state.

After Lenin's death in 1924, Joseph Stalin consolidated power and became dictator. Stalin launched a command economy, rapid industrialization of the largely rural country and collectivization of its agriculture and the Soviet Union was transformed from an agrarian economy to a major industrial powerhouse in a short span of time. This transformation came with a heavy price, however; millions of citizens died as a consequence of his harsh policies (see Gulag, Dekulakization, Population transfers in the Soviet Union, Soviet famine of 1932–1933, and Great Terror).

On 22 June 1941, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union with the largest and most powerful invasion force in human history, opening the largest theater of the Second World War. Although the German army had considerable success early on, they suffered defeats after reaching the outskirts of Moscow and were dealt their first major defeat at the Battle of Stalingrad in the winter of 1942–1943. Soviet forces drove through Eastern Europe in 1944–45 and captured Berlin in May, 1945. In the conflict, Soviet military and civilian death toll were 10.6 million and 15.9 million respectively, accounting for half of all World War II casualties. The Soviet economy and infrastructure suffered massive devastation but the Soviet Union emerged as an acknowledged superpower. The Red Army occupied Eastern Europe after the war, including the eastern half of Germany; Stalin installed socialist governments in these satellite states. Becoming the world's second nuclear weapons power, the USSR established the Warsaw Pact alliance and entered into a struggle for global dominance with the United States, which became known as the Cold War.

After Stalin's death, Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev denounced Stalin and eased his repressive policies. He began the process of eliminating the Stalinist political system known as de-Stalinization and abolished the Gulag labor camps, releasing millions of prisoners. The Soviet Union launched the world's first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1 and the Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human being to orbit the Earth aboard the first manned spacecraft, Vostok 1. Tensions with the United States heightened when the two rivals clashed over the deployment of the U.S. Jupiter missiles in Turkey and Soviet missiles in Cuba. Following the ousting of Khrushchev, another period of rule by collective leadership ensued until Leonid Brezhnev established himself in the early 1970s as the pre-eminent figure in Soviet politics. Brezhnev's rule oversaw economic stagnation and the Soviet war in Afghanistan, which drained economic resources and dragged on without achieving meaningful military or political results. Ultimately Soviet forces were withdrawn from Afghanistan in 1989 because of international opposition and a lack of political support from Soviet citizens at home. Tensions rose between the U.S. and Soviet Union in the early 1980s, fueled by anti-Soviet rhetoric in the U.S., the SDI proposal, and the September 1983 downing of Korean Air Lines Flight 007 by the Soviets. From 1985 onwards, Mikhail Gorbachev introduced the policies of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) in an attempt to modernize the country. Prior to its dissolution, the USSR economy was the second largest in the world, after the United States, until it began to collapse. During its last years, the economy was afflicted by shortages of goods in grocery stores, huge budget deficits and explosive growth in money supply leading to inflation. In August 1991, an unsuccessful military coup against Gorbachev aimed at preserving the Soviet Union instead led to its collapse. In Russia, Boris Yeltsin came to power and declared the end of socialist rule. The USSR splintered into fifteen independent republics and was officially dissolved in December 1991. Boris Yeltsin was elected the President of Russia in June 1991, in the first direct presidential election in Russian history.

During and after the disintegration of the USSR when wide-ranging reforms including privatisation and market and trade liberalization were being undertaken, the Russian economy went through a major crisis. This period was characterized by deep contraction of output, with GDP declining by roughly 50 percent between 1990 and the end of 1995 and industrial output declining by over 50 percent. In October 1991, Yeltsin announced that Russia would proceed with radical, market-oriented reform along the lines of "shock therapy", as recommended by the United States and International Monetary Fund. Price controls were abolished, privatization was started. Millions plunged into poverty. According to the World Bank, whereas 1.5% of the population was living in poverty in the late Soviet era, by mid-1993 between 39% and 49% of the population was living in poverty. Delays in wage payment became a chronic problem with millions being paid months, even years late. Russia took up the responsibility for settling the USSR's external debts, even though its population made up just half of the population of the USSR at the time of its dissolution. The privatization process largely shifted control of enterprises from state agencies to groups of individuals with inside connections in the Government and the mafia. Violent criminal groups often took over state enterprises, clearing the way through assassinations or extortion. Corruption of government officials became an everyday rule of life. Many of the newly rich mobsters and businesspeople took billions in cash and assets outside of the country in an enormous capital flight. The long and wrenching depression was coupled with social decay. Social services collapsed and the birth rate plummeted while the death rate skyrocketed. The early and mid-1990s was marked by extreme lawlessness. Criminal gangs and organized crime flourished and murders and other violent crime spiraled out of control.

In 1993 a constitutional crisis resulted in the worst civil strife in Moscow since the October Revolution. President Boris Yeltsin illegally dissolved the country's legislature which opposed his moves to consolidate power and push forward with unpopular neo-liberal reforms; in response, legislators barricaded themselves inside the White House, impeached Yeltsin and elected a new President and major protests against Yeltsin's government resulted in hundreds killed. With military support, Yeltsin sent the army to besiege the parliament building and disperse its defenders and used tanks and artillery to eject the legislators.

The 1990s were plagued by armed ethnic conflicts in the North Caucasus. Such conflicts took a form of separatist Islamist insurrections against federal power, or of ethnic/clan conflicts between local groups. Since the Chechen separatists declared independence in the early 1990s, an intermittent guerrilla war (First Chechen War, Second Chechen War) has been fought between disparate Chechen rebel groups and the Russian military. Terrorist attacks against civilians carried out by Chechen separatists, most notably the Moscow theater hostage crisis and Beslan school siege, caused hundreds of deaths and drew worldwide attention. High budget deficits and the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis caused the financial crisis of 1998 and resulted in further GDP decline. On 31 December 1999 Boris Yeltsin resigned from the presidency, handing the post to the recently appointed prime minister, Vladimir Putin, who then won the 2000 election. Putin won popularity for suppressing the Chechen insurgency, although sporadic violence still occurs throughout the North Caucasus. High oil prices and initially weak currency followed by increasing domestic demand, consumption and investments has helped the economy grow for nine straight years, alleviating the standard of living and increasing Russia's clout on the world stage. While many reforms made during the Putin administration have been generally criticized by Western nations as un-democratic, Putin's leadership over the return of order, stability and progress has won him widespread popularity in Russia. On March 7, 2008, Dmitry Medvedev was elected President of Russia.

According to the Constitution, which was adopted by national referendum on 12 December 1993 following the 1993 Russian constitutional crisis, Russia is a federation and formally a semi-presidential republic, wherein the President is the head of state and the Prime Minister is the head of government. The Russian Federation is fundamentally structured as a representative democracy. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in the two chambers of the Federal Assembly. The government is regulated by a system of checks and balances defined by the Constitution of the Russian Federation, which serves as the country's supreme legal document and as a social contract for the people of the Russian Federation.

According to the Constitution, constitutional justice in the court is based on the equality of all citizens, judges are independent and subject only to the law, trials are to be open and the accused is guaranteed a defense. Since 1996, Russia has instituted a moratorium on the death penalty in Russia, although capital punishment has not been abolished by law.

The president is elected by popular vote for a six-year term (eligible for a second term but constitutionally barred for a third consecutive term); election last held 2 March 2008. Ministries of the government are composed of the premier and his deputies, ministers, and selected other individuals; all are appointed by the president on the recommendation of the Prime Minister (whereas the appointment of the latter requires the consent of the State Duma). The national legislature is the Federal Assembly, which consists of two chambers; the 450-member State Duma and the 176-member Federation Council. Leading political parties in Russia include United Russia, the Communist Party, the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia and Fair Russia.

The Russian Federation comprises 83 federal subjects. These subjects have equal representation—two delegates each—in the Federation Council. However, they differ in the degree of autonomy they enjoy.

Federal subjects are grouped into seven federal districts, each administered by an envoy appointed by the President of Russia. Unlike the federal subjects, the federal districts are not a subnational level of government, but are a level of administration of the federal government. Federal districts' envoys serve as liaisons between the federal subjects and the federal government and are primarily responsible for overseeing the compliance of the federal subjects with the federal laws.

The Russian Federation is recognized in international law as continuing the legal personality of the former Soviet Union. Russia continues to implement the international commitments of the USSR, and has assumed the USSR's permanent seat on the UN Security Council, membership in other international organizations, the rights and obligations under international treaties and property and debts. Russia has a multifaceted foreign policy. It maintains diplomatic relations with 178 countries and has 140 embassies. Russia's foreign policy is determined by the President and implemented by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

As one of five permanent members of the UN Security Council, Russia plays a major role in maintaining international peace and security, and plays a major role in resolving international conflicts by participating in the Quartet on the Middle East, the Six-party talks with North Korea, promoting the resolution of the Kosovo conflict and resolving nuclear proliferation issues. Russia is a member of the Group of Eight (G8) industrialized nations, the Council of Europe, OSCE and APEC. Russia usually takes a leading role in regional organizations such as the CIS, EurAsEC, CSTO, and the SCO. Former President Vladimir Putin had advocated a strategic partnership with close integration in various dimensions including establishment of four common spaces between Russia and the EU. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has developed a friendlier, albeit volatile relationship with NATO. The NATO-Russia Council was established in 2002 to allow the 26 Allies and Russia to work together as equal partners to pursue opportunities for joint collaboration.

Russia assumed control of Soviet assets abroad and most of the Soviet Union's production facilities and defense industries are located in the country. The Russian military is divided into the Ground Forces, Navy, and Air Force. There are also three independent arms of service: Strategic Rocket Forces, Military Space Forces, and the Airborne Troops. In 2006, the military had 1.037 million personnel on active duty.

Russia has the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons in the world. It has the second largest fleet of ballistic missile submarines and is the only country apart from the U.S. with a modern strategic bomber force. The country has a large and fully indigenous arms industry, producing all of its own military equipment. Russia is the world's top supplier of weapons, a spot it has held since 2001, accounting for around 30% of worldwide weapons sales and exporting weapons to about 80 countries. Following the Soviet practice, it was mandatory before 2007 for all male citizens aged 18–27 to be drafted for two years' Armed Forces service. Various problems associated with this, such as dedovschina (institutionalised physical and psychological abuse), explain why the armed forces have reduced the conscription term first to 18 months in 2007 and then to 12 since 2008, and are planning to increase the proportion of contract servicemen to 70% of the armed forces by 2010. Defense expenditure has quadrupled over the past six years. Official government military spending for 2008 is $40 billion, making it the eighth largest in the world, though various sources, including US intelligence, and the International Institute for Strategic Studies, have estimated Russia’s military expenditures to be considerably higher. Currently, the military is undergoing a major equipment upgrade with about $200 billion on procurement of military equipment between 2006 and 2015.

The economic crisis that struck all post-Soviet countries in the 1990s was twice as intense as the Great Depression in the countries of Western Europe and the United States in the 1930s. Even before the financial crisis of 1998, Russia's GDP was half of what it had been in the early 1990s. Since the turn of the century, rising oil prices, increased foreign investment, higher domestic consumption and greater political stability have bolstered economic growth in Russia. The country ended 2007 with its ninth straight year of growth, averaging 7% annually since the financial crisis of 1998. In 2007, Russia's GDP was $2.076 trillion (est. PPP), the 6th largest in the world, with GDP growing 8.1% from the previous year. Growth was primarily driven by non-traded services and goods for the domestic market, as opposed to oil or mineral extraction and exports. The average salary in Russia was $640 per month in early 2008, up from $80 in 2000. Approximately 14% of Russians lived below the national poverty line in 2007, significantly down from 40% in 1998 at the worst of the post-Soviet collapse. Unemployment in Russia was at 6% in 2007, down from about 12.4% in 1999.

Russia has the world's largest natural gas reserves, the second largest coal reserves and the eighth largest oil reserves. It is the world's leading natural gas exporter and the second leading oil exporter. Oil, natural gas, metals, and timber account for more than 80% of Russian exports abroad. Since 2003, however, exports of natural resources started decreasing in economic importance as the internal market strengthened considerably. Despite higher energy prices, oil and gas only contribute to 5.7% of Russia's GDP and the government predicts this will drop to 3.7% by 2011. Russia is also considered well ahead of most other resource-rich countries in its economic development, with a long tradition of education, science, and industry. The country has more higher education graduates than any other country in Europe.

A simpler, more streamlined tax code adopted in 2001 reduced the tax burden on people, and dramatically increased state revenue. Russia has a flat personal income tax rate of 13 percent. This ranks it as the country with the second most attractive personal tax system for single managers in the world after the United Arab Emirates, according to a 2007 survey by investment services firm Mercer Human Resource Consulting. The federal budget has run surpluses since 2001 and ended 2007 with a surplus of 6% of GDP. Over the past several years, Russia has used oil revenues from its Stabilization Fund of the Russian Federation to prepay all Soviet-era sovereign debt to Paris Club creditors and the IMF. Oil export earnings have allowed Russia to increase its foreign reserves from $12 billion in 1999 to $597.3 billion on 1 August 2008, the third largest reserves in the world. The country has also been able to substantially reduce its formerly massive foreign debt.

The economic development of the country though has been uneven geographically with the Moscow region contributing a disproportionately high amount of the country's GDP. Much of Russia, especially indigenous and rural communities in Siberia, lags significantly behind. Nevertheless, the middle class has grown from just 8 million persons in 2000 to 55 million persons in 2006. Russia is home to the largest number of billionaires in the world after the United States, gaining 50 billionaires in 2007 for a total of 110.

Over the last five years, fixed capital investments have averaged real gains greater than 10% per year and personal incomes have achieved real gains more than 12% per year. During this time, poverty has declined steadily and the middle class has continued to expand. Russia has also improved its international financial position since the 1998 financial crisis. A principal factor in Russia's growth has been the combination of strong growth in productivity, real wages, and consumption. Despite the country's strong economic performance since 1999, however, the World Bank lists several challenges facing the Russian economy including diversifying the economy, encouraging the growth of small and medium enterprises, building human capital and improving corporate governance. Inflation grew to about 12% by the end of 2007, up from 9% in 2006. The upward trend continued in the first quarter of 2008, driven largely by rising food costs. Infrastructure, ageing and inadequate after years of being neglected, is considered to be a bottleneck to economic growth. The government has said $1 trillion will be invested in infrastructure by 2020.

According to preliminary estimates, the resident population of the Russian Federation on 1 January 2009 was 141,903,979 people. In 2008, the population declined by 121,400 people, or by -0.085% (in 2007 - by 212,000, or 0.15% and in 2006 - by 532,600 people, or 0.37%). In 2008 migration continued to grow by a pace of 2.7% with 281,615 migrants arriving to the Russian Federation, of which 95% came from CIS countries, the vast majority being Russians or Russian speakers. The number of Russian emigrants declined by 16% to 39,508, of which 66% went to other CIS countries. There are also an estimated 10 million illegal immigrants from the ex-Soviet states in Russia. The Russian Federation is a diverse, multi-ethnic society, home to as many as 160 different ethnic groups and indigenous peoples. Though Russia's population is comparatively large, its population density is low because of the country's enormous size. Population is densest in European Russia, near the Ural Mountains, and in southwest Siberia.

73% of the population lives in urban areas. As of the 2002 Census, the two largest cities in Russia are Moscow (10,126,424 inhabitants) and Saint Petersburg (4,661,219). Eleven other cities have between one and two million inhabitants: Chelyabinsk, Kazan, Novosibirsk, Nizhny Novgorod, Omsk, Perm, Rostov-on-Don, Samara, Ufa, Volgograd, and Yekaterinburg.

Russia's population peaked in 1991 at 148,689,000, but began to experience a rapid decline starting in the mid-90s. The decline has slowed to near stagnation in recent years due to reduced mortality rates, increased birth rates and increased immigration. The number of deaths during 2008 was 363,500 greater than the number of births. This is down from 477,700 in 2007, and 687,100 in 2006. According to data published by the Russian Federal State Statistics Service, the mortality rate in Russia declined 4% in 2007, as compared to 2006, reaching some 2 million deaths, while the birth rate grew 8.3% year-on-year to an estimated 1.6 million live births. The primary causes of Russia's population decrease are a high death rate and low birth rate. While Russia's birth-rate is comparable to that of other European countries (12.1 births per 1000 people in 2008 compared to the European Union average of 9.90 per 1000) its population is declining at a greater rate than many due to a substantially higher death rate (In 2008, Russia's death rate was 14.7 per 1000 people compared to the European Union average of 10.28 per 1000). However, the Russian health ministry predicts that by 2011, the death rate will equal the birth rate due to increases in fertility and decline in mortality.

Russia has a free education system guaranteed to all citizens by the Constitution, and has a literacy rate of 99.4%. Entry to higher education is highly competitive. As a result of great emphasis on science and technology in education, Russian medical, mathematical, scientific, and space and aviation research is generally of a high order.

The Russian Constitution grants a universal right to higher education free of charge through competitive entry. The Government allocates funding to pay the tuition fees within an established quota, or number of students for each state institution. This is considered crucial because it provides access to higher education to all skilled students, as opposed to only those who can afford it. In addition, students are paid a small stipend and provided with free housing. However, the institutions have to be funded entirely from the federal and regional budgets; institutions have found themselves unable to provide adequate teachers' salaries, students' stipends, and to maintain their facilities. To address the issue, many state institutions started to open commercial positions, which have been growing steadily since. Many private higher education institutions have emerged to address the need for a skilled work-force for high-tech and emerging industries and economic sectors.

The Russian Constitution guarantees free, universal health care for all citizens. While Russia has more physicians, hospitals, and health care workers than almost any other country in the world on a per capita basis, since the collapse of the Soviet Union the health of the Russian population has declined considerably as a result of social, economic, and lifestyle changes. As of 2007, the average life expectancy in Russia is 61.5 years for males and 73.9 years for females. The average Russian life expectancy of 67.7 years at birth is 10.8 years shorter than the overall figure in the European Union. The biggest factor contributing to this relatively low life expectancy for males is a high mortality rate among working-age males from preventable causes (e.g., alcohol poisoning, stress, smoking, traffic accidents, violent crimes). Mortality among Russian men rose by 60% since 1991, four to five times higher than in Europe. As a result of the large difference in life expectancy between men and women and because of the lasting effect of World War II, where Russia lost more men than any other nation in the world, the gender imbalance remains to this day and there are 0.859 males to every female.

Heart diseases account for 56.7% of total deaths, with about 30% involving people still of working age. About 16 million Russians suffer from cardiovascular diseases, placing Russia second in the world, after Ukraine, in this respect. Death rates from homicide, suicide and cancer are also especially high. According to a 2007 survey by Romir Monitoring, 52% of men and 15% of women smoke. More than 260,000 lives are lost each year as a result of tobacco use. HIV/AIDS, virtually non-existent in the Soviet era, rapidly spread following the collapse, mainly through the explosive growth of intravenous drug use. According to official statistics, there are currently more than 364,000 people in Russia registered with HIV, but independent experts place the number significantly higher. In increasing efforts to combat the disease, the government increased spending on HIV control measures 20-fold in 2006, and the 2007 budget doubled that of 2006. Since the Soviet collapse, there has also been a dramatic rise in both cases of and deaths from tuberculosis, with the disease being particularly widespread amongst prison inmates.

In an effort to stem Russia’s demographic crisis, the government is implementing a number of programs designed to increase the birth rate and attract more migrants to alleviate the problem. The government has doubled monthly child support payments and offered a one-time payment of 250,000 Rubles (around US$10,000) to women who had a second child since 2007. In 2007, Russia saw the highest birth rate since the collapse of the USSR. The First Deputy PM also said about 20 billion rubles (about US$1 billion) will be invested in new prenatal centres in Russia in 2008–2009. Immigration is increasingly seen as necessary to sustain the country's population.

Russia's 160 ethnic groups speak some 100 languages. According to the 2002 census, 142.6 million people speak Russian, followed by Tatar with 5.3 million and German with 2.9 million speakers. Russian is the only official state language, but the Constitution gives the individual republics the right to make their native language co-official next to Russian. Despite its wide dispersal, the Russian language is homogeneous throughout Russia. Russian is the most geographically widespread language of Eurasia and the most widely spoken Slavic language. Russian belongs to the Indo-European language family and is one of the living members of the East Slavic languages; the others being Belarusian and Ukrainian (and possibly Rusyn). Written examples of Old East Slavic (Old Russian) are attested from the 10th century onwards.

Over a quarter of the world's scientific literature is published in Russian. Russian is also applied as a means of coding and storage of universal knowledge—60–70% of all world information is published in the English and Russian languages. The language is one of the six official languages of the United Nations.

Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Judaism are Russia’s traditional religions, deemed part of Russia's "historical heritage" in a law passed in 1997. Estimates of believers widely fluctuate among sources, and some reports put the number of non-believers in Russia as high as 16–48% of the population. Russian Orthodoxy is the dominant religion in Russia. 95% of the registered Orthodox parishes belong to the Russian Orthodox Church while there are a number of smaller Orthodox Churches. However, the vast majority of Orthodox believers do not attend church on a regular basis. Nonetheless, the church is widely respected by both believers and nonbelievers, who see it as a symbol of Russian heritage and culture. Smaller Christian denominations such as Roman Catholics, Armenian Gregorian and various Protestants exist.

The ancestors of many of today’s Russians adopted Orthodox Christianity in the 10th century. The 2007 International Religious Freedom Report published by the US Department of State said that approximately 100 million citizens consider themselves Russian Orthodox Christians. According to a poll by the Russian Public Opinion Research Center, 63% of respondents considered themselves Russian Orthodox, 6% of respondents considered themselves Muslim and less than 1% considered themselves either Buddhist, Catholic, Protestant or Jewish. Another 12% said they believe in God, but did not practice any religion, and 16% said they are non-believers.

It is estimated that Russia is home to some 15–20 million Muslims. However, surveys say that there are only 7 to 9 million people who adhere to the Islamic faith in Russia. Russia also has an estimated 3 million to 4 million Muslim migrants from the ex-Soviet states. Most Muslims live in the Volga-Ural region, as well as in the North Caucasus, Moscow, Saint Petersburg and western Siberia. Buddhism is traditional for three regions of the Russian Federation: Buryatia, Tuva and Kalmykia. Some residents of the Siberian and Far Eastern regions, Yakutia, Chukotka, etc., practice shamanist, pantheistic, and pagan rites, along with the major religions. Induction into religion takes place primarily along ethnic lines. Slavs are overwhelmingly Orthodox Christian. Turkic speakers are predominantly Muslim, although several Turkic groups in Russia are not.

Russia's large number of ethnic groups have distinctive traditions of folk music. Music in 19th century Russia was defined by the tension between classical composer Mikhail Glinka and his followers, who embraced Russian national identity and added religious and folk elements to their compositions, and the Russian Musical Society led by composers Anton and Nikolay Rubinstein, which was musically conservative. The later Romantic tradition of Tchaikovsky, one of the greatest composers of the Romantic era whose music has come to be known and loved for its distinctly Russian character as well as its rich harmonies and stirring melodies, was brought into the 20th century by Sergei Rachmaninoff, one of the last great champions of the Romantic style of European classical music.

World-renowned composers of the 20th century included Scriabin, Stravinsky, Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev, and Shostakovich. During most of the Soviet Era, music was highly scrutinized and kept within a conservative, accessible idiom in conformity with the Stalinist policy of socialist realism. Russian conservatories have turned out generations of world-renowned soloists. Among the best known are violinists David Oistrakh and Gidon Kremer, cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, pianists Vladimir Horowitz, Sviatoslav Richter and Emil Gilels, and vocalist Galina Vishnevskaya.

Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky composed the world's most famous works of ballet—Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, and Sleeping Beauty. During the early 20th century, Russian dancers Anna Pavlova and Vaslav Nijinsky rose to fame, and impresario Sergei Diaghilev and his Ballets Russes' travels abroad profoundly influenced the development of dance worldwide. Soviet ballet preserved the perfected 19th century traditions, and the Soviet Union's choreography schools produced one internationally famous star after another, including Maya Plisetskaya, Rudolf Nureyev, and Mikhail Baryshnikov. The Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow and the Kirov in Saint Petersburg remain famous throughout the world.

Russian literature is considered to be among the most influential and developed in the world, contributing much of the world's most famous literary works. Russia's literary history dates back to the 10th century and by the early 19th century a native tradition had emerged, producing some of the greatest writers of all time. This period and the Golden Age of Russian Poetry began with Alexander Pushkin, considered to be the founder of modern Russian literature and often described as the "Russian Shakespeare". Amongst Russia's most renowned poets and writers of the 19th century are Anton Chekhov, Mikhail Lermontov, Leo Tolstoy, Nikolai Gogol, Ivan Turgenev and Fyodor Dostoevsky. Ivan Goncharov, Mikhail Saltykov, Aleksey Pisemsky, and Nikolai Leskov made lasting contributions to Russian prose. Tolstoy and Dostoevsky in particular were titanic figures to the point that many literary critics have described one or the other as the greatest novelist ever.

By the 1880s Russian literature had begun to change. The age of the great novelists was over and short fiction and poetry became the dominant genres of Russian literature for the next several decades which became known as the Silver Age of Russian Poetry. Previously dominated by realism, symbolism dominated Russian literature in the years between 1893 and 1914. Leading writers of this age include Valery Bryusov, Andrei Bely, Vyacheslav Ivanov, Aleksandr Blok, Nikolay Gumilev,Dmitry Merezhkovsky, Fyodor Sologub, Anna Akhmatova, Osip Mandelstam, Marina Tsvetaeva, Leonid Andreyev, Ivan Bunin and Maxim Gorky.

Following the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the ensuing civil war, Russian cultural life in was left in chaos. Some established writers left Russia while a new generation of talented writers who had at least some sympathy for the ideals of the revolution was emerging. The most ardent of these joined together in writers organizations with the aim of creating a new and distinctive proletarian (working-class) culture appropriate to the new state. Throughout the 1920s writers enjoyed broad tolerance. In the 1930s censorship over literature was tightened in line with Joseph Stalin's policy of socialist realism. After his death several thaws took place and restrictions on literature were eased. By the 1970s and 1980s, writers were increasingly ignoring the guidelines of socialist realism. The leading writers of the Soviet era included Yevgeny Zamiatin, Isaac Babel, Ilf and Petrov, Yury Olesha, Vladimir Nabokov, Mikhail Bulgakov, Boris Pasternak, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Mikhail Sholokhov, Yevgeny Yevtushenko and Andrey Voznesensky.

While in the industrialized nations of the West, motion pictures had first been accepted as a form of cheap recreation and leisure for the working class, Russian filmmaking came to prominence following the 1917 revolution when it explored editing as the primary mode of cinematic expression. Russian and later Soviet cinema was a hotbed of invention in the period immediately following the 1917 revolution, resulting in world-renowned films such as Battleship Potemkin. Soviet-era filmmakers, most notably Sergei Eisenstein and Andrei Tarkovsky, would become some of the world's most innovative and influential directors.

Eisenstein also was a student of filmmaker and theorist Lev Kuleshov, who formulated the groundbreaking editing process called montage at the world's first film school, the All-Union Institute of Cinematography in Moscow. Dziga Vertov, whose kino-glaz (“film-eye”) theory—that the camera, like the human eye, is best used to explore real life—had a huge impact on the development of documentary film making and cinema realism. In 1932, Stalin made socialist realism the state policy; this stifled creativity but many Soviet films in this style were artistically successful, including Chapaev, The Cranes Are Flying and Ballad of a Soldier. Leonid Gaidai's comedies of the 1960s and 1970s were immensely popular, with many of the catch phrases still in use today. In 1969, Vladimir Motyl's White Sun of the Desert was released, starting a genre known as 'osterns'. The film is watched by cosmonauts before any trip into space.

The 1980s and 1990s were a period of crisis in Russian cinema. Although Russian filmmakers became free to express themselves, state subsidies were drastically reduced, resulting in fewer films produced. The early years of the 21st century have brought increased viewership and subsequent prosperity to the industry on the back of the economy's rapid development, and production levels are already higher than in Britain and Germany. Russia's total box-office revenue in 2007 was $565 million, up 37% from the previous year (by comparison, in 1996 revenues stood at $6 million). Russian cinema continues to receive international recognition. Russian Ark (2002) was the first feature film ever to be shot in a single take.

Early Russian painting focused on icon painting and vibrant frescos inherited by Russians from Byzantium. As Moscow rose to power, Theophanes the Greek and Andrei Rublev are vital names associated with the beginning of a distinctly Russian art. The Russian Academy of Arts was created in 1757, aimed to give Russian artists an international role and status. Notable portrait painters from the Academy include Ivan Argunov, Fyodor Rokotov, Dmitry Levitzky and Vladimir Borovikovsky. Realism flourished in the 19th century and the realists captured Russian identity. Russian landscapes of wide rivers, forests, and birch clearings, as well as vigorous genre scenes and robust portraits of their contemporaries asserted a sense of identity. Other artists focused on social criticism, showing the conditions of the poor and caricaturing authority while critical realism flourished under the reign of Alexander II.

After the abolition of serfdom in 1861 some artists made the circle of human suffering their focus. Artists sometimes created wide canvasses to depict dramatic moments in Russian history. The Peredvizhniki (wanderers) group of artists broke with Russian Academy and initiated a school of art liberated from Academic restrictions. Their paintings had deep social and political meaning. Leading realists include Ivan Shishkin, Arkhip Kuindzhi, Ivan Kramskoi, Vasily Polenov, Isaac Levitan, Vasily Surikov, Viktor Vasnetsov, and Ilya Repin. By the 1830s the Academy was sending painters overseas to learn. The most gifted of these were Aleksander Ivanov and Karl Briullov, both of whom were noted for the Romantic historical canvasses. Uniquely Russian styles of painting emerged by the late 19th century that was intimately engaged with the daily life of Russian society.

The Russian avant-garde is an umbrella term used to define the large, influential wave of modernist art that flourished in Russia from approximately 1890 to 1930. The term covers many separate, but inextricably related, art movements that occurred at the time; namely neo-primitivism, suprematism, constructivism, rayonism and futurism. Notable artists from this era include El Lissitzky, Kazimir Malevich, Wassily Kandinsky, Vladimir Tatlin, Alexander Rodchenko, and Marc Chagall amongst others. The Russian avant-garde reached its creative and popular height in the period between the Russian Revolution of 1917 and 1932, at which point the ideas of the avant-garde clashed with the newly emerged conservative Stalinist direction of socialist realism.

By the late 1920s the rigid policy of socialist realism enveloped the visual arts as it did literature and motion pictures and soon the avant-garde had faded from sight. Some artists combined innovation with socialist realism including Ernst Neizvestny, Ilya Kabakov, Mikhail Shemyakin, Erik Bulatov and Vera Mukhina. They employed techniques as varied as primitivism, hyperrealism, grotesque, and abstraction, but they shared a common distaste for the canons of socialist realism. Soviet artists produced works that were furiously patriotic and anti-fascist in the 1940s. Events and battles from the Great Patriotic War were depicted with stirring patriotism and after the war sculptors made many monuments to the war dead, the greatest of which have a great restrained solemnity. In the 20th century many Russian artists made their careers in Western Europe, due in part to the traumas of the Revolution. Russian artists such as Wassily Kandinsky, Marc Chagall, and Naum Gabo spread their work and ideas internationally. These Russian artists studied internationally in Paris and Munich and their involuntary exile spread the impact of Russian art globally.

Russians have been successful at a number of sports and continuously finishing in the top rankings at the Olympic Games. During the Soviet era, the national team placed first in the total number of medals won at 14 of its 18 appearances; with these performances, the USSR was the dominant Olympic power of its era. Since the 1952 Olympic Games, Soviet and later Russian athletes have always been in the top three for the number of gold medals collected at the Summer Olympics. The 1980 Summer Olympic Games were held in Moscow while the 2014 Winter Olympics will be hosted by Sochi.

As the Soviet Union, Russia was traditionally very strong in basketball, winning various Olympic tournaments, World Championships and Eurobasket. At the moment they have various players in the NBA, notably Utah Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko, and are considered as a worldwide basketball force. In 2007, Russia defeated world champions Spain to win Eurobasket 2007. Russian basketball clubs such as PBC CSKA Moscow (2006 and 2008 Euroleague Champions) have also had great success in European competitions such as the Euroleague and the ULEB Cup.

During the soviet period, Russia was also a competitive footballing nation, reaching the finals of various international tournaments. With ice hockey and possibly basketball, football is the most popular sport in Russia today. Despite having fantastic players, the USSR never really managed to assert itself as one of the major forces of international football, although its teams won various championships (such as Euro 1960) and reached numerous finals (such as Euro 1988). In recent years, Russian football, which suffered terribly from the break up of 1991, has experienced something of a revival. Russian clubs (such as CSKA Moscow, Zenit St Petersburg, Lokomotiv Moscow and of course Spartak Moscow) are becoming more and more successful on the European stage (CSKA and Zenit winning the UEFA Cup in 2005 and 2008 respectively) and many predict that the Russian league will become one of the strongest in Europe, partly due to Russia's wealth of footballing talent (visible in their team at Euro 2008) and also because of the injection of serious money into the Russian game, which helps to attract notable foreign players as well. The Russian national team, which played some of the most entertaining and skillful football of Euro 2008 and reached the semi final, losing to eventual champions Spain, is rapidly reemerging as a dominant force in international football, under the guidance of Dutch manager Guus Hiddink.

Soviet gymnasts, track-and-field athletes, weight lifters, wrestlers, cross country skiers, and boxers were consistently among the best in the world. Even since the collapse of the Soviet empire, Russian athletes have continued to dominate international competition in these areas. Although ice hockey was only introduced during the Soviet era, the national team soon dominated the sport internationally, winning gold at almost all the Olympics and World Championships they contested, most recently in the 2008 World Championships.

Figure skating is another popular sport; in the 1960s, the Soviet Union rose to become a dominant power in figure skating, especially in pair skating and ice dancing. At every Winter Olympics from 1964 until the present day, a Soviet or Russian pair has won gold, often considered the longest winning streak in modern sports history. Since the end of the Soviet era, tennis has grown in popularity and Russia has produced a number of famous tennis players. Chess is a widely popular pastime; from 1927, Soviet and Russian chess grandmasters have held the world championship almost continuously.

1 Has part of its territory outside Europe.  2 Entirely in West Asia but having socio-political connections with Europe.  3 Has dependencies or similar territories outside Europe. 4 Name disputed by Greece; see Macedonia naming dispute. 5 Declared independence from Serbia on February 17, 2008 and is recognised by 58 United Nations member states.

For dependent and other territories, see Dependent territory.

1 Partly or significantly in Europe.  2 The Republic of China (Taiwan) is not officially recognized by the United Nations; see Political status of Taiwan. 3 Partly or significantly in Africa.  4 Partly or wholly reckoned in Oceania.

1 Provisionally referred to by the Council of Europe as the "former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia"; see Macedonia naming dispute.

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Cold War

This map shows the two essential global spheres during the Cold War in 1980–the US in blue and the USSR in red. See the legend on the map for more details.

The Cold War was the continuing state of conflict, tension and competition that existed primarily between the United States and the Soviet Union and those countries' respective allies from the mid-1940s to the early 1990s. Throughout this period, the conflict was expressed through military coalitions, espionage, weapons development, invasions, propaganda, and competitive technological development, which included the space race. The conflict included costly defense spending, a massive conventional and nuclear arms race, and numerous proxy wars; the two superpowers never fought one another directly.

Although the Soviet Union, the United States, Britain and France were allied against the Axis powers during the last four years of World War II, disagreements existed both during and after the conflict on many topics, particularly over the shape of the post-war world. At the war's conclusion, most of Europe was occupied by those four countries, while the United States and the Soviet Union possessed the two most powerful military forces.

The Soviet Union created an Eastern Bloc of countries that it occupied, annexing some as Soviet Socialist Republics and maintaining others as Satellite states that would later form the Warsaw Pact. The United States and various western European countries began a policy of "containment" of communism and forged myriad alliances to this end, including later NATO. Several of these western countries also coordinated efforts regarding the rebuilding of western Europe, including western Germany, which the Soviets opposed. In other regions of the world, such as Latin America and Southeast Asia, the Soviet Union fostered Communist revolutionary movements, which the United States and many of its allies opposed and, in some cases, attempted to "rollback". Many countries were prompted to align themselves with the countries that would later either form NATO or the Warsaw Pact, though other movements would later emerge.

The Cold War saw periods of both heightened tension and relative calm. On the one hand, international crises arose, such as the Berlin Blockade (1948–1949), the Korean War (1950–1953), the Berlin Crisis of 1961, the Vietnam War (1959–1975), the Soviet war in Afghanistan (1979–1989), NATO exercises in November 1983 and especially the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis. There were also periods of reduced tension as both sides sought détente. Direct military attacks on adversaries were deterred by the potential for mutual assured destruction using deliverable nuclear weapons.

The Cold War drew to a close in the late 1980s and the early 1990s. The United States under President Ronald Reagan increased diplomatic, military, and economic pressure on the Soviet Union, which was already suffering from severe economic stagnation. In the second half of the 1980s, newly appointed Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev introduced the perestroika and glasnost reforms. The Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, leaving the United States as the dominant military power, though Russia retained much of the massive Soviet nuclear arsenal.

The first use of the term "Cold War" to describe post-World War II geopolitical tensions between the Soviet Union and the US has been attributed to American financier and US presidential advisor Bernard Baruch. In South Carolina on April 16, 1947, Baruch delivered a speech (composed by journalist Herbert Bayard Swope) in which he said, "Let us not be deceived: we are today in the midst of a cold war." Columnist Walter Lippmann also gave the term wide currency, with the publication of his 1947 book titled Cold War.

The term had previously been used by George Orwell in an essay entitled "You and the Atomic Bomb" which appeared in the British newspaper Tribune on October 19, 1945. However, while contemplating a world living in the shadow of nuclear war and warning of a "peace that is no peace", which he called a permanent "cold war", Orwell did directly refer to that war as the ideological confrontation between the Soviet Union and the western powers.

There is disagreement among historians regarding the starting point of the Cold War. While most historians trace its origins to the period immediately following World War II, others argue that it began towards the end of World War I, although tensions between the Russian Empire and the British Empire and the United States date back to the middle of the 19th century. The ideological clash between communism and capitalism began in 1917, following the October Revolution, when Russia emerged as the world's first communist nation. This outcome rendered Russian–American relations a matter of major long-term concern for leaders in both countries.

Soviet relations with the West further deteriorated when, one week prior to the start of the World War II, the Soviet Union and Germany signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which included a secret agreement to split Poland and Eastern Europe between the two states. Beginning one week later, in September 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union divided Poland and the rest of Eastern Europe through invasions of the countries ceded to each under the Pact. For the next year and a half, they engaged in an extensive economic relationship, trading vital war materials until Germany broke the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union through the territories that the two countries had previously divided.

During their joint war effort, which began thereafter in 1941, the Soviets strongly suspected that the British and the Americans had conspired to allow the Russians to bear the brunt of the battle against Nazi Germany. According to this view, the Western Allies had deliberately delayed opening a second anti-German front in order to step in at the last moment and shape the peace settlement. Similarly, the British and especially the Americans resented that the Soviets had stayed out of the war with Japan, only declaring war after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima made it likely that Japan would surrender to the US only, shutting the Soviets out. Thus, Soviet perceptions of the West and vice versa left a strong undercurrent of tension and hostility between the Allied powers.

The Allies disagreed about how the European map should look, and how borders would be drawn, following the war. Both sides, moreover, held very dissimilar ideas regarding the establishment and maintenance of post-war security. The American concept of security assumed that, if US-style governments and markets were established as widely as possible, countries could resolve their differences peacefully, through international organizations. The Soviet model of security depended on the integrity of that country's own borders. This reasoning was conditioned by Russia's historical experiences, given the frequency with which the country had been invaded from the West over the previous 150 years. The immense damage inflicted upon the USSR by the German invasion was unprecedented both in terms of death toll (est. 27 million) and the extent of destruction. Moscow was committed to ensuring that the new order in Europe would guarantee Soviet security for the long term and sought to eliminate the chance of a hostile government reappearing along the USSR's western border by controlling the internal affairs of these countries. Poland was a particularly thorny issue. In April 1945, both Churchill and the new American President, Harry S. Truman, protested the Soviets' decision to prop up the Lublin government, the Soviet-controlled rival to the Polish government-in-exile, whose relations with the Soviets were severed.

At the Yalta Conference in February 1945, the Allies attempted to define the framework for a post-war settlement in Europe but failed to reach a firm consensus. Following the Allied victory in May, the Soviets effectively occupied Eastern Europe, while strong US and Western allied forces remained in Western Europe. In occupied Germany, the US and the Soviet Union established zones of occupation and a loose framework for four-power control with the fading French and British. For the maintenance of world peace, the Allies set up the United Nations, but the enforcement capacity of its Security Council was effectively paralyzed by the superpowers' use of the veto. The UN was essentially converted into an inactive forum for exchanging polemical rhetoric, and the Soviets regarded it almost exclusively as a propaganda tribune.

During the final stages of the war, the Soviet Union laid the foundation for the Eastern Bloc by directly annexing several countries as Soviet Socialist Republics that were initially (and effectively) ceded to it by Nazi Germany in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. These included Eastern Poland (incorporated into two different SSRs), Latvia (which became the Latvian SSR), Estonia (which became the Estonian SSR), Lithuania (which became the Lithuanian SSR), part of eastern Finland (which became the Karelo-Finnish SSR) and eastern Romania (which became the Moldavian SSR).

British Prime Minister Winston Churchill was concerned that given the enormous size of Soviet forces deployed in Europe at the end of the war, and the perception that Soviet leader Joseph Stalin was unreliable, there existed a Soviet threat to Western Europe. In April-May 1945, the British War Cabinet's Joint Planning Staff Committee developed Operation Unthinkable, a plan "to impose upon Russia the will of the United States and the British Empire". The plan, however, was rejected by the British Chiefs of Staff Committee as militarily unfeasible.

At the Potsdam Conference, which started in late July after Germany's surrender, serious differences emerged over the future development of Germany and Eastern Europe. Moreover, the participants' mounting antipathy and bellicose language served to confirm their suspicions about each other's hostile intentions and entrench their positions. At this conference Truman informed Stalin that the United States possessed a powerful new weapon. Stalin was aware that the Americans were working on the atomic bomb and, given that the Soviets' own rival program was in place, he reacted to the news calmly. The Soviet leader said he was pleased by the news and expressed the hope that the weapon would be used against Japan. One week after the end of the Potsdam Conference, the US bombed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Shortly after the attacks, Stalin protested to US officials when Truman offered the Soviets little real influence in occupied Japan.

In February 1946, George F. Kennan's "Long Telegram" from Moscow helped to articulate the US government's increasingly hard line against the Soviets, and became the basis for US strategy toward the Soviet Union for the duration of the Cold War. That September, the Soviet side produced the Novikov telegram, sent by the Soviet ambassador to the US but commissioned and "co-authored" by Vyacheslav Molotov; it portrayed the US as being in the grip of monopoly capitalists who were building up military capability "to prepare the conditions for winning world supremacy in a new war". On September 6, 1946, James F. Byrnes delivered a speech in Germany repudiating the Morgenthau Plan (a proposal to partition and de-industrialize post-war Germany) and warning the Soviets that the US intended to maintain a military presence in Europe indefinitely. As Byrnes admitted a month later, "The nub of our program was to win the German people  it was a battle between us and Russia over minds " A few weeks after the release of this "Long Telegram", former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill delivered his famous "Iron Curtain" speech in Fulton, Missouri. The speech called for an Anglo-American alliance against the Soviets, whom he accused of establishing an "iron curtain" from "Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic".

After annexing several occupied countries as Soviet Socialist Republics at the end of World War II, other occupied states were added to the Eastern Bloc by converting them into puppet Soviet Satellite states, such as East Germany, the People's Republic of Poland, the People's Republic of Hungary, the Czechoslovak Socialist Republic, the People's Republic of Romania and the People's Republic of Albania. In Asia, the Red Army had overrun Manchuria in the last month of the war, and went on to occupy the large swath of Korean territory located north of the 38th parallel.

In September 1947, the Soviets created Cominform, the purpose of which was to enforce orthodoxy within the international communist movement and tighten political control over Soviet satellites through coordination of communist parties in the Eastern Bloc. Cominform faced an embarrassing setback the following June, when the Tito–Stalin split obliged its members to expel Yugoslavia, which remained Communist but adopted a neutral stance in the Cold War.

As part of the Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, the NKVD, led by Lavrentiy Beria, supervised the establishment of Soviet-style systems of secret police in the Eastern European states, which were supposed to crush anti-communist resistance. When the slightest stirrings of independence emerged among East European satellites, Stalin's strategy was to deal with those responsible in the same manner he had handled his pre-war rivals within the Soviet Union: they were removed from power, put on trial, imprisoned, and in several instances, executed.

By 1947, US president Harry S. Truman's advisors urged him to take immediate steps to counter the Soviet Union's influence, citing Stalin's efforts (amid post-war confusion and collapse) to undermine the US by encouraging rivalries among capitalists that could precipitate another war. In February 1947, the British government announced that it could no longer afford to finance the Greek monarchical military regime in its civil war against communist-led insurgents. The American government's response to this announcement was the adoption of containment, the goal of which was to stop the spread of communism. Truman delivered a speech that called for the allocation of $400 million to intervene in the war and unveiled the Truman Doctrine, which framed the conflict as a contest between free peoples and totalitarian regimes. Even though the insurgents were helped by Josip Broz Tito's Yugoslavia, US policymakers accused the Soviet Union of conspiring against the Greek royalists in an effort to expand Soviet influence.

In the US, the enunciation of the Truman Doctrine marked the beginning of a bipartisan defense and foreign policy consensus between Republicans and Democrats, focused on containment and deterrence; this weakened during and after the Vietnam War but ultimately held steady. Moderate and conservative parties in Europe, as well as social democrats, gave virtually unconditional support to the Western alliance, but Communists there and in the US, paid by the KGB and involved in its intelligence operations, adhered to Moscow's line, although dissent began to appear after 1956. Other critiques of consensus politics came from anti-Vietnam War activists, the CND and the nuclear freeze movement.

In early 1947, the United States unsuccessfully attempted to reach an agreement with the Soviet Union for a plan envisioning an economically self-sufficient Germany, including a detailed accounting of the industrial plants, good and infrastructure already removed by the Soviets. Thereafter, in June 1947, in accordance with the goals of the Truman Doctrine, the United States enacted the Marshall Plan, a pledge of economic assistance for all European countries willing to participate, including the Soviet Union. The plan's aim was to rebuild the democratic and economic systems of Europe and to counter perceived threats to Europe's balance of power, such as communist parties seizing control through elections or popular revolutions in countries like France or Italy. The plan stressed instead that European prosperity was contingent upon German economic recovery. One month later, Truman signed the National Security Act of 1947, creating a unified Department of Defense, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), and the National Security Council. These would become the main bureaucracies for US policy in the Cold War.

Stalin saw the Marshall Plan as a significant threat to Soviet control of Eastern Europe. He believed that economic integration with the West would allow Eastern Bloc countries to escape Soviet guidance, and that the US was trying to buy a pro-US re-alignment of Europe. Stalin therefore prevented Eastern Bloc nations from receiving Marshall Plan aid. The Soviet Union's alternative to the Marshall plan, which was purported to involve Soviet subsidies and trade with eastern Europe, became known as the Molotov Plan (later institutionalized in January 1949 as the Comecon). Stalin was also fearful of a reconstituted Germany; his vision of a post-war Germany did not include the ability to rearm or pose any kind of threat to the Soviet Union.

In early 1948, an alarmed Stalin actively contributed to a plan by communists to seize power in the coup d'état of 1948 in Czechoslovakia, the only Eastern European state that had retained a democratic government. The public brutality of the coup d'état shocked Western powers more than any event up to that point, set in a motion a brief scare that war would occur and swept away the last vestiges of opposition to the Marshall Plan in the United States Congress. The twin policies of the Truman Doctrine and the Marshall Plan led to billions in economic and military aid for Western Europe, and Greece and Turkey. With US assistance, the Greek military won its civil war, and the Italian Christian Democrats defeated the powerful Communist-Socialist alliance in the elections of 1948. Around this time, both sides in the conflict also saw a proliferation of intelligence and espionage activities—infiltration, defection, spy planes and satellites, expulsion of diplomats and smuggled documents would all play a role in the ensuing decades.

The United States and Britain merged together their occupation zones in western Germany into "Bizonia" (later "trizonia" with the addition of France's zone). As part of the economic rebuilding of Germany, in early 1948, representatives of a number of Western European governments and the United States announced an agreement for a merger of western German areas into a federal governmental system. In addition, in accordance with the Marshall Plan, they began to re-industrialize and rebuild the German economy, including the introduction of a new Deutsche Mark currency to replace the old Reichsmark currency that Soviets had debased.

Shortly thereafter, Stalin instituted a blockade preventing food, materials and supplies from arriving in West Berlin known as the Berlin Blockade, one of the first major crises of the Cold War. The United States, Britain, France, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and several other countries began the massive "Berlin airlift", supplying West Berlin with food and other provisions. The Soviets mounted a public relations campaign against the US policy change, communists attempted to disrupt the elections of 1948 preceding large losses therein, 300,000 Berliners demonstrated urged the international airlift to continue, and the US accidentally created "Operation Vittles", which supplied candy to German children. In May 1949, Stalin backed down and lifted the blockade of Berlin, permitting the resumption of normal shipments to West Berlin.

The US formally allied itself to the Western European states in the North Atlantic Treaty of April 1949, establishing the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). That August, Stalin ordered the detonation of the first Soviet atomic device. In 1948, the US, Britain and France spearheaded the establishment of West Germany from the three Western zones of occupation in May 1949. To counter the Western reorganisation of Germany, the Soviet Union proclaimed its zone of occupation in Germany the German Democratic Republic that October.

Media in the Eastern Bloc was an organ of the state, completely reliant on and subservient to the communist party, with radio and television organizations being state-owned, while print media was usually owned by political organizations, mostly by the local communist party. Along with the broadcasts of the British Broadcasting Company and the Voice of America to Eastern Europe, a major propaganda effort begun in 1949 was Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, dedicated to bringing about the peaceful demise of the Communist system in the Eastern Bloc. Radio Free Europe attempted to achieve these goals by serving as a surrogate home radio station, an alternative to the controlled and party-dominated domestic press. RFE was a product of some of the most prominent architects of America's early Cold War strategy, especially those who believed that the Cold War would eventually be fought by political rather than military means, such as George F. Kennan. American policymakers, including Kennan and John Foster Dulles, acknowledged that the Cold War was in its essence a war of ideas. The United States, acting through the CIA, funded a long list of projects to counter the Communist appeal among intellectuals in Europe and the developing world.

In the early 1950s, the US worked for the rearmament of West Germany and, in 1955, secured its full membership of NATO. In May 1953, Beria, by then in a government post, had made an unsuccessful proposal to allow the reunification of a neutral Germany to prevent West Germany's incorporation into NATO.

In 1949, Mao's Red Army defeated the US-backed Kuomintang (KMT) Nationalist Government in China, and the Soviet Union promptly created an alliance with the newly-formed People's Republic of China. Confronted with the Chinese Revolution and the end of the US atomic monopoly in 1949, the Truman administration quickly moved to escalate and expand the containment policy. In NSC-68, a secret 1950 document, the National Security Council proposed to reinforce pro-Western alliance systems and quadruple spending on defense.

US officials moved thereafter to expand "containment" into Asia, Africa, and Latin America, in order to counter revolutionary nationalist movements, often led by Communist parties financed by the USSR, fighting against the restoration of Europe's colonial empires in South-East Asia and elsewhere. In the early 1950s, the US formalized a series of alliances with Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Thailand and the Philippines (notably ANZUS and SEATO), thereby guaranteeing the United States a number of long-term military bases.

One of the more significant impacts of containment was the outbreak of the Korean War. In June 1950, Kim Il-Sung's North Korean People's Army invaded South Korea. To Stalin's surprise, the UN Security Council backed the defense of South Korea, though the Soviets were then boycotting meetings to protest that Taiwan and not Communist China held a permanent seat on the Council. A UN force of personnel from South Korea, the United States, the United Kingdom, Turkey, Canada, Australia, France, the Philippines, the Netherlands, Belgium, New Zealand and other countries joined to stop the invasion.

I know there are some who think that the horror and devastation of a world war now would be so frightful, whoever won, and the damage to civilization so lasting, that it would be better to submit to Communist domination. I understand that view–but I reject it.

Even though the Chinese and North Koreans were exhausted by the war and were prepared to end it by late 1952, Stalin insisted that they continue fighting, and a cease-fire was approved only in July 1953, after Stalin's death. In North Korea, Kim Il Sung created a highly centralized and brutal dictatorship, according himself unlimited power and generating a formidable cult of personality.

In 1953, changes in political leadership on both sides shifted the dynamic of the Cold War. Dwight D. Eisenhower was inaugurated president that January. During the last 18 months of the Truman administration, the US defense budget had quadrupled, and Eisenhower moved to reduce military spending by a third while continuing to fight the Cold War effectively. In March, following the death of Joseph Stalin, Nikita Khrushchev became the undisputed leader of the USSR, having deposed and executed Lavrentiy Beria, and pushed aside his rivals Georgy Malenkov and Vyacheslav Molotov. On February 25, 1956, Khrushchev shocked delegates to the 20th Congress of the Soviet Communist Party by cataloguing and denouncing Stalin's crimes. As part of a campaign of de-Stalinization, he declared that the only way to reform and move away from Stalin's policies would be to acknowledge errors made in the past.

On November 18, 1956, while addressing Western ambassadors at a reception at the Polish embassy in Moscow, Khrushchev used his famous "Whether you like it or not, history is on our side. We will bury you" expression, shocking everyone present. However, he had not been talking about nuclear war, he later claimed, but rather about the historically determined victory of communism over capitalism. He then declared in 1961 that even if the USSR might indeed be behind the West, within a decade its housing shortage would disappear, consumer goods would be abundant, its population would be "materially provided for", and within two decades, the Soviet Union "would rise to such a great height that, by comparison, the main capitalist countries will remain far below and well behind".

Eisenhower's secretary of state, John Foster Dulles, initiated a "New Look" for the "containment" strategy, calling for a greater reliance on nuclear weapons against US enemies in wartime. Dulles also enunciated the doctrine of "massive retaliation", threatening a severe US response to any Soviet aggression. Possessing nuclear superiority, for example, allowed Eisenhower to face down Soviet threats to intervene in the Middle East during the 1956 Suez Crisis.

There was a slight relaxation of tensions after Stalin's death in 1953, but the situation in Europe remained an uneasy armed truce. US troops seemed stationed indefinitely in West Germany and Soviet forces seemed indefinitely stationed throughout Eastern Europe. To counter West German rearmament and admission into NATO, the Soviets established a formal alliance with the Eastern European Communist states called the Warsaw Treaty Organization or Warsaw Pact in 1955; this was more a political than a defense measure, as the USSR already had a network of mutual assistance treaties with all its allies in Eastern Europe by the time NATO was set up in 1949. In 1956, the status quo was briefly threatened in Hungary, when the Soviets invaded rather than allow the Hungarians to move out of their orbit, which started after Khrushchev arranged the removal from power of Hungary's Stalinist leader, Mátyás Rákosi. Berlin remained divided and contested.

From 1957 through 1961, Khrushchev openly and repeatedly threatened the West with nuclear annihilation. He claimed that Soviet missile capabilities were far superior to those of the United States, capable of wiping out any American or European city. However, Khrushchev rejected Stalin's belief in the inevitability of war, and declared his new goal was to be "peaceful coexistence". This formulation modified the Stalin-era Soviet stance, where international class struggle meant the two opposing camps were on an inevitable collision course where Communism would triumph through global war; now, peace would allow capitalism to collapse on its own, as well as giving the Soviets time to boost their military capabilities, which remained for decades until Gorbachev's later "new thinking" envisioning peaceful coexistence as an end in itself rather than a form of class struggle. US pronouncements concentrated on American strength abroad and the success of liberal capitalism. However, by the late 1960s, the "battle for men's minds" between two systems of social organization that Kennedy spoke of in 1961 was largely over, with tensions henceforth based primarily on clashing geopolitical objectives rather than ideology.

During November 1958, Khrushchev made an unsuccessful attempt to turn all of Berlin into an independent, demilitarized "free city", giving the United States, Great Britain, and France a six-month ultimatum to withdraw their troops from the sectors they still occupied in West Berlin, or he would transfer control of Western access rights to the East Germans. Khrushchev earlier explained to Mao, using a startling anatomical metaphor, that "Berlin is the testicles of the West. Every time I want to make the West scream, I squeeze on Berlin." NATO formally rejected the ultimatum in mid-December and Khrushchev withdrew it in return for a Geneva conference on the German question.

More broadly, one hallmark of the 1950s was the beginning of European integration—a fundamental by-product of the Cold War that Truman and Eisenhower promoted politically, economically, and militarily, but which later administrations viewed ambivalently, fearful that an independent Europe would forge a separate détente with the Soviet Union, which would use this to exacerbate Western disunity.

Nationalist movements in some countries and regions, notably Guatemala, Iran, the Philippines, and Indochina were often allied with communist groups—or at least were perceived in the West to be allied with communists. In this context, the US and the Soviet Union increasingly competed for influence by proxy in the Third World as decolonization gained momentum in the 1950s and early 1960s; additionally, the Soviets saw continuing losses by imperial powers as presaging the eventual victory of their ideology. The US government utilized the CIA in order to remove a string of unfriendly Third World governments and to support allied ones. The US used the CIA to overthrow governments suspected by Washington of turning pro-Soviet, including Iran's first democratically elected government under Prime Minister Mohammed Mosaddeq in 1953 (see 1953 Iranian coup d'état) and Guatemala's democratically elected president Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán in 1954 (see 1954 Guatemalan coup d'état). Between 1954 and 1961, the US sent economic aid and military advisors to stem the collapse of South Vietnam's pro-Western regime. Both sides used propaganda to advance their cause: the United States Information Agency was set up to create support for US foreign policy, aided by its radio division, Voice of America; the BBC did its part too. The CIA spread covert propaganda against US-hostile governments (including Eastern Bloc ones), also providing funds to establish Radio Free Europe, which was frequently jammed. The Chinese and the Soviets waged an intra-Communist propaganda war after their split. Soviet propaganda used Marxist philosophy to attack capitalism, claiming labor exploitation and war-mongering imperialism were inherent in the system.

Many emerging nations of Asia, Africa, and Latin America rejected the pressure to choose sides in the East-West competition. In 1955, at the Bandung Conference in Indonesia, dozens of Third World governments resolved to stay out of the Cold War. The consensus reached at Bandung culminated with the creation of the Non-Aligned Movement in 1961. Meanwhile, Khrushchev broadened Moscow's policy to establish ties with India and other key neutral states. Independence movements in the Third World transformed the post-war order into a more pluralistic world of decolonized African and Middle Eastern nations and of rising nationalism in Asia and Latin America.

On the nuclear weapons front, the US and the USSR pursued nuclear rearmament and developed long-range weapons with which they could strike the territory of the other. In August 1957, the Soviets successfully launched the world's first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) and in October, launched the first Earth satellite, Sputnik. The launch of Sputnik inaugurated the Space Race. This culminated in the Apollo Moon landings, which astronaut Frank Borman later described as "just a battle in the Cold War" with superior spaceflight rockets indicating superior ICBMs. However, the period after 1956 was marked by serious setbacks for the Soviet Union, most notably the breakdown of the Sino-Soviet alliance. Mao had defended Stalin when Khrushchev attacked him in 1956, and treated the new Soviet leader as a superficial upstart, accusing him of having lost his revolutionary edge. After this, Khrushchev made many desperate attempts to reconstitute the Sino-Soviet alliance, but Mao considered it useless and denied any proposal. Further on, the Soviets focused on a bitter rivalry with Mao's China for leadership of the global communist movement, and the two clashed militarily in 1969.

The Berlin Crisis of 1961 was the last major incident in the Cold War regarding the status of Berlin and post-World War II Germany. By the early 1950s, the Soviet approach to restricting emigration movement was emulated by most of the rest of the Eastern Bloc. However, hundreds of thousands of East Germans annually emigrated to West Germany through a "loophole" in the system that existed between East and West Berlin, where the four occupying World War II powers governed movement. The emigration resulted in a massive "brain drain" from East Germany to West Germany of younger educated professionals, such that nearly 20% of East Germany's population had migrated to West Germany by 1961. That June, the Soviet Union issued a new ultimatum demanding the withdrawal of allied forces from West Berlin. The request was rebuffed, and in August, East Germany erected a barbed-wire barrier that would eventually be expanded through construction into the Berlin Wall, effectively closing the loophole.

The nuclear arms race brought the two superpowers to the brink of nuclear war. Khrushchev formed an alliance with Fidel Castro after the Cuban Revolution in 1959. In 1962, President John F. Kennedy responded to the installation of nuclear missiles in Cuba with a naval blockade. The Cuban Missile Crisis brought the world closer to nuclear war than ever before in the history of the Cold War. It also showed that neither superpower was prepared to use nuclear weapons for fear of the other's retaliation, and thus of mutually assured destruction. The aftermath of the crisis led to the first efforts at nuclear disarmament and improving relations, although the Cold War's first arms control agreement, the Antarctic Treaty, had come into force in 1961.

In 1964, Khrushchev's Kremlin colleagues managed to oust him, but allowed him a peaceful retirement. Accused of rudeness and incompetence, he was also credited with ruining Soviet agriculture and bringing the world to the brink of nuclear war. Khrushchev had become an international embarrassment when he authorised construction of the Berlin Wall, a public humiliation for Marxism-Leninism.

In the course of the 1960s and '70s, both the US and the Soviet Union struggled to adjust to a new, more complicated pattern of international relations in which the world was no longer divided into two clearly opposed blocs. From the beginning of the post-war period, Western Europe and Japan rapidly recovered from the destruction of World War II and sustained strong economic growth through the 1950s and '60s, increasing their strength compared to the United States. As a result of the 1973 oil crisis, combined with the growing influence of Third World alignments such as the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) and the Non-Aligned Movement, less-powerful countries had more room to assert their independence and often showed themselves resistant to pressure from either superpower. Moscow, meanwhile, was forced to turn its attention inward to deal with the Soviet Union's deep-seated domestic economic problems. During this period, Soviet leaders such as Alexey Kosygin and Leonid Brezhnev embraced the notion of détente.

Nevertheless, both superpowers resolved to reinforce their global leadership. Both the United States and the Soviet Union struggled to stave off challenges to their leadership in their own regions. President Lyndon B. Johnson landed 22,000 troops in the Dominican Republic in Operation Power Pack, citing the threat of the emergence of a Cuban-style revolution in Latin America. Western Europe remained dependent on the US for its defense, a status most vociferously contested by France's Charles de Gaulle, who in 1966 withdrew from NATO's military structures and expelled NATO troops from French soil.

In 1968, the Soviets, together with most of their Warsaw Pact allies, invaded Czechoslovakia, and then crushed the Prague Spring reform movement, which had threatened to take the country out of the Warsaw Pact. The invasion sparked intense protests from Yugoslavia, Romania and China, and from Western European communist parties.

When forces that are hostile to socialism try to turn the development of some socialist country towards capitalism, it becomes not only a problem of the country concerned, but a common problem and concern of all socialist countries.

The reasons for adopting such a doctrine had to do with the failures of Marxism-Leninism in states like Poland, Hungary and East Germany, which were facing a declining standard of living, in contrast with the prosperity of West Germany and the rest of Western Europe.

The US continued to spend heavily on supporting friendly Third World regimes in Asia. Conflicts in peripheral regions and client states—most prominently in Vietnam—continued. Johnson stationed 575,000 troops in Southeast Asia to defeat the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam (NLF) and their North Vietnamese allies in the Vietnam War, but his costly policy weakened the US economy and, by 1975, ultimately culminated in what most of the world saw as a humiliating defeat of the world's most powerful superpower at the hands of one of the world's poorest nations.

Additionally, Operation Condor, employed by South American dictators to suppress leftist dissent, was backed by the US, which (sometimes accurately) perceived Soviet or Cuban support behind these opposition movements. Brezhnev, meanwhile, faced far more daunting challenges in reviving the Soviet economy, which was declining in part because of heavy military expenditures. Moreover, the Middle East continued to be a source of contention. Egypt, which received the bulk of its arms and economic assistance from the USSR, was a troublesome client, with a reluctant Soviet Union feeling obliged to assist in both the Six-Day War (with advisers and technicians) and the War of Attrition (with pilots and aircraft) against US ally Israel; Syria and Iraq later received increased assistance as well as (indirectly) the PLO. During the Yom Kippur War, rumors of imminent Soviet intervention on the Egyptians' behalf brought about a massive US mobilization that threatened to wreck détente; this escalation, the USSR's first in a regional conflict central to US interests, inaugurated a new and more turbulent stage of Third World military activism in which the Soviets made use of their new strategic parity.

Relations between the Western powers and the Eastern Bloc changed dramatically in the early 1970s. As a result of the Sino-Soviet split, tensions along the Chinese-Soviet border reached their peak in 1969, and US President Richard Nixon decided to use the conflict to shift the balance of power towards the West in the Cold War. The Chinese had sought improved relations with the US in order to gain advantage over the Soviets as well. In February 1972, Nixon announced a stunning rapprochement with Mao's China by traveling to Beijing and meeting with Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai. At this time, the USSR achieved rough nuclear parity with the US and the United States was weakened by the Vietnam War (manifested by a reduction of influence in the Third World and a cooling of relations with Western Europe). Although indirect conflict between Cold War powers continued through the late 1960s and early 1970s, tensions were beginning to ease.

Following his China visit, Nixon visited the USSR in May and met with Soviet leaders, including Brezhnev in Moscow. These Strategic Arms Limitation Talks resulted in two landmark arms control treaties: SALT I, the first comprehensive limitation pact signed by the two superpowers, and the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, which banned the development of systems designed to intercept incoming missiles. These aimed to limit the development of costly anti-ballistic missiles and nuclear missiles. Nixon and Brezhnev proclaimed a new era of "peaceful coexistence" and established the groundbreaking new policy of détente (or cooperation) between the two superpowers. Between 1972 and 1974, the two sides also agreed to strengthen their economic ties, including agreements for increased trade. As a result of their meetings, détente would replace the hostility of the Cold War and the two countries would live mutually.

Meanwhile, these developments coincided with the "Ostpolitik" of West German Chancellor Willy Brandt. Other agreements were concluded to stabilize the situation in Europe, culminating in the Helsinki Accords signed at the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe in 1975.

However, the détente of the 1970s was short-lived. The KGB, led by Yuri Andropov, continued to persecute distinguished Soviet personalities such as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Andrei Sakharov, who were criticising the Soviet leadership in harsh terms. Indirect conflict between the superpowers continued through this period of détente in the Third World, particularly during political crises in the Middle East, Chile, Ethiopia and Angola. Although President Jimmy Carter tried to place another limit on the arms race with a SALT II agreement in 1979, his efforts were undermined by the other events that year, including the Iranian Revolution and the Nicaraguan Revolution, which both ousted pro-US regimes, and his retaliation against Soviet intervention in Afghanistan in December.

The term second Cold War has been used by some historians to refer to the period of intensive reawakening of Cold War tensions and conflicts in the early 1980s. In 1980, Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter in the US presidential election, vowing to increase military spending and confront the Soviets everywhere. Both Reagan and Britain's new prime minister, Margaret Thatcher, denounced the Soviet Union and its ideology in terms that rivaled those of the worst days of the Cold War in the late 1940s. Reagan labeled the Soviet Union an "evil empire" and predicted that Communism would be left on the "ash heap of history". Tensions greatly increased between the major powers with both sides becoming more militaristic.

During December 1979, about 75,000 Soviet troops invaded Afghanistan in order to support the Marxist government formed by ex-Prime-minister Nur Muhammad Taraki, assassinated that September by one of his party rivals. As a result, US President Jimmy Carter withdrew the SALT II treaty from the Senate, imposed embargoes on grain and technology shipments to the USSR, demanded a significant increase in military spending, and further announced that the United States would boycott the 1980 Moscow Summer Olympics. He described the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan as "the most serious threat to the peace since the Second World War".

Pope John Paul II provided a moral focus for anti-communism; a visit to his native Poland in 1979 stimulated a religious and nationalist resurgence centered on the Solidarity movement that galvanized opposition and may have led to his attempted assassination two years later. Reagan also imposed economic sanctions on Poland to protest the suppression of Solidarity. In response, Mikhail Suslov, the Kremlin's top ideologist, advised Soviet leaders not to intervene if Poland fell under the control of Solidarity, for fear it might lead to heavy economic sanctions, representing a catastrophe for the Soviet economy.

Moscow had built up a military that consumed as much as 25 percent of the Soviet Union's gross national product at the expense of consumer goods and investment in civilian sectors. Soviet spending on the arms race and other Cold War commitments both caused and exacerbated deep-seated structural problems in the Soviet system, which saw at least a decade of economic stagnation during the late Brezhnev years. Soviet investment in the defense sector was not driven by military necessity, but in large part by the interests of massive party and state bureaucracies dependent on the sector for their own power and privileges. The Soviet Armed Forces became the largest in the world in terms of the numbers and types of weapons they possessed, in the number of troops in their ranks, and in the sheer size of their military–industrial base. However, the quantitative advantages held by the Soviet military often concealed areas where the Eastern Bloc dramatically lagged behind the West.

By the early 1980s, the USSR had built up a military arsenal and army surpassing that of the United States. Previously, the US had relied on the qualitative superiority of its weapons, but the gap had been narrowed. Ronald Reagan began massively building up the United States military not long after taking office. This led to the largest peacetime defense buildup in United States history. Tensions continued intensifying in the early 1980s when Reagan revived the B-1 Lancer program that was canceled by the Carter administration, produced LGM-118 Peacekeepers, installed US cruise missiles in Europe, and announced his experimental Strategic Defence Initiative, dubbed "Star Wars" by the media, a defense program to shoot down missiles in mid-flight.

With the background of a buildup in tensions between the Soviet Union and the United States, and the deployment of Soviet RSD-10 Pioneer ballistic missiles targeting Western Europe, NATO decided, under the impetus of the Carter presidency, to deploy MGM-31 Pershing and cruise missiles in Europe, primarily West Germany. This deployment would have placed missiles just 10 minutes' striking distance from Moscow.

After Reagan's military buildup, the Soviet Union did not respond by further building its military because the enormous military expenses, along with inefficient planned manufacturing and collectivized agriculture, were already a heavy burden for the Soviet economy. At the same time, Reagan persuaded Saudi Arabia to increase oil production, even as other non-OPEC nations were increasing production. These developments contributed to the 1980s oil glut, which affected the Soviet Union, as oil was the main source of Soviet export revenues. The decrease in oil prices and large military expenditures gradually brought the Soviet economy to stagnation.

On September 1, 1983, the Soviet Union shot down Korean Air Lines Flight 007, a Boeing 747 with 269 people aboard, including sitting Congressman Larry McDonald, when it violated Soviet airspace just past the west coast of Sakhalin Island—an act which Reagan characterized as a "massacre". This act increased support for military deployment, overseen by Reagan, which stood in place until the later accords between Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. The Able Archer 83 exercise in November 1983, a realistic simulation of a coordinated NATO nuclear release, has been called most dangerous moment since the Cuban Missile Crisis, as the Soviet leadership keeping a close watch on it considered a nuclear attack to be imminent.

US domestic public concerns about intervening in foreign conflicts persisted from the end of the Vietnam War. The Reagan administration emphasized the use of quick, low-cost counter-insurgency tactics to intervene in foreign conflicts. In 1983, the Reagan administration intervened in the multisided Lebanese Civil War, invaded Grenada, bombed Libya and backed the Central American Contras, anti-communist paramilitaries seeking to overthrow the Soviet-aligned Sandinista government in Nicaragua. While Reagan's interventions against Grenada and Libya were popular in the US, his backing of the Contra rebels was mired in controversy.

Meanwhile, the Soviets incurred high costs for their own foreign interventions. Although Brezhnev was convinced in 1979 that the Soviet war in Afghanistan would be brief, Muslim guerrillas, aided by the US and other countries, waged a fierce resistance against the invasion. The Kremlin sent nearly 100,000 troops to support its puppet regime in Afghanistan, leading many outside observers to dub the war "the Soviets' Vietnam". However, Moscow's quagmire in Afghanistan was far more disastrous for the Soviets than Vietnam had been for the Americans because the conflict coincided with a period of internal decay and domestic crisis in the Soviet system. A senior US State Department official predicted such an outcome as early as 1980, positing that the invasion resulted in part from a "domestic crisis within the Soviet system. ... It may be that the thermodynamic law of entropy has ... caught up with the Soviet system, which now seems to expend more energy on simply maintaining its equilibrium than on improving itself. We could be seeing a period of foreign movement at a time of internal decay". The Soviets were not helped by their aged and sclerotic leadership either: Brezhnev, virtually incapacitated in his last years, was succeeded by Andropov and Chernenko, neither of whom lasted long. After Chernenko's death, Reagan was asked why he had not negotiated with Soviet leaders. Reagan quipped, "They keep dying on me".

By the time the comparatively youthful Mikhail Gorbachev became General Secretary in 1985, the Soviet economy was stagnant and faced a sharp fall in foreign currency earnings as a result of the downward slide in oil prices in the 1980s. These issues prompted Gorbachev to investigate measures to revive the ailing state. An ineffectual start led to the conclusion that deeper structural changes were necessary and in June 1987 Gorbachev announced an agenda of economic reform called perestroika, or restructuring. Perestroika relaxed the production quota system, allowed private ownership of businesses and paved the way for foreign investment. These measures were intended to redirect the country's resources from costly Cold War military commitments to more profitable areas in the civilian sector. Despite initial scepticism in the West, the new Soviet leader proved to be committed to reversing the Soviet Union's deteriorating economic condition instead of continuing the arms race with the West. Partly as a way to fight off internal opposition from party cliques to his reforms, Gorbachev simultaneously introduced glasnost, or openness, which increased freedom of the press and the transparency of state institutions. Glasnost was intended to reduce the corruption at the top of the Communist Party and moderate the abuse of power in the Central Committee. Glasnost also enabled increased contact between Soviet citizens and the western world, particularly with the United States, contributing to the accelerating détente between the two nations.

In response to the Kremlin's military and political concessions, Reagan agreed to renew talks on economic issues and the scaling-back of the arms race. The first was held in November 1985 in Geneva, Switzerland. At one stage the two men, accompanied only by a translator, agreed in principle to reduce each country's nuclear arsenal by 50 percent.

A second Reykjavík Summit was held in Iceland. Talks went well until the focus shifted to Reagan's proposed Strategic Defense Initiative, which Gorbachev wanted eliminated: Reagan refused. The negotiations failed, but the third summit in 1987 led to a breakthrough with the signing of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF). The INF treaty eliminated all nuclear-armed, ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometers (300 to 3,400 miles) and their infrastructure. East–West tensions rapidly subsided through the mid-to-late 1980s, culminating with the final summit in Moscow in 1989, when Gorbachev and George H. W. Bush signed the START I arms control treaty. During the following year it became apparent to the Soviets that oil and gas subsidies, along with the cost of maintaining massive troops levels, represented a substantial economic drain. In addition, the security advantage of a buffer zone was recognised as irrelevant and the Soviets officially declared that they would no longer intervene in the affairs of allied states in Eastern Europe. In 1989, Soviet forces withdrew from Afghanistan and by 1990 Gorbachev consented to German reunification, the only alternative being a Tiananmen scenario. When the Berlin Wall came down, Gorbachev's "Common European Home" concept began to take shape.

On December 3, 1989, Gorbachev and Reagan's successor, George H. W. Bush, had declared the Cold War over at the Malta Summit; a year later, the two former rivals were partners in the Gulf War against longtime Soviet ally Iraq.

By 1989, the Soviet alliance system was on the brink of collapse, and, deprived of Soviet military support, the Communist leaders of the Warsaw Pact states were losing power. In the USSR itself, glasnost weakened the bonds that held the Soviet Union together and by February 1990, with the dissolution of the USSR looming, the Communist Party was forced to surrender its 73-year-old monopoly on state power.

At the same time freedom of press and dissent allowed by glasnost and the festering "nationalities question" increasingly led the Union's component republics to declare their autonomy from Moscow, with the Baltic states withdrawing from the Union entirely. The 1989 revolutionary wave that swept across Central and Eastern Europe overthrew the Soviet-style communist states, such as Poland, Hungary, Czechoslovakia and Bulgaria, Romania being the only Eastern-bloc country to topple its communist regime violently and execute its head of state.

Gorbachev's permissive attitude toward Eastern Europe did not initially extend to Soviet territory; even Bush, who strove to maintain friendly relations, condemned the January 1991 killings in Latvia and Lithuania, privately warning that economic ties would be frozen if the violence continued. The USSR was fatally weakened by a failed coup and as a growing number of Soviet republics, particularly Russia, threatened to secede the USSR was declared officially dissolved on December 25, 1991.

The four decades of the Cold War incurred a tremendous cost; military expenditures by the US in this period is estimated to have been $8 trillion, and nearly 100,000 Americans lost their lives in Korea and Vietnam. Although the loss of life among Soviet soldiers is difficult to estimate, as a share of their gross national product the financial cost for the Soviets was even higher. In addition to the loss of life by uniformed soldiers, millions died in the superpowers' proxy wars around the globe, most notably in Southeast Asia.

The United States, of course, is the sole state with preeminence in every domain of power–economic, military, diplomatic, ideological, technological, and cultural–with the reach and capabilities to promote its interests in virtually every part of the world.

Created on December 21, 1991, the Commonwealth of Independent States is viewed as a successor entity to the Soviet Union but according to Russia's leaders its purpose was to "allow a civilized divorce" between the Soviet Republics and is comparable to a loose confederation.

Following the Cold War, Russia cut military spending dramatically, but the adjustment was wrenching, as the military-industrial sector had previously employed one of every five Soviet adults and its dismantling left millions throughout the former Soviet Union unemployed. After Russia embarked on capitalist economic reforms in the 1990s, it suffered a financial crisis and a recession more severe than the US and Germany had experienced during the Great Depression. Russian living standards have worsened overall in the post-Cold War years, although the economy has resumed growth since 1999.

The legacy of the Cold War continues to influence world affairs. The Cold War defined the political role of the United States in the post-World War II world: by 1989 the US held military alliances with 50 countries, and had 1.5 million troops posted abroad in 117 countries. The Cold War also institutionalized a global commitment to huge, permanent peacetime military-industrial complexes and large-scale military funding of science.

Most of the proxy wars and subsidies for local conflicts ended along with the Cold War; the incidence of interstate wars, ethnic wars, revolutionary wars, as well as refugee and displaced persons crises has declined sharply in the post-Cold War years. The legacy of Cold War conflict, however, is not always easily erased, as many of the economic and social tensions that were exploited to fuel Cold War competition in parts of the Third World remain acute. The breakdown of state control in a number of areas formerly ruled by Communist governments has produced new civil and ethnic conflicts, particularly in the former Yugoslavia. In Eastern Europe, the end of the Cold War has ushered in an era of economic growth and a large increase in the number of liberal democracies, while in other parts of the world, such as Afghanistan, independence was accompanied by state failure.

As soon as the term "Cold War" was popularized to refer to post-war tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union, interpreting the course and origins of the conflict has been a source of heated controversy among historians, political scientists, and journalists. In particular, historians have sharply disagreed as to who was responsible for the breakdown of Soviet–US relations after the Second World War; and whether the conflict between the two superpowers was inevitable, or could have been avoided. Historians have also disagreed on what exactly the Cold War was, what the sources of the conflict were, and how to disentangle patterns of action and reaction between the two sides.

Although explanations of the origins of the conflict in academic discussions are complex and diverse, several general schools of thought on the subject can be identified. Historians commonly speak of three differing approaches to the study of the Cold War: "orthodox" accounts, "revisionism", and "post-revisionism".

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Soviet Union

Soviet soldiers fighting in the ruins of Stalingrad, 1942, the bloodiest battle in human history and a major turning point in World War II. The Soviet Union lost around 27 million people during the war, almost half of all World War II casualties.

2On December 21, 1991, eleven of the former socialist republics declared in Alma-Ata (with the twelfth republic - Georgia - attending as an observer) that with the formation of the Commonwealth of Independent States the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics ceases to exist. 3The governments of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania view themselves as continuous and unrelated to the respective Soviet republics. Russia views the Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian SSRs as legal constituent republics of the USSR and predecessors of the modern Baltic states. The Government of the United States and a number of other countries did not recognize the legal inclusion of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in the USSR.

The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was a constitutionally socialist state that existed in Eurasia from 1922 to 1991. The name is a translation of the Russian: Союз Советских Социалистических Республик (help·info), tr. Soyuz Sovetskikh Sotsialisticheskikh Respublik, abbreviated СССР, SSSR. The common short name is Soviet Union, from Советский Союз, Sovetskiy Soyuz. A soviet is a council, the theoretical basis for the socialist society of the USSR.

Emerging from the Russian Empire following the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the Russian Civil War of 1918–1921, the USSR was a union of several Soviet republics, but the synecdoche Russia — after the Russian SFSR, its largest and most populous constituent state — continued to be commonly used throughout the country's existence. The geographic boundaries of the USSR varied with time, but after the last major territorial annexations of the Baltic states, eastern Poland, Bessarabia, and certain other territories during World War II, from 1945 until dissolution, the boundaries approximately corresponded to those of late Imperial Russia, with the notable exclusions of Poland and most of Finland. As the largest and oldest constitutionally communist state in existence, the Soviet Union became the primary model for future communist nations during the Cold War; the government and the political organization of the country were defined by the only political party, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

From 1945 until dissolution in 1991—a period known as the Cold War — the Soviet Union and the United States of America were the two world superpowers that dominated the global agenda of economic policy, foreign affairs, military operations, cultural exchange, scientific advancements including the pioneering of space exploration, and sports (including the Olympic Games and various world championships).

The Soviet Union is traditionally considered to be the successor of the Russian Empire and of its short-lived successor, The Provisional Government under Georgy Yevgenyevich Lvov and then Alexander Kerensky. The last Russian Tsar, Nicholas II, ruled until March, 1917 when the Empire was overthrown and a short-lived Russian provisional government took power, the latter to be overthrown in November 1917 by Vladimir Lenin. From 1917 to 1922, the predecessor to the Soviet Union was the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (RSFSR), which was an independent country, as were other Soviet republics at the time. The Soviet Union was officially established in December 1922 as the union of the Russian (colloquially known as Bolshevist Russia), Ukrainian, Belarusian, and Transcaucasian Soviet republics ruled by Bolshevik parties.

Modern revolutionary activity in the Russian Empire began with the Decembrist Revolt of 1825, and although serfdom was abolished in 1861, its abolition was achieved on terms unfavorable to the peasants and served to encourage revolutionaries. A parliament — the State Duma — was established in 1906 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 military defeat and food shortages in major cities.

A spontaneous popular uprising in Petrograd, in response to the wartime decay of Russia's economy and morale, culminated in the toppling of the imperial government in March 1917 (see February Revolution). The tsarist autocracy was replaced by the Provisional Government, whose leaders intended to conduct elections to Russian Constituent Assembly and to continue participating on the side of the Entente in World War I. At the same time, to ensure the rights of the working class, workers' councils, known as soviets, sprang up across the country. The Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Lenin, pushed for socialist revolution in the soviets and on the streets. They seized power from the Provisional Government in November 1917 (see October Revolution). Only after the long and bloody Russian Civil War of 1918–1921, which included foreign intervention in several parts of Russia, was the new Soviet power secure. In a related conflict with Poland, the Peace of Riga in early 1921 split disputed territories in Belarus and Ukraine between Poland and Soviet Russia.

On December 28, 1922 a conference of plenipotentiary delegations from the RSFSR, the Transcaucasian SFSR, the Ukrainian SSR and the Byelorussian 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 heads of delegations - Mikhail Kalinin, Mikha Tskhakaya, Mikhail Frunze and Grigory Petrovsky, Aleksandr Chervyakov respectively on December 30, 1922. On February 1, 1924, the USSR was recognized by the British Empire.

The 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 performed according to Bolshevik Initial Decrees, documents of the Soviet government, signed by Vladimir Lenin. One of the most prominent breakthroughs was the GOELRO plan, that envisioned a major restructuring of the Soviet economy based on total electrification of the country. The Plan was developed in 1920 and covered a ten to 15 year period. It included construction of a network of 30 regional power plants, including ten large hydroelectric power plants, and numerous electric-powered large industrial enterprises. The Plan became the prototype for subsequent Five-Year Plans and was basically fulfilled by 1931.

From its beginning years, government in the Soviet Union was based on the one-party rule of the Communist Party (Bolsheviks). After the economic policy of War Communism during the Civil War, the Soviet government permitted some private enterprise to coexist with nationalized industry in the 1920s and total food requisition in the countryside was replaced by a food tax (see New Economic Policy). Soviet leaders argued that one party rule was necessary because it ensured that 'capitalist exploitation' would not return to the Soviet Union and that the principles of Democratic Centralism would represent the people's will. Debate over the future of the economy provided the background for Soviet leaders to contend for power in the years after Lenin's death in 1924. By gradually consolidating his influence and isolating his rivals within the party, Georgian Joseph Stalin became the leader of the Soviet Union by the end of the 1920s.

In 1928, Stalin introduced the First Five-Year Plan for building a socialist economy. While encompassing the internationalism expressed by Lenin throughout the course of the Revolution, it also aimed for building socialism in one country. In industry, the state assumed control over all existing enterprises and undertook an intensive program of industrialization; in agriculture collective farms were established all over the country. It met widespread resistance from kulaks and some prosperous peasants, who withheld grain, resulting in a bitter struggle between the kulaks against the authorities and poor peasants. Famines occurred causing millions of deaths and surviving kulaks were politically persecuted and many sent to Gulags to do forced labour. A wide range of death tolls has been suggested, from as many as 60 million kulaks being killed suggested by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn to as few as 700 thousand - by Soviet news sources - with a rough consensus forming around the figure of 20 million. Social upheaval continued in the mid-1930s. Stalin's Great Purge of the party killed many "Old Bolsheviks" who had participated in the October Revolution with Lenin. Yet despite the turmoil of the mid- to late 1930s, the Soviet Union developed a powerful industrial economy in the years before World War II.

The 1930s saw closer cooperation between the West and the USSR. In 1933, diplomatic relations between the United States and the USSR were established. Four years later, the USSR actively supported the Republican forces in the Spanish Civil War against the Nationalists, who were supported by Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. Nevertheless, after Great Britain and France concluded the Munich Agreement with Germany, the USSR dealt with the latter as well, both economically and militarily, by concluding the German-Soviet Nonaggression Pact, which made possible the occupation of Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and the invasion of Poland in 1939. In late November 1939, unable to force Finland into agreement to move its border 25 kilometres back from Leningrad by diplomatic means, Stalin ordered the invasion of Finland. Although it has been debated whether the Soviet Union had the intention of invading Germany once it was strong enough, Germany itself broke the treaty and invaded the Soviet Union in 1941. The Red Army stopped the German offensive in the Battle of Moscow, and the Battle of Stalingrad, lasting from late 1942 to early 1943, became a major turning point of the war, after which Soviet forces drove through Eastern Europe to Berlin before Germany surrendered in 1945 (see Great Patriotic War). Although ravaged by the war, the Soviet Union emerged victorious from the conflict and became an acknowledged superpower.

During the immediate postwar period, the Soviet Union first rebuilt and then expanded its economy, while maintaining its strictly centralized control. The Soviet Union aided post-war reconstruction in the countries of Eastern Europe while turning them into Soviet satellite states, founded the Warsaw Pact in 1955, later, the Comecon, supplied aid to the eventually victorious Communists in the People's Republic of China, and saw its influence grow elsewhere in the world. Meanwhile, the rising tension of the Cold War turned the Soviet Union's wartime allies, the United Kingdom and the United States, into enemies.

Stalin died on March 5, 1953. In the absence of an acceptable successor, the highest Communist Party officials opted to rule the Soviet Union jointly, although a struggle for power took place behind the facade of collective leadership. Nikita Khrushchev, who had won the power struggle by the mid-1950s, denounced Stalin's use of repression in 1956 and eased repressive controls over party and society known as de-Stalinization. At the same time, Soviet military force was used to suppress nationalistic uprisings in Hungary and Poland in 1956. During this period, the Soviet Union continued to realize scientific and technological pioneering exploits; to launch the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1; a living dog, Laika; and later, the first human being, Yuri Gagarin, into Earth's orbit. Valentina Tereshkova was the first woman in space aboard Vostok 6 on June 16, 1963, and Alexey Leonov became the first person to walk in space on March 18, 1965. Khrushchev's reforms in agriculture and administration, however, were generally unproductive, and foreign policy towards China and the United States suffered difficulties, including those that led to the Sino-Soviet split. Khrushchev was retired from power in 1964.

Following the ousting of Khrushchev, another period of rule by collective leadership ensued, lasting until Leonid Brezhnev established himself in the early 1970s as the preeminent figure in Soviet political life. Brezhnev presided over a period of Détente with the West while at the same time building up Soviet military strength; the arms buildup contributed to the demise of Détente in the late 1970s. Another contributing factor was the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979. The first term of President Ronald Reagan saw increased tension between the Soviet Union and the United States with the Sept. 1,1983 downing by the Soviets of Korean Air Lines Flight 007 with 269 passengers and crew, including a sitting U.S. congressman, Representative Larry McDonald of Georgia.

Throughout the period, the Soviet Union maintained parity with or superiority to the United States in the areas of military numbers and technology, but this strained the economy. In contrast to the revolutionary spirit that accompanied the birth of the Soviet Union, the prevailing mood of the Soviet leadership at the time of Brezhnev's death in 1982 was one of aversion to change. The long period of Brezhnev's rule had come to be dubbed one of "standstill" (застой), with an aging and ossified top political leadership.

After some experimentation with economic reforms in the mid-1960s, the Soviet leadership reverted to established means of economic management. Industry showed slow but steady gains during the 1970s. Agricultural development continued, but could not keep up with the growing consumption and the USSR had to import food products like grain. Due to the low investment in consumer goods, the USSR was largely only able to export raw materials, notably oil, which made it vulnerable to global price shifts. Moreover, human welfare in the Soviet Union was keeping behind Western and socialist Central-European levels, after initially converging in the 1950s and 60's. Even in absolute measurements, Soviet citizens were becoming less healthy between the 1960s and 1985: the crude death rate climbed from 6.9 per 1,000 in 1964 to 10.3 in 1980.

Two developments dominated the decade that followed: the increasingly apparent crumbling of the Soviet Union's economic and political structures, and the patchwork attempts at reforms to reverse that process. Kenneth S. Deffeyes argued in "Beyond Oil" that the Reagan Administration encouraged Saudi Arabia to lower the price of oil to the point where the Soviets could not make a profit from selling their oil, so that the USSR's hard currency reserves became depleted. After the rapid succession of Yuri Andropov and Konstantin Chernenko, transitional figures with deep roots in Brezhnevite tradition, beginning in 1985 Mikhail Gorbachev made significant changes in the economy (see Perestroika, Glasnost) and the party leadership. His policy of glasnost freed public access to information after decades of heavy government censorship. With the Soviet Union in bad economic shape and its satellite states in eastern Europe abandoning communism, Gorbachev moved to end the Cold War. In 1988, the Soviet Union abandoned its nine-year war with Afghanistan and began to withdraw forces from the country. In the late 1980s, Gorbachev refused to send military support to defend the Soviet Union's former satellite states, resulting in multiple communist regimes in those states being forced from power. With the tearing down of the Berlin Wall with East Germany and West Germany pursuing unification, the Iron curtain took the final blow.

In the late 1980s, the constituent republics of the Soviet Union started legal moves towards or even declaration of sovereignty over their territories, citing Article 72 of the USSR Constitution, which stated that any constituent republic was free to secede. On April 7, 1990, a law was passed, that a republic could secede, if more than two-thirds of that republic's residents vote for it on a referendum. Many held their first free elections in the Soviet era for their own national legislatures in 1990. Many of these legislatures proceeded to produce legislation contradicting the Union laws in what was known as "The war of laws." In 1989, the Russian SFSR, which was then the largest constituent republic (with about half of the population) convened a newly elected Congress of People's Deputies. Boris Yeltsin was elected the chairman of the Congress. On June 12, 1990, the Congress 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 March 17, 1991, with the majority of the population voting for preservation of the Union in nine out of fifteen republics. The referendum gave Gorbachev a minor boost, and, in the summer of 1991, the New Union Treaty was designed and agreed upon by eight republics which would have turned the Soviet Union into a much looser federation.

The signing of the treaty, however, was interrupted by the August Coup — an attempted coup d'état against Gorbachev by hardline Communist Party 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, Yeltsin came out as a hero while Gorbachev's power was effectively ended. The balance of power tipped significantly towards the republics. In August 1991, Latvia and Estonia immediately declared restoration of full independence (following Lithuania's 1990 example), while the other twelve republics continued discussing new, increasingly looser, models of the Union.

On December 8, 1991, the presidents of Russia, Ukraine and Belarus signed the Belavezha Accords which declared the Soviet Union dissolved and established the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in its place. While doubts remained over the authority of the Belavezha Accords to dissolve the Union, on December 21, 1991, the representatives of all Soviet republics except Georgia, including those republics that had signed the Belavezha Accords, signed the Alma-Ata Protocol, which confirmed the dismemberment and consequential extinction of the USSR and restated the establishment of the CIS. The summit of Alma-Ata also agreed on several other practical measures consequential to the extinction of the Union. On December 25, 1991, Gorbachev yielded to the inevitable and resigned as the president of the USSR, declaring the office extinct. He turned the powers that until then were vested in the presidency over to Boris Yeltsin, president of Russia. The following day, the Supreme Soviet, the highest governmental body of the Soviet Union, recognized the bankruptcy and collapse of the Soviet Union and dissolved itself. This is generally recognized as 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.

The government of the Soviet Union administered the country's economy and society. It implemented decisions made by the leading political institution in the country, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU).

In the late 1980s, the government appeared to have many characteristics in common with liberal democratic political systems. For instance, a constitution established all organizations of government and granted to citizens a series of political and civic rights. A legislative body, the Congress of People's Deputies, and its standing legislature, the Supreme Soviet, represented the principle of popular sovereignty. The Supreme Soviet, which had an elected chairman who functioned as head of state, oversaw the Council of Ministers, which acted as the executive branch of the government. The chairman of the Council of Ministers, whose selection was approved by the Supreme Soviet, functioned as head of government. A constitutionally based judicial branch of government included a court system, headed by the Supreme Court, that was responsible for overseeing the observance of Soviet law by government bodies. According to the 1977 Soviet Constitution, the government had a federal structure, permitting the republics some authority over policy implementation and offering the national minorities the appearance of participation in the management of their own affairs.

In practice, however, the government differed markedly from Western systems. In the late 1980s, the CPSU performed many functions that governments of other countries usually perform. For example, the party decided on the policy alternatives that the government ultimately implemented. The government merely ratified the party's decisions to lend them an aura of legitimacy. The CPSU used a variety of mechanisms to ensure that the government adhered to its policies. The party, using its nomenklatura authority, placed its loyalists in leadership positions throughout the government, where they were subject to the norms of democratic centralism. Party bodies closely monitored the actions of government ministries, agencies, and legislative organs.

The content of the Soviet Constitution differed in many ways from typical Western constitutions. It generally described existing political relationships, as determined by the CPSU, rather than prescribing an ideal set of political relationships. The Constitution was long and detailed, giving technical specifications for individual organs of government. The Constitution included political statements, such as foreign policy goals, and provided a theoretical definition of the state within the ideological framework of Marxism-Leninism. The CPSU leadership could radically change the constitution or remake it completely, as it did several times throughout its history.

The Council of Ministers acted as the executive body of the government. Its most important duties lay in the administration of the economy. The council was thoroughly under the control of the CPSU, and its chairman — the Soviet prime minister — was always a member of the Politburo. The council, which in 1989 included more than 100 members, was too large and unwieldy to act as a unified executive body. The council's Presidium, made up of the leading economic administrators and led by the chairman, exercised dominant power within the Council of Ministers.

According to the Constitution, as amended in 1988, the highest legislative body in the Soviet Union was the Congress of People's Deputies, which convened for the first time in May 1989. The main tasks of the congress were the election of the standing legislature, the Supreme Soviet, and the election of the chairman of the Supreme Soviet, who acted as head of state. Theoretically, the Congress of People's Deputies and the Supreme Soviet wielded enormous legislative power. In practice, however, the Congress of People's Deputies met infrequently and only to approve decisions made by the party, the Council of Ministers, and its own Supreme Soviet. The Supreme Soviet, the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, the chairman of the Supreme Soviet, and the Council of Ministers had substantial authority to enact laws, decrees, resolutions, and orders binding on the population. The Congress of People's Deputies had the authority to ratify these decisions.

The judiciary was not independent from the other branches of government. The Supreme Court supervised the lower courts and applied the law as established by the Constitution or as interpreted by the Supreme Soviet. The Constitutional Oversight Committee reviewed the constitutionality of laws and acts. The Soviet Union lacked an adversarial court procedure known to many common law jurisdictions, but rather utilized the Roman Law inquisitorial system, where judge, procurator, and defense attorney work collaboratively to establish the truth. However, globally the inquisitorial system is more widespread than the adversarial system and indeed some countries such as Italy utilize a combination of both systems.

The Soviet Union was a federal state made up of fifteen republics joined together in a theoretically voluntary union; it was this theoretical situation that formed the basis of the Byelorussian and Ukrainian SSRs' membership in the United Nations. In turn, a series of territorial units made up the republics. The republics also contained jurisdictions intended to protect the interests of national minorities. The republics had their own constitutions, which, along with the all-union Constitution, provide the theoretical division of power in the Soviet Union. All the republics except Russian SFSR had their own communist parties. In 1989, however, the CPSU and the central government retained all significant authority, setting policies that were executed by republic, provincial, oblast, and district governments.

The de facto leader of the Soviet Union was the First Secretary or General Secretary of the CPSU. The head of government was considered the Premier, and the head of state was considered the chairman of the Presidium. The Soviet leader could also have one (or both) of these positions, along with the position of General Secretary of the party. The last leader of the Soviet Union was Mikhail Gorbachev, serving from 1985 until late December 1991.

Once denied diplomatic recognition by the capitalist world, the Soviet Union had official relations with practically all nations of the world by the late 1940s. The Soviet Union also had progressed from being an outsider in international organizations and negotiations to being one of the arbiters of the world's fate after World War II. 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 (see Soviet Union and the United Nations).

The Soviet Union emerged from World War II as one of the world's two superpowers, a position maintained for four decades through its hegemony in Eastern Europe (see Eastern Bloc), military strength, economic strength, aid to developing countries, and scientific research, especially into space technology and weaponry. The Soviet Union's growing influence abroad in the postwar years helped lead to a Communist system of states in Eastern Europe united by military and economic agreements. It overtook the British Empire as a global superpower, both in a military sense and its ability to expand its influence beyond its borders. The Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecon), 1949–1991, was an economic organization of communist states and a kind of Eastern Bloc equivalent to — but more geographically inclusive than — the European Economic Community. The military counterpart to the Comecon was the Warsaw Pact, though Comecon's membership was significantly wider.

The descriptive term Comecon was often applied to all multilateral activities involving members of the organization, rather than being restricted to the direct functions of Comecon and its organs. This usage was sometimes extended as well to bilateral relations among members, because in the system of socialist international economic relations, multilateral accords — typically of a general nature — tended to be implemented through a set of more detailed, bilateral agreements.

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 troops intervened in the 1956 Hungarian Revolution and cited the Brezhnev Doctrine, the Soviet counterpart to the U.S. Johnson Doctrine and later Nixon Doctrine, and helped oust the Czechoslovak government in 1968, sometimes referred to as the Prague Spring.

In the late 1950s, a confrontation with China regarding the USSR's rapprochement with the West and what Mao perceived as Khrushchev's revisionism led to the Sino-Soviet split. This resulted in a break throughout the global Communist movement and Communist regimes in Albania and Cambodia choosing to ally with China in place of the USSR. For a time, war between the former allies appeared to be a possibility; while relations would cool during the 1970s, they would not return to normality until the Gorbachev era.

During the same period, a tense confrontation between the Soviet Union and the United States over the Soviet deployment of nuclear missiles in Cuba sparked the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.

The KGB (Committee for State Security) served in a fashion as the Soviet counterpart to both the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Central Intelligence Agency in the U.S. It ran a massive network of informants throughout the Soviet Union, which was used to monitor violations in law. The foreign wing of the KGB was used to gather intelligence in countries around the globe. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, it was replaced in Russia by the SVR (Foreign Intelligence Service) and the FSB (Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation).

The KGB was not without substantial oversight. The GRU (Main Intelligence Directorate), not publicized by the Soviet Union until the end of the Soviet era during perestroika, was created by Lenin in 1918 and served both as a centralized handler of military intelligence and as an institutional check-and-balance for the otherwise relatively unrestricted power of the KGB. Effectively, it served to spy on the spies, and, not surprisingly, the KGB served a similar function with the GRU. As with the KGB, the GRU operated in nations around the world, particularly in Soviet bloc and satellite states. The GRU continues to operate in Russia today, with resources estimated by some to exceed those of the SVR.

In the 1970s, the Soviet Union achieved rough nuclear parity with the United States, and eventually overtook it. It perceived its own involvement as essential to the solution of any major international problem. Meanwhile, the Cold War gave way to Détente and a more complicated pattern of international relations in which the world was no longer clearly split into two clearly opposed blocs. Less powerful countries had more room to assert their independence, and the two superpowers were partially able to recognize their common interest in trying to check the further spread and proliferation of nuclear weapons (see SALT I, SALT II, Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty).

By this time, the Soviet Union had concluded friendship and cooperation treaties with a number of states in the non-Communist world, especially among Third World and Non-Aligned Movement states like India and Egypt. Notwithstanding some ideological obstacles, Moscow advanced state interests by gaining military footholds in strategically important areas throughout the Third World. Furthermore, the Soviet Union continued to provide military aid for revolutionary movements in the Third World. For all these reasons, Soviet foreign policy was of major importance to the non-Communist world and helped determine the tenor of international relations.

Although myriad bureaucracies were involved in the formation and execution of Soviet foreign policy, the major policy guidelines were determined by the Politburo of the Communist Party. The foremost objectives of Soviet foreign policy had been the maintenance and enhancement of national security and the maintenance of hegemony over Eastern Europe. Relations with the United States and Western Europe were also of major concern to Soviet foreign policy makers, and relations with individual Third World states were at least partly determined by the proximity of each state to the Soviet border and to Soviet estimates of its strategic significance.

After Mikhail Gorbachev succeeded Konstantin Chernenko as General Secretary of the CPSU in 1985, he introduced many changes in Soviet foreign policy and in the economy of the USSR. Gorbachev pursued conciliatory policies towards the West instead of maintaining the Cold War status quo. The Soviet Union ended its occupation of Afghanistan, signed strategic arms reduction treaties with the United States, and allowed its allies in Eastern Europe to determine their own affairs. However, soviet republics were treated differently from the satellite states, and troops were used to suppress cessation movements within the Union (see Black January) but ultimately to no avail.

Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union on December 25, 1991, Russia was internationally recognised to be the legal successor to the Soviet state on the international stage. To that end, Russia voluntarily accepted all Soviet foreign debt, and claimed overseas Soviet properties as its own. To prevent subsequent disputes over Soviet property, "zero variant" agreements were proposed to ratify with newly independent states the status quo on the date of dissolution. (Ukraine is the last former Soviet republic not to have entered into such an agreement.) The end of the Soviet Union also raised questions about treaties it had signed, such as the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty; Russia has held the position that those treaties remain in force, and should be read as though Russia were the signatory.

The system remained almost unchanged after 1940. No new Republics were established. One republic, Karelo-Finnish SSR, was disbanded in 1956, and the territory formally became the Karelian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic (ASSR) within the Russian SFSR. The remaining 15 republics lasted until 1991. Even though Soviet Constitutions established the right for a republic to secede, it remained theoretical and very unlikely, given Soviet centralism, until the 1991 collapse of the Union. At that time, the republics became independent countries, with some still loosely organized under the heading Commonwealth of Independent States. Some republics had common history and geographical regions, and were referred by group names. These were Baltic Republics, Transcaucasian Republics, and Central Asian Republics.

Prior to its dissolution, the USSR had the second largest economy in the world, after the United States, until it began to collapse. The economy of the Soviet Union was the modern world's first centrally planned economy. It was based on a system of state ownership and managed through Gosplan (the State Planning Commission), Gosbank (the State Bank) and the Gossnab (State Commission for Materials and Equipment Supply). The first major project of economic planning was the GOELRO plan, which was followed by a series of other Five-Year Plans. The emphasis was put on a very fast development of heavy industry and the nation became one of the world's top manufacturers of a large number of basic and heavy industrial products, but it lagged behind in the output of light industrial production and consumer durables.

Agriculture of the Soviet Union was organized into a system of collective farms (kolkhozes) and state farms (sovkhozes) but it was relatively unproductive. Crises in the agricultural sector reaped catastrophic consequences in the 1930s, when collectivization met widespread resistance from the kulaks, resulting in a bitter struggle of many peasants against the authorities, and famine, particularly in Ukraine (see Holodomor), but also in the Volga River area and Kazakhstan.

As the Soviet economy grew more complex, it required more and more complex disaggregation of control figures (plan targets) and factory inputs. As it required more communication between the enterprises and the planning ministries, and as the number of enterprises, trusts, and ministries multiplied, the Soviet economy started stagnating. The Soviet economy was increasingly sluggish when it came to responding to change, adapting cost−saving technologies, and providing incentives at all levels to improve growth, productivity and efficiency. Most information in the Soviet economy flowed from the top down and economic planning was often done based on faulty or outdated information, particularly in sectors with large numbers of consumers. As a result, some goods tended to be under-produced, leading to shortages, while other goods were overproduced and accumulated in storage. Some factories developed a system of barter and either exchanged or shared raw materials and parts, while consumers developed a black market for goods that were particularly sought after but constantly under-produced.

Conceding the weaknesses of their past approaches in solving new problems, the leaders of the late 1980s, headed by Mikhail Gorbachev, were seeking to mold a program of economic reform to galvanize the economy. However, by 1990 the Soviet government had lost control over economic conditions. Government spending increased sharply as an increasing number of unprofitable enterprises required state support and consumer price subsidies to continue. Since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, almost all of the 15 former Soviet republics have dismantled their Soviet-style economies.

The Soviet Union occupied the eastern portion of the European continent and the northern portion of the Asian continent. Most of the country was north of 50° north latitude and covered a total area of approximately 22,402,200 square kilometres (8,649,500 sq mi). Due to the sheer size of the state, the climate varied greatly from subtropical and continental to subarctic and polar. 11% of the land was arable, 16% was meadows and pasture, 41% was forest and woodland, and 32% was declared "other" (including tundra).

The Soviet Union measured some 10,000 kilometres (6,200 mi) from Kaliningrad on the in the west to Ratmanova Island (Big Diomede Island) in the Bering Strait, or roughly equivalent to the distance from Edinburgh, Scotland, west to Nome, Alaska. From the tip of the Taymyr Peninsula on the Arctic Ocean to the Central Asian town of Kushka near the Afghan border extended almost 5,000 kilometres (3,100 mi) of mostly rugged, inhospitable terrain. The east-west expanse of the continental United States would easily fit between the northern and southern borders of the Soviet Union at their extremities.

The Soviet Union was one of the world's most ethnically diverse countries, with more than 200 distinct ethnic groups within its borders. The total population was estimated at 293 million in 1991, having been the 3rd most populous nation after China and India for decades. In the last years of the Soviet Union, the majority of the population were Russians (50.78%), followed by Ukrainians (15.45%) and Uzbeks (5.84%). Other ethnic groups included Armenians, Azerbaijanis, Belarusians, Estonians, Georgians, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Latvians, Lithuanians, Moldovans, Tajiks, and Turkmen as well as Abkhaz, Adyghes, Aleuts, Assyrians, Avars, Bashkirs, Bulgarians, Buryats, Chechens, Chinese, Chuvash, Cossacks, Evenks, Finns, Gagauz, Germans, Greeks, Hungarians, Ingushes, Inuit, Jews, Kalmyks, Karakalpaks, Karelians, Kets, Koreans, Lezgins, Maris, Mongols, Mordvins, Nenetses, Ossetians, Poles, Roma, Romanians, Rusyns, Tats, Tatars, Tuvans, Udmurts, Yakuts, and others. Mainly because of differences in birth rates among the Soviet nationalities, the share of the population that was Russian steadily declined in the post-World War II period.

The extensive multinational empire that the Bolsheviks inherited after their revolution was created by Tsarist expansion over some four centuries. Some nationality groups came into the empire voluntarily, others were brought in by force. Russians, Belarusians and Ukrainians shared close cultural ties while, generally, the other subjects of the empire shared little in common — culturally, religiously, or linguistically. More often than not, two or more diverse nationalities were co-located on the same territory. Therefore, national antagonisms built up over the years not only against the Russians but often between some of the subject nations as well.

For many years, Soviet leaders maintained that the underlying causes of conflict between nationalities of the Soviet Union had been eliminated and that the Soviet Union consisted of a family of nations living harmoniously together. In the 1920s and early 1930s, the government conducted a policy of korenizatsiya (indigenization) of local governments in an effort to recruit non-Russians into the new Soviet political institutions and to reduce the conflict between Russians and the minority nationalities. One area in which the Soviet leaders made concessions perhaps more out of necessity than out of conviction, was language policy. To increase literacy and mass education, the government encouraged the development and publication in many of the "national languages" of the minority groups. While Russian became a required subject of study in all Soviet schools in 1938, in the mainly non-Russian areas the chief language of instruction was the local language or languages. This practice led to widespread bilingualism in the educated population, though among smaller nationalities and among elements of the population that were heavily affected by the immigration of Russians, linguistic assimilation also was common, in which the members of a given non-Russian nationality lost facility in the historic language of their group.

The concessions granted national cultures and the limited autonomy tolerated in the union republics in the 1920s led to the development of national elites and a heightened sense of national identity. Subsequent repression and Russianization fostered resentment against domination by Moscow and promoted further growth of national consciousness. National feelings were also exacerbated in the Soviet multinational state by increased competition for resources, services, and jobs, and by the policy of the leaders in Moscow to move workers — mainly Russians — to the peripheral areas of the country, the homelands of non-Russian nationalities.

By the end of the 1980s, encouraged in part by Gorbachev's policy of glasnost, unofficial groups formed around a great many social, cultural, and political issues. In some non-Russian regions ostensible green movements or ecological movements were thinly disguised national movements in support of the protection of natural resources and the national patrimony generally from control by ministries in Moscow.

Although the Soviet Union was officially secular, it supported atheist ideology and suppressed religion, though according to various Soviet and Western sources, over one-third of the people in the Soviet Union professed religious belief. Christianity and Islam had the most believers. The state was separated from church by the Decree of Council of People's Comissars on January 23, 1918. Two-thirds of the Soviet population, however, had no religious beliefs. About half the people, including members of the CPSU and high-level government officials, professed atheism. Official figures on the number of religious believers in the Soviet Union were not available in 1989.

Christians belonged to various churches: Orthodox, which had the largest number of followers; Catholic; and Baptist and various other Protestant denominations.

Government persecution of Christianity continued unabated until the fall of the Communist government, with Stalin's reign the most repressive. Stalin is quoted as saying that "The Party cannot be neutral towards religion. It conducts an anti-religious struggle against any and all religious prejudices." In World War II, however, the repression against the Russian Orthodox Church temporarily ceased as it was perceived as "instrument of patriotic unity" in the war against "the western Teutonics." Repression against Russian Orthodox restarted from ca. 1946 onwards and more forcibly under Nikita Khrushchev.

Although there were many ethnic Jews in the Soviet Union, actual practice of Judaism was rare in Communist times. In 1928, Stalin created the Jewish Autonomous Oblast in the far east of what is now Russia to try to create a "Soviet Zion" for a proletarian Jewish culture to develop.

The overwhelming majority of Muslims were Sunni. The Azerbaijanis, who were Shiite, were one major exception. The largest groups of Muslims in the Soviet Union resided in the Central Asian republics (Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan) and Kazakhstan, though substantial numbers also resided in Central Russia (principally in Bashkiria and Tatarstan), in the North Caucasian part of Russia (Chechnya, Dagestan, and other autonomous republics) and in Transcaucasia (principally in Azerbaijan but also certain regions of Georgia).

Other religions, which were practiced by a relatively small number of believers, included Buddhism (mostly Vajrayana) and paganism (which was largely shamanic), a religion based on spiritualism. The role of religion in the daily lives of Soviet citizens thus varied greatly, but was far less integral in city dwellers where Party control was optimum.

The culture of the Soviet Union passed through several stages during the USSR's 70-year existence. During the first eleven years following the Revolution (1918–1929), there was relative freedom and artists experimented with several different styles in an effort to find a distinctive Soviet style of art. Lenin wanted art to be accessible to the Russian people. The government encouraged a variety of trends. In art and literature, numerous schools, some traditional and others radically experimental, proliferated. Communist writers Maksim Gorky and Vladimir Mayakovsky were active during this time. Film, as a means of influencing a largely illiterate society, received encouragement from the state; much of director Sergei Eisenstein's best work dates from this period.

Later, during Joseph Stalin's rule, Soviet culture was characterised by the rise and domination of the government-imposed style of Socialist realism, with all other trends being severely repressed, with rare exceptions (e.g. Mikhail Bulgakov's works). Many writers were imprisoned and killed. Also religious people were persecuted and either sent to Gulags or were murdered in their thousands though the ban on the Orthodox Church was temporarily lifted in the 1940s, in order to rally support for the Soviet war against the invading forces of Germany. Under Stalin, prominent symbols that were not in line with communist ideology were destroyed, such as Orthodox Churches and Tsarist buildings.

Following the Khrushchev Thaw of the late 1950s and early 1960s, censorship was diminished. Greater experimentation in art forms became permissible once again, with the result that more sophisticated and subtly critical work began to be produced. The regime loosened its emphasis on socialist realism; thus, for instance, many protagonists of the novels of author Yury Trifonov concerned themselves with problems of daily life rather than with building socialism. An underground dissident literature, known as samizdat, developed during this late period. In architecture Khrushchev era mostly focused on functional design as opposed to highly decorated style of Stalin's epoch.

In the second half of 1980s, Gorbachev's policies of perestroika and glasnost significantly expanded freedom of expression in the media and press, eventually resulting in the complete abolishment of censorship, total freedom of expression and freedom to criticise the government.

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