Boris Yeltsin Essay questions: Write a paragraph for each that contains five facts from the reading. 5 points each.
1. How was Russia different from Europe in the 1800s and how did serfs feel about life in general then?
2. Talk about how and why Czar Nicholas II – the last Russian czar – lost control of the throne.
3. Talk about Lenin and the birth of the Soviet Union.
4. Say why the Cold War began and describe some of the conflicts between the Soviet Union and the West.
5. Describe the arms race between the U.S. and the Soviet Union.
6. Describe the end of the Soviet Union.
RUSSIA IN THE 1800s
In spite of the efforts of Peter the Great and Catherine the Great to westernize their country, Russia was still quite different from Western Europe. European kings shared their power with parliaments of elected representatives; Russian czars still held absolute power over the people. While Europe industrialized by building hundreds of factories, Russia’s economy was still based in farming by serfs - peasants who were considered part of the land they worked on and were ruled by the wealthy boyar landlords. Czar Alexander II freed the serfs, allowing them to buy the land on which they worked with their own money or with government help. He also set up a new judicial system, allowed some local self-government, and reorganized the army and navy.
The next czar, Alexander III, ended the reforms of his father and reclaimed absolute power for himself. At the same time, mobs of people assaulted and killed Russian Jews in widespread violent attacks known as pogroms. Several waves of pogroms swept Russia at this time.
WAR AND REVOLUTION IN THE 1900s
Russians who followed the communist theories of Karl Marx wanted a socialist republic, where there would be no private property and the government would own and distribute all goods to the people. In 1902 a young Marxist named Vladimir Lenin became a leader of the growing revolutionary movement against the czars.
By 1905 many Russians were ready to rebel against Czar Nicholas II. On January 22, 1905, they brought a list of demands to the czar. As they neared the Winter Palace, the czar’s troops fired at the group, and hundreds died. The day became known as Bloody Sunday. This event inspired other Russians to rise up. Workers went on strike, university students formed protests, and peasants rebelled against their landlords. This was the Russian Revolution of 1905.
Czar Nicholas II promised a more democratic government and a Russian constitution that gave individual liberties to all Russians. He also gave voting rights to more Russian citizens who would elect representatives to the Duma, an assembly that would approve all laws.
RUSSIA AND WORLD WAR I
In 1914, Russia had a huge army, but it was not prepared for war. The army was led by weak and inexperienced officers and used out-of-date equipment. Factories could not produce supplies quickly enough. In addition, Russia’s transportation system was inadequate for moving troops and equipment.
Millions of Russian soldiers died or were wounded in the first year of the war. In 1915, Czar Nicholas decided to personally take command of the army. However, he knew little about warfare and could not lead the army to victory. The soldiers lost faith in their leaders and the army was nearly ruined.
THE RUSSIAN REVOLUTION
On March 8, 1917, unhappy Russians took to the streets of the capital, Petrograd. Soldiers refused to shoot the rioters as ordered. Czar Nicholas II demanded that the Russian legislature, known as the Duma, disband. They too refused. No longer in control, Nicholas abdicated, or stepped down, on March 15. The monarchy in Russia had ended.
In mid-1917, Lenin became the nation’s leader and established a radical Communist program. The program made private land ownership illegal and gave workers control over factories. By 1922 Russia reunited with neighboring lands that had been part of the Russian empire before 1917. Russia then became known as the Soviet Union.
THE PROBLEMS OF PEACE
After World War II, the question of what to do with Germany created tension. The Allies (The U.S., Great Britain, France and The Russia) agreed to split Germany into four temporary zones of occupation. The Soviet Union controlled about one-third of the country, the other allies controlled the remaining two-thirds. Berlin, the capital of Germany, was located deep within the Soviet zone. It was also divided into four zones of occupation, one for each of the four powers.
The Soviets wanted friendly Communist governments in Eastern Europe to prevent future attacks on their own
country. U.S. leaders worried that Soviets would try to expand their power and spread communism beyond Eastern Europe. As time went on, tensions between the Soviet Union and the West got worse and an era of hostility began called The Cold War.
COLD WAR CONFRONTATIONS
The United States and Europe planned to create a democratic German nation from the three western occupation zones. They also wanted to create a democratic government in West Berlin. The Soviets opposed this plan and wanted to keep Germany under communism. They started a blockade in 1948 that prevented all supplies, even food, from entering the city. In response, the West organized the Berlin airlift, using planes to bring supplies to Berlin. After almost a year, the Soviets called off the blockade.
Days later, the western German zones became the Federal Republic of Germany. The Soviet zone became the nation of East Germany. German citizens began crossing from the Communist East into democratic West Berlin. To stop the flow of as many as 1,000 people per day, East Germany built a barrier in 1961 known as the Berlin Wall. Crossing it was forbidden and the wall became a symbol of brutality of the Communist system.
THE ARMS RACE BEGINS
Through the 1950s and 1960s the Soviet Union and the United States competed to develop superior weapons. The Soviets successfully tested an atomic bomb in 1949. In 1952 the United States developed the deadlier hydrogen bomb, powered by nuclear fusion. Less than a year later, the Soviets had tested their own hydrogen bomb. The arms race continued as the two nations tried to gain a weapons’ advantage. Both built missiles that could carry nuclear weapons thousands of miles. The rivalry spread into space in 1957, when the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the world’s first satellite. In response, the United States launched its own satellite and established NASA to focus on space research.
The fear of nuclear war affected many aspects of American society. People built bomb shelters, schools led
air-raid drills, and books and movies were filled with stories centered on the dangers of nuclear war. The Cold War led to a Red Scare in the 1940s and 1950s. Many Americans feared Communist influence would take over the U.S. government.
The Cold War created conflict far from the United States or Soviet Union. In Vietnam, Communist rebels fought the French until it split into two countries: the north controlled by Communists, the south by an anti-Communist regime. America, fearing that communism might spread even further, sent troops in the 1960s to support South Vietnam.
Closer to the United States, Fidel Castro came to power in Cuba. He established government control of the economy and developed a close relationship with the Soviet Union. These actions upset the United States. In 1962, U.S. leaders learned that the Soviet Union had installed nuclear missiles in Cuba. Two weeks of tense negotiations known as TheCuban missile crisis ended with the Soviet Union removing the missiles.
THE END OF THE SOVIET UNION
The Soviet economy had begun to slow in the 1960s and by the 1980s industry had grown too large and complex for the government to control. Too few consumer goods were made because the government had focused on heavy industry. Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in 1985, knowing that change was needed. Gorbachev pursued arms control agreements with the United States, reduced central planning of the economy, and pulled troops out of Eastern Europe. In 1989 revolution spread across Eastern Europe as citizens overthrew their Soviet-backed governments. In East Germany in 1989, the government opened the gates of the Berlin Wall. Joyful Berliners immediately started tearing down the symbol of the Soviet regime.
Russia’s independence movement was led by Boris Yeltsin. The Cold War ended when the Soviet government stopped operating on December 31, 1991. The transition to democracy and the creation of a strong economy continues in Russia today.