Watch the military parade for the 75th anniversary of Victory Day in Moscow on Saturday, May 9th. Our tour coincides with the commemorative events.
Vladimir Putin’s Russia has regained much of its standing lost during the years of chaos in the 1990s and has emerged as a major challenge to Western governments.
We examine Russia’s recent history, its perspective on relations with NATO, the conflict in Ukraine as well as Putin’s increasingly firm grip on power at home.
The tour starts away from Moscow in Yekaterinburg on the border between Europe and Asia and arguably at the heart of Russia. It’s an ideal place to examine recent history and life away from Moscow.
Our tour then takes us to Moscow for meetings with members of the President’s own party, the opposition, media and diplomats. With Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, east-west relations have been at their lowest ebb since the cold war. We will be in Moscow for the May Day military parade.
|DATES||Tuesday, 5th May – Tuesday, 12th May 2020|
|DESTINATION||Yekatarinburg and Moscow|
Led by Leonid Ragozin & Angus Roxburgh
Single supplement: £500.00
The tour starts away from Moscow in Yekaterinburg on the border between Europe and Asia and arguably at the heart of Russia. It’s an ideal place to examine recent history and life away from Moscow.
Our tour then takes us to Moscow for meetings with members of the President’s own party, the opposition, media and diplomats. With Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, east-west relations have been at their lowest ebb since the cold war.
Leonid Ragozin, a former BBC correspondent from the region, now contributes to Bloomberg, The New Republic, Guardian, Time, Politico, Al Jazeera, Slon.ru, and Morgenbladet, as well as BBC WS, ABC (Australia) and several other radio stations. He is author of the Lonely Planet guides to Moscow, Baltics, Greece and Ukraine.
Angus Roxburgh is exceptionally placed to explain Russia’s recent history. He first lived in Moscow in the 1970s, and after working as the BBC correspondent advised President Putin on his media strategy.
This tour starts in Yekaterinburg and then moves on to Moscow. Flights are not included in the tour. If you need help with bookings please contact us.
As with all of our expert-led tours, we ensure that our groups remain small and intimate, and will not exceed 14 people.
Tuesday, 5th May: Introducing Putin’s Russia
Wednesday, 6th May: The many faces of Yekaterinburg
Thursday, 7th May: The heart of tradition and industry
Friday, 8th May: To Moscow
Saturday, 9th May: Jubilee Victory Day Parade
Sunday, 10th May: Church & Dacha
Monday, 11th May: Media & State
Tuesday, 12th May: Tour Ends
Book Your Tour
All of your accommodation in four star hotels and nearly all meals are included, as well as local transport (except during your free time).
Flights are not included in the price and need to be arranged by customers themselves or with an agent.
Following the news
Like all our tours the itinerary is focused on current affairs. Events on the ground may change and the final schedule may be adjusted accordingly.
This tour starts and ends in Moscow.
As on all our expert-led tours the groups are deliberately small and will not exceed 14 people. Frequently we travel with 10-12 people. Limited spaces are available.
You will need a visa to travel to Russia. This is best done two months before you travel. In order to obtain your Russian visa you will need a VISA SUPPORT DOCUMENT/ TOURIST VOUCHER (also sometimes referred to as Invitation letter).
The support document must be issued by a Russian company that is authorised to do so. If you are processing the visa yourself or not using an agency that can supply you with the support documentation, we recommend you purchase this online from Real Russia (or a similar service). They are fast and efficient and email you the voucher in the format you need within a few minutes of completing the online application. They can email it to anywhere in the world and it can be used by all nationalities.
In the past we have got original visa support documents from each hotel which we have had couriered to us, and then found when submitting the application they are not exactly what is needed. This has caused delays and additional expense, and we now only use documents from an agency. In short, purchasing the visa support documentation online ensures you have the correct documents needed for the visa application.
NOTES ON VISA APPLICATION FOR RUSSIA:
You need to apply for a Russian visa for the tour. You need to apply for a SINGLE ENTRY TOURIST VISA. Please have a look at their website:
In addition to getting the visa you also have to get the Visa Support document/Tourist Voucher/ Letter of invitation needed from a Russian company. Real Russia offers an online service that’s provides these documents by email for as little as £15.00 almost instantly. They have a list of hotels for you to select for your stay in Russia, it does not need to be the ones we are staying in, but the dates do need to be correct. The dates of our stay are in Yekaterinburg (20, 21, 22 July 2019) and Moscow (23, 24, 25, 27, 27 July 2019). Depart on 28 July 2019. Please contact us for the list of hotel nights for the Russian tour & the hotels you are staying in.
It is very important to get the dates right as this visa is date specific. If there is a chance you may want to extend your stay or arrive earlier then apply for longer dates- this is easy to do as you are selecting your dates when applying for your visa support with the agency. Your visa dates are based solely on this document and not on your flights. We have done this in the past and it is better to have longer dates in case there is a problem with your flight. This also allows you some flexibility if you decide to extend your stay. If you are adding on a trip to St.Petersburg, choose a hotel there too with the dates. Again the hotel does not need to be your actual hotel choose any on the list in the correct city.
Please see this helpful information from Real Russia below:
Russian Visa Support (for a Tourist Visa)
If you intend to apply yourself directly to a Russian consulate for your visa, then you will need to provide a visa support document (also known as a letter of invitation) from a licensed organisation in Russia.
This organisation will be your official sponsor both for visa processing at the consulate and for the Russian authorities while you are in Russia.
When you obtain visa support from Real Russia you are sure that it is genuine and that our company is available for “back up” if needed when you are in Russia itself.
To apply for a tourist visa to enter the Russian Federation you will need to provide an official tourist invitation with your visa application. The invitation, also known as a visa support document, will contain both the required confirmation and corresponding travel voucher.
Real Russia is officially accredited by the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, recognised by the Russian Ministry of Tourism, as a fully bonded in-bound tour operator and is licensed to provide the vouchers and invitations via a simple, fast and secure online process.
The visa support document is delivered by email and is recognised by Russian Consulates worldwide allowing you to apply for your visa with the Consulate of your choice.
Local currency is the Russian Ruble.
Average Weather in September in Moscow
°F: Daily low temperatures decrease by 9°F, from 50°F to 41°F, rarely falling below 32°F or exceeding 57°F.
°C: Daily low temperatures decrease by 5°C, from 10°C to 5°C, rarely falling below -0°C or exceeding 14°C.
What to Wear
Dress is generally casual and comfortable, comfortable walking shoes are essential. We also have a range of meeting with politicians or senior officials where we are expected to be more formally dressed. For these men will need a jacket (and tie) and women the female equivalent. A warm coat and hat are needed.
Electricity and Plugs
2 round pin European plugs. 220 Volt electricity.
FCO Website – Travel Advice
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office publishes regularly updated travel information on its website www.fco.gov.uk/knowbeforeyougo which you are recommended to consult before booking and in good time before departure. Where it considers it appropriate to do so, the FCO may advise against all travel or all but essential travel to particular countries or parts of particular countries. Similarly, the FCO may withdraw any such previously given advice. Where the FCO issues such advice, we may as a result cancel your tour or make changes so as to avoid the area concerned (see clause 10 or our conditions). Alternatively, we may ask you to sign a form confirming you wish to proceed with the tour notwithstanding the FCO advice. It is in the nature of the itineraries we offer that the FCO may have issued such advice in relation to the country or parts of the country we are intending to visit prior to confirmation of your booking. In this case, you will be asked to sign the above form before we confirm your booking.
Advice on health requirements may be obtained from your GP, or alternatively from the Department of Health Leaflet Advice on Health for Travelers, or the Department of Health in the UK. For further information on vaccination requirements, health outbreaks and general disease protection and prevention you should visit http://www.fitfortravel.scot.
Angus moved to Russia in the 1970’s. After writing a book about the Soviet newspaper Pravda, he got a job with the BBC Monitoring Service, and began writing for Scottish and UK newspapers. In 1987 he became a sub-editor on The Guardian, and in October that year was appointed Moscow Correspondent of the Sunday Times. In 1989 he was deported from USSR in a tit-for-tat spy scandal after the British prime minister Margaret Thatcher expelled Soviet spies from London. Angus then joined a new Sunday newspaper, the Sunday Correspondent, covering the fall of communism across Eastern Europe.
He then worked as consultant on an award-winning six-part TV documentary about Gorbachev’s perestroika reforms in Russia, titled The Second Russian Revolution, and wrote a book with the same title.
In September 1991 he was appointed BBC Moscow correspondent, and throughout the Nineties covered the Yeltsin years, including the war in Chechnya and the chaotic introduction of capitalism in Russia. During this time he made several radio and TV documentaries.From 1998 to 2003 he was the BBC’s Europe Correspondent, based in Brussels. After this he worked as a freelance journalist in Brussels, at the same time returning to his early passion for music. In 2006 he accepted a job as a media adviser to the Russian government, gaining fresh insight into the workings of the Putin regime – something he put to good use three years later when he worked as consultant on another documentary series for the BBC, “Putin, Russia & the West”. He also wrote a book about Putin entitled “The Strongman”, which was published in January 2012.
Born in Moscow in 1972, Leonid Ragozin majored in geology (final thesis on beach dynamics) and foreign languages at the Moscow State University. After stints with an Australian gold mining company prospecting in Siberia and a travel agency selling InterRail tickets, he joined the BBC where he worked for a total of 12 years, doing radio, online and eventually TV.
His BBC career was interrupted by a four-year spell as a foreign correspondent and foreign desk editor at the Russian Newsweek. In addition to that, Leonid joined the pool of Lonely Planet authors and worked on the guides to Russia, Ukraine, Baltic countries, Greece and Germany – an activity he is still involved at present.
In 2013, Leonid decided to quit his permanent job and work as a freelancer, focusing primarily on the conflict in Ukraine and political strife in Russia. These days he primarily contributes to Bloomberg, but his stories and op-eds also appear in the Guardian, Time magazine, Buzzfeed, Al Jazeera and many other outlets.
Leonid guided his first Political Tour in the heady days of the Ukrainian revolution and has led numerous tours in the Baltic States, Ukraine and Russia. He is also the author of Lonely Planet guides to the region.
Comments from recent customers on our Russia tour
I rate this trip A+ for access, activities, organization, and seeing Russia and its people from different vantage points, whether rural, metro, professional, educational, political, or governmental. Once again, this is why I (and likely most others) travel with Political Tours. Our leader, Leonid Ragozin was brilliant. ME, Russia 2019
I was astonished by the first speaker on the first morning in Ekaterinburg being so critical of Putin. The last day, at the dacha, was also remarkable for being hosted in such a friendly way by a retired GRU officer. JK, Russia 2018
Political Tours is like a deep immersion study tour leaving your brain both stimulated and exhausted from all the information, sights and experiences. And this experience stays with you. CF, Russia 2018
“Stimulating and thought provoking.” Russia, May 2016
“The tour was fascinating and eye opening — a different reality than news coverage.” Russia, May 2016
“A really excellent trip – my head is still whirling with all I absorbed and I haven’t stopped talking about it since I got back.” Russia, May 2016
“Quite the most comprehensive way of finding out what makes a country and the individuals in it tick. PT arrange access to all sorts of different people and experiences that would be impossible to access on one’s own and the organisation is excellent.” Russia, May 2016
“The huge difference was being able to talk with people in the country – dissidents, ordinary citizens, media people, etc.” Russia, May 2016
“Angus Roxburgh and Leonid Ragozin, both excellent in every way; leading the discussions and filling in the gaps” Russia, May 2016
Background Briefing on Russia & Reading List
Below you will find a reading list for Russia recommended by Angus Roxburgh. Further down we have basic briefing on Russia that gives an overview of its recent history, key characters and basic facts and figures.
Here is an updated comprehensive reading list with books recommended by both Angus Roxburgh and Leonid Ragozin, our experts in the region. Both Angus’ book and a link to Leonid’s articles are on the list, and they will be on tour with you.
The list is extensive, and we have tried to give you a synopsis of the books to help you decide which ones interest you the most…
Political & Historical Books
1. Martin Sixsmith – Russia: A 1,000-Year Chronicle of the Wild East
Combining in-depth research and interviews with his personal experiences as a former BBC Moscow correspondent, Sixsmith skilfully traces the conundrums of modern Russia to their roots in its troubled past, and explains the nation’s seemingly split personality as the result of influences that have divided it for centuries.
(1 Mar. 2012) BBC Books, Paperback, 624 pages,
ISBN-10: 1849900736, ISBN-13: 978-1849900737
2. Edward Lucas – The New Cold War: How the Kremlin Menaces Both Russia and the West
The book explains the Kremlin’s use of energy blockades and trade sanctions, military sabre-rattling and propaganda wars against its neighbours – and why a divided and demoralised West is responding so feebly.
(2 Feb. 2009) Bloomsbury Publishing PLC, Paperback, 384 pages
ISBN-10: 0747596360, ISBN-13: 978-0747596363
3. Anna Politkovskaya – Putin’s Russia
Anti-establishment journalist and human-rights activist Anna Politkovskaya (murdered in 2006) reports from behind the scenes, dismantling both Putin the man and Putin the brand name, arguing that he is a power-hungry product of his own history in the security forces and so unable to prevent himself from stifling dissent and other civil liberties at every turn.
(14 Oct. 2004) Harvill Press; Reprint edition, Paperback, 320 pages
ISBN-10: 1843430509, ISBN-13: 978-1843430506
4. Masha Gessen – The Man Without a Face: The Unlikely Rise of Vladimir Putin
As a journalist living in Moscow, Masha Gessen experienced this history firsthand, and for The Man Without a Face she has drawn on information and sources no other writer has tapped. Her horrifying and spellbinding account of how this ‘faceless’ man manoeuvred his way into absolute – and absolutely corrupt – power will stand as a classic of narrative non-fiction.
(1 Mar. 2012) Granta Books, Hardcover, 320 pages,
ISBN-10: 1847081495, ISBN-13: 978-1847081490
5. Rachel Polonsky – Molotov’s Magic Lantern: A Journey in Russian History
An exploration of a country and its literature
(3 Mar. 2011) Faber & Faber, Paperback, 416 pages,
ISBN-10: 0571237819, ISBN-13: 978-0571237814
6. Andrei Sinyavsky – Soviet Civilization: A Cultural History
A wonderful journey through the Soviet history via cultural events
(Oct. 1991) Arcade Pub; Reprint edition, ISBN-10: 1559701595
7. Angus Roxburgh – The Strongman: Vladimir Putin and the Struggle for Russia
Drawing on dozens of exclusive interviews in Russia, where he worked for a time as a Kremlin insider advising Putin on press relations, as well as in the US and Europe, Roxburgh also argues that the West threw away chances to bring Russia in from the cold, by failing to understand its fears and aspirations following the collapse of communism.
(18 Dec. 2011) I.B.Tauris, Hardcover, 352 pages,
ISBN-10: 1780760167, ISBN-13: 978-1780760162
8. Per Högselius – Red Gas: Russia and the Origins European Energy Dependence
This book provides an alternative approach to analyzing Western Europe’s much-debated dependence on Russian natural gas. The author investigates how and why governments, businesses, engineers and other actors sought to promote – and oppose– the establishment of an extensive East-West natural gas regime that seemed to overthrow the fundamental logic of the Cold War
(28 Dec. 2012) Palgrave Macmillan, Paperback, 296 pages,
ISBN-10: 1137293713, ISBN-13: 978-1137293718
9. Lilia Shevtsova, Andrew Wood – Change or Decay: Russia’s Dilemma and the West’s Response
In a series of lively and candid conversations, Lilia Shevtsova and Andrew Wood discuss how the Russia of Putin and Medvedev emerged from the ashes of the Soviet Union and the trajectory of Russia’s relations with the West.
(30 Oct. 2011) Brookings Institution Press, Paperback, 259 pages,
ISBN-10: 0870033476, ISBN-13: 978-0870033476
10. Richard Sakwa – The Quality of Freedom: Khodorkovsky, Putin and the Yukos Affair
The arrest and imprisonment of Russia’ richest man, the head of the Yukos oil company Mikhail Khodorkovsky, had far-reaching political and economic consequences but it also raised fundamental questions about the quality of freedom in contemporary Russia as well as in the world at large.
(7 May 2009) OUP Oxford, Hardcover, 448 pages
ISBN-10: 0199211574, ISBN-13: 978-0199211579
11. Mikhail Zygar – All the Kremlin’s Men
An extraordinary behind-the-scenes portrait of the court of Vladimir Putin since his ascent to the Russian presidency in 2000, and the many moods of modern Russia, from the country’s most visible and independent journalist.
A tale of Russian politics based on personalities, ego and ambition, rather than policy, convictions or ideology…The stream of court intrigue gives ‘All the Kremlin’s Men’ the juicy allure of a Russian thriller.- –The Economist
(6 Sept. 2016) PublicAffairs, Hardcover, 400 pages,
ISBN-10: 1610397398, ISBN-13: 978-1610397391
12. Andrey Soldatov & Irina Borogan – The Red Web: The Struggle Between Russia’s Digital Dictators and the New Online Revolutionaries
The Internet in Russia is either the most efficient totalitarian tool or the device by which totalitarianism will be overthrown. Perhaps both.
A well researched and disturbing book by two brave Russian authors.” –The Economist
(8 Sept. 2015) PublicAffairs, Hardcover/Paperback, 400 pages, ISBN-10: 1610395735, ISBN-13: 978-1610395731
13. Peter Pomerantsev – Nothing is True and Everything is Possible: Adventures in Modern Russia
A journey into the glittering, surreal heart of 21st century Russia: into the lives of Hells Angels convinced they are messiahs, professional killers with the souls of artists, bohemian theatre directors turned Kremlin puppet-masters, supermodel sects, post-modern dictators and oligarch revolutionaries. This is a world erupting with new money and new power, changing so fast it breaks all sense of reality, where life is seen as a whirling, glamorous masquerade where identities can be switched and all values are changeable. It is home to a new form of authoritarianism, far subtler than 20th century strains, and which is rapidly expanding to challenge the global order.
An extraordinary book – one which is as powerful and entertaining as it is troubling – Nothing is True and Everything is Possible offers a wild ride into this political and ethical vacuum.
(10 Dec. 2015) Faber & Faber; Main edition, Paperback, 304 pages, ISBN-10: 0571308023, ISBN-13: 978-0571308026
14. Arkady Ostrovsky – The Invention of Russia
WINNER OF THE ORWELL PRIZE 2016
How did a country that liberated itself from seventy years of Soviet rule end up as one of the biggest threats to the West and, above all, to its own future? Why did the people who rejected Communist ideology come to accept state propaganda? In this bold and important book, Arkady Ostrovsky takes the reader on an enthralling journey through Russia’s tumultuous post-Soviet transformation and illuminates the key turning points that often took the world by surprise. As a foreign correspondent in his own country, Ostrovsky has experienced Russia’s modern history first-hand, and through original research and interviews he reveals the ideological conflicts, compromises and temptations that have left Russia on a knife-edge.
(2 Jun. 2016) Atlantic Books; Main edition, Paperback, 400 pages, ISBN-10: 085789160X, ISBN-13: 978-0857891600
15. Fiona Hill, Clifford G. Gaddy – Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin
Today Crimea. Tomorrow . . . ?
Many Putin watchers believe that being able to anticipate the quixotic Russian president’s next move – whether it’s hosting another grandiose spectacle, crushing a political rival, or annexing part of a neighboring country – depends on uncovering the “real” Vladimir Putin and his true motives. In this revised and updated edition of their acclaimed study Mr. Putin: Operative in the Kremlin, Russia experts Fiona Hill and Clifford Gaddy argue that Putin is in fact a man of many complex identities. Drawing on a range of sources, including their own personal encounters, they describe six that are most essential: the Statist, the History Man, the Survivalist, the Outsider, the Free Marketeer, and the Case Officer. Understanding Putin’s multiple dimensions is crucial for policymakers trying to decide how best to deal with Russia.
(28 Feb. 2015) Brookings Institution Press; New & expanded edition Paperback, 533 pages, ISBN-10: 0815726171,
16. Karen Davisha – Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia?
The raging question in the world today is who is the real Vladimir Putin and what are his intentions. Karen Dawisha’s brilliant Putin’s Kleptocracy provides an answer, describing how Putin got to power, the cabal he brought with him, the billions they have looted, and his plan to restore the Greater Russia. Russian scholar Dawisha describes and exposes the origins of Putin’s kleptocratic regime. She presents extensive new evidence about the Putin circle’s use of public positions for personal gain even before Putin became president in 2000. She documents the establishment of Bank Rossiya, now sanctioned by the US; the rise of the Ozero cooperative, founded by Putin and others who are now subject to visa bans and asset freezes; the links between Putin, Petromed, and -Putin’s Palace- near Sochi; and the role of security officials from Putin’s KGB days in Leningrad and Dresden, many of whom have maintained their contacts with Russian organized crime.
Putin’s Kleptocracy is the result of years of research into the KGB and the various Russian crime syndicates. Dawisha’s sources include Stasi archives; Russian insiders; investigative journalists in the US, Britain, Germany, Finland, France, and Italy; and Western officials who served in Moscow. Russian journalists wrote part of this story when the Russian media was still free. -Many of them died for this story, and their work has largely been scrubbed from the Internet, and even from Russian libraries, – Dawisha says. -But some of that work remains.-
(22 Sept. 2015) Simon & Schuster; Reprint edition, Paperback, 464 pages, ISBN-10: 1476795207, ISBN-13: 978-1476795201
Classic & Fiction books
- Robert Massie – Peter the Great, His Life and World
In this Pulitzer Prize-winning biography, Massie portrays the giant of history who transformed Russia from backwater tsardom into a major empire.
(18 Sept. 2012) Random House Inc ASIN: B00W0C3IAK
- Peter Waldron – Russia of the Tsars
Waldron recounts the exploits of Peter the Great, the tsars and the splendor of their capital city, St. Petersburg, in this lively, well-illustrated and compact overview of the largest and most diverse empire of its day.
(26 April 2011) Thames & Hudson; 01 edition, ISBN-10: 0500289298, ISBN-13: 978-0500289297
- Robert Chandler – Russian Short Stories
This fine collection of tales captures the sweep and soul of Russian literature, including works by Pushkin, Gogol, Dostoevsky, Chekhov and Tolstoy along with lesser-known greats.
(26 May 2005) Penguin Classics, Paperback, 396 pages
ISBN-10: 0140448462, ISBN-13: 978-0140448467
- Boris Akunin, Andrew Bromfield – The Winter Queen
Akunin sets a suspected murder among the glitterati of late 19th-century Moscow in this first book in the series of clever detective novels starring the rascal Erast Fandorin, wildly popular in Russia.
(Mar. 2004) Random House Trade, Paperback, 264 pages
ISBN-10: 0812968778, ISBN-13: 978-0812968774
- Aleksandr Sergeevich Pushkin – The Captain’s Daughter and Other Stories
This collection of short stories from the Russian poet and master storyteller opens with his famous novella, The Captain’s Daughter, set against the events of the Pugachov uprising during the reign of Catherine the Great, and contains eight additional tales, all rendered in Pushkin’s simple, elegant prose and beautifully evocative of the caprices of Tsarist Russia.
(1 Dec. 1992) Vintage Books, Paperback, 310 pages,
ISBN-10: 0394707141, ISBN-13: 978-0394707143
Articles by Leonid Ragozin
2014 to date, Bloomberg articles by Leonid Ragozin
Russia – Background Briefing
Once one of Europe’s most powerful kingdoms, Russia was ruled by czars from the 16th Century, preceding an area of expansion from Moscow to the Pacific. Peter the Great in the 17th Century further expanded the empire’s territory to the Baltic Sea.
However civil unrest and national shame following numerous defeats in World War One led to the Russian Revolution of 1917. A pair of rebellions carried out in February and November that year led to the downfall of the czarist autocracy and the installation of the Duma, a provisional government made up of aristocrats, which was then overthrown by Vladimir Lenin’s Soviet Bolsheviks that held sway with the popular and middle classes. The capital at the time, Petrograd – today known as St Petersburg – fell to Lenin’s forces and the Soviet Union was formed.
However, in the following decade Lenin became ill and his dominion over the Soviet Union was challenged and ultimately usurped by Josef Stalin, a ruthless political operator touting savilly anti-elite populism.
After years of galvanising support among impoverished Soviets, in 1922 Stalin became the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union – the federation’s de facto supreme leader. While he oversaw rapid industrialisation, his reign was tyrannical and his policy of collectivised farms lead to two famines, killing an estimated 4.5 million people in total, with Ukraine worst affected.
In order to placate the belligerent rise of Nazi Germany in the 1930s, Stalin signed a nonaggression pact with Hitler in 1939, resulting in the joint invasion of Poland and the outbreak of World War Two, referred to in the USSR as the “Great Patriotic War”.
The pact was broken in 1941 when the Nazis invaded the Soviet Union, opening an intense theatre of already widespread combat. By the time Berlin ultimately fell to the Soviets in 1945, ending the war in Europe, 26.6 million Soviets had died – 13.7% of the population.
Stalin’s stranglehold over the Soviet Union continued after the war, marked by purges of rivals and intellectuals who were worked to death in gulag prison camps, until his death in 1953.
Stalin was succeeded by Nikita Khrushchev, who sought to dismantle Stalin’s cult of personality and carried himself in a far less eccentric manner. Khrushchev oversaw the start of the Soviet Union’s space programme, a technological race against the United States that became a symbol of the Cold War.
Meanwhile, he oversaw a nuclear arms race that led to the Cuban Missile Crisis, one of the most tense moments in a Cold War that looked to go hot. Following the placement of Soviet intermediate, nuclear armed missiles in Cuba, within range of the United States, both sides ramped up threatening rhetoric while secretly negotiating a resolution to what seemed like impending nuclear war. The crisis talks were a success, with the Soviet Union pulling its missiles out of Cuba and both sides keeping a channel open to prevent similar incidents in future.
Khrushchev was succeeded by Leonid Brezhnev in 1964, who oversaw the dramatic increase in the Soviet Union’s global influence despite economic stagnation and widespread corruption at home. Despite his talk of relaxing Cold War tensions, he ordered the 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia and gave military support to Communist forces in Vietnam fighting against the South Vietnamese government and their American backers. Tensions worsened.
Brezhnev’s death in 1982 saw a slew of leaders take the reins, culminating in Mikhail Gorbachev’s leadership in 1988. Determined to liberalise the country, he began a policy labelled Glasnost, aimed at liberalising the union. In the West’s eyes, it was successful, leading to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1990, a division that stood as a symbol of the Soviet Union’s obtrusiveness worldwide. However at home it was unpopular.
With separatist, anti-Communist movements growing in various Soviet states in the early 90s, the Union collapsed, participating a period of chaos and plutocracy. Gorbachev survived a coup attempt but his image and hold over Russia, now an independent country, did not.
Boris Yeltsin, a critic of the coup attempt in August 1991, eventually took power and oversaw economic stagnation and wounded national pride. After centuries of strongmen, Russia was led by ineffectual statesmen, widely pilloried as bumbling and weak.
That dynamic gave rise to Vladimir Putin, an ex-KGB spy versed in political maneuvering and cultivating a populist base who was elected President in 2000 and again 2012 following four years as Prime Minister – typically a symbolic role but one which Putin made his own and still ran the country.
Averse to transparency, Putin has amassed power by jailing political rivals, managing elections and stamping out dissent. He is also determined to crush a slow-brewing rebellion in Chechnya to the south..
Russia’s economy remains commodity based, with vast reserves of oil and gas, but with prices falling worldwide hard times are predicted ahead.
Russia also faces a plethora of international issues, including fighting a war in Ukraine, propping up a dictatorship in Syria, and an array of sanctions intended to reprimand the country’s belligerence. The vast nation – the world’s largest by land – is also facing harsh criticism from leaders worldwide for its continued meddling in the elections of other countries, most notably in the United States where Donald Trump was elected in part due to Russia’s hacking and subsequent leaking of thousands of damaging opposition emails.
Despite such controversies and abetted by increasing authoritarianism, Putin looks set to remain in power for years to come.
Current Political System
3.862 trillion USD
148th in the world (out of 180)