The Soviet Union (1922-1991), also known as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) or simply as Russia, was a large country that ruled over much of Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and the Far East. It was one of the world's two superpowers along with its enemy, the United States, which it fought against in the Cold War from 1949 to 1991, and it was the steward of communism. The USSR broke up into many states in 1991 as revolutions broke out across Europe, with Russia ruling over most of the former USSR and being its spiritual successor.
The Soviet Union was founded by Vladimir Lenin in 1922 after the end of the Russian Civil War, in which Bolshevik Party forces believing in the theories of Karl Marx and Lenin overthrew the Russian Empire and wiped out loyalists to the empire and its successor republic. In December 1922 Lenin proclaimed the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, a collection of the Bolshevik-controlled provinces that were taken over in the civil war.
- Main article: Great Purge
Lenin died shortly after the civil war, and was succeeded by General Leon Trotsky and a major politician, Josef Stalin. Stalin ousted Trotsky in a political intrigue, and took control of the Soviet Union, killing millions of people who resisted him. Stalin was known to be a worse killer than Adolf Hitler, and over 6 million supporters of the Communist Party as well as 90% of Russia's generals, all of its admirals, and many civilians were purged in the Great Purge of 1930-1938. The Soviet old guard was completely wiped out and new inexperienced officers filled the places of World War I and Russian Civil War veterans.
World War II
- Main article: World War II
In 1941, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union to settle a lust for Russia's oil storages that Nazi leader Adolf Hitler required for his conquest of Europe. Russia's inexperienced generals failed to lead their army correctly and in Operation Barbarossa, Germany took control of all of the Soviet Union's lands up to the gates of Moscow. In the December 1941 Battle of Moscow, General Georgy Zhukov was able to turn the tide by defeating the exhausted and freezing German troops using his expertise in tank warfare, and the German advance was repulsed. However, the Soviets and Germans fought an extremely bloody war in the east that cost millions of civilian and soldier lives. The Jews of Russia were wiped out by the German Nazis, who wanted to purge the world of Jews and other "non-Aryan" peoples. Also, Poles and Soviet POWs were targeted and sent to concentration camps, where they toiled until death. The Soviet Union's Red Army fought the Germans in several offensives and in 1944 they pushed the Germans out of their homeland. Stalin did not stop there; his armies continued to drive into Europe like a cancer, taking over all of Germany's allies and puppet governments. In May 1945 their armies destroyed the German capital of Berlin and met up with Germany's enemies in the West, dividing Europe in half.
- Main article: Cold War
Refusing to withdraw from their new territories, the Soviets installed new communist dictatorships in eastern Europe over Poland, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, and other regions while they backed the installation of a communist government in Yugoslavia. However, Yugoslavia founded the Non-Aligned Movement and chose to not support either side, remaining neutral in the standoff and eventual proxy wars of the "Cold War".
The first proxy war of the Cold War was the Korean War, waged from 1950 to 1953. In the aftermath of World War II's Pacific War, the Soviets conquered the northern half of the Korean peninsula from the Japanese Empire while the United States occupied the southern half. It was agreed that the peninsula would be divided into two areas of influence: the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) to the north, and the Republic of Korea (ROK or South Korea) to the south. Northern dictator Kim Il-sung attempted to unify the peninsula after gaining a pledge for Chinese involvement in 1950, and the Soviet Union provided planes and some pilots to North Korea's side. The Soviets had a habit of giving planes, weapons, ammunition, tanks, and training officers to their allies to help them fight often US-trained enemies. The United States intervened in September 1950 and aided in the repulse of the North Korean attack, but headed too far north and encountered Chinese forces hidden in the mountains. In a war fought in the style of World War I, several soldiers and civilians died in a stalemate that lasted until a ceasefire in 1953.
With Korea's theatre closed, the USSR and USA's alliances fought elsewhere. In Africa, there was a civil war raging on almost every year, with the Soviet-backed communists fighting US-backed nationalists. But it was not always the United States who served as an opponent to communism, and much the same was with the Soviets against nationalism. The US founded NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) in 1947 as an alliance against the Russians; the United Kingdom, France, West Germany, Turkey, Norway, and many other western European naitons joined them. The Soviets established the Warsaw Pact, an alliance of communist nations, in 1948 to fight against NATO and their allies by backing governments against their governments.
Wars such as the Vietnam War, Angolan Civil War, Ogaden War, Iran-Iraq War (during which the Soviets and Americans both supported Iraq, although the US also supported Iran), Soviet-Afghan War, and Nagorno-Karabakh War were waged with the goal of weakening the other side's influence without an all-out war. World War III seemed close many times, such as after the U2 incident of 1960 or the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. However, the USSR remained vigilant and ever-supportive of communists and dictators at war.
The only war that they were (officially) involved in during the Cold War was the Soviet-Afghan War of 1979-1989. With the failure of a communist government in Afghanistan to assert its control over the anti-modernization Mujahideen reactionaries, the USSR killed President Hafizullah Amin and set up a stronger puppet in Babrak Karmal before invading to support the new government. They killed thousands of Mujahideen rebels and held onto the major cities, but the Mujahideen were an opponent that was never going to ebb away; they were made up not only of Islamic elders who stuck to the good old ways, but also fanatic jihadists who wanted to fight until the world became Muslim. In 1988 Premier Mikhail Gorbachev, a friendly man to the West, cut the USSR's losses and left Afghanistan. In 1989, all Soviet forces in eastern Europe returned home and were demobilized. This weakness allowed for many revolutions that ended the Soviet-backed republics, and eventually, the Soviet republics themselves. On 25 December 1991, after a failed coup against Gorbachev by CPSU hardliners, Gorbachev announced his resignation as leader of the USSR, and Boris Yeltsin became the first president of the Russian Federation.