Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Chernobyl Affair

Even though Chernobyl destroyed and damaged a large area of the Soviet Union, and the economy was completely shaken, the resolve of the government not to take action or admit its faults was just as astounding as events earlier in the history of the Soviet Union.  Though maybe not as horrific as the things that Stalin did during his time at the seat of power, the inability for the Soviet Union to act on its own as a superpower showed many flaws in an ailing system.  Anytime I hear about or read about Chernobyl, it feels as if it was a foreshadow of the sudden collapse of the Soviet Union only a few years later because of the response that the nation had to it and the groundwork it laid for freedom within the press, and actual Western aid to the region (as we had discussed in class)

Chernobyl Blast Zone (1986)

The event happened with almost no forewarning to the world and when it did happen it took days before Gorbachev actually addressed the world to the fact that there had been the first major nuclear accident that would result in a meltdown in the history of the nuclear world.  It would take years before the actual full evacuation order of certain areas near the reactor would be given, showing the dying nature of the Soviet government and its old mindset that they would be able to cover up any environmental damages from the world as had been done with any humanitarian crisis leading up to this point, but the snowball effect of a more open press within the Soviet Union prevented that.  Tensions between the parts of the Union already stood high and the fact that the government could not pick up its feet and pull together a proper response on its own or in a timely manner proved the very fact that the system was outdated, out-modeled, and no longer functional in the world it current was living in.  It’s certainly not to say that had another government been in power or this even happened in a different nation that the response would have produced better results, rather, this event is one of the highlighting moments of the central governments downfall of power during the late 1980s before the sudden collapse of the entire Soviet system in the 90s.  The fall of the USSR though seeded with years of issues and problems that brought about its downfall would physically occurr in a similar manner as Chernobyl, extremely fast and extremely devastating for those who held it close to the mindset they lived in.


Sources/image links:


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The Soviets in Space: Keeping Details as Minimum as Possible

This past Thursday we broke up into groups to explore different topics regarding the changes and events going on within the Soviet Union during the sixties.  My group in particular was to investigate the conversations between Khrushchev and Gagarin after he had just landed from the first manned flight into space.  While that conversation seemed basically to be a public relations fluff type piece with the leader of the Soviet Union asking questions such as “Tell me, Yury Alexeyevich, do you have a wife, children?” and  “Are your parents, you mother and father living?  Where do they live now, what do they do?” the more in-depth aspect were the constant mentions on how his actions would speak louder than words to the the rest of the world in regards to how advanced Soviet technology and education was in comparison, especially when comparing to the United States.  Exploring beyond this single document, into places such as the 1961 section of Seventeen Moments on the First Cosmonaut you find that there is more to the story than just smart scientists and a good education system that allowed the Soviets to explore space at a much faster pace (at first) than the United States.  In fact, just as the United States did, it relied heavily on the technology and resources that the military had been developing for long-range missiles.  The fact that it is heavily relied upon by the military work and not pure independent breakthroughs can be seen as you explore into even more detailed bits about his flight on the site Russia Space History: First Flight.  This site exposes the bits that were kept covered up until after the fall of the Soviet Union, such as the fact that Gagarin was not told of his current capsules status because of lack of communication between Ultra-shortwave ground stations, particularly the one in Eastern Russia/Siberia area.  Although the Soviets presented this flight to the world as flawless, the landing was extremely off, the decent and service modules detached much later than planned, and the fact that after the engine braking occurred there was a period when the spacecraft began to spin around at very high speeds, jeopardizing the safety of the mission and the Cosmonaut.  I think this first milestone in manned spaceflight regardless of who had actually done it, the Soviets or United States had the chances of being riddled with errors such as these and it it very interesting that it took many decades for the truth to be told.  The broader implications of what these accomplishments did were more important than the tiny details that at any moment had the possibility to turn them into sheer disasters for the world to see.

Banner: The Country Glorifies its Hero Lead Article Reads: Hello, Iurii!

Banner: The Country Glorifies its Hero
Lead Article Reads: Hello, Iurii!



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Khrushchev’s Secret Speech: A Shock to Communism

In the Seventeen Moments in Soviet History page on 1956, one particular moment that although deserves recognition in its importance is just too late in some degree to actually pull together the country through words along with stopping many Western communist movements to be abandoned.   This very moment I am talking about is Khrushchev’s Secret Speech, which was given out to the Twentieth Congress of the Communist Party within the Soviet Union.  The speech contained an enormous amount of criticism, denunciation of acts, and shedding light to many of the things Stalin had kept wrong and done during the entire terror of his rule.  He explains such things as how unprepared the Soviet Union was for the attack by Hitler and the Germans as being Stalin’s fault completely.  He was particularly harsh in spelling out the fact that “Stalin acts for everybody, he does reckon with anyone. He asks no one for advice.  Everything is shown to the people in this false light.”[Full Speech]  He wanted to show the Party Leaders, but not the public since this was a closed speech kept in secret only to those in the highest of political rankings, that he acknowledged the actual work that the bureaucracy along with the military leaders did in pushing the country through the horrors of the Second World War and also helping bring out more power to the Soviet Union as a country within the international community.  Stalin focused too much on himself as a leader, as what Khrushchev repeatedly calls, the individual, as a weakness in the actual Soviet system in a way to bring to show that the great leader whom many Soviets adored, actually went against many of the principles that communism consisted of without any proper checks on his power.  All these revelations, whether already known, or new to some of the party leaders, were still a shock in regards to the fact that they were admitted by the highest leader of the communist country.  It seems like an attempt to instill trust in those high leaders to prevent any overthrows, however any further examination shows that this speech backfired in actually bonding the nations leaders better and more a speech just admitting to the horrors of Stalinism with a hope or sort of promise that the new regime would not continue such trends.  Later points in history would show whether this would stay true or not…

Sources in order appeared:


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An Unexpected Ally

We look back at the Cold War and see it as an inevitable outcome of the Second World War, however, as the 1943 section of Seventeen Moments in Soviet History: The Strange Alliance goes to show us, the truth behind the origins of the Cold War would have seemed like a far-fetched theory during the bloody years of the global conflict.   Not only did the major world leaders of the Allied Forces meet and communicate on a great level, they also worked together in means that those within the Soviet Union and those within the Western world in later decades would rarely guess could happen.  The British for example, signed a Twenty-Year Mutual Assistance Agreement in 1942 to help with the idea that they would “undertake to afford one another military and other assistance and support of all kinds in war against Germany and all those States which are associated with her acts of aggression in Europe.”  This blatant protection of one another from the powers of Germany shows how desperate not only the British Isles were, but the Soviets as well, even with the sheer numbers they had to hold off German occupation and destruction.   Through this an unexpected ally was certainly created!  A joint bond between East and West, two different spheres of the world which have always conflicted or not trusted one another joined by a common enemy.

W. S. Churchill, F. D. Roosevelt and I. V. Stalin at the conference of Yalta in February 1945 Source: FUNET Image Archive. 1997.

W. S. Churchill, F. D. Roosevelt and I. V. Stalin at the conference of Yalta in February 1945
Source: FUNET Image Archive. 1997.

The odd alliance didn’t end at the beginning of the Atlantic and exclude the British “spin-off” of America, who also participated in a set of help with the Lend-Lease Agreement between the Soviet Union and the United States in 1942 which gave the Soviet Union as many resources that the United States could afford to send out with very little obligation of repayment until the end of the war to help supply an ideologically different nation.   These two creations truly show how desperate both sides of the world were in the destruction of the German Empire and its constant aggression against almost every other faction of the world.  A question I constantly consider behind the magic of this alliance, though short lived, is what sort of conditions would be needed to be created in order to ally the two spheres of the World?  If anything, hypothesizing on this creates some great alternative history scenarios!


Seventeen moments links:



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Was Collectivization the Only Option to Bring Mechanized Farming to Russia?

Any student of history has learned in America that mechanized farming was mainly brought about through the Industrial Revolution and in the post-Civil War era of the American South.  Although not impacting 100% of farmers within our country, it certainly had established many of the roots of transitioning farming from hard manual labor to hard manual labor with the aid of machines in order to produce a higher crop yield well before the first World War.  Within the Russian Empire though, the roots behind feudal control were still in place while the rest of the world rushed into the industrialized community. While the First World War and the Revolutions in Russia did help promote a growth in industry and in fact the cause of the workers was what pushed the Soviet Union into creation in some way (as we have discussed in class) one group, the peasants, were left still in a system of the past, with tools of the past, in a nation trying to move into the future.  As I read about the First-Five-Year Plan, plenty of it seems horrifying and of extreme change for anyone living within the Soviet Union to deal with and adjust to, I can’t help but ponder what might actually have helped move Russia into proper competition in the world without the Collectivization of the land and creation of usage of mechanized farming in order to feed and populate the working cities to a big enough size that would later allow the Soviet Union to hold the title of a world superpower.


The Collective Farm at Work (1930) by Zakhar Pichurgin. While not a photo like we’ve had in even earlier Russian history posts, I think this shows the merging of the old style of farming with the new, the same class working the field, but under a new style of management and with new tools of production that there city counterparts help produce. In turn they help to feed those in the city and the cycle of an industrialized nation starts to begin.

Obviously this method of forced collectivization, and by no means was it accepted in full arms by the majority of the different ‘classes’ within the peasant community, as explained brilliantly in this section on the Seventeen Moments in Soviet History,  it brought about many changes that were necessary regardless of what government or economic model the Russians were following in order to bring them into the new century (or even just catch up from the past one).  However, like Revelations from the Russian Archives reveals, the goals set at many points of this plan were not only too high for the industrial production, but extremely high on the points expected from the agricultural community.  With these extreme goals came resistance mainly in the form of people trying to un-enroll in the system that in the end they would have no choice but to join.  These goals though would emphasize the use of certain machines into the everyday farm life and in that sense, through pain, famine, and fighting, the Soviet Union was able to create the breadbasket it so desperately needed in an Empire as vast as they held.


Seventeen Moments link:

Revelations from the Russian Archives link:

Picture link:


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A Movement of an Army: The War, The Revolution, The Choice

Description from site: “Poster for the bond issued to support the upcoming offensive against the German Army, an offensive that would fail. the image of the Russian soldier towering over demonstrating workers and soldiers was used to legitimize the provisional government to demonstrate the continuation of the war against the Central Powers.”

Although the subject constantly discussed in texts and within our discussion is in regards to “the people” and those workers and peasants who are running the activities and movements that allowed for the Revolution in 1917 to occur, little sometimes is mentioned about those who were sworn members of the Imperial Russian Army during this time of unrest and major change.  In this brief post, I mainly use the resources within  Seventeen Moments of Soviet History (1917) webpage in regards to the “Revolutions in the Army.”

This is not to really look into the discussion of whether to continue the war, that subject is clearly covered and most likely is a good point of discussion for other blog entries, rather this examines the short-term and long-term evidence of how exactly the army went through a transition of power and what things were lost and gained during the revolution in terms of military control.  It is held highly to my belief that there are two schools of thought in regards to the relationship of the civilian government and the military.  First, in order for the civilian government to be legitimate and successful both domestically and internationally, it must have the backing of the military with near unquestioned loyalty.  Secondly, the military must at all times respect that is just another political tool of the civilian government and that they should not interject themselves into any affairs in regards to political turmoil.  These two ideas are very interconnected and examining how they worked during the Revolution and transition during 1917 is a topic that I believe is essential.

Following the February Revolution, “The most immediate and tangible effect of the Revolution on the army was Order No. 1 issued by the Executive Committee of the Petrograd Soviet of Workers’ and Soldiers’ Deputies on March 1, 1917 and approved under duress by the Provisional Government. Among other things, the Order called for the election of soldiers’ committees under whose disposal all arms were to be placed.” (1917: Revolution In the Army).  The problem with these changes though was the intimidate process of mass desertion, replacements within the officers ranks for various reasons depending on the situation, location, and involvement in an ongoing World War that had yet to fully cease.  Even within a month a report was issued that proved not promising to holding the two essential elements I expressed earlier in regards towards the relationship between a civilian government and the military.

With a loss of soldiers returning home to fight for land that might become available along with political turmoil and movements that they felt the need to become engaged in, it is not surprising in the report of the troops given October 13, 1917 continued to show worsening conditions of what was one of the largest and most powerful armies emerging during this era of history.


Although we know that through the rise of the Global Great Depression in the 1930s, along with other major developments and of course World War II, the USSR would eventually have one of the most powerful military’s ever to exist in the history of mankind, it is the close examination of these few months, the reports made by the upper level officers, the decisions made by the masses in the military’s lower ranks, that really show how unorganized and unsuccessful the initial transition of military power was from Imperial Russia to the Provisional Government of the USSR.


To examine a different way that the military transition between two major governmental structures and powers occurred I would personally recommend this book for those interested.  It still falls within the realm of Soviet/Russian 20th century history and also is a good epilogue to the entire Cold War from the Russian domestic perspective.


Authors note for citations: The following are the permanent links in order of when they appear in the text as hyperlinks


Citation for picture: Peter Paret, Beth Irwin Lewis, Paul Paret: Persuasive Images: Posters of War and Revolution from the Hoover Institution Archives. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 1992.


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The Russian Empire Joining Rome

The gradual decline of Imperial Russia came at a time when it was clear that historians of that era were not sure what would be made of the land that once was held by the Czar’s for so long.  The New York Times article “The Russian Empire — And After?” really dug into a question burning at the eve and during the Revolution of 1905.  The exact nature of how to compare this revolutions to other’s that had come before it, throughout the world.  It also hinted at the exploration of how history would compare this empires downfall and rebirth to that of the Roman Empire.  It points out the many ethnic factions within the current Imperial Russia and the major problems associated with keeping them together after there is not autocracy to hold the entire empire together.  “how about the differences between White Russians and Great Russians and little Russians?  How about the tribes of the Caucasus?  How about the Consacks, who whether of Great Russia and the Don, or of Little Russia and the Dneipher, or of any other of their tribes and subdivisions, seem to have this in common, that they are aliens and enemies in Russia.” (The Russian Empire — And After).  While the fall of the Russian Empire, did at the time involve some of the largest amount of land held by a single state at the time, and it a decade long taking process to push the wheels of change, it is not as much as this NYT article suggested, the same as the Roman Empire falling into disarray.

What I think the reporters at the time fail to recognize is not the actual divisions of ethnicity within Russia as being a problem, but the building of major political factions, such as expressed in much more detail in chapter 8 of Freeze, which are the actual drivers of the change within the empire, rather than the divisions of where and who one might consider themselves as. Although united as workers in strikes and protests across the country, they truly contained varying interests that drove for the eventual October Manifesto, the divisions are still what truly left the revolution of 1905 fully satisfying for the needs of greater Russian Society. (Freeze 252-258)  If comparing the fall of Russia to the fall of Rome, the 1905 Revolution, the workers strikes prior, and the October Manifesto would only be a mid-act scene in the greater transformation of Russia in the long-term.

NYT Article: “THE RUSSIAN EMPIRE — AND AFTER?” 1905.New York Times (1857-1922), Dec 08, 10.

Freeze: Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History. 3rd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press,


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A Peak Behind the Iron Curtain…Before the Iron Was Able to Exist

Unlike some students in this course, or possibly like many, I’ve been taught many aspects of Russian and Soviet History.  However, these come only from the perspective on into the context of the Cold War and the Iron Curtain that existed for many decades.  I’ve learned too much about the political tensions in the international arena, the many different facets of the ideologies and what they meant, but very little about what actually went on behind the infamous “Iron Curtain.”  While this photo collection, collected on the Eve of the revolution and before the transformation of Russia into the industrialized world, and the Soviet Union, isn’t so much a peak behind the Iron Curtain, rather a comparison behind what things were to come to what things were prior to the rapid industrialization and transformation of landscapes.  The following picture I examine was taken by Prokudin-Gorskii who was the personal photographer to the Tsar of Imperial Russia.


Vid na Tiflis s ploshchadki t︠s︡erkvi Sv. Davida


The transformations of landscapes really can be just more of a comparison to what a town, such as the first picture of the city of Tiflis, know known as Tbilisi looked during the final years of Imperial Russia.  Clearly ,even though this is a center of trade and commerce, like most cities are and have always been, it lacks the industrialized elements such as factories, clouds of smoke, power lines, telegraph wires, railroads, and visible massive construction projects that would be visible if you looked at pictures of say, New York City during this exact same time period. It is essential to examine the architecture and layout of these Imperial Russian cities because it foreshadows many of the changes that would begin to be engaged after the fall of this empire and the rise of another, much more different city for a much more different and needed modern time existing throughout the rest of the world that Russia would quickly see the need or had already begun to see the need for. This post though not extremely in depth, is meant for those to read to wonder how during a time when such technologies as the photograph were so greatly utilized, a city would still look as if it should have been a painting because of the lack or elements within the overall view of the city that show that industrialization and major world development was ongoing, proving that while these new technologies were accessible and being used, the development of those exact things within such a large empire was still far off it seemed, when it truth it was just upcoming. 



Prokudin-Gorskii’s Photographer Information taken from LoC site setup for his work:

Permanent record of the picture taken and used:

Information on the overall history of Tiflis (Tbilisi):

Permanent record of New York City painting used:


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