History of the USSR and Post-Communist Russia

Spring 2014

HIEU 2162

History of the USSR and Post-Communist Russia

John Ashbrook

In August 2008 Russian soldiers, ostensibly in reaction to Georgian troops entering South Ossetia, invaded Georgia in support of a separatist movement in the region. This instability in a country that is seeking NATO membership worried many Americans who remember the Soviet Union as the “Evil Empire.” Some argue that this recent aggression illustrates Russia’s historical predilection for expansionism embedded in its political culture.  This course is meant to examine the history and foreign policy of the USSR and Russia after the fall of communism. It begins with the slow disintegration of tsarist Russia in the mid-19th century and ends with a discussion of the recent conflict between Russia and Georgia. A number of questions and problems will be addressed, which include, but are not limited to the following:

What was the impact of the First World War on tsarist Russia and did the threat of war influence Soviet policy? How did the bolshevik and Stalinist systems differ? What was the Stalinist revolution and how did it affect the development of the Soviet Union? What were the effects of World War II on the Soviet Union and why did Stalin and his successors feel the need to maintain a “European Empire”? How was the Stalinist system reformed and why? What was the Khrushchevian “thaw,” and did this precipitate the rise of the generations of 1956 and 1968 and the appearance of dissident movements? Did these reforms and movements lead inexorably to the collapse of the USSR? How did governing philosophies enable and restrict Soviet and post-Soviet leaders? How and why did the Soviet Union collapse and what have been the major themes and issues that confronted the new Russian confederation? What has been the role of Islam in influencing Soviet and successor states’ policies? Why are these relationships important globally as well as regionally?

This course will also introduce some of the tools and methodologies used by historians to analyze the past. We will deal with a number of primary documents, which historians use and interpret to create histories that are often contested. The course will primarily be lecture, but will allow the students to discuss important issues and explore topics of interest.

Required Reading:


  • Three essay and short answer exams with maps: 75% (25% each)
  • Book Review: 25%

Corcoran Department of History
University of Virginia
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Charlottesville, VA 22904

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