Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (Russian Soyuz Sovetskikh Sotsialisticheskikh Respublik), the original Communist dictatorship, the West’s principal adversary in the post-1945 hostility of the Cold War, and a dominant force in international affairs until its collapse in 1991. The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was commonly known as the Soviet Union (Sovetsky Soyuz). Occupying most of the far-flung lands of the former Russian Empire in Eastern Europe and Asia, it had its capital in Moscow, the ancestral seat of the Russian emperors, or tsars. Its title alluded to the soviets, or workers’ councils, of the Russian Revolution of 1917 that catapulted Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks (later renamed Communists) to power. The first state the Bolsheviks established bore the name Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (RSFSR). It was the largest of the many political entities of the former Russian Empire that proliferated during the Russian Civil War (1918-1921).
The Soviet Union was formed in December 1922 as a federal union of the RSFSR and those neighboring areas under its military occupation or ruled by branches of the communist movement.
Initially it consisted of four Soviet states, or union republics: the RSFSR, the Transcaucasian SFSR, the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic (Ukrainian SSR; also known as Ukraine), and the Belorussian SSR (now Belarus). The number of union republics and exact boundaries of the USSR shifted over time. The Turkmen and Uzbek republics (Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan) were carved out of the Central Asian part of the RSFSR in late 1924. In this same region, the Tajik republic (Tajikistan) was demarcated from Uzbek territory in 1929, and the Kazakh and Kirgiz republics (now Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan) were likewise formed from RSFSR territory in 1936. Also that year the Transcaucasian republic was dissolved, and its three constituent republics—Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan—each became union republics of the USSR.
The westward extension of Soviet borders in 1939 and 1940 enlarged Ukraine and Belorussia and annexed five areas as distinct republics: the three Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania; Moldavia, most of which was taken from Romania; and the Karelo-Finnish republic, which included territory taken from Finland. The defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II (1939-1945) allowed the Soviet Union to solidify and round out its European conquests, although not all were recognized by Western countries, and to adjust its Pacific frontiers at the expense of Japan. The Soviet government transferred the Karelo-Finnish republic to the RSFSR in 1956, paring the number of union republics to 15.
In geographic extent, the Soviet Union was by far the largest country in the world. Its gross area in its post-1945 limits, counting island possessions and inland seas, was 22,402,000 sq km (8,649,500 sq mi), or nearly one-sixth of the earth’s land surface. Three-quarters of Soviet territory was in the RSFSR (two-thirds of that in Siberia and the Russian Far East) and 12 percent in Kazakhstan.
From its westernmost point on the Baltic Sea to its easternmost island in the Bering Strait, the Soviet Union spanned more than 10,000 km (6200 mi) and 11 time zones; the maximum distance from Central Asia in the south to the Arctic Ocean in the north was almost 5000 km (3110 mi). The Soviet Union bordered 12 countries, more than any other. The bulk of it consisted of flat plains broken only by the low-slung Ural Mountains, the dividing line between Europe and Asia, and drained by large rivers flowing north to south or south to north. Chains of rugged mountains ringed it in the south and east.
Lenin and the zealots who founded the Soviet system saw it as a political and economic prototype other countries would soon copy. As prospects for world revolution dimmed in the 1920s, Lenin’s lieutenant and successor, Joseph Stalin, governed in an increasingly tyrannical manner. His three decades in power were memorable for the development of the Soviet Union’s state-owned economy, for its emergence as a nuclear-armed superpower, and for its acquisition of satellite states in Eastern Europe. They were known also for the regimentation of society, the deprivations of World War II, and the bruising political purges and repressions that killed or imprisoned millions of people. Nikita Khrushchev, the main leader from 1953 to 1964, and his successor, Leonid Brezhnev (1964-1982), blunted the Stalinist terror but shied away from fundamental reforms. While its military strength and accomplishments in outer space and athletics won the Soviet Union world attention, domestic institutions stagnated and the economy stumbled under the competing demands of the army, industrial investment, and the consumer. Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader, loosened political controls in the 1980s and touched off freewheeling debate about the scale and pace of change. Conflict over constitutional and economic issues brought the Soviet Union to the brink of civil war and prompted its disintegration into 15 volatile successor states in 1991. "USSR" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.
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