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Additional Learning Materials for Russia: A Historical Introduction from Kievan Rus’ to the Present, 8th Edition

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Discussion Questions

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Chapter 1: Ancient Russia and Kievan Rus’

  1. How has geography impacted the history of Russia and the other states of the former Soviet Union?
  2. What neighboring civilizations have influenced Russian cultures and ideas about the world?
  3. How would you describe the ethnic and linguistic diversity of Russia to someone who had no knowledge of the region?
  4. How did the peoples of Kievan Rus’ make a living?
  5. In what ways did the loosely organized political structure of Kievan Rus’ affect its history?
  6. Assess the impact of Byzantine civilization on the development of Kievan Rus’.
  7. How did the choice of Eastern Orthodoxy (Christianity in the Byzantine tradition) as the official religion of Kievan Rus’ impact its culture, society, and politics?
  8. Define the term obshchina and discuss how this feature of Kievan Rus’ society impacted its development.
  9. Describe the system of rotating rulership that was instituted in Kievan Rus’ and its significance in the political history of the society.
  10. Why did Kievan Rus’ decline? Provide at least three specific characteristics of Kievan Rus’ that led to this result.

Chapter 2: Kievan Rus’ in Crisis and the Mongol Contact, 1054–1462

  1. Why did the forms of government that predominated in the three main areas of Kievan Rus’ come to predominate in their respective regions?
  2. What form of government predominated in the southwest (Volynia and Galicia)?
  3. What form of government predominated in the northwest (Pskov and Novgorod)?
  4. What form of government predominated in the northeast (Suzdal and Moscow)?
  5. What made the city of Novgorod unique among the cities of the Kievan Rus’ confederation?
  6. What characteristics did the city of Moscow enjoy that its rivals lacked?
  7. Who were the Mongols and where did they come from?
  8. Discuss one of the legacies left by the Mongol era for the future of Russian civilization.
  9. Evaluate the impact of the life of Genghis (Chingiz) Khan/Temuchin on the subsequent development of the Mongol Empire.
  10. Do you think the Mongols were beneficial for Russia? Harmful? A combination of both? Explain your answer.

Chapter 3: The Rise of Moscow, 1328–1533

  1. Describe the four major centers of power and civilization that existed in the region by the mid-1300s.
  2. How did Moscow, a relatively insignificant city prior to the fourteenth century, come to dominate all of its rivals by the sixteenth century?
  3. What were the challenges that Moscow faced during its rise to prominence?
  4. Describe the function of the udel, or appanage, system.
  5. What was the votchina and why was it important?
  6. What advantages did Moscow enjoy over its regional rivals?
  7. Discuss the significance of the Lithuanian state of the fourteenth to the sixteenth centuries in Moscow’s rise to prominence.
  8. What was the pomestie and why was it important?
  9. How did the idea of sobornost’ connect Moscow to the Kievan Rus’ past?
  10. Do you think Moscow’s rise to prominence was inevitable? Why or why not?

Chapter 4: Ivan the Terrible and the Time of Troubles, 1533–1618

  1. What were the major reform efforts of Ivan IV (the Terrible)? How did these affect the social and political history of the Muscovite state?
  2. What was the oprichnina? How was it organized? What do you think were its most significant impacts on Muscovite Russia?
  3. How did Ivan IV’s personality and character shape his rule? Do you think his personal traits helped or hindered him?
  4. Evaluate Ivan’s conflict with the Muscovite aristocracy and comment on its significance.
  5. Why might it be overly simplistic to dismiss Ivan as simply mentally disturbed? Do you even agree with this assessment? Explain your answer.
  6. What were the negative impacts of Ivan’s rule on Muscovite Russia? Do these impacts outweigh the positive attributes of Ivan’s reign?
  7. Discuss the three main issues that characterized the Time of Troubles.
  8. Who was Boris Godunov and what impact did he have on Russian history during this period?
  9. Who were the Cossacks? What was their significance on Russian history during this period?
  10. Why did absolutist authority, which expanded greatly under Ivan the Terrible, survive despite the Time of Troubles?

Chapter 5: The Molding of Imperial Russian Society, 1613–1689

  1. What were the three main pillars of tsarist society during the seventeenth century?
  2. Evaluate the institution of serfdom and its impact on Russian history during the seventeenth century.
  3. How did the resurrection of autocracy in Russia after the Time of Troubles shape the area’s history in the seventeenth century?
  4. What was the zemskii sobor and what impact did it have on developments after the Time of Troubles?
  5. How did the reforms of Patriarch Nikon change the Russian Orthodox Church?
  6. How did the Schism within the Russian Orthodox Church influence seventeenth century Russian politics, society, and culture?
  7. Who were the Old Believers? What impact did they have on Russia’s history during the seventeenth century?
  8. What were the two main directions of Russian imperial expansion during the 1600s? How were these areas influenced by contact with the Russian state?
  9. Describe Moscow’s relations with the West after the Time of Troubles. How did Russia benefit from this contact?
  10. In many ways, the seventeenth century was a transitional period in the development of Russian imperial society. What specific evidence can we provide to support this conclusion?

Chapter 6: Peter the Great and the Conundrum of Westernization, 1689–1725

  1. How did Peter the Great’s childhood influence his outlook as the ruler of Russia?
  2. Describe the personality and character of Peter the Great. Do you think his personal traits helped or hindered him?
  3. How did Peter the Great’s “Grand Embassy” affect his perspective on both Russia and the West?
  4. During the reign of Peter the Great, what was the main threat to the Russian Empire in the south? How did Russia deal with this threat during Peter’s time?
  5. How did the Great Northern War change Russia’s relationship with its neighbors?
  6. Why was Sweden one of Russia’s most important foes during Peter’s reign?
  7. We commonly refer to Peter as “the Great.” Do you agree that Peter deserves this title? Why or why not?
  8. What were the major reforms of Peter the Great? How did these affect Russia’s social and political history during his reign?
  9. What forms did resistance to Peter the Great take? Why do you think many Russians opposed him?
  10. Peter’s reign can be summed up as a series of paradoxes. What were these paradoxes and how did they shape Russian history during his rule?

Chapter 7: Change and Continuity, 1725–1801

  1. How do you account for the instability that plagued Russian rulership between the reigns of Peter the Great and Catherine the Great?
  2. How did Peter III’s decision to change sides during Seven Years’ War influence the decision to remove him from power?
  3. What qualities and attributes did Catherine the Great possess that made her such a significant ruler?
  4. What dilemmas did Catherine the Great face during her reign that influenced her decisions as empress?
  5. Who was Yemelyan Pugachev and how did the rebellion that he led color Catherine’s opinion of the Russian people?
  6. Assess the significance of the Legislative Commission and its impact on Catherine’s Russia.
  7. What were the major reforms of Catherine the Great? How did these affect Russia’s social and political history during her reign?
  8. During Catherine’s reign, the Russian Empire continued to expand its frontiers in all directions and to settle new areas. How did this contact influence Russia’s relations with its neighbors?
  9. What economic and social changes occurred in Russia during Catherine’s reign? How did these influence future developments?
  10. How did the relationship between the Russian nobility and the state change during the time of Catherine? What was the significance of this new interaction?

Chapter 8: Autocracy, Dissent, and Ferment, 1801–1855

  1. Could the Decembrist movement have reformed Russia if it had succeeded? If so, in what ways? If not, why?
  2. Describe the functioning of the serf economy in Russia during the first half of the nineteenth century.
  3. What was the dilemma of reforming serfdom faced by the Russian government in the first half of the nineteenth century? Why were the serfs not emancipated before 1861?
  4. What was the significance of the Unofficial Committee during the reign of Alexander I?
  5. How do you explain the flurry of artistic activity that occurred in Russia during the mid-nineteenth century? Provide some specific examples to support your answer.
  6. One can argue that the expression of dissent and criticism stimulated Russia’s creative flowering during the mid-nineteenth century. Do you agree with this conclusion? Why or why not?
  7. Why did many consider the Russian Empire to be the most powerful country in Europe during the first half of the nineteenth century?
  8. How did the Napoleonic and Crimean wars shape Russia’s relationship with other European states during the first half of the nineteenth century?
  9. What events destroyed Russia’s superpower status in Europe by the 1850s? How did this influence Russians’ perceptions of their own country?
  10. It can be argued that the history of the Russian Empire in the first half of the nineteenth century represented a golden opportunity missed. Do you agree with this statement? Provide specific evidence to support your conclusion.

Chapter 9: Reform, Reaction, and Modernization, 1855–1904

  1. How did the assassination of Alexander II in 1881 shape the course of Russian history in the final decades of the nineteenth century?
  2. Describe the Era of the Great Reforms, which lasted from 1855 to 1881. What were the most important reforms in your opinion and why?
  3. How had the territorial expanse of the Russian Empire changed between the reigns of Alexander I (1801–1825) and Alexander II (1855–1881)?
  4. In 1856, Alexander II stated that “It is better to begin to abolish serfdom from above than to wait until it begins to abolish itself from below.” Do you agree with the tsar’s assessment? Why or why not?
  5. Why was the decision to emancipate the serfs in 1861 so difficult to make in practical terms? What obstacles prevented the emancipation from becoming a truly transformative event in Russian history?
  6. What were the two unfortunate effects of maintaining the obshchina (peasant commune) during the time of serf emancipation?
  7. What events spurred the emergence of both terror and reaction in the Russian Empire from the 1860s to the 1880s?
  8. Evaluate the reign of Alexander III. Was the reign of Alexander III more similar to or more different from that of Alexander II? Explain your answer.
  9. How did the personality of Nicholas II influence his reign in the years before the Revolution of 1905?
  10. Who was Sergei Witte and how did his actions influence economic and social development in Russia before World War I?

Chapter 10: Revolution, Reform, and War, 1904–1917

  1. How do you account for the outbreak of the Revolution of 1905? What forces emerged in Russia in the first years of the twentieth century that led to this event?
  2. What was the October Manifesto? In your opinion, was it a viable document? Why or why not?
  3. Explain the meaning of the term “soviet” and how this institution influenced Russia in the years before the revolutions of 1917.
  4. What were the major events of the Duma period, 1906–1914? What events during this period might have delayed or prevented the outbreak of revolution in 1917?
  5. Describe what you believe to be the most important events of the Silver Age, 1890–1917.
  6. How did Russia’s humiliating defeat at the hands of Japan in the 1904–1905 Russo-Japanese War stimulate the outbreak of revolutionary activity in 1905?
  7. Why did Russia enter World War I? Why did it choose to ally itself with certain European powers and oppose others?
  8. What was the influence of Gregory Rasputin? What does his role during the immediate period prior to the revolutions of 1917 tell us about the functioning of the imperial Russian state?
  9. Could Russia have exited World War I with its prewar political and social institutions intact? Explain your answer.
  10. Would the revolutions of 1917 have occurred if Russia had not participated in World War I? Support your answer with specific evidence.

Chapter 11: Revolution, Civil War, and the Founding of the Soviet State, 1917–1928

  1. Some historians argue that the February and October revolutions of 1917 were stages in one continuous, radical transformation of Russian society. Do you agree with this assessment? Why or why not?
  2. In regard to the February Revolution, how could the old imperial order of autocracy be discarded so easily? Explain your answer with specific detail.
  3. Did the Provisional Government have any hope of maintaining power in 1917? Why or why not?
  4. What was the role of the Petrograd Soviet in the revolutionary activities of 1917?
  5. How did Lenin view Russia’s role in World War I? What was his vision for Russia once he and the Bolsheviks would come to power?
  6. Who were the Mensheviks? How were their views similar to those of the Bolsheviks? How were they different?
  7. What were the July Days? How did they pave the way for the Bolsheviks to come to power later in 1917?
  8. Describe the appeal of the Bolsheviks’ slogan “Peace, Land, and Bread.” What groups in Russian society found the slogan appealing in 1917 and why?
  9. Describe the serious political crisis faced by Lenin in the weeks after the October Revolution. How did the Bolshevik government deal with this crisis?
  10. Who were the Bolsheviks’ opponents in the Russian Civil War? Why did these groups oppose the Bolsheviks and with what did they intend to replace the Bolshevik government?

Chapter 12: The Stalin Revolution and World War II, 1928–1946

  1. Provide a working definition of the term “Stalinism.” What central elements are contained within this philosophy?
  2. Why can we refer to the Stalin years as a “revolution”? What changes occurred during Stalin’s time in power to support such a characterization?
  3. How were the Five-Year Plans intended to function? In your opinion, were they effective? Why or why not?
  4. Why did Stalin and the Soviet regime impose terror and repression on the population? Were these strategies effective?
  5. What was socialist realism? How did it impact Soviet art and culture during the Stalin years?
  6. Why did the Soviet Union sign a non-aggression pact with Nazi Germany in 1939? What were Stalin’s motivations in agreeing not to attack his mortal foe Adolf Hitler?
  7. Why were Axis forces so successful during their initial thrust into the Soviet Union in 1941? Do you see any connections between Stalin’s domestic policies and the near defeat of the Red Army that year? If so, provide some specific examples.
  8. Why did the Soviet Union participate in the Grand Alliance? Why did the alliance ultimately collapse?
  9. Many in the former Soviet Union give Stalin enormous personal credit for leading the USSR to victory in World War II. Do you agree with this opinion? Why or why not?
  10. World War II is known as the Great Patriotic War in the former Soviet Union. How did the USSR’s wartime experience shape the postwar order that followed?

Chapter 13: The Soviet Union During the Cold War, 1946–1984

  1. What obstacles and challenges did the Soviet people face after the devastation of World War II? In your opinion, was the USSR successful in overcoming these issues? Support your answer with specific examples.
  2. Why did Stalin reimpose rigid ideological controls on the Soviet people after the end of the war?
  3. Describe the treatment of the Volga Germans, Crimean Tatars, and Chechens during the immediate postwar period. Why are these groups often referred to as the “Punished Peoples”?
  4. Should blame for the emergence of the Cold War be ascribed to any one nation such as the Soviet Union? If so, why? If not, why not?
  5. Why did Stalin want the postwar German state to be unified? Explain your answer.
  6. Describe the events of the Berlin Airlift. How did the Soviet Union react to this event?
  7. Why was Yugoslavia able to resist Soviet domination in Eastern Europe?
  8. What was the Soviet Union’s role in the outbreak and conduct of the Korean War?
  9. In what ways did Khrushchev differ from Stalin? In what ways were the two Soviet leaders similar?
  10. Account for the Sino-Soviet Split. How did these two formerly friendly nations differ so fundamentally from each other by the late 1960s?

Chapter 14: Gorbachev and the Collapse of the Soviet Union, 1985–1991

  1. In 1985, why was Mikhail Gorbachev an unlikely individual to shake the Soviet system to its foundation?
  2. What made Gorbachev different than his immediate predecessors (i.e. Brezhnev, Andropov, and Chernenko)? Be specific in your answer.
  3. Define the term perestroika. How did the implementation of perestroika impact Soviet society?
  4. How was the Soviet decision to withdraw from Afghanistan in 1989 indicative of Gorbachev’s philosophy on the USSR’s foreign and military affairs?
  5. Define the term glasnost’. How did the notion of openness transform Soviet society?
  6. How was the concept of “democratization” understood in the USSR during the Gorbachev years? How might this idea be interpreted differently in the West?
  7. Why did many Soviet citizens begin to oppose Gorbachev and his policies? Provide specific examples to support your answer.
  8. How did the failed coup of August 1991 accelerate the demise of the Soviet Union?
  9. It can be argued that irony defined Gorbachev’s rule. What ironic characteristics can you identify during this period?
  10. Today, many Russians blame Gorbachev for destroying the Soviet Union. Why do you think they feel this way, and why might the destruction of the USSR be perceived negatively in contemporary Russia?

Chapter 15: Russia in a Post-Soviet World, 1991–2000

  1. How did Boris Yeltsin go from being an outcast from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union to the President of the post-Soviet Russian Federation? Provide specific detail to support your answer.
  2. Why was the post-Soviet Russian state the dominant entity among the fifteen nations that emerged from the ashes of the USSR?
  3. Boris Yeltsin and his supporters set in motion one of the swiftest and most sweeping revolutions in modern history. What were some of the most important elements of this revolution?
  4. Why did many of the free-market reforms attempted by the Yeltsin government ultimately fail?
  5. Describe the radical economic program known as “shock therapy” that the post-Soviet Russian government attempted to implement in the early 1990s.
  6. Why did the Yeltsin regime find the privatization of Russian agriculture so difficult? What obstacles did it encounter?
  7. Account for the rise of organized gangs, dubbed “the Russian mafia,” in the 1990s. What kind of people belonged to these groups, and why were they so persistent in post-Soviet society?
  8. What were the sources of the demographic crisis faced by Russia during the 1990s? In your opinion, has Russia successfully weathered this crisis? Why or why not?
  9. Why did Russian culture enjoy a revival in the late 1990s? Provide some specific examples to support your answer.
  10. Many scholars argue that the Yeltsin government’s aim of creating democracy in post-Soviet Russia was incomplete. Do you agree with this assessment? Why or why not?

Chapter 16: Russia in the Twenty-First Century

  1. How do you account for Vladimir Putin’s rise to power? What personal and institutional factors led to his ascendancy to the leadership of Russia?
  2. It can be argued that Putin’s time as Russian leader is replete with paradoxes. What paradoxes can you identify in regard to his time in power?
  3. How has Putin’s experience as a former KGB operative shaped his perspective on Russia’s relationship with the outside world? Provide specific examples to support your answer.
  4. In your opinion, to what degree is Russia’s economic outlook dependent on the price of oil? Take a definitive stand.
  5. Describe Russia’s relationship with China and account for the dramatic shift in the tone of Sino-Russian relations since the Sino-Soviet Split.
  6. What role has Dmitry Medvedev played as an ally of Putin’s during the pair’s tenure as president and prime minister of Russia?
  7. Account for Russia’s continuing challenges in the Caucasus region. Why does this area play such an important role in the Kremlin’s policies?
  8. How do you think the Russian government regards the United States? Has the relationship between the two nations changed fundamentally since the breakup of the Soviet Union? Justify your position with concrete examples.
  9. Where is the “Near Abroad” and why does this region play such an important role in Russia’s foreign policy?
  10. What is your opinion of the term “Russiagate” to describe the recent allegations of Russian interference in the politics of the United States? Do you think this term is useful? Why or why not?

Online Resources

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Archives, Documents, and Data Sources

Alexander Palace Time Machine

ArcheoBiblioBase: Archives in Russia

Baltic Voices

The Constitution of the Russian Federation

The Face of Russia

Gulag: Many Days, Many Lives

Historical Maps of Russia and the Former Soviet Republics

History of Russia

The J. V. Stalin Internet Library

Leeds Russian Archive

The Leon Trotsky Internet Archive

The Lenin Internet Archive

Lomonosov Moscow State University Faculty of History Electronic Resources Library

Lubitz’ TrotskyanaNet

Modern Customs and Ancient Laws in Russia

The National Library of Russia

Online Russian Resources

The Prokudin-Gorskii Photographic Record Recreated: The Empire That Was Russia

Red Flag: Accounts of the Russian Revolution

REESWeb: The World Wide Web Virtual Library for Russian and East European Studies

Religion and Enlightenment in Catherinian Russia: The Teachings of Metropolitan Platon

A Resource for Turkic and Jewish History in Russia and Ukraine

Revelations from the Russian Archives

Russia and the Former Soviet Republics Maps

Russian Feminism Resources

The Russian Revolution

The Russian State Library

Seventeen Moments in Soviet History

Slavic Studies: Russian and Slavic Resources in English

Soviet Archives Exhibit

Soviet Samizdat Periodicals: Uncensored Texts of the Late Soviet Era

The Truth about Kronstadt

The V. I. Lenin Internet Library

Arts and Culture

2018 FIFA World Cup Russia

The Bolshoi Theatre

Comics from Russia

Far From Moscow

From the Ends to the Beginning: A Bilingual Anthology of Russian Verse

The Fundamental Digital Library of Russian Literature and Folklore

KinoKultura: New Russian Cinema

Mariinsky Theatre

The Moscow Museum of Modern Art

Multimedia Art Museum/Moscow House of Photography

Musica Russica

Music Under Soviet Rule

Orthodox Icons

Paleontological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences

Russian Art and Culture

Russian Folk Art

Soviet Posters

The State Hermitage Museum

The State Russian Museum

The State Tretyakov Gallery

News and Blogs

American Russia Observations

Carnegie Moscow Center

International Residence Magazine

Islam in the Russian Federation

The Moscow Times

Prague Watchdog: Reporting on the Conflict in the North Caucasus


Retail Portal for Central and Eastern Europe

Russia Beyond the Headlines

Russia Today

Russian Life Magazine

Russian Military Reform

Russia Religion News

Russian Video Blog

Sean’s Russia Blog: Russia Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow

Academic Organizations, Schools, and Universities

The American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages

The Anglo-American School of Moscow

The Association for Slavic, East European, and Eurasian Studies

The Association for Women in Slavic Studies

The Bakhtin Centre

Council on International Educational Exchange

European University at St. Petersburg

Institute for the Study of Conflict, Ideology and Policy

International Summer School in Russian Business (St. Petersburg State University Faculty of Economics)

Government Organizations and NGOs

Embassy of the Russian Federation in the United States

The Foundation for Russian American Economic Cooperation (archived as of 2011)

Moscow City Duma

President of Russia (official page of the President of the Russian Federation)

Russia Mufties Council

The Russian Government (official page of the government of the Russian Federation)

Russian Orthodox Church Department for External Church Relations

SOVA Center for Information and Analysis

United State Embassy & Consulates in Russia

Discussion Forums and Online Communities




The Moscow Expat Site

Academic Disciplines and Courses

  • African Studies
  • Art and Architecture
  • Education
  • European Studies
  • Philosophy
  • Psychology
  • Religion
  • Science and Advanced Math