Russian government types over history are incredibly diverse, as the country seems to have exhausted virtually all their options. Over the years, government systems Russia has tried range from monarchies to autocratic leadership to democratic and representative practices. Vikings, Mongols, and numerous other groups influenced the history of the Russian government and all of the Russian governments reflect their cultural inputs.
When Russia became a Communist state in the early twentieth century and established the Soviet Union, government history became global history with the emergence of one of the world's great superpowers. The breakup of the Soviet Union in the late twentieth century opened the door for liberal reforms but since then, there's been no clear answer to the question "What government does Russia have?" With unpredictable world leaders like Vladimir Putin in power, it's difficult to tell where Russian government systems may go next.
Known for: Establishment of the Rurik state based in Novgorod, foundation for the Rus Dynasty
Rurik was a Viking or Varangian who was either invited by the inhabitants of Novgorod to rule in 862 or captured the city during the 860's. Due to conflicting reports and inconsistencies regarding record keeping, a lot about Rurik's reign is unclear and some historians doubt he existed at all. Regardless of how it came to be, the Rurik Dynasty was a legitimate Russian government system.
Rurik and his two brothers allegedly established themselves in the region, creating the first Russian state. When Rurik died in 879 CE, he gave the city and region to Oleg, his kinsman. He also entrusted his son, Igor, to Oleg.
Key Leaders: Oleg, Igor, Olga, Svyatoslav, Vladimir I
Known for: Capture of Kiev, establishment of the first Kievan Rus law code, introduction of Christianity, early battles with the Mongols
Oleg and his successors - Igor (allegedly the son of Rurik), Igor's wife Olga, and their son Svyatoslav - consolidated control of the area around Kiev during the 10th century. During the reign of Igor's grandson, Vladimir, Christianity was introduced and the Rus control over Kiev was solidified. The lands were organized into a confederation of states based in nearby cities and led by Vladimir's sons.
Vladimir created a hierarchy of sorts and a patterns of succession involving younger brothers and nephews replacing deceased leaders throughout the various territories. The eldest son was the Grand Prince (sometimes called the Grand Duke) of Kiev. Through the eleventh, twelfth, and part of the thirteenth centuries, Kiev carried out military battles and engaged in trade activities, extending their sphere of influence south to the Baltic Sea. However, there were tensions involving the order of succession. Princes sometimes attempted to seize power instead of waiting their turn and territories occasionally rejected their given leader.
During the thirteenth century, the Princes came into increasing contact with the Mongols. At the Battle of Kalka River in 1223, the Mongols made their first attempt to invade Russia and destroyed the Kievan army.
Key Leaders: Batu Khan
Known For: Mongol sack of Kiev, establishment of the Golden Horde, a shift to feudalism
Batu Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan, finally seized Kiev in 1240 and broke up the dynasty of the Rus. The Mongols established a capital at Sarai on the Volga River, but they stationed men in every town. The Mongol state established during this time came to be known as the Golden Horde, and lasted until the end of the fifteenth century.
The center of administrative and cultural life in Russia shifted from Kiev to Moscow. The Mongols worked with the local leadership, including the Grand Princes, but maintained an overlordship and collected taxes while remaining culturally distinct.
The Golden Horde dramatically changed the social structure in Russia, especially for working class peasants. Peasants were forced to give up their crops to their respective princes or Mongol overlords. This created a feudal system, with many of the working class effectively becoming serfs of the ruling class in return for stability and protection.
Key Leaders: Dimitri Donskoy, Vasily I, Vasily II, Ivan III, Vasily III
Known For: Reasserting dominance over the Mongols in 1389 and the establishment of an aristocracy
With the growth of Moscow under the Mongols, the princes there grew in authority and became known as Grand Princes or Grand Dukes like their early predecessors at Kiev. The Mongols were happy to let the Grand Dukes exist with a fair amount of autonomy as long as they got their taxes. Beginning in the late fourteenth century, the Grand Duke was made by heredity rather than Mongol choice. In 1389, Grand Duke Dimitri Donskoy asserted his son would succeed him, ending 150 years of Mongolian dominance.
Over the fourteenth and early sixteenth centuries, the Grand Dukes of Moscow established a stable line of succession and consolidated power. Vasily II, Ivan III, and Vasily III all used military might to extend the authority of the Grand Dukes of Moscow to independent principalities like Novgorod. Slowly, the Grand Dukes of Moscow converted their rule over their subjects to an autocracy.