Revolutionary and Soviet Russia: 1877–1945
Internal unrest and national strikes presented great challenges for the tsars. The people wanted a stronger voice in national government. Between 1877 and 1917, the tsarist government battled a succession of progressive and revolutionary parties.
Eventually, extremists overpowered the moderates and murdered Tsar Nicholas II. Then, empire builders pushed back the frontier in southeastern Siberia and in central Asia. Still, many problems plagued rural Russia. Good farmland was scarce. The serfs were emancipated by Tsar Alexander II in 1861, which had created economic costs. Transportation was poor. Nonetheless, industrial expansion was tremendous. At the end of the century, there were more than 1,700 successful corporations in Russia. Railroad construction, begun dramatically by Nicholas I, proceeded at a fast pace during the last decades of the nineteenth century. The most remarkable achievement of this period was the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railroad. It enabled Russia to gain influence in Manchuria and parts of northern China.
In 1894, Nicholas II assumed the throne. Under his rule, Russia's economy continued to grow. By the turn of the twentieth century, Russia ranked fourth in the world in iron smelting.
However, the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–05 resulted in the defeat of the Russian Army. The southern half of Sakhalin Island was lost to Japan. The coming years would dramatically reduce those holdings.
Urban and rural unrest in Russia was triggered by the defeat in the Russo-Japanese War, and led to a revolution in 1905. Nicholas II granted some concessions to the people.
Before the war in 1904, Russian territory had reached its greatest extent. World War I and events during and after the 1917 Russian Revolution caused Russia to lose some of its European territorial possessions. Finland, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania gained their independence. Romania claimed Bessarabia. The Soviet Union, however, soon regained the lost territory. As a victor in World War II, the Soviet Union acquired approximately 200,000 square miles (517,998 square kilometers) of land, mainly along its western border. By the end of 1945, the Soviet Union contained 8,606,300 square miles (22,290,214 square kilometers)—one-sixth of the earth's total land surface.