The peoples of Russia have been governed by some of history's most oppressive and authoritarian political regimes. One family—the Romanovs—governed Russia's diverse ethnic and linguistic groups for more than 300 years. Initially elected by the noble gentry during the “Time of Troubles,” the Romanovs developed a form of government called tsarism. The male who inherited the throne of imperial Russia was called a tsar, a title that comes from the word Caesar. A female ruler was called a tsarina. The first Romanov tsar was Michael.He began his reign in 1614. The last Romanov tsar,Nicholas II, was forced to give up his right to rule in 1917 and shortly later was executed together with other members of his family.

The tsarist regimes in general were centralized, self-centered dictatorships of the Romanov family and their wealthy noble supporters. The Russian tsar or tsarina had uncontrolled and unlimited authority over all the inhabitants of imperial Russia. Over the span of 300 years, the tsars devised a governmental system that would ensure their authority and their survival. They enforced political obedience, which left many people disenfranchised and angry. Tsars varied in administrative skills and ruthlessness. In the decades prior to the 1917 Russian Revolution, tsars worked obsessively to find methods to unify their ethnically diverse empire and to reinforce their despotic rule. The program of “Russification” that they used included imposing Russian culture, including language and the Russian Orthodox religion, on non-Russian minorities. Opposition to the tsarist government became very intense during the late 1880s and early 1900s. Nicholas II was an ineffective leader. His failure to respond to his people's needs led to a revolution.Additional political unrest occurred after Russia suffered heavy loses in World War I in the conflict with Germany. The inability to counter German forces cost Russians hundreds of thousands of lives, which created destabilization and set the ground for revolution. The murder of Nicholas II and his family cleared the way for the establishment of a Communist dictatorship.