Russia Fractures, Part 1: The Political Geography of the Russian Revolution

We’ve occasionally discussed the possible breakup or dissolution of Russia in the 21st century. It’s an engaging topic to discuss for several reasons — Russia faces a declining industrial base and a shrinking population; the USSR fractured rapidly in 1990 and Russia has fought a bloody war in Chechnya. But what would dissolution look like? And how long would it take?

The precipitous fracture of the USSR is remembered for being relatively orderly and bloodless–with some exceptions, of course. But remember that Russia broke apart twice in the 20th century. The fracture fo the Russian Empire, and its rapid reconstruction as the Soviet Union, was a bloody, messy affair, with multiple actors, multiple regions and factions pushing for independence or unity. Looking over this wikipedia article Timeline of Russian History (20th century), the events flow so rapidly and so many factions take or lose territory, that reading it doesn’t make much sense. So I decided to create a set of maps to understand the “political geography” of the Russian Revolution more carefully. Naturally, I had to summarize some events, cut some events, and the borders are very approximate, but the collection of 45 maps appears below, and you can view and navigate them as an automatic or manual slideshow below. Most of the action happens between 1917 and 1922, with scattered clean-up events happening after that.

What does this show? Russia’s size was no impendiment to its rapid destruction. Part 2 will examine the Soviet collapse.

About Curzon

Lord George Nathaniel Curzon (1859 - 1925) entered the British House of Commons as a Conservative MP in 1886, where he served as undersecretary of India and Foreign Affairs. He was appointed Viceroy of India at the turn of the 20th century where he delineated the North West Frontier Province, ordered a military expedition to Tibet, and unsuccessfully tried to partition the province of Bengal during his six-year tenure. Curzon served as Leader of the House of Lords in Prime Minister Lloyd George's War Cabinet and became Foreign Secretary in January 1919, where his most famous act was the drawing of the Curzon Line between a new Polish state and Russia. His publications include Russia in Central Asia (1889) and Persia and the Persian Question (1892). In real life, "Curzon" is a US citizen from the East Coast who has been a financial analyst, freelance translator, and university professor; he is currently on assignment in Tokyo.
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7 Responses to Russia Fractures, Part 1: The Political Geography of the Russian Revolution

  1. ElamBend says:

    My favorite part of the revolutionary period Russia story it that the Czech legion controlled the whole trans-Siberian railroad AND had captured the train carrying the Tsar’s gold. They had the main transportation link and all the money.

    They handed over the tracks and the gold so that they could return home and form an independent Czechoslovakia, but the legend is that they kept one rail car of gold to start the Czech Legion Bank.

  2. Bob Harrison says:

    Russia is the most indefensible country in the world. Only vast plains and steppes separate Russia from every corner of Eurasia. The Northern European plain is especially dangerous, it has brought everyone from the Teutonic knights to the Nazi Wehrmacht to within miles of Moscow. Its hard to imagine any Neo-Mongolian empire emerging so Russia’s southern flank is relatively secure and Russia (for the time being) holds the strategic upper hand with regards to China.
    I doubt any Russian generals would admit it, but I think Poland frightens them the most. A NATO backed, well trained, modernized Poland along with the Baltic states in NATO is quite frightening from the Russian point of view. Add the specter of Ukrainian nationalism and one can see why Russians are so paranoid!

  3. Joe Jones says:

    The Russians have more reason to be paranoid of the new European republics than of Poland. If Ukraine or Belarus decides to turn against “the motherland,” they are only a stone’s throw away from Moscow. Muscovy has lost the strategic depth it enjoyed during the imperial and Soviet days, when it could use the forced march through Ukraine and Belarus to wear out the likes of Napoleon and Hitler.

    The only area I can really imagine breaking out is the Russian Caucasus — an area with tons of oil that could stand on its own, even in a fragmented state. The Russian Far East seems like it wouldn’t get much benefit by leaving Moscow’s control. But I admit that I am not well-versed in the geopolitics of the region, so maybe there are other factors worth considering.

  4. e says:

    why maps shows Finland and Estonia, but doesn’t cover other western Russian Empire teritories, which gained independence in 1918 – Latvia, Lithuania and Poland?

  5. Curzon says:

    Because I’m an amateur comp graphix artist.

  6. Michael says:

    It seems that size is no impediment to rapid reconstruction of Russa, either.

  7. Pingback: » Russia Fractures, Part 2: The Political Geography of the Soviet Breakup