Territorial evolution of Russia

Territorial changes of Russia happened by means of military conquest and by ideological and political unions in the course of over five centuries (1533–present).

Expansion of Russia (1300–1945)

Russian Tsardom and Empire

Territorial development of the Muscovy between 1390 and 1533

The name Russia for the Grand Duchy of Moscow started to appear in the late 15th century and had become common in 1547 when the Tsardom of Russia was created.
For the history of Rus' and Moscovy before 1547 (see Kievan Rus' and Grand Duchy of Moscow). Another important starting point was the official end in 1480 of the overlordship of the Tatar Golden Horde over Moscovy, after its defeat in the Great standing on the Ugra river. Ivan III (reigned 1462–1505) and Vasili III (reigned 1505–1533) had already expanded Muscovy's (1283–1547) borders considerably by annexing the Novgorod Republic (1478), the Grand Duchy of Tver in 1485, the Pskov Republic in 1510, the Appanage of Volokolamsk in 1513, and the principalities of Ryazan in 1521 and Novgorod-Seversky in 1522.[1]

After a period of political instability, 1598 to 1613 the Romanovs came to power (1613) and the expansion-colonization process of the Tsardom continued. While western Europe colonized the New World, the Tsardom of Russia expanded overland – principally to the east, north and south.

This continued for centuries; by the end of the 19th century, the Russian Empire reached from the Black Sea to the Pacific Ocean, and for some time included colonies in the Americas (1732–1867) and a short-lived unofficial colony in Africa (1889) in present-day Djibouti.[2]

Expansion into Asia

Russian expansion in Eurasia between 1533 and 1894

The first stage from 1582 1650 so I North-East expansion from the Urals to the Pacific. Geographical expeditions mapped much of Siberia. The second stage from 1785 to 1830 looked South to the areas between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. The key areas were Armenia and Georgia, with some better penetration of the Ottoman Empire, and Persia. By 1829, Russia controlled all of the Caucasus as shown in the Treaty of Adrianople of 1829. The third era, 1850 to 1860, was a brief interlude jumping to the East Coast, annexing the region from the Amur River to Manchuria. The fourth era, 1865 to 1885 Incorporated Turkestan, and the northern approaches to India, sparking British fears of a threat to India in The Great Game.[3][4]

Table of changes

Year Tsar Territory taken Taken from Background Map
1552 Ivan the Terrible Khanate of Kazan Khanate of Kazan Russo-Kazan Wars
1556 Ivan the Terrible Khanate of Astrakhan Khanate of Astrakhan Russian control of the Volga trade route
1598 Feodor I of Russia Khanate of Sibir Khanate of Sibir Conquest of the Khanate of Sibir
1582 – late 18th century gradual Siberia indigenous people Russian conquest of Siberia
1667 Alexis of Russia Smolensk, Left-bank Ukraine, Kiev (temporary), Zaprozhia (condominium with Poland) Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth Russo-Polish War (1654–1667)
1681 Feodor III of Russia Qasim Khanate Qasim Khanate Death of Queen Fatima Soltan
1686 Peter the Great Gain of Kiev and Zaporizhia are permanent Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth Union with Poland against Ottoman Empire (Great Turkish War)
1721 Peter the Great Livonia, Estonia, Ingria, and Karelia Sweden Great Northern War
1743 Elizabeth of Russia South-West Karelia Sweden Russo-Swedish War (1741–43)
1771 Catherine the Great Kalmyk Khanate Kalmyk Khanate exodus of the Kalmyks to Dzungaria
1772 Catherine the Great Inflanty Voivodeship and Eastern Belarus Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth First Partition of Poland
1774 Catherine the Great Southern Bug and Karbadino Ottoman Empire Russo-Turkish War (1768–1774)
1783 Catherine the Great Crimean Khanate Ottoman Empire Annexation of the vassal state
1792 Catherine the Great Yedisan Ottoman Empire Russo-Turkish War (1787–1792)
1793 Catherine the Great Right-bank Ukraine and Belarus Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth Second Partition of Poland
1795 Catherine the Great Western Galicia and Southern Mazovia Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth Third Partition of Poland
1799 Paul I of Russia Alaska indigenous people Russian America
1801 Alexander I of Russia Eastern-Georgia Kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti Annexation of Georgia
1809 Alexander I of Russia Grand Duchy of Finland Sweden Finnish War
1810 Alexander I of Russia Western-Georgia Kingdom of Imereti Annexation of Georgia
1812 Alexander I of Russia Bessarabia (Moldova) Ottoman Empire Russo-Turkish War (1806–1812)
1813 Alexander I of Russia Duchy of Warsaw France Napoleonic Wars
1813 Alexander I of Russia Georgia, Dagestan, parts of northern Azerbaijan, and parts of northern Armenia Sublime State of Persia Russo-Persian War (1804–13)
1828 Nicholas I of Russia Igdir Province, rest of northern Azerbaijan, and Armenia Sublime State of Persia Russo-Persian War (1826–28)
1858 Alexander II of Russia North of the Amur River Qing Empire (China) Second Opium War
1860 Alexander II of Russia East of the Ussuri River Qing Empire (China) Second Opium War
1730–1863 gradual Kazakhstan Lesser Horde, Middle Horde, Great Horde Incorporation of the Kazakh Khanate
1866 Alexander II of Russia Uzbekistan Emirate of Bukhara Russian conquest of Bukhara
1867 Alexander II of Russia Loss of Alaska United States of America Alaska Purchase
1873 Alexander II of Russia North-Turkmenistan Khanate of Khiva Khivan campaign of 1873
1875 Alexander II of Russia Sakhalin Empire of Japan border settlement with Japan
1876 Alexander II of Russia Kyrgyzstan and West-Tajikistan Khanate of Kokand Annexation of the vassal state
1878 Alexander II of Russia Kars Oblast and Batum Oblast Ottoman Empire Russo-Turkish War (1877–1878)
1885 Alexander III of Russia South-Turkmenistan Turkmens Turkmen campaign
Geok Tepe
Turkmen campaign of 1880–85
* Blue=Russian fort; Yellow=Khanate of Khiva.
1893 Alexander III of Russia East-Tajikistan sparsely populated Exploration of the Pamir plateau
1905 Nicholas II of Russia Loss of South-Sakhalin Empire of Japan Russo-Japanese War

Russian Soviet Republic

After the October Revolution of November 1917, Poland and Finland became independent from Russia and remained so thereafter. The Russian empire ceased to exist, and the Russian SFSR, 1917–1991, was established on much of its territory. Its area of effective direct control varied greatly during the Russian Civil War of 1917 to 1922. Eventually the revolutionary Bolshevik government regained control of most of the former Eurasian lands of the Russian Empire, and in 1922 joined the RSFSR to Belarus, Transcaucasia, and Ukraine as the four constituent republics of a new state, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (or Soviet Union, USSR), which lasted until December 1991.

Territories of the former Russian Empire that permanently or temporarily became independent:

By the end of World War II the Soviet Union had annexed:

Of these, Pechenga, Salia, Tuva, Kaliningrad Oblast, Klaipėda, the Kurils, and Sakhalin were added to the territory of the RSFSR.

In 1919, northern Mhlyn, Novozybkiv, Starodub, and Surazh counties (povits) of Ukraine's Chernihiv Governorate were transferred from the Ukrainian SSR to the new Gomel Governorate of the Russian republic.[5] In February 1924, Tahanrih and Shakhtinsky counties (okruhas) were transferred from the Donetsk Governorate of Ukraine to Russia's North Caucasus krai.[6][7]

Meanwhile, territories were removed from the Russian SFSR, including Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan in 1924, Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan in 1936, and Karelo-Finland from 1945 to 1956. The Crimean oblast and city of Sevastopol were transferred to Ukraine on February 19, 1954 (later annexed by the Russian Federation in 2014).

There were numerous minor border changes between Soviet republics as well.

Russian Federation

The dissolution of the Soviet Union has led to the creation of independent post-Soviet states, with the Russian SFSR declaring its independence in December 1991 and changing its name to the Russian Federation.

The Chechen Republic of Ichkeria was an unrecognized secessionist government of the Chechen Republic during 1991–2000, which fought two wars against Russia until the government was exiled in 2000.

The Russian Federation has been involved in territorial disputes with several its neighbours, including with Japan over the Kuril Islands, with Latvia over the Pytalovsky Raion (settled in 1997), with China over parts of Tarabarov Island and Bolshoy Ussuriysky Island (settled in 2001), with its coastal neighbours over Caspian Sea boundaries, and with Estonia over the adjoining border. The RF also had disputes with Ukraine over the status of the federal city of Sevastopol, but agreed it belonged to Ukraine in the 1997 Russian–Ukrainian Friendship Treaty, and over the uninhabited Tuzla Island, but gave up this claim in the 2003 Treaty on the Sea of Azov and the Kerch Strait.

The Russian Federation has also used its armed forces, illegal armed formations, and material support to deny neighbouring states their sovereignty, establishing the breakaway pseudo-state of Transnistria in Moldova, and two more republics after a 2008 war in Georgia. In 2008, shortly after announcing the recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, Russian president Dmitry Medvedev laid out a foreign policy challenging the US-dominated "single-pole" world order and claiming a privileged sphere of influence in states bordering the RF and farther abroad.[8][9]

In 2014, when after months of protests in Ukraine, pro-Russian Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych fled his post, Russian troops occupied Ukraine's Crimean peninsula, and after a hasty referendum the Kremlin announced that it had enlarged itself by the annexation of the Crimean republic and Sevastopol. The annexation was not recognized by Ukraine or most other members of the international community. A few weeks later, an armed conflict broke out the Donbas region of Ukraine, in which the Kremlin denies an active role, but widely considered to be fuelled by soldiers, militants, weapons, and ammunition from the Russian Federation.

See also


  1. Allen F. Chew, An Atlas of Russian History: Eleven Centuries of Changing Borders (2nd ed. 1967). pp 14–43.
  2. John Channon, The Penguin historical atlas of Russia (1995) pp 8–12, 44–75.
  3. Brian Catchpole, A map history of Russia (1983) pp 6–31.
  4. Allen F. Chew, An Atlas of Russian History: Eleven Centuries of Changing Borders (2nd ed. 1967)
  5. "Chernihiv gubernia". Encyclopedia of Ukraine. Retrieved 28 May 2020.
  6. Struk, Danylo Husar (15 December 1993). Encyclopedia of Ukraine: Volume IV: Ph-Sr. University of Toronto Press. ISBN 9781442651265.
  7. Krinko, Evgeny F. (2015). "'…To Elect a Parity Commission': Documents about the Transfer of Taganrog and Shakhty Districts to the RSFSR in 1924–1925" (PDF). Russkii Arhkiv. 10 (4): 288–295. doi:10.13187/ra.2015.10.288.
  8. Kramer, Andrew E. (1 September 2008). "Russia Claims Its Sphere of Influence in the World". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 30 November 2020.
  9. "Interview given by Dmitry Medvedev to Television Channels Channel One, Rossia, NTV". President of Russia. Retrieved 30 November 2020.

Further reading

  • Bassin, Mark. "Russia between Europe and Asia: the ideological construction of geographical space." Slavic review 50.1 (1991): 1–17. Online
  • Bassin, Mark. "Expansion and colonialism on the eastern frontier: views of Siberia and the Far East in pre-Petrine Russia." Journal of Historical Geography 14.1 (1988): 3–21.
  • Forsyth, James. "A History of the Peoples of Siberia: Russia's North Asian Colony 1581–1990" (1994)
  • Foust, Clifford M. "Russian expansion to the east through the eighteenth century." Journal of Economic History 21.4 (1961): 469–482. Online
  • LeDonne, John P. The Russian empire and the world, 1700–1917: The geopolitics of expansion and containment (Oxford University Press, 1997).
  • McNeill, William H. Europe's Steppe Frontier: 1500–1800 (Chicago, 1975).
  • Subtelny, Orest (1988). Ukraine: A History. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 978-0-8020-5808-9.
  • Plamen Mitev, ed. Empires and peninsulas: Southeastern Europe between Karlowitz and the Peace of Adrianople, 1699-1829 (LIT Verlag Münster, 2010).
  • Treadgold, Donald W. "Russian expansion in the light of Turner's study of the American frontier." Agricultural History 26.4 (1952): 147–152. Online
  • Velychenko, Stephen, The Issue of Russian Colonialism in Ukrainian Thought.Dependency Identity and Development, AB IMPERIO 1 (2002) 323-66


  • Blinnikov, Mikhail S. A geography of Russia and its neighbors (Guilford Press, 2011)
  • Catchpole, Brian. A map history of Russia (1983)
  • Chew, Allen F. An Atlas of Russian History: Eleven Centuries of Changing Borders (2nd ed. 1967)
  • Gilbert, Martin. Routledge Atlas of Russian History (4th ed. 2007) excerpt and text search
  • Parker, William Henry. An historical geography of Russia (University of London Press, 1968)
  • Shaw, Denis J.B. Russia in the modern world: A new geography (Blackwell, 1998)