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October in Russian History

October 4, 1853: The Ottoman Empire declares war on Russia.

The dispute has its origins in disagreements over authority in the Holy Land, the locus of sites important to Islam as well as to Eastern and Western Christianity. However, tensions between the Russian and Ottoman empires had existed for centuries — chiefly over influence in Constantinople, which since 1054 had been the seat of the Eastern Orthodox Church, and in the Bosporus, the only waterway providing access to the commercially important Black Sea. In 1854, Britain and France entered the confl ict on the Ottoman side. Fought largely on the Crimean Peninsula, the war ended in 1856 with the Treaty of Paris and a death toll of over 500,000. Florence Nightingale was one bright spot in the carnage: Her theories of hygiene and methods of nursing led to changes in the norms for hospital care both on and off the battlefield and saved many lives.

October 1, 1928: The Soviet Union introduces its First Five-Year Plan.

Still reeling after the devastation of years of revolution and war and wanting to dive headlong into the future, the Soviet government, by then under the leadership of Communist Party General Secretary Joseph Stalin, launched its plans to build socialism through a concentrated effort to industrialize, collectivize, and increase output. Relying on a strict system of production quotas and record-keeping, the plan gave the specifics of the targets that were to be met each year. A propaganda campaign was launched in parallel, urging the population to work to not only meet the stated goals but to overtake them, with such slogans as “Let’s Fulfill the Five-Year Plan in Four Years!” Perhaps for this reason, it is the First Five-Year Plan that is best known, but five-year plans remained a staple of Soviet economic planning until the country’s dissolution in 1991.

October 4, 1957: The USSR launches Sputnik 1.

The Soviet Union reached a milestone in the human conquest of the final frontier when it launched the first artifi cial satellite into space in October 1957. The Soviet technological triumph caused a stir in the United States, where the event signaled that America had fallen behind in the “Space Race” between the two superpowers. This prompted a panicked self-examination that led eventually to efforts at educational reform and the founding of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in July 1958. Today, the space programs of many countries cooperate in such projects as the International Space Station, and we can all thank Sputnik 1 for paving the way for the television- and GPS-dependent lifestyles we enjoy today.

October 26, 1917: Bolshevik forces capture the Winter Palace in St. Petersburg.

The event known as the October Revolution began on the night of October 25, when Bolshevik soldiers stormed the Winter Palace, the seat of the Provisional Government and the former home of Tsar Nicholas II, who had abdicated in February 1917. This initial Bolshevik assault, which resulted in the ouster of the Provisional Government, was followed by five years of civil war and the establishment of the Soviet Union in 1922. The October Revolution takes its name from the date according to the Julian calendar, which was in use in Russia at the time. The corresponding date on the Gregorian calendar, which the country adopted after the revolution and continues to use today, is November 7, and it was on that date that the anniversary of the October Revolution was celebrated throughout the Soviet era.

October 14, 1962: The Cuban Missile Crisis begins.

Known in Russian as the “Caribbean Crisis,” the Cuban Missile Crisis began when a routine U.S. reconnaissance flight over Cuba revealed the installation of missiles in progress on the island. Over the next days, several rounds of diplomacy were attempted, ending in failure and pushing the United States and the Soviet Union to the brink of nuclear war. The public learned about the grave situation on October 22, when President John Kennedy gave his first speech on the subject, saying, “It shall be the policy of this nation to regard any nuclear missile launched from Cuba against any nation in the Western Hemisphere as an attack on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union.” But a last-ditch effort at negotiation between the White House and the Kremlin, this time through secret channels, bore fruit: On October 28, Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev broadcast a radio message announcing the order to dismantle the weapons, thus ending one of the tensest periods of the Cold War.

October 23, 2002: Moscow Theater Hostage Crisis begins.

Hundreds of people were taken hostage when armed militants seized Moscow’s Dubrovka Theater during a sold-out performance of the musical Nord-Ost. The hostage-takers, who identified themselves as Chechen separatists, demanded the withdrawal of Russian forces from Chechnya within one week, threatening that they would begin killing hostages if their terms were not met. Over the next two-and-a-half days, the Russian side tried to negotiate with the hostage-takers. The siege ended early on the morning of October 26 when Russian special forces stormed the theater. At least 129 hostages lost their lives during the crisis, though their exact cause of death remains somewhat unclear. Many appear to have died from a mysterious chemical substance that had been pumped into the theater’s ventilation system in advance of the raid by Russian forces. Today a memorial to those hostages who perished stands near the site of the attack.

October 22, 1784: Russian explorer Grigory Shelikhov arrives at Three Saints Bay, Alaska

Although explorers carrying the Russian flag had been traveling to Alaska for decades, the formal Russian colonial presence in North America began with the establishment of a permanent Russian settlement on Kodiak Island in 1784. Grigory Shelikhov would later help found the Russian-American Trading Company, which would be responsible for the expansion of Russian settlements throughout Alaska as well as for the construction of forts in Hawaii and Northern California. The imperial Russian presence in North America officially ended with the sale of Alaska to the United States in 1867.

October 14, 1964: Leonid Brezhnev is appointed first secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union

By 1964, the aging Nikita Khrushchev made earned a number of enemies within the Soviet government. On October 14, while the leader was out of town, members of the Politburo voted to remove him from offi ce, citing his undignified behavior and the failure of his economic policies. In his stead, they appointed Leonid Brezhnev, who became the longest-serving Soviet premier since Stalin, remaining in the post until (after?) his death in November 1982. While the early Brezhnev years were characterized by a return to hard-line policies, such as the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia that put an end to the Prague Spring, the Brezhnev era later became associated with détente, including the signing of two strategic arms limitation treaties (SALT) with the United States. Perhaps somewhat ironically, the Brezhnev years were known as a period of economic stagnation for the USSR.

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