The chaos and hardship that resulted from Russia's entry into World War I (1914-1918) was exacerbated in the years that followed. Russians saw the outbreak of a long struggle for power between the Bolsheviks and a series of disparate armies, known collectively as the Whites, supported by Russia's erstwhile wartime allies. On coming to power in 1917, the Bolsheviks issued a series of revolutionary decrees ratifying peasants' seizures of land and workers' control of industries, abolishing laws sanctioning class privileges, nationalizing the banks and setting up revolutionary tribunals in place of the courts. Vladimir Lenin (1870-1924), the Bolshevik leader, became chairman of the Council of People's Commissars; Leon Trotsky (1879-1940) was commissar of foreign affairs and Joseph Stalin (1878-1953) became commissar of nationalities.
In foreign affairs, the Soviet government, seeking to disengage Russia from World War I, called on the belligerent powers for peace without annexations. The Allied Powers rejected this appeal but Germany and its allies agreed to a ceasefire, with negotiations starting in December 1917. On March 3, 1918, Soviet government officials signed the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, relinquishing the Baltic lands, Finland and Ukraine. Adolf Hitler (1889-1945) repudiated the agreement in 1941 and Russian, Belorussian and Ukrainian territory subsequently became the scene of fierce fighting and the eventual repulsion of a huge Nazi invasion force. Stalin rallied patriotic support for the war effort and Soviet forces entered Berlin triumphantly in April 1945. Together with the United States, the Soviet Union became a superpower.
Soon after World War II (1939-1945), the Soviet Union and its Western allies parted ways as mutual suspicions of the other's intentions flourished. Stalin sought to create a buffer zone of subservient East European countries, most of which the Red Army had occupied in the course of the war. The United States worked to contain Soviet expansion in this period that came to be known as the Cold War (1945-1991). It featured Soviet domination of all of Eastern Europe, the development of nuclear weapons by the Soviet Union and several conflicts.
After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia aggressively assumed Soviet assets and most of the Soviet Union's treaty obligations. Russia took over the permanent seat of the Soviet Union in the United Nations (U.N.) Security Council, which allowed it to join the elite power group with Britain, China, France and the United States. In December 1991, President Boris Yeltsin (1931-2007) and leaders of Belarus and Ukraine created the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). This expanded to include the republics of Central Asia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Georgia did not join until 1993; while the three Baltic republics never joined.
The 14 former Soviet republics are termed by many Russians the "near abroad" (blizhneye zarubezhiye). Since independence, Russian policy makers have tried both to restore old bilateral connections and to create new relationships wherever possible. In the mid-1990s, a prominent component of Russian foreign policy was recovery of military and economic influence in as many CIS nations as possible. Along Russia's southern borders, post-independence instability offered opportunities to retain a military presence in the name of "peacekeeping" among warring factions or nations. Variations of this theme occurred in Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Moldova and Tajikistan.
In October 2000, the heads of five countries (Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan) signed an agreement on the creation of the Eurasian Economic Community. In October 2005, Uzbekistan joined the organization. In September 2003 four countries, including Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia and Ukraine signed an Agreement on Formation of C.E.S. (Common Economic Space). In August 2008, Georgia announced it was pulling out of the organization. The NATO-Russia Council, an important mechanism for consultation and cooperation, was established on 28 May 2002. The current legal basis for relations between the EU and Russia is the 1997 Partnership and Cooperation Agreement.
Vladimir Putin, who was elected President in 2000 and Prime Minister in 2008, is seen as the "strong man" of Russia. Putin has been described by The Economist (September 19, 2002) as "a pragmatist in foreign policy." In 2003, he began seeking closer ties with Europe and the United States and sought a larger role for Russia in international bodies. Putin has been a key figure in lobbying to join the World Trade Organization (W.T.O.) and interrupted a speech by a deputy minister in 2011 to say Russia would not obey W.T.O. rules until it was a member.