In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Russian Military History

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Anthologies
  • Bibliographies
  • Journals
  • Soviet Military Thought
  • John Erickson
  • David Glantz
  • Napoleonic Wars
  • 20th Century
  • First World War
  • Russian Civil War / Soviet-Polish War
  • Interwar Period
  • Soviet-Finnish War
  • Postwar/Cold War
  • Afghanistan
  • Post–Soviet Russia
  • Casualties
  • Military Medicine and Psychiatry

Military History Russian Military History
Reina Pennington
  • LAST REVIEWED: 06 February 2012
  • LAST MODIFIED: 06 February 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0052


Russian and Soviet military history extends from the time of the Mongol invasions to the present. It presents a rich and varied tapestry of military experience that is well worth studying but is often neglected in most general works of military history. Aside from World War II, which has produced a bounty of military histories in the past few decades, most areas are badly understudied. Some themes include geographic context (immense, diverse, and multiethnic); the challenges of central control; efforts to modernize and Westernize; and conflict with neighbors including Sweden, Poland, the German states, Austria, the Ottomans, and the British. When the Bolsheviks came to power in the early 20th century, they dealt with many of these old issues plus the challenge of creating a new sort of army appropriate to a Communist state. The Bolshevik regime was born in civil war, and the Soviet Union was at least partly destroyed by the burdens of war—from the terrible economic and human costs of the Great Patriotic War to the long-term drain of the arms races of the Cold War. Both Russia and the Soviet Union can claim unique aspects of military experience, including the inclusion of women and large ethnic minorities. This entry focuses on wars, military institutions, and human experience in war and the military.

General Overviews

Stone 2006 is the essential resource for anyone looking for a starting point or a textbook or who has time to read only a single book about Russian and Soviet military history. Other works focus on large spans of time, such as Keep 1985, the best source for understanding the origins and development of military forces and institutions in Russia over a 400-year period. A natural companion to Keep’s work is Reese 2000, also a social history and the single-best source on Soviet military history, although Higham and Kagan 2002 should be used in conjunction with Reese’s book to provide greater depth. Kagan and Higham 2002 is an outstanding survey of key aspects of the pre-Soviet period. Schimmelpenninck van der Oye and Menning 2004 addresses a range of military topics over a two-century span.

  • Higham, Robin D. S., and Frederick W. Kagan, eds. The Military History of the Soviet Union. New York: Palgrave, 2002.

    An essential collection of essays by John Erickson, David Stone, Mary Habeck, and others, covering the entire Soviet period. Unfortunately, there are no citations, but chapters include source listings or bibliographic essays.

  • Kagan, Frederick W., and Robin D. S. Higham, eds. The Military History of Tsarist Russia. New York: Palgrave, 2002.

    An essential collection of essays covering the entire tsarist period by Bruce Menning, Fred Kagan, Jacob Kipp, and others. There are no footnotes, but chapters include source information and/or bibliographic essays.

  • Keep, John. Soldiers of the Tsar: Army and Society in Russia, 1462–1874. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1985.

    A groundbreaking work that explains the development of a militaristic service state and examines the unique relationship among the military, the state, and society under the tsars. Traces the changes that occurred and provides insight into social aspects of military life in Russia.

  • Reese, Roger R. The Soviet Military Experience: A History of the Soviet Army, 1917–1991. London: Routledge, 2000.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203011850

    Primarily a social and institutional history of the military during the Soviet period, Reese’s work is the single-best source on the 20th century. Especially useful on the relationship between socialism and the military.

  • Schimmelpenninck van der Oye, David, and Bruce Menning, eds. Reforming the Tsar’s Army: Military Innovation in Imperial Russia from Peter the Great to the Revolution. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

    Four main topics are addressed: population and resources, intelligence and knowledge, response to war, and personalities. Top-notch contributors write on a variety of sometimes neglected aspects of the military, such as military intelligence.

  • Stone, David R. A Military History of Russia: From Ivan the Terrible to the War in Chechnya. Westport, CT: Praeger, 2006.

    The only narrative history to incorporate both Russian and Soviet military history in a single volume. The lack of citations is disappointing, but a useful Suggested Reading section is included. Essential for everyone: researchers, students, and teachers.

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