Office of the Historian
United States Relations with Russia: Establishment of Relations to World War Two
1780-1783: First Representative of the United States to Russia
The new Government of the United States of America appointed Francis Dana as Minister to St. Petersburg. John Quincy Adams served as translator for this Dana Mission to Russia. Although Dana arrived in August 1781, he left Russia in August 1783 without ever receiving formal recognition from the Russians. Diplomatic ties to Britain prevented the Russian Government from accepting Dana's credentials. Nevertheless, while in Russia, Dana worked as a private citizen to build support for the American cause, and to dispel Russian fears that the new United States would become a trading rival. Following the conclusion of the Treaty of Paris that formally ended the Revolutionary War, Robert Livingston, Secretary of Foreign Affairs under the Continental Congress, recalled Dana and focused on formalizing diplomatic relations with other European powers.
1790: Establishment of Russian Outposts in Russian America
In the late 1700s, the Russians became increasingly interested in the Pacific Northwest of the American continent for fur trapping and trading. Aleksandr Baranov, sponsored by the fur trading business, traveled to the North Pacific in 1790 and established various Russian outposts in the area--including Sitka, which later became New Archangel, the main administrative center of Russian America.
1799: Creation of Russian America Company
Tsar Paul chartered the Russian America Company in 1799 to develop trade opportunities in the North Pacific. Although competition between the United States and the Russians in the Pacific remained peaceful, American traders also showed some interest in this area as part of their nascent Pacific and Asian trade.
1803: Acceptance of First U.S. Consul in Russia
In the interest of concluding commercial agreements with Russia, President Thomas Jefferson appointed Consul Levett Harris as the first official U.S. representative to Russia in 1803. Harris received a formal commission as Consul for St. Petersburg in early 1803 and arrived in St. Petersburg in October of that same year. Russia accepted Harris but did not reciprocate by sending a representative to the United States.
August-December 1807: Establishing Formal U.S.-Russian Diplomatic Relations
In August 1807, American Minister in London, James Monroe, discussed with Russia's Special Envoy at London, Maksim Alopeus, the possibility of establishing official diplomatic ties between the two nations. In December 1807, Russian Special Envoy Alopeus informed American Minister-Designate at London, William Pinkney, that Russian Tsar Alexander I had agreed to send a Minister to the United States, once the United States agreed to reciprocate by sending a representative of similar rank.
1808-1809: Appointing the Diplomats
On August 30, 1808, Tsar Alexander issued credentials for Andrei Dashkov to be Chargé d'Affaires and Consul General to Philadelphia. On September 8, 1808, Secretary of State James Madison informed William Short that President Thomas Jefferson had selected Short to serve as Minister Plenipotentiary to the Tsar of Russia. While this compelled the Russians to elevate the rank of the envoy they sent to the United States, President Jefferson had difficulties in getting his nomination approved by the Senate. In March 1809, the Senate rejected Short's nomination, and shortly thereafter rejected the new President James Madison's nomination of John Quincy Adams. Regardless, the Russian Government informed Washington that it would appoint Minister-Designate Fedor Pahlen to Washington. Finally, on June 27, 1809, the Senate approved Adams, after Madison resubmitted his nomination.
July 1809: First Russian Representative to the United States
Chargé d'Affaires Andrei Dashkov formally presented his credentials to President Madison. He was the first official Russian representative to the United States.
November 1809: First U.S. Minister to Russia
John Quincy Adams formally presented his credentials to Tsar Alexander in St. Petersburg, and became the first U.S. Minister to Russia on November 5, 1809.
June 1810: First Russian Minister to the United States
The first Russian Minister to the United States, Fedor Pahlen, presented his credentials to President Madison on June 26, 1810. Dashkov replaced him in 1811.
1812: Establishment of Russian Colony at Fort Ross
As instructed by the major stockholders of the Russian America Company and by Aleksandr Baranov, Ivan Kuskov established a southern base in 1812 at Fort Ross near Bodega Bay in California, which was at that time a Spanish territory.
1812-1814: Russian Mediation Efforts in War of 1812
In September 1812, the Russian Minister of Foreign Relations, Nikolai Rumiantsev, approached Adams in St. Petersburg with the suggestion that the Russians make an effort to mediate in the increasingly tense conflict between Great Britain and the United States. Russian officials hoped to maintain the American commerce, upon which the Russians had come to depend, and to ensure that more British forces would be freed to combat Napoleon's French troops, which were encroaching on Russian territory. Russia presented documents of its mediation offer to Secretary of State James Monroe on February 27, 1813. Monroe accepted the offer on March 11, and sent a team of negotiators led by Secretary of the Treasury Albert Gallatin and former Senator James Bayard to St. Petersburg shortly thereafter. Unfortunately for the American delegation, the British refused the third-party mediation, despite continued insistence from the Russians that they sit down with the Americans. Frustrated after months of waiting, the Gallatin-Bayard delegation left St. Petersburg in January 1814. In 1815 the Americans met with the British in Belgium, and concluded the Treaty of Ghent without Russian assistance.
1820-1821: Arbitration of the Treaty of Ghent
When in 1820-1821 the United States and Britain began to disagree over certain provisions of the Treaty of Ghent related to compensation for slaves seized from U.S. territory during the war, the United States suggested that Russia act as a third-party mediator in arbitration. The Russians agreed and settled the disagreement in favor of the Americans.
September 1821: Ukaz of 1821
Tsar Alexander issued an ukaz (edict) on September 16, 1821, regarding Russian claims in America. Alexander declared the northwest territory north of 51° latitude under the jurisdiction of the Russian American Company. This line was far south of the main Russian settlement at New Archangel, yet north of the colony at Fort Ross. Alexander also banned foreign ships from coming closer than 115 miles off the coasts of Russian America. On September 25, Alexander went a step further when he issued a new charter for the Russian American Company that claimed its monopoly on fur hunting, fishing, and trading in this area. A number of American trading companies protested this action.
December 1823: The Monroe Doctrine
In his annual message to Congress on December 2, 1823, President James Monroe outlined the set of principles that would later become known as the Monroe Doctrine. These tenets essentially demanded that Europeans stay out of Western Hemisphere affairs, and refrain from further colonization on the American continents.
April 1824: The Convention of 1824
After some hard bargaining urged by American statesmen and trading companies, in April 1824, the Russians finally agreed to abandon the requirements of the ukaz of 1821 and reopened its Pacific ports to U.S. ships. The Convention also set the boundary for Russia's Northwest claims at 54° 40' north latitude. In concluding this agreement, the United States essentially recognized Russian claims north of this line. Once this Convention was ratified in 1825, it became the first treaty concluded between Russia and the United States.
December 1832: Russian-American Commercial Treaty of 1832
The Russian-American Commercial Treaty of 1832 made no major changes to the status quo, but formalized practices already followed in the growing trade between the two countries. The treaty provided general bilateral trading rights and most-favored-nation treatment.
December 1841: Sale of Fort Ross
The Russians arranged to sell its southernmost Pacific outpost to local American rancher John Sutter for $30,000 in December 1841. The sale did not go through immediately, due to demands from the Mexican Government, which officially controlled the California territory for a time, and then the Mexican-American War. However, payment was finally settled in time for the California gold rush, during which prospectors discovered a good deal of the precious metal on territory formerly controlled by the Russians.
February 1842: American Engineer as Consultant for Russian Railroad
Tsar Nicholas appointed George Washington Whistler as consulting engineer for the Moscow‑St. Petersburg railroad project in February 1842. Whistler ultimately oversaw most of the construction until his death 7 years later, and brought many American managers to Russia to oversee various aspects of the project. This marked the beginning of long-term American involvement with Russian railroad building.
1853: Organization of American Russian Commercial Company
In the early 1850s, San Francisco entrepreneurs became interested in a commodity readily available in the Russian territory of Alaska-ice. The American Russian Commercial Company, organized in 1853, established large ice houses in Sitka, and eventually dominated American trade with the Russian territories to the north.
Mid-1850s: Russia, the United States, and the Crimean War
As the European powers vied for control over the declining Ottoman Empire, American political opinion favored Russian interests over the British and the French. This resulted in U.S. efforts to assist the Russians, particularly in the North Pacific, by allowing Russian ships to sail under American neutrality and by supplying the Russians, whose shipping was frequently disrupted by the British.
In June 1854, Beverly Sanders, President of the American Russian Commercial Company, brokered a deal with Russia that gave Americans a monopoly over the marketing of the Russian America Company's products (such as ice, fish, coal, lumber) throughout the Pacific. In return, Sanders agreed to help supply Russian America and Siberian coastal settlements during the war, and arranged for the fictitious sale of Russian ships to his American Russian Commercial Company, thereby allowing them to sail under the American flag. Other private American citizens also concluded supply deals with the Russians during the war.
The United States also offered to broker peace between the British, French, and Russians in the summer of 1854. Although no U.S.-led peace mediation took place, all parties eventually agreed to basic principles of neutral rights at sea.
1854: Cottman Mission
Thomas Cottman, a wealthy American doctor, traveled to Russia in early 1854 and met with high ranking members of the St. Petersburg court. Although details of these conversations remain vague, upon Cottman's return to the United States in the summer of 1854, the press reported that he had discussed the possible sale of Russian American territories, including Alaska, to the United States.
1854-1855: American Humanitarian Efforts in Crimean War
Spurred by reports from Thomas Cottman regarding the terrible conditions on the warfront, American doctors traveled to the front in Russia to treat casualties of the Crimean War in 1854 and 1855.
March 1856: Treaty of Paris
The Europeans settled the Crimean War with the Treaty of Paris, in March 1856, which curtailed Russia's influence in the former Ottoman Empire. The treaty also demilitarized the Black Sea, and prohibited all warships from sailing in those waters.
Opening Sevastopol Harbor
American submarine maker and salvage specialist John Gowen signed an agreement in October 1856 with the Russian Government to raise the fifty or more ships sunk by the Russians during the war to block Sevastopol's harbor.
1857: American Construction of Russian Naval Ships
As agreed upon in the early 1850s, American shipbuilders at the New York shipyards began the construction of warships for the Russian Navy in 1857. This included the construction of the General-Admiral, the largest ship ever built in the United States. The launch of this vessel in 1859 spurred special celebrations in both the United States and Russia.
1860-1861: Discussions of Future of Russian American Territories
In early 1860, high-ranking U.S. officials raised the issue of the future status of Russia's American possessions, particularly since the Russia American Company had fallen on hard times since the Crimean War and its charter was set to expire in late 1861. During these discussions, the Americans formally asked the Russian Minister to the United States, Eduard Stoekel, if Russia would consider ceding these possessions to the United States. St. Petersburg's initial resistance and the American Civil War delayed the sale of Russia's remaining American territories.
February-March 1861: Russian Emancipation of the Serfs
Just as the United States was about to fight a war motivated in part by the national debate over American slavery, Alexander II issued a manifesto in early 1861 releasing Russian serfs from their servitude. American abolitionists celebrated this turn of events, while Russians watched from afar as the United States descended into armed conflict.
1861-1865: U.S.-Russian Relations during the American Civil War
Russian Minister Stoekel initially encouraged mediation between President Abraham Lincoln's Secretary of State, William H. Seward, and representatives of seceded Southern states; however, after Seward refused such negotiations, the Russians assumed an official position that supported the Union while urging reunification. The Russians also supported the suggestion made by Napoleon III of France that called for a peace mediated by the French, British, and Russians. However, Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, that freed slaves in Union territory, raised the stakes and made real negotiation between the North and South, or outright British or French endorsement of the Confederacy, unlikely.
September-December 1863: Visits by Russian Imperial Navy
During the Civil War, Russian naval ships sailed to New York in late 1863 to demonstrate Russia's naval capability and its growing support for the North. More importantly, this was a strategic move in anticipation of a possible war with the British following the recent Polish uprising against Russian rule. By staging visits to U.S. ports, the Russian Navy aimed to relocate a number of its ships so that they would not be trapped in the Baltic Sea in the event of war in Europe. New York celebrated the visitors in style, with lavish social events, parades, and military reviews. The ships eventually called on the ports of Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, and Annapolis, and traveled as far south as Alexandria. Russian officers entertained members of the U.S. Cabinet and Congress on board. A separate Pacific squadron visited California.
March 1865: Russian-American Telegraph Charter
After a failed attempt to lay the first transatlantic telegraph line in 1861, Russian and American officials negotiated an agreement for an overland telegraphic connection of Europe and North America via Siberia, Alaska, and the Pacific Northwest. Secretary Seward appointed American entrepreneur and Russian business expert Perry McDonough Collins to represent the United States in this venture. Collins secured a formal agreement in March 1865. Unfortunately for the team that worked in difficult conditions, the Atlantic cable began successful operations in 1867 and Western Union abandoned its Pacific efforts.
Winter 1866-1867: Coverage of Western Union Expedition
The New York Herald assigned American writer Thomas Knox to cover the Western Union expedition in Siberia that took place during the winter of 1866-1867. Knox's writings about his experiences ultimately led to a book, Overland Through Siberia, that brought accounts of Siberian peoples and the Russian exile system to the American public. Other American writers, including George Kennan (1845-1924), also published accounts of this expedition in the American press. Knox, Kennan, and other writers later toured the United States to lecture about their travels in Russia.
March 1867: U.S. Purchase of Alaska
Secretary of State Seward secured a deal to purchase Alaska from the Russian tsar for $7.2 million in March 1867. Although the U.S. Congress initially resisted the idea, citing the price as too high, legislators ultimately agreed to the deal because it blocked a large portion of Great Britain's Pacific access, made Alaska's rich mineral resources available to American entrepreneurs, and provided easier access to lucrative Asian trade. Russia had become increasingly frustrated with the expense and difficulty of supplying its businesses in the Pacific territory, and was thus also satisfied with the sale.
1869: Discussion of Russian Jews in the U.S. Press
By the late 1860s, U.S. newspapers began reporting on acts of anti-Semitism toward Jews living in Russia, pointing out that despite a tendency toward progressive reform in Russian society, Russian Jews lacked basic rights. This prompted a report by Eugene Schuyler, U.S. consul at Reval, who criticized the confinement of Russian Jews to western and southwestern border provinces, known as the Pale.
1871: Pogrom against Russian Jews
Russian authorities cracked down on Jews in the city of Odessa over Easter week 1871. U.S. Consul Eugene Schuyler described the economic discrimination against Russian Jews in a memorandum to the U.S. Department of State. Russian Jews began to consider emigrating.
November 1871-February 1872: Visit to the United States by Grand Duke Alexis
As part of his world tour, the third son of Tsar Alexander II stopped in the United States in November 1871 for a visit of several months. Alexis made public appearances and attended galas in New York, Washington, Annapolis, and Philadelphia before heading west. Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit, and St. Louis welcomed him before Alexis set off to the plains of Nebraska for a buffalo hunt with General George Custer and William (Buffalo Bill) Cody. A number of Sioux chiefs also met with the Russian dignitary. The Grand Duke enjoyed his trip immensely, and returned 5 years later for another visit with his American friends and acquaintances.
Spring 1872: General Sherman Visits Russia
The famous Civil War military leader General William Tecumseh Sherman-accompanied by his aide Colonel Joseph Audenreid and Lieutenant Frederick Grant, son of President Ulysses Grant-stopped in Russia on a European tour during the spring of 1872. Tsar Alexander II granted them an audience and formally thanked the Americans for the warm reception of Alexis during his recent visit to the United States.
1870s-1890s: Emigration of Russian Mennonites to the United States
Mennonite families, who had originally sought religious freedom in Russia in the late 1700s, emigrated to the United States after Alexander II's decision to deny exemptions for universal military service. Beginning in 1873, a number of Mennonite families settled in Minnesota, the Dakotas, and Kansas. By 1875, other religious minorities, including Catholics and ethnic German Lutherans, began leaving the Volga region of Russia to follow the Mennonites to the United States.
January 1877: The Grand Duke's Second Visit to the United States
Grand Duke Alexis, now a captain in the Russian navy, returned to the United States in January 1877, with a Russian squadron, to seek security during armed conflict in the Balkans.
1877-1878: U.S. Assistance during the Russo-Turkish War
Turkish action against Slavs in the Balkans led to armed conflict between Russia and the Ottoman Empire. The United States supplied Russia with naval ships and weapons. U.S. newspaper correspondents provided regular coverage of the war for American readers.
July-August 1878: Former President Grant Visits Russia
The visit of former U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant to Russia in the summer of 1878 marked the first time a former president had visited Russia. One hundred years would pass before another U.S. President traveled to Russia.
1879-1884: The Jeannette Expedition
In 1879, James Gordon Bennett, owner of the New York Herald, sponsored an expedition to the Arctic led by U.S. Navy Lieutenant George W. De Long. De Long's ship, the U.S.S. Jeannette, entered the Arctic Ocean through the Bering Strait, became caught in the ice north of Wrangel Island, and drifted for nearly two years before being crushed and sunk. The expedition discovered three small islands, which were named Henrietta, Jeannette, and Bennett. As the expedition tried to reach the Russian mainland, one boat's crew disappeared in a storm. The other two boats landed on opposite sides of the Lena River delta. De Long and all but two of his party starved and froze to death. Chief Engineer George Melville's party found help but could not save De Long. Russian authorities assisted the survivors and, during the next two years, allowed U.S. Navy personnel to travel through Siberia to recover the bodies of De Long and his companions.
March 13, 1881: Assassination of Tsar Alexander II
Members of a radical socialist movement, the People's Will, who protested the shortcomings of progressive social reform in Russia, plotted against, and finally assassinated, the Russian tsar on March 13, 1881. This event launched a conservative, ultranationalist counter movement fiercely loyal to Alexander III, the new tsar, and ushered in a less reform-minded era of Russian history. The American press and Government expressed public condolences and support for the new tsar, but a number of liberal-minded Americans expressed concern about the increasing autocratic tendencies of the Russian court.
April-May 1881: More Anti-Jewish Pogroms
Anti-Semitism continued to grow in Russia, encouraged by the fact that some of Alexander II's assassins were Jews, rising Slavic nationalism, and an economic depression. A spate of violent pogroms waged against Jews took place, mainly in the spring of 1881, particularly in Warsaw, Kiev, and Elizavetgrad, and continued into 1882. The Russian Government officially banned public debate of the Jewish issue. Those Russian Jews who could fled to other countries; many came to the United States, assisted by philanthropic organizations founded by American Jews.
1886: Translation of Major Works of Russian Literature
A number of Russian works had been translated for American audiences earlier in the 1800s, but in 1886 a number of major works became available to the U.S. market. American translators published Russian books that had immediate and longstanding popularity in the United States. These included Leo Tolstoy's masterpieces Anna Karenina and War and Peace, and Fedor Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment.
1889: Publication of Tent Life in Siberia
In 1889, American adventurer and author George Kennan published the popular Tent Life in Siberia about his travels in Eastern Siberia with the Western Union telegraph expedition. Kennan's writings included a discussion of the Siberian exile system, a topic that interested Americans in the wake of the increasingly repressive policies of the new tsar.
1891: Publication of Siberia and the Exile System
The publication in 1891 of a compilation of George Kennan's articles describing the harsh Siberian prison system in detail provoked American discussion and popularized criticism of the Russian autocracy. Russian dissidents living in Russia reprinted Kennan's accounts in their underground publications.
1891-1893: Russian Famine
Widespread famine afflicted Russia in 1891-1893, particularly the area around Odessa and the Volga and Tambov regions, after a succession of poor harvests. American humanitarian organizations stepped forward with significant donations. After initial resistance to accepting outside aid, the Russian autocracy organized a special committee led by the heir to the throne, Grand Duke Nicholas, to coordinate relief. The famine also served to encourage further Russian emigration to the United States.
February 1893: Congressional Approval of U.S.-Russian Extradition Treaty
In February 1893, the U.S. Senate ratified a controversial treaty proposed by Russia in 1886. Many Americans opposed this extradition treaty on the grounds that it threatened Russian political exiles who had sought refuge in the United States.
Spring-Summer 1893: Chicago World's Fair, Columbian Exposition
The Russian Government sent a large delegation to the 1893 international world's fair in Chicago. The Russians staged sixteen displays at the exposition. By exhibiting at the fair, the Russian Government aimed to express their official thanks to the American people for famine relief, promote the advances of Russian industry, and learn about technical advances in the West. The Russian press covered extensively the experiences of the Russian delegation in the United States.
1893: Russian Refusal to Issue Visas to American Jews
The Russian Government continued to enforce anti-Semitic laws, and in 1893 adopted a policy to deny American Jews visas for visits to Russia on the basis of their religion. Despite official and unofficial American protest, the Russians maintained this policy for decades.
November 1894: Death of Tsar Alexander III
Nicholas II, son of Alexander III, ascended the throne upon his father's death in November 1894. Many Americans were already familiar with the former Grand Duke, who had traveled to the United States, organized international famine relief in the early 1890s, and participated in negotiations regarding a Trans‑Siberian railroad. Nicholas II appointed to his court a number of well-traveled officials who enjoyed significant contacts with high-level American officials and professionals.
1890s: Construction of Trans-Siberian Railroad
A treaty with the Chinese in 1886 had given the Russians permission to construct the long-discussed Trans-Siberian railroad through Manchuria to link the heart of Russia to the Pacific coast. After much discussion with American financiers and industrialists, the Russian Government decided to move forward independently with construction, the bulk of which was performed in the 1890s. The completion of this railroad connection resonated with Americans invested in the Asian market and the Pacific Northwest, particularly since Russia gained concessions in China in the late 1890s that gave Russia a Pacific port that could serve as a terminus for the railroad.
August 1898: Russian Call for International Peace Conference
In August 1898, while the United States was enmeshed in the Spanish-American War over Pacific and Caribbean territories, Russia called for an international conference, primarily to discuss arms reductions. The conference was ultimately held in The Hague in May 1899, and accomplished little in the way of disarmament. However, it did establish an international tribunal meant to arbitrate disagreements between nations.
1899-1900: The "Open Door Notes"
By the late 1890s and early 1900s, Russia had gained significant influence in Manchuria, including leases to two major ports. In the interest of ensuring that the imperial powers did not carve up China into distinct spheres of foreign commercial control, U.S. Secretary of State John Hay issued a series of diplomatic notes demanding an "open door" in Asia. Hay suggested that Britain, France, Germany, and especially Russia, agree to a general principle of equal rights and access for all powers interested in the China market. After the anti-foreign, Chinese-led Boxer rebellion, Hays issued a second call asking that the foreign powers pledge to respect China's territorial integrity. Britain, France, and Japan agreed and were eventually joined, though more reluctantly, by Russia and Germany.
April 1903: Kishinev Pogrom
Russian and Moldovan citizens of the Bessarabian provincial capital of Kishinev launched a violent attack against the Jewish quarter of the city on Orthodox Easter Sunday, in April 1903, killing dozens of people, injuring hundreds more, and destroying much of the neighborhood. The American Jewish community issued recriminations against the Russian central government, which tried to deny the extent of the violence. U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt finally agreed to cable his personal protest to the Russian Foreign Minister.
1904-1905: Russo-Japanese War
Russia continued to encroach upon Manchuria despite protest from other nations. Japan finally took military action, and on February 8-9, 1904 attacked the Russian Far Eastern fleet at Port Arthur. Although President Roosevelt never declared war on Russia, and later concluded a peace settlement, this Japanese action ultimately reinforced the U.S. interest of containing Russian influence in East Asia.
1905-1906: Russian Revolution of 1905
Growing resentment against autocratic rule from urban industrial workers, Marxist revolutionaries, and other liberal reform-minded Russians spilled onto the streets in a large demonstration in St. Petersburg on January 22, 1905. Known as "Bloody Sunday" for the strong retaliation from the military and police, this uprising sparked a series of similar revolts around the empire throughout 1905, frustrating authorities and interfering with regular business and industry. Conservative groups retaliated, particularly against Jews. Many Russian Jews followed their relatives and friends to the United States.
August 1905: Peace Conference, Portsmouth, New Hampshire
U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt brokered a peace conference between the Russians and Japanese in the summer of 1905. Negotiations resulted in Japan gaining control over parts of southern Manchuria and Russia maintaining its influence in the northern part of the region.
December 1911: Abrogation of the U.S.-Russian Commercial Treaty
On December 13, 1911, the U.S. House of Representatives voted, 301 to 1, to abrogate the 1832 Treaty of Commerce with Russia. Congress objected to the Russian Government's refusal to accept passports issued to Russian-born Jews who had become naturalized American citizens. The Senate approved the House's action on December 19, and the joint resolution was adopted on December 21. On December 17, Ambassador Curtis Guild notified Russian Foreign Minister Sergei D. Sazanov that the United States intended to terminate the treaty as of January 1, 1913. No progress was made toward negotiating a new commercial treaty before World War I and the Russian Revolution.
1914: Outbreak of World War I
Russia sided immediately with Britain, France, and Serbia against Germany and Austria-Hungary when World War I began in 1914. The United States did not join the war until 1917, but did supply the Russians, and the other Allies, with war materiel. Many Americans also contributed individually to war relief for Russia.
February-March 1917: Russian Revolution of 1917
War-time shortages and continuing discontent with a monarchy that continued to resist reform led to a series of large strikes and public protests by early 1917. A massive general strike in Petrograd in February led to insurgency and resulted in many members of the Tsar's military abandoning their units to join the popular uprising. Revolutionaries seized control of Moscow soon after. Tsar Nicholas II abdicated on March 2, leaving Russia in the hands of a moderate Provisional Government that was frequently challenged by the newly formed Petrograd Soviet of Workers' and Soldiers' Deputies and other more radical revolutionaries.
March 1917: U.S. Recognition of the Provisional Government
U.S. Ambassador to Russia David R. Francis requested and received permission to recognize the new Russian Government in March 1917, thereby making the United States the first foreign government to formally recognize the Provisional Government. In the hopes of keeping Russia in the war against Germany, the Governments of Great Britain, France, and Italy recognized the Russian Provisional Government shortly thereafter.
April 1917: United States Declares War
President Woodrow Wilson went before Congress on April 2, 1917, to ask for a declaration of war against Germany. By April 6, Congress had voted in favor of a declaration that allowed Wilson to lead the United States into war alongside the Allies, including Russia, against Germany and Austria‑Hungary.
June-August 1917: The Root Mission
The United States sent a delegation to Russia, led by former Secretary of State Elihu Root, to meet with the Provisional Government from June-August, 1917. President Wilson hoped that this delegation would prevent the new Russian government from concluding a separate peace with Germany. The mission was to offer Russia U.S. support and report back to Washington on conditions in Russia.
October 1917: The October Bolshevik Revolution
Encouraged by revolutionary leader Vladimir Ilyich Lenin, who had returned to Russia from exile in Germany, in October 1917, the radical Bolshevik workers' committees of Petrograd voted to stage an insurrection led by industrial workers against the forces of the Provisional Government. The Provisional Government surrendered without a fight, leaving the Bolshevik party of the workers and peasants in power. In the weeks that followed, Bolsheviks gradually forced non-Bolsheviks out of government. The United States and the Allies watched with concern as radical socialists seized control in Russia and threatened to pull Russian troops from the battlefield.
1917-1933: Interruption of Official U.S.-Russian Relations
Following the Bolshevik Revolution, President Woodrow Wilson instructed U.S. diplomats to withhold official and unofficial recognition of the new Bolshevik Government. U.S. Ambassador David Francis remained in Russia until November 1918, but was never replaced. On September 14, 1919, the U.S. Embassy in Russia closed its doors, though the U.S. Consulate in Vladivostok remained open until May 1922. The United States did not re‑establish diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union until 1933.
January 1918: Woodrow Wilson's Fourteen Points
In response to his discovery that the European powers had secret treaties agreeing to certain territorial readjustments in the postwar period and in an attempt to keep the Russians in the war, President Woodrow Wilson outlined his fourteen major war aims before Congress on January 8, 1918. In this address, Wilson called for the restoration of Russian territory and Russian self-determination.
March 1918: Treaty of Brest-Litovsk
The Bolsheviks signed a peace treaty with Germany on March 3, 1918, formally pulling Russia out of World War I and ceding Poland, Lithuania, the Ukraine, the Baltic provinces, Finland, and other neighboring provinces to the Germans.
August 1918: American Forces Land in Northern Russia
As civil war broke out in Russia between the anti-Bolshevik "Whites" and the Bolshevik "Reds," British, French, American, and Japanese troops landed in the northern ports of Murmansk, Archangel, and Vladivostock in August 1918. The Allied objective was to prevent northern ports from falling into German hands, but the intervention also aimed to weaken the Bolshevik regime. Although the head of the British War Office, Winston Churchill, encouraged a more serious military intervention into Russia, the Allies never launched a full-scale offensive against the Bolsheviks. The last American troops pulled out of Siberia in April 1920, but the United States maintained a policy of non-recognition of the Bolshevik regime.
March 1921: New Economic Policy
In March 1921, Russian leader Lenin announced the New Economic Policy (NEP) that permitted some liberal policies, such as private land ownership and trade, but preserved state ownership of heavy industry. Lenin also intended to attract foreign investment necessary to build Russian infrastructure. Under NEP, a number of private American businesses were able to invest in the Russian economy, particularly in development and mining projects.
1921-1923: Great Famine
Widespread famine in Russia, exacerbated by war and political upheaval, took the lives of over seven million people from 1921-1923. Despite the absence of official relations between the United States and Russia, the U.S. Government extended considerable relief to the Russian people.
1922: Establishment of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
The Bolsheviks ultimately triumphed over the "Whites" and began to centralize power in the hands of the more powerful Bolsheviks in Moscow. By 1922, Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Transcaucasia (Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan) joined to form the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Uzbekistan, Turkestan, Tadzhik, Kazakhstan, and Kirghiz joined the Union in later years.
1924-1928: Death of Lenin and Rise of Stalin
Following Lenin's death in January 1924, the General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, Joseph Stalin, moved to consolidate political power. Stalin supported a policy of building "socialism in one country" rather than achieving international communism that encompassed a global working class. Stalin succeeded in driving out Lenin's supporters, and hardened the communist line within the Soviet Union by moving to accelerate industrialization and collectivizing agricultural production and land holdings. This race to industrialize drove a large number of Soviet orders for heavy machinery from the United States.
November 17, 1933: U.S. Recognition of the Soviet Union
President Franklin D. Roosevelt, realizing that non-recognition had not stopped communism from taking hold in the Soviet Union, and that the United States faced international economic and diplomatic challenges that required Soviet cooperation, invited Soviet Foreign Minister Maxim Litvinov to Washington in November 1933 for negotiations. On November 17, 1933, the United States and the Soviet Union signed an official agreement establishing formal diplomatic relations.
1934-1938: Stalin's Purges and Show Trials
Stalin made further moves to consolidate his power by arresting numerous people, often on unfounded charges. Stalin also staged many sensational, well-publicized trials to show the price of even minor disloyalty. Stalin's actions resulted in the banishment of many talented Soviet citizens to Siberian prison camps, and the execution of hundreds of thousands more. American diplomats expressed horror at this turn of events, but the United States maintained the recently renewed diplomatic relationship with Stalin's government.
August 1939: Moltov-Ribbentrop Pact
The Soviet Union and Nazi Germany signed this non-aggression pact on August 23, 1939, agreeing not to declare war on each other. Following the German invasion of Northern Europe and France in 1940, President Roosevelt encouraged the Department of State to engage in negotiations with the Soviets to improve relations.
June 22, 1941: German Invasion of Soviet Union
On June 22, 1941, the German military launched "Operation Barbarossa"-a full-scale invasion of the Soviet Union that negated the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact. In response, the United States offered Lend-Lease assistance to the Soviet Union.
1941-1945: Lend-Lease Aid to the Soviet Union
Two days after Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union, President Roosevelt promised assistance and unfroze Soviet assets. W. Averell Harriman and British Minister for Supply Lord Beaverbrook led a special mission to Moscow in September 1941. On October 1, delegates to the Moscow Conference signed a confidential protocol in which the United States and Britain agreed to supply the Soviet Union with 1.5 million tons of military supplies by June 30, 1942. On November 7, 1941, President Roosevelt declared the Soviet Union to be eligible for Lend-Lease aid. Between June 22, 1941 and September 20, 1945, over 17 million tons of Lend-Lease cargo was shipped to the Soviet Union. Three principal routes were involved. Nearly half (47.1%) was sent from West Coast ports to Vladivostok. After Pearl Harbor, only Soviet ships could use this route. Nearly half the remainder (23.8%) went by way of the Persian Gulf and through Iran. The rest went from Iceland and Scotland to the North Russian ports of Murmansk and Archangelsk. The United States also established air bases in Alaska from which military aircraft could be flown to Siberia. Lend-Lease supplies to the Soviet Union included 14,795 aircraft, 7,537 tanks, 375,883 trucks, 345,735 tons of explosives, 2,981 locomotives and 11,155 railroad cars, over a million miles of field telephone cable, $1.312 million worth of food, 2,670,000 tons of gasoline, and 15 million pairs of boots. Although the Soviet Government would downplay the importance of Lend-Lease aid during the Cold War, it presented awards and decorations to U.S. Army, Navy, and Merchant Marine personnel in 1944 and to nearly 200 Navy and Coast Guard personnel in 1945.
December 1941: The United States Enters World War II
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, President Roosevelt declared war on Japan. On December 11, German leader Adolph Hitler honored his treaty agreements with Japan and declared war on the United States. The United States and the Soviet Union thereby became allies in the war.
November 1943: Tehran Conference
President Roosevelt met with General Secretary Stalin and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in Tehran in November 1943 to discuss military strategy and to plan for the postwar period. Churchill and Roosevelt promised Stalin that they would open a second front against the Germans and execute a cross-channel invasion of enemy-occupied France. Stalin committed the Soviet Union to entering the war against Japan after Germany's surrender. The United States agreed to not challenge Eastern European boundaries.
June -September 1944: "Operation Frantic"
On June 2, 1944, bombers from the U.S. Fifteenth Air Force landed at airfields near Poltava in the Soviet Union after attacking targets in German-occupied Hungary. Seven "shuttle bombing" missions from England and Italy to Soviet airfields took place between June 2 and September 18, and were a high point in U.S.-Soviet military cooperation. The missions were abandoned because of operational difficulties (notably Soviet failure to defend the bases against a German air attack) and political differences.
February 1945: Yalta Conference
Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill met again at Yalta in the Crimea in February, 1945. There, they discussed the future of Poland and Eastern Europe as well as the postwar division of Germany. In a Declaration on Liberated Europe, the Allies pledged to assist the liberated peoples to establish order and create representative governments through free elections. In a secret agreement, the Soviet Union promised to enter the Pacific war two to three months after Germany's surrender, in return for certain Far Eastern concessions.
May 8, 1945: German Surrender
Following the German surrender, on May 8, 1945 the Allied powers divided Germany and Austria into U.S., Soviet, British, and French zones of occupation, as agreed at Yalta.
July-August 1945: Meeting at Potsdam
President Harry S Truman, Stalin, and Churchill met in Potsdam in July-August 1945 to discuss military details of Soviet entry into the war with Japan, the occupation of Germany, and the controversial question of German reparations. The three powers created a Council of Foreign Ministers to work on peace treaties with the European Axis powers. During the conference, Truman learned of the successful U.S. test of the atomic bomb, and, hoping to improve the U.S. negotiating position, informed Stalin in general terms.
August 14, 1945: Japanese Surrender
Japan capitulated a few days after the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima (August 6) and Nagasaki (August 9) and formally surrendered on September 2, 1945. Stalin pushed for the participation of Soviet troops in the postwar occupation of Japan, but Truman rejected his request.