Since assuming the role of General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev pushed for a program of economic openness and political restructuring, prompting resistance and suspicion from hard-line members of the Communist Party. Russia had declared its sovereignty in June 1990, beginning a period of constitutional reform. By the early 90’s, the Soviet Union, with Gorbachev as the first executive ‘President’, was in economic and political crisis.
In the late 19th century, Russia’s autocracy, led by a Tsar (also czar), came under increasing attack. Alexander II was forced to liberate the serfs, but he was still assassinated in 1881 by a group called The People’s Will. His heir, Tsar Alexander III was badly shaken by this and launched a massive crackdown. In 1894, Nicholas II became Tsar and attempted to make a number of liberal reforms. For most, however, the reforms didn’t go far enough. In addition, a disastrous war with Japan from 1904-1905 shattered confidence in the Tsar’s ability to rule.