Leaders of Russia Who Made Things Worse
Russian history is a complex one, and it is a mistake to assume that everything went from “bad to worse” throughout the centuries. However, it is true that many Russian leaders have left the country worse off than they found it.
Ivan the Terrible (1530-1584)
Ivan the Terrible earned his nickname for a reason. While he was undoubtedly awe-inspiring, he was also capable of unspeakable cruelty. During the siege of Kazan, he impaled his Tatar prisoners and positioned them around the city walls as a warning to others.
On a more personal level, he was known to have killed his own son and grandson, and he surrounded himself with henchmen like Malyuta Skuratov, who was in charge of organizing “rape trips” to bring beautiful wives to the czar.
Anna Ivanovna (1693-1740)
While Anna Ivanovna is praised for modernizing Russia and making it more European, she was also known for her jealousy and vindictiveness. Her unhappy love life led her to take an interest in arranging marriages for her courtiers, becoming outraged when they didn’t involve her in their sex lives.
One of her princes, Mikhail Golitsyn, was stripped of his titles when he fell in love with an Italian girl. Ivanovna arranged a huge, extravagant wedding for Golitsyn, but the guests got more than they bargained for when the couple was chained to their ice-beds in a life-sized palace of ice. The couple almost froze to death, but the bride managed to trade a pearl necklace for a guard’s fur cloak and save their lives.
Trofim Lysenko (1898-1976)
Lysenko was appointed the director of the Institute of Genetics, despite knowing nothing about biology and molding scientific concepts by political ideology. His biased practices led to the starvation of millions of Russians. He imprisoned the Mendelian geneticist Nikolai Vavilov and believed in the unscientific idea that plants could grow bigger and taller if they were exposed to the right stimuli, leading to crop failures.
Lavrentiy Beria (1899-1953)
Beria was the chief of the NKVD and was so feared that it prevented Russia from surrendering to Nazi invaders during World War II. However, his measures often exceeded their political justifications, even by the standards of the Red Terror. He ordered the executions of as many as 22,000 members of the Polish army and bourgeoisie, after the Soviets invaded Poland in 1939.
Beria was known as a mass murderer who sent anyone who remotely questioned Stalin to the gulags. He was also a serial rapist, who would lure young women to his mansion before arresting them if they declined his advances.
Looking at Leaders Through a Critical Eye
It is important to view these leaders’ actions through a critical lens. Some might have been unfairly maligned, while others could have been much worse than we know. However, they all made decisions that left Russia worse off than they found it.