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The Soviet Union, also known unofficially as Russia, was a socialist state in Eurasia that existed from 1922 to 1991. It was nominally a supranational union of national republics, but its governance and economy were highly centralized in a state that was unitary in most respects. Although each republic had its own communist party, the Union was a one-party state, federal in nature and governed by the all-Union party, the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. The Russian republic (which was itself federative) was not privileged by law, but the Russian nation was in some respects culturally, politically and linguistically dominant. The Union's capital was Moscow.

The Soviet Union had its roots in the October Revolution of 1917, when the Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Lenin, overthrew the Russian Provisional Government which had replaced Tsar Nicholas II. This established the Russian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic (Russian SFSR) and started the Russian Civil War between the revolutionary "Reds" and the counter-revolutionary "Whites." The Red Army entered several territories of the former Russian Empire and helped local communists take power through workers' councils called "soviets", which nominally acted on behalf of workers and peasants. In 1922, the communists were victorious, forming the Soviet Union with the unification of the Russian, Transcaucasian, Ukrainian, and Byelorussian republics. Following Lenin's death in 1924, a collective leadership (troika) and a brief power struggle, Joseph Stalin came to power in the mid-1920s. Political opposition to his government was suppressed, and he committed the state's ideology to Marxism–Leninism (which he created), and initiated a centrally planned command economy. As a result, the country underwent a period of rapid industrialization and collectivization which laid the foundation for its victory in World War II and postwar dominance of Eastern Europe. Political paranoia was also fomented around Stalin, and the Great Purge was carried out to remove opponents of his from the Communist Party through the arbitrary arrest of many people (military leaders, Communist Party members, and commoners) who were then either sentenced to death or sent to correctional labor camps (Gulag system).

Shortly before World War II, Stalin signed the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact agreeing to non-aggression with Nazi Germany, after which the two countries invaded Poland in September 1939. In June 1941, the Germans invaded the Soviet Union, opening the largest and bloodiest theater of war in history. Soviet war casualties accounted for the highest proportion of the conflict in the effort of acquiring the upper hand over Axis forces at intense battles such as Stalingrad. Soviet forces eventually captured Berlin in 1945. The territories occupied by the Red Army became states of the Eastern Bloc. The Cold War emerged by 1947 as the Soviet bloc which united under the Warsaw Pact in 1955 confronted the Western states which united under NATO in 1949.

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