Definitions

Russia

Russia

[ruhsh-uh]
Russia, officially the Russian Federation, Rus. Rossiya, republic (2005 est. pop. 143,420,000), 6,591,100 sq mi (17,070,949 sq km). The country is bounded by Norway and Finland in the northwest; by Estonia, Latvia, Belarus, and Ukraine in the west; by Georgia and Azerbaijan in the southwest; and by Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and China along the southern land border. The Kaliningrad Region is an exclave on the Baltic Sea bordered by Lithuania and Poland. Moscow is the capital and largest city.

In its political meaning, the term Russia applies to the Russian Empire until 1917, to the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (RSFSR) from 1917 to 1991, and to the Russian Federation since 1991. The name also is often used informally to mean the whole of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR); the Russia Federation was established in 1991 when the USSR disintegrated and the former RSFSR became an independent nation. The term Russia also is used to designate the area inhabited by the Russian people as distinguished from other Eastern Slavs and from non-Slavic peoples.

Land and People

Major Geographic Features

The world's largest country by land area, Russia ranks sixth in terms of population. It occupies much of E Europe and all of N Asia, extending for c.5,000 mi (8,000 km) from the Baltic Sea in the west to the Pacific Ocean in the east and for 1,500 to 2,500 mi (2,400-4,000 km) from the Arctic Ocean in the north to the Black Sea, the Caucasus, the Altai and Sayan mts., and the Amur and Ussuri rivers in the south. The Urals form the conventional geographic boundary between the European and Siberian parts of Russia. Russia's dominant relief features are (from west to east) the East European plain, the Urals, the West Siberian lowland, and the central Siberian plateau.

Mt. Elbrus (18,481 ft/5,633 m), in the Caucasus, is the highest peak in the country. The chief rivers draining the European Russia are the Don (into the Black Sea), the Volga (into the Caspian Sea), the Northern Dvina (into the White Sea), the Western Dvina (into the Baltic Sea), and the Pechora (into the Barents Sea). (For the main physical features of the Siberian Russia, see Siberia.) The climate of Russia, generally continental, varies from extreme cold in N Russia and Siberia (where Verkhoyansk, the coldest settled place on earth, is situated), to subtropical along the Black Sea shore. The soil and vegetation zones include the tundra and taiga belts, the entire wooded steppe and northern black-earth steppes, and isolated sections of semidesert, desert, and subtropical zones. (For additional information, see the discussion of the nine physioeconomic regions under Economy below.)

Population and Ethnic Groups

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia experienced a decline in population; in 2009 Russia experienced its first increase in population in 15 years. The decline was due in part to the difficult economic conditions the nation endured, especially in the 1990s, which led to a low birth rate and to a reduced male life expectancy. The population drop was slowed somewhat by immigration consisting mainly of ethnic Russians from other areas of the former Soviet Union.

There are at least 60 different recognized ethnic groups in Russia, but the vast majority of the population are Russians (80%). There are also Ukrainians (2%) and such non-Slavic linguistic and ethnic groups as Tatars (4%), Bashkirs, Chuvash, Komi, Komi-Permyaks, Udmurts, Mari, Mordovians, Jews, Germans, Armenians, and numerous groups in the Far North and in the Caucasus. Russian is the official language.

Political Subdivisions and Major Cities

Administratively, the Federation has generally relied on regional divisions inherited from the Stalin and Brezhnev constitutions of 1936 and 1977. Each area with a predominantly Russian population is constituted as a territory (kray) or region (oblast); some non-Russian nationalities are constituted, in descending order of importance, as republics, autonomous regions (oblasts), and autonomous areas (okrugs). Russia has 21 republics: Adygey, Altai, Bashkortostan, Buryat, Chechnya, Chuvash, Dagestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkar, Kalmykia, Karachay-Cherkess, Karelia, Khakass, Komi, Mari El, Mordovia, North Ossetia-Alania, Sakha, Tatarstan, Tuva, and Udmurt; one autonomous region (or oblast): Jewish; 4 autonomous national areas (okrugs): Chukotka, Khanty-Mansi, Nenets, and Yamalo-Nenets; 46 Russian regions (oblasts); 9 Russian territories (krays); and 2 federal cities (gorods; the cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg). Oblasts and krays are roughly equivalent to provinces. In addition to Moscow, other major urban areas in Russia include Saint Petersburg (formerly Leningrad), Nizhny Novgorod (formerly Gorky), Rostov-na-Donu, Volgograd, Kazan, Samara (formerly Kuybyshev), Ufa, Perm, Yekaterinburg (formerly Sverdlovsk), Omsk, Chelyabinsk, Novosibirsk, and Vladivostok.

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, all of the former autonomous republics of the RSFSR were raised to full republic status, and four of the autonomous regions were made full republics as well. Under President Putin, the government undertook to consolidate the patchwork federal structure of the federation and assert central government authority. In 2000 the administrative units of Russia were grouped into seven regional administrative districts. The federal districts (and their adminstrative centers) are Northwest (St. Petersburg), Central (Moscow), Volga (Nizhny Novgorod), North Caucasus (Rostov-na-Donu), Urals (Yekaterinburg), Siberia (Novosibirsk), and Russian Far East (Khabarovsk). Subsequently, a number of smaller administrative units have been abolished and merged with larger neighboring regions to form several new territories (krays)

Religion and Education

The majority of Russia's population has no religious affiliation due to the antireligious ideology of the Soviet Union. The Russian Orthodox Church, headquartered in Moscow, has about 60 million adherents; the numbers have grown rapidly since the end of Soviet rule. There are also communities of Old Believers, a group that broke with the Orthodox Church in the 17th cent., as well as a large Muslim minority. Other religions include various Christian churches, Lamaist Buddhism, Judaism, and tribal religions. Partly in reaction to proselytizing by Protestant evangelicals, Mormons, and others, a 1997 Russian law granted superior status to the Russian Orthodox Church (and other older Russian religions).

Economy

General

The Russian Federation inherited a Marxist-Leninist command economy from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Chief among the characteristics of the economy was an almost total absence of private productive capital. All enterprises were owned by the state, with each person receiving a salary for his or her efforts. Farmland was also almost entirely state-owned: 95% of all farmland was either state-owned or collectivized. All economic planning was done by government officials based in Moscow. Market forces played no part in their decision-making. The workforce was estimated at about 70 million persons in 1989.

During the Gorbachev era many of the basic elements of the Soviet command economy were weakened. The policies of glasnost and perestroika loosened social controls. Limited private ownership of businesses and land was granted, and prices were allowed to rise in accordance with market forces.

Following the failed August Coup and independence, the assets of the Communist party were seized and a new era of a market-based economy was proclaimed. Companies were given permission to become private entities, except for those enterprises employing over 10,000 workers or providing gas, oil, or pharmaceuticals. In 1991, Russia joined with other countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in a loose affiliation aimed in part at establishing a coordinated economic policy. The rapid change from a severely controlled system to the beginnings of a market economy created chaotic conditions; some Russians profited greatly, but most suffered economic hardship as privatization and other economic reforms progressed. By late 1997, inflation appeared to have been brought under control and industrial production had begun to slowly increase.

The country was once again plunged into economic upheaval, however, when the ruble plummeted in May, 1998, following a crisis in Asian financial markets. Unable to pay its foreign debts, Russia struggled to restructure loans and keep its new financial services sector from collapsing. By 2001, however, the Russian economy recovered and benefited from economic reforms and a rise in oil prices. In July, 2003, a law permitting the sale of farmland was passed by the parliament; foreigners are banned from purchasing agricultural land but may lease it. Privatization of state-owned companies has continued, but more slowly, and under President Putin the government intervened more freely in economic affairs, for example, to solidify state ownership of Russia's energy industry. Because of this, foreign investment in the economy has remained relatively low. In 2006 the ruble became fully convertible when the government ended restrictions on currency transactions, and oil revenues enabled the government to pay off some $23 billion in foreign debt ahead of schedule.

The Russian Federation possesses a well-developed road and rail network in its European third, a more limited network in Siberia, and still fewer roads and rail lines in the Russian Far East. Barges on the vast network of inland waterways can carry a huge amount of traffic. In E Siberia, ships carry virtually all heavy freight. Most of Russia's cities and towns are connected by air. Exports are dominated by natural resources, particularly oil, natural gas, nickel, and timber; chemicals and military manufactures are also important exports. Imports include machinery and equipment, consumer goods, medicines, meat, sugar, and metal products. The main trading partners are Germany, Ukraine, China, and Italy.

Physioeconomically, the Russian Federation may be conveniently divided into 9 major regions: the Central European Region, the North and Northwest European Region, the Volga Region, the North Caucasus, the Ural Region, Western Siberia, Eastern Siberia, Northern and Northwestern Siberia, and the Russian Far East.

Central European Area

This flat, rolling country, with Moscow as its center, forms a major industrial region. Besides Moscow, major cities include Nizhniy Novgorod (formerly Gorky), Smolensk, Yaroslavl, Vladimir, Tula, Dzerzhinsk, and Rybinsk. Trucks, ships, railway rolling stock, machine tools, electronic equipment, cotton and woolen textiles, and chemicals are the principal industrial products. The Volga and Oka rivers are the major water routes, and the Moscow-Volga and Don-Volga canals link Moscow with the Caspian and Baltic seas. Many rail lines serve the area.

North and Northwest European Area

St. Petersburg (formerly Leningrad), the industrial center of this area, has industries producing machine tools, electronic equipment, chemicals, ships, and precision instruments. Other cities include Pskov, Tver (formerly Kalinin), Murmansk, Arkhangelsk, and Vologda. The hills, marshy plains, lakes, and desolate plateaus contain rich deposits of coal (Pechora Basin), oil (Ukhta), iron ore, and bauxite, and the area is a prime source of lumber. The chief water routes are the Baltic-Belomor Canal and the Volga-Baltic Waterway.

Volga

This area, stretching along the greatest river of European Russia, has highly developed hydroelectric power installations, including major dams at Volgograd, Kazan, Samara (formerly Kuybyshev), and Balakovo. Farm machinery, ships, chemicals, and textiles are manufactured, and extensive oil and gas fields are worked. Agricultural products include wheat, vegetables, cotton, hemp, oilseeds, and fruit. Livestock raising and fishing are also important.

North Caucasus

In this area, descending northward from the principal chain of the Caucasus Mts. to a level plain, are found rich deposits of oil, natural gas, and coal. The major cities are Rostov-na-Donu, Krasnodar, Grozny, Vladikavkaz, and Novorossiysk. Sochi is a popular resort. Farm machinery, coal, petroleum, and natural gas are the chief products. The Kuban River region, a fertile black-earth area, is one of the chief granaries of Russia. Wheat, sugar beets, tobacco, rice, and sunflower seeds are grown, and cattle are raised. Other rivers include the Don, the Kuma, and the Terek, and the Volga-Don Canal is a major transportation route.

Ural Area

The southern half of the Ural region has been a major center of Russian iron and steel production. A substantial share of Soviet petroleum was produced there, mainly in Bashkortostan. Deposits of iron ore, manganese, and aluminum ore are mined. The major industrial centers are Magnitogorsk, Yekaterinburg (formerly Sverdlovsk), Chelyabinsk, Nizhni Tagil, and Perm. Several trunk railroads serve the area, and rivers include the Kama and Belaya in the west and the Ural in the south.

Western Siberia

This vast plain—marshy and thinly populated in the north, hilly in the south—is of growing economic importance. At Novosibirsk and Kamen-na-Obi are large hydroelectric stations. Other principal cities include Kemerovo and Novokuznetsk. The Kuznetsk Basin in the southwest is a center of coal mining, oil refining, and the production of iron, steel, machinery, and chemicals. The Ob-Irtysh drainage system crosses this area, which is also served by the Trans-Siberian and South Siberian rail lines. Barnaul is a major rail junction. Agricultural products include wheat, rice, oats, and sugar beets, and livestock is raised.

Eastern Siberia

In this area of plateaus, mountains, and river basins, the major cities—Krasnoyarsk, Irkutsk, Ulan-Ude, and Chita—are located along the Trans-Siberian RR. A branch line links Ulan-Ude with Mongolia and Beijing, China. There are hydroelectric stations at Bratsk, Krasnoyarsk, and Irkutsk. Coal, gold, graphite, iron ore, aluminum ore, zinc, and lead are mined in the area, and livestock is raised.

Northern and Northeastern Siberia

Covering nearly half of Russian territory, this is the least populated and least developed area. The Ob, Yenisei, and Lena rivers flow to the Arctic. Through the use of atomic-powered icebreakers, the Northern Sea Route has gained increasing economic importance. The Kolyma gold fields are the principal source of Russian gold, and industrial diamonds are mined in the Sakha Republic, notably at Mirny. Fur trapping and hunting are the chief activities in the taiga and tundra regions.

Russian Far East

Bordering on the Pacific Ocean, the region has Komsomolsk, Khabarovsk, Yakutsk, and Vladivostok as its chief cities. Machinery is produced, and lumbering, fishing, hunting, and fur trapping are important. The Trans-Siberian RR follows the Amur and Ussuri rivers and terminates at the port of Vladivostok.

Government

The Russian Federation is governed under the constitution of 1993, as amended. The head of state is a popularly elected president who is eligible to serve two consecutive four-year terms; an amendment adopted in 2008 extended the term to six years beginning with the next election. The president appoints the prime minister and can dissolve the legislature if it three times refuses to approve his choice for that post. The legislature, or Federal Assembly, is divided into an upper Federation Council and a lower State Duma. The Federation Council has 178 members, consisting of two representatives from the governments of each republic, territory, region, and area. The State Duma has 450 members. The seats are distributed proportionally among those parties whose national vote is at least 7%. All legislators serve four-year terms. (Members of the State Duma will serve five-year terms beginning with the 2011 elections.) The Public Chamber, which was established in 2005, is empowered to investigate elected and appointed government officials and advise on national legislation. Its 126 members are appointed by the president or chosen by the members of the chamber from among prominent nongovernmental individuals. Administratively, the country is divided into 46 Russian regions, 21 ethnically non-Russian republics, 4 autonomous national areas, 9 largely Russian territories, the federal cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg, and one autonomous region.

History

The following article deals with the formation and history of the Russian state and empire until 1917 and after the formation of the contemporary Russian Federation in 1991. Information on the period from 1917 to 1991 can be found in the entry on the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. See also the table entitled Russian and Soviet Rulers since 1462.

Early Russia

Numerous remains indicate that Russia was inhabited in the Paleolithic period. By the 7th cent. B.C. the northern shore of the Black Sea and the Crimea were controlled by the Scythians (see under Scythia); in the 3d cent. B.C. the Scythians were displaced by the Sarmatians (see under Sarmatia). Later the open steppes of Russia were invaded by numerous peoples, notably the Germanic Goths (3d cent. A.D.), the Asian Huns (4th cent.), and the Turkic Avars (6th cent.). The Turkic Khazars built up (7th cent.) a powerful state in S Russia, and the Eastern Bulgars established (8th cent.) their empire in the Volga region. By the 9th cent. the Eastern Slavs had settled in N Ukraine, in Belarus, and in the regions of Novgorod and Smolensk, and they had established colonies to the east on the Oka and upper Volga rivers. The chief Slavic tribes in S Russia were dominated by the Khazars.

The origin of the Russian state coincides with the arrival (9th cent.) of Scandinavian traders and warriors, the Varangians. Tradition has it that one of their leaders, Rurik, established himself peaceably at Novgorod by 862 and founded a dynasty. The name Russ or Rhos possibly originally designated the Varangians, or some of them, but it was early extended to the Eastern Slavs and became the name of their country in general. Rurik's successor, Oleg (reigned 879-912), transferred (882) his residence to Kiev, which remained the capital of Kievan Rus until 1169. He united the Eastern Slavs and freed them from Khazar suzerainty, and signed (911) a commercial treaty with the Byzantine Empire. Under Sviatoslav (reigned 964-72) the duchy reached the peak of its power.

Christianity was made the state religion by Vladimir I (reigned 980-1015), who adopted (988-89) the Greek Orthodox rite. Thus Byzantine cultural influence became predominant. After the death of Yaroslav (reigned 1019-54), Kievan Rus was divided in a rotation system among his sons. Political supremacy shifted, passing from Kiev to the western principalities of Halych and Volodymyr (see Volodymyr-Volynskyy and Volhynia) and to the northeastern principality of Suzdal-Vladimir (see Vladimir). In 1169, Kiev was stormed by the Suzdal prince Andrei Bogolubsky (reigned 1169-74), who made Vladimir the capital of the grand duchy. In 1237-40 the Mongols (commonly called Tatars) under Batu Khan invaded Russia and destroyed all the chief Russian cities except Novgorod and Pskov. In S and E Russia the Tatars established the empire of the Golden Horde, which lasted until 1480.

Belarus, most of the Ukraine, and part of W Russia were incorporated (14th cent.) into the grand duchy of Lithuania. Thus NE Russia became the main center of economic and political life. At the end of the 13th cent. Tver was the most important political center, but in the 14th cent. the Muscovite princes of the grand duchy of Vladimir, although still tributary to the Tatars, began to consolidate their position. Under Ivan I (Ivan Kalita; reigned 1328-41), Moscow took precedence over the other cities. After the victory of Dmitri Donskoi (reigned 1359-89) over the Tatars at Kulikovo in 1380, the grand duchy of Vladimir was bequeathed, without the sanction of the Golden Horde, to his son Vasily (reigned 1389-1425), and its rulers began to be called grand dukes of Moscow or Muscovy (see Moscow, grand duchy of).

Consolidation of the Russian State

Under Ivan III (1462-1505) and his successor, Vasily III (1505-33), the Muscovite state expanded, and its rulers became more absolute. The principality of Yaroslavl was annexed in 1463 and Rostov-Suzdal in 1474; Novgorod was conquered in 1478, Tver in 1485, Pskov in 1510, and Ryazan in 1521. The Mari, Yurga, and Komi were subjugated at the end of the 14th cent., and the Pechora and Karelians at the end of the 15th cent. Ivan ceased to pay tribute to the Tatars, and in 1497 he adopted the first code of laws. Having married the niece of the last Byzantine emperor, Ivan considered Moscow the "third Rome" and himself heir to the tradition of the Byzantine Empire.

In 1547, at the age of 17, Ivan IV (Ivan the Terrible; reigned 1533-84) was crowned czar of all Russia. He conquered the Tatar khanates of Kazan (1552) and Astrakhan (1556), establishing Russian rule over the huge area of the middle and lower Volga; thus he laid the basis for the colonization and annexation of Siberia, begun by the Cossack Yermak in 1581. The conquered border territories were colonized by Russian settlers and defended by the Cossacks. At home, Ivan crushed the opposition of the great feudal nobles—the boyars—and set up an autocratic government. After the reign of the sickly Feodor I (1584-98), state power passed to Boris Godunov (reigned 1598-1605), who was elected czar by a zemsky sobor [national council].

With the death of Boris in 1605 began the "Time of Troubles"—a political crisis marked by the appearance of pretenders (see Dmitri) and the intervention of foreign powers. In 1609, Sigismund III of Poland invaded Russia, and in 1610 Polish troops entered Moscow according to an agreement concluded with the boyars. However, in 1612, Russian forces led by Prince Dmitri Pozharski took Moscow, and in 1613 a zemsky sobor unanimously chose Michael Romanov as czar (see Michael; reigned 1613-45). Thus began the Romanov dynasty, which ruled Russia until 1917. Michael was succeeded by Alexis (reigned 1645-76), who gained E Ukraine from Poland.

Russia in the 17th cent. was still medieval in culture and outlook, and it was not regarded as a member of the European community of nations. In its economic development it was centuries behind Western Europe; distrust of foreign ways and innovations kept its inhabitants ignorant and isolated. The consolidation of central power was effected not with the help of the almost nonexistent middle class or by social reforms but by forcibly depriving the nobility and gentry of their political influence. The nobles were compensated with land grants and with increasing rights over the peasants. Thus serfdom (see serf), which became a legal institution in Russia in 1649, included growing numbers of persons and became increasingly oppressive. The process of enserfment, which reached its peak in the 18th cent., resulted in several violent peasant revolts, notably those led by Stenka Razin (1667-71) and by Pugachev (1773-75).

Empire and European Eminence

During the reign (1689-1725) of Peter I (Peter the Great) Russian politics, administration, and culture were altered considerably. However, the trend of increased autocracy and enserfment of peasants was accelerated by the changes. Peter, who assumed (1721) the title of emperor, "Westernized" Russia by using stringent methods to force on the people a series of reforms. He created a regular conscript army and navy. He abolished the patriarchate of Moscow (see Orthodox Eastern Church) and created (1721) the Holy Synod, directly subordinate to the emperor, thus depriving the church of the last vestiges of independence. He recast the administrative and fiscal systems, creating new organs of central government and reforming local administration, and he also founded the first modern industries and made an attempt to introduce elements of Western education.

Seeking to make Russia a maritime power, Peter acquired Livonia, Ingermanland (Ingria), Estonia, and parts of Karelia and Finland as a result of the Northern War (1700-1721), thus securing a foothold on the Baltic Sea. As a symbol of the new conquests he founded (1703) Saint Petersburg on the Gulf of Finland and transferred (1712) his capital there. Russia was rapidly becoming a European power. Peter also began the Russian push to the Black Sea, taking Azov in 1696, but his war with Turkey from 1711 to 1713 ended in failure and the loss of Azov. In addition, he sent (1725) Vitus Bering on an exploratory trip to NE Siberia.

The Russo-Turkish Wars of the next two centuries resulted in the expansion of Russia at the expense of the Ottoman Empire and in the growing influence of Russia on Ottoman affairs (see Eastern Question). Russia also took an increasing part in European affairs. The immediate successors of Peter the Great were Catherine I (reigned 1725-27), Peter II (reigned 1727-30), Anna (reigned 1730-40), and Ivan VI (reigned 1740-41). Empress Elizabeth (reigned 1741-62) successfully sided against Prussia in the Seven Years War, but her successor, Peter III, took Russia out of the war.

Peter's wife successfully seized power from him (1762), and when he was murdered shortly thereafter she became empress as Catherine II (Catherine the Great; reigned 1762-96). Under her rule Russia became the chief power of continental Europe. She continued Peter I's policies of absolute rule at home and of territorial expansion at the expense of neighboring states. The three successive partitions of Poland (1772, 1793, 1795; see Poland, partitions of), the annexations of the Crimea (1783) and of Courland (1795), and the treaties of Kuchuk Kainarji (1774) and Jassy (1792) with Turkey gave Russia vast new territories in the west and south, including what is now Belarus, parts of Ukraine W of the Dnieper River, and the Black Sea shores. Catherine's administrative reforms further centralized power. The suppression of Pugachev's rebellion strengthened the privileged classes and lessened the chances of social reform. However, under her "enlightened despotism," Russian writers, scientists, and artists began the great creative efforts that culminated in the late 19th and early 20th cent.

Russia became involved in the French Revolutionary Wars under Catherine's successor, the demented Paul I, who was murdered in 1801. His son, Alexander I (reigned 1801-25), joined the third coalition against Napoleon I, but made peace with France at Tilsit (1807) and annexed (1809) Finland from Sweden. In wars with Turkey and Persia, Alexander gained Bessarabia by the Treaty of Bucharest (1812) and Caucasian territories by the Treaty of Gulistan (1813). In 1812, Napoleon began his great onslaught on Russia and took Moscow, but his army was repulsed and nearly annihilated in the winter of that year. Napoleon's downfall and the peace settlement (see Vienna, Congress of) made Russia and Austria the leading powers on the Continent at the head of the Holy Alliance.

Reaction, Reform, and Expansion

Liberal ideas gained influence among the Russian aristocracy and educated bourgeoisie despite Alexander I's growing intransigence. They found an outlet in the unsuccessful Decembrist Conspiracy of 1825 (see Decembrists), which sought to prevent the accession of Nicholas I. Under Nicholas (reigned 1825-55), Russia became the most reactionary European power, acting as the "policeman of Europe" in opposing liberalism and helping Austria to quash the Hungarian revolution (1848-49). Russian Poland, nominally a kingdom ruled by the Russian emperor, lost its autonomy after an unsuccessful rising there in 1830-31.

A clash of interests between Russia and the Western powers over the Ottoman Empire led to the Crimean War (1854-56), which revealed the inner weakness of Russia. Alexander II (reigned 1855-81), who acceded one year before the war ended, passed important liberal reforms during the first decade of his reign, after which time he became increasingly conservative. Just as he seemed to be entering another liberal phase, Alexander was assassinated in 1881. Among his reforms, the liberation (1861) of the serfs (see Emancipation, Edict of) was the most far-reaching, but significant changes were also made in local government, the judicial system, and education.

During the second half of the 19th cent., Russia continued its territorial expansion, and industrialization was accelerated. The remainder of the Caucasus was acquired and pacified; the territories of what is now the Central Asian Republics, including Turkistan, were taken during 1864-65; and the southern section of the Far Eastern Territory (see Russian Far East) was acquired from China. Russia thus reached the frontiers of Afghanistan and China and the shores of the Pacific Ocean. Vladivostok was founded in 1860; in the early 20th cent. it became an important naval base. The Trans-Siberian RR (constructed 1891-1905) opened much of Siberia to colonization and exploitation.

Alexander III (reigned 1881-94), who succeeded Alexander II, pursued a reactionary domestic policy, guided by the influential Pobyedonostzev. Alexander was followed by Nicholas II (reigned 1894-1917), the last Russian emperor, a generally incompetent ruler surrounded by a reactionary entourage. However, there was considerable financial and industrial development, directed largely by Count Witte. Russia, having suffered a severe diplomatic setback at the Congress of Berlin (see Berlin, Congress of, 1878), eventually abandoned the Three Emperors' League with Germany and Austria-Hungary and in 1892 entered into an alliance with republican France. This alliance led to the Triple Entente (see Triple Alliance and Triple Entente) of England, France, and Russia.

War and Revolution

The disastrous and unpopular Russo-Japanese War (1904-5) led to the Revolution of 1905 (see Russian Revolution). Nicholas II was forced to grant a constitution, and a parliament (see duma) was established. Soon, however, the new democratic freedoms were curtailed, as the government again became reactionary. As a result, there was renewed agitation by revolutionaries; the emperor countered with police terror and attempted to channel popular discontent into anti-Semitic outbreaks (see pogrom). At the same time, Piotr Stolypin (prime minister during 1906-11) tried to create a class of independent landowning peasants by breaking up and redistributing the land held by village communities (see mir); however, he refused to split up the estates held by large landlords and generally ignored the peasant masses.

Although the Russian economy was mainly agricultural and underdeveloped, industry—largely financed by foreign capital—was growing rapidly in a few centers, notably St. Petersburg, Moscow, and the Baku (Bakı; now in Azerbaijan) oil fields. It was particularly among the industrial workers, who because of their geographic concentration possessed great political strength, that the leftist Social Democratic party found its adherents. The formal split of the party into Bolshevism and Menshevism in 1912 had crucial consequences after the outbreak of the Russian Revolution of 1917. By promoting Pan-Slavism in the Balkan Peninsula and in Austria-Hungary, Russia played a leading role in the events that led to the outbreak (1914) of World War I. Ill-prepared and cut off from its allies in the West, the country suffered serious reverses in the war at the hands of the Germans and Austrians.

Inflation, food shortages, and poor morale among the troops contributed to the outbreak of the February Revolution of 1917. Nicholas abdicated in Mar., 1917 (he was executed in July, 1918). A provisional government under Prince Lvov, a moderate, tried to continue the war effort, but was opposed by the soviets (councils) of workers and soldiers. Kerensky, who succeeded Lvov as prime minister in July, 1917, was also unable to enforce the authority of the central government. Finally, on Nov. 7, 1917 (Oct. 25 O.S.), the Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, seized the government. Russia ended its involvement in World War I by signing the humiliating Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (Mar., 1918), under which it lost much territory to the Central Powers.

Shortly after the signing of the treaty, and partly because of the reaction to its poor terms, civil war (complicated by foreign intervention) broke out in Russia. It continued until 1920, when the Soviet regime emerged victorious. (For a more detailed account of the intellectual and political background of the Russian Revolution and for the events of the revolution and the civil war, see Russian Revolution.) Poland, Finland, and the Baltic countries emerged as independent states in the aftermath of the civil war; Ukraine, Belorussia, and the Transcaucasian countries of Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia proclaimed their independence, but by 1921 were conquered by the Soviet armies. In 1917, Russia was officially proclaimed the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic, which in 1922 was united with the Ukrainian, Belorussian, and Transcaucasian republics to form the see Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

Post-Soviet Russia

After more than seven decades of Soviet rule, the regime of President Gorbachev marked the end of repressive political controls and permitted nationalist movements to arise in the constituent republics of the USSR. In 1990, Boris Yeltsin and other nationalists and reformers were elected to the Russian parliament; Yeltsin was subsequently chosen Russian president. Under Yeltsin, Russia declared its sovereignty (but not its independence) and began to challenge the central government's authority. In 1991, Yeltsin was reelected in the first popular election for president in the history of the Russian Republic.

Yeltsin and the leaders of eight other republics reached a power-sharing agreement with Gorbachev, but its imminent signing provoked a coup attempt (Aug., 1991) by Soviet hard-liners. In the aftermath, the USSR disintegrated. With Ukraine and Belarus, Russia established the Commonwealth of Independent States. When Gorbachev resigned (Dec., 1991), Yeltsin had already taken control of most of the central government, and Russia assumed the USSR's UN seat.

Yeltsin moved rapidly to end or reduce state control of the economy, but control of parliament by former Communists led to conflicts and power struggles. On Sept. 21, 1993, Yeltsin suspended the parliament and called for new elections. Parliament retaliated by naming Vice President Aleksandr Rutskoi as acting president, and anti-Yeltsin forces barricaded themselves inside the parliament building. On Oct. 3, supporters of the anti-Yeltsin group broke through a security cordon to join the occupation, and also attacked other sites in the capital. The military interceded on Yeltsin's side, and on Oct. 4, after a bloody battle, troops recaptured the parliament building. Many people were jailed, and the parliament was dissolved.

In Dec., 1993, voters approved a new constitution that strengthened presidential power, establishing a mixed presidential-parliamentary system similar to that of France. In legislative elections at the same time, Yeltsin supporters fell short of a majority, as voters also supported ultranationalists, radical reformers, Communists, and others. The Russian government, under Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, generally advocated moderate reform. The program made slow but discernible progress in stimulating growth and halting rampant inflation, but the economy continued to suffer from serious malfunctions, including a weak banking system and widespread corruption.

In Feb., 1994, parliament granted amnesty to persons implicated in the Aug., 1991, coup attempt and the Oct., 1993, rebellion. In the Dec., 1995, legislative elections the Communist party won the largest share of the vote (22%) and more than a third of the seats in the State Duma. The results were a new rebuff to Yeltsin and his government, and he subsequently replaced the more liberal ministers in the government with pragmatists and conservatives. Although his popularity had significantly diminished since he was first elected president, he ran again in June, 1996. He finished ahead of his chief rival, Communist Gennady Zyuganov, in the first round and was reelected after a runoff in July. Ministerial replacements continued, and in Mar., 1998, Yeltsin dismissed his entire cabinet, hiring a new group of economic reformers and naming Sergei Kiriyenko as prime minister. By August he had dismissed many of his top aides and attempted to reinstate Chernomyrdin as prime minister. The nomination was rejected by parliament, however, and Yevgeny Primakov, a compromise candidate agreeable to reformers and Communists, became the prime minister in September; two Communists became ministers in the government.

Primakov acted as a stabilizing influence, avoiding economic disaster in the wake of Russia's Aug., 1998, financial crisis, but his increasing popularity and his public support for the Communists in his government even as their party was mounting an impeachment of Yeltsin in the Duma led to his firing in May, 1999. Yeltsin appointed Sergei Stepashin as prime minister, and the impeachment failed to win the necessary votes. A sense of political crisis returned in August when Islamic militants from Chechnya invaded Dagestan (see below), and Yeltsin replaced Stepashin with Vladimir Putin. After a series of terrorist bombings in Moscow and elsewhere that were blamed on Chechen militants, Putin launched an invasion of Chechnya. That action bolstered his popularity, as did a slight upturn in the economy due to rising prices for oil, Russia's most important export (industrial output continued to contract). Although with slightly less than a quarter of the vote the Communist party remained the single largest vote-getter in the Dec., 1999, parliamentary elections, center-right parties allied with Putin won nearly a third, and the vote was regarded as a mandate for Putin. On Dec. 31, Yeltsin resigned as president, and Putin became acting president.

One of Putin's first acts was to form an alliance with the Communists in the Duma; together his supporters (the Unity bloc) and the Communists held about 40% of the seats. In the elections of Mar., 2000, Putin bested ten other candidates to win election as Russia's president. Putin introduced several measures designed to increase central government control over the various Russian administrative units, including grouping them in seven large regional districts, ending the right of the units' executives to serve in the Federation Council, and suspending a number of laws that conflicted with federal law. He also won the authority to remove governors and dissolve legislatures that enact laws that conflict with the national constitution. Mikhail M. Kasyanov, a liberal, was appointed prime minister, and a broad plan for liberal economic reforms was enacted. The alliance with the Communists lasted until 2002, when Unity, which had earlier absorbed the populist Fatherland bloc, was strong enough to control the Duma alone.

Putin secured parliamentary ratification of the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty and the SALT II treaty (see disarmament, nuclear), and actively opposed modifying the ABM treaty so that the United States could build a larger missile defense system than the agreement permitted. Russia has proposed, however, a mobile, pan-European missile defense system that would function similarly, although it would not violate the ABM treaty. Significant reductions in the size of the armed forces also have been undertaken.

Since the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Russia has had to confront separatist movements in several ethnically based republics and other areas, including Tatarstan and, most notably, Chechnya, which declared independence upon the dissolution of the Soviet Union in Dec., 1991. Russian troops were sent there in Dec., 1994; subsequent fighting resulted in heavy casualties, with the Chechen capital of Grozny reduced to rubble by Russian bombardment. A peace accord between Russia and Chechnya was signed in Moscow in May, 1996. The invasion of Dagestan by Islamic militants from Chechnya in 1999 and a series of terrorist bombings in Russia during Aug.-Sept., 1999, however, led to Russian air raids on Chechnya in Sept., 1999, and a subsequent full-scale ground invasion of the breakaway republic that again devastated its capital and resulted in ongoing guerrilla warfare. Chechen terrorists have also continued to mount attacks outside Chechnya, including the seizure of a crowded Moscow theater in Oct., 2002, and a school in Beslan, North Ossetia, in Sept, 2004.

In the mid- and late 1990s, Russia took steps toward closer relations with some of the former Soviet republics. Several agreements designed to bring about economic, military, and political integration with Belarus were signed, but progress toward that goal has been slow. Both nations also signed an agreement with Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan that called for establishing stronger ties. Tajikistan and Uzbekistan later joined the economic grouping the four established, which has been known as the Eurasian Economic Community since 2001. Years of negotiations with Ukraine over the disposition of the Black Sea fleet ended in an accord in 1997 that divided the ships between them and permitted Russia to base its fleet in Sevastopol for 20 years.

The agreement with Ukraine was seen in part as an attempt to forestall closer Ukrainian ties with NATO. Russia has objected to any NATO expansion that excludes Russia; in June, 1994, Russia reluctantly agreed to an association with NATO under the arrangement known as the Partnership for Peace. Although several former Eastern European satellites joined NATO in 1999, any expansion that included nations once part of the Soviet Union would be highly sensitive. In the civil war and subsequent clashes in the former Yugoslavia, Russia was sympathetic toward the Serbs, a traditional ally, and there was considerable Russian opposition to such policies as NATO's bombing of Serb positions, especially in 1999.

Under Putin, Russia also has revived its ties with many former Soviet client states, and used its economic leverage to reassert its sway over the more independent-minded former Soviet republics, particularly Georgia. The country has nonetheless continued to maintain warmer ties with the West than the old Soviet Union did. Putin was an earlier supporter of the U.S. "war on terrorism", and in 2001 Russia began to explore establishing closer ties with NATO, which culminated in the establishment (2002) of a NATO-Russia Council through which Russia could participate in NATO discussions on many nondefense issues. Russia even returned to Afghanistan, providing aid in the aftermath of the overthrow of the Taliban. Russia did, however, resist the idea of resorting to military intervention in Iraq in order to eliminate weapons of mass destruction, and as the United States pressed in 2003 for a Security Council resolution supporting the use of force, Russia joined France in vowing to veto such a resolution. By the end of 2003, Russia had experienced five years of steady economic growth, and recovered (and even seen benefits) from the collapse of the ruble in 1998.

In 2003 tensions flared with Ukraine over the Kerch Strait, sparked by Russia's building of a sea dike there, but the conflict was peacefully resolved. In Sept., 2003, Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine signed an agreement to create a common economic space. Internally, there was a conflict between the government and the extremely rich tycoons known as the oligarchs over the extent of the role business executives would be allowed to play in politics. Mikhail Khodorkovsky, chairman of the Russian oil giant Yukos, was arrested in October on charges of fraud and tax evasion, but his political aspirations and the government's desire to regain control over valuable resources were believed to have had as much to due with the government's move against him as any crime. In Dec., 2004, Yukos assests were sold to a little-known, newly established company that was soon acquired by a state-run oil company. Khodorkovsky was convicted in May, 2005, in a verdict that took the judges 12 days to read. Meanwhile, the Dec., 2003, elections resulted in a major victory for the United Russia bloc and its allies. The loose group of Putin supporters ultimately secured two thirds of the seats, but outside observers criticized the election campaign for being strongly biased toward pro-government candidates and parties.

Prior to the Mar., 2004 presidential elections Putin dismissed Prime Minister Kasyanov and his government; the prime minister had been critical of Yukos investigation. Mikhail Y. Fradkov, who had served largely in a number of economic and trade positions, was named to replace Kasyanov. Putin was reelected by a landslide in Mar., 2004, but observers again criticized the campaign as biased. A series of deadly, Chechnya-related terror attacks during the summer culminated in the seizure of a school in Beslan, North Ossetia, which ended with the deaths more of more than 300 people, many of them children. Putin responded by calling for, among other changes, an end to the election of Duma representatives from districts and the appointment (instead of election) of the executives of oblasts and similar divisions of Russia. These moves, which were subsequently enacted, further centralized power in the Russian Federation and diminished its federal aspects. The federal government also sought to reduce the number of oblasts and regions by encouraging the merger of smaller units into larger ones.

Russia's reputation suffered internationally in late 2004 when it threw its support behind government candidates in Ukraine and the Georgian region of Abkhazia; in both elections, the candidates Moscow opposed ultimately succeeded despite strong resistance on the part of the existing governments to change. Russia subsequently (Mar., 2005) moved quickly to side with opponents of Kyrgyzstan president Akayev when he was forced from office. Large-scale violence re-erupted in the Caucasus in Oct., 2005, when militants with ties to the Chechen rebels mounted coordinated attacks in Nalchik, the capital of Kabardino-Balkaria.

In late 2005 Russia found itself accused of using its state-controlled gas monopoly, Gazprom, as a punitive instrument of foreign policy when the company insisted that Ukraine pay market rates for natural gas, despite having been given a favorable long-term contract when Russia had unsuccessfully tried to influence the Ukrainian presidential race. When negotiations failed, Gazprom cut off supplies to Ukraine in Jan., 2006, a move that also affected supplies in transit to other European nations, provoking European concerns about the reliability of Russian gas deliveries. (The subsequent reduction in deliveries to Europe during a extreme cold snap in Russia in Jan., 2006, only reinforced concerns about reliability.) Although the dispute was soon resolved by a compromise, the affair hurt Russia's and Gazprom's image, and led to tensions with with the nations of the European Union.

The question of Russia's manipulation of its energy shipments for political purposes became an issue again in late 2006 when Gazprom announced it would double the rate it charged Georgia (to roughly market rates); the move followed several retaliatory actions taken against Georgia by the Russian government (see below). Gazprom also increased its charges for natural gas to several other formerly Soviet-ruled nations. One such nation, Belarus, usually a strong Russian ally, responsed to an increase in the Russian duty on oil exported to it by imposing a transit tax on Russian oil exported through pipelines in Belarus. The move provoked a spat that led Russia to cut off oil for several days before Belarus revoked the tax; the cutoff again raised questions in the EU about Russia's reliability as an energy supplier.

Tensions with Moldova (over the Trans-Dniester region) and with Georgia increased in early 2006, and Russia banned the imports of wine and brandy from both nations, supposedly for health reasons. The arrest by Georgia in Sept., 2006, of several Russians on charges of spying provoked a strong retaliatory response from Russia, including the breaking of all transport and postal links; the links were not restored until 2008. Within Georgia, however, the Russian actions seemed to solidify support for the Georgian government. Asserted health issues have been used by Russia to ban food imports from other nations, such as Poland, with which Russia has had conflicts, and other forms of economic retaliation were used against Estonia in 2007 after a Soviet war memorial was relocated from downtown Tallinn. New membership requirements for political parties, introduced in 2007, have forced the dissolution of a number of opposition parties.

American plans, revealed in 2007, to include components of its missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic provoked a strong response from Russia. President Putin said in June that such a move would force Russia to target Europe with its weapons; the president also announced that he was suspending Russia's participation in the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty (the suspension took effect in Dec., 2007). In Sept., 2007, Putin replaced Prime Minister Fradkov with Viktor Zubkov, the head of Russia's financial monitoring service and an associate of Putin's since the early 1990s.

United Russia, running in Dec., 2007, with Putin's explicit support, again dominated the parliamentary elections; once again, foreign observers noted the progovernment bias of the campaigning, and there were some complaints of vote fraud. The same month Putin announced his support for Dmitri Medvedev, a first deputy prime minister, to succeed him as president in 2008. In the Mar., 2008, vote Medvedev was easily elected to the post, but the presidential election also was marred by progovernment bias and other irregularities.

Meanwhile, in February, Russia's Gazprom threatened to cut Ukraine's gas supply over unpaid debts; although the cut was averted, the issue reemerged in March, when supplies were reduced for several days. Russia's strong objections to NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia contributed to NATO's decision to offer those nations eventual membership but not begin the process that would ultimately lead to their admission. Those objections may also have been behind Russia's increasingly provocative actions in 2008 with respect to the Georgian separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

In July, 2008, the Czech Republic signed an agreement with the United States to base a radar system there; shortly thereafter there was a decrease in Russian oil supplies to the Czech Republic that Russia attributed to technical problems. Poland agreed to allow the basing of interceptors on its territory the following month. Also in July, Russia and China signed an agreement that finalized the demarcation of their shared borders; the pact was the last in a series of border agreements (1991, 1994, and 2004).

In Aug., 2008, after Georgia attempted to reestablish control over South Ossetia by force following a period of escalating tensions and violence, Russian troops drove Georgian troops from the region and invaded and occupied for a time neighboring parts of Georgia. Russia also reinforced its forces in Abkhazia, and it subsequently recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent and established defense pacts with them. Putin's very active and public role in the events was seen as confirmation of his continuing preeminence in Russia's leadership.

Russia's attack against Georgia sparked concern in the United States and Europe, especially in E Europe, but also in the Commonwealth of Independent States, which President Medvedev subsequently declared by all but name as an area of special Russian privilege and influence. The fighting in Georgia also negatively affected international investment in Russia. Subsequently, the global financial crisis and falling oil, gas, and metals prices adversely affected Russian banks and stock markets, requiring massive government financial interventions, some of which continued into 2010. In Jan., 2009, Russia and Ukraine again reached an impasse over Russian natural gas sales to Ukraine, and it led a three-week shipment stoppage that also affected many European nations for part of that time. Shipments resumed after a new, ten-year agreement between Russian and Ukrainian energy companies was signed, but relations remained prickly. A drop in Ukrainian energy needs led Ukraine seek modification of the agreement in late 2009. Local elections in Oct., 2009, resulted in significant wins for United Russia, but opposition leaders and independent observers denounced the results as fraudulent, and many opposition candidates were disqualified from running.

In Nov., 2009, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia signed agreements to establish in 2010 the customs union envisioned in the 2003 common economic space agreement; Ukraine, whose relations with Russia had soured since 2003, did not join. By Jan., 2010, however, Russia's relations with Belarus were strained over the amount of discounted oil Russia would sell its neighbor; Russia agreed to sell Belarus only enough discounted oil to meet its needs, but Belarus had been refining and exporting additional discounted oil at significant profit.

Bibliography

See V. O. Kliuchevskii, A History of Russia (tr., 5 vol., 1911-31; repr. 1960); H. Seton-Watson, The Russian Empire, 1801-1917 (1967); P. N. Miliukov et al., History of Russia (tr., 3 vol., 1968-69); R. E. Zelnik, Labor and Society in Tsarist Russia (1971); S. Galai, The Liberation Movement in Russia, 1900-1905 (1973); P. Dukes, The Making of Russian Absolutism, 1613-1801 (1982); H. Rogger, Russia in the Age of Modernisation and Revolution, 1881-1917 (1983); H. Smith, The Russians (1983) and The New Russians (1990); N. Riasanovsky, A History of Russia (1984); A. Kahan, The Plow, the Hammer, and the Knout: An Economic History of Eighteenth-Century Russia (1985); R. O. Crummey, The Formation of Muscovy, 1304-1613 (1987); S. H. Loory and A. Imse, Seven Days That Shook the World (1991); A. Roxburgh, The Second Russian Revolution: The Struggle for Power in the Kremlin (1991); R. Pipes, A Concise History of the Russian Revolution (1995); A. Solzhenitsyn, "The Russian Question" at the End of the 20th Century (1995); G. Hosking, Russia: People and Empire, 1552-1917 (1997); G. Freeze et al., Russia: A History (1998); R. Brady, Kapitalizm: Russia's Struggle to Free Its Economy (1999); M. Malia, Russia under Western Eyes (1999); D. K. Simes, After the Collapse: Russia Seeks Its Place as a Great Power (1999); S. F. Cohen, Failed Crusade: America and the Tragedy of Post-Communist Russia (2000); C. Freeland, Sale of the Century: Russia's Wild Ride from Communism to Capitalism (2000); G. Hosking, Russia and the Russians: A History (2001); D. Lieven, Empire: The Russian Empire and Its Rivals (2001); O. Figes, Natasha's Dance: A Cultural History of Russia (2002) and The Whisperers: Private Life in Stalin's Russia (2007).

Country, eastern Europe. Area: 80,200 sq mi (207,600 sq km). Population (2005 est.): 9,776,000. Capital: Minsk. The population is mainly Belarusian, with Russian and Ukrainian minorities. Languages: Belarusian, Russian (both official). Religion: Christianity (predominantly Eastern Orthodox; also Roman Catholic). Currency: rubel. The northern part of the country is crossed by the Western Dvina (Dzvina) River; the Dnieper (Dnyapro) flows through eastern Belarus; the south has extensive marshy areas along the Pripet (Prypyats') River; the upper course of the Neman (Nyoman) flows in the west; and the Bug (Buh) forms part of the boundary with Poland in the southwest. The chief cities, in addition to Minsk, are Homyel, Mahilyow, and Vitsyebsk. Agriculture, once the linchpin of the Belarusian economy, has diminished in importance, while manufacturing and the service sector have grown. Belarus is a republic with two legislative houses; its president is head of state and government. Although Belarusians share a distinct identity and language, they never previously enjoyed political sovereignty. The territory that is now Belarus underwent partition and changed hands often; as a result, its history is entwined with its neighbours'. In medieval times the region was ruled by Lithuanians and Poles. Following the Third Partition of Poland, Belarus was ruled by Russia. After World War I the western part was assigned to Poland, and the eastern part became Soviet territory. After World War II the Soviets expanded what had been the Belorussian S.S.R. by annexing more of Poland. Much of the area suffered radioactive contamination from the Chernobyl accident in 1986, which forced many to evacuate. Belarus declared its independence in 1991 and later joined the Commonwealth of Independent States. Amid increasing political turmoil in the 1990s, it moved toward closer union with Russia but continued to struggle economically and politically at the start of the 21st century.

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officially Russian Federation

Country, eastern Europe and northern Asia, formerly the preeminent republic of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Area: 6,592,800 sq mi (17,075,400 sq km). Population (2005 est.): 143,420,000. Capital: Moscow. The population is primarily Russian; minorities include Tatars and Ukrainians. Languages: Russian (official), various Turkic and Uralic languages. Religions: Christianity (mostly Eastern Orthodox, also Protestant); also Islam. However, about one-third of the people are nonreligious or atheist. Currency: ruble. The land and its environments are varied, including the Ural Mountains and ranges in eastern Siberia, the highest peaks being on the Kamchatka Peninsula. The Russian Plain contains the great Volga and Northern Dvina rivers, and in Siberia are the valleys of the Ob, Yenisey, Lena, and Amur rivers. Tundra covers extensive portions in the north, and in the south there are forests, steppes, and fertile areas. The economy was industrialized from 1917 to 1945 but was in serious decline by the 1980s. In 1992 the government decreed radical reforms to convert the centrally planned economy into a market economy based on private enterprise. Russia is a federal republic with a bicameral legislative body; its head of state is the president, and the head of government is the prime minister. What is now the territory of Russia was inhabited from ancient times by various peoples, including the Slavs. The area was overrun in the 8th century BC–6th century AD by successive nomadic peoples, including the Sythians, Sarmatians, Goths, Huns, and Avars. Kievan Rus, a confederation of principalities ruling from Kiev, emerged circa the 10th century; it lost supremacy in the 11th–12th century to independent principalities, including Novgorod and Vladimir. Novgorod ascended in the north and was the only Russian principality to escape the domination of the Mongol Golden Horde in the 13th century. In the 14th–15th century the princes of Moscow gradually overthrew the Mongols. Under Ivan IV (the Terrible), Russia began to expand. The Romanov dynasty arose in 1613. Expansion continued under Peter I (the Great) and Catherine II (the Great). The area was invaded by Napoleon in 1812; after his defeat, Russia received most of the Grand Duchy of Warsaw (1815). Russia annexed Georgia, Armenia, and Caucasus territories in the 19th century. The Russian southward advance against the Ottoman Empire was of key importance to Europe (see Crimea). Russia was defeated in the Crimean War (1853–56). Chinese cession of the Amur River's left bank in 1858 marked Russia's expansion in East Asia. Russia sold Alaska to the U.S. in 1867 (see Alaska Purchase). Defeat in the Russo-Japanese War led to an unsuccessful uprising in 1905 (see Russian Revolution of 1905). In World War I Russia fought against the Central Powers. The popular overthrow of the tsarist regime in 1917 marked the beginning of a government of soviets (see Russian Revolution of 1917). The Bolsheviks brought the main part of the former empire under communist control and organized it as the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (coextensive with present-day Russia). The Russian S.F.S.R. joined other soviet republics in 1922 to form the U.S.S.R. Upon the dissolution of the U.S.S.R. in 1991, the Russian S.F.S.R. was renamed and became the leading member of the Commonwealth of Independent States. It adopted a new constitution in 1993. During the 1990s and into the early 21st century, it struggled on several fronts, beset with economic difficulties, political corruption, and independence movements (see Chechnya).

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Russia (Россия, Rossiya), or the Russian Federation (Rossiyskaya Federatsiya), is a transcontinental country extending over much of northern Eurasia. It is a semi-presidential republic comprising 83 federal subjects. Russia shares land borders with the following countries (counterclockwise from northwest to southeast): Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania (via Kaliningrad Oblast), Poland (via Kaliningrad Oblast), Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, China, Mongolia and North Korea. It also borders the Arctic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, the Caspian Sea, the Baltic Sea, and the Black Sea. Russia is close to the United States (Alaska) and Japan.

At 17,075,400 square kilometers, Russia is the largest country in the world, covering more than an eighth of the Earth’s land area; with 142 million people, it is the ninth largest by population. It extends across the whole of northern Asia and 40% of Europe, spanning 11 time zones and incorporating a great range of environments and landforms. Russia has the world's greatest reserves of mineral and energy resources, and is considered an energy superpower. It has the world's largest forest reserves and its lakes contain approximately one-quarter of the world's unfrozen fresh water.

The nation's history began with that of the East Slavs. The Slavs emerged as a recognizable group in Europe between the 3rd and 8th centuries AD. Founded and ruled by a noble Viking warrior class and their descendants, the first East Slavic state, Kievan Rus', arose in the 9th century and adopted Christianity from the Byzantine Empire in 988, beginning the synthesis of Byzantine and Slavic cultures that defined Russian culture for the next millennium. Kievan Rus' ultimately disintegrated and the lands were divided into many small feudal states. The most powerful successor state to Kievan Rus' was Moscow, which served as the main force in the Russian reunification process and independence struggle against the Golden Horde. Moscow gradually reunified the surrounding Russian principalities and came to dominate the cultural and political legacy of Kievan Rus'. By the 18th century, the nation had greatly expanded through conquest, annexation and exploration to become the Russian Empire, which was the third largest empire in history, stretching from Poland eastward to the Pacific Ocean and Alaska.

Russia established worldwide power and influence from the times of the Russian Empire to being the largest and leading constituent of the Soviet Union, the world's first and largest constitutionally socialist state and a recognized superpower. The nation can boast a long tradition of excellence in every aspect of the arts and sciences. The Russian Federation was founded following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, but is recognized as the continuing legal personality of the Soviet Union. It has one of the world's fastest growing major economies and has the world's eleventh largest GDP by nominal GDP or seventh largest by purchasing power parity with the eighth largest military budget. Russia is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, a member of the G8, APEC and the SCO, and is a leading member of the Commonwealth of Independent States. It is one of the five recognized nuclear weapons states and possesses the world's largest stockpile of weapons of mass destruction.

Geography

The Russian Federation stretches across a large extent of the north of the super-continent of Eurasia. Because of its size, Russia displays both monotony and diversity. As with its topography, its climates, vegetation, and soils span vast distances. From north to south the East European Plain is clad sequentially in tundra, coniferous forest (taiga), mixed and broad-leaf forests, grassland (steppe), and semi-desert (fringing the Caspian Sea) as the changes in vegetation reflect the changes in climate. Siberia supports a similar sequence but is taiga. The country contains 23 World Heritage Sites and 40 UNESCO Biosphere reserves.

Topography

The two widest separated points in Russia are about 8,000 km (5,000 mi) apart along a geodesic line. These points are: the boundary with Poland on a 60 km long (40-mi long) spit of land separating the Gulf of Gdańsk from the Vistula Lagoon; and the farthest southeast of the Kuril Islands, a few miles off Hokkaidō Island, Japan. The points which are furthest separated in longitude are 6,600 km (4,100 mi) apart along a geodesic. These points are: in the West, the same spit; in the East, the Big Diomede Island (Ostrov Ratmanova). The Russian Federation spans 11 time zones.

Russia has the world's largest forest reserves and is known as "the lungs of Europe", second only to the Amazon Rainforest in the amount of carbon dioxide it absorbs. It provides a huge amount of oxygen for not just Europe, but the world. With access to three of the world's oceans—the Atlantic, Arctic, and Pacific—Russian fishing fleets are a major contributor to the world's fish supply. The Caspian is the source of what is considered the finest caviar in the world.

Most of Russia consists of vast stretches of plains that are predominantly steppe to the south and heavily forested to the north, with tundra along the northern coast. Mountain ranges are found along the southern borders, such as the Caucasus (containing Mount Elbrus, Russia's and Europe's highest point at 5,642 m / 18,511 ft) and the Altai, and in the eastern parts, such as the Verkhoyansk Range or the volcanoes on Kamchatka. The Ural Mountains form a north-south range that divides Europe and Asia, rich in mineral resources. Russia possesses 10% of the world's arable land.

Russia has an extensive coastline of over 37,000 kilometers (23,000 mi) along the Arctic and Pacific Oceans, as well as the Baltic Sea, Sea of Azov, Black and Caspian seas. The Barents Sea, White Sea, Kara Sea, Laptev Sea, East Siberian Sea, Chukchi Sea, Bering Sea, Sea of Okhotsk and the Sea of Japan are linked to Russia. Major islands and archipelagos include Novaya Zemlya, the Franz Josef Land, the Severnaya Zemlya, the New Siberian Islands, Wrangel Island, the Kuril Islands and Sakhalin. The Diomede Islands (one controlled by Russia, the other by the United States) are just three kilometers (1.9 mi) apart, and Kunashir Island is about twenty kilometers (12 mi) from Hokkaidō.

Russia has thousands of rivers and inland bodies of water, providing it with one of the world's largest surface water resources. The largest and most prominent of Russia's bodies of fresh water is Lake Baikal, the world's deepest, purest, most ancient and most capacious freshwater lake. Lake Baikal alone contains over one fifth of the world's fresh surface water. Other major lakes include Lake Ladoga and Lake Onega, two largest lakes in Europe. Of Russia's 100,000 rivers, The Volga is the most famous—not only because it is the longest river in Europe but also because of its major role in Russian history. Russia has a wide natural resource base unmatched by any other country, including major deposits of petroleum, natural gas, coal, timber and mineral resources.

Climate

The climate of the Russian Federation formed under the influence of several determining factors. The enormous size of the country and the remoteness of many areas from the sea result in the dominance of the continental climate, which is prevalent in European and Asian Russia except for the tundra and the extreme southeast. Mountains in the south obstructing the flow of warm air masses from the Indian Ocean and the plain of the west and north makes the country open to Arctic and Atlantic influences.

Throughout much of the territory there are only two distinct seasons — winter and summer; spring and autumn are usually brief periods of change between extremely low temperatures and extremely high. The coldest month is January (on the shores of the sea—February), the warmest usually is July. Great ranges of temperature are typical. In winter, temperatures get colder both from south to north and from west to east. Summers can be quite hot and humid, even in Siberia. A small part of Black Sea coast around Sochi has a subtropical climate. The continental interiors are the driest areas.

History

Early periods

In prehistoric times, the vast steppes of Southern Russia were home to disunited tribes of nomadic pastoralists. In classical antiquity, the Pontic Steppe was known as Scythia. Remnants of these steppe civilizations were discovered in the course of the 20th century in such places as Ipatovo, Sintashta, Arkaim, and Pazyryk. In the latter part of the eighth century BC, Greek traders brought classical civilization to the trade emporiums in Tanais and Phanagoria. Between the third and sixth centuries BC, the Bosporan Kingdom, a Hellenistic polity which succeeded the Greek colonies, was overwhelmed by successive waves of nomadic invasions, led by warlike tribes, such as the Huns and Turkic Avars. A Turkic people, the Khazars, ruled the lower Volga basin steppes between the Caspian and Black Seas until the 8th century.

The ancestors of modern Russians are the Slavic tribes, whose original home is thought by some scholars to have been the wooded areas of the Pinsk Marshes. Moving into the lands vacated by the migrating Germanic tribes, the Early East Slavs gradually settled Western Russia in two waves: one moving from Kiev toward present-day Suzdal and Murom and another from Polotsk toward Novgorod and Rostov. From the 7th century onwards, the East Slavs constituted the bulk of the population in Western Russia and slowly but peacefully assimilated the native Finno-Ugric tribes, including the Merya, the Muromians, and the Meshchera.

Kievan Rus

Scandinavian Norsemen, called "Vikings" in Western Europe and "Varangians" in the East, combined piracy and trade in their roamings over much of Northern Europe. In the mid-9th century, they ventured along the waterways extending from the eastern Baltic to the Black and Caspian Seas. According to the earliest Russian chronicle, a Varangian named Rurik was elected ruler (konung or knyaz) of Novgorod around the year 860; his successors moved south and extended their authority to Kiev, which had been previously dominated by the Khazars.

In the 10th to 11th centuries this state of Kievan Rus' became the largest and most prosperous in Europe. The reigns of Vladimir the Great (980-1015) and his son Yaroslav I the Wise (1019-1054) constitute the Golden Age of Kiev, which saw the acceptance of Orthodox Christianity and the creation of the first East Slavic written legal code, the Russkaya Pravda.

In the 11th and 12th centuries, constant incursions by nomadic Turkic tribes, such as the Kipchaks and the Pechenegs, caused a massive migration of Slavic populations to the safer, heavily forested regions of the north, particularly to the area known as Zalesye. Like many other parts of Eurasia, these territories were overrun by the Mongols. The invaders, later known as Tatars, formed the state of the Golden Horde, which pillaged the Russian principalities and ruled the southern and central expanses of Russia for over three centuries. Mongol rule retarded the country's economic and social development. However, the Novgorod Republic together with Pskov retained some degree of autonomy during the time of the Mongol yoke and was largely spared the atrocities that affected the rest of the country. Led by Alexander Nevsky, Novgorodians repelled the Germanic crusaders who attempted to colonize the region. Kievan Rus' ultimately disintegrated as a state because of in-fighting between members of the princely family that ruled it collectively. Kiev's dominance waned, to the benefit of Vladimir-Suzdal in the north-east, Novgorod in the north-west, and Galicia-Volhynia in the south-west. Conquest by the Golden Horde in the 13th century was the final blow and resulted in the destruction of Kiev in 1240. Galicia-Volhynia was eventually absorbed into the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, while the Mongol-dominated Vladimir-Suzdal and the independent Novgorod Republic, two regions on the periphery of Kiev, established the basis for the modern Russian nation.

Grand Duchy of Moscow and Tsardom of Russia

The most powerful successor state to Kievan Rus' was Grand Duchy of Moscow. It would annex rivals such as Tver and Novgorod, and eventually become the basis of the modern Russian state. After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, Moscow claimed succession to the legacy of the Eastern Roman Empire. While still under the domain of the Mongol-Tatars and with their connivance, the Duchy of Moscow (or "Muscovy") began to assert its influence in Western Russia in the early 14th century. Assisted by the Russian Orthodox Church and Saint Sergius of Radonezh's spiritual revival, Russia inflicted a defeat on the Mongol-Tatars in the Battle of Kulikovo (1380). Ivan III (Ivan the Great) eventually threw off the control of the invaders, consolidated surrounding areas under Moscow's dominion and was the first to take the title "grand duke of all the Russias".

In 1547, Ivan IV (Ivan the Terrible) was officially crowned the first Tsar of Russia. During his long reign, Ivan IV annexed the Tatar khanates (Kazan, Astrakhan) along the Volga River and transformed Russia into a multiethnic and multiconfessional state. Ivan IV promulgated a new code of laws (Sudebnik of 1550), established the first Russian feudal representative body (Zemsky Sobor) and introduced local self-management into the rural regions. But Ivan IV's rule was also marked by the long and unsuccessful Livonian War against the coalition of Poland, Lithuania, and Sweden for access to the Baltic coast and sea trade. The military losses, epidemics and poor harvests weakened the state, and the Crimean Tatars were able to burn down Moscow. The death of Ivan's sons, combined with the famine of 1601-1603, led to the civil war and foreign intervention of the Time of Troubles in the early 1600s. By the mid-17th century there were Russian settlements in Eastern Siberia, on the Chukchi Peninsula, along the Amur River, and on the Pacific coast. The Bering Strait between North America and Asia was first sighted by a Russian explorer in 1648.

Imperial Russia

Under the Romanov dynasty and Peter I (Peter the Great), the Russian Empire became a world power. Ruling from 1682 to 1725, Peter defeated Sweden in the Great Northern War, forcing it to cede West Karelia and Ingria (two regions lost by Russia in the Time of Troubles), Estland, and Livland, securing Russia's access to the sea and sea trade. It was in Ingria that Peter founded a new capital, Saint Petersburg. Peter's reforms brought considerable Western European cultural influences to Russia. Catherine II (Catherine the Great), who ruled from 1762 to 1796, continued the efforts to establish Russia as one of the Great Powers of Europe. In alliance with Prussia and Austria, Russia stood against Napoleon's France and eliminated its rival Poland-Lithuania in a series of partitions, gaining large areas of territory in the west. As a result of its victories in the Russo-Turkish War, by the early 19th century Russia had made significant territorial gains in Transcaucasia. Napoleon's invasion of Russia at the height of his power failed miserably as obstinate Russian resistance combined with the bitterly cold Russian winter dealt him a disastrous defeat, in which more than 95% of his invading force perished. The officers in the Napoleonic Wars brought ideas of liberalism back to Russia with them and even attempted to curtail the tsar's powers during the abortive Decembrist revolt of 1825, which was followed by several decades of political repression.

The prevalence of serfdom and the conservative policies of Nicolas I impeded the development of Russia in the mid-nineteenth century. Nicholas's successor Alexander II (1855–1881) enacted significant reforms, including the abolition of serfdom in 1861; these "Great Reforms" spurred industrialization. However, many socio-economic conflicts were aggravated during Alexander III’s reign and under his son, Nicholas II. Harsh conditions in factories created mass support for the revolutionary socialist movement. In January 1905, striking workers peaceably demonstrated for reforms in Saint Petersburg but were fired upon by troops, killing and wounding hundreds. The abject failure of the Tsar's military forces in the initially-popular Russo-Japanese War, and the event known as "Bloody Sunday", ignited the Russian Revolution of 1905. Although the uprising was swiftly put down by the army and although Nicholas II retained much of his power, he was forced to concede major reforms, including granting the freedoms of speech and assembly, the legalization of political parties and the creation of an elected legislative assembly, the Duma; however, the hopes for basic improvements in the lives of industrial workers were unfulfilled.

Russia entered World War I in aid of its ally Serbia and fought a war across three fronts while isolated from its allies. Russia did not want war but felt that the only alternative was German domination of Europe. Although the army was far from defeated in 1916, the already-existing public distrust of the regime was deepened by the rising costs of war, casualties (Russia suffered the highest number of both military and civilian deaths of the Entente Powers), and tales of corruption and even treason in high places, leading to the outbreak of the Russian Revolution of 1917. A series of uprisings were organized by workers and peasants throughout the country, as well as by soldiers in the Russian army, who were mainly of peasant origin. Many of the uprisings were organized and led by democratically-elected councils called Soviets. The February Revolution overthrew the Russian monarchy, which was replaced by a shaky coalition of political parties that declared itself the Provisional Government. The abdication marked the end of imperial rule in Russia, and Nicholas and his family were imprisoned and later executed during the Civil War. While initially receiving the support of the Soviets, the Provisional Government proved unable to resolve many problems which had led to the February Revolution. The second revolution, the October Revolution, led by Vladimir Lenin, overthrew the Provisional Government and created the world’s first Communist state.

Soviet Russia

Following the October Revolution, a civil war broke out between the new regime and the Socialist Revolutionaries, Mensheviks, and the White movement. The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk concluded hostilities with the Central Powers in World War I. Russia lost its Ukrainian, Polish and Baltic territories, and Finland by signing the treaty. The Allied powers launched a military intervention in support of anti-Communist forces and both the Bolsheviks and White movement carried out campaigns of deportations and executions against each other, known respectively as the Red Terror and White Terror. By the end of the Civil War, some 20 million had died and the Russian economy and infrastructure were completely devastated. Following victory in the Civil War, the Russian SFSR together with three other Soviet republics formed the Soviet Union on 30 December 1922. The Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic dominated the Soviet Union for its entire 69-year history; the USSR was often referred to as "Russia" and its people as "Russians." The largest of the republics, Russia contributed over half the population of the Soviet Union. After Lenin's death in 1924, Joseph Stalin consolidated power and became dictator. Stalin launched a command economy, rapid industrialization of the largely rural country and collectivization of its agriculture and the Soviet Union was transformed from an agrarian economy to a major industrial powerhouse in a short span of time. This transformation came with a heavy price, however; millions of citizens died as a consequence of his harsh policies.

On 22 June 1941, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union with the largest and most powerful invasion force in human history, opening the largest theater of the Second World War. Although the German army had considerable success early on, they suffered defeats after reaching the outskirts of Moscow and were dealt their first major defeat at the Battle of Stalingrad in the winter of 1942–1943. Soviet forces drove through Eastern Europe in 1944–45 and captured Berlin in May, 1945. In the conflict, Soviet military and civilian death toll were 10.6 million and 15.9 million respectively, accounting for half of all World War II casualties. The Soviet economy and infrastructure suffered massive devastation but the Soviet Union emerged as an acknowledged superpower. The Red Army occupied Eastern Europe after the war, including the eastern half of Germany; Stalin installed communist governments in these satellite states. Becoming the world's second nuclear weapons power, the USSR established the Warsaw Pact alliance and entered into a struggle for global dominance with the United States, which became known as the Cold War.

After Stalin's death, Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev denounced Stalin and eased his repressive policies. He began the process of eliminating the Stalinist political system known as de-Stalinization and abolished the Gulag labor camps, releasing millions of prisoners. The Soviet Union launched the world's first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1 and the Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human being to orbit the Earth aboard the first manned spacecraft, Vostok 1. Tensions with the United States heightened when the two rivals clashed over the deployment of the U.S. Jupiter missiles in Turkey and Soviet missiles in Cuba. Following the ousting of Khrushchev, another period of rule by collective leadership ensued until Leonid Brezhnev established himself in the early 1970s as the pre-eminent figure in Soviet politics. Brezhnev's rule oversaw economic stagnation and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which dragged on without success and with continuing casualties inflicted by insurgents. Soviet citizens became increasingly discontented with the war, ultimately leading to the withdrawal of Soviet forces by 1989. From 1985 onwards, Mikhail Gorbachev introduced the policies of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) in an attempt to modernize the country. The USSR economy was the second largest in the world prior to the Soviet collapse. During its last years, the economy was afflicted by shortages of goods in grocery stores, huge budget deficits and explosive growth in money supply leading to inflation. In August 1991, an unsuccessful military coup against Gorbachev aimed at preserving the Soviet Union instead led to its collapse. In Russia, Boris Yeltsin came to power and declared the end of Communist rule. The USSR splintered into fifteen independent republics and was officially dissolved in December 1991. Boris Yeltsin was elected the President of Russia in June 1991, in the first direct presidential election in Russian history.

Russian Federation

During and after the disintegration of the USSR when-wide ranging reforms including privatisation and market and trade liberalization were being undertaken, the Russian economy went through a major crisis. This period was characterized by deep contraction of output, with GDP declining by roughly 50 percent between 1990 and the end of 1995 and industrial output declining by over 50 percent. In October 1991, Yeltsin announced that Russia would proceed with radical, market-oriented reform along the lines of "shock therapy", as recommended by the United States and International Monetary Fund. Price controls were abolished, privatization was started. Millions were plunged into poverty. According to the World Bank, whereas 1.5% of the population was living in poverty in the late Soviet era, by mid-1993 between 39% and 49% of the population was living in poverty. Delays in wage payment became a chronic problem with millions being paid months, even years late. Russia took up the responsibility for settling the USSR's external debts, even though its population made up just half of the population of the USSR at the time of its dissolution. The privatization process largely shifted control of enterprises from state agencies to groups of individuals with inside connections in the Government and the mafia. Violent criminal groups often took over state enterprises, clearing the way through assassinations or extortion. Corruption of government officials became an everyday rule of life. Many of the newly rich mobsters and businesspeople took billions in cash and assets outside of the country in an enormous capital flight. The long and wrenching depression was coupled with social decay. Social services collapsed and the birth rate plummeted while the death rate skyrocketed. The early and mid-1990s was marked by extreme lawlessness. Criminal gangs and organized crime flourished and murders and other violent crime spiraled out of control.

In 1993 a constitutional crisis resulted in the worst civil strife in Moscow since the October Revolution. President Boris Yeltsin illegally dissolved the country's legislature which opposed his moves to consolidate power and push forward with unpopular neo-liberal reforms; in response, legislators barricaded themselves inside the White House, impeached Yeltsin and elected a new President and major protests against Yeltsin's government resulted in hundreds killed. With military support, Yeltsin sent the army to besiege the parliament building and disperse its defenders and used tanks and artillery to eject the legislators.

The 1990s were plagued by armed ethnic conflicts in the North Caucasus. Such conflicts took a form of separatist Islamist insurrections against federal power, or of ethnic/clan conflicts between local groups. Since the Chechen separatists declared independence in the early 1990s, an intermittent guerrilla war (First Chechen War, Second Chechen War) has been fought between disparate Chechen rebel groups and the Russian military. Terrorist attacks against civilians carried out by Chechen separatists, most notably the Moscow theater hostage crisis and Beslan school siege, caused hundreds of deaths and drew worldwide attention. High budget deficits and the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis caused the financial crisis of 1998 and resulted in further GDP decline. On 31 December 1999 Boris Yeltsin resigned from the presidency, handing the post to the recently appointed prime minister, Vladimir Putin, who then won the 2000 election. Putin won popularity for suppressing the Chechen insurgency, although sporadic violence still occurs throughout the North Caucasus. High oil prices and initially weak currency followed by increasing domestic demand, consumption and investments has helped the economy grow for nine straight years, alleviating the standard of living and increasing Russia's clout on the world stage. While many reforms made during the Putin administration have been generally criticized by Western nations as un-democratic, Putin's leadership over the return of order, stability and progress has won him widespread popularity in Russia, as well as recognition abroad.

Government and politics

According to the Constitution, which was adopted by national referendum on 12 December 1993 following the 1993 Russian constitutional crisis, Russia is a federation and formally a semi-presidential republic, wherein the President is the head of state and the Prime Minister is the head of government. The Russian Federation is fundamentally structured as a representative democracy. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in the two chambers of the Federal Assembly. The government is regulated by a system of checks and balances defined by the Constitution of the Russian Federation, which serves as the country's supreme legal document and as a social contract for the people of the Russian Federation.

The federal government is composed of three branches:

According to the Constitution, constitutional justice in the court is based on the equality of all citizens, judges are independent and subject only to the law, trials are to be open and the accused is guaranteed a defense. Since 1996, Russia has instituted a moratorium on the death penalty in Russia, although capital punishment has not been abolished by law.

The president is elected by popular vote for a four-year term (eligible for a second term but constitutionally barred for a third consecutive term); election last held 2 March 2008. Ministries of the government are composed of the premier and his deputies, ministers, and selected other individuals; all are appointed by the president on the recommendation of the Prime Minister (whereas the appointment of the latter requires the consent of the State Duma). The national legislature is the Federal Assembly, which consists of two chambers; the 450-member State Duma and the 176-member Federation Council. Leading political parties in Russia include United Russia, the Communist Party, the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia and Fair Russia.

Subdivisions

Federal subjects The Russian Federation comprises 83 federal subjects. These subjects have equal representation—two delegates each—in the Federation Council. However, they differ in the degree of autonomy they enjoy.

  • 46 oblasts (provinces): most common type of federal subjects, with federally appointed governor and locally elected legislature.
  • 21 republics: nominally autonomous; each has its own constitution, president, and parliament. Republics are allowed to establish their own official language alongside Russian but are represented by the federal government in international affairs. Republics are meant to be home to specific ethnic minorities.
  • Nine krais (territories): essentially the same as oblasts. The "territory" designation is historic, originally given to frontier regions and later also to administrative divisions that comprised autonomous okrugs or autonomous oblasts.
  • Four autonomous okrugs (autonomous districts): originally autonomous entities within oblasts and krais created for ethnic minorities, their status was elevated to that of federal subjects in the 1990s. With the exception of Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, all autonomous okrugs are still administratively subordinated to a krai or an oblast of which they are a part.
  • One autonomous oblast (the Jewish Autonomous Oblast): originally autonomous oblasts were administrative units subordinated to krais. In 1990, all of them except the Jewish AO were elevated in status to that of a republic.
  • Two federal cities (Moscow and St. Petersburg): major cities that function as separate regions.Federal districts and economic regions

Federal subjects are grouped into seven federal districts, each administered by an envoy appointed by the President of Russia. Unlike the federal subjects, the federal districts are not a subnational level of government, but are a level of administration of the federal government. Federal districts' envoys serve as liaisons between the federal subjects and the federal government and are primarily responsible for overseeing the compliance of the federal subjects with the federal laws.

Foreign relations and military

The Russian Federation is recognized in international law as continuing the legal personality of the former Soviet Union. Russia continues to implement the international commitments of the USSR, and has assumed the USSR's permanent seat on the UN Security Council, membership in other international organizations, the rights and obligations under international treaties and property and debts. Russia has a multifaceted foreign policy. It maintains diplomatic relations with 178 countries and has 140 embassies. Russia's foreign policy is determined by the President and implemented by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

As one of five permanent members of the UN Security Council, Russia plays a major role in maintaining international peace and security, and plays a major role in resolving international conflicts by participating in the Quartet on the Middle East, the Six-party talks with North Korea, promoting the resolution of the Kosovo conflict and resolving nuclear proliferation issues. Russia is a member of the Group of Eight (G8) industrialized nations, the Council of Europe, OSCE and APEC. Russia usually takes a leading role in regional organizations such as the CIS, EurAsEC, CSTO, and the SCO. Former President Vladimir Putin had advocated a strategic partnership with close integration in various dimensions including establishment of four common spaces between Russia and the EU. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia has developed a friendlier, albeit volatile relationship with NATO. The NATO-Russia Council was established in 2002 to allow the 26 Allies and Russia to work together as equal partners to pursue opportunities for joint collaboration.

Russia assumed control of Soviet assets abroad and most of the Soviet Union's production facilities and defense industries are located in the country. The Russian military is divided into the Ground Forces, Navy, and Air Force. There are also three independent arms of service: Strategic Rocket Forces, Military Space Forces, and the Airborne Troops. In 2006, the military had 1.037 million personnel on active duty.

Russia has the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons in the world. It has the second largest fleet of ballistic missile submarines and is the only country apart from the U.S. with a modern strategic bomber force. The country has a large and fully indigenous arms industry, producing all of its own military equipment. Russia is the world's top supplier of weapons, a spot it has held since 2001, accounting for around 30% of worldwide weapons sales and exporting weapons to about 80 countries. Following the Soviet practice, it is mandatory for all male citizens aged 18–27 to be drafted for two years' Armed Forces service, though various problems associated with this explain why the armed forces have reduced the conscription term from 18 months to 12 since 2008, and are planning to increase the proportion of contract servicemen to 70% of the armed forces by 2010. Defense expenditure has quadrupled over the past six years. Official government military spending for 2008 is $40 billion, making it the eighth largest in the world, though various sources, including US intelligence, and the International Institute for Strategic Studies, have estimated Russia’s military expenditures to be considerably higher. Currently, the military is undergoing a major equipment upgrade with about $200 billion on procurement of military equipment between 2006 and 2015.

Economy

Since the turn of the century, rising oil prices, increased foreign investment, higher domestic consumption and greater political stability have bolstered economic growth in Russia. The country ended 2007 with its ninth straight year of growth, averaging 7% annually since the financial crisis of 1998. In 2007, Russia's GDP was $2.076 trillion (est. PPP), the 6th largest in the world, with GDP growing 8.1% from the previous year. Growth was primarily driven by non-traded services and goods for the domestic market, as opposed to oil or mineral extraction and exports. The average salary in Russia was $640 per month in early 2008, up from $80 in 2000. Approximately 14% of Russians lived below the national poverty line in 2007, significantly down from 40% in 1998 at the worst of the post-Soviet collapse. Unemployment in Russia was at 6% in 2007, down from about 12.4% in 1999.

Russia has the world's largest natural gas reserves, the second largest coal reserves and the eighth largest oil reserves. It is the world's leading natural gas exporter and the second leading oil exporter. Oil, natural gas, metals, and timber account for more than 80% of Russian exports abroad. Since 2003, however, exports of natural resources started decreasing in economic importance as the internal market strengthened considerably. Despite higher energy prices, oil and gas only contribute to 5.7% of Russia's GDP and the government predicts this will drop to 3.7% by 2011. Russia is also considered well ahead of most other resource-rich countries in its economic development, with a long tradition of education, science, and industry. The country has more higher education graduates than any other country in Europe.

A simpler, more streamlined tax code adopted in 2001 reduced the tax burden on people, and dramatically increased state revenue. Russia has a flat personal income tax rate of 13 percent. This ranks it as the country with the second most attractive personal tax system for single managers in the world after the United Arab Emirates, according to a 2007 survey by investment services firm Mercer Human Resource Consulting. The federal budget has run surpluses since 2001 and ended 2007 with a surplus of 6% of GDP. Over the past several years, Russia has used oil revenues from its Stabilization Fund of the Russian Federation to prepay all Soviet-era sovereign debt to Paris Club creditors and the IMF. Oil export earnings have allowed Russia to increase its foreign reserves from $12 billion in 1999 to $597.3 billion on 1 August 2008, the third largest reserves in the world. The country has also been able to substantially reduce its formerly massive foreign debt.

The economic development of the country though has been uneven geographically with the Moscow region contributing a disproportionately high amount of the country's GDP. Much of Russia, especially indigenous and rural communities in Siberia, lags significantly behind. Nevertheless, the middle class has grown from just 8 million persons in 2000 to 55 million persons in 2006. Russia is home to the largest number of billionaires in the world after the United States, gaining 50 billionaires in 2007 for a total of 110.

Over the last five years, fixed capital investments have averaged real gains greater than 10% per year and personal incomes have achieved real gains more than 12% per year. During this time, poverty has declined steadily and the middle class has continued to expand. Russia has also improved its international financial position since the 1998 financial crisis. A principal factor in Russia's growth has been the combination of strong growth in productivity, real wages, and consumption. Despite the country's strong economic performance since 1999, however, the World Bank lists several challenges facing the Russian economy including diversifying the economy, encouraging the growth of small and medium enterprises, building human capital and improving corporate governance. Inflation grew to about 12% by the end of 2007, up from 9% in 2006. The upward trend continued in the first quarter of 2008, driven largely by rising food costs. Infrastructure, ageing and inadequate after years of being neglected, is considered to be a bottleneck to economic growth. The government has said $1 trillion will be invested in infrastructure by 2020.

Demographics

Ethnic composition (2002)
Russians 79.8%
Tatars 3.8%
Ukrainians 2.0%
Chuvash 1.1%
Chechen 0.9%
Armenians 0.8%
Other/unspecified 10.3%

According to preliminary estimates, the resident population of the Russian Federation on 1 January 2008 was 142 million people. In 2007, the population shrank by 237,800 people, or by 0.17% (in 2006 - by 532,600 people, or by 0.37%). Migration grew by 50.2% in 2007 to reach 274,000. The vast majority of migrants came from CIS states and were Russians or Russian-speaking. There are also an estimated 10 million illegal immigrants from the ex-Soviet states in Russia. The Russian Federation is a diverse, multi-ethnic society, home to as many as 160 different ethnic groups and indigenous peoples. Though Russia's population is comparatively large, its population density is low because of the country's enormous size. Population is densest in European Russia, near the Ural Mountains, and in southwest Siberia.

73% of the population lives in urban areas. As of the 2002 Census, the two largest cities in Russia are Moscow (10,126,424 inhabitants) and Saint Petersburg (4,661,219). Eleven other cities have between one and two million inhabitants: Chelyabinsk, Kazan, Novosibirsk, Nizhny Novgorod, Omsk, Perm, Rostov-on-Don, Samara, Ufa, Volgograd, and Yekaterinburg. In 2006, 186,380 migrants arrived to the Russian Federation of which 95% came from CIS countries.

Russia's population peaked in 1991 at 148,689,000. The number of deaths during 2007 was 477,700 greater than the number of births. This is down from 687,100 in 2006. According to data published by the Russian Federal State Statistics Service, the mortality rate in Russia declined 4% in 2007, as compared to 2006, reaching some 2 million deaths, while the birth rate grew 8.3% year-on-year to an estimated 1.6 million live births. The primary causes of Russia's population decrease are a high death rate and low birth rate. While Russia's birth-rate is comparable to that of other European countries (11.3 births per 1000 people in 2007 compared to the European Union average of 10.00 per 1000) its population declines at much greater rate due to a substantially higher death rate (In 2007, Russia's death rate was 14.7 per 1000 people compared to the European Union average of 10.00 per 1000). However, the Russian health ministry predicts that by 2011, the death rate will equal the birth rate due to increases in fertility and decline in mortality.

Education

Russia has a free education system guaranteed to all citizens by the Constitution, and has a literacy rate of 99.4%. Entry to higher education is highly competitive. As a result of great emphasis on science and technology in education, Russian medical, mathematical, scientific, and space and aviation research is generally of a high order.

The Russian Constitution grants a universal right to higher education free of charge through competitive entry. The Government allocates funding to pay the tuition fees within an established quota, or number of students for each state institution. This is considered crucial because it provides access to higher education to all skilled students, as opposed to only those who can afford it. In addition, students are paid a small stipend and provided with free housing. However, the institutions have to be funded entirely from the federal and regional budgets; institutions have found themselves unable to provide adequate teachers' salaries, students' stipends, and to maintain their facilities. To address the issue, many state institutions started to open commercial positions, which have been growing steadily since. Many private higher education institutions have emerged to address the need for a skilled work-force for high-tech and emerging industries and economic sectors.

Health

The Russian Constitution guarantees free, universal health care for all citizens. While Russia has more physicians, hospitals, and health care workers than almost any other country in the world on a per capita basis, since the collapse of the Soviet Union the health of the Russian population has declined considerably as a result of social, economic, and lifestyle changes. As of 2007, the average life expectancy in Russia is 61.5 years for males and 73.9 years for females. The average Russian life expectancy of 67.7 years at birth is 10.8 years shorter than the overall figure in the European Union. The biggest factor contributing to this relatively low life expectancy for males is a high mortality rate among working-age males from preventable causes (e.g., alcohol poisoning, stress, smoking, traffic accidents, violent crimes). Mortality among Russian men rose by 60% since 1991, four to five times higher than in Europe. As a result of the large difference in life expectancy between men and women and because of the lasting effect of World War II, where Russia lost more men than any other nation in the world, the gender imbalance remains to this day and there are 0.859 males to every female.

Heart diseases account for 56.7% of total deaths, with about 30% involving people still of working age. About 16 million Russians suffer from cardiovascular diseases, placing Russia second in the world, after Ukraine, in this respect. Death rates from homicide, suicide and cancer are also especially high. According to a 2007 survey by Romir Monitoring, 52% of men and 15% of women smoke. More than 260,000 lives are lost each year as a result of tobacco use. HIV/AIDS, virtually non-existent in the Soviet era, rapidly spread following the collapse, mainly through the explosive growth of intravenous drug use. According to official statistics, there are currently more than 364,000 people in Russia registered with HIV, but independent experts place the number significantly higher. In increasing efforts to combat the disease, the government increased spending on HIV control measures 20-fold in 2006, and the 2007 budget doubled that of 2006. Since the Soviet collapse, there has also been a dramatic rise in both cases of and deaths from tuberculosis, with the disease being particularly widespread amongst prison inmates.

In an effort to stem Russia’s demographic crisis, the government is implementing a number of programs designed to increase the birth rate and attract more migrants to alleviate the problem. The government has doubled monthly child support payments and offered a one-time payment of 250,000 Rubles (around US$10,000) to women who had a second child since 2007. In 2007, Russia saw the highest birth rate since the collapse of the USSR. The First Deputy PM also said about 20 billion rubles (about US$1 billion) will be invested in new prenatal centres in Russia in 2008–2009. Immigration is increasingly seen as necessary to sustain the country's population.

Language

Russia's 160 ethnic groups speak some 100 languages. According to the 2002 census, 142.6 million people speak Russian, followed by Tatar with 5.3 million and German with 2.9 million speakers. Russian is the only official state language, but the Constitution gives the individual republics the right to make their native language co-official next to Russian. Despite its wide dispersal, the Russian language is homogeneous throughout Russia. Russian is the most geographically widespread language of Eurasia and the most widely spoken Slavic language. Russian belongs to the Indo-European language family and is one of three (or, according to some authorities, four) living members of the East Slavic languages; the others being Belarusian and Ukrainian (and possibly Rusyn). Written examples of Old East Slavic (Old Russian) are attested from the 10th century onwards.

Over a quarter of the world's scientific literature is published in Russian. Russian is also applied as a means of coding and storage of universal knowledge—60–70% of all world information is published in the English and Russian languages. The language is one of the six official languages of the United Nations.

Religion

Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Judaism are Russia’s traditional religions, deemed part of Russia's "historical heritage" in a law passed in 1997. Estimates of believers widely fluctuate among sources, and some reports put the number of non-believers in Russia as high as 16–48% of the population. Russian Orthodoxy is the dominant religion in Russia. 95% of the registered Orthodox parishes belong to the Russian Orthodox Church while there are a number of smaller Orthodox Churches. However, the vast majority of Orthodox believers do not attend church on a regular basis. Nonetheless, the church is widely respected by both believers and nonbelievers, who see it as a symbol of Russian heritage and culture. Smaller Christian denominations such as Roman Catholics, Armenian Gregorian and various Protestants exist.

The ancestors of many of today’s Russians adopted Orthodox Christianity in the 10th century. The 2007 International Religious Freedom Report published by the US Department of State said that approximately 100 million citizens consider themselves Russian Orthodox Christians. According to a poll by the Russian Public Opinion Research Center, 63% of respondents considered themselves Russian Orthodox, 6% of respondents considered themselves Muslim and less than 1% considered themselves either Buddhist, Catholic, Protestant or Jewish. Another 12% said they believe in God, but did not practice any religion, and 16% said they are non-believers.

It is estimated that Russia is home to some 15–20 million Muslims. However, surveys say that there are only 7 to 9 million people who adhere to the Islamic faith in Russia. Russia also has an estimated 3 million to 4 million Muslim migrants from the ex-Soviet states. Most Muslims live in the Volga-Ural region, as well as in the North Caucasus, Moscow, Saint Petersburg and western Siberia. Buddhism is traditional for three regions of the Russian Federation: Buryatia, Tuva and Kalmykia. Some residents of the Siberian and Far Eastern regions, Yakutia, Chukotka, etc., practice pantheistic and pagan rites, along with the major religions. Induction into religion takes place primarily along ethnic lines. Slavs are overwhelmingly Orthodox Christian. Turkic speakers are predominantly Muslim, although several Turkic groups in Russia are not.

Culture

Classical music and ballet

Russia's large number of ethnic groups have distinctive traditions of folk music. Music in 19th century Russia was defined by the tension between classical composer Mikhail Glinka and his followers, who embraced Russian national identity and added religious and folk elements to their compositions, and the Russian Musical Society led by composers Anton and Nikolay Rubinstein, which was musically conservative. The later Romantic tradition of Tchaikovsky, one of the greatest composers of the Romantic era whose music has come to be known and loved for its distinctly Russian character as well as its rich harmonies and stirring melodies, was brought into the 20th century by Sergei Rachmaninoff, one of the last great champions of the Romantic style of European classical music.

World-renowned composers of the 20th century included Scriabin, Stravinsky, Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev, and Shostakovich. During most of the Soviet Era, music was highly scrutinized and kept within a conservative, accessible idiom in conformity with the Stalinist policy of socialist realism. Russian conservatories have turned out generations of world-renowned soloists. Among the best known are violinists David Oistrakh and Gidon Kremer, cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, pianists Vladimir Horowitz, Sviatoslav Richter and Emil Gilels, and vocalist Galina Vishnevskaya.

Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky composed the world's most famous works of ballet—Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, and Sleeping Beauty. During the early 20th century, Russian dancers Anna Pavlova and Vaslav Nijinsky rose to fame, and impresario Sergei Diaghilev and his Ballets Russes' travels abroad profoundly influenced the development of dance worldwide. Soviet ballet preserved the perfected 19th century traditions, and the Soviet Union's choreography schools produced one internationally famous star after another, including Maya Plisetskaya, Rudolf Nureyev, and Mikhail Baryshnikov. The Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow and the Kirov in Saint Petersburg remain famous throughout the world.

Literature

Russian literature is considered to be among the most influential and developed in the world, contributing much of the world's most famous literary works. Russia's literary history dates back to the 10th century and by the early 19th century a native tradition had emerged, producing some of the greatest writers of all time. This period and the Golden Age of Russian Poetry began with Alexander Pushkin, considered to be the founder of modern Russian literature and often described as the "Russian Shakespeare". Amongst Russia's most renowned poets and writers of the 19th century are Anton Chekhov, Mikhail Lermontov, Leo Tolstoy, Nikolai Gogol, Ivan Turgenev and Fyodor Dostoevsky. Ivan Goncharov, Mikhail Saltykov, Aleksey Pisemsky, and Nikolai Leskov made lasting contributions to Russian prose. Tolstoy and Dostoevsky in particular were titanic figures to the point that many literary critics have described one or the other as the greatest novelist ever.

By the 1880s Russian literature had begun to change. The age of the great novelists was over and short fiction and poetry became the dominant genres of Russian literature for the next several decades which became known as the Silver Age of Russian Poetry. Previously dominated by realism, symbolism dominated Russian literature in the years between 1893 and 1914. Leading writers of this age include Valery Bryusov, Andrei Bely, Vyacheslav Ivanov, Aleksandr Blok, Nikolay Gumilev,Dmitry Merezhkovsky, Fyodor Sologub, Anna Akhmatova, Osip Mandelstam, Marina Tsvetaeva, Leonid Andreyev, Ivan Bunin and Maxim Gorky.

Following the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the ensuing civil war, Russian cultural life in was left in chaos. Some established writers left Russia while a new generation of talented writers who had at least some sympathy for the ideals of the revolution was emerging. The most ardent of these joined together in writers organizations with the aim of creating a new and distinctive proletarian (working-class) culture appropriate to the new state. Throughout the 1920s writers enjoyed broad tolerance. In the 1930s censorship over literature was tightened in line with Joseph Stalin's policy of socialist realism. After his death several thaws took place and restrictions on literature were eased. By the 1970s and 1980s, writers were increasingly ignoring the guidelines of socialist realism. The leading writers of the Soviet era included Yevgeny Zamiatin, Isaac Babel, Ilf and Petrov, Yury Olesha, Vladimir Nabokov, Mikhail Bulgakov, Boris Pasternak, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Mikhail Sholokhov, Yevgeny Yevtushenko and Andrey Voznesensky.

Motion pictures

While in the industrialized nations of the West, motion pictures had first been accepted as a form of cheap recreation and leisure for the working class, Russian filmmaking came to prominence following the 1917 revolution when it explored editing as the primary mode of cinematic expression. Russian and later Soviet cinema was a hotbed of invention in the period immediately following the 1917 revolution, resulting in world-renowned films such as Battleship Potemkin. Soviet-era filmmakers, most notably Sergei Eisenstein and Andrei Tarkovsky, would become some of the world's most innovative and influential directors.

Eisenstein also was a student of filmmaker and theorist Lev Kuleshov, who formulated the groundbreaking editing process called montage at the world's first film school, the All-Union Institute of Cinematography in Moscow. Dziga Vertov, whose kino-glaz (“film-eye”) theory—that the camera, like the human eye, is best used to explore real life—had a huge impact on the development of documentary film making and cinema realism. In 1932, Stalin made socialist realism the state policy; this stifled creativity but many Soviet films in this style were artistically successful, including Chapaev, The Cranes Are Flying and Ballad of a Soldier. Leonid Gaidai's comedies of the 1960s and 1970s were immensely popular, with many of the catch phrases still in use today. In 1969, Vladimir Motyl's White Sun of the Desert was released, starting a genre known as 'osterns'. The film is watched by cosmonauts before any trip into space.

The 1980s and 1990s were a period of crisis in Russian cinema. Although Russian filmmakers became free to express themselves, state subsidies were drastically reduced, resulting in fewer films produced. The early years of the 21st century have brought increased viewership and subsequent prosperity to the industry on the back of the economy's rapid development, and production levels are already higher than in Britain and Germany. Russia's total box-office revenue in 2007 was $565 million, up 37% from the previous year (by comparison, in 1996 revenues stood at $6 million). Russian cinema continues to receive international recognition. Russian Ark (2002) was the first feature film ever to be shot in a single take.

Visual arts

Early Russian painting focused on icon painting and vibrant frescos inherited by Russians from Byzantium. As Moscow rose to power, Theophanes the Greek and Andrei Rublev are vital names associated with the beginning of a distinctly Russian art. The Russian Academy of Arts was created in 1757, aimed to give Russian artists an international role and status. Notable portrait painters from the Academy include Ivan Argunov, Fyodor Rokotov, Dmitry Levitzky and Vladimir Borovikovsky. Realism flourished in the 19th century and the realists captured Russian identity. Russian landscapes of wide rivers, forests, and birch clearings, as well as vigorous genre scenes and robust portraits of their contemporaries asserted a sense of identity. Other artists focused on social criticism, showing the conditions of the poor and caricaturing authority while critical realism flourished under the reign of Alexander II.

After the abolition of serfdom in 1861 some artists made the circle of human suffering their focus. Artists sometimes created wide canvasses to depict dramatic moments in Russian history. The Peredvizhniki (wanderers) group of artists broke with Russian Academy and initiated a school of art liberated from Academic restrictions. Their paintings had deep social and political meaning. Leading realists include Ivan Shishkin, Arkhip Kuindzhi, Ivan Kramskoi, Vasily Polenov, Isaac Levitan, Vasily Surikov, Viktor Vasnetsov, and Ilya Repin. By the 1830s the Academy was sending painters overseas to learn. The most gifted of these were Aleksander Ivanov and Karl Briullov, both of whom were noted for the Romantic historical canvasses. Uniquely Russian styles of painting emerged by the late 19th century that was intimately engaged with the daily life of Russian society.

The Russian avant-garde is an umbrella term used to define the large, influential wave of modernist art that flourished in Russia from approximately 1890 to 1930. The term covers many separate, but inextricably related, art movements that occurred at the time; namely neo-primitivism, suprematism, constructivism, rayonism and futurism. Notable artists from this era include El Lissitzky, Kazimir Malevich, Wassily Kandinsky, Vladimir Tatlin, Alexander Rodchenko, and Marc Chagall amongst others. The Russian avant-garde reached its creative and popular height in the period between the Russian Revolution of 1917 and 1932, at which point the ideas of the avant-garde clashed with the newly emerged conservative Stalinist direction of socialist realism.

By the late 1920s the rigid policy of socialist realism enveloped the visual arts as it did literature and motion pictures and soon the avant-garde had faded from sight. Some artists combined innovation with socialist realism including Ernst Neizvestny, Ilya Kabakov, Mikhail Shemyakin, Erik Bulatov and Vera Mukhina. They employed techniques as varied as primitivism, hyperrealism, grotesque, and abstraction, but they shared a common distaste for the canons of socialist realism. Soviet artists produced works that were furiously patriotic and anti-fascist in the 1940s. Events and battles from the Great Patriotic War were depicted with stirring patriotism and after the war sculptors made many monuments to the war dead, the greatest of which have a great restrained solemnity. In the 20th century many Russian artists made their careers in Western Europe, due in part to the traumas of the Revolution. Russian artists such as Wassily Kandinsky, Marc Chagall, and Naum Gabo spread their work and ideas internationally. These Russian artists studied internationally in Paris and Munich and their involuntary exile spread the impact of Russian art globally.

Sports

Russians have been successful at a number of sports and continuously finishing in the top rankings at the Olympic Games. During the Soviet era, the national team placed first in the total number of medals won at 14 of its 18 appearances; with these performances, the USSR was the dominant Olympic power of its era. Since the 1952 Olympic Games, Soviet and later Russian athletes have always been in the top three for the number of gold medals collected at the Summer Olympics. The 1980 Summer Olympic Games were held in Moscow while the 2014 Winter Olympics will be hosted by Sochi.

As the Soviet Union, Russia was traditionally very strong in basketball, winning various Olympic tournaments, World Championships and Eurobasket. At the moment they have various players in the NBA, notably Utah Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko, and are considered as a worldwide basketball force. In 2007, Russia defeated world champions Spain to win Eurobasket 2007. Russian basketball clubs such as PBC CSKA Moscow (2006 and 2008 Euroleague Champions)have also had great success in European competitions such as the Euroleague and the ULEB Cup.

During the soviet period, Russia was also a competitive footballing nation, reaching the finals of various international tournaments. With ice hockey and possibly basketball, football is the most popular sport in Russia today. Despite having fantastic players, the USSR never really managed to assert itself as one of the major forces of international football, although its teams won various championships (such as Euro 1960) and reached numerous finals (such as Euro 1988). In recent years, Russian football, which suffered terribly from the break up of 1991, has experienced something of a revival. Russian clubs (such as CSKA Moscow, Zenit St Petersburg, Lokomotiv Moscow and of course Spartak Moscow) are becoming more and more successful on the European stage (CSKA and Zenit winning the UEFA Cup in 2005 and 2008 respectively) and many predict that the Russian league will become one of the strongest in Europe, partly due to Russia's wealth of footballing talent (visible in their team at Euro 2008) and also because of the injection of serious money into the Russian game, which helps to attract notable foreign players as well. The Russian national team, which played some of the most entertaining and skillful football of Euro 2008 and reached the semi final, losing to eventual champions Spain, is rapidly reemerging as a dominant force in international football, under the guidance of Dutch manager Guus Hiddink.

Soviet gymnasts, track-and-field athletes, weight lifters, wrestlers, cross country skiers, and boxers were consistently among the best in the world. Even since the collapse of the Soviet empire, Russian athletes have continued to dominate international competition in these areas. Although ice hockey was only introduced during the Soviet era, the national team soon dominated the sport internationally, winning gold at almost all the Olympics and World Championships they contested, most recently in the 2008 World Championships.

Figure skating is another popular sport; in the 1960s, the Soviet Union rose to become a dominant power in figure skating, especially in pair skating and ice dancing. At every Winter Olympics from 1964 until the present day, a Soviet or Russian pair has won gold, often considered the longest winning streak in modern sports history. Since the end of the Soviet era, tennis has grown in popularity and Russia has produced a number of famous tennis players. Chess is a widely popular pastime; from 1927, Soviet and Russian chess grandmasters have held the world championship almost continuously.

See also

References and notes

External links

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