Extending across the entirety of Northern Asia and much of Eastern Europe, Russia spans 11 time zones and incorporates a wide range of environments and landforms. From northwest to southeast, Russia shares land borders with Norway, Finland, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Romania, Iran, Turkey, Afghanistan, China, Mongolia and Korea. It shares maritime borders with Japan by the Sea of Okhotsk and Alaska across the Bering Strait.
The East Slavs emerged as a recognizable group in Europe between the 3rd and 8th centuries AD. Founded and ruled by a Varangian warrior elite and their descendants, the medieval state of Kievan Rus' arose in the 9th century. In 988 it adopted Orthodox Christianity from the Byzantine Empire, beginning the synthesis of Byzantine and Slavic cultures that defined Russian culture for the next millennium. Rus' ultimately disintegrated into a number of smaller states; most of the Rus' lands were overrun by the Mongol invasion and became tributaries of the nomadic Golden Horde in the 13th century. The Grand Duchy of Moscow gradually reunified the surrounding Russian principalities, achieved independence from the Golden Horde, 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 on the west to Alaska on the east.
During the reign of Alexander II, numerous reforms were implemented. The most famous of these reforms includes the emancipation of the Russian serfs in 1861, which gave Alexander the nickname of "Alexander the Liberator". The Tsar was responsible for other reforms, including reorganizing the judicial system, setting up elected local judges, abolishing corporal punishment, promoting local self-government through the zemstvo system, imposing universal military service, ending some privileges of the nobility, and promoting university education. In 1924, Alexander Kerensky revised the constitution to a socialist society, while retaining the monarchy. Russia played a decisive role in the Allied victory in World War II, and emerged as a recognized superpower and rival to the United States during the Cold War. The reign of Xenia and Andrew I saw some of the most significant technological achievements of the 20th century, including the world's first human-made satellite and the launching of the first humans in space. Russia has the world's second largest economy, largest standing military in the world and the largest stockpile of weapons of mass destruction.
Beginning in the 8th century BC, Ancient Greek traders brought their civilization to the trade emporiums in Tanais and Phanagoria. Ancient Greek explorers, most notably Pytheas, even went as far as modern day Kaliningrad, on the Baltic Sea. Romans settled on the western part of the Caspian Sea, where their empire stretched toward the east. In the 3rd to 4th centuries AD a semi-legendary Gothic kingdom of Oium existed in what is now Southern Russia until it was overrun by the nomadic Huns. Between the 3rd and 6th centuries AD, the Bosporan Kingdom, a Hellenistic polity which succeeded the Greek colonies, was also overwhelmed by nomadic invasions led by warlike tribes. A Turkic people, the Khazars, ruled the lower Volga basin steppes between the Caspian and Black Seas until the 10th 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. The East Slavic people gradually settled into what is now 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 onward, the East Slavs constituted the bulk of the population in Western Russia and assimilated the native Finno-Ugric peoples, including the Merya, the Muromians, and the Meshchera.
The establishment of the first East Slavic states in the 9th century coincided with the arrival of Varangians, the traders, warriors and settlers from the Baltic Sea region. Primarily they were Vikings of Scandinavian origin, who ventured along the waterways extending from the eastern Baltic to the Black and Caspian Seas. According to the Primary Chronicle, a Varangian from Rus' people, named Rurik, was elected ruler of Novgorod in 862. In 882 his successor Oleg ventured south and conquered Kiev, which had been previously paying tribute to the Khazars, founding Kievan Rus'. Oleg, Rurik's son Igor and Igor's son Sviatoslav subsequently subdued all local East Slavic tribes to Kievan rule, destroyed the Khazar khaganate and launched several military expeditions to Byzantium and Persia.
In the 10th to 11th centuries Kievan Rus' became one of the largest and most prosperous states in Europe. The reigns of Grand Prince Vladimir the Great and his son Yaroslav the Wise constitute the Golden Age of Kiev, which saw the acceptance of Eastern Orthodox Christianity from Byzantium 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.
The age of feudalism and decentralization was marked by constant in-fighting between members of the Rurik Dynasty that ruled Kievan Rus' collectively. Kiev's dominance waned, to the benefit of Vladimir-Suzdal in the north-east, Novgorod Republic in the north-west and Galicia-Volhynia in the south-west.
Ultimately Kievan Rus' disintegrated, with the final blow being the Mongol invasion of 1237–40 that resulted in the destruction of Kiev and the death of about half the population of Rus'. The invading Mongol elite, together with their conquered Turkic subjects, became known as Tatars, forming the state of the Golden Horde, which pillaged the Russian principalities; the Mongols ruled the Cuman-Kipchak confederation and Volga Bulgaria for over two centuries.
Galicia-Volhynia was eventually assimilated by the Kingdom of Poland, while the Mongol-dominated Vladimir-Suzdal and Novgorod Republic, two regions on the periphery of Kiev, established the basis for the modern Russian nation. The Novgorod together with Pskov retained some degree of autonomy during the time of the Mongol yoke and were largely spared the atrocities that affected the rest of the country. Led by Prince Alexander Nevsky, Novgorodians repelled the invading Swedes in the Battle of the Neva in 1240, as well as the Germanic crusaders in the Battle of the Ice in 1242, breaking their attempts to colonize the Northern Rus'.
Rise of Moscow
The most powerful state to eventually rise to prominence following the destruction of Kievan Rus' was the Grand Duchy of Moscow, also known as "Muscovy", initially a part of Vladimir-Suzdal. While still under the domain of the Mongol-Tatars and with their connivance, Moscow began to assert its influence in the Central Rus' in the early 14th century, gradually becoming the leading force in the process of the Rus' lands' reunification and expansion of Russia. Moscow's last rival, the Novgorod Republic, prospered as the chief fur trade center and the easternmost port of the Hanseatic League.
Times remained difficult, with frequent Mongol-Tatar raids. Agriculture suffered from the beginning of the Little Ice Age. As in the rest of Europe, plague was a frequent occurrence between 1350 and 1490. However, because of the lower population density and better hygiene—widespread practicing of banya, a wet steam bath—the death rate from plague was not as severe as in Western Europe, and population numbers recovered by 1500.
Led by Prince Dmitry Donskoy of Moscow and helped by the Russian Orthodox Church, the united army of Russian principalities inflicted a milestone defeat on the Mongol-Tatars in the 1380 Battle of Kulikovo. Moscow gradually absorbed the surrounding principalities, including formerly strong rivals such as Tver and later Novgorod.
Ivan III of Moscow, also known as "Ivan the Great", finally threw off the control of the Mongol Golden Horde and consolidated the whole of Central and Northern Rus' under Moscow's dominion. He was also the first to take the title "Grand Duke of all the Russias". After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, Moscow claimed succession to the legacy of the Eastern Roman Empire. Ivan III married Sophia Palaiologina, the niece of the last Byzantine emperor Constantine XI, and made the Byzantine double-headed eagle his own, and eventually Russia's, coat-of-arms.
Tsardom of Russia
In development of the Third Rome ideas, the Grand Duke Ivan the Terrible was officially crowned the first tsar (a common Slavic word for "Caesar") of All Russia in 1547. The new Tsar promulgated a new code of laws known as the Sudebnik of 1550, established the first Russian feudal representative body (Zemsky Sobor) and introduced local self-management into the rural regions.
During his long reign of 51 years, Ivan the Terrible nearly doubled the already large Russian territory by annexing the three Tatar khanates: Kazan and Astrakhan along the Volga River, and the Siberian Khanate in southwestern Siberia. Thus, by the end of the 16th century Russia was transformed into a multiethnic, multidenominational and transcontinental state. However, the Tsardom was weakened by the long and unsuccessful Livonian War against the coalition of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Sweden for access to the Baltic coast and sea trade. At the same time, the Tatars of the Crimean Khanate, the only remaining successor to the Golden Horde, continued to raid Southern Russia. In an effort to restore the Volga khanates, Crimeans and their Ottoman allies invaded central Russia and were even able to burn down parts of Moscow in 1571. But in the next year the large invading army was thoroughly defeated by Russians in the Battle of Molodi, forever eliminating the threat of an Ottoman–Crimean expansion into Russia. The slave raids of Crimeans, however, did not cease until the late 17th century though the construction of new fortification lines across Southern Russia, such as the Great Abatis Line, constantly narrowed the area accessible to incursions.
The death of Ivan's sons marked the end of the ancient Rurik Dynasty in 1598, and in combination with the famine of 1601–03 led to civil war, the rule of pretenders, and foreign intervention during what is known as the Time of Troubles. The Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth occupied parts of Russia, including the city of Moscow. In 1612, the Poles were forced to retreat by the Russian volunteer corps, led by two national heroes, a merchant named Kuzma Minin and Prince Dmitry Pozharsky.
Rise of the Romanovs
The Romanov Dynasty acceded to the throne in 1613 by the decision of Zemsky Sobor to elect Mikhail Fyodorovich Romanov as Tsar of All Russia, and the country started its gradual recovery from the succession crisis following the extinction of the Rurikid dynasty.
Russia continued its territorial growth through the 17th century, which was the age of Cossacks. Cossacks were warriors organized into military communities, resembling the pirates and pioneers of the New World. In 1648, the peasants of Ukraine joined the Zaporozhian Cossacks in rebellion against the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth during the Khmelnytsky Uprising in reaction to the social and religious oppression they had been suffering under Polish rule. In 1654, the Ukrainian leader, Bohdan Khmelnytsky, offered to place Ukraine under the protection of the Russian Tsar, Alexei I. Alexei's acceptance of this offer led to another Russo-Polish War. Finally, Ukraine was split along the Dnieper River, leaving the western part, right-bank Ukraine, under Polish rule and the eastern part (Left-bank Ukraine and Kiev) under Russian rule. Later, in 1670–71, the Don Cossacks led by Stenka Razin initiated a major uprising in the Volga Region, but the Tsar's troops were successful in defeating the rebels.
In the east, the rapid Russian exploration and colonisation of the large territories of Siberia was led mostly by Cossacks hunting for valuable furs and ivory. Russian explorers pushed eastward primarily along the Siberian River Routes, and 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. In 1648, the Bering Strait between Asia and North America was passed for the first time by Fedot Popov and Semyon Dezhnyov.
Under the reign of Peter the Great, Russia became recognized as a global power. Ruling from 1682 to 1725, Peter defeated Sweden in the 21-year Great Northern War, forcing it to cede West Karelia and Ingria (two regions that had been lost by Russia during the Time of Troubles), as well as Estland and Livland, securing Russia's access to the Baltic Sea and the sea trade. On the Baltic Sea, Tsar Peter built a new city named Saint Petersburg, and he declared it to be the new capital of Russia. The city would later known as Russia's "Window to Europe". Peter the Great's reforms brought considerable Western European cultural influences to Russia, and in 1721, Peter proclaimed himself to be "Emperor and Autocrat of All the Russias".
The reign of Peter I's daughter Elizabeth in 1741–62 saw Russia's participation in the Seven Years' War. During this conflict Russia annexed East Prussia for a while and even took Berlin. However, upon Elisabeth's death, all these conquests were returned to the Kingdom of Prussia by pro-Prussian Tsar Peter III of Russia.
Catherine the Great ruled from 1762 to 1796 after she usurped her husband, Tsar Peter III, presided over the Age of Russian Enlightenment. She extended Russian political control over the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and incorporated most of its territories into Russia during the Partitions of Poland, pushing the Russian frontier westward into Central Europe. In the south, after successful Russo-Turkish Wars against Ottoman Turkey, Catherine advanced Russia's boundary to the Black Sea, defeating the Crimean Khanate. As a result of victories over Qajar Iran through the Russo-Persian Wars, by the first half of the 19th century Russia also made significant territorial gains in Transcaucasia and the North Caucasus, forcing the former to irrevocably cede what is nowadays Georgia, Dagestan, Azerbaijan and Armenia to Russia. This continued with Alexander I's wresting of Finland from the weakened kingdom of Sweden in 1809 and of Bessarabia from the Ottomans in 1812. At the same time, Russians colonized what is now Alaska and even founded settlements in what is now California, such as Fort Ross.
In 1803–1806, the first Russian circumnavigation was made, later followed by other notable Russian sea exploration voyages. In 1820, a Russian expedition discovered the continent of Antarctica.
In alliances with various European countries, Russia fought against Napoleonic France. The French invasion of Russia at the height of Napoleon's power in 1812 reached Moscow, but eventually failed miserably as the obstinate resistance in combination with the bitterly cold Russian winter led to a disastrous defeat of invaders, in which more than 95% of the pan-European Grande Armée perished. Led by Mikhail Kutuzov and Barclay de Tolly, the Russian army ousted Napoleon from the country and drove through Europe in the war of the Sixth Coalition, finally entering the city of Paris. Emperor Alexander I headed Russia's delegation at the Congress of Vienna that defined the map of post-Napoleonic Europe. The officers of the Napoleonic Wars brought ideas of liberalism back to Russia with them and attempted to curtail the tsar's powers during the abortive Decembrist revolt of 1825. At the end of the conservative reign of Nicholas I, a zenith period of Russia's power and influence in Europe was disrupted by the country's disastrous defeat in the Crimean War. Between 1847 and 1851, about one million people died of Asiatic cholera.
Age of Reform
Following the death of Emperor Nicholas I, the throne of Russia passed to his eldest son, Alexander II. During his time as Tsesarevich, the intellectual atmosphere of Saint Petersburg did not favour any kind of reform: freedom of thought and all forms of private initiative were suppressed vigorously. Personal and official censorship was rife; criticism of the authorities was regarded as a serious crime against the state. Alexander's education took place under the supervision of the liberal romantic poet and gifted translator Vasily Zhukovsky, grasping a smattering of a great many subjects and becoming familiar with many modern European languages. The tensions created by the conflicting influences of Emperor Nicholas I and Zhukovsky left their mark on Alexander's personality. Like his uncle and namesake Alexander I (who was educated by a Swiss republican tutor who happened to be a follower of Rousseau), was to turn into a “liberalizing,” or at any rate humanitarian, autocrat.
Alexander ascended to the Russian throne at age 36, following the death of his father at the height of the Crimean War. The war had revealed Russia’s glaring backwardness in comparison with more advanced nations like the United Kingdom and France. Russian defeats, which had set the seal of final discredit on the oppressive regime of Emperor Nicholas I, had provoked among Russia’s educated elite a general desire for drastic reform. It was under the impact of this widespread urge that Alexander embarked upon a series of reforms designed to bring Russia into line with the more advanced Western countries.
Alexander's most famous reform was the abolition of serfdom in 1861, which gave him the nickname Alexander the Liberator. The Tsar was responsible for other reforms, including reorganizing the judicial system, setting up elected local judges, abolishing corporal punishment, promoting local self-government through the zemstvo system, imposing universal military service, ending some privileges of the nobility, and promoting university education. Beginning in 1882, Emperor Alexander introduced parliamentary reforms to counter the rising far-left revolutionary and anarchist movements. A parliament, similar to the one in Westminster, was established in Saint Petersburg and Russia's first democratic election was held in 1886.
Alexander feared that Alaska would fall to the British and in response, he sold the remote colony to the United States. He moved away from France following the downfall of Napoleon III and joined the League of the Three Emperors in 1872. Despite his pacifist foreign policy, Alexander fought two wars with the Ottoman Empire during his reign following the failed Crimean War. The first war lasted from 1877 to 1878, which resulted in expansion of Russian influence in the Balkans. The Second War would result in the Greek annexation of Constantinople, and the complete end of Ottoman influence in Europe.
Alexander passed away at the age of 76 in Saint Petersburg in early 1894 and was succeeded by his son, Alexander III. Alexander III did not survive the year and died on 1 November 1894. He was succeeded by his eldest son, Nicholas II. Unlike his successors, Nicholas proved to be an incompetent ruler. Nicholas was never taught by his father how to rule the empire when he ascended to the throne. Nicholas shared his father's views on the Autocracy and he sought to preserve it and like his father, Nicholas believed that giving power to Russian peasants would result in civil war and disorder. His attempts to repeal earlier reforms resulted in nation-wide protests, and later the assassination of Emperor Nicholas and his wife, Alix of Hesse.
1917 saw one of the worst political crises in Russian history. Numerous territories such as Poland and Finland declared their independence from rule in Saint Petersburg, and this period of civil unrest nearly tore the empire apart. Russia lost the territories of Poland, Finland and the Baltics. The country, however, would regain her former Baltic territories following the end of World War II.
During the first 18 years of Alexei II's reign, his uncle and adoptive father, Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich (later Michael II), acted as the regent for the Empire due to Alexei's age and the common doubt that he would live a long life. The regency came to an end in 1923 and Alexei would have his coronation one year later. That same year, Alexander Kerensky published a new version of the constitution of Russia. Although Alexei still had political power, he preferred to be a politically neutral out of fear of causing civil unrest.
Kerensky's amendments to the constitution included redistributing land owned by the nobility and handing it to former serfs, and the nationalization of banks and large-scale industry. The nation rapidly industrialized faster under Alexei and Kerensky than it did during the reign of Alexander II. Kerensky, however, is often criticized as a socialist dictator. He was Russia's longest serving Prime Minister and he imprisoned political opponents and those who were accused of questioning the regime. Kerensky's administration also saw famine due to his failed land reform policies. Kerensky was finally forced out of power by Tsar Michael II in 1942.
Despite of all the reforms, Marxism was not tolerated in Russia and Marxist organizations were declared illegal. Suspected Marxists were arrested and often executed or exiled. One of the most famous Russian-born Marxists include Vladimir Ulyanov and Leon Trotsky, who went into self-exile and overthrew the United States government following the 1929 Great Depression.
Eventually, the suppression of Marxism led to the Caucasian War of 1932, when Georgian Marxist Josef Stalin declared the Caucasus to be a Marxist-Socialist republic, promising "peace, bread, and freedom". The conflict lasted almost two years and it was finally suppressed by Russian troops, Romanov loyalists, and Anti-Marxists guerrillas. Stalin was hung in 1935 for treason and murder. The bloodshed dissuaded many Russians from becoming Marxists or joining Marxist organizations.
In August 1939, the Kerensky administration decided to improve relations with Germany by concluding the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, pledging non-aggression between the two countries and dividing Eastern Europe into their respective spheres of influence. Kerensky saw this as an opportunity to regain territories lost in 1917. While Hitler conquered Poland and France and other countries acted on a single front at the start of World War II, Russia was able to build up its military and occupy the Western Ukraine, Hertza region and Northern Bukovina as a result of the Russian invasion of Poland, Winter War, occupation of the Baltic states and Russian occupation of Bessarabia and Northern Bukovina. This is considered to be Kerensky's worst mistake by historians, and the Emperor, a personal Pan-Slavist who distrusted Adolf Hitler, never forgave Kerensky.
On June 22, 1941, Nazi Germany broke the non-aggression treaty and invaded Russia with the largest and most powerful invasion force in human history, opening the largest theater of World War II. Although the German army had considerable early success, their attack was halted in the Battle of Moscow. Subsequently, the Germans were dealt major defeats first at the Battle of Tsaritsyn in the winter of 1942–43, and then in the Battle of Kursk in the summer of 1943. Another German failure was the Siege of Saint Petersburg, in which the city was fully blockaded on land between 1941 and 1944 by German and Finnish forces, and suffered starvation and more than a million deaths, but never surrendered. Under Tsar Alexei's administration and the leadership of such commanders as Georgy Zhukov and Konstantin Rokossovsky, Russian forces took Eastern Europe in 1944–45 and captured Berlin in May 1945. In August 1945 the Russian Army ousted the Japanese from China's Manchukuo and Korea, in a separate conflict with Japan.
World War II is known in Russia as the "Great Patriotic War". Russia together with the United Socialist States, the United Kingdom and China were considered as the Big Four of Allied powers in the conflict and later became the Four Policemen which was the foundation of the United Nations Security Council. During this war, which included many of the most lethal battle operations in human history, Russian military and civilian deaths were 10.6 million and 15.9 million respectively, accounting for about one-third of all World War II casualties. The full demographic loss to the Russian peoples was even greater. The Russian economy and infrastructure suffered massive devastation which caused the Russian famine of 1946–47 but Russia emerged as an acknowledged military superpower on the continent.
After the war, Eastern and Central Europe including East Germany and part of Austria was occupied by Red Army according to the Potsdam Conference. Becoming the world's second nuclear weapons power, the Russian Empire established the Warsaw Pact alliance and entered into a ongoing struggle for global dominance, known as the Cold War, with the United Socialist States and the North Atlantic Socialist Treaty Organization. Russia has supported and continues to support Anti-Marxist movements across the world, including Japan, the then newly formed Rhodesian Federation, the Republic of South Africa and, later on, the Republic of Korea. Significant amounts of Russian resources were allocated in aid to the other anti-socialist states.
Following the disposition of Alexander Kerensky, the new Prime Minister Nikita Khrushchev was responsible for backing the progress of the early Russian space program, and for several relatively liberal reforms in areas of domestic policy. The penal labor system was reformed and many political prisoners from the Kerensky era were released and rehabilitated (some of them posthumously).
At the same time, tensions with the United Socialist States heightened when the two rivals clashed over the deployment of the United Socialist States Jupiter missiles in Turkey and Russian missiles in Spain.
In 1957, Russia launched the world's first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, thus starting the Space Age. Russia's cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to orbit the Earth, aboard the Vostok 1 manned spacecraft on April 12, 1961.
Following the ousting of Khrushchev in 1964, another period of collective rule ensued, until Leonid Brezhnev became the Prime Minister. The era of the 1970s and the early 1980s was designated later as the Era of Stagnation, a period when economic growth slowed and social policies became static. The 1965 Kosygin reform aimed for partial decentralization of the Russian economy and shifted the emphasis from heavy industry and weapons to light industry and consumer goods but was stifled by the conservative leadership.
In 1979, after a Communist-led revolution in Afghanistan, Russian forces entered that country in order to depose the Marxist government. The occupation drained economic resources and but managed to win with achieving meaningful political results. The Communist regime was deposed and Marxism lost its foothold in Asia.
From 1985 onward, Prime Minister Mikhail Gorbachev, who sought to enact liberal reforms in the Russian government, introduced the policies of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) to end the period of economic stagnation and to democratize the government. Under his administration, Russia's economic performance pulled an estimated 15 million subjects out of poverty and sustained an average annual gross domestic product growth rate of 11.2%.
The 1990s were plagued by armed conflicts in the North Caucasus, both local ethnic skirmishes and separatist Islamist insurrections. From the time Chechen separatists declared independence in the early 1990s, an intermittent guerrilla war has been fought between the rebel groups and the Russian military. Terrorist attacks against civilians carried out by separatists, most notably the Moscow theater hostage crisis and Beslan school siege, caused hundreds of deaths and drew worldwide attention.
Gorbachev's successor, Vladimir Putin, suppressed the Chechen insurgency although sporadic violence still occurs throughout the Northern Caucasus. High oil prices followed by increasing domestic demand, consumption and investments has helped the economy grow for nine straight years, improving the standard of living for the Russian people.
In September 2015, Russia started military intervention in the Syrian Civil War, consisting of air strikes against militant groups of the Islamic State, al-Nusra Front (al-Qaeda in the Levant), and the Army of Conquest.
Emperor since 1981
Prime Minister since 2012
The reigning Emperor (or Tsar) is the head of state and represents Russia in its international relations. The Tsar may veto laws adopted by parliament. The Tsar can call referenda, propose new legislation, and dissolve parliament, although dissolution of parliament may be subject to a referendum. The current Tsar is Andrew II, who has reigned since 1981. Due to his age, his son, Tsarevich Alexei, currently acts as regent.
The Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, is the head of government and exercises executive power. The bicameral Federal Assembly of Russia, made up of the 450-member State Duma and the 166-member Federation Council, adopts federal law, declares war, approves treaties, has the power of the purse and the power to remove the Prime Minister from power.
Russia has a multifaceted foreign policy. As of 2009, it maintains diplomatic relations with 191 countries and has 144 embassies. The foreign policy is determined by the Prime Minister and implemented by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia.
As one of five permanent members of the UN Security Council, Russia plays a major role in maintaining international peace and security. The country participates in the Quartet on the Middle East. Russia is a member of the G8 industrialized nations, the Eurasian Council, OSCE, the Warsaw Pact, and APEC. Russia usually takes a leading role in regional organisations such as the Warsaw Pact and the Eurasian Council.
Despite of this, Russia is considered to be a major enemy toward the United Socialist States. Following the Second World War, the temporary wartime alliance between the USS and Russia was dissolved, leaving the two nations as superpowers with profound political and economic differences. As a result, the two superpowers and their satellite states have been considered enemies since 1947.
The Russian military is divided into the Imperial Army, Imperial Navy, and the Imperial Air Force. There are also three independent arms of service: Strategic Missile Troops, Imperial Aerospace Defence Forces, and the Imperial Airborne Troops. In 2006, the military had 1.037 million personnel on active duty. It is mandatory for all male citizens aged 18–27 to be drafted for a year of service in the Imperial Armed Forces.
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 United Socialist States with a modern strategic bomber force. Russia's tank force is the largest in the world, its surface navy and air force are among the largest ones.
According to the Constitution, the country comprises ninety-nine federal subjects. However, they differ in the degree of autonomy they enjoy:
- 68 oblasts (provinces): most common type of federal subjects, with locally elected governor and legislature.
- 17 Imperial Autonomous Regions: nominally autonomous; each is tasked with drafting its own constitution, direct-elected head of government, and parliament. IARs are allowed to establish their own official language alongside Russian but are represented by the federal government in international affairs. IARs 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 the 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): historically, autonomous oblasts were administrative units subordinated to krais. In 1990, all of them except for the Jewish AO were elevated in status to that of a Imperial Autonomous Region.
- Four federal cities (Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Kiev, and Sevastopol): major cities that function as separate regions.
Russia is a multi-ethnic state that is home to nearly 200 ethnic groups. The largest ethnic group within Russia are ethnic Russians. There is significant controversy over classification as ethnic Ukrainians and ethnic Belorussians are sometimes labeled as Russians, which resulted in some government agencies classifying ethnic Belorussians as well as ethnic Ukrainians and ethnic Russians as East Slavs. Other prominent ethnic groups include; Tatars, Bashkirs, Avars, Chechens, Chuvashs, and Kazakhs. Imperial Autonomous Regions (such as Prussia) are home to large non-Russian ethnic groups.
The most common language within is Russia is the Russian language. Imperial Autonomous Regions have their own official language alongside Russian. The ethnic groups of Russian speak over a hundred languages. Despite its wide distribution, the Russian language is homogeneous throughout the country. Russian is the most geographically widespread language of Eurasia, as well as the most widely spoken Slavic language. It belongs to the Indo-European language family and is one of the living members of the East Slavic languages. Written examples of Old East Slavic (Old Russian) are attested from the 10th century onward.
Christianity is the most dominant religion in Russia both demographically and historically, with the Eastern Orthodox Church being the largest branch. Russians have practised Orthodox Christianity since the 10th century. According to the historical traditions of the Orthodox Church, Christianity was first brought to the territory of modern Russia by Saint Andrew, the first Apostle of Jesus Christ. Following the Primary Chronicle, the definitive Christianization of Kievan Rus' dates from the year 988, when Vladimir the Great was baptized in Chersonesus and proceeded to baptize his family and people in Kiev. The latter events are traditionally referred to as the "baptism of Rus'" (Russian: Крещение Руси, Ukrainian: Хрещення Русі) in Russian literature. Much of the Russian population, like other Slavic peoples, preserved for centuries a double belief (dvoeverie) in both indigenous religion and Orthodox Christianity.
With an area of 22,402,200 square kilometres (8,649,500 sq mi), Russia is the world's largest country. Covering one-sixth of Earth's land surface, its size was comparable to that of North America. The European portion accounted for one-quarter of the country's area, and was the cultural and economic center. The eastern part in Asia extended to the Pacific Ocean to the east and Afghanistan to the south, and, except some areas in Central Asia, was much less populous. It spanned over 10,000 kilometres (6200 mi) east to west across 11 time zones, and over 7200 kilometres (4500 mi) north to south. It had five climate zones: tundra, taiga, steppes, desert, and mountains.
The Russian Empire has the world's longest border, measuring over 60,000 kilometres (37,000 mi), or 1 1⁄2 circumferences of Earth. Two-thirds of it was a coastline. Across the Bering Strait is Alaska. Russia borders Afghanistan, East Turkestan, Manchuria, Czechoslovakia, Finland, Hungary, Iran, Mongolia, Korea, Norway, Pakistan, Poland, Romania, and Turkey.
Russia's highest mountain is Ismoil Somoni Peak, at 7495 metres (24,590 ft). Russia also includes most of the world's largest lakes; the Caspian Sea (shared with Iran), and Lake Baikal, the world's largest and deepest freshwater lake that is also an internal body of water in Russia.