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The country of Russia evolved gradually around the growing power of Moscow, which formally overthrew the regime of tribute to the Mongols in 1480, several decades after they had achieved independence in practice.

The Russian empire was interested in Alaska and beginning with Bering, explored and later colonized.

A Brief History of Russia

In the early 9th century Russia was inhabited by Slavic tribes. In the late 9th century Vikings forged them into a nation centered on Kiev. (The Vikings first captured Novgorod in 862 and Kiev in 882). The new nation was called Rus and in time its Viking rulers adopted native customs and language. They were assimilated into Russian society.

Kievan Rus was a powerful nation and it traded with the Byzantine Empire. The Russians exported slaves, honey, and furs. However, after the ruler Yaroslav the Wise (lived 978-1054 and reigned 1019-1054) died Rus broke up into a federation of Princedoms. Furthermore, the economic importance of Rus declined. From the 12th century, the center of European trade shifted to Germany and Italy.

Meanwhile, in 988 Prince Vladimir converted to Greek Orthodox Christianity. His people followed. Then in 1169 Kiev was captured by Andrew Bogolyubsky, a Prince from the northeast. However, he was assassinated in 1074 and the Russians continued to quarrel among themselves.

Then in the mid 13th century the Mongols stormed into Eastern Europe. In 1237 Khan Batu, the grandson of Genghis Khan invaded Russia. He captured and destroyed Ryazan and Moscow then Vladimir. The Mongols or Tartars then marched towards Novgorod but they were slowed by the thaw in the Spring of 1238. So they turned south. In 1240 they destroyed Kiev.

In 1242 Batu established himself as ruler of a large part of eastern Europe, including Russia. His realm was called the Khanate of the Golden Horde. Its capital was at Sarai.

Although the Tartars at first destroyed towns and villages and massacred the inhabitants they afterward let the Russian principalities run themselves (although they were forced to pay tribute to the Tartars and to supply soldiers for their army).

Moreover, the Tartars did not invade the Principality of Novgorod. The ruler Alexander Nevsky voluntarily submitted. In 1240 he defeated the Swedes on the Neva and in 1242 he crushed the Teutonic Knights at the Battle of the Ice (on the frozen Lake Peipus). However, he wisely decided to submit to the Tartars.

In 1263 his son Daniel became Prince of Moscow. Daniel annexed large amounts of surrounding territory before his death in 1303. His policy of annexing territory was continued by his successors. Huge amounts were taken during the reigns of Dmitry Donskoy (1359-1389) and Vasily (1389-1425). Moscow or Muscovy gradually became more and more important. In 1326 the Metropolitan moved to Moscow.

In 1368 and 1372 the Lithuanians attacked Moscow but failed to capture it. Then in 1380, Prince Dmitry defeated the Tartars at Kulikovo. However, in 1382 the Tartars captured Moscow and burned it, though Dmitry was allowed to remain its prince. Yet the Tartar yoke was slowly removed as the Golden Khanate broke up.

In 1438-39 the Greek Orthodox Church temporarily united with the Catholic Church. The Russians were very offended. The union was rejected in Russia. Furthermore, in 1449 the Russian Church split from the Greek Orthodox Church.

Tartar dominance in Russia was finally extinguished in 1480. A Tartar army marched into Russia to demand tribute that had not been paid for 4 years. However, they hesitated when their Polish allies did not turn up. Eventually, the Tartars withdrew and gave up all claims to the tribute.

At that time Russia was ruled by Ivan III (1462-1505). He greatly increased the territory of Russia. In 1471-78 he gradually conquered Novgorod and eventually, he became ruler of most of the Russian people. The last independent parts of Russia were taken by his son Vasili III.


In the 16th century Russia had far more contact with western Europe. Many European craftsmen came to work in Russia. In 1553 the English reached northwest Russia by sea and began trading. In 1563 The first printing press was introduced into Russia. Meanwhile, in 1533 Ivan IV, also known as Ivan the Terrible inherited the throne of Russia. However, he was only 3 years old and he did not obtain power until 1547.

He was crowned Tsar, a word derived from the Roman Caesar. Ivan expanded Russian territory. The Golden Horde had broken up but Ivan warred against one of its successors, the Kazan Khanate. He defeated Kazan in 1552 and subsequently conquered it. In 1554-56 Ivan conquered Astrakhan.

However, in 1571 the Crimean Khan captured and burned Moscow but the next year he was decisively defeated by the Russians. In 1582 Ivan conquered the Khanate of Sibir (which gave its name to Siberia).

Meanwhile, Ivan degenerated into a tyrant. In 1565 he formed a private army called the Oprichnina. They were completely loyal to him and they killed anyone suspected of being the Tsar’s enemy. In 1570 The Oprichniki sacked Novgorod because Ivan believed the Novgorodians were collaborating with his enemies the Poles. The Oprichniki massacred the inhabitants, killing thousands.

The Metropolitan of Moscow denounced Ivan’s cruelty and as a result, he was strangled. Ivan also devised horrific methods of torturing and killing anyone he suspected of being an enemy. Ivan even killed his own son and heir by hitting him with an iron-tipped staff. Ivan finally died in 1584.

Ivan the Terrible

Ivan’s son Theodore was a weak ruler. He died in 1598 without leaving an heir. However, he turned the peasants into serfs by removing their right to leave their masters.


His brother-in-law, Boris Godunov was persuaded to take the throne of Russia. Unfortunately, Russia suffered from famine in 1601-1603. Worse when Boris died in 1605 Russia entered a period of turmoil. In 1603 a man turned up in Poland claiming to be Ivan the Terrible’s youngest son Dmitry. In reality, Dmitry had his throat cut in 1591.

However, the pretender, known as False Dmitry raised an army of Poles and rebel Russians and advanced on Moscow in 1605. Boris conveniently died and Dmitry captured Moscow where he became Tsar. However, his reign was short-lived. He was replaced by Prince Vasily Shuisky in 1606.

Russia then descended into anarchy. There were several uprisings and order was not restored until 1613 when a man named Michael Romanov was made Tsar of Russia.

In 1645 he was succeeded by his son Alexis known as ‘Most Gentle’. During his reign, the Ukrainians, who were ruled by the Poles, sought protection from Russia. In 1654 they formed a union with Russia. The Poles then went to war against Russia but they were defeated. In 1667 Russia gained all of the Ukraine east of the Dnieper and Kiev and Smolensk.

Meanwhile, Russian settlers moved into Siberia. The Bering Straits were discovered in 1648 and in the late 17th century many Russians moved into the area. In 1689 the Russians made a treaty with the Chinese which fixed the border between them.

Meanwhile, Alexis also made a new code of law in 1649. The peasants lost the vestiges of freedom. However, in 1670-71 a Cossack named Stepan Razin led a rebellion against the Russian landlords. However, his rebellion was crushed and he was executed.

In the 17th century, Russia was also torn by schism. Patriarch Nikon (1652-1666) decided to ‘update’ books used by the Russian church by making sure they were correctly translated from the Greek originals. He hoped to remove any mistakes that had crept in over the years.

He also made some changes to church rites. However, some Russians refused to accept the changes. They were called Old Believers and they were mercilessly persecuted. Alexis was followed by his son Fyodor III (1676-1682) who in turn was followed by the great Tsar Peter.

However, it looked, at first as if Fyodor’s 15-year-old brother Ivan might claim the throne but he had low intelligence. So the patriarch called a meeting of powerful Russians and they proclaimed Ivan’s half-brother Peter Tsar even though he was only 9 years old. However, shortly afterward Ivan’s sister Sophia staged a coup, although Peter was not removed completely. Instead, Ivan was made a Co-Tsar alongside him. Since both boys were underage Sophia was made regent. In 1689 Sophia plotted to seize the throne but Peter’s supporters staged a coup and sent her to a convent. Peter’s mother was made regent.

Peter did not finally gain power in Russia until 1694. When he did he was determined to bring Russia up to date. In 1696-97 he traveled to the west. While he was away Sophia’s supporters staged a rebellion. However, the rebellion was crushed, and when Peter returned he executed over 1,000 people.

Meanwhile, Peter embarked on his plan to modernize Russia. He built a navy and in 1696 he captured Azov from the Turks. Peter also encouraged foreign trade. He also encouraged the translation of foreign books into Russian. He encouraged the building of factories (peasants were conscripted to work in them).

Peter also introduced the Julian calendar and he reformed the Russian government and administration. Peter also introduced western dress and he banned the Russian nobles (boyars) from wearing beards. When the patriarch died in 1700 Peter refused to replace him. Instead, he formed a body called a Holy Synod to head the Russian Orthodox Church. The church was made subordinate to the Tsar and was meant to serve him.

Peter also founded a port in northwest Russia called St Petersburg. The new city was built in the years 1703-1712. Vast numbers of peasants were conscripted to do the work and many thousands of them died because of the harsh conditions. Peter also imposed heavy taxation on his people.


In 1700 Peter the Great went to war with Sweden in what became known as The Great Northern War. (Poland and Denmark were his allies). In 1700 the Russians were defeated at the Neva. However, in 1709 the Swedes invaded Ukraine and were crushed at the Battle of Poltava. In 1721 the Russians and Swedes made peace. Russia gained Estonia and land around the Gulf of Finland.

However, Peter was less successful against the Turks. In 1710 he went to war with them but in 1711 his army was defeated and he was forced to make peace. Russia was forced to return Azov. However, Peter did prevail in a war against Persia in 1722-23. Peter the Great also founded the Russian Academy of Sciences in 1724. However, he died in 1725.

He was succeeded by Catherine I. She was followed by Peter II in 1727. Then in 1730, Anna became the Empress of Russia. When she died in 1740 a small child named Ivan VI became Tsar but he died in 1741. Empress Elizabeth replaced him. She seized the throne with the help of Palace guards and she ruled until her death in 1762. During her reign, Russia fought a successful war with the Turks in the years 1736-39. As a result, the Russians regained Azov.

Meanwhile, Russia’s first university was founded in Moscow in 1755. Peter III became Tsar in 1762 but he reigned for only a few months. He was forced to abdicate and he was succeeded by his wife. She became known as Catherine the Great.

Although she liked to be seen as an enlightened despot and she corresponded with Voltaire and Diderot many of Catherine’s subjects were poor and oppressed. In 1773 man named Yemelyan Pugachev led a rebellion. The rebellion had considerable success but it was finally crushed in 1774. Pugachev was brought to Moscow in an iron cage. He was beheaded and his body was cut into quarters.

Afterward, in 1775, Catherine reformed the local government. In 1785 she gave the gentry (wealthy landowners) a charter (a document granting or confirming certain rights).

Meanwhile, Russia continued to expand in the 18th century. Russia fought a successful war with the Turks in 1768-1774. As a result, the Russians gained land by the Black Sea. In 1783 Russia took Crimea. The Turks lost still more territory after a war in 1787-1791.

Meanwhile, Russia took parts of Poland. In 1772 Russia, Prussia and Austria helped themselves to a slice of Polish territory each. Russia and Prussia helped themselves to more Polish territory in 1793. Finally, in 1795 Russia, Prussia, and Austria divided up what was left of Poland between them.

During the 18th century Russian territory and population greatly increased. Russia’s new territory in the south was called New Russia and many people migrated there. Meanwhile, Russians settled in the east. Russian industry also grew at this time and foreign trade expanded rapidly. By the time Catherine died in 1796 Russia was very powerful.

Catherine was succeeded by her son Paul I. In 1797 he passed a law that in future the eldest son should inherit the throne of Russia. He joined the war against France in 1798 but withdrew in 1800. Paul was assassinated in 1801.


Paul was followed by his son Alexander I (1801-1825). Alexander reformed the government. He also created new schools and 5 new universities in Russia. In 1805 Alexander joined the fight against Napoleon. However, the Russians were defeated and in 1807 the Tsar made peace. In 1808-09 Russia fought Sweden. Alexander captured Finland. However, he agreed to rule Finland as a ‘Grand Duke’, not a Tsar. The Finns were allowed to have their own assembly similar to a parliament.

War with France began again in 1812. This time Napoleon invaded Russia with a vast army. The Russians retreated although they made a stand at the battle of Borodino in September. In October 1812 the French captured Moscow, which burned down (it is not certain who started the fire). In November Napoleon retreated but most of his army died of starvation, cold, and disease. In 1813 Prussia and Austria joined the struggle against Napoleon. In October 1813 the French were defeated at Leipzig and in 1814 the allies entered Paris.

Alexander died in 1825 and after his death a rebellion took place. Some Russian officers were influenced by the ideas of the French revolution and formed a secret society. In December 1825 the Decemberists (as they were called) attempted a coup. They gathered in Senate Square in the capital but troops loyal to the Tsar opened fire and dispersed them. Afterward, 5 rebels were hanged. Nevertheless, the attempted uprising was a foretaste of things to come in Russia.

Following the events of December 1825, the new Tsar Nicholas I (1825-1855) was determined to stamp out any revolutionary movements. He formed a police force to detect revolutionaries. All writings were rigorously censored. In 1830 Poland (which was ruled by Russia) rose in rebellion. The rebellion was ruthlessly crushed. Furthermore, in 1849 the Tsar intervened in the Austro-Hungarian Empire to crush a Hungarian uprising.

In 1853 came the Crimean War. During the 19th century the Turkish Empire, which included the Balkans, was declining. The Russian Tsar was keen to take advantage of the decline of Turkey. However the British were alarmed as they feared that if Russia expanded into southern Asia she might threaten the British hold on India.

The French became involved because of an argument over who should control the holy places of Palestine (modern-day Israel) French Catholics or Orthodox Christians. The French ruler, Napoleon III was keen to fight a successful war as he believed it would increase his support in France and used the situation to engineer a war. In July 1853 the Russians occupied what is now Romania, (which was then part of the Turkish Empire). Furthermore, the Russian navy sank several Turkish ships in the Black Sea. Turkey declared war on Russia on 16 October 1853.

On 28 March 1854 Britain and France both went to war with Russia. The war became known as the Crimean War because most of the fighting took place there. The Russians were soon forced to withdraw from what is now Romania. However, Napoleon III persuaded the British to help him to try and capture the Russian fort of Sevastopol arguing that it was a threat to the security of the whole region. The British army was led by Lord Raglan. The French were led by Marshal Saint-Arnaud while the Turks were led by Omar Pasha.

The British and French landed in Crimea on 14 September 1854. They won a victory at the River Alma on 20 September 1854 but they failed to take Sevastopol. On 25 October 1854, the Russians attacked at the battle of Balaklava but were repulsed. They tried again on 5 November 1854 at Inkerman but again they were repulsed. The allies dug in for a long siege. However, the British army was unprepared and suffered terribly during the Russian Winter. On 26 January 1855, the kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia declared war on Russia.

Then early in 1855, the Tsar died. In June 1855 Lord Raglan also died. He was replaced by General James Simpson. Then in August 1855, the French won a victory at Chernaya. On 8 September 1855, the allies captured Sevastopol. In March 1856 the new Tsar, Alexander II made peace by the treaty of Paris.

Alexander II was a reforming Tsar. His great achievement was to abolish serfdom in 1861. The peasants received some land from the landowners. However, the landowners were compensated for their loss, and peasants were made to pay in installments. So the peasants were burdened with heavy payments for many years. Furthermore, in 1864, Alexander set up locally elected councils called zemstvos. Also in 1864, the judiciary was made independent.

However, Alexander’s reforms did not prevent the revolutionary movements from growing stronger. An attempt was made to assassinate the Tsar in 1866. Another was made in 1867. In 1879 the Imperial train was derailed in yet another attempt to kill him. Alexander was finally assassinated in March 1881 when a man named Ignatius Grinevitsky threw a grenade at him.

Alexander II was replaced by Alexander III. The new Tsar was determined to clamp down on all dissent. Nevertheless, revolutionary movements continued to grow during his reign (1881-1894). Meanwhile, at the end of the 19th century, the industrial revolution reached Russia. In the 1880s Russia was still an agricultural society. It was backward compared to many European countries.

However, from about 1890 Russia began to change rapidly into an industrial country. Building the trans-Siberian railway from Moscow to Vladivostok began in 1891. It was completed in 1905. Alexander III was succeeded by Nicholas II. He was a weak ruler who led Russia into a disastrous war with Japan.

In the late 19th century Russia increased its influence in the Pacific region. However, Japan was a rising power in the area. In 1898 Russia leased bases in Manchuria. Other powers demanded that Russia leave but she ignored their wishes. Finally, on 9 February 1904, the Japanese attacked the Russian base at Port Arthur. The Japanese won victories on land and at sea. Port Arthur surrendered on 2 January 1905. In February-March 1905 the Japanese won a battle at Mukden. Then in May 1905, the Japanese navy won a resounding victory at Tsushima. In 1905 the Russians were forced to make a humiliating peace, the Treaty of Portsmouth.

The 1905 revolution in Russia began when Father George Gapon led a peaceful march on Sunday 22 January 1905. The marchers wanted higher pay and a 10-hour working day. They marched through St Petersburg to the Winter Palace. However, the palace guard opened fire killing hundreds of people. Following ‘bloody Sunday’ there were riots by peasants and Russia was hit by a wave of strikes. There were also mutinies in the army and navy. Finally, in October 1905, Russia was paralyzed by a general strike.

Nicholas II was forced to give in and agreed to form a representative assembly called a Duma. However, Nicholas had no intention of giving up his position as an autocrat (sole ruler). Four dumas were held but each one had less power than the last. By 1917 the Russian people were disillusioned and were willing to support another revolution.

One ominous occurrence was the rise of Marxism in Russia. A Marxist party was formed in Russia in 1898. At a meeting in 1903, it split into 2 groups. The Bolsheviks (from the Russian word for the majority) and the Mensheviks (from the word for minority). However, the Bolsheviks were not the majority within the party they were only the majority at one particular meeting.

Then in 1914 came the First World War. In September 1914 the Russian army was severely defeated at Tannenberg. Russia never really recovered. In March 1915 the Tsar took command of the Russian army. (He could, therefore, be held personally responsible for its failures). Russia continued to suffer terrible losses and the country ‘bled to death’.

The Tsarist regime was also discredited by its association with Georgi Rasputin c.1872-1916. He was, supposedly, a holy man who came to St Petersburg in 1903. People believed Rasputin had the power to heal diseases. From 1905 the Tsar’s wife Alexandra came under his influence. She believed he could heal her son Alexei, who was a hemophiliac. (Rasputin may have used hypnosis to calm the boy and stop him bleeding). However, Rasputin was a scandalous figure, known for drinking and outrageous behavior. He was finally assassinated in December 1916.

Meanwhile, there were severe shortages on the home front. In March 1917 a shortage of bread in Petrograd (as St Petersburg had been renamed) led to riots. This time the soldiers in the city joined the rioters. The Tsarist regime quickly collapsed. Nicholas abdicated. A provisional government made up of deputies from the duma then ruled Russia. A moderate Socialist named Alexander Kerensky became prime minister.

However, in April 1917 the Germans helped the Bolshevik leader, Lenin (Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov 1870-1924) to return from exile. In July some Bolsheviks led a premature rising called the July Days. The provisional government claimed Lenin was a German agent and released documents, which were supposed to prove it. The rising fizzled out and Lenin fled to Finland. However, he soon returned to Russia having easily refuted the government’s claims.

The provisional government lost support because of its failure to end the war, which had cost so many lives and its failure to enact social reforms. Many Russians were impatient for peace and for radical reforms. Lenin appealed to them with his slogan Peace! Bread! Land! The Bolsheviks had much support among soldiers in Petrograd. On 6 November 1917, the Bolsheviks led them in a revolt in Petrograd. They seized key buildings. On 7 November 1917, they seized the winter palace and arrested most of the provisional government (Kerensky escaped and fled abroad). The Bolsheviks quickly seized central Russia.

Before its downfall, the provisional government had arranged for elections to a representative assembly. The Bolsheviks let the elections go ahead. However, they won only 168 places out of 703 in the assembly. When it was clear the new assembly did not support them the Bolsheviks closed it by force. Furthermore, the Communists had to fight a long civil war before they controlled all of Russia. The war between the ‘reds’ and the ‘whites’ lasted until 1921 and it devastated Russia.

Worse Russia suffered a severe famine in 1921-1922 in which many people died. Meanwhile, the Tsar and his family were murdered in 1918. They were not the only ones. The Communist secret police the Cheka, killed tens of thousands of people.

During the civil war, the Communists simply took food from the peasants by force whenever they needed it. The harsh policies of the Communists provoked unrest. In 1921 there were strikes in Petrograd and mutiny at Kronstadt naval base, which was crushed by force. However, Lenin made a strategic retreat. He announced his ‘new economic policy’. The peasants were allowed to grow food and sell it for profit. In the towns, some free enterprise was allowed. The Communists only retained control of the ‘commanding heights’ of industry (the most important ones). The new economic policy helped Russia to recover from the devastation wreaked by the civil war.

However, time was running out for Lenin. In 1922 he suffered the first of a series of strokes and he died in January 1924. Following Lenin’s death, the cunning and devious Stalin (Joseph Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili 1879-1953) took power. By 1928 he had made himself dictator. His main enemy Leon Trotsky (Lev Davidovich Bronstein 1879-1940) was exiled in 1929. In 1940 he was assassinated in Mexico.

Stalin soon proved to be an evil tyrant who murdered millions of people. n In 1929 he ended the new economic policy and replaced it with a series of 5 years plans. Heavy industry was to be greatly expanded. In the countryside, the peasants were to be forced to join together in collective farms. Many peasants bitterly resisted this policy. So OGPU (the new name of the secret police after 1923) and the red army were used to force them.

Stalin was determined to crush the Ukrainian peasants and he caused a terrible famine in 1932-33 that took the lives of millions of innocent people. In 1932 collective farms were given completely unrealistic quotas to fill. Soviet law decreed that the peasants would not be allowed to keep any grain until they had met their quotas. They could not, of course, meet them so Soviet officials simply confiscated all the grain they wanted leaving the peasants to starve. How many people died in this man-made famine is not known for sure but it was probably about 7 million.

In 1934 Stalin began a series of ‘purges’ in which millions of people died. The purges are known as the Great Terror. They began when Sergei Kirov was assassinated. He was probably murdered on Stalin’s orders. Nevertheless, Stalin used it as an excuse to eliminate his enemies (or anyone he thought might be an enemy). Many prominent communists were put on show trials and executed.

Millions of ordinary people were sent to labor camps and forced to work in appalling conditions. In 1937-38 Stalin ‘purged’ the officers in the red army. About 80% of the generals and 50% of the colonels were executed. So the red army was weakened just when Russia was facing a threat from Nazi Germany.

Furthermore in the 1930s, under Stalin, the churches were persecuted. Thousands of clergymen were arrested and propaganda for atheism was widespread. Despite Stalin’s terrible crimes, Russian industry grew rapidly in the years 1929-1941.

In 1939 Stalin made a pact with Hitler. In 1939 the two men divided Poland between them. Then Stalin demanded that Finland give him territory, which he hoped would make Russia easier to defend. When the Finns refused Stalin went to war. The Russians attacked Finland on 30 November 1939. At first, the Finns successfully resisted but superior Russian numbers eventually overwhelmed them. The Finns surrendered in March 1940. In 1940 Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were still independent. However, in the summer the red army entered them and they were absorbed into the Soviet Union.

Despite the non-aggression pact of 1939, the Germans invaded Russia in June 1941. Stalin was taken by surprise and the Russians suffered heavy losses. Finland, Romania, and Hungary assisted the Germans. However, the Russians obtained substantial material aid from Britain and the USA. At first, the Germans advanced rapidly and captured a huge number of Russians (most of the captives did not survive the war). However, the rate of German advance slowed and by the beginning of December it had ‘run out of steam’. The Germans failed to take Moscow and on 5 December 1941, the Russians counterattacked. They made some progress early in 1942 but in the summer the Germans returned to the offensive.

German troops advanced into the Caucasus. Others attempted to capture Stalingrad. The battle for the city was fought from August onward. In November the Russians counterattacked and encircled the Germans. The majority of German troops surrendered on 31 January. The rest surrendered on 2 February. Meanwhile, the Germans withdrew from the Caucasus.

The Germans and Russians fought a great tank battle at Kursk in July 1943. The result was a resounding Russian victory. Afterward, the red army advanced rapidly. In November 1943 they liberated Kiev. Early in 1944, the red army entered the Baltic States. In June they began a massive offensive in central Europe. Romania surrendered on 23 August 1944. Although Bulgaria was not officially at war with Russia she had helped the Germans. So in September Russia declared war and occupied Bulgaria. Finland surrendered in September 1944. In January 1945 the Russians advanced across Poland. In April they entered Berlin.

The Second World War ended on 8 May 1945. The ‘Great Patriotic War’ as it was called in Russia caused terrible suffering to the Russian people. Millions of them died.

When Germany surrendered the red army was left occupying Eastern Europe. So Stalin installed puppet regimes in each country. Stalin also clamped down on his own people. Fortunately, he died in March 1953. After Stalin died life in Russia relaxed a little. However, Russia was still ruled by a totalitarian regime. Religious believers were still persecuted. So were dissidents (intellectuals who disagreed with communism).

However, the terrible purges were over. (Although Beria the head of Stalin’s secret police was, deservedly, executed in 1953 after plotting a coup). At first, it was not clear who would succeed Stalin. However, by 1956 Nikita Khrushchev (1894-1971) had emerged as the new ruler of Russia. In February 1956 Khrushchev made a secret speech to the 20th Party Congress in which he denounced the Stalinist terror. (The speech was soon published abroad but it was not published in Russia until 1989).

As well as a limited relaxation of Stalinism Russia made some economic progress. By the late 1950s, the diet of the Russian people was much better than it was in the early 20th century. In the 1960s and early 1970s, Russia became, to a certain extent, an affluent society, and goods like televisions and fridges became fairly common. However, there were frequent shortages of basic items like meat and soap. Communism failed to give the people a reasonable standard of living. It also caused a great deal of pollution and destruction of the environment.

However, the Soviet Union did manage two triumphs. In 1957 they launched the world’s first artificial satellite, Sputnik. On 12 April 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first human being to travel in space. Khrushchev also promoted a policy of peaceful co-existence with the west. He was confident that the economic superiority of Communism would lead to its victory over Capitalism. (Khrushchev made some very rosy and quite unrealistic predictions about the future for which he was accused of absurd optimism).

Khrushchev was deposed while he was on holiday by the Black Sea in October 1964 and he was replaced by Leonid Brezhnev (1906-1982). During Brezhnev’s reign, the Soviet economy stagnated and vast amounts of resources were spent on the armed forces. Brezhnev also sent Soviet forces to occupy Afghanistan in December 1979 and dragged Russia into a long and destructive war.

Furthermore during the 1970s Soviet economic growth slowed and by 1980 it halted altogether. The Russian people depended on grain imported from the west. When he died in 1982 Brezhnev was succeeded by Yuri Andropov who died in February 1984. He, in turn, was succeeded by Konstantin Chernenko who died in March 1985. Mikhail Gorbachev then became the leader of Russia.

In 1986 an explosion occurred at a nuclear power plant at Chernobyl in Ukraine. The resulting radiation was disastrous for the Soviet economy, which was already struggling. In 1987 Gorbachev relaxed censorship and introduced a policy he called ‘glasnost’ (openness). He also introduced a policy called perestroika (reconstruction). However, he failed to fundamentally change the wasteful and inefficient Communist economic system.

In 1989 events began to move rapidly. Firstly the Russian army withdrew from Afghanistan. Secondly, Communism collapsed in eastern Europe. Furthermore, nationalism grew, especially in the Baltic states. Finally, in March 1990 Lithuania declared itself independent. Gorbachev refused to recognize the move but was unable to bring the Lithuanians to heel.

Meanwhile, unrest broke out in the other Soviet republics. On 18 August 1991, a group of conservatives attempted a coup. Gorbachev was detained in Crimea. However, the Russian people, led by Boris Yeltsin protested and on 21 August the coup collapsed. Gorbachev was released.

However, the attempted coup triggered the collapse of communism and the breakup of the Soviet Union. By December 1991 it had ceased to exist and Russia was again an independent country. Gorbachev resigned on 25 December 1991. The collapse of Communism meant a period of hardship for the Russian people. During the 1990s there was a painful transition to capitalism


However, after 2000 the Russian economy grew strongly (at about 7% a year) and poverty declined. Russia suffered badly during the recession of 2009. However, Russia soon recovered. Today Russia is increasingly prosperous. Russia joined the World Trade Organisation in 2012. In 2020 the population of Russia was 146 million.

St Basil’s Cathedral, Moscow

  • OFFICIAL NAME: Russian Federation
  • FORM OF GOVERNMENT: Federation
  • CAPITAL: Moscow
  • POPULATION: 142,122,776
  • MONEY: Ruble
  • AREA: 6,592,772 square miles (17,075,200 square kilometers)
  • MAJOR RIVERS: Amur, Irtysh, Lena, Ob, Volga, Yenisey


Russia, the largest country in the world, occupies one-tenth of all the land on Earth. It spans 11 time zones across two continents (Europe and Asia) and has coasts on three oceans (the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic).

The Russian landscape varies from desert to frozen coastline, tall mountains to giant marshes. Much of Russia is made up of rolling, treeless plains called steppes. Siberia, which occupies three-quarters of Russia, is dominated by sprawling pine forests called taigas.

Russia has about 100,000 rivers, including some of the longest and most powerful in the world. It also has many lakes, including Europe's two largest: Ladoga and Onega. Lake Baikal in Siberia contains more water than any other lake on Earth.

Map created by National Geographic Maps


There are about 120 ethnic groups in Russia who speak more than a hundred languages. Roughly 80 percent of Russians trace their ancestry to the Slavs who settled in the country 1,500 years ago. Other major groups include Tatars, who came with the Mongol invaders, and Ukrainians.

Russia is known all over the world for its thinkers and artists, including writers like Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoevsky, composers such as Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, and ballet dancers including Rudolf Nureyev.


As big as Russia is, it's no surprise that it is home to a large number of ecosystems and species. Its forests, steppes, and tundras provide habitat for many rare animals, including Asiatic black bears, snow leopards, polar bears, and small, rabbit-like mammals called pikas.

Russia's first national parks were set up in the 19th century, but decades of unregulated pollution have taken a toll on many of the country's wild places. Currently, about one percent of Russia's land area is protected in preserves, known as zapovedniks.

Russia's most famous animal species is the Siberian tiger, the largest cat in the world. Indigenous to the forests of eastern Russia, these endangered giants can be 10 feet (3 meters) long, not including their tail, and weigh up to 600 pounds (300 kilograms).


Russia's history as a democracy is short. The country's first election, in 1917, was quickly reversed by the Bolsheviks, and it wasn't until the 1991 election of Boris Yeltsin that democracy took hold.

Russia is a federation of 86 republics, provinces, territories, and districts, all controlled by the government in Moscow. The head of state is a president elected by the people. The economy is based on a vast supply of natural resources, including oil, coal, iron ore, gold, and aluminum.


The earliest human settlements in Russia arose around A.D. 500, as Scandinavians moved south to areas around the upper Volga River. These settlers mixed with Slavs from the west and built a fortress that would eventually become the Ukrainian city of Kiev.

Kiev evolved into an empire that ruled most of European Russia for 200 years, then broke up into Ukraine, Belarus, and Muscovy. Muscovy's capital, Moscow, remained a small trading post until the 13th century, when Mongol invasions in the south drove people to settle in Moscow.

In the 1550s, Muscovite ruler Ivan IV became Russia's first tsar after driving the Mongols out of Kiev and unifying the region. In 1682, Peter the Great became tsar at the age of ten and for 42 years worked to make Russia more modern and more European.


1613 - National Council elects Michael Romanov as tsar, ending a long period of instability and foreign intervention. Romanov dynasty rules Russia until 1917 revolution.

1689-1725 - Peter the Great introduces far-reaching reforms, including a regular conscript army and navy, subordinating the Orthodox Church to himself and reorganising government structures along European lines.

1721 - Russia acquires territory of modern Estonia and Latvia after decades of war with Sweden, establishing naval presence in Baltic Sea and 'window on Europe'.

1772-1814 - Russia conquers Crimea, Ukraine, Georgia, and what later became Belarus, Moldova, as well as parts of Poland.

1798-1815 - Russia takes part in the European coalitions against Revolutionary and Napoleonic France, defeating Napoleon's invasion in 1812 and contributing to his overthrow.

Army officers return home bringing liberal ideas from Europe, spurring efforts to rein in Romanov autocracy.

1825 - Abortive attempt by liberal army officers to establish constitutional government crushed in Decembrist Revolt.

1834-59 - Russia faces determined resistance to their bid to annex North Caucasus.

1853-57 - Russia suffers setback in attempt to seize territory from declining Ottoman Empire through its defeat in Crimean War.

1861 - Emancipation Edict ends serfdom but keeps peasants tied to the land through continuing labour obligations rapid industrialisation leads to growth of a small working class and the spread of revolutionary ideas.

1864-65 - Kazakh steppes and Central Asian Muslim states annexed.

1877-78 - Russian-Turkish War sees Russia seize land from Ottoman Empire in the Caucasus and establish client states in the Balkans.

1897 - Marxist Social Democratic Party founded, and in 1903 splits into Menshevik and more radical Bolshevik factions.

1904-05 - Russian expansion in Manchuria leads to war with Japan - and the 1905 revolution, which forced Tsar Nicholas II to grant a constitution and establish a parliament, the Duma.

1906-1911 - Constitutional rule in tempered by authoritarian government of Peter Stolypin, whose attempts to reform land ownership were only partly successful.

1914 - Russian-Austrian rivalry in Balkans contributes to outbreak of World War I, in which Russia fought alongside Britain and France.

Facts about Russian History 5: coalition

During the Russian Revolution of 1917, the moderate socialist and liberals decided to have a coalition.

Facts about Russian History 6: communist Bolsheviks

Communist Bolsheviks appeared as the winner in the Russian Revolution since the policies of the moderate socialist and liberals failed to satisfy the people.

Tatar invasion

In the 13th century Kievan Rus was invaded by the Tatars. Their state, the Empire of the Golden Horde, ruled over Russian lands for almost three centuries. But in 1380 a Muscovite prince, Dmitry Donskoy, won a major battle against the Tatars under the command of Khan Mamai at Kulikovo Field. Donskoy became a popular hero and the words “the slaughter of Mamai” now mean a carnage or terrible defeat. And “Mamai’s invasion” is a name to jokingly describe troublesome or unwelcome visitors.

And if you find out that “walking like a pig” has nothing to do with the grunting animals you’ve got another epic battle to blame – the Battle of the Ice in 1242. Hoping to exploit the Russians’ weakness after the Tatar invasion, the Teutonic Knights attacked the city of Novgorod. The German crusaders were defeated in a fight on Lake Peipus, between modern Estonia and Russia. During their retreat, many knights drowned in the lake when the ice broke under the weight of their heavy amour. “The pig” was the Russian way of describing the wedge-shaped formation of the German army, often used in Europe in the 13-15th centuries. Speaking of the “advancing pig”, the medieval Russian chronicles referred to the marching Teutonic knights.

Russia: History

Grand Prince Ivan the Terrible of Moscow establishes the Stardom of Russia.

Russia acquires territory of modern day Estonia and Latvia after 21 years of war with Sweden.

Russia conquers Crimea, Ukraine, Georgia, Belarus, Moldova, and parts of Poland.

The practice of serfdom is abolished throughout the Russian empire. The government's focus on the military and industrial sector leads to the growth of the working class along with rapid industrialization.

Russia annexes the territories that now constitute the modern day Central Asian republics.

Russian expansion into Manchuria sparks the Russo-Japanese War. Both the Russian Army and Navy face a series of crippling defeats in the war, including the destruction of the Baltic fleet. This disastrous war, along with several political discontents, leads to great unrest throughout the empire.

In January of 1905, a group of protesting workers march on the palace of the tsar and are subsequently fired upon by troops. This massacre, known as Bloody Sunday, started the Revolution of 1905, which culminated in the declaration of general strike and the formation of a soviet (council) in the capital city of St. Petersburg. Soon after this declaration, Tsar Nicholas II gives in the revolutionists' demands by granting a constitution and establishing a parliament, known as the Duma

Bad blood between Russia and Austria-Hungary contributes to the outbreak of World War I, in which Russia fought along side the Allied Powers of Britain, France, Italy, and the United States.

The Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Lenin, easily overthrow the weak Provisional Government in the second revolution of the year. The Bolsheviks go on to establish "Dictatorship of the Proletariat" under Communist Party rule, which crushes any dissent.

Poor military performance in World War I, coupled with the mismanagement of the war disrupted economy leads to the first revolution of 1917, which saw the overthrow of the imperial government. The imperial government was replaced by a weak temporary Provisional Government, which was undone by opting to continue the war, continuing economic collapse, and incompetence.

The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk effectively ends the war with Germany by ceding territory in eastern Europe and the Baltic.

The communist Bolsheviks' Red Army defeats the anti-communist White Russians in the Russian Civil War. The White Russians are supported by many foreign nations including the Allied Powers of World War I and Japan. The victorious Bolsheviks reorganize the remaining territories of the Russian Empire as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). During the war, the Bolsheviks carried out an economic policy of War Communism, which centered on the expropriation of private business, nationalization of industry, and the forced requisition of agricultural surplus.

The party congress implements the New Economic Policy, which allowed for experiments with market mechanisms and private business. This relaxation of War Communism eventually gives way to a state-run command economy under Joseph Stalin, who rose to power as the party's dictator in 1929.

Rapid industrialization occurs under Stalin's rule.

A surprise attack by Nazi Germany in July forces the Soviets into World War II. The USSR joins Allied Powers of Great Britain, the United States, and France.

The Allied victory in Europe leads to heavy Soviet influence in Central and Eastern Europe, as well as the Balkans. The USSR occupies parts of Germany and Austria along with the other Allied Powers. Stalin extends his policy of heavy industrialization into these territories.

The 'Cold War' with the West begins as Soviet influence spreads and the USSR promotes pro-Soviet revolutions throughout Asia and the Middle East. The 'Cold War' becomes a global conflict by the 1950's as competition for power stretches into Africa and Latin America.

The Soviet economy is in great distress under the rule of Leonid Brezhnev. Economic stagnation resulting from a multitude of factors including low productivity, inefficient production, and increased government spending places the nation's economy on the brink of collapse.

Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the creation of the Russian Federation, Russia continues to face economic crisis. The government is forced to transition the nation from a command economy to a market-based one. This transition is fraught with difficulties, the most significant of which being hyperinflation.

The Soviet Union collapses, and the former Soviet republics, including Russia, become independent nations.

Russia is admitted to the G-7 group of industrialized countries.

Newly appointed Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov stabilizes the collapsing ruble and carries out major tax reforms, effectively ending the danger of a Russian debt default.

The ruble becomes a convertible currency.

The Russian parliament approves $68 billion to aid banks hurt by the global financial crisis.

A customs union between Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan enters into force.

Russia invades Crimea, promoting the United States and European Union to impose multiple rounds of sanctions against Russia.



The Russian Federation is the largest of the 21 republics that make up the Commonwealth of Independent States. It occupies most of eastern Europe and north Asia, stretching from the Baltic Sea in the west to the Pacific Ocean in the east, and from the Arctic Ocean in the north to the Black Sea and the Caucasus in the south. Russia is the largest country in the world in terms of area, but it's unfavorably located in relation to major sea lanes of the world. Much of the country lacks proper soils and climates (either too cold or too dry) for agriculture. Russia contains Mount El'brus, Europe's tallest peak, and Lake Baikal, the deepest lake in the world. Lake Baikal is estimated to hold one fifth of the world's fresh water.

Russia shares borders with fourteen neighboring countries. In order of shared border length, these are: Kazakhstan (7,644 km), China (Southeast - 4,133 km) and (South - 46 km), Mongolia (3,452 km), Ukraine (1,944 km), Belarus (1,312 km), Finland (1,309 km), Georgia (894 km), Azerbaijan (338 km), Latvia (332 km), Estonia (324 km), Lithuania (Kaliningrad Oblast - 261 km), Poland (Kaliningrad Oblast - 210 km), Norway (191 km), and North Korea (18 km).


The Russian Federation is a federal semi-presidential republic. A semi-presidential system is one in which there is a prime minister who leads the legislature and exercises some authority, but there is also a president who fulfills an executive role in the government. The USSR collapsed in 1991, and after a series of political crises the current constitution was adopted and the government formed in 1993. Since then, there have been four presidencies split between three presidents (Vladimir Putin being the second president from 2000?2008, and the fourth since 2012).

The Russian government has been dominated for over a decade by the United Russia Party, most famous for its not having a fixed long-term platform. Called a "catch-all party," the party responds to particular political issues or figures as they arise, or on a case-by-case basis. Most often, these responses reflect the opinions of leading figures Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev (the third president of Russia who made Putin his prime minister, and whom Putin made prime minister in turn upon his reelection). The party officially self-identifies as a Russian Conservative party, but the ideological meaning is unclear except in its opposition to the rival Communist Party.

International Affairs

International Disputes: Russia remains concerned about the smuggling of poppy derivatives from Afghanistan through Central Asian countries China and Russia have demarcated the once disputed islands at the Amur and Ussuri confluence and in the Argun River in accordance with the 2004 Agreement, ending their centuries-long border disputes the sovereignty dispute over the islands of Etorofu, Kunashiri, Shikotan, and the Habomai group, known in Japan as the "Northern Territories" and in Russia as the "Southern Kurils," occupied by the Soviet Union in 1945, now administered by Russia, and claimed by Japan, remains the primary sticking point to signing a peace treaty formally ending World War II hostilities Russia's military support and subsequent recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia independence in 2008 continue to sour relations with Georgia Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Russia ratified Caspian seabed delimitation treaties based on equidistance, while Iran continues to insist on a one-fifth slice of the sea Norway and Russia signed a comprehensive maritime boundary agreement in 2010 various groups in Finland advocate restoration of Karelia (Kareliya) and other areas ceded to the Soviet Union following World War II but the Finnish Government asserts no territorial demands Russia and Estonia signed a technical border agreement in May 2005, but Russia recalled its signature in June 2005 after the Estonian parliament added to its domestic ratification act a historical preamble referencing the Soviet occupation and Estonia's pre-war borders under the 1920 Treaty of Tartu Russia contends that the preamble allows Estonia to make territorial claims on Russia in the future, while Estonian officials deny that the preamble has any legal impact on the treaty text Russia demands better treatment of the Russian-speaking population in Estonia and Latvia Russia remains involved in the conflict in eastern Ukraine while also occupying Ukraine?s territory of Crimea

Lithuania and Russia committed to demarcating their boundary in 2006 in accordance with the land and maritime treaty ratified by Russia in May 2003 and by Lithuania in 1999 Lithuania operates a simplified transit regime for Russian nationals traveling from the Kaliningrad coastal exclave into Russia, while still conforming, as an EU member state with an EU external border, where strict Schengen border rules apply preparations for the demarcation delimitation of land boundary with Ukraine have commenced the dispute over the boundary between Russia and Ukraine through the Kerch Strait and Sea of Azov is suspended due to the occupation of Crimea by Russia Kazakhstan and Russia boundary delimitation was ratified on November 2005 and field demarcation should commence in 2007 Russian Duma has not yet ratified 1990 Bering Sea Maritime Boundary Agreement with the US Denmark (Greenland) and Norway have made submissions to the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) and Russia is collecting additional data to augment its 2001 CLCS submission

Human Trafficking: Russia is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children who are subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking with millions of foreign workers, forced labor is Russia?s predominant human trafficking problem and sometimes involves organized crime syndicates workers from Russia, other European countries, Central Asia, and East and Southeast Asia, including North Korea and Vietnam, are subjected to forced labor in the construction, manufacturing, agricultural, textile, grocery store, maritime, and domestic service industries, as well as in forced begging, waste sorting, and street sweeping women and children from Europe, Southeast Asia, Africa, and Central Asia are subject to sex trafficking in Russia Russian women and children are victims of sex trafficking domestically and in Northeast Asia, Europe, Central Asia, Africa, the US, and the Middle East

Tier Rating: Tier 3 - Russia does not fully comply with the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making a significant effort to do so prosecutions of trafficking offenders remained low in comparison to the scope of Russia?s trafficking problem the government did not develop or employ a formal system for identifying trafficking victims or referring them to protective services, although authorities reportedly assisted a limited number of victims on an ad hoc basis foreign victims, the largest group in Russia, were not entitled to state-provided rehabilitative services and were routinely detained and deported the government has not reported investigating reports of slave-like conditions among North Korean workers in Russia authorities have made no effort to reduce the demand for forced labor or to develop public awareness of forced labor or sex trafficking (2015)

Illicit Drugs: Limited cultivation of illicit cannabis and opium poppy and producer of methamphetamine, mostly for domestic consumption government has active illicit crop eradication program used as transshipment point for Asian opiates, cannabis, and Latin American cocaine bound for growing domestic markets, to a lesser extent Western and Central Europe, and occasionally to the US major source of heroin precursor chemicals corruption and organized crime are key concerns major consumer of opiates


Although much of Russia's cultural legacy bloomed after Peter the Great started westernizing the country, the Russian tradition is distinct and widely regarded. The nation's writers, artists, musicians, and filmmakers are studied in universities around the world. Some of the country's most prominent cultural icons include Leo Tolstoy (War and Peace), Feodor Dostoevksy (The Brothers Karamazov), Aleksandr Pushkin (Eugene Onegin), Modest Moussorgsky (A Night on Bald Mountain), Sergei Eisenstein (Battleship Potemkin) and many more. Russian works have regularly been adapted for different audiences.

Many readers will be acquainted with Russian handicrafts from the Faberg Eggs to the humble matryoshka (also known as the Russian nesting doll). The country's traditional toys and decorative items are visually stunning. Many of these items date back from before the founding of "Russia," and many originate from Russia's diverse (and widespread) ethnic groups. These artifacts form a unique material archive that bridges hundreds of years and thousands of miles of Russian cultural history.

Among Russia's most striking cultural features is its ballet. Ballet may have originated in Italy and France, but in the intervening centuries the Russian style of ballet may be the most famous. Empress Anna Ivanovna founded the first dance company in the country in the 1740s, and the rest is history. Tchaikovsky's classics The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, and The Sleeping Beauty, and Prokofiev's Romeo and Juliet are among the world's most popular performances. The Bolshoi Theater is one of the most famous performance halls in the entire world. The dancers themselves even enjoy more notoriety than their counterparts elsewhere at the height of the Soviet Union, ballerina Maya Plisetskaya was a cultural ambassador to the rest of the world.


Since the beginning of the Federation in the 1990s and the decline of Communist leadership, Russia has adopted many market-oriented reforms The biggest move was privatizing industries that were nationalized under the Soviets. Despite this, the Russian government still plays a major role in directing the country's economy. The Kremlin exercises tight control over ostensibly private companies. On top of this, the Russian economy is fairly volatile, as it is largely dependent on commodities like oil, natural gas, and aluminum, which can see major price changes year to year. The Russian economy suffered major setbacks in the mid-2010s.


GDP/PPP: $4 trillion (2017 est.)
Growth Rate: 1.8% (2017 est.)
Inflation: 4.2% (2017 est.)
Government Revenues: 17.3% of GDP (2017 est.)
Public Debt: 11.8% of GDP (2017 est.)

Labor Force

Working Population: 76.53 million (2017 est.)
Employment by Occupation: Agriculture: 9.4%, Industry: 27.6%, Services: 63% (2016 est.)
Unemployment: 5.5% (2017 est.)
Population Below the Poverty Line: 13.3% (2015 est.)

Total Exports: $336.8 billion (2017 est.)
Major Exports: Petroleum and petroleum products, natural gas, metals, wood and wood products, chemicals, and a wide variety of civilian and military manufactures
Export Partners: Netherlands 10.5%, China 10.3%, Germany 7.8%, Turkey 5%, Italy 4.4%, Belarus 4.3% (2016)

Total Imports: $212.7 billion (2017 est.)
Major Imports: Machinery, vehicles, pharmaceutical products, plastic, semi-finished metal products, meat, fruits and nuts, optical and medical instruments, iron, steel
Import Partners: China 21.6%, Germany 11%, US 6.3%, France 4.8%, Italy 4.4%, Belarus 4.3% (2016)

Agricultural Products: Grain, sugar beets, sunflower seeds, vegetables, fruits beef, milk
Major Industries: Complete range of mining and extractive industries producing coal, oil, gas, chemicals, and metals all forms of machine building from rolling mills to high-performance aircraft and space vehicles defense industries (including radar, missile production, advanced electronic components), shipbuilding road and rail transportation equipment communications equipment agricultural machinery, tractors, and construction equipment electric power generating and transmitting equipment medical and scientific instruments consumer durables, textiles, foodstuffs, handicrafts

Natural Resources: Wide natural resource base including major deposits of oil, natural gas, coal, and many strategic minerals, reserves of rare earth elements, timber. Note: formidable obstacles of climate, terrain, and distance hinder exploitation of natural resources
Land Use: Agricultural land: 13.1% (arable land 7.3% permanent crops 0.1% permanent pasture 5.7%), Forest: 49.4%, Other: 37.5% (2011 est.)


Fixed Lines: 32,276,615, 23 per 100 residents (2016 est.)
Cell Phones: 229,126,152, 161 per 100 residents, (2016 est.)
International Country Code: 7

Internet Country Code: .ru
Internet Users: 108,772,470, 76.4% (2016 est.)

Broadcast Media

13 national TV stations with the federal government owning 1 and holding a controlling interest in a second state-owned Gazprom maintains a controlling interest in 2 of the national channels government-affiliated Bank Rossiya owns controlling interest in a fourth and fifth, while a sixth national channel is owned by the Moscow city administration the Russian Orthodox Church and the Russian military, respectively, own 2 additional national channels roughly 3,300 national, regional, and local TV stations with over two-thirds completely or partially controlled by the federal or local governments satellite TV services are available 2 state-run national radio networks with a third majority-owned by Gazprom roughly 2,400 public and commercial radio stations (2016).

Transportation Infrastructure

Total Airports: 1,218 (2013)
With Paved Runways: 594
With Unpaved Runways: 624

Registered Air Carriers: 32
Registered Aircraft: 661
Annual Passengers: 76,846,126

Total: 87,157 km
Broad Gauge: 86,200 km (1.520-m gauge) (1.435-m gauge)
Narrow Gauge: 957 km (1.067-m gauge) on Sakhalin Island
Note:Industries utilize an additional 30,000 km of non-common carrier lines (2014)

Total: 1,283,387 km
Paved: 927,721 km (includes 39,143 km of expressways)
Unpaved: 355,666 km (2012)

Total: 102,000 km (including 48,000 km with guaranteed depth the 72,000-km system in European Russia links Baltic Sea, White Sea, Caspian Sea, Sea of Azov, and Black Sea) (2009)
Ports and Terminals:

Major Seaport(s): Kaliningrad, Nakhodka, Novorossiysk, Primorsk, Vostochnyy
River Port(s): Saint Petersburg (Neva River)
Oil Terminal(s): Kavkaz oil terminal
Container Port(s) (TEUs): Saint Petersburg (2,365,174)
LNG Terminal(s) (Exports): Sakhalin Island

Russian Antiquity

Before the Middle Ages, there were three primary ethnic groups who occupied the lands that would become Russia: the Khazars, the Slavs, and some Finno-Ugric groups. The people we consider "ethnic Russians" today are the country's Slavs. The Slavic peoples of Russia weren't especially organized in this time period, however. By contrast the Khazar Khaganate was a massive and dominant political power that controlled much of Asia. The Khazars were a Turkic group, and their Khaganate was most likely a splinter of a much larger Turkic nation that preceded them. They most likely practiced Tengrism, a traditional Central Asian religion, and drew on a great deal from Eastern cultures.

The Rus, for whom Russia would be named, were an ethnic group that contemporary sources identify as Norse people. The Vikings traded extensively across Northern Europe and into Central Asia, and there is substantial evidence to suggest they established settlements on the trade route from the Baltic Sea to the Byzantine Empire. The Norse would intermarry with local Finns and Slavs, eventually creating the Rus. The Rus are the predecessors to the modern-day "East Slavs" of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine. There is some evidence to suggest that the Rus were loosely organized into a khaganate of their own during this time, but no clear records remain.

The Kievan Rus

Historians disagree on the dates involved, but the traditional account of Russian history says the Viking Rurik came to the Russian city of Novgorod in 862 C.E., where he was elected prince. Rurik's son Oleg would expand their rule to the city of Kiev, which became their capital. Their new state would be called the Kievan Rus, and is the earliest antecedent to the countries of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine. In the past few decades archaeologists have reexamined the history of the region many experts now believe that the city of Novgorod (which means "new city") wasn't built until well after the beginning of the dynasty and the conquest of Kiev. This would call into question the city's reputation as the birthplace of Russia.

The Kievan Rus would wage war against the Khazars, and over subsequent generations they would completely destroy their rival. Prince Vladimir the Great imported Orthodox Christianity from the Rus's southern neighbors, the Byzantines, and Kiev became an important trade center between Byzantium and Scandinavia. Several future kings of Norway would take up residence in the city. At its peak, Kiev controlled vast swathes of Eastern Europe, its capital was made incredibly wealthy through trade, and it established a code of laws under Prince Yaroslav the Wise that would influence later polities.

This would all come to an end with Yaroslav's death in 1054, as regional powers began to rise up in opposition. The weakening of central authority was made worse by the decline of the Byzantine Empire the loss of their most important trade partners left the princes of Kiev without enough money to exert their influence. At least symbolically the greatest blow to their rule was the loss of Novgorod, which was occupied by a rival principality and then later became an independent republic. In this weakened state, the Kievan Rus was easily conquered by the Mongols in 1240.

The Novgorod Republic

The people of Novgorod dismissed their prince in 1136, and thereafter began to regularly invite in and dismiss princes who would hold executive power. This would evolve into an intricate democratic state, which from historic accounts was run by freely elected officials and participants in regular town assemblies. The exact details are a bit unclear due to a general lack of reliable written sources. What we do know for certain is that the Republic flourished over the next few centuries, making many beneficial trade agreements and developing valuable industries. While the Kievan Rus was conquered and destroyed, Novgorod remained intact by wilfully paying tithes and taxes to the Golden Horde. Even as their fortunes eventually declined, the people of the republic remained free for several centuries. The infrastructure and structure built up in Novgorod during this time would later play a major part in the creation of greater Russia.

Through the 1300s and heading into the 1400s, Novgorod became a focal point for regional rivals like the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the rapidly growing Grand Duchy of Moscow (Muscovy). Due to common Rus heritage, religion, and aligned interests the republic initially built up ties with the Muscovites, but as Moscow continued to grow in power they became more and more antagonistic. Eventually Novgorod would try to create a military alliance with Lithuania?a Catholic country, which the Muscovites and the common people saw as a betrayal against their shared Orthodoxy. In 1471 Moscow would declare war against and defeat Novgorod, and seven years later Grand Duke Ivan III of Moscow would assume complete control.

The Grand Duchy of Moscow

Unlike in Novgorod, most of Russia fell under the rule of the khans, first Mongol and later Turkic. The Golden Horde exercised firm control of the region, as did its successor states. Moscow began as a very small trade outpost, mostly overlooked due to its remoteness, and so the early Muscovite princes were able to establish and consolidate a political order and establish control over some of their surroundings in the 1290s. Within forty years Moscow controlled the entire Moscow River Basin to secure their holdings, the Prince Yuriy of Moscow formed an alliance with Uzbeg Khan of the Golden Horde and married his sister. In exchange for his support, Uzbeg Khan granted Yuriy the Grand Duchy of Vladimir, a historic region that included Novgorod. Yuriy's successor Ivan I consolidated on the gains of his predecessor by acting as the regional enforcer of the khan's taxes. Ivan I was believed to be the richest man in Russia at the time as a result of his campaigns. Moscow's prestige grew even more after the local Metropolitan (Orthodox Church leader akin to a bishop) moved there from Kiev in 1326.

Ivan's son Dmitri began the campaign for Muscovite independence. With the support of the Orthodox Church, Dmitri began rallying the Rus people against the Golden Horde, prompting the Khan to attack Moscow. Although the Muscovites were ultimately defeated and the city sacked in 1382, Dmitri won one important major battle against the khan, which would later serve as a symbol of Russian resistance against the "Tatar yoke." When Timur attacked the Golden Horde in the early 1400s, the Muscovites again began to push for more influence and autonomy. This would be completed under Grand Duke Ivan III (Ivan the Great), who would seize control of Novgorod in 1478, completely defeat the Tatars in 1480, and conquer the Grand Duchy of Tver (another regional rival) in 1485. With his complete control of a massive territory, the backing of the Orthodox Church, and his eventual marriage to the niece of the last Byzantine Emperor, Ivan III would declare Muscovy the "third Rome" after Rome and Constantinople. His son, Ivan IV (Ivan the Terrible) would become the first Tsar of All Russia.

The Tsardom of Russia

The reign of Ivan IV is most famous for one particular facet the tsar earned his sobriquet "the Terrible" (in this case meaning "inspiring fear") due to his relentless centralization of power by assailing the country's aristocrats. He routinely passed measures to curtail the influence of landowners and the clergy. Using his unprecedented control of the country, Ivan initiated numerous military campaigns of expansion. He failed to reach the Baltic Sea, but he did conquer several neighboring Khanates this would be the inception of Russia's historic Tatar Muslim population. Private interests also began encouraging for Cossack settlement of Siberia. In the later years of his rule, the tsar would institute harsher and harsher policies to curb dissent. He created a secret police and purged the aristocrats his violence culminated in the Massacre of Novgorod in 1570, where he killed several thousand people in Novgorod and contributed to the city's continual decline.

As a result of the relentless violence, Russia was unable to resist attacks from Lithuania and Sweden, who devastated large parts of the country, and in 1571 the Khanate of Crimea sacked and burned down Moscow. Ivan died with one legitimate heir, Feodor, who would die childless in 1606. The succession crisis that followed was made worse by a severe famine that killed much of the country's population. The Commonwealth of Poland-Lithuania, the successor state to Muscovy's rival Lithuania, conquered Moscow and installed their own series of tsars to run the country. Russia allied with former rival Sweden, but their alliance was unable to dislodge the Polish-Lithuanians, and Sweden would eventually also seize Russian territory.

The Time of Troubles, as this period was known, came to an end due to the efforts of the common people of Russia. The people of Russia at the time were largely poor and rural serfs, lacking protection against the brigandry and violence of the time. During this time period the serfs began to suffer tighter legal restrictions it was illegal for them to leave the farm they were bound to. For the common person this meant there was no incentive to abide the occupation, and plenty of reason to resent it. The Catholic Polish-Lithuanians imprisoned the Patriarch of the Orthodox Church, which was the main cultural unifier among the people. In 1611, after five years of conflict, merchants in the city of Nizhny Novgorod began organizing a revolt. They selected the butcher Kuzma Minin to handle the funding, and he in turn would turn to Prince Dmitri Pozharski to command the troops. The popular militia succeeded in liberating Moscow and driving out the occupying troops.

The Empire of Peter and Catherine

The Russian Empire began shortly after the end of the Time of Troubles. After regaining control of the country, a convention of leading Russians elected Michael Romanov to be the new Tsar. The Romanovs would be the ruling family for the entire lifespan of the Empire?to ensure that fact, Michael Romanov executed the surviving relatives of the Polish-appointed tsars.

Peter the Great (1689?1725), grandson of the first Romanov czar, Michael (1613?1645). Peter made extensive reforms aimed at westernization and, through his defeat of Charles XII of Sweden at the Battle of Poltava in 1709, he extended Russia's boundaries to the west. Catherine the Great (1762?1796) continued Peter's westernization program and also expanded Russian territory, acquiring the Crimea, Ukraine, and part of Poland. During the reign of Alexander I (1801?1825), Napolon's attempt to subdue Russia was defeated (1812?1813), and new territory was gained, including Finland (1809) and Bessarabia (1812). Alexander originated the Holy Alliance, which for a time crushed Europe's rising liberal movement.

The Empire of the Alexanders

Alexander II (1855?1881) pushed Russia's borders to the Pacific and into central Asia. Serfdom was abolished in 1861, but heavy restrictions were imposed on the emancipated class.

The Russian Revolutions

Revolutionary strikes, following Russia's defeat in the war with Japan, forced Nicholas II (1894?1917) to grant a representative national body (Duma), elected by narrowly limited suffrage. It met for the first time in 1906 but had little influence on Nicholas.

World War I demonstrated czarist corruption and inefficiency, and only patriotism held the poorly equipped army together for a time. Disorders broke out in Petrograd (renamed Leningrad and now St. Petersburg) in March 1917, and defection of the Petrograd garrison launched the revolution. Nicholas II was forced to abdicate on March 15, 1917, and he and his family were killed by revolutionaries on July 16, 1918. A provisional government under the successive prime ministerships of Prince Lvov and a moderate, Alexander Kerensky, lost ground to the radical, or Bolshevik, wing of the Socialist Democratic Labor Party. On Nov. 7, 1917, the Bolshevik Revolution, engineered by Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky, overthrew the Kerensky government, and authority was vested in a Council of People's Commissars, with Lenin as prime minister.

The humiliating Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (March 3, 1918) concluded the war with Germany, but civil war and foreign intervention delayed Communist control of all Russia until 1920. A brief war with Poland in 1920 resulted in Russian defeat.

Emergence of the USSR

The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics was established as a federation on Dec. 30, 1922. The death of Lenin on Jan. 21, 1924, precipitated an intraparty struggle between Joseph Stalin, general secretary of the party, and Trotsky, who favored swifter socialization at home and fomentation of revolution abroad. Trotsky was dismissed as commissar of war in 1925 and banished from the Soviet Union in 1929. He was murdered in Mexico City on Aug. 21, 1940, by a political agent. Stalin further consolidated his power by a series of purges in the late 1930s, liquidating prominent party leaders and military officers. Stalin assumed the prime ministership on May 6, 1941.

The term Stalinism has become defined as an inhumane, draconian socialism. Stalin sent millions of Soviets who did not conform to the Stalinist ideal to forced-labor camps, and he persecuted his country's vast number of ethnic groups?reserving particular vitriol for Jews and Ukrainians. Soviet historian Roy Medvedev estimated that about 20 million died from starvation, executions, forced collectivization, and life in the labor camps under Stalin's rule.

Soviet foreign policy, at first friendly toward Germany and antagonistic toward Britain and France and then, after Hitler's rise to power in 1933, becoming anti-Fascist and pro?League of Nations, took an abrupt turn on Aug. 24, 1939, with the signing of a nonaggression pact with Nazi Germany. The next month, Moscow joined in the German attack on Poland, seizing territory later incorporated into the Ukrainian and Belorussian SSRs. The Russo-Finnish War (1939?1940) added territory to the Karelian SSR set up on March 31, 1940 the annexation of Bessarabia and Bukovina from Romania became part of the new Moldavian SSR on Aug. 2, 1940 and the annexation of the Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in June 1940 created the 14th, 15th, and 16th Soviet republics. The Soviet-German collaboration ended abruptly with a lightning attack by Hitler on June 22, 1941, which seized 500,000 sq mi of Russian territory before Soviet defenses, aided by U.S. and British arms, could halt it. The Soviet resurgence at Stalingrad from Nov. 1942 to Feb. 1943 marked the turning point in a long battle, ending in the final offensive of Jan. 1945. Then, after denouncing a 1941 nonaggression pact with Japan in April 1945, when Allied forces were nearing victory in the Pacific, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan on Aug. 8, 1945, and quickly occupied Manchuria, Karafuto, and the Kuril Islands.

The Berlin Blockade and the Cold War

After the war, the Soviet Union, United States, Great Britain, and France divided Berlin and Germany into four zones of occupation, which led to immediate antagonism between the Soviet and Western powers, culminating in the Berlin blockade in 1948. The USSR's tightening control over a cordon of Communist states, running from Poland in the north to Albania in the south, was dubbed the ?iron curtain? by Churchill and would later lead to the Warsaw Pact. It marked the beginning of the cold war, the simmering hostility that pitted the world's two superpowers, the U.S. and the USSR?and their competing political ideologies?against each other for the next 45 years. Stalin died on March 6, 1953.

The new power emerging in the Kremlin was Nikita S. Khrushchev (1958?1964), first secretary of the party. Khrushchev formalized the eastern European system into a Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (Comecon) and a Warsaw Pact Treaty Organization as a counterweight to NATO. The Soviet Union exploded a hydrogen bomb in 1953, developed an intercontinental ballistic missile by 1957, sent the first satellite into space (Sputnik I) in 1957, and put Yuri Gagarin in the first orbital flight around Earth in 1961. Khrushchev's downfall stemmed from his decision to place Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba and then, when challenged by the U.S., backing down and removing the weapons. He was also blamed for the ideological break with China after 1963. Khrushchev was forced into retirement on Oct. 15, 1964, and was replaced by Leonid I. Brezhnev as first secretary of the party and Aleksei N. Kosygin as premier.

U.S. president Jimmy Carter and Brezhnev signed the SALT II treaty in Vienna on June 18, 1979, setting ceilings on each nation's arsenal of intercontinental ballistic missiles. The U.S. Senate refused to ratify the treaty because of the invasion of Afghanistan by Soviet troops on Dec. 27, 1979. On Nov. 10, 1982, Leonid Brezhnev died. Yuri V. Andropov, who had formerly headed the KGB, became his successor but died less than two years later, in Feb. 1984. Konstantin U. Chernenko, a 72-year-old party stalwart who had been close to Brezhnev, succeeded him. After 13 months in office, Chernenko died on March 10, 1985. Chosen to succeed him as Soviet leader was Mikhail S. Gorbachev, who led the Soviet Union in its long-awaited shift to a new generation of leadership. Unlike his immediate predecessors, Gorbachev did not also assume the title of president but wielded power from the post of party general secretary.

Gorbachev introduced sweeping political and economic reforms, bringing glasnost and perestroika, ?openness? and ?restructuring,? to the Soviet system. He established much warmer relations with the West, ended the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, and announced that the Warsaw Pact countries were free to pursue their own political agendas. Gorbachev's revolutionary steps ushered in the end of the cold war, and in 1990 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his contributions to ending the 45-year conflict between East and West.

The Soviet Union took much criticism in early 1986 over the April 24 meltdown at the Chernobyl nuclear plant and its reluctance to give out any information on the accident.

Dissolution of the USSR

Gorbachev's promised reforms began to falter, and he soon had a formidable political opponent agitating for even more radical restructuring. Boris Yeltsin, president of the Russian SSR, began challenging the authority of the federal government and resigned from the Communist Party along with other dissenters in 1990. On Aug. 29, 1991, an attempted coup d'tat against Gorbachev was orchestrated by a group of hard-liners. Yeltsin's defiant actions during the coup?he barricaded himself in the Russian parliament and called for national strikes?resulted in Gorbachev's reinstatement. But from then on, power had effectively shifted from Gorbachev to Yeltsin and away from centralized power to greater power for the individual Soviet republics. In his last months as the head of the Soviet Union, Gorbachev dissolved the Communist Party and proposed the formation of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), which, when implemented, gave most of the Soviet Socialist Republics their independence, binding them together in a loose, primarily economic federation. Russia and ten other former Soviet republics joined the CIS on Dec. 21, 1991. Gorbachev resigned on Dec. 25, and Yeltsin, who had been the driving force behind the Soviet dissolution, became president of the newly established Russian Republic.

At the start of 1992, Russia embarked on a series of dramatic economic reforms, including the freeing of prices on most goods, which led to an immediate downturn. A national referendum on confidence in Yeltsin and his economic program took place in April 1993. To the surprise of many, the president and his shock-therapy program won by a resounding margin. In September, Yeltsin dissolved the legislative bodies left over from the Soviet era.

The president of the southern republic of Chechnya accelerated his region's drive for independence in 1994. In December, Russian troops closed the borders and sought to squelch the independence drive. The Russian military forces met firm and costly resistance. In May 1997, the two-year war formally ended with the signing of a peace treaty that adroitly avoided the issue of Chechen independence.

Financial Crisis, Political Upheaval, and Putin's Rise to Power

In March 1998 Yeltsin dismissed his entire government and replaced Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin with fuel and energy minister Sergei Kiriyenko. On Aug. 28, 1998, amid the Russian stock market's free fall, the Russian government halted trading of the ruble on international currency markets. This financial crisis led to a long-term economic downturn and political upheaval. Yeltsin then sacked Kiriyenko and reappointed Chernomyrdin. The Duma rejected Chernomyrdin and on Sept. 11 elected foreign minister Yevgeny Primakov as prime minister. The repercussions of Russia's financial emergency were felt throughout the Commonwealth of Independent States.

Impatient with Yeltsin's increasingly erratic behavior, the Duma attempted to impeach him in May 1999. But the impeachment motion was quickly quashed and soon Yeltsin was on the ascendancy again. In keeping with his capricious style, Yeltsin dismissed Primakov and substituted Interior Minister Sergei Stepashin. Just three months later, however, Yeltsin ousted Stepashin and replaced him with Vladimir Putin on Aug. 9, 1999, announcing that in addition to serving as prime minister, the former KGB agent was his choice as a successor in the 2000 presidential election. That same year the former Russian satellites of Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic joined NATO, raising Russia's hackles. The desire of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, all of which were once part of the Soviet Union, to join the organization in the future further antagonized Russia.

Just three years after the bloody 1994?1996 Chechen-Russian war ended in devastation and stalemate, the fighting started again in 1999, with Russia launching air strikes and following up with ground troops. By the end of November, Russian troops had surrounded Chechnya's capital, Grozny, and about 215,000 Chechen refugees had fled to neighboring Ingushetia. Russia maintained that a political solution was impossible until Islamic militants in Chechnya had been vanquished.

In a decision that took Russia and the world by surprise, Boris Yeltsin resigned on Dec. 31, 1999, and Vladimir Putin became the acting president. Two months later, after almost five months of fighting, Russian troops captured Grozny. It was a political as well as a military victory for Putin, whose hard-line stance against Chechnya greatly contributed to his political popularity.

On March 26, 2000, Putin won the presidential election with about 53% of the vote. Putin moved to centralize power in Moscow and attempted to limit the power and influence of both the regional governors and wealthy business leaders. Although Russia remained economically stagnant, Putin brought his nation a measure of political stability it never had under the mercurial and erratic Yeltsin. In Aug. 2000 the Russian government was severely criticized for its handling of the Kursk disaster, a nuclear submarine accident that left 118 sailors dead.

Russia was initially alarmed in 2001 when the U.S. announced its rejection of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty of 1972, which for 30 years had been viewed as a crucial force in keeping the nuclear arms race under control. But Putin was eventually placated by President George W. Bush's reassurances, and in May 2002, the U.S. and Russian leaders announced a landmark pact to cut both countries' nuclear arsenals by up to two-thirds over the next ten years.

On Oct. 23, 2002, Chechen rebels seized a crowded Moscow theater and detained 763 people, including 3 Americans. Armed and wired with explosives, the rebels demanded that the Russian government end the war in Chechnya. Government forces stormed the theater the next day, after releasing a gas into the theater that killed not only all the rebels but more than 100 hostages.

In March 2003, Chechens voted in a referendum that approved a new regional constitution making Chechnya a separatist republic within Russia. Agreeing to the constitution meant abandoning claims for complete independence, and the new powers accorded the republic were little more than cosmetic. During 2003, there were 11 bomb attacks against Russia that were believed to have been orchestrated by Chechen rebels.

Putin was reelected president in March 2004, with 70% of the vote. International election observers considered the process less than democratic.

A Shocking Hostage Situation, a Move Towards Climate Change, and Radiation Poison

In April 2003 reformist politician Sergei Yushenkov became the third outspoken critic of the Kremlin to be assassinated in five years. Just hours before he was gunned down, Yushenkov had officially registered his new political party, Liberal Russia. In Nov. 2003, billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky, president of the Yukos oil company, was arrested on charges of fraud and tax evasion. Khodorkovsky supported liberal opposition parties, which led many to suspect that President Putin may have engineered his arrest. On May 31, 2005, Khodorkovsky was sentenced to nine years in prison.

On Sept. 1?3, 2004, dozens of heavily armed guerrillas seized a school in Beslan, near Chechnya, and held about 1,100 young schoolchildren, teachers, and parents hostage. Hundreds of hostages were killed, including about 156 children. Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev claimed responsibility. In the aftermath of the horrific attack, Putin announced that he would radically restructure the government to fight terrorism more effectively. The world community expressed deep concern that Putin's plans would consolidate his power and roll back democracy in Russia.

In Sept. 2004, Russia endorsed the Kyoto Protocol on climate change. It was the final endorsement needed to put the protocol into effect worldwide.

Former Chechen president and rebel leader Aslan Maskhadov was killed by Russian special forces on March 8, 2005. Putin hailed it as a victory in his fight against terrorism. An even greater victory occurred in July 2006, when Russia announced the killing of Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev, responsible for the horrific Beslan terrorist attack. In Feb. 2007, Putin dismissed the president of Chechnya, Alu Alkhanov, and appointed Ramzan Kadyrov, a security official and the son of former Chechen president Akhmad, who was killed by rebels in 2004. Ramzan Kadyrov and forces loyal to him have been linked to human-rights abuses in the troubled region.

Alexander Litvinenko, a former KGB agent who has been critical of the Kremlin, died from poisoning by a radioactive substance in November 2006. On his deathbed in a London hospital, he accused Putin of masterminding his murder. In July 2007, Moscow refused the British government's request to extradite Andrei Lugovoi, another former KGB agent who British authorities have accused in Litvinenko's murder.

Crumbling Relations with the United States and Conflict with Georgia

The International Olympic Committee announced in July 2007 that Sochi, Russia, a Black Sea resort, will host the Winter Games in 2014. It will be the first time Russia or the former Soviet Union hosts the Winter Games. That same month, President Putin announced that Russia will suspend the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe treaty, which limits conventional weapons in Europe. Several U.S. officials speculated that Putin was acting in response to U.S. plans to build a missile shield in Europe?a move stongly opposed by Russia. The move provided further evidence of deteriorating relations between the United States and Russia. In Sept., Putin nominated Viktor Zubkov, a close ally, as prime minister. The Duma, the lower house of Parliament, confirmed the nomination.

Putin announced in October that he would head the list of candidates on the United Russia ticket, the country's leading political party. Such a move would pave the way for Putin to become prime minister, and thus allow him to retain power. In December parliamentary elections, United Russia won in a landslide, taking 64.1% of the vote, far ahead of the Communist Party of Russia, which took 11.6%. Opposition parties complained that the election was rigged, and European monitors said the vote wasn't fair. Putin used his sway over the media to stifle the opposition and campaign for United Russia, making the election a referendum on his popularity. Opposition leader and former chess champion Garry Kasparov said the election was "the most unfair and dirtiest in the whole history of modern Russia."

In Dec., Putin endorsed Dmitri Medvedev in the presidential election scheduled for March 2008. A Putin loyalist who is said to be moderate and pro-Western, Medvedev is a first deputy prime minister and the chairman of Gazprom, the country's oil monopoly. He has never worked in intelligence or security agencies, unlike Putin and many members of his administration. Medvedev said that if elected, he would appoint Putin as prime minister. Medvedev won the presidential election with 67% of the vote. Putin said he would serve as Medvedev's prime minister and indicated that he will increase the responsibilities of the position. Although Medvedev vowed to restore stability to Russia after the 1990s turmoil, significant change in the government is not expected.

On April 15, 2008, Putin was chosen as chairman of the United Russia party and agreed to become prime minister when Dmitri Medvedev assumed the presidency in May. On May 6, 2008, Dmitry Medvedev was sworn in as president, and Putin became prime minister days later. Although Medvedev assumed the presidency, Putin clearly remained in control of the government and signaled that the premiership would gain broad authority. In assembling a cabinet, Putin called on several members of his former administration.

In Aug. 2008, fighting broke out between Georgia and its two breakaway regions, South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Russia sent hundreds of troops to support the enclaves, and also launched airstrikes and occupied the Georgian city of Gori. Observers speculated that Russia's aggressive tactics marked an attempt to gain control of Georgia's oil and gas export routes. By the end of Aug., after a cease-fire agreement between Russia and Georgia was signed, Medvedev severed diplomatic ties with Georgia, officially recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent regions, and pledged military assistance from Russia. The move heightened tensions between Russia and the West.

Both Russia and Georgia have painted each other as the aggressor responsible for the war?Georgia said it launched an attack in South Ossetia because a Russian invasion was under way, and Russia claimed it sent troops to the breakaway region to protect civilians from Georgia's offensive attack. In November 2008, Erosi Kitsmarishvili, a former Georgian diplomat to Moscow, testified that the Georgian government was responsible for starting the conflict with Russia. Kitsmarishvili stated that Georgian officials told him in April that they planned to start a war in the breakaway regions and were supported by the U.S. government.

A dispute over debts and pricing of gas supplies between Russia and Ukraine led Gazprom, the major Russian gas supplier, to halt its gas exports to Europe via Ukraine for two weeks in January 2009, affecting at least ten EU countries. About 80% of Russian gas exports to Europe are pumped through Ukraine. Russia and Ukraine blamed each other for the disruption to Europe's energy supply.

String of Suicide Bombs Sparks Fear of a Crackdown by Putin

On March 24, 2010, the United States and Russia reported a breakthrough in arms-control negotiations. Both countries agreed to lower the limit on deployed strategic warheads and launchers by 25% and 50%, respectively, and also to implement a new inspection regime. President Obama and President Medvedev signed the treaty that outlines this agreement on April 8 in Prague. The U.S. Senate ratified the treaty, called New Start, in December.

Two female suicide bombers, acting just minutes apart, detonated bombs in two Moscow subways stations, killing at least 39 people in March 2010. It was the first terrorist attack in the capital city since 2004, when Moscow experienced a string of deadly violence. Doku Umarov, a former Chechen separatist and the self-proclaimed emir of the north Caucasus, claimed responsibility for masterminding the attack. Two days later, two explosions killed 12 people in the north Caucasus region of Dagestan. The attacks prompted concern that Prime Minister Putin would crack down on civil liberties and democracy as he did in 2004, following the siege of a school in Beslan.

In June 2010, the FBI announced it had infiltrated a Russian spy ring that had agents operating undercover in several cities in the United States. Ten people were arrested and charged with espionage. By most accounts, their attempts to collect policy information were largely ineffective and clumsy, and any material they managed to gather was readily available on the Internet. Days later, the U.S. and Russia completed a prisoner exchange, with 12 suspected spies deported to Russia and four men accused of spying on the West were sent to the United States.

Protests and Unrest Surrounds the 2012 Presidential Election

In Sept. 2011, Putin announced that he would run for president as the candidate of the United Russia party in March 2012 elections. In a deal that was reportedly struck two years ago, Putin and President Medvedev would swap positions, with Medvedev assuming the role as head of the party and thus becoming prime minister. Putin was all but assured to sweep the election and serve another six years as president. The announcement confirmed the widely held assumption that Putin ran the country. Putin announced his plans for the Eurasian Union that same month. The new union would include countries that were formerly part of the Soviet Union.

The Dec. 2011 parliamentary elections sparked protests, mainly from middle-class Russians. International and local monitors condemned the election as fraudulent. United Russia, the party led by Putin, came out on top in the elections, receiving nearly 50 percent of the vote, but they lost 77 seats. Monitors said that United Russia would have lost more seats were it not for ballot-box stuffing and voting irregularities. The height of the protests came on Dec. 10, when over 40,000 Russians rallied near the Kremlin. It was the largest anti-Kremlin protest since the early 1990s. The activists called for Putin's resignation and denounced the election results. Three minority parties in Parliament also complained about the election's outcome, but they were all at odds over what to do about it. President Medvedev called for an inquiry into the election fraud. Meanwhile, Putin accused the United States, singling out Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, for instigating the demonstrations when she criticized conduct during the parliamentary elections.

On Dec. 12, billionaire industrialist Mikhail D. Porkhorov announced that he planned to run for president against Putin in 2012. Porkhorov owns many businesses in Russia as well as the New Jersey Nets, the NBA franchise, in the United States. In his announcement, Porkhorov said, "I made a decision, probably the most serious decision in my life: I am going to the presidential election." Many observers questioned if Porkhorov was truly challenging Putin or if he had Putin's approval to run to create an air of legitimacy to the race.

On March 4, 2012, Vladimir Putin won the presidential election, claiming 64% of the vote. The following day, observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe challenged the election, saying Putin won because he had no competition and government spending at his disposal. The United States and the European Union called for an investigation into fraud allegations. Meanwhile, thousands of demonstrators in Moscow took to the streets, chanting, "Russia without Putin." A similar demonstration happened in St. Petersburg. When protestors refused to leave, police arrested them. In Moscow, 250 people were arrested. In St. Petersburg, 300 demonstrators were detained. Inspired by the protests against Putin, about 200 young Muscovites ran as independent candidates in municipal March 2012 elections. More than 70 of them won spots on district councils. Even with Putin's supporters occupying many of the other council seats, the elections were a sign that the protests had made an impact in the political system and, perhaps, would continue to do so.

In May of 2012 as Putin prepared to take office for a third time as president, demonstrations turned violent. The day before the inauguration, 20,000 antigovernment demonstrators fought with police near the Kremlin. The fighting included smoke bombs, bottles, and sticks. The following day, while Putin officially took office, the protests continued and police arrested 120 people. Even though antigovernment protests have been going on for months, the demonstrations had been peaceful until now. The violence was a dramatic shift. Dressed in riot gear, police searched cafes and restaurants for protesters. The demonstrators taken into police custody were sent to military draft offices. Right after Putin was sworn in as president, he nominated Medvedev as Russia's prime minister.

On June 8, 2012, Putin signed a law imposing a huge fine on organizers of protests as well as people who take part in them. The law gives Russian authorities the power to crackdown on the anti-government protests which started months ago when Putin announced his decision to run again for President. Four days later, 10,000 protesters took to the Moscow streets in response to the new law. The fine for those marching in protests was set at $9,000, a steep penalty considering the average yearly salary in Russia is $8,500. For organizers of demonstrations, the fine was set at $18,000.

Russia Blocks U.N. Action in Syria, Passes New Laws against Political Activists

In Feb. 2012, Russia made international headlines by blocking an effort by the United Nations Security Council to end the violence in Syria. Russia, along with China, vetoed the resolution just hours after the Syrian military launched an assault on the city of Homs. The Security Council voted 13 to 2 for a resolution backing an Arab League peace plan for Syria. Russia and China voted against the resolution, seeing it as a violation of Syria's sovereignty. Russia also continued to provide weapons to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as well as diplomatic support. Syria's 11-month uprising has caused more than 5,000 casualties.

Also in Feb. 2012, President Medvedev awarded Syrian writer and poet Ali Ukla Ursan a Pushkin Medal. Ursan was one of 11 foreigners honored for their close ties with Russia. Ursan, an adviser to the Syrian Writers Union, has publicly expressed anti-Semitic opinions and praised the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

On July 19, 2012, Russia and China vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution to impose sanctions on the Syrian government. The proposed U.N. sanctions were intended to push Syria into putting a peace plan into action and ending its 17-month-old conflict. The resolution was proposed by Britain and backed by ten other council members, including France and the United States. Russian ambassador Vitaly I. Churkin explained the Russian veto to the council, "We simply cannot accept a document which would open the path for pressure of sanctions and further to external military involvement in Syrian domestic affairs."

During the summer of 2012, the government began cracking down against political activists in new ways. Two new laws were signed by Putin. One law gave the government the power to shut down websites that have content which could be harmful to children. The other law increased penalties for libel. In July 2012, the Investigative Committee began criminal cases against Aleksei Navalny, an anticorruption blogger, and Gennady Gudkov, a lawmaker. Navalny, a leader of the anti-Putin protest movement which began in Dec. 2011, was found guilty of embezzlement and faced five to 10 years in prison.

Also in July 2012, three members of a Russian punk band called Pussy Riot were arrested and put on trial for hooliganism after they performed an anti-Putin song on the altar of Moscow's main Orthodox cathedral. During one of the most high-profile trials that Russia's had in years, the band members said their demonstration was political, not an attack on Orthodox Christians. Masha, Katya, and Nadya, the three members of Pussy Riot, were convicted of hooliganism on Aug. 17, 2012, and sentenced to two years in a penal colony. At the sentencing, activists outside of the courthouse began to protest, chanting "Free Pussy Riot!" Police arrested dozens of protestors. Rallies supporting the three women were held in cities around the world, including London, New York and Paris. Immediately following the verdict, the United States, other governments, and human rights groups criticized the decision, calling the sentence severe.

On Oct. 10, 2012, a court in Moscow freed one of the three members of Pussy Riot, the punk band convicted of hooliganism for protesting in a cathedral last February. Yekaterina Samutsevich was released after judges accepted her new lawyer's argument that she played less of a role in the cathedral protest performance that landed her in jail with her band mates. More than a year later, President Putin announced that the two members of Pussy Riot who were still in jail would be released under an amnesty in Dec. 2013. Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, age 24, and Maria Alyokhina, age 25, would be released, in part, because they are both mothers to young children.

On Oct. 19, 2012, Leonid Razvozzhayev, a Russian opposition leader, disappeared from Kiev, Ukraine. According to an interview with The New Times magazine, published on October 24, he was held for three days by men threatening to kill his children if he did not sign a confession. Razvozzhayev was in Kiev seeking advice on political asylum from the United Nations office there. He was held in a house and not allowed to eat or drink for three days. Once he signed the confession, his kidnappers turned him over to authorities in Moscow.

Russian authorities charged Razvozzhayev and other opposition figures with plotting riots and seeking aid from Georgia in order to overthrow Putin's government. Vladimir Markin, a spokesman for Russian federal investigators, said that Razvozzhayev turned himself in to the authorities in Moscow and, at the time, he did not speak of any "torture, abduction or any other unlawful actions." Markin said investigators would look into the claim of a forced signed confession.

Russia Joins World Trade Organization while at Odds with U.S. over Weapons Pact, Snowden, and Syria

After 19 years of negotiations, Russia became the newest member of the World Trade Organization on Aug. 22, 2012. Russia has cut tariffs on imports and set limits on export duties as part of a series of reforms enacted to qualify for entry into the international trading arena. Expectations of membership include an increase of 3% in the Russian GDP, more foreign investment, and a doubling of U.S. exports to Russia?as long as trade relations are normalized through the lifting of the 1974 Jackson-Vanik amendment.

On Oct. 10, 2012, the Russian government announced it would not renew the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program with the United States when the agreement expires in the spring of 2013. The agreement was part of a successful 20-year partnership between Russia and the United States. It eliminated nuclear and chemical weapons from the former Soviet Union and protected against the threat of nuclear war. For example, as part of the agreement, 7,600 nuclear warheads were deactivated and all nuclear weapons were removed from former Soviet territories such as Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine.

Russian officials explained that their country's economy had improved since the agreement. In a statement, Russia's Foreign Ministry said that it had increased its budget allocation "in the field of disarmament." The statement went on to say, "American partners know that their proposal is not consistent with our ideas about what forms and on what basis further cooperation should be built." The statement left open the possibility of a new agreement with the United States, but no specific conditions of a new agreement were given.

In early July 2013, Fugitive American intelligence contractor, Edward Snowden, asked international human rights organizations to help him receive asylum in Russia. Snowden had been seeking refuge at an international transit zone at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport since June 2013. When he first arrived at the Russian airport, he expressed a desire for asylum in Russia. President Putin responded by saying that Snowden could stay in Russia only if he ceased "his work aimed at inflicting damage on our American partners." Meanwhile, the United States made diplomatic moves to prevent Snowden from receiving permanent asylum in Bolivia, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, the three Latin American governments that have stated they would take him.

Snowden filed a temporary asylum request after more than three weeks at the airport in Sheremetyevo on July 17, 2013. After the request was filed, Putin would not say whether or not Russia would grant Snowden's request. Instead, Putin reiterated that Snowden must do no further harm to the United States. The following week, while Edward Snowden still waited on approval of his temporary asylum request, U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr., attempted to dissuade Russia from granting the asylum. Holder wrote in a letter to Russian Justice Minister Alexander Konovalov that Snowden would not face torture or the death penalty should he be returned to the United States to face charges of espionage. Despite these efforts, on Aug. 1, 2013, Russia granted Snowden asylum for one year. The temporary asylum allowed him to leave the Moscow airport where he had been since June. Russia granted Snowden asylum despite strong urging from the U.S. not to do so. In response, President Obama canceled a planned summit meeting with Putin which was to be held in Moscow in September.

On Sept. 9, 2013, U.S. secretary of state John Kerry suggested half-heartedly that a strike on Syria could be averted if Syrian President Bashar al-Assad agreed to hand over all chemical weapons. Russia took the proposal seriously, and Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov said, "If the establishment of international control over chemical weapons in the country will prevent attacks, then we will immediately begin work with Damascus. And we call on the Syrian leadership to not only agree to setting the chemical weapons storage sites under international control, but also to their subsequent destruction." Syrian foreign minister Walid al-Moallem also embraced the option. "We are ready to reveal the locations of the chemical weapon sites and to stop producing chemical weapons and make these sites available for inspection by representatives of Russia, other countries and the United Nations," he said in a statement on Sept. 12. It was the first time the Syrian government acknowledged it had chemical weapons. Given the uncertainty of Congressional authorization, diplomacy would spare Obama a potential rebuke that could undercut his authority for the remainder of his presidency.

Russia and the U.S. reached an agreement on Sept. 15 that said Syria must provide an inventory of its chemicals weapons and production facilities within a week and either turn over or destroy all of its chemical weapons by mid-2014. If the government fails to comply, then the UN Security Council would take up the issue. The timetable is extremely aggressive such disarmament typically takes years, not months. While the agreement delayed a Congressional vote on a military strike, the U.S. kept that possibility on the table. "If diplomacy fails, the United States remains prepared to act," Obama said.

On Sept. 16, the UN confirmed in a report that the chemical agent sarin had been used near Damascus on Aug. 21. "Chemical weapons have been used in the ongoing conflict between the parties in the Syrian Arab Republic, also against civilians, including children, on a relatively large scale," the report said. "The environmental, chemical and medical samples we have collected provide clear and convincing evidence that surface-to-surface rockets containing the nerve agent sarin were used." The report did not indicate who was responsible for launching the attack. Two days later, Russia denounced the UN's report, calling it incomplete. In a statement broadcast on Russian television, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei A. Ryabkov said, "We think that the report was distorted. It was one-sided. The basis of information upon which it is built is insufficient."

International Protests and Multiple Bombings Threaten 2014 Olympics

During the summer of 2013, Russia's State Duma passed an anti-gay bill with a 436-0 vote. Backed by the Kremlin, the legislation banned the "propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations." The language of the bill was vague, but it was seen by the international community as an effort to crack down on homosexuality. While the State Duma, or lower house, voted on the bill, more than two dozen protestors were attacked by anti-gay demonstrators and then arrested by police in Moscow. Russian President Vladimir Putin signed the law in July. The law included a large fine for holding gay pride rallies or for giving any LGBT information to minors. Those caught breaking the new law could be arrested. Foreigners could be deported.

Throughout July and Aug. 2013, Russia's anti-gay bill sparked international protest and outrage. Athletes throughout the world threatened to boycott the 2014 Olympics in protest. The International Olympic Committee began probing Russia to see how the country would enforce the law during the Olympics. In an effort to do damage control over the controversy, the International Olympic Committee said by late July that it had "received assurances from the highest level of government in Russia that the legislation will not affect those attending or taking part in the Games." Meanwhile, FIFA reported that it was also seeking out "clarification and more details" about the new anti-gay law from Russia, which would host the 2018 World Cup.

On Sunday, Dec. 29, 2013, at least sixteen people were killed in a suicide bombing at a railroad station in Volgograd, a city in southern Russia. Nearly three dozen others were wounded. The following day another suicide bombing took place on a trolley bus in the same city. At least ten people were killed and ten others were wounded. Both explosions came just six weeks before the Winter Olympics were being held in Sochi, 400 miles away from Volgograd. Never has a host country experienced this level of violent terrorism so close to the Olympic Games. President Putin vowed to double security in all of Russia's railway stations and airports. During the Olympics, the government has planned for more than 40,000 law enforcement officials to be on hand at the event.

In Jan. 2014, another bomb exploded and suspicious deaths occurred in the Stavropol territory, which borders the province where the Winter Olympics will be held. A vehicle exploded on Wednesday, Jan. 8, 2014. One person was in the car at the time of the explosion. Two other bodies were found nearby. The following day, explosive material was found in another vehicle along with the bodies of three men. Russian authorities began an investigation into all six deaths.

Despite threats of terrorist attacks, complaints about poor preparations, and the international condemnation over their anti-gay law, Russia kicked off the costliest Olympic Games in history on Feb. 7, 2014, with an opening ceremony filled with music, floats and a light show using the most advanced technology available. While the games were originally estimated to cost $12 billion, that number has risen to $50 billion. The opening ceremony was mostly glitch free, although one of the five floating Olympic rings failed to open. Russian President Vladimir Putin attended and officially announced the start of the games during the ceremony. On the same day as the opening ceremony, a passenger on a Turkish jetliner told the crew that a bomb was on board and to fly the plane to Sochi. Instead, the crew landed in Istanbul. The suspect was taken into custody and no bomb was found. Meanwhile, the United States government banned all liquids, gels, aerosols and powders in carry-on luggage for flights to and from Russia. The ban came after the U.S. issued a warning that explosive material could be concealed in toothpaste tubes.

On Feb. 23, 2014, the Sochi Winter Games closed with an impressive ceremony, including Russia poking fun at its five floating ring opening ceremony malfunction. Despite the controversies and terror threats, the Sochi Games were incident free and considered a success. Russia led the medal count with 33, following by the United States with 28, and Norway with 26.

Russia Annexes Crimea, Experiences Economic Fallout Due to Sanctions

On March 1, 2014, Russian president Vladimir Putin dispatched troops to Crimea, citing the need to protect Russians from extremist ultranationalists, referring to the anti-government protesters in Kiev. The Russian troops surrounded Ukrainian military bases, and by March 3, Russia was reportedly in control of Crimea. The move sparked international outrage and condemnation just days after Russia successfully hosted the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. President Obama called the move a "breach of international law."

In a press conference on March 4, Putin said he didn't see an immediate reason to initiate a military conflict, but Russia "reserves the right to use all means at our disposal to protect" Russian citizens and ethnic Russians in the region. Two days later, the U.S. imposed sanctions on officials, advisers, and other individuals who have been involved in the undermining of democracy in the Crimea. The sanctions involved revoking visas for travel to the U.S. for those who hold them and refusing visas for those seeking them. On the same day, the Crimean Parliament approved a referendum, scheduled for March 16, asking voters if they want to secede from Ukraine and be annexed by Russia.

Nearly 97% of voters in Crimea chose to secede from Ukraine in the referendum on March 16, 2014. The next day, the Crimean Parliament declared the region independent and formally sought annexation by Russia. In a statement from the Kremlin, Putin said, "The referendum was organized in such a way as to guarantee Crimea's population the possibility to freely express their will and exercise their right to self-determination." Obama told Putin that neither the U.S. nor the international community would recognize the results of the referendum. He said the referendum "violates the Ukrainian Constitution and occurred under duress of Russian military intervention." On March 17, Obama imposed economic sanctions on 11 Russian officials and Putin advisers, including Crimean prime minister Sergey Aksyonov, who were "responsible for the deteriorating situation in Ukraine." The sanctions froze the assets held in the U.S. and banned Americans from doing business with those sanctioned.

On March 18, Putin signed a treaty stating that Russia had annexed Crimea, reclaiming territory that was part of Russia from 1783, when Empress Catherine II took it over from the Ottoman Empire, to 1954 when Nikita Khrushchev transferred the region to Ukraine. After signing the treaty, Putin gave a speech that both defended his move, denounced internationally as a land grab, and lashed out at the West. "Our Western partners have crossed a line," he said, referring to the West's support for Kiev. "We have every reason to think that the notorious policy of confining Russia, pursued in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, continues today."

The move certainly jeopardized Russia's relationship with the U.S. and Europe, and complicated any hopes for a peace agreement in Syria and cast a cloud over the talks over Iran's nuclear program. Neither the U.S. nor the European Union recognized Crimea as part of Russia. The members of the Group of 8 industrialized nations announced on March 24 that they had suspended Russia from the group and moved the upcoming meeting from Sochi, Russia, to Brussels. The UN General Assembly passed a resolution on March 27 that declared Russia's annexation of Crimea illegal and described the referendum on the issue as "having no validity." One hundred countries voted in favor, 11 voted against, and 58 abstained. The resolution has no enforcement power, making it symbolic. Nonetheless, it clearly sent Putin a message.

After annexation, Putin continued to deploy as many as 40,000 Russian troops on the southern and eastern border with Ukraine, areas that are dominated by ethnic Russians, raising fears that he may attempt to take over additional regions of the country. Those fears were realized in early April, when pro-Russian protesters and armed militants in the eastern cities of Donetsk, Kharkiv, Luhansk, and Mariupol took over several government buildings and police stations. On April 17, 2014, in Geneva, representatives from the U.S., Russia, Ukraine, and the European Union reached an agreement intended to de-escalate the tension in eastern Ukraine. The agreement stated that all illegal armed groups will lay down their arms and all buildings seized illegally will be surrendered. Both sides agreed to end the violence and intolerance, with anti-Semitism being singled out. However, Russia did not commit to withdrawing the 40,000 troops it has massed on the Ukrainian border.

In response to Russia's refusal to comply with the agreement reached in Geneva to rein in the pro-Russian groups, the U.S. imposed additional sanctions in late April on seven Russian individuals, including Igor Sechin, the head of Russia's largest oil producer, and 17 companies with close ties to Putin, targeting some of the country's wealthiest and most powerful businessmen. The sanctions, announced on April 28, put a travel ban on the individuals and froze the assets of the officials and the businesses. They also restricted the import of U.S. goods that could be used for military purposes. The European followed with similar sanctions and the U.S. added more sanctions at the end of the year. The sanctions took a toll on Russia's economy. Standard & Poor's downgraded Russia's credit rating, leaving it just one notch above junk status, investors withdrew about $50 billion from the country, and the stock market fell 13% in 2014.

Putin Signs Gas Accord with China, Begins Eurasian Union as Ukraine Fallout Continues

After a decade of discussion, Russia's Gazprom signed a deal to sell natural gas to China's National Petroleum Corporation in May 2014. The deal was a $400 billion, 30-year supply contract for 38 billion cubic meters of gas per year. The supply would start in 2018. The fuel would come from a new pipeline in eastern Siberia. By 2014, China consumed about 4% of the world's gas, but about half of the world's iron ore, coal, and copper. However, China was on its way to being the world's biggest gas user by 2035. That same month, Russian President Vladimir Putin launched an Eurasian Union. Kazakhstan and Belarus joined Russia in the new economic alliance that hoped to one day rival the European Union. With a combined $2.7 trillion gross domestic product between the three countries, the union has promise. However, the fallout from recent events in Ukraine, which had been expected to be a part of the new bloc, could hurt the union and prevent it from growing to the same level as the European Union.

As the fighting and chaos escalated in eastern Ukraine and the U.S. and Europe threatened additional sanctions, on May 7, Putin announced the withdrawal of the 40,000 troops from the border with Ukraine, urged separatists to abandon plans for a referendum on autonomy, and said Russia would participate in negotiations to end the crisis. "I simply believe that if we want to find a long-term solution to the crisis in Ukraine, open, honest, and equal dialogue is the only possible option," Putin said. Both the U.S. and European officials responded with a heavy dose of skepticism that Putin would follow through.

A Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 crashed in eastern Ukraine near the Russian border on July 17, killing all 298 passengers and crew members. The crash occurred in territory where pro-Russian separatists have been battling Ukrainian troops. Ukrainian, European, and American officials said the plane was shot down by a Russian-made surface-to-air missile, citing satellite images. President Putin denied having any role in the disaster. Most analysts said rebels may have thought they were targeting a military transport plane rather than a commercial jet. A day before the crash, the U.S. imposed further sanctions on Russia in response to Putin's refusal to stop arming the separatists.

In late July 2014, the U.S. accused Russia of violating the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, an agreement between the two countries banning medium range missiles. The treaty stated that the Russian Federation may not possess, produce, or test a ground-launched cruise missile with a range capability of 310 to 3,417 miles, nor produce or possess launchers of such missiles. Senior U.S. State Department officials said that Russia had violated the treaty, citing cruise missile tests by Russia dating back to 2008. That same month Russia sent 20,000 troops to the border of Ukraine. The move was in response to an aggressive campaign by the Ukrainian military, which included taking control of some of the border crossings that Russia had been using to arm the rebels.

On Sept. 5, representatives from the Ukrainian government, the Russian-backed separatists, Russia, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe who had been meeting in Minsk, Belarus, announced that they had agreed on a cease-fire, an agreement called the Minsk Protocol. The terms include an immediate end to fighting, the exchange of prisoners, amnesty for those who did not commit serious crimes, a 6-mile buffer zone along the Ukrainian-Russian border, decentralization of power in the Donbass region (the area dominated by the Russian-backed rebels), and the creation of a route to deliver humanitarian aid. However, the fighting continued despite the cease-fire. Between the signing of the cease-fire and early December, about 1,000 civilians and soldiers were killed-about 25% of the total 4,300 military and civilian fatalities. In addition, NATO reported that Russia has continued to supply the rebels with combat troops, vehicles, backing up claims by the Ukrainian government.

The cease-fire was all but shattered in January 2015 when the fighting between separatists and the government intensified in eastern Ukraine, rebels took over the Donetsk airport, and evidence mounted that Russia was supplying the rebels with increasingly sophisticated weapons. Poroshenko said as many as 9,000 Russian soldiers were taking part in the fighting in Luhansk and Donetsk, a claim Russia denied. Amid the crisis, the leaders of Russia, Ukraine, Germany, and France met in Feb. 2015 to try to resurrect the Minsk Protocol. After 16 hours of negotiations, the parties agreed to a cease-fire and to end the war in eastern Ukraine.

Nemtsov Is Assassinated, Two Aircraft Crash in 2015

On Feb. 27, 2015, just two days before he was scheduled to lead an opposition peace rally, Boris Nemtsov was shot and killed in Moscow. Nemtsov had been a vocal critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin, and most recently, of the war in Ukraine. According to fellow opposition leader Ilya Yashin, at the time of his death, Nemtsov had been working on a report of the Russian military's involvement in Ukraine. Putin condemned Nemtsov's murder and promised to lead the investigation into his death.

Nemtsov was the most prominent opposition leader to be killed during Putin's presidency. The incident sparked outrage and protests, including tens of thousands marching through Moscow in the days after the assassination.

On Oct. 31, 2015, Airbus A321-200, an 18-year-old Russian passenger plane, crashed just 20 minutes after taking off from Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt. All 224 people on board were killed. Investigators exploring the debris said that the plane's fuselage disintegrated in the air while flying over Egypt's Sinai Peninsula. The cause of the disintegration was not immediately known. However, The Sinai Province of the Islamic State, an ISIS offshoot, claimed responsibility for bombing the plane. The following month, Russia's FSB security service announced that Airbus A321-200 was taken down by a homemade explosive device.

Turkey shot down a Russian warplane for invading its airspace in late Nov. 2015. At least one of the two pilots was killed. Turkish officials said that the plane ignored repeated warnings as it crossed over into its airspace from Syria. In a statement, Russian President Vladimir Putin called the act a "stab in the back." He also said that there would be "significant consequences." It was the first time in fifty years that a NATO member had shot down a Russian aircraft.

U.S. Department of State Background Note



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Although human experience on the territory of present-day Russia dates back to Paleolithic times, the first lineal predecessor of the modern Russian state was founded in 862. The political entity known as Kievan Rus was established in Kiev in 962 and lasted until the 12th century. In the 10th century, Christianity became the state religion under Vladimir, who adopted Greek Orthodox rites. Consequently, Byzantine culture predominated, as is evident in much of Russia's architectural, musical, and artistic heritage. Over the next centuries, various invaders assaulted the Kievan state and, finally, Mongols under Batu Khan destroyed the main population centers except for Novgorod and Pskov in the 13th century and prevailed over the region until 1480. Some historians believe that the Mongol period had a lasting impact on Russian political culture.

In the post-Mongol period, Muscovy gradually became the dominant principality and was able, through diplomacy and conquest, to establish suzerainty over European Russia. Ivan III (1462-1505) referred to his empire as "the Third Rome" and considered it heir to the Byzantine tradition. Ivan IV (the Terrible) (1530-1584) was the first Russian ruler to call himself tsar. He pushed Russian eastward with his conquests but his later reign was marked by the cruelty that earned him his familiar epithet. He was succeeded by Boris Godunov, whose reign commenced the so-called Time of Troubles. Relative stability was achieved when Michael Romanov established the dynasty that bore his name in 1613.

During the reign of Peter the Great (1689-1725), modernization and European influences spread in Russia. Peter created Western-style military forces, subordinated the Russian Orthodox Church hierarchy to the tsar, reformed the entire governmental structure, and established the beginnings of a Western-style education system. He moved the capital westward from Moscow to St. Petersburg, his newly-established city on the Baltic. His introduction of European customs generated nationalistic resentments in society and spawned the philosophical rivalry between "Westernizers" and nationalistic "Slavophiles" that remains a key dynamic of current Russian social and political thought.

Catherine the Great continued Peter's expansionist policies and established Russia as a European power. During her reign (1762-96), power was centralized in the monarchy, and administrative reforms concentrated great wealth and privilege in the hands of the Russian nobility. Catherine was also known as an enthusiastic patron of art, literature and education and for her correspondence with Voltaire and other Enlightenment figures. Catherine also engaged in a territorial resettlement of Jews into what became known as "The Pale of Settlement," where great numbers of Jews were concentrated and later subject to vicious attacks known as pogroms.

Alexander I (1801-1825) began his reign as a reformer, but after defeating Napoleon's 1812 attempt to conquer Russia, he became much more conservative and rolled back many of his early reforms. During this era, Russia gained control of Georgia and much of the Caucasus. Throughout the 19 th century, the Russian Government sought to suppress repeated attempts at reform and attempts at liberation by various national movements, particularly under the reign of Nicholas I (1825-1855). Its economy failed to compete with those of Western countries. Russian cities were growing without an industrial base to generate employment, although emancipation of the serfs in 1861 foreshadowed urbanization and rapid industrialization late in the century. At the same time, Russia expanded into the rest of the Caucasus, Central Asia and across Siberia. The port of Vladivostok was opened on the Pacific coast in 1860. The Trans-Siberian Railroad opened vast frontiers to development late in the century. In the 19th century, Russian culture flourished as Russian artists made significant contributions to world literature, visual arts, dance, and music. The names of Dostoyevsky, Tolstoy, Gogal, Repin, and Tchaikovsky became known to the world.

Alexander II (1855-1881), a relatively liberal tsar, emancipated the serfs. His 1881 assassination, however, prompted the reactionary rule of Alexander III (1881-1894). At the turn of the century, imperial decline became evident. Russia was defeated in the unpopular Russo-Japanese war in 1905. The Russian Revolution of 1905 forced Tsar Nicholas II (1894-1917) to grant a constitution and introduce limited democratic reforms. The government suppressed opposition and manipulated popular anger into anti-Semitic pogroms. Attempts at economic change, such as land reform, were incomplete.

1917 Revolution and the U.S.S.R.

The ruinous effects of World War I, combined with internal pressures, sparked the March 1917 uprising that led Tsar Nicholas II to abdicate the throne. A provisional government came to power, headed by Aleksandr Kerenskiy. On November 7, 1917, the Bolshevik Party, led by Vladimir Lenin, seized control and established the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic. Civil war broke out in 1918 between Lenin's "Red" army and various "White" forces and lasted until 1920, when, despite foreign interventions and a war with Poland, the Bolsheviks triumphed. After the Red army conquered Ukraine, Belarus, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia, a new nation, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.), was formed in 1922.

First among its political figures was Lenin, leader of the Bolshevik Party and head of the first Soviet Government, who died in 1924. In the late 1920s, Josef Stalin emerged as General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) amidst intra-party rivalries he maintained complete control over Soviet domestic and international policy until his death in 1953. In the 1930s, Stalin oversaw the forced collectivization of tens of millions of its citizens in state agricultural and industrial enterprises. Millions died in the process. Millions more died in political purges, the vast penal and labor system, and in state-created famines. Initially allied to Nazi Germany, which resulted in significant territorial additions on its western border, the U.S.S.R. was attacked by the Axis on June 22, 1941. Twenty million Soviet citizens died during World War II in the successful effort to defeat the Axis, in addition to over two million Soviet Jews who perished in the Holocaust. After the war, the U.S.S.R. became one of the Permanent Members of the UN Security Council. In 1949, the U.S.S.R. developed its own nuclear arsenal.

Stalin's successor, Nikita Khrushchev, served as Communist Party leader until he was ousted in 1964. Aleksey Kosygin became Chairman of the Council of Ministers, and Leonid Brezhnev was made First Secretary of the CPSU Central Committee in 1964. In 1971, Brezhnev rose to become "first among equals" in a collective leadership. Brezhnev died in 1982 and was succeeded by Yuriy Andropov (1982-84) and Konstantin Chernenko (1984-85). In 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev became the next (and last) General Secretary of the CPSU. Gorbachev introduced policies of perestroika (restructuring) and glasnost (openness). But his efforts to reform the creaky Communist system from within failed. The people of the Soviet Union were not content with half-freedoms granted by Moscow they demanded more and the system collapsed. Boris Yeltsin was elected the first president of the Russian Federation in 1991. Russia, Ukraine and Belarus formed the Commonwealth of Independent States in December 1991. Gorbachev resigned as Soviet President on December 25, 1991. Eleven days later, the U.S.S.R. was formally dissolved.

The Russian Federation

After the December 1991 dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Russian Federation became its successor state, inheriting its permanent seat on the UN Security Council, as well as the bulk of its foreign assets and debt. By the fall of 1993, politics in Russia reached a stalemate between President Yeltsin and the parliament. The parliament had succeeded in blocking, overturning, or ignoring the President's initiatives on drafting a new constitution, conducting new elections, and making further progress on democratic and economic reforms.

In a dramatic speech in September 1993, President Yeltsin dissolved the Russian parliament and called for new national elections and a new constitution. The standoff between the executive branch and opponents in the legislature turned violent in October after supporters of the parliament tried to instigate an armed insurrection. Yeltsin ordered the army to respond with force to capture the parliament building and crush the insurrection. In December 1993, voters elected a new parliament and approved a new constitution that had been drafted by the Yeltsin government. Yeltsin remained the dominant political figure, although a broad array of parties, including ultra-nationalists, liberals, agrarians, and communists, had substantial representation in the parliament and competed actively in elections at all levels of government.

In late 1994, the Russian security forces launched a brutal operation in the Republic of Chechnya against rebels who were intent on separation from Russia. Along with their opponents, Russian forces committed numerous violations of human rights. The protracted conflict, which received close scrutiny in the Russian media, raised serious human rights and humanitarian concerns abroad as well as within Russia. After numerous unsuccessful attempts to institute a cease-fire, in August 1996 the Russian and Chechen authorities negotiated a settlement that resulted in a complete withdrawal of Russian troops and the holding of elections in January 1997. A peace treaty was concluded in May 1997. Following a number of terrorist incidents blamed on Chechen separatists, the Russian government launched a new military campaign into Chechnya. By spring 2000, federal forces claimed control over Chechen territory, but fighting continues as rebel fighters regularly ambush Russian forces in the region. Throughout 2002 and 2003, the ability of Chechen separatists to battle the Russian forces waned but they claimed responsibility for numerous terrorist acts. In 2005 and 2006, key separatist leaders were killed by Russian forces.

On December 31, 1999 Boris Yeltsin resigned, and Vladimir Putin was named Acting President. In March 2000, he won election in his own right as Russia's second president with 53% of the vote. Putin moved quickly to reassert Moscow's control over the regions, whose governors had confidently ignored edicts from Boris Yeltsin. He sent his own "plenipotentiary representatives" (commonly called ??polpred' in Russian) to ensure that Moscow's policies were followed in recalcitrant regions and republics. He won enactment of liberal economic reforms that rescued a faltering economy and stopped a spiral of hyperinflation. Putin achieved wide popularity by stabilizing the government, especially in marked contrast to what many Russians saw as the chaos of the latter Yeltsin years. The economy grew, both because of rising oil prices and in part because Putin was able to achieve reforms in banking, labor, and private property. During this time, Russia also moved closer to the U.S., especially after the terror attacks of September 11, 2001. In 2002, the NATO-Russia Council was established, giving Russia a voice in NATO discussions.


In the political system established by the 1993 constitution, the president wields considerable executive power. There is no vice president, and the legislative branch is far weaker than the executive. The bicameral legislature consists of the lower house (State Duma) and the upper house (the Federation Council). The president nominates the highest state officials, including the prime minister, who must be approved by the Duma. The president can pass decrees without consent from the Duma. He also is head of the armed forces and of the Security Council.

Duma elections were held most recently on December 7, 2003, and presidential elections on March 14, 2004. The pro-government party, United Russia, won close to half of the seats in the Duma. Combined with its allies, United Russia commands a two-thirds majority. The OSCE judged the Duma elections as failing to meet international standards for fairness, due largely to extensive slanted media bias in the campaign. Vladimir Putin was re-elected to a second four-year term with 71% of the vote in March 2004. The Russian constitution does not allow presidents to serve more than two consecutive terms. Next elections for the Duma occur in December 2007, and for President in March 2008.

Russia is a federation, but the precise distribution of powers between the central government and the regional and local authorities is still evolving. The Russian Federation consists of 89 regional administrative units, including two federal cities, Moscow and St. Petersburg. The constitution explicitly defines the federal government's exclusive powers, but it also describes most key regional issues as the joint responsibility of the federal government and the regional administrative units. In 2000, President Putin grouped the regions into seven federal districts, with presidential appointees established in Moscow and six provincial capitals. In March 2004, the Constitution was amended to permit the merger of some regional administrative units. A law enacted in December 2004 eliminated the direct election of the country's regional leaders. Governors are now nominated by the president and subject to confirmation by regional legislatures.

The Russian judicial system consists of the Constitutional Court, courts of general jurisdiction, military courts, and arbitrage courts (which hear commercial disputes). The Constitutional Court of the Russian Federation is a court of limited subject matter jurisdiction. The 1993 constitution empowers the Constitutional Court to arbitrate disputes between the executive and legislative branches and between Moscow and the regional and local governments. The court also is authorized to rule on violations of constitutional rights, to examine appeals from various bodies, and to participate in impeachment proceedings against the president. The July 1994 Law on the Constitutional Court prohibits the court from examining cases on its own initiative and limits the scope of issues the court can hear. The system of general jurisdiction courts includes the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation, regional level courts, district level courts and justices of the peace.

The Duma passed a Criminal Procedure Code and other judicial reforms during its 2001 session. These reforms help make the Russian judicial system more compatible with its Western counterparts and are seen by most as an accomplishment in human rights. The reforms have reintroduced jury trials in certain criminal cases and created a more adversarial system of criminal trials that protect the rights of defendants more adequately. In 2002, the introduction of the new code led to significant reductions in time spent in detention for new detainees, and the number of suspects placed in pretrial detention declined by 30%. Another significant advance in the new Code is the transfer from the Procuracy to the courts of the authority to issue search and arrest warrants. There are rising concerns, however, that prosecutors have selectively targeted individuals for political reasons, as in the prosecution of Yukos Oil CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskiy.

In spite of the general tendency to increase judicial independence (for example, by recent considerable salary raise to judges), many judges still see their role not as of impartial and independent arbiters, but as of government officials protecting state interests. See below for more information on the commercial court/business law.

Russia's human rights record remains uneven and has worsened in some areas in recent years. Despite significant improvements in conditions following the end of the Soviet Union, problem areas remain. In particular, the Russian Government's policy in Chechnya has been a cause for international concern. Although the government has made progress in recognizing the legitimacy of international human rights standards, the institutionalization of procedures to safeguard these rights has lagged. There are, however, some indications that the law is becoming an increasingly important tool for those seeking to protect human rights.

The judiciary is often subject to manipulation by political authorities and is plagued by large case backlogs and trial delays. Lengthy pretrial detention remains a serious problem. Russia has one of the highest prison population rates in the world, at 685 per 100,000. There are credible reports of beating and torture of inmates and detainees by law enforcement and correctional officials. Prison conditions fall well below international standards. In 2001, President Putin pronounced a moratorium on the death penalty. There are reports that the Russian Government might still be violating promises they made upon entering the European Council, especially in terms of prison control and conditions.

In Chechnya, there have been credible allegations of violations of international human rights and humanitarian law committed by Russian and pro-Moscow Chechen forces. Chechen rebels also have committed abuses as well as acts of terrorism. Human rights groups have criticized Russian officials concerning cases of Chechens disappearing while in custody. Chechen rebels have similarly been responsible for politically motivated disappearances. Russian authorities have introduced some improvements, including better access to complaint mechanisms, the formal opening of investigations in most cases, and the introduction of two decrees requiring the presence of civilian investigators and other nonmilitary personnel during all large-scale military operations and targeted search and seizure operations. Human rights groups welcome these changes but claim that most abuses remain uninvestigated and unpunished and may be spreading more broadly in the North Caucasus.

The Russian constitution provides for freedom of religion and the equality of all religions before the law, as well as the separation of church and state. Although Jews and Muslims continue to encounter prejudice and societal discrimination, they have not been inhibited by the government in the free practice of their religion. High-ranking federal officials have condemned anti-Semitic hate crimes, but law enforcement bodies have not always effectively prosecuted those responsible. The influx of foreign missionaries has led to pressure by groups in Russia, specifically nationalists and the Russian Orthodox Church, to limit the activities of these "nontraditional" religious groups. In response, the Duma passed a restrictive and potentially discriminatory law on religion in October 1997. The law is complex, with many ambiguous and contradictory provisions. The law's most controversial provisions distinguish between religious "groups" and "organizations" and introduce a 15-year rule, which allows groups that have been in existence for 15 years or longer to obtain accredited status. Senior Russian officials have pledged to implement the 1997 law on religion in a manner that is not in conflict with Russia's international human rights obligations. Some local officials, however, have used the law as a pretext to restrict religious liberty.

Government pressure continued to weaken freedom of expression and the independence and freedom of some media, particularly major national television networks and regional electronic media outlets. A government decision resulted in the elimination of the last major non-state television network in 2003. National press is also increasingly in government hands or owned by government officials, narrowing the scope of opinion available. Self-censorship is a growing press problem. Unsolved murders of journalists, including the killing of respected investigative reporter Anna Politkovskaya in October 2006, have caused significant international concern and increased pressure on journalists to avoid subjects considered sensitive. In August 2007, authorities arrested several suspects in connection with the Politkovksaya case.

Enactment of a new law on foreign non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in 2006 was criticized in many quarters as a device to control civil society. Implementing regulations appear to impose onerous paperwork reporting burdens on NGOs that could be used to limit or even suppress some of them. This law was used to shut down an NGO for the first time in January 2007 on the basis of extremism charges however, most foreign NGOs have successfully re-registered. Domestic NGOs were not required to re-register, but are required to meeting new reporting requirements.

The constitution guarantees citizens the right to choose their place of residence and to travel abroad. Some big-city governments, however, have restricted this right through residential registration rules that closely resemble the Soviet-era "propiska" regulations. Although the rules were touted as a notification device rather than a control system, their implementation has produced many of the same results as the propiska system. The freedom to travel abroad and emigrate is respected although restrictions may apply to those who have had access to state secrets. Recognizing this progress, since 1994, the U.S. President has found Russia to be in full compliance with the provisions of the Jackson-Vanik Amendment.

Principal Government Officials

Prime Minister--Dmitry Medvedev

The Russian Federation maintains an embassy at 2650 Wisconsin Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20007 (tel. 202-298-5700) and a consular section at 2641 Tunlaw Road, Washington, DC (tel. 202-939-8907/8913/8918). Russian consulates also are located in Houston, New York, San Francisco, and Seattle.


A strong expansion in domestic demand continues to drive GDP growth, despite a slowdown in manufacturing. GDP growth and industrial production for 2006 were 6.7% and 4.8%, respectively, relative to 6.4% and 5.7% in 2005. GDP growth is currently derived from non-tradable sectors, but investment remains concentrated in tradables (oil and gas). Construction was the fastest growing sector of the economy, expanding by 14% in 2006. The main private sector services--wholesale & retail trade, banking & insurance, and transportation & communications--showed strong growth of about 10%. In contrast, public sector services--education, health care, and public administration--lagged behind with only 2-4% growth in 2006. Recent productivity growth has still been strong in some parts of domestic manufacturing. Real disposable incomes grew by 10.2% in 2006, spurring considerable growth in private consumption.

Monetary Policy

Large balance of payments surpluses have complicated monetary policy for Russia. The Central Bank has followed a policy of managed appreciation to ease the impact on domestic producers and has sterilized capital inflows with its large budget surpluses. However, the Central Bank also has been buying back dollars, pumping additional ruble liquidity into the system. Given the rising demand for money, this has softened the inflationary impact, but these policy choices have complicated the government's efforts to lower inflation to the single digits. Consumer Price Index (CPI) inflation was 9% in 2006 and 10.9% in 2005, having steadily decreased from 20.2% in 2000, due primarily to prudent fiscal policy and in 2006 lower world oil prices.

Government Spending/Taxation

The Russian federal budget has run growing surpluses since 2001, as the government has taxed and saved much of the rapidly increasing oil revenues. According to preliminary figures, the 2006 budget surplus was 7.4% of GDP on a cash basis. Although there are strong pressures to relax spending ahead of elections, the government has loosened its spending gradually, as the economy is running at near capacity and there are dangers of increasing inflation and rapid exchange rate appreciation. Spending increases to date have mostly been for increased salaries of government employees and pensions, but some money is also being dedicated to special investment funds and tax breaks to develop new industries in special economic zones. The government overhauled its tax system for both corporations and individuals in 2000-01, introducing a 13% flat tax for individuals and a unified tax for corporations, which improved overall collection. Business has put pressure on the government to reduce value added taxes (VAT) on oil and gas, but the government has postponed this discussion. Tax enforcement of disputes, particularly following the Yukos case, continues to be uneven and unpredictable.

Russia's population of 142.9 million (2006) is falling. Lower birth rates and higher death rates have reduced Russia's population at a nearly 0.5% annual rate since the early 1990s. Russia is one of few countries with a declining population (although birth rates in many developed countries have dropped below the long-term population replacement). Population decline is particularly drastic in Russia due to higher death rates, especially among working-age males. Cardiovascular disease, cancer, traffic injuries, suicide, alcohol poisoning, and violence are major causes of death. In a June 2006 speech to the Russian National Security Council, President Putin declared that Russia is facing a demographic crisis and called for measures to improve birth and mortality rates and increase population through immigration, primarily the return of Russian-speaking foreigners.

Russia and Ukraine are said to have the highest growth rates of HIV infection in the world. In Russia HIV seems to be transmitted mostly by intravenous drug users sharing needles, although data is very uncertain. Data from the Federal AIDS Center shows that the number of registered cases is doubling every 12 months and is currently at 300,000 persons. When projections are made which allow for people in high-risk groups who have not been tested for the disease, estimates of the actual number of HIV-infected persons are approximately 3 million. The high growth rate of AIDS cases, if unchecked, will have negative economic consequences. Investment will suffer from the diversion of private and government funds to AIDS treatment. The effect on the labor force may be acute since about 80% of infected individuals in Russia are under 30 years of age. At the September 2003 Camp David Summit, and again at the Bratislava meeting in February 2005, Presidents Bush and Putin pledged to deepen ongoing cooperation between the two countries to fight HIV/AIDS.

Commercial Law

Russia has a body of conflicting, overlapping and rapidly changing laws, decrees and regulations, which has resulted in an ad hoc and unpredictable approach to doing business. In this environment, negotiations and contracts from commercial transactions are complex and protracted. Uneven implementation of laws creates further complications. Regional and local courts are often subject to political pressure, and corruption is widespread. However, more and more small and medium businesses in recent years have reported fewer difficulties in this regard, especially in the Moscow region. In addition, Russian businesses are increasingly turning to the courts to resolve disputes. Russia's WTO accession process is also helping to bring the country's legal and regulatory regime in line with internationally accepted practices.

Natural Resources

The mineral-packed Ural Mountains and the vast oil, gas, coal, and timber reserves of Siberia and the Russian Far East make Russia rich in natural resources. However, most such resources are located in remote and climatically unfavorable areas that are difficult to develop and far from Russian ports. Nevertheless, Russia is a leading producer and exporter of minerals, gold, and all major fuels. Natural resources, especially energy, dominate Russian exports. Ninety percent of Russian exports to the United States are minerals or other raw materials.

Russia is one of the most industrialized of the former Soviet republics. However, years of very low investment have left much of Russian industry antiquated and highly inefficient. Besides its resource-based industries, it has developed large manufacturing capacities, notably in metals, food products, and transport equipment. Russia is now the world's third-largest exporter of steel and primary aluminum. Russia inherited most of the defense industrial base of the Soviet Union, so armaments remain an important export category for Russia. Efforts have been made with varying success over the past few years to convert defense industries to civilian use, and the Russian Government is engaged in an ongoing process to privatize the remaining 9,222 state-owned enterprises, 33% of which are in the industrial manufacturing sector.


For its great size, Russia has relatively little area suited for agriculture because of its arid climate and inconsistent rainfall. Northern areas concentrate mainly on livestock, and the southern parts and western Siberia produce grain. Restructuring of former state farms has been an extremely slow process. Foreigners are not allowed to own farmland in Russia although long-term leases are permitted. Private farms and garden plots of individuals account for over one-half of all agricultural production.


Russia attracted an estimated $31 billion in FDI in 2006 (3.2% of GDP), up from $13 billion in foreign direct investment (FDI) in 2005.Russia's annual FDI figures are now in line with those of China, India, and Brazil. However, Russia's per capita cumulative FDI still lags far behind such countries as Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic. The paradox is that Russia's challenging business climate, lack of transparency, and weak rule of law/corruption has taken a back seat to Russia's extraordinary macroeconomic fundamentals and the consumer and retail boom, which is providing double digit returns to investors and attracting new flows. Russian domestic investment is also returning home, as the foreign investment coming into Russia from havens like Cyprus and Gibraltar, is actually returning Russian capital . As of the end of 2006, loans to the financial sector were 57.2% of total banking sector assets. Retail loans amounted to $78.4 billion at the end of 2006, up from $41 billion at the end of 2005. Retail deposits increased to $144.1 billion from $95.7 billion over the same period. Also, currently deposits are fully insured up to $4,000 and an additional $12,000 is insured at 90%.

Although still small by international standards, the Russian banking sector is growing fast and is becoming a larger source of investment funds. To meet a growing demand for loans, which they were unable to cover with domestic deposits, Russian banks borrowed heavily abroad in 2006, accounting for two-thirds of the private-sector capital inflows in that year. Ruble lending has increased since the October 1998 financial crisis, and in 2006 loans were 63% of total bank assets, with consumer loans posting the fastest growth at 74% that same year. Fewer Russians prefer to keep their money outside the banking sector, the recent appreciation of the ruble against the dollar has persuaded many Russians to keep their money in rubles or other currencies such as the euro, and retail deposits grew by 65% in 2006. Despite recent growth, the poorly developed banking system, along with contradictory regulations across banking, bond, and equity markets, still makes it difficult for entrepreneurs to raise capital as well as to permit capital transfer from a capital-rich sector such as energy to capital-poor sectors such as agriculture and manufacturing and to diversify risk. Banks still perceive small and medium commercial lending as risky, and some banks are inexperienced with assessing credit risk, though the situation is improving. In 2003, Russia enacted a deposit insurance law to protect deposits up to 100,000 rubles (about $3,700) per depositor, and a bill is currently in the Duma, which if passed will increase this coverage to 190,000 rubles (about $7,000) per depositor.

The U.S. exported $4.7 billion in goods to Russia in 2006, a 21% increase from the previous year. Corresponding U.S. imports from Russia were $19.8 billion, up 29%. Russia is currently the 33rd-largest export market for U.S. goods. Russian exports to the U.S. were fuel oil, inorganic chemicals, aluminum, and precious stones. U.S. exports to Russia were machinery, meat (mostly poultry), electrical equipment, and high-tech products.

Russia's overall trade surplus in 2006 was $139 billion, up from $118 billion in 2005. World prices continue to have a major effect on export performance, since commodities--particularly oil, natural gas, metals, and timber--comprise 80% of Russian exports. Russian GDP growth and the surplus/deficit in the Russian Federation state budget are closely linked to world oil prices.

Russia is in the process of negotiating terms of accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO). The U.S. and Russia concluded a bilateral WTO accession agreement in late 2006, and negotiations continue in 2007 on meeting WTO requirements for accession. Russia reports that it has yet to conclude bilateral agreements with Saudi Arabia and Georgia.

According to the 2005 U.S. Trade Representative's National Trade Estimate, Russia continues to maintain a number of barriers with respect to imports, including tariffs and tariff-rate quotas discriminatory and prohibitive charges and fees and discriminatory licensing, registration, and certification regimes. Discussions continue within the context of Russia's WTO accession to eliminate these measures or modify them to be consistent with internationally accepted trade policy practices. Non-tariff barriers are frequently used to restrict foreign access to the market and are also a significant topic in Russia's WTO negotiations. In addition, large losses to U.S. audiovisual and other companies in Russia owing to poor enforcement of intellectual property rights in Russia is an ongoing irritant in U.S.-Russia trade relations. Russia continues to work to bring its technical regulations, including those related to product and food safety, into conformity with international standards.


Russia's efforts to transform its Soviet-legacy military into a smaller, lighter and more mobile force continue to be hampered by an ossified military leadership, discipline problems and human rights violations, limited funding and demographics. Recent steps by the Government of Russia suggest a desire to reform. There has been an increased emphasis on practical training, and the government is introducing bills to improve the organization of the military.

Despite recent increases in the budget, however, defense spending is still unable to sustain Russia's oversized military. Current troop strength, estimated at 1.1 million, is large in comparison to Russia's GDP and military budget, which continues to make the process of transformation to a professional army difficult. This is the result of the Soviet legacy and military thinking that has changed little since the Cold War. Senior Russian leaders continue to emphasize a reliance on a large strategic nuclear force capable of deterring a massive nuclear attack.

Russian military salaries are low. Theoretically, the army provides all necessities, but housing and food shortages continue to plague the armed forces. Problems with both discipline and brutal hazing are common as well. HIV infection rates in the Russian army are estimated to be between two to five times higher than in the general population, and tuberculosis is a persistent problem.

Such conditions continue to encourage draft evasion and efforts to delay military service. Although the available manpower (males 15-49) for the Russian Armed Forces was projected at 35.2 million in 2005, only approximately 11% of eligible males do military service. Moreover, military officials complain that new recruit cohorts are plagued by increasing incidences of poor education, communicable diseases and criminality.

The Russian Government has stated a desire to convert to a professional army, but implementation has been delayed repeatedly. Current plans envision a transition to a mixed force, in which professional soldiers fill the ranks of select units and conscription is gradually phased out. Some officials have talked of developing a non-commissioned officer corps to lead the professional army, but the military has yet to make any concrete investments in training or facilities that would begin this process.


In the years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Russia took important steps to become a full partner in the world's principal political groupings. On December 27, 1991, Russia assumed the permanent UN Security Council seat formerly held by the Soviet Union. Russia also is a member of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC). Russia and the European Union (EU) signed a Partnership and Cooperation Agreement. It signed the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) Partnership for Peace initiative in 1994. The NATO-Russia Founding Act in 1997 and the NATO-Russia Council superseded that in 2002. Russia acquiesced (despite misgivings) in enlargement of NATO by members first of the former Warsaw Pact and most recently by the Baltic states that had been forcibly integrated into the Soviet Union.

Over the past several years Russia has increased its international profile, played an increasing role in regional issues, and been more assertive in dealing with its neighbors. The rise in energy prices has given it leverage over countries which are dependent on Russian sources. Russia continues to support separatist regimes in Georgia and Moldova.


For more detailed information on U.S. Government assistance to Russia, please see the annual reports to Congress on U.S. Government Assistance to and Cooperative Activities with Eurasia, which are available in the Bureau of European and Eurasian Affairs section on the State Department's website. A fact sheet on FY 2006 U.S. Assistance to Russia can be found at

The U.S. Embassy is located in Russia at Bolshoy Devyatinskiy Pereulok, Number 8, 121099 Moscow (tel. [7](095) 728-5000 fax: [7](095) 728-5090).

Consulate General, St. Petersburg--Furshtadskaya Ulitsa 15 tel. [7] (812) 331-2600 Mary Kruger, Consul General

Consulate General, Vladivostok--32 Pushkinskaya Ulitsa tel. [7] (4232) 30-00-70 John Mark Pommersheim, Consul General

Consulate General, Yekaterinburg--Ulitsa Gogolya 15 tel. [7] (343) 379-30-01 John Stepanchuk, Consul General

  • Official name:-Russian Federation
  • Capital:- Moscow
  • Total area:- 17,098,242 square km
  • Land area:- 16,377,742 square km
  • Population:- 142,257,5199 ( by July 2017)
  • Languages:-Russian, Tatar, Chechen and other
  • Religions:- majority of Russians are atheist,Russian Orthodox(17% to 20%),Muslims(11% to 16%) and other christians(2% to 4%).
  • Literacy Rate:- 99.7% as per 2015 EST.

Russian Geography


Russia is by a wide margin the world's biggest nation. It possesses a lot of Eastern Europe and northern Asia. The nation's landscape is differing, with broad stands of timberland, various mountain ranges, and tremendous fields. On and beneath the outside of the land are broad stores of regular assets that furnish the country with huge potential riches. Russia positions 6th on the planet in the populace, trailing China, India, the United States, Indonesia, and Brazil. The populace is as changed as the landscape. Slavs (Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians) are the most various of the in excess of 100 European and Asiatic nationalities.

Russian Culture

Russian culture has created in five stages as followed

Culture of Ancient Russia : — In the tenth century, Kievan Rus went under the impact of the Byzantine Empire. The approach of Christianity impacted the neighborhood individuals' lifestyle, and this was reflected in the improvement of engineering, customs, and writing. After the Mongol intrusion, the Byzantine culture started to lose ground and part of the heritage of the past period was lost until the end of time. The new authoritative framework depended on rules that contrasted from Western European ones.

Russian culture in the thirteenth to seventeenth hundreds of years: — This stage in the improvement of Russian culture is alluded to as the time of Muscovite Russia. The domain, which for a long time was divided, converged into a solitary state with its middle in Muscovy. During this period the Moscow Kremlin was assembled and the painting of places of worship with frescoes resuscitated. Painters again went to Byzantine culture and shaped a school of Russian symbol painting. One of the most well-known painters of frescoes and symbols in this period was Andrei Rublev.

Culture of Imperial Russia: — Peter the Great's changes opened Russia to Western European impacts. The Age of Enlightenment featured the estimation of people and the requirement for training and all-encompassing advancement. A vivacious discussion started between supporters of Slavic culture and aficionados of the Western way of life. Together they scanned for a harmony between the two societies and decided how Russia ought to create while keeping up its national character and customary qualities. During this period the establishments of the Russian artistic language were framed, and the incomparable Russian works of art were composed. With attention to saving history and teaching individuals, historical centers started to create.

Russian culture as a component of the Soviet Union: — Under the impact of Soviet power, Russian culture changed fundamentally. With the approach of the Bolsheviks, numerous inventive and logical figures of tsarist Russia emigrated to Europe. Restraint killed conspicuous individuals from scholarly people. Soviet power fearlessly disposed of the leftovers of the past, obliterating numerous relics of chapel life. Simultaneously, the Communists attempted to kill the absence of education, making instruction free and necessary for everybody. Another scholarly and innovative tip-top rose, abstract works of art of the Soviet period showed up, and theater, film, and different types of craftsmanship created.

Russian culture in present-day times : — After the breakdown of the Soviet Union, money related help for some, inquire about organizations and social foundations declined. Individuals moved into business zones and social imbalance expanded. The vacuum that emerged because of the emergence of the Communist framework was filled by Western qualities – specifically, independence. Numerous individuals went to religion, the Orthodox Church started to resuscitate, and new houses of worship were manufactured. TV and film have affected the brains of individuals and, as in different nations, electronic media are currently supplanting print media.

Russia Virtual Jewish History Tour

Jews are believed to have first arrived in the Caucasus region in the seventh century. Jews, and Judaism itself, suffered greatly under Communist rule and since the fall of the U.S.S.R. approximately one million Russian Jews have immigrated to Israel. Today, the Jewish population of Russia stands at approximately 194,000 - the sixth largest Jewish community in the world.

Early History

In the seventh century many Jews from Greece, Babylonia, Persia, the Middle East, and Mediterranean area immigrated to the Caucasus and beyond. From the early Middle Ages, Jewish merchants (known in Hebrew as holkhei Rusyah &ndash Russian travelers) traveled through the Slavic and Khazar lands on their way to India and China. During the first half of the eighth century, the Khazars converted to Judaism. The Khazar kingdom essentially became a new Jewish kingdom. Some scholars trace the origins of Ashkenazi Jews to the conversion of the Khazars. The influence of the Khazar conversions are significant enough to be a major topic of research for scholars today.

The kingdom of Jewish Khazars is referred to in ancient Russian literature as the &ldquoLand of the Jews.&rdquo There were also Jews living in Kiev at this time, and ancient Russian sources mention the &ldquoGate of the Jews&rdquo in Kiev. Historical records preserve disputations between the Jews of Kiev and Christian clergy. There are also records of communications between Jews in Kiev and Jews in Babylonia and Western Europe, including, in the 12 th century, a mention of R. Moses of Kiev corresponding with Rabbenu Jacob ben Meir Tam and Gaon Samuel b. Ali of Baghdad. In 1237, however, the invasion of the Mongols brought much suffering to the Jewish communities of Russia.

Fourteenth Century

In the 14 th century, the Lithuanians gained control of Western Russia and, in the late 14 th century, were the first to grant privileges to Jewish communities under their control. It was during this period that many Jews emigrated to the Ukraine and portions of western Russia. In 1648-1649, the Chmielnicki pogroms devastated areas of Jews and these pogroms continued for several centuries. In the 19 th and 20 th centuries, Russian Jewry was connected with Polish and Lithuanian Jewry, partially due to Russia&rsquos annexation of Poland in the late 18 th century and the creation of the Soviet Union in the 20 th century.

A 1791 decree confirmed the right of Russian Jews to live in the territory annexed from Poland and permitted Jews to settle there. Subsequent conquests and annexations helped ferment the area known of as &ldquoThe Pale of Settlement,&rdquo created in 1791 to rid Moscow of Jews. Its borders were finalized in 1812 with the annexation of Bessarabia.

Between the 16 th and 18 th centuries, Jews either entered Russia illegally or with Polish or Lithuanian permission for trade business. Small Jewish communities existed despite calls for expulsion, due to the importance Jews played in commerce. Many Jews were in the middle class because of their involvement in business. The economic position of the Jews deteriorated with their confinement to the Pale of Settlement. When they came under Russian control, the communities were weakened through a new and disproportionate tax burden. The previously well-off Jewish community soon led to a life of poverty.

In the 1700's, the Hasidic movement was founded in Eastern Europe to reach out to the Jewish masses. During the period of transfer to Russian domination, conflicts between the Hasidim and the Mitnagdim increased. The clash led to the arrest and transport to St. Petersburg for interrogation of one of the major Hasidic leaders, Shneur Zalman of Lyady in 1798. Despite the disagreements, the Hasidic &ldquocourts&rdquo and Mitnaggedic yeshivot merged to create a flourishing and diverse Jewish culture.

Under Nicholas I & Alexander II (1825-1881)

Czar Nicholas I (reign: 1825-1855) sought to destroy all Jewish life in Russia and his reign constitutes a painful part of European Jewish history. In 1825, he ordered the conscription of Jewish youth into the Russian military beginning at age 12. Many of the youngsters were kidnapped by &ldquosnatchers&rdquo (&ldquokhapers&rdquo) in order to get them to spend their formative years in the Russian military. This had a significant effect in lowering the morale of the Russian Jewish community. The Jews that were not forced to spend decades in the military were often expelled from their towns and villages.

Some Jews escaped this persecution, however, as the government encouraged agricultural settlement among Jews. These Jews were exempt from forced conscription. Many Jewish agricultural settlements were established in southern Russia and the rest of the Pale of Settlement.

In the 1840's, a network of special schools was created for the Jews, although since 1804 the Jews had permission to study in regular schools. These Jewish schools were paid for by a special tax imposed on the Jews. In 1844, a decree was established that the teachers would be both Christians and Jews. The Jewish community viewed the government&rsquos attempt to set up these schools as a way of secularizing and assimilating the younger generation. Their fears were not unfounded, as the decree to require Christian teachers was accompanied by the declaration that "the purpose of the education of the Jews is to bring them nearer to the Christians and to uproot their harmful beliefs which are influenced by the Talmud."

In 1844, the Polish-style communities were disbanded but they were replaced by a new communal organizational structure. A law was instituted prohibiting Jews from growing pe&rsquoot (&ldquosidelocks&rdquo) and wearing traditional clothes. Nicholas I than divided Jews into two groups &ndash &ldquouseful&rdquo and &ldquonot useful.&rdquo The wealthy merchants and those essential for commerce were deemed &ldquouseful,&rdquo all others &ldquonon-useful.&rdquo The order was met with opposition from the Jewish communities of Western Europe and worldwide, but was instituted in 1851. The Crimean War delayed implementation of the order, but the war only led to increased kidnappings of children and young adults into military service often never to be seen again.

The reign of Alexander II (1855-1881) resulted in an end to the harsh treatment of the Jews, but nevertheless new policies were implemented to ensure assimilation. As Jews began to move out of the Pale of Settlement, those having a Russian secondary-school education were granted greater rights, which increased Jewish enrollment in Russian schools. Assimilation was somewhat hindered as Jews in the military were prohibited from receiving the ranks of officers, which limited the contact between Jew and non-Jew. The liberal and revolutionary elements were opposed to the increased presence of the Jews. Anti-Semitism only increased after the Balkan War (1877-1878).

Between 1850 and 1900, the Jewish population in Russia increased substantially due to a high birthrate and a low mortality rate. In 1850, the number of Jews in Russia stood at around 2,350,000, and almost doubled to 5,000,000 by the late 19 th century. Due to high birthrates competition in traditionally Jewish jobs increased, resulting in the development of a both a Jewish proletariat and a small Jewish upper class. The increased competition led to economic diversification, such as Jews leasing alcoholic beverages (then a government monopoly) and engaging in construction and industrial development. Small groups of Jews became prominent in the banking industries and began to penetrate the intelligentsia (academia) and professional positions (lawyers, doctors, scientists, writers). The emancipation of the serfs led to a strong demand for land and therefore the government stopped encouraging Russian agricultural settlement. This led to the farming Jewish communities migration throughout other parts of the Russian Empire.

Haskalah in Russia

Unlike in Western Europe, the haskalah, or Jewish enlightenment, preserved Jewish culture and values even while shifting the Jewish community away from a religious context. The majority of those affected by the haskalah operated in national or national-religious terms. The somewhat contradictory ideologies of Zionism and European Yiddish culture both increased in popularity due to the nationalistic flavor of the haskala. Yet, initially the maskilim were opposed to Yiddish, but later a secular Yiddish culture was created by the maskilim. A Jewish press also emerged in Hebrew, Yiddish, and Russian. The Hevrat Mefizei Haskalah was founded by wealthy Jews to encourage Russian Jews to learn Russian and spread the haskalah. The haskalah gradually influenced the b&rsquotei midrashot (study halls) and yeshivot, which resulted in many students leaving them and assimilating into the secular world.

In 1881, Czar Alexander II was assassinated and the situation for the Jews deteriorated as they were wrongly blamed by some for the assassination. Pogroms broke out consisting of looting, murder, and rape. The support of the Russian intellectuals shocked many Jews, especially the assimilated Russian maskilim. In May of 1882, laws were passed blaming the Jews for the pogroms. This led to restrictions on Jewish landownership, prohibitions on Jews living in villages, and a limit on the number of Jews allowed to studying in secular schools. This discrimination embittered the Jews to Russian society. In 1891, Jews were systemically expelled from Moscow. The police strictly applied the discriminatory laws and the media engaged in unbridled propaganda against the Jews.

From the Passover pogrom of 1903 on, pogroms became government policy, and reached their peak in October 1905. Russian individuals authored the &ldquoProtocols of the Elders of Zion,&rdquo in 1903, a major anti-Semitic forgery popular in some communities to this day (Henry Ford himself funded the printing and distribution of 500,000 copies in the United States in the 1920's). In 1912, a new law passed that prohibited even the grandchildren of Jews from serving as military officers, despite the large numbers of Jews and those of Jewish heritage in the military. The census of 1897 showed that Jews of Russia (numbering 5,189,400) constituted slightly over 4% of the total Russian population (though disproportionately about 18% in the Pale of Settlement), but about one-half of world Jewry.

Politicization of the Jews

As a consequence to the oppressive policies of the czars, Jews disproportionately joined the ranks of the Russian radicals. The leaders of the Social-Democrats (Socialists) included Jews J. Martov and L. Trotsky. The leaders of the Social Revolutionary Party of Russia were also Jewish. A Jewish workers revolutionary movement was founded, and workers unions founded by Jews created the Bund.

While regarding itself as part of the Social Democratic establishment for all Russians, the Bund took up exclusively Jewish causes, particularly cultural autonomy for the Jewish masses. The Bund advocated a separate system of schools, Yiddish as a national language, and the development of Yiddish press and literature. Another response to the oppression of the Jews saw its expression in the Zionist movement. The Hibbat Zion movement brought Zionism into Russia after the pogroms of 1881-1883. A few of the Jews who fled Russia at that time escaped to Eretz Yisrael.

While the central organizations of the Zionist movement (such as the World Zionist Organization) were found in Western Europe, the mass of members and supporters came from Eastern Europe. The Zionist movement gained a massive following among secular and religious Russian Jewish society. Despite, or perhaps due to, the wide support of the Zionist movement, the Zionist organizations were illegal in Russia. Yet the Russian Jews made up the majorities of the Second Aliya and were the founders of the Labor Zionist movement. With the growth of the Zionist movement and the importance of self-respect and self-defense in Zionist thought, the next time pogroms hit in 1903, Jewish youths defended themselves. The Bund, Zionists, and Socialist Zionists formed self-defense organizations.

The growth of Zionism led to the spread of Hebrew. This period saw a tremendous growth in Hebrew and Yiddish literature and it was in the late 19 th and early 20 th century that Russia saw great writers such as Hayim Nachman Bialik, Ahad Ha'Am, Saul Tchernichowsky, and the Yiddish writers of Shalom Aleichem and I.L. Peretz. Many great scholarly histories of the Jews were also written during this time. Yiddish and Hebrew presses flourished.

There was some conflict between the supporters of Yiddish, who saw the future of Jews as being in Russia, and the Zionists who saw the Jewish future in the Jewish homeland of Eretz Yisrael. Shortly after the Yiddishists proclaimed the superiority of the language and so the Zionists (who supported Hebrew) and the Bund fought bitterly and the Jewish intelligentsia split over this aspect of Jewish ideology.

World War I

With the advent of World War I, Russian Jewry felt that they could increase their substandard role in society if they participated in the defense of Russia. Over 400,000 Jews were mobilized and about 80,000 served in the front lines. Battles occured in the Pale of Settlement, where millions of Jews lived. When the Russian army was defeated, anti-Semitic commanders blamed the Jews and accused them of treason and spying for the Germans. Jews were even kidnaped and tried for espionage. Shortly after the trials, mass expulsions of Jews living near the front lines were organized. In June 1915, Jews were expelled from northern Lithuania and Courland.

One month later, the use of Hebrew characters in printing and writing was prohibited, making it impossible to write both Hebrew and Yiddish. Western opinion united against the discrimination against the Jews, which made the procurement of loans from Western countries difficult. Shortly after, the Russians ceased enforcing the discriminatory laws against the Jews. Jewish refugees from Poland and Lithuania soon moved towards central Russia.

Austria and Germany&rsquos conquests in 1915 brought 2,260,000 Jews (40% of Russian Jewry) under military rule. These Jews were freed from czarist abuses but also cut off from their families and neighbors. In Russia, the Jewish presses were silenced and Jewish youth were conscripted into the army.


In early March 1917, Nicholas II abdicated the throne ending 300 years of Romanov rule. A provisional government was put in place and, on March 16, 1917, the provisional government abolished all restrictions on the Jews. Jews were allowed to hold every available public office, and anti-Semitism was largely forced underground. Thanks to the new freedoms granted the Jews by the provisional government, the Russian Revolution saw tremendous support from the Jews. Jews were active in every aspect of the Revolution&rsquos political life, obtaining leadership positions in several parties. The newfound freedoms also allowed Jews to engage in Jewish nationalist politics. The Zionist movement flourished in 1917 and Zionist youth groups were formed throughout the country. Hebrew book clubs and presses were founded. In November, as news of the Balfour Declaration reached Russia, Zionist rallies were held in major cities. A self-defense organization &ldquoUnion of Jewish Soldiers,&rdquo was founded, led by Joseph Trumpeldor.

Only a few months after it was formed, the provisional government was severely weakened and anarchy took over. Anti-Semitism, which had shortly been beaten back, became more prominent and sporadic pogroms occurred throughout the Russian empire. In October 1917, the Bolshevik Revolution crushed the provisional government. Shortly after, Russia was thrust into a civil war that lasted until 1921. Between October 1917 and 1921, violent anti-Semitism became widespread. While individual soldiers of the Red Army attacked Jews, the official policy of the Red Army was to clamp down on anti-Semitic attacks, resulting in Jewish sympathy for the Red Army and the Soviet Regime. The White Army, on the other hand, was filled with Cossacks and officers, the bastions of anti-Semitism. The White Army was saturated with anti-Semitism and its slogan was &ldquoStrike at the Jews and save Russia!&rdquo

Under Soviet Control

As the borders of Soviet Russia sharpened, large numbers of Jews who had previously been under Russian control found themselves outside of the Soviet Empire. Only about 2,500,000 Jews remained under Soviet control. The Bolsheviks rejected anti-Semitism and loosened civil restrictions on the Jews. Under the guidance of influential assimilated Jews, the Bolsheviks began to see the assimilation of the Jews as the only solution to &ldquothe Jewish problem.&rdquo Jewish nationalist expressions, be they expressions of the Jewish religion or Zionism, were clamped down upon.

While the Bolshevik leaders hardened their stances on Jewish separatism, their fight against anti-Semitism gained them wide support among the Jewish masses. Jewish youth enthusiastically joined the Red Army (founded by a Jew, Leon Trotsky). In 1926, Jews made up 4.4% of the officers in the Red Army (more than twice their ratio in the general population). Jewish elites also took part in the administrative rebuilding of the country. While a small but influential group of Jews helped rebuild Russia, the Socialist Economic Policies weakened the masses. The Bolsheviks also set up a special &ldquoJewish section&rdquo in government in response to the fact that millions of Jews were attached to the Jewish religion and Hebrew language (at least as a language of prayer and Judaism). The Communists put secular assimilationist Jews in charge to foster a turn away from the Jewish religion, Hebrew, and Zionism, though temporarily allowing its replacement with secular Yiddish culture.

In August 1919, Jewish communities were dissolved and properties confiscated. Traditional institutions of Jewish education and culture, such as yeshivot and cheder, were shut down. Hebrew study was prohibited and it became forbidden to print Jewish books. In 1928, it was forbidden to even print religious books and Jewish calendars.

In 1927, Rabbi J. Schneerson, the leader of Habad Hasidism, was imprisoned and expelled from Russia. Underground religious activity still continued, though after World War II hundreds of Hasidism left Russia to Eretz Yisrael. The growing restrictions on Jewish religious life strengthened Zionist ideas in the Soviet Union.

A Yiddish press and Yiddish newspapers were established, though the writing of Yiddish was phoneticized into Russian script so as to cut its ties with Hebrew print. Russians granted Yiddish official status in that tribunals were held in Yiddish and significant resources were invested in the development of Yiddish school systems. After awhile, however, Jewish parents rebelled against these schools whose only connections to Jewish culture was a few lines of Yiddish literature and which taught anti-religious sentiment. As the quality of the schools declined (they were weak to begin with), they began to disappear.

The disappearance of Yiddish was replaced by cultural assimilation. Jewish children spoke Russian and attended Russian schools. Mixed marriage became common. Jews began to play an important role in Russian cultural life.

Jewish Soviet refusik Anatoly Sharansky

During World War II, much of the attempts to persecute the Jews were halted. When the war began, Jews played an important part of the Soviet military effort their role in the front lines was disproportionately higher then other national groups. While much of Soviet Jewry was decimated in the Holocaust, those living in Russia proper were mostly spared.

After World War II, attempts to suppress Soviet Jewry resumed. Until Stalin&rsquos death in 1953, Soviet Jews were placed in the gulag and were faced with significant physical oppression. In 1952, Stalin had a number of leading Russian Jewish intellectuals murdered in the &ldquoNight of the Murdered Poets.&rdquo

Even after Stalin&rsquos death, the attempt to suppress Judaism and Jewish culture continued. Jewish books and religious articles had to be smuggled into the country and attempts to study the books and utilize the religious articles had to be clandestine. The covert nature restricted access to Jewish life to only a few individuals. The few Jews who continued participation in Jewish life were called refusniks, and were severely punished by the Soviet authorities. By 1965, only about 60 synagogues remained in all of Russia. It was not until Mikhail Gorbachev came to power and his policy of glasnost that restrictions on Soviet Jewry lessened.

After the Six Day War, Soviet discrimination against Jews increased. Despite the discrimination, the Six Day War increased Russian Jewish national consciousness. In 1970, eleven individuals (9 Jewish) tried to hijack a plane in order to raise world attention to the plight of Soviet Jewry. The hijacking gave new prominence to the Soviet Jewry movement. One of the hijackers, Yosef Mendelevich, completely secular while in Russia, is now a rabbi in Israel.

Jews were viewed as potential enemies by the Soviet authorities, partly because many Jews had relatives in the United States.

1980 & Beyond

Even after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia consists of one of the world&rsquos largest Jewish communities. Russia houses the sixth largest Jewish community in the world. Moscow and St. Petersburg, along with other large cities in Russia, contain thousands of Jews yet few Jews lived in urban regions in Russia until the 1800s. Most resided in the &ldquoPale of Settlement,&rdquo which includes present-day Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Lithuania, and Poland.

During Soviet rule, the Communist government aimed to destroy all religious life in the country, which led to significant assimilation and secularization among the Jewish community. The Soviet Government did all it could to force the disappearance of Jews as a separate entity and nationality. During this time, Jews from around the world rallied to the support of Soviet Jewry. In the 1980s, with Gorbachev in charge, the restrictions gradually loosed as the Soviet Union crumbled.

The population of Russian Jewry is shrinking due to immigration and aging. Around the time of the fall of the Soviet Union, millions of Jews left Russia and the former Soviet states. The Jews primarily moved to Israel and the United States. Since 2000, however, immigration has slowed down and increased effort has been devoted to revitalizing Jewish life in Russia and the former Soviet Union.

Grand Choral Synagogue

In 2003, Russia had a network of Jewish schools, which included seventeen day schools, eleven preschools, and 81 supplementary schools with about 7,000 students. There are also four Jewish universities. The major towns have a Jewish presence, with synagogues and rabbis. The Chabad-Lubavitch hasidic movement has played a significant role in rebuilding religious Jewish life in Russia. Chabad in Moscow has opened four schools and is building a seven-story Jewish Community Center. Jewish studies programs are being added to universities.

The Union of Jewish Religious Communities supports Orthodox institutions and religious life. The Progressive (Reform) movement and Masorti (Conservative) movements are also making significant inroads. Because the high intermarriage rate during Soviet rule led to many Russians being of Jewish descent but not halakhically Jewish (Jewish according to Jewish law), the Progressive Movement is able to gain acceptance as the Progressives recognition of patrilineal decent welcomes many who are not halakhically Jewish into the Jewish community. Many Russian cities print their own Jewish newspaper and other cultural, social, and religious institutions are expanding. Moscow has five synagogues, six day schools, yeshivas, and a kosher restaurant.

The growth of Jewish religious institutions in Russia also provides targets for anti-Semitism. In 2002 and 2003, synagogues and cemeteries were desecrated.

Despite the growing presence of religious institutions in Russia, however, after years of assimilation most Russian Jews are not observant and see Jewry solely in terms of ethno-cultural behavior. After massive waves of immigration in the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries, there are approximately 194,000 Jews left in Russia.

One of the most active Jewish communities in Russia is St. Petersburg. The Grand Choral Synagogue is responsible for the majority of Jewish culture in the city. St. Petersburg has two Jewish day schools and Yeshivot for both men and women. A full kosher kitchen and dining hall serve daily meals both to congregants and to poor citizens.

In November 2012, Israeli President Shimon Peres officially opened a new Jewish Museum and Center of Tolerance in Moscow. The museum seeks to illustrate Jewish cultural traditions and customs as well as the history of Russia through the eyes of the Jewish people. The Center of Tolerance will feature permanent and temporary exhibits and will serve as a place for dialog on topics of tolerance, mutual understanding, respect, and intercultural relations. "This museum is an eloquent declaration of the principles of tolerance toward people and their freedom," Peres said. "The museum tells us about two ideologies - communism and Zionism."

During the first four months of 2015, 6,499 Jewish people made Aliyah to Israel from all over the world. Russian Jews made up approximately one quarter of this number, with 1,515 individuals choosing to leave their homes in Russia behind in exchange for a new life in Israel. Only 1,016 Russian Jews made Aliyah during the same time period in 2014.

Relations with Israel

The Soviet Union immediately recognized Israel in 1948. Ties between the two nations dramatically deteriorated after Israel allied itself with the West. Ideas about Jews as a nation also furthered anti-Zionist sentiment. In 1967, the Soviet Union cut diplomatic ties with Israel and were only reestablished in 1992. Shortly after the Six Day War, a massive propaganda campaign was launched in the Soviet Union denigrating Zionism and Israel, without distinguishing between Zionist and Jew. After the 1967 War, Jewish immigration to Israel was ground to a halt. The Soviet Union was a major arms supplier to the Arab states.

Between 1948 and the early 21 st century, approximately 600,000-700,000 Jews have emigrated to Israel from the former Soviet Union. Russian immigrants are a dominant part of Israeli society. In Israel there are several Russian-language newspapers, television stations, magazines, neighborhoods. Russia is also playing a role in the Arab-Israeli peace process as a member of the "quartet" along with the US, UN, and EU. The quartet is the sponsor of the "Roadmap."

Russia's deputy defense minister, Vladimir Popovkin, announced on April 10, 2009 that the Russian Defense Ministry signed a deal with Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) to buy multiple unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). The signed contract included the purchase of the Bird-Eye 400 mini-UAV, I-view MK150 tactical UAV, and Searcher Mk II medium-range UAV with varying ranges of 10 to 250 kilometers. The UAV were purchased to provide the Russian Armed Forces with reliable intelligence through the advanced means of battlefield reconnaissance.

In March 2011, a framework agreement on cooperation was signed between the Russian Federal Space Agency and the Israel Space Agency. The agreement enhances cooperation between the Israeli and Russian space agencies in the fields of space research, observation, navigation, medicine and biology in space, research in advanced materials and launchings.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Israeli Foreign Ministry director-general Dore Gold met in Moscow for two days of talks on February 18, 2016. The two diplomats knew each other from their days serving as their respective countries ambassadors at the United Nations in the late 1990's. Lavrov claimed that Russian officials are interested in working towards creating regional conditions &ldquofor the resumption of the peace process between Israel and Palestine in order to achieve our common goal - two states that exist in peace and security with all its neighbors.&rdquo Gold and Lavrov discussed a wide range of issues during their meetings, including the situations in Syria and Iran. A formal agreement was signed by the diplomats at the meetings conclusion, pledging mutual cooperation on 14 topics, including defense and strategic planning.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu travelled to Russia for meetings with President Vladimir Putin multiple times during April 2016. In a public press conference before heading into a private discussion, Putin told Netanyahu that he is &ldquovery happy that we have regular contacts at the highest level.&rdquo During the first trip, Netanyahu spoke to Putin about the necessity to prevent the transfer of weapons from Iran to Syria and Iraq, and terror organizations based within. On April 21, 2016, during his second visit to Russia that month, Netanyahu stressed the need for Israeli-Russian security coordination in Syria, to prevent &ldquomistakes, misunderstandings or incidents.&rdquo This was in response to reports from various news sources that Russian forces in Syria had fired &ldquoat least twice&rdquo on Israeli military aircraft recently.

The Russian government made a $1 million purchase of 500 million predatory mites and bumble-bees from Israeli insect company Bio-bee in June 2015, in an effort to cut dependence on foreign produce by improving crop yields. The predatory mites, including the Phytoseiulus persimilis mite and the Amblyseius swirskii mite, come from Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu near Beit She'an and act as a natural pesticide. Bumble-bees were purchased to assist in the pollination and germination of various flowers and fruit trees.

Russian President Vladimir Putin praised Israeli responses to terrorism, and used Israel's culture to illustrate steadfastness in the face of adversity during an event on October 28, 2016, hosted by the Valdai International Discussion Club. The Russian leader urged his listeners to &ldquolearn from Israel,&rdquo stating that Israelis &ldquonever let go&rdquo and &ldquofight until the end. that is why [they] exist at all.&rdquo

Moscow's Jewish Museum

Netanyahu paid an official state visit to Russia in early March 2017. Russian President Vladimir Putin and PM Netanyahu held meetings during which they discussed Russia's role in Syria, with the Israeli Prime Minister specifically seeking reassurance that Russian presence would help Israel mitigate Iranian ambitions in the country. Netanyahu visited Russia again in May 2018, where he and Russian President Putin attended Russia's Victory Day parade together in the Kermlin's red Square, commemorating victory over Nazi Germany 73 years prior.

An estimated 7,000 Russian Jews made aliyah to Israel in 2017 making Russia Israel's largest source of new immigrants for the second year in a row.

Russia reportedly agreed to cancel certain arms sales to Israel&rsquos enemies, such as Iran, at the request of Netanyahu. In exchange, according to Ariel Bulshtein, the prime minister&rsquos adviser for the country&rsquos Russian-speaking community, Israel agreed to cancel sales &ldquoat least twice, if not more,&rdquo to nations such as Ukraine that are at odds with Moscow.

Netanyahu has had frequent meetings with Putin largely focused on Syria where Russian forces have helped Bashar Assad defeat rebels and retake the territory they had gained. Russia also plays the critical role in determining what Iran can accomplish in the country as it tries to establish bases from which to attack Israel. Russia has not interfered with Israeli raids on Syrian targets but they must remain in communication to avoid any unintended confrontations.

Netanyahu has also cultivated relations with Putin and advertised their good relations to attract political support from the large population of Russian Israeli voters.

Sources: Beyond the Pale: The History of Jews in Russia
Federation of the Jewish Communities of Russia
History of the Russian Federation
February Revolution
WJC(World Jewish Congress) Jewish communities of the World
Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs
RiaNovosti (April 10, 2009 November 8, 2012)
Herb Keinon, &ldquoAmid concerns Syrian war may widen, Russia urges Israel to resume peace process,&rdquo Jerusalem Post, (February 18, 2016)
Ilya Arkhipov and Jonathan Ferzinger, &ldquoNetanyahu Seeks Putin's Assurance Over Syria in Moscow Visit,&rdquo Bloomberg, (April 20, 2016)
Barbara Opall-Rome, &ldquoIsrael Urges Russia To Tighten Coordination Ties in Syria,&rdquo Defense News, (April 21, 2016)
Michelle Malka Grossman, &ldquoTo Russia With Bugs,&rdquo Jerusalem Post, (June 19, 2016)
Alex Fishman, &ldquoPutin cites Israel as positive example in fight against terror,&rdquo Ynet News, (November 2, 2016)
David Filipov and Ruth Elgash, Netanyahu urges Putin to block Iranian power corridor on Israel&rsquos border, Washington Post (March 9, 2017)
PM Netanyahu Attends Victory Day Parade in Moscow Along with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Serb President Aleksandar Vucic, Office of the Israeli Prime Minister, (May 9, 2018)
&ldquoRussia nixed arms sales to Israel&rsquos enemies at its request, PM&rsquos adviser says,&rdquo Times of Israel, (November 2, 2019).

Moscow Jewish Museum photo courtesy of Russian Times

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  1. Treabhar

    tin joke !!

  2. Eldur

    the very funny information

  3. Arregaithel

    the very funny question

  4. Regenfrithu

    I do not understand the reason for such a stir. Nothing new and different judgments.

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