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Russia is the world's largest country in area.  It is almost twice as big as Canada, the second largest country.  From 1922 until 1991, Russia was the biggest republic in the Soviet Union, the most powerful Communist country in the world.  The Soviet Union broke apart in 1991.  After the breakup, Russia began to set up a new political, legal, and economic system.

Russia extends from the Arctic Ocean south to the Black Sea and from the Baltic Sea east to the Pacific Ocean.  It covers much of the continents of Europe and Asia.  Moscow is the capital and largest city of Russia.  St. Petersburg, on the coast of the Baltic Sea, is Russia's chief seaport.

Most of Russia's people are ethnic Russians--that is, descendants of an early Slavic people called the Russians.  More than 100 minority nationalities also live in Russia.  Approximately three-fourths of the people make their homes in urban areas.  Russian cities have better schools and health-care facilities than the rural areas do.  However, the cities suffer from such urban problems as overcrowding, a housing shortage, crime, and environmental pollution.

Russia has abundant natural resources, including vast deposits of petroleum, natural gas, coal, and iron ore.  However, many of these reserves lie far from settled areas.  Russia's harsh, cold climate makes it difficult to take advantage of many of the country's valuable resources.

Russia traces its history back to a state that emerged in Europe among the East Slavs during the 800's.  Over time, large amounts of territory and many different peoples came under Russian rule.  For hundreds of years, czars (emperors) and empresses ruled Russia.  They had almost complete control over most aspects of Russian life.  Under these rulers, the country's economic development lagged behind the rapid industrial progress that began in Western Europe in the 1700's.  Most of the people were poor, uneducated peasants.

Russia made many great contributions to the arts during the 1800's.  Such authors as Anton Chekhov, Fyodor Dostoevsky, and Leo Tolstoy wrote masterpieces of literature.  Russian composers, including Modest Mussorgsky, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, and Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky, created music of lasting greatness.  Russians also made valuable artistic contributions in the fields of architecture, ballet, and painting.

Opposition to the czars' absolute power increased during the late 1800's and the early 1900's.  Revolutionaries overthrew the Russian government in 1917.  The next year, Russia became the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (R.S.F.S.R.).  In 1922, the R.S.F.S.R. and three other republics established a new nation called the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.), also known as the Soviet Union.  The R.S.F.S.R. became the largest and most influential republic of the Soviet Union, which included 15 republics by 1956.  In 1991, Communist rule in the Soviet Union collapsed, and the country broke apart.  Russia and most of the other republics formed a new, loose federation called the Commonwealth of Independent States.

After the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russia entered a transitional period.  The Communist leaders of the Soviet Union had controlled all aspects of the country's economy and government.  Russia's new national government worked to move the country from a state-controlled economy to one based on private enterprise.  The government also began to establish new political and legal systems in Russia.

This article deals with Russia from its early history to the present.  For more detailed information about the history of Russia between 1922 and 1991--when it was part of the Soviet Union--see UNION OF SOVIET SOCIALIST REPUBLICS.


National government.  In 1992--shortly after the Soviet Union broke up--Russia established a transitional (temporary) government headed by Boris N. Yeltsin.  Yeltsin had been elected president of the R.S.F.S.R. in 1991.  After the breakup of the Soviet Union, Yeltsin continued to serve as president of Russia.  In December 1993, Russia adopted a new constitution that established a permanent government.

The president of Russia is the government's chief executive, head of state, and most powerful official.  The president is elected by the people to serve a four-year term.

The president, with the approval of the lower house of parliament, appoints a prime minister to serve as head of government.  The prime minister is the top-ranking official of a Council of Ministers (cabinet).  The council carries out the operations of the government.

Russia's parliament, which is called the Federal Assembly, consists of a 450-member lower house known as the State Duma and a 178-member upper house called the Federation Council.  The State Duma makes the country's laws.  The Duma's proposed legislation must be approved by the Federation Council and by the president before becoming law.  However, the State Duma can override a veto by the Federation Council and send legislation directly to the president.  The Federation Council approves government appointments and such presidential actions as the declaration of martial law and the use of armed forces outside of Russia.

Members of the State Duma are elected by the people to four-year terms.  Members of the Federation Council are local government officials.  These members include regional governors and leaders of local legislatures.  They are not elected directly to the council but gain membership when they attain the local office.  All Russian citizens 18 years of age and older may vote in the country's elections.

Local government.  Russia contains 49 administrative units called oblasts (regions) and 6 large, sparsely settled krais (territories).  Russia also has about 30 other territories, each of which has a dominant nationality group.  These territories are known as autonomous republics and autonomous areas.  There is also one autonomous region.  Autonomous means self-governing, but these units actually had little control over their own affairs in the Soviet Union.  The future of the autonomous units is unclear, because some of their populations are pressing for increased self-rule.  All of these divisions may contain smaller units called raions (districts).  Soviets (councils) manage local affairs in both urban and rural areas.

Politics.  The Communist Party was the only legal political party in the Soviet Union until March 1990.  At that time, the Soviet Constitution--which gave the Communist Party its broad powers--was amended.  A loose coalition of political parties with a democratic platform, known as the Democratic Russia Movement, began to play a key role in the reform movement.  The Democratic Russia Movement secured Yeltsin's victory in a free presidential election held in June 1991.  The collapse of the Communist Party and the Soviet Union caused the Democratic Russia Movement to break apart.  Groups that had opposed the Soviet Communist Party developed into separate political parties.

In the 1993 parliamentary elections, a party called Russia's Choice won more seats in the State Duma than any other party.  This party supports programs to reduce government control of economic activities and to make other reforms.  The Liberal Democratic Party, an extreme right-wing organization, won the second highest number of seats.  This party calls for an end to economic reforms.  It also wants Russia to take over the other former Soviet republics.

In the 1995 parliamentary elections, the Communist Party of the Russian Federation won the largest number of seats in the State Duma.  The party favors more government control of land and industries.  A party called Our Home is Russia gained the second highest number of seats in the State Duma.  This party favors continued economic and social reform.  Other political parties represented in the Duma include the Liberal Democratic party and a party called Yabloko, which means apple in Russian.  Yabloko favors continued reform.

In 1996, Russia held its second presidential election.  Yeltsin won a second term in office.

Courts.  The former Soviet government had a political police system called the Committee on State Security, known as the KGB. The KGB could interfere with and influence the legal system, and major violations of human rights took place.  The KGB no longer exists in Russia.  Today, Russia has two security agencies.  The Federal Counterintelligence Service handles internal security, and the Foreign Intelligence Service collects information from other countries.  In addition, Russia's 1993 constitution protects the civil rights of all Russian citizens.  The prosecutor-general, who serves as the chief legal officer of Russia, is nominated by the president and is approved by the Federation Council.

Russia's highest court is called the Constitutional Court.  This court, which was established in 1992, rules on the constitutionality of the country's laws.  Russia's local courts are called people's courts.

Armed forces.  The Soviet Union had the largest armed forces in the world.  About 4 million people served in its army, navy, and air force.  When the Soviet Union collapsed, command of its armed forces passed to the Commonwealth of Independent States.  But several former republics--including Russia--also stated they would create their own armed forces.  In 1992, Russia began to form its own armed forces and absorbed some of the former Soviet forces.  About 11/2 million people serve in Russia's armed forces.  Russian men must serve two years in the military.


The people of Russia are distributed unevenly throughout the country.  The vast majority live in the western--or European--part of Russia.  The more rugged and remote areas to the east are sparsely inhabited.

Ancestry.  About 83 percent of Russia's people are of Russian ancestry.  These ethnic Russians make up the largest group of Slavic peoples.  Members of more than 100 other nationality groups also live in Russia.  The largest groups include Tatars (or Tartars), Ukrainians, Chuvash, Bashkirs, Belarusians, Mordvins, Chechen, Germans, Udmurts, Mari, Kazakhs, Avars, Armenians, and Jews, who are considered a nationality group in Russia.  Many of them live in Russia's autonomous territories.  Remote parts of the Far North are sparsely inhabited by small Siberian groups, including Aleuts, Chukchi, Inuit (also called Eskimos), and Koryaks.  These northern peoples differ from one another in ancestry and language, but they share a common way of life shaped by the harsh, cold climate.

The government of the Soviet Union had granted Russians special privileges.  It repressed the distinctive cultures of other nationalities and did not always uphold their rights.  This policy sharpened resentment among some peoples.  Today, pride in their culture and the desire for greater independence are growing among the members of many nationalities, including Russians.

Ethnic Russians are descended from Slavs who lived in eastern Europe several thousand years ago.  Over time, migration split the Slavs into three subgroups--the East Slavs, the West Slavs, and the South Slavs.  The Russians trace their heritage to the first East Slav state, Kievan Rus, which emerged in the 800's.

Kievan Rus suffered repeated invasions by Asian tribes, including the Pechenegs, Polovtsians, and Mongols.  The Mongol invasions forced some people to migrate to safer, forested regions near present-day Moscow.  Moscow became an important Russian state in the 1300's.  This area has remained at the heart of Russia ever since.  But people of many ethnic groups have lived in Russia, especially since the 1500's, when extensive expansion and colonization began.

Language.  Russian is the official language of Russia.  Spoken Russian sounds fairly uniform from one end of the country to the other.  Nevertheless, the language has three major regional accents--northern, southern, and central.  The small differences rarely interfere with understanding.  Russian is written in the Cyrillic alphabet (see ALPHABET [The Cyrillic alphabet]).  Many minority nationality groups in Russia have their own language and speak Russian as a second language.

Way of life

The government of the Soviet Union controlled many aspects of life in the country.  It exerted great influence over religion, education, and the arts.  The independence of Russia following the breakup of the Soviet Union brought greater freedom and triggered many other changes in the lives of the people.

City life.  About three-fourths of Russia's people live in urban areas.  Approximately 35 cities in Russia have populations over 500,000.  Two of Russia's cities--Moscow and St. Petersburg--each have more than 4 million inhabitants.

Russian cities are crowded.  Beginning in the 1930's, large numbers of people migrated from the countryside to urban areas.  During World War II (1939-1945), bombs destroyed many houses and other buildings.  These circumstances combined to create a housing shortage in Russian cities that continues to this day.  Millions of city dwellers live in small apartments in high-rise buildings.  The scarcity of housing forces some families to share kitchen and toilet facilities.  Single-family houses are common in small towns and on the outskirts of large cities.  Some of these houses still lack indoor plumbing and other modern conveniences.

Shortages of food, services, and manufactured goods have been common features of city life in Russia.  The shortages were widespread in 1992, when the government lifted price controls.  Since then, goods have become available, but they are often too expensive for most people to afford.  Russian cities also face such urban problems as crime and environmental pollution.

Rural life.  About one-fourth of the Russian population lives in rural areas.  Single-family housing is common in these areas, but the Soviet government built many city-style apartment buildings.  In the most remote areas of Russia, some homes lack gas, plumbing, running water, and electricity.  In addition, the quality of education, health care, and cultural life is lower than in the cities.  However, rural life is undergoing change.  Rural stores, for example, have a wider selection of goods available than they once offered.

When Russia was part of the Soviet Union, most rural people worked on huge farms run by the government.  After the Soviet Union collapsed, Russia began to break up these farms.  New laws allow people to withdraw from the government farms and set up private farms.

Clothing.  Most people in the Soviet Union wore plain clothing.  Stores offered little variety in styles, and most people had a limited number of outfits.  In the 1970's, consumers began to demand greater variety.  They preferred to buy imported clothing whenever it was available.  As a result, Soviet clothing manufacturers began to pay more attention to style and quality.  But clothing remained expensive and sometimes scarce, and Russia's harsh winter continued to affect styles.  Stylish clothing made in Russia and in other parts of the world has become available, but it is expensive.

Traditional Russian clothing consists of colorfully embroidered shirts and blouses, embroidered headwear, and shoes woven from bast, a tough fiber from the bark of certain trees.  Rural dwellers wore these costumes on special occasions, such as weddings and holidays.  However, the traditional costume is rarely worn today.

Food and drink.  The Russian diet is hearty.  Russians eat bread at virtually every meal.  Beef, chicken, pork, and fish are popular main dishes.  The most commonly eaten vegetables include beets, cabbage, carrots, cucumbers, onions, potatoes, radishes, and tomatoes.  Russians are fond of soups and dairy products, and they consume large quantities of sugar.  Frying remains a widespread method of preparing food.

Many Russian dishes are popular around the world.  They include blinis (thin pancakes served with smoked salmon or other fillings and sour cream) and beef Stroganoff (beef strips cooked with onions and mushrooms in a sour cream sauce).  Other favorite dishes include borscht (beet soup) and piroshki (baked or fried dumplings filled with meat and cabbage).

Typical breakfast foods in Russia include eggs, porridge, sausages, cheese, bread, butter, and jam.  Most of the people eat their main meal at midday.  It consists of a salad or appetizer; soup; meat or fish with potatoes or kasha (cooked buckwheat); and dessert, such as stewed fruit or pastries.  In the evening, most Russians eat a light supper.

Russians drink large quantities of tea.  Many people enjoy coffee, but it is expensive.  Kvass, a beerlike beverage made from fermented black bread, is especially popular in summer.  Russians also enjoy soft drinks, juices, and mineral water.

Vodka is Russia's trademark alcoholic beverage.  Russians also drink wine, champagne, cognac, beer, and other alcoholic beverages.  Alcohol abuse has been and remains a major social problem in Russia.

Health care in the Soviet Union was free.  The Russian government remains committed to meeting the basic health-care needs of its people.  An insurance program to finance health care was introduced in 1993.  A private health-care sector is also rapidly emerging.  Russia has many doctors, nurses, and health-care facilities.  However, low government spending on health care, shortages of medicines and equipment, low wages for health-care providers, and bureaucracy continue to create problems.  Conditions in rural areas are worse than in the cities.

Recreation.  Russians enjoy watching television, reading, playing chess, seeing motion pictures and plays, visiting museums, walking, and taking part in sports.  The government actively promotes athletic activities, especially team sports.  Soccer is the most popular participant and spectator sport in Russia.  Other popular sports include gymnastics, basketball, and such winter sports as hockey, ice skating, and skiing.  Tennis is growing in popularity.

Russia has many athletic clubs, stadiums, recreational centers, and other sporting facilities.  Schools provide physical education at all levels.  There are also special sports camps and clubs for children and adults.

The people of Russia are avid nature lovers, and they enjoy spending time in the countryside.  Many Russians have country cottages called dachas.  There, they garden, hike, bicycle, swim, fish, gather mushrooms, and take part in other outdoor activities.

The majority of Russia's people vacation in the summer.  Popular destinations include resort areas along the Black Sea, the Baltic Sea, and the Volga River, and in Siberia.  However, price increases and ethnic unrest have made vacationing away from home less appealing.

Religion.  The Russian Orthodox Church is the largest religious denomination in the country.  January 7, the Russian Orthodox Christmas, is a national holiday.

In addition to Russian Orthodoxy, the religions that have full freedom in Russia include Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, and certain Christian denominations.  These religions are considered traditional to the country because they were recognized by the state 15 years ago.

Religions that have not been registered in Russia for at least 15 years face certain restrictions.  These groups include Baptists, Mormons, Pentecostalists, Roman Catholics, and Seventh-day Adventists.  These groups must register annually for 15 years before being allowed to participate in such activities as publishing religious literature and operating religious schools.

Education.  The Soviet government controlled education and considered it a major vehicle of social advancement.  As a result, almost all Russians can read and write.  Today, public education in Russia remains free for all citizens.  New private schools are also opening.  The Soviet government had banned such schools.

Russian educators are changing the school curriculum to better prepare students for the new economy.  They are working to remove the influence of Communist Party ideology.  Educators are also trying to better satisfy the interests of the large number of Russia's nationality groups.

All children attend school for 11 years, from age 6 to 17.  Elementary education includes nine primary and intermediate grades.  When pupils finish ninth grade, they may choose to complete their schooling by enrolling in a secondary school or vocational school.  The secondary schools emphasize science and mathematics.  They also teach language, literature, history, social sciences, and physical education.  English is the most widely taught foreign language.  The vocational schools prepare young people for careers as technicians or in various branches of industry and agriculture.

Starting with the intermediate grades, pupils must pass annual exams to advance to the next grade.  Students who pass a national examination upon the completion of secondary school receive a certificate, and those who score well also receive a gold or silver medal.  Schools use a number grading scale of 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest.

Many gifted children attend special schools.  These schools stress individual subjects such as mathematics or physics, languages, or the arts.  Russia also has schools for children with physical or learning disabilities.

Students must pass an entrance exam to be admitted to a university or institute of higher education.  Russia has about 550 institutions of higher education equivalent to colleges and universities, with about 21/2 million students.  Moscow State University, the largest university in Russia, has 28,000 students.

Museums and libraries.  The people of Russia spend more time in museums than do the people of the United States or most European countries.  Russia has more than 660 museums.  The State Historical Museum in Moscow is the country's chief historical museum.  Several museums deal with the Russian Revolution.  They include the Central Museum of the Revolution, which is located in Moscow.  The Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg has one of the largest art collections in the world.

Russia has about 62,000 libraries.  Most towns and large villages have a public library.  There are also libraries specializing in particular subjects and libraries run by factories, schools, labor unions, and professional and civic organizations.  The Russian State Library in Moscow is the largest library in Russia.  Other major libraries in Moscow include the All-Russian State Library of Foreign Literature, INION (Institute of Scholarly Information for the Social Sciences of the Academy of Sciences), the State Historical Library, and the Gorki Library at Moscow State University.  St. Petersburg is home to the Saltykov-Shchedrin State Library and the Library of the Russian Academy of Sciences.

The arts

The arts in Russia date back to the earliest days of the country.  But Russian artists did not produce internationally recognized works in many fields until the early 1800's.  Throughout much of the 1800's and the early 1900's, Russia became an international leader in classical music, ballet, drama, and literature.  Several Russian painters and sculptors also gained worldwide fame.

This section discusses Russian architecture, music, ballet, painting, and sculpture.  For information on Russian drama and literature, see RUSSIAN LITERATURE with its list of Related articles.

Architecture in Russia has been shaped by religious and Western influences combined with local traditions.  About 988, Grand Prince Vladimir I, ruler of the state of Kievan Rus, was converted to the Byzantine (Eastern Orthodox Christian) faith.  For hundreds of years, Russian architecture reflected the influence of the Byzantine style.  The most important structures were churches, which had distinctive onion-shaped domes.  The best-known Byzantine church is St. Basil's Cathedral in Moscow, built by Czar Ivan IV (also called Ivan the Terrible), from 1555 to 1560.  See BYZANTINE ART.

In 1682, Peter I, also known as Peter the Great, became czar.  Peter introduced Western European artistic styles into Russia.  He founded the city of St. Petersburg in 1703 and brought Western European architects and artists to help design it.  Many of the buildings dating from his reign and through the mid-1700's were designed in the Western European baroque style by Italian and French architects.  A famous example is the Great Palace, which was begun in the early 1700's at Peterhof (now Petrodvorets), near St. Petersburg.

Among the most widely recognized architectural works in Russia are the buildings within the enclosed fortress in Moscow called the Kremlin.  The Kremlin includes churches, palaces, and other buildings erected from the late 1400's to the mid-1900's.  Some Kremlin buildings house Russia's government, and others serve as museums.

Music.  Until the mid-1700's, Russian music consisted almost entirely of vocal music sung in church worship services and of folk music, which was also mainly vocal.  Nonreligious music began to flower during the reign of Elizabeth, the empress of Russia from 1741 to 1762.  She established the Academy of Arts in 1757, which taught music.  Italian opera became popular during her reign.  The popularity of music in Russia expanded further during the reign of Catherine II, known as Catherine the Great, who ruled from 1762 to 1796.  The earliest written collection of Russian folk songs appeared in four volumes published between 1776 and 1795.

Mikhail Glinka is credited with founding a distinctively Russian school of classical music in the early and middle 1800's.  He blended folk songs and religious music into his works and also introduced subjects from Russian history.  His most influential work is probably his second opera, Ruslan and Lyudmila (1842), based on a fairy tale written by the Russian poet Alexander Pushkin.

By the late 1800's, Russian music flourished.  Such composers as Modest Mussorgsky, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky, and Alexander Borodin wrote operas and instrumental music.  Much of their work was based on Russian history and folklore.  In the early 1900's, Sergei Rachmaninoff and Igor Stravinsky gained international fame for their musical compositions.  Stravinsky wrote several influential ballet scores, including The Firebird (1910), Petrouchka (1911), and The Rite of Spring (1913).  See the list of Russian composers in the Related articles section of CLASSICAL MUSIC.

Ballet.  Russian ballet became internationally famous starting in the mid-1800's.  The leading ballet companies, which continue to perform today, are the Kirov Ballet (formerly the Russian Imperial Ballet) of St. Petersburg and the Bolshoi Ballet of Moscow.  See BALLET (History); BOLSHOI BALLET.

Painting and sculpture.  Until the early 1900's, the most important Russian paintings were created for religious purposes.  Russian artists decorated the interiors of churches with wallpaintings and mosaics.  Stylized paintings called icons were produced for many centuries.  An icon is a religious painting considered sacred in Eastern Orthodox Christianity.  Icons were produced according to strict rules established by the church, and their style changed little over the years.  See ICON.

By the mid-1800's, Moscow and St. Petersburg had busy art schools.  Russian artists also began to create paintings and sculptures on more varied subjects.

A burst of creativity in Russian art exploded during the years before the start of World War I in 1914.  Russian artists were strongly influenced by the modern art movements emerging in Western Europe.  The painters Marc Chagall, Alexei von Jawlensky, and Wassily Kandinsky eventually settled in Western Europe.

Artists who remained in Russia developed two major art movements, suprematism and constructivism.  Both movements produced paintings that were abstract--that is, they had no recognizable subject matter.  The leading suprematist was Kasimir Malevich.  The major constructivists included Naum Gabo, Antoine Pevsner, and Vladimir Tatlin.  See MALEVICH, KASIMIR; CHAGALL, MARC; GABO, NAUM; KANDINSKY, WASSILY; PEVSNER, ANTOINE.

Land and climate

Russia is the largest country in the world.  It has an area of 6,592,850 square miles (17,075,400 square kilometers), almost twice that of Canada, the second largest country.  A train trip between Moscow in the west and Vladivostok in the east takes seven days and passes through eight time zones, including that of Moscow.

Land regions

Many scientists divide Russia into four zones according to soil conditions and plant life, which are based mainly on climate.  The zones form broad belts across Russia, and no sharp transitions separate them.  From north to south, the zones are (1) the tundra, (2) the forest zone, (3) the steppes, and (4) the semidesert and mountainous zone.

The tundra lies in the northernmost part of Russia.  It is largely a treeless plain.  The tundra has short summers and long, severe winters.  About half the region has permanently frozen soil called permafrost.  Few people live in this bleak area.  Plant life consists chiefly of low shrubs, dwarf trees, and moss.  Animals of the tundra include reindeer, arctic foxes, ermines, hares, and lemmings.  Waterfowl live near the Arctic Sea in summer.

The forest belt lies south of the tundra.  The northern part of this belt is called the taiga.  It consists of coniferous (cone-bearing) trees, such as cedar, fir, pine, and spruce.  This area has poor, ashy soil, known as podzol, that makes it largely unfit for agriculture.  Farther south, the coniferous forests give way to mixed forests of conifers, aspen, birch, elm, maple, oak, and other species.  The soils in this zone support agriculture in some areas, and the area has a mild, moist climate.  Brown bears, deer, elk, lynx, reindeer, and smaller animals such as beavers, rabbits, and squirrels roam the forests.

Grassy plains called steppes stretch across Russia south of the forests.  The northern part of the steppe zone consists of wooded plains and meadows.  The massive southern part is largely a treeless prairie.  The best soils in Russia--brown soil and black, rich soil called chernozem--are found there.  Most of the steppe zone is farmland.  Birds, squirrels, and mouselike mammals called jerboas live in the steppes.  Antelope live in the eastern steppes.

The semidesert and mountainous zone, the southernmost zone in Russia, has diverse soils and climate due to variations in elevation.  It includes the dry, semidesert lowlands near the Caspian Sea, as well as the lush vegetation and mild climate of the Caucasus Mountains.

Geologists also divide Russia into five land regions that differ from the soil and vegetation zones.  From west to east, the regions are (1) the European Plain, (2) the Ural Mountains, (3) the West Siberian Plain, (4) the Central Siberian Plateau, and (5) the East Siberian Uplands.

The European Plain makes up most of the European part of Russia.  It is the most densely populated region in the country.  The European Plain is predominantly flat, averaging about 600 feet (180 meters) above sea level.  Most of the nation's industries are there, but the plain is poor in natural resources.  Forest covers much of it.  The region is home to a variety of animal life.  The Caucasus Mountains rise at the southern edge of the plain, between the Black and the Caspian seas.  The mountains include 18,510-foot (5,642-meter) Mount Elbrus, the highest point in Europe.

The Ural Mountains form the traditional boundary between the European and Asian parts of Russia.  These mountains, worn down by streams, reach an average height of only about 2,000 feet (610 meters).  The middle and southern Ural Mountains are rich in deposits of iron, copper, and other metals.  The middle section is the region's most heavily populated and highly industrialized area.  Major cities in the region include Yekaterinburg and Chelyabinsk.

The West Siberian Plain is the largest level region in the world.  This enormous plain covers more than 1 million square miles (2.6 million square kilometers) and rises no more than 500 feet (150 meters) above sea level.  It is drained by the Ob River system, which flows northward into the Arctic Ocean.  But drainage is poor, and the plain is marshy.  Rich in oil and natural gas deposits, the West Siberian Plain is being developed rapidly.  The cities of Novosibirsk and Omsk lie in the region.

The Central Siberian Plateau slopes upward toward the south from coastal plains along the Arctic Ocean.  It has an average height of about 2,000 feet (610 meters).  Streams cut deeply through the region.  The Sayan and Baikal mountains rise more than 11,000 feet (3,350 meters) along the plateau's southern edge.  Thick pine forests cover much of the Central Siberian Plateau, and its climate reaches extremes of heat and cold.  The region has a wide variety of rich mineral deposits.  Krasnoyarsk and Irkutsk are its largest cities.

The East Siberian Uplands are mainly a wilderness of mountains and plateaus.  The mountains rise to 10,000 feet (3,000 meters) and form part of a series of ranges along the eastern coast of Asia and some offshore islands.  About 25 active volcanoes are found on the Kamchatka Peninsula.  The tallest volcano, snow-capped Klyuchevskaya, rises 15,584 feet (4,750 meters).  The region has valuable mineral resources, but its harsh climate makes it difficult to tap them.  Vladivostok on the Pacific Ocean and Khabarovsk on the Amur River are the region's most important cities.

Rivers and lakes

Russia's many large rivers have served as important means of communication and commerce.  The construction of canals further improved these activities.

The Lena River in Siberia, 2,734 miles (4,400 kilometers) long, is Russia's longest river.  It empties into the Arctic Ocean.  Other major rivers in Siberia include the Amur, Ob, and Yenisey rivers, all frozen seven to nine months a year.  The Volga River is the longest river in European Russia.  It originates in the Valdai Hills northwest of Moscow and flows 2,194 miles (3,531 kilometers) to the Caspian Sea.  The Volga freezes for about three months each year.  Other important rivers in European Russia include the Don and the Northern Dvina.

Russia has about 200,000 lakes.  The Caspian Sea, a saltwater lake 92 feet (28 meters) below sea level, is the world's largest inland body of water.  It touches the southern part of European Russia.  Lake Ladoga, near St. Petersburg, covers 6,835 square miles (17,703 square kilometers).  It is the largest lake entirely in Europe.  Lake Baikal, near the Baikal Mountains, is the deepest lake in the world.  It plunges 5,315 feet (1,620 meters) deep.


Russia is known for its long and bitter winters.  The country's hostile climate helped stop various invaders during its history, including the large armies of Napoleon in 1812 and of Adolf Hitler in 1941 and 1942.  In the Moscow region, snow covers the ground for about five months each year.  In the northernmost part of Russia, snow abounds for eight to nine months a year.  The small percentage of Russia's land that is fit for agriculture has a short growing season and insufficient rainfall.  Half the land has permafrost beneath the surface.  Most of the coastal waters, lakes, and rivers freeze for much of the year.

Russia's weather varies from extremely cold to extremely hot.  Northeastern Siberia is one of the coldest regions in the world.  January temperatures there average below -50 °F (-46 °C).  Temperatures as low as -90 °F (-68 °C) have been recorded.  The average July temperature in this region is 60 °F (16 °C), but it can climb to nearly 100 °F (38 °C).  No other part of the world registers such a wide range of temperatures.

Precipitation (rain, melted snow, and other forms of moisture) is light to moderate.  The European Plain and parts of the East Siberian Uplands receive the most rain.  Vast inland areas get little rain.  The heaviest snowfalls--up to 4 feet (120 centimeters) of snow a year--occur in western and central Siberia.


In the Soviet Union, central government agencies planned almost all aspects of economic life.  The government owned and controlled all factories and farms, and private businesses were illegal.  Soviet leaders changed Russia from a farming country into an industrial giant.  Heavy industry--such as chemicals, construction, machine tools, and steel--developed rapidly.  Government ministries supplied factories with materials, set production quotas, and told managers what to produce and to whom to sell their goods.  This planning led to rapid industrial development and impressive economic gains.  But once the economy developed, central control began to suppress new ideas and discourage quality.

Russia inherited the successes and problems of the former Soviet Union's industrial policy.  The Russian government has been converting state-owned property, including large factories and farms, to private ownership.  Many small businesses and joint ventures with foreign partners have started.  Russia turned to Western countries and Japan for assistance in modernizing and restructuring its manufacturing sector.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, the economy was in a state of disorder.  To stabilize the Russian economy, reduce inflation, and attract foreign investment, the government decided to end the official exchange rate for the ruble.  The action made it possible for the ruble to be exchanged for other currencies at international rates.  The government also promoted the development of a modern banking system.  When the government lifted price controls on most items in 1992, prices soared.  Although the ruble stabilized, average wages since 1990 have fallen, putting many consumer items out of people's reach.  Many Russians, especially those on fixed incomes, do not live as well as they had lived before the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The Russian government's bold break from past Soviet economic policies caused great instability in the country in the early and mid-1990's.  Industrial output fell, and inflation rose dramatically.  The links between the economy and the government that existed in the Soviet Union had broken down, but new institutions had not yet replaced them.

On the positive side, Russia has a skilled labor force and an abundance of natural resources.  Many new businesses have been started.  About two-thirds of state-owned businesses were privatized by the mid-1990's.

Natural resources.  Russia is one of the richest countries in terms of natural resources.  It has the world's largest forest reserves, enormous energy supplies, vast stretches of farmland, extensive mineral deposits, and many potential sources of hydroelectric power.  Russia also has a wide variety of plant and animal life.

Manufacturing.  Heavy industry is the most highly developed sector of the Russian economy.  The machine-building industry is concentrated in Moscow and St. Petersburg, along the Volga River, and in the Ural Mountains.  It makes various types of tractors and other heavy machinery and electrical equipment.  The chemical industry produces chemical fibers, mineral fertilizers, petrochemicals, plastics, soda ash, and synthetic resins.  The construction materials industry is also important.

The Moscow area is Russia's leading manufacturing center.  Its factories produce chemicals, electrical equipment, electronics, motor vehicles, processed foods, steel, and textiles.  Ships and industrial equipment are manufactured in St. Petersburg.  Metal processing and machinery production are important in the Urals.  Most oil refining takes place in the Volga-Urals region.  New industries are being developed in Siberia to make use of the region's mineral and hydroelectric resources.  Light industry, particularly textile production, is centered in the region around Moscow and along the Volga River.  The paper industry operates along the southern edge of the forest belt.

Agriculture.  Russia has a large amount of farmland.  But a short growing season, insufficient rainfall, and a lack of fertile soil make farming difficult.  The Soviet Union's wasteful and inefficient system of state-run farms added to Russia's agricultural problems.

When the Soviet Union collapsed, there were about 15,000 large state-controlled farms in Russia.  About half were state farms operated like government factories, called sovkhozy.  Workers on sovkhozy received wages.  The rest were collective farms called kolkhozy, which were government-controlled but managed in part by farmers.

The Russian government introduced a program to break up the state-controlled farms.  The farms set up committees whose job it was to decide how to divide the farms into producer cooperatives or joint-stock companies.  Most farms have been reorganized.  But private farms control only 4 percent of the farmland.

Approximately 13 percent of Russia's land is cropland.  One of the main agricultural regions is the Black Earth Belt, a portion of the steppes stretching from the Ukrainian border to southwestern Siberia that is famous for its dark chernozem soil.  Other important farming regions are the Volga area, the northern Caucasus Mountains, and western Siberia.  Russia is one of the world's major grain producers.  However, the country still must import grain for food.  Major crops grown in Russia include barley, flax, fruits, oats, potatoes, rye, sugar beets, sunflowers, vegetables, and wheat.  Russian farmers also grow many fodder crops (food crops for animals).  Grasses and corn are the most important fodder crops.

Livestock breeding is another main component of Russian agriculture.  Cattle, hogs, and sheep are the livestock most commonly raised in the country.

Mining.  Russia has vast amounts of most of the minerals used in modern industrial production.  The country has abundant coal deposits and huge reserves of petroleum and natural gas.  Other resources include calcium phosphate minerals and phosphorites, used in fertilizers, and diamonds.

Russia is a major producer of iron ore, manganese, nickel, and the platinum-group metals, a group of rare metals including platinum and iridium.  Nickel is mined in the Kola Peninsula, eastern Siberia, and the southern Urals.  Platinum is mined in the Urals and in northern Siberia.  The country ranks as a leading producer of gold, lead, salt, tin, tungsten, and zinc.  It is also an important source of copper and silver.  Bauxite, a mineral used in making aluminum, is mined in western Siberia.

Fishing industry.  In the northern Barents Sea and the White Sea, Russian fishing crews catch cod, haddock, herring, salmon, and other fishes.  Sturgeon are caught in the Caspian Sea.  Caviar, the salted eggs of sturgeon, is a famous Russian delicacy.  Crews also fish in inland waterways, the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and the Baltic and Black seas.

Service industries are industries that produce services, not goods.  In the former Soviet Union, these industries were underdeveloped.  Most service-industry workers were poorly trained and underpaid.  They had little incentive to satisfy their customers, who competed for services that were in short supply. Today, private economic activity in the service sector is flourishing.  Many individuals and families operate small businesses such as restaurants, dry cleaners, and taxi services.

Energy sources.  Russia has enormous natural energy reserves, especially petroleum and natural gas.  The country is the world's largest producer of crude oil.  Oil fields in western Siberia supply more than half of Russia's petroleum.  The Volga-Ural Oil-Gas Region, the Northern Caucasus, and the Timan-Pechora Oil-Gas Basin are also important.  Russia also produces large amounts of coal and natural gas.  Pipelines carry oil and natural gas from western Siberia to European Russia.  The largest coal mines are located in the Kuznetsk and Pechora basins.  Peat bogs also furnish some of Russia's fuel.

Most of Russia's electric power plants are steam-turbine plants.  Hydroelectric plants also generate electricity.  In addition, Russia is a major producer of nuclear power.

Trade.  The Soviet Union traded mainly with Eastern European Communist countries, such as Bulgaria, Hungary, and Poland.  Since the overthrow of the Communist regimes of Eastern Europe and the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russia's trading activity with those countries has declined.  Russia's main trading partners are the other former Soviet republics, China, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

Russia exports mostly petroleum, natural gas, minerals, machinery, chemicals, and wood and paper products.  Major imports include consumer goods, foods and beverages, industrial equipment, and machinery.

Transportation and communication.  Because of Russia's vast size and harsh climate, transportation facilities and communications systems are unevenly distributed throughout the country.  They are less efficient than the transportation and communications networks of Western Europe, the United States, and Japan.

Railroads handle most freight transportation in Russia.  But the system is heavily loaded and in urgent need of modernization.  Russia's poorly developed highway network, combined with the country's vast size, make truck transport ineffective and costly.  Trucks account for only about 5 percent of total freight movement.  River transportation carries only a small percentage of Russia's freight traffic, because most rivers are frozen for much of the year.  Canals such as the Volga-Don Canal and the Moscow Canal, which connects Moscow with the Volga River, make an important contribution to the country's river traffic.

Aeroflot is Russia's national airline.  It had been the national airline of the Soviet Union.  Aeroflot carries freight and passengers between all major Russian cities and between Russia and many other countries.  Fuel shortages and rising ticket costs have reduced air traffic.

Russia's most important seaports--Arkhangelsk, Kaliningrad, Murmansk, Nakhodka, St. Petersburg, and Vladivostok--handle a large portion of the country's foreign trade.  However, the water at many Russian ports isfrozen for many months of the year.

Automobile production is increasing, but it remains small in comparison with other developed nations.  Only about 60 of every 1,000 Russians own cars.  In addition, it is difficult for car owners to obtain servicing and spare parts.

Public transportation is modern and inexpensive, but crowded.  Several large cities, including Moscow, have clean, efficient subway systems.  Buses, trams, and trolleys also operate in the cities.  Bicycles are seen in large cities, but they are more common in rural and vacation areas.  Horses and buggies can also be found in rural parts of Russia.

Russia has an underdeveloped telecommunications system, but it is being modernized.  However, only about 15 of every 100 Russians have a telephone.

During most of the history of the Soviet Union, the government controlled all communications media, including broadcasting, motion-picture production, and publishing.  The government required all broadcasts and publications to follow Communist Party policies.  Such censorship began to ease in the late 1980's, and it no longer exists in Russia.  As a result, the number of independent newspapers and publishing houses has increased dramatically.  Most families own radios and television sets.  Videocassette recorders are very popular, but they are expensive.


Russia's unique geographic location astride both Europe and Asia has influenced its history and shaped its destiny.  Russia never has been entirely an Eastern or a Western country.  As a result, Russian intellectuals have long debated the country's development and contribution to world history.

This section traces the major developments of Russian history.  In 1917, revolutionaries overthrew the Russian czarist government.  They changed Russia's name to the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (R.S.F.S.R.).  In 1922, the R.S.F.S.R. and three other republics formed a new nation called the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.), also known as the Soviet Union.  The U.S.S.R. broke apart in 1991, and Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine invited the other republics to join a federation called the Commonwealth of Independent States.  For more detailed information about this period, see UNION OF SOVIET SOCIALIST REPUBLICS (History).

Early days.  Beginning about 1200 B.C., the Cimmerians, a Balkan people, lived north of the Black Sea in what is now southern Ukraine.  They were defeated about 700 B.C. by the Scythians, an Iranian people from central Asia.  The Scythians controlled the region until about 200 B.C. They fell to the Sarmatians, another Iranian group.  The Scythians and the Sarmatians lived in close contact with Greek colonies--later controlled by the Romans--along the northern coast of the Black Sea.  They absorbed many Greek and Roman ways of life through trade, marriage, and other contacts.  See CIMMERIANS.

Germanic tribes from the West, called the Goths, conquered the region about A.D. 200.  The Goths ruled until about 370, when they were defeated by the Huns, a warlike Asian people.  The Huns' empire broke up after their leader, Attila, died in 453.  The Avars, a tribe related to the Huns, began to rule the region in the mid-500's.  The Khazars, another Asian people, won the southern Volga and northern Caucasus regions in the mid-600's.  They became Jews and established a busy trade with other peoples.  See GOTHS; HUN.

By the 800's, Slavic groups had built many towns in eastern Europe, including what became the European part of Russia.  They had also developed an active trade.  No one knows where the Slavs came from.  Some historians believe they came in the 400's from what is now Poland.  Others think the Slavs were farmers in the Black Sea region under Scythian rule or earlier.  Slavs of what are now Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine became known as East Slavs.  See SLAVS.

The earliest written Russian history of the 800's is the Primary Chronicle, written in Kiev, probably in 1111.  It says that quarreling Slavic groups in the town of Novgorod asked a Viking tribe to rule them and bring order to the land.  The Vikings were called the Varangian Russes.  Historians who accept the Primary Chronicle as true believe that Russia took its name from this tribe.  According to the Primary Chronicle, a group of related Varangian families headed by Rurik arrived in 862.  Rurik settled in Novgorod, and the area became known as the "land of the Rus."

Many historians doubt that the Slavs of Novgorod invited the Vikings to rule them.  They believe the Vikings invaded the region.  Some historians claim the word Rus, from which Russia took its name, was the name of an early Slavic tribe in the Black Sea region.  It is known, however, that the first state founded by East Slavs--called Kievan Rus--was established at present-day Kiev in the 800's.  Kiev, now the capital of Ukraine, was an important trading center on the Dnepr River.  Whether it had been developed by the Vikings is unclear.

The state of Kievan Rus.  The Primary Chronicle states that Oleg, a Varangian, captured Kiev in 882 and ruled as its prince.  During the 900's, the other principalities (regions ruled by a prince) of Kievan Rus recognized Kiev's major importance.  Kiev lay on the main trade route connecting the Baltic Sea with the Black Sea and the Byzantine Empire.  In addition, Kiev's forces defended Kievan Rus against invading tribes from the south and east.  The ruler of Kiev came to be called grand prince and ranked above the other princes of Kievan Rus.

About 988, Grand Prince Vladimir I (Volodymyr in Ukrainian) became a Christian.  At that time, the East Slavs worshiped the forces of nature.  Vladimir made Christianity the state religion, and most people under his rule turned Christian.  Vladimir later became a saint of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Several grand princes were strong rulers, but Kiev's power began to decrease after the mid-1000's.  The rulers of other Kievan Rus principalities grew in power, and they fought many destructive wars.  In Novgorod and a few other towns with strong local governments, the princes were driven out.  Badly weakened by civil wars and without strong central control, Kievan Rus fell to huge armies of Mongols called Tatars, or Tartars, who swept across Russia from the east during the 1200's (see TATARS).

Mongol rule.  In 1237, Batu, a grandson of the conqueror Genghis Khan, led between 150,000 and 200,000 Mongol troops into Russia.  The Mongols destroyed one Russian town after another.  In 1240, they destroyed Kiev, and Russia became part of the Mongol Empire.  It was included in a section called the Golden Horde.  The capital of the Golden Horde was at Sarai, near what is now Volgograd.

Batu forced the surviving Russian princes to pledge allegiance to the Golden Horde and to pay heavy taxes.  From time to time, the Mongols left their capital and wiped out the people of various areas because of their disloyalty.  The Mongols also appointed the Russian grand prince and forced many Russians to serve in their armies.  But they interfered little with Russian life in general.  The Mongols were chiefly interested in maintaining their power and collecting taxes.

During the period of Mongol rule, which ended in the late 1400's, the new ideas and reforming spirit of the Renaissance were dramatically changing many aspects of life in Western Europe.  But under Mongol control, Russia was to a great extent cut off from these important Western influences.

The rise of Moscow.  In the early 1300's, Prince Yuri of Moscow married the sister of the Golden Horde's khan (ruler).  Yuri was appointed the Russian grand prince about 1318.  Mongol troops helped him put down threats to his leadership from other principalities.  The Mongols also began letting the grand prince of Moscow collect taxes for them.  This practice started with Ivan I (called the Moneybag) about 1330.  Ivan kept some of the tax money.  He bought much land and expanded his territory greatly.  Other princes and boyars (high-ranking landowners) began to serve in Moscow's army and government.  In addition, Ivan persuaded the chief bishop of the Russian Orthodox Church to remain in Moscow.  Until then, Kiev had been the spiritual center of Russia.

Moscow grew stronger and richer as the Golden Horde grew weaker, chiefly because of struggles for leadership.  In 1380, Grand Prince Dmitri defeated a Mongol force in the Battle of Kulikovo, near the Don River.  The victory briefly freed Moscow of Mongol control.  The Mongols recaptured Moscow in 1382, but they no longer believed they could not be beaten.

During the late 1400's, Moscow became the most powerful Russian city.  Ivan III (called Ivan the Great) won control of Moscow's main rivals, Novgorod and Tver, and great numbers of boyars entered his service.  In 1480, Ivan made the final break from Mongol control by refusing to pay taxes to the Golden Horde.  Mongol troops moved toward Moscow but turned back to defend their capital from Russian attack.

Ivan the Terrible.  After the rise of Moscow, its grand prince came to be called czar.  In 1547, Ivan IV, also known as Ivan the Terrible, became the first ruler to be crowned czar.  Ivan made the power of the czar over all Russia complete.

Ivan was brutal, extremely suspicious, and perhaps, at times, insane.  He formed a special police force and began a reign of terror in which he ordered the arrest and murder of hundreds of aristocrats.  Ivan gave his victims' estates as payment to the service gentry (landowners serving in the army and government).  He also established strict rules concerning the number of warriors and horses each landowner had to supply to the army.  Ivan burned many towns and villages, and he killed church leaders who opposed him.  In a fit of rage, Ivan even struck and killed his oldest son.

The number of service gentry increased rapidly.  But their estates had no value unless the peasants remained on the land and farmed it.  Ivan and later czars passed a series of laws that bound the peasants to the land as serfs.  Serfdom became the economic basis of Russian power.  The development of Russian serfdom differed sharply from changes occurring in Western Europe at the time.  There, during the Renaissance, the growth of trade led to the use of money as royal payment.  It also led to the disappearance of serfdom in Western Europe.  See SERF.

Ivan fought Tatars at Astrakhan and Kazan to the southeast, and he won their lands.  Russian forces then crossed the Ural Mountains and conquered western Siberia.  Ivan also tried to win lands northwest to the Baltic Sea, but he was defeated by Lithuanian, Polish, and Swedish armies.

The Time of Troubles developed because of a breakdown of the czar's power after Ivan's death.  Theodore I, Ivan's second son, was a weak czar.  His wife's brother, Boris Godunov, became the real ruler of Russia.  Theodore's younger brother, Dmitri, was found dead in 1591, and Theodore died in 1598 without leaving a male heir.

The Zemskii Sobor (Land Council), a kind of parliament with little power, elected Boris czar.  But a man believed to be Gregory Otrepiev, a former monk, posed as Dmitri.  This False Dmitri claimed Dmitri had not died, and he fled to Lithuania to avoid arrest.  In 1604, False Dmitri invaded Russia with Polish troops.  The invaders were joined by many discontented Russians.  This invasion marked the beginning of the Time of Troubles.  Russia was torn by civil war, invasion, and political confusion until 1613.

False Dmitri became czar in 1605, but a group of boyars killed him the next year.  Prince Basil Shuisky then became czar.  In 1610, Polish invaders occupied Moscow.  They ruled through a powerless council of boyars until 1612.  Meanwhile, a new False Dmitri and a number of other pretenders to the throne won many followers.  Peasant revolts swept through Russia.  Landowners and frontier people called Cossacks fought each other, and sometimes joined together to fight powerful aristocrats (see COSSACKS).  The Polish control of Moscow led the Russians to unite their forces and drive out the invaders.  They recaptured the capital in 1612.

The early Romanovs.  After the Poles were defeated, there was no one of royal birth to take the throne.  In 1613, the Zemskii Sobor elected Michael Romanov czar.  The Romanov czars ruled Russia for the next 300 years, until the February Revolution of 1917 ended czarist rule.

During the 1600's, Russia annexed much of Ukraine and extended its control of Siberia eastward to the Pacific Ocean.  During this same period, the Russian Orthodox Church made changes in religious texts and ceremonies.  People called Old Believers objected to these changes and broke away from the church.  This group still follows the old practices today.

Peter the Great.  In 1682, a struggle for power resulted in the crowning of two half brothers--Peter I (later known as Peter the Great) and Ivan V--as co-czars.  Both were children, and Ivan's sister Sophia ruled as regent (temporary ruler) until Peter's followers forced her to retire in 1689.  Peter made close contact with the many Western Europeans living in Moscow and absorbed much new information from them.  He came into full power in 1696, when Ivan died.

Peter was greatly influenced by ideas of commerce and government then popular in Western Europe.  A powerful ruler, he improved Russia's military and made many important conquests.  During Peter's reign, Russia expanded its territory to the Baltic Sea in the Great Northern War with Sweden.  In 1703, Peter founded St. Petersburg on the Baltic, and he moved the capital there in 1712.  After traveling throughout Europe, he introduced Western-type clothing, factories, and schools in Russia, and reorganized Russia's government to make it run more efficiently.

Peter forced Russia's nobility to adopt many Western customs.  He also increased the czar's power over the aristocrats, church officials, and serfs.  He dealt harshly with those who opposed these changes.  Under Peter, the legal status of serfs further deteriorated.

Catherine the Great.  After Peter's death in 1725, a series of struggles for the throne took place.  The service gentry and the leading nobles were on opposite sides.  Candidates for the throne who were supported by the service gentry won most of these struggles and rewarded their followers.  The rulers increased the gentry's power over the serfs and local affairs.  The gentry's enforced service to the state was gradually reduced.  It was ended altogether in 1762.

Magnificent royal parties and other festivities, all in the latest Western fashion, took place during the 1700's.  The arts were promoted, and many new schools were started, mainly for the upper classes.  The Russian Imperial School of Ballet was founded, and Italian opera and chamber music were brought to Russia.  It also became fashionable in Russia to repeat the newest Western ideas on freedom and social reform, especially during the rule of Empress Catherine II, known as Catherine the Great.  In 1767, Catherine called a large legislative assembly to reform Russian laws.  However, the assembly achieved nothing.

The great majority of Russians remained in extreme poverty and ignorance during this period.  In 1773 and 1774, the peasants' discontent boiled over in a revolt led by Emelian Pugachev, a Cossack.  The revolt swept through Russia from the Ural Mountains to the Volga River.  It spread almost to Moscow before being crushed by government troops.  In 1775, Catherine further tightened the landowners' control over the serfs.

Under Catherine the Great, Russia rose to new importance as a major world power.  In the late 1700's, Austria, Prussia, and Russia gradually divided Poland among themselves.  Russia gained nearly all of Belarus, Lithuania, and Ukraine from Poland.  In wars against the Ottoman Empire (based in present-day Turkey), Russia gained the Crimea and other Ottoman lands.  Catherine died in 1796.  She was succeeded by her son, Paul.

Alexander I.  Paul's five-year rule ended with his murder in 1801.  Alexander I, Paul's son, became czar and talked about freeing the serfs, building schools for all young Russians, and even giving up the throne and making Russia a republic.  He introduced several reforms, such as freeing many political prisoners and spreading Western ways and ideas.  But he did nothing to lessen the czar's total power or to end serfdom.  Alexander knew that Russia's military strength and its position as a major world power depended on income that was provided by serfdom.  Under Alexander's rule, Russia continued to win territory from Persia, Sweden, and the Ottoman Empire.

In June 1812, Napoleon led the Grand Army of France into Russia.  He wanted to stop Russian trade with Britain, France's chief enemy, and to halt Russian expansion in the Balkan region.  The French swept forward and reached Moscow in September 1812.  Most people had left the city, and Napoleon and his army entered easily.

Soon afterward, fire destroyed most of Moscow.  Historians believe the Russians themselves set the fire.  After 35 days, the French left the city because they feared they might not survive the approaching bitter Russian winter.  They began a disastrous retreat with little food and under continual attack by the Russians.  Of the estimated 600,000 French troops in Russia, about 500,000 died, deserted, or were captured.  Russia then became a major force in the campaign by several European countries that defeated Napoleon.  See NAPOLEON I (Disaster in Russia).

Although Alexander had begun some reforms, harsh rule continued in Russia.  Beginning in 1816, many young aristocrats became revolutionaries.  They formed secret groups, wrote constitutions for Russia, and prepared to revolt.  Alexander died in 1825, and Nicholas I became czar.  In December of 1825, a group of revolutionaries, later called the Decembrists, took action.  At the urging of the Decembrists, about 3,000 soldiers and officers gathered in Senate Square in St. Petersburg, and government troops arrived to face them.  After several hours, the Decembrists fired a few shots.  Government cannons ended the revolt.

Nicholas I.  The Decembrist revolt deeply impressed and frightened Nicholas.  He removed aristocrats, whom he now distrusted, from government office and replaced them with professional military officers.  He tightened his control over the press and education, reduced travel outside Russia, and prohibited organizations that might have political influence.  He established six special government departments.  These departments, which included a secret police system, handled important economic and political matters.  Through the special departments, Nicholas avoided the regular processes of Russian government and increased his control over Russian life.

In spite of Nicholas's harsh rule, the period was one of outstanding achievement in Russian literature.  Nikolai Gogol, Mikhail Lermontov, Alexander Pushkin, and others wrote their finest works.  Fyodor Dostoevsky, Leo Tolstoy, and Ivan Turgenev began their careers.  Many educated Russians began to debate the values of Westernized Russian life against those of old Russian life.  The pro-Western group argued that Russia must learn from and catch up with the West economically and politically.  The other group argued for the old Russian ways, including the czarist system, a strong church, and the quiet life of the Russian countryside.

Nicholas became known as the "policeman of Europe" because he sent troops to put down revolutions in Poland and Hungary.  Nicholas also declared himself the defender of the Eastern Orthodox Churches and fought two wars with the Muslim Ottoman Empire.  In the war of 1828 and 1829, Russia gained much territory around the Black Sea.  Russia also won the right to move merchant ships through the straits connecting the Black Sea with the Mediterranean Sea.  The Ottoman Empire controlled these straits.

In 1853, the Crimean War broke out between Russia and the Ottoman Empire.  Britain and France aided the Ottomans.  These countries objected to Russian expansion in the Black Sea region.  Russia was defeated and signed the Treaty of Paris in 1856.  This treaty forced Russia to give up some of the territory it had taken earlier from the Ottoman Empire, and the pact forbade warships on and fortifications around the Black Sea.

Expansion in Asia.  After its defeat in the Crimean War, Russia began to expand in Asia.  In the Far East, Russia won disputed territories from China.  In 1858 and 1860, the Chinese signed treaties giving Russia lands north of the Amur River and east of the Ussuri River.  By 1864, Russian forces defeated rebel tribes in the Caucasus.  Central Asia was won during a series of military campaigns from 1865 to 1876.  In 1867, Russia sold its Alaskan territory to the United States for $7,200,000 (see ALASKA [History]).

Alexander II.  Nicholas I died in 1855, during the Crimean War.  His son, Alexander II, became czar.  Russia's defeat in the Crimean War taught Alexander a lesson.  He realized that Russia had to catch up with the West to remain a major power.  Alexander began a series of reforms to strengthen the economy and Russian life in general.  In 1861, he freed the serfs and distributed land among them.  He began developing railroads and organizing a banking system.  Alexander promoted reforms in education, reduced controls on the press, and introduced a jury system and other reforms in the courts.  He also established forms of self-government in the towns and villages.

But many young Russians believed that Alexander's reforms did not go far enough.  Some revolutionary groups wanted to establish socialism in Russia.  Others wanted a constitution and a republic.  These groups formed a number of public and secret organizations.  After a revolutionary tried to kill Alexander in 1866, the czar began to weaken many of his reforms.  The revolutionaries then argued that Alexander had never been a sincere reformer at all.  During the mid-1870's, a group of revolutionaries tried to get the peasants to revolt.  They wanted to achieve either socialism or anarchism (absence of government) for Russia (see ANARCHISM).  After this effort failed, a terrorist group called the People's Will tried several times to kill the czar.  Alexander then decided to set up a new reform program.  But in 1881, he was killed by a terrorist's bomb in St. Petersburg.

Alexander III, Alexander's son, became czar and soon began a program of harsh rule.  Alexander III limited the freedom of the press and of the universities, and he sharply reduced the powers of Russia's local self-governments.  He set up a special bank to help the aristocrats increase their property.  He also appointed officials called land captains from among the aristocrats and gave them much political power over the peasants.  Alexander started some programs to help the peasants and industrial workers.  But their living and working conditions improved very little during his reign.

Nicholas II became Russia's next, and last, czar in 1894.  The revolutionary movement had been kept in check until the 1890's, when a series of bad harvests caused starvation among the peasants.  In addition, as industrialization increased, discontent grew among the rising middle class and workers in the cities.  Discontented Russians formed various political organizations, of which three became important. (1) The liberal constitutionalists wanted to replace czarist rule with a Western type of parliamentary government. (2) The socialist revolutionaries tried to promote a revolution among peasants and workers in the cities. (3) The Marxists wanted to promote revolution among the city workers.  The Marxists followed the socialist teachings of Karl Marx, a German social philosopher (see MARX, KARL).  In 1898, the Marxists established the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party.

Between 1899 and 1904, the discontent of the Russian people increased.  Worker strikes and other forms of protest took place.  In 1903, the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party split into two groups--the Bolsheviks (members of the majority) and the Mensheviks (members of the minority).  V. I. Lenin was the leader of the Bolsheviks, later called Communists.

The Revolution of 1905.  On Jan. 22, 1905, thousands of unarmed workers marched to the czar's Winter Palace in St. Petersburg.  The workers were on strike, and they planned to ask Nicholas II for reforms.  Government troops fired on the crowd and killed or wounded hundreds of marchers.  After this Bloody Sunday slaughter, the revolutionary movement, led mainly by the liberal constitutionalists, gained much strength.  In February, Nicholas agreed to establish a fully elected lawmaking body, called the Duma, to advise him.  However, more strikes broke out during the summer, and peasant and military groups revolted.  In part, the growing unrest was linked to the increasingly unpopular Russo-Japanese War.  This war had broken out in February 1904 after a Japanese attack on Russian ships.  The war ended with Russia's defeat in September 1905.

In October 1905, a general strike paralyzed the country.  Revolutionaries in St. Petersburg formed a soviet (council) called the Soviet of Workers' Deputies.  Nicholas then granted the Duma the power to pass or reject all proposed laws.  Many Russians were satisfied with this action, but others were not.  The revolution continued, especially in Moscow, where the army crushed a serious uprising in December.

Each of the first two Dumas, which met in 1906 and 1907, was dissolved after a few months.  The Dumas could not work with Nicholas and his high-ranking officials, who refused to give up much power.  Nicholas illegally changed the election law and made the selection of Duma candidates less democratic.  The peasants and workers were allowed far fewer representatives in the Duma than the upper classes.  The third Duma served from 1907 to 1912, and the fourth Duma met from 1912 to 1917.  During this period, Russia made important advances in the arts, education, farming, and industry.

World War I.  By the time World War I began in 1914, Europe was divided into two tense armed camps.  On one side was the Triple Entente (Triple Agreement), consisting of Russia, France, and Britain.  Russia and France had agreed in 1894 to defend each other against attack.  France and Britain had signed the Entente Cordiale (Friendly Understanding) in 1904, and Russia had signed a similar agreement with Britain in 1907.  The Triple Entente developed from these treaties.  Opposing the Triple Entente was the Triple Alliance, formed in 1882 by Austria-Hungary, Germany, and Italy.  See TRIPLE ENTENTE; TRIPLE ALLIANCE.

On Aug. 1, 1914, Germany declared war on Russia.  Soon afterward, Russia changed the German-sounding name of St. Petersburg to Petrograd.  German troops crushed the Russian army at Tannenberg, in East Prussia.  However, the Russians defeated an Austrian army in the Battles of Lemberg in the Galicia region of Austria-Hungary, near present-day Lvov, Ukraine.

In 1915, Austrian and German forces drove back the Russians.  The next year, the Russians attacked along a 70-mile (113-kilometer) front in Galicia.  They advanced about 50 miles (80 kilometers).  Russian troops moved into the Carpathian Mountains in 1917, but the Germans pushed them back.  For the story of Russia in the war, see WORLD WAR I.

The February Revolution.  During World War I, the Russian economy could not meet the needs of the soldiers and also those of the people at home.  The railroads carried military supplies and could not serve the cities.  The people suffered severe shortages of food, fuel, and housing.  Russian troops at the front were loyal, but the untrained soldiers behind the fighting lines began to question the war.  They knew they would probably be sent to the front and be killed.  The soldiers and civilians behind the lines grew increasingly dissatisfied.

By the end of 1916, almost all educated Russians opposed the czar.  Nicholas had removed many capable executives from high government offices and replaced them with weak, unpopular officials.  He was accused of crippling the war effort by such acts.  Many Russians blamed his action on the influence of Grigori Rasputin, adviser to the czar and the czarina.  The royal couple believed that Rasputin was a holy man who was saving their sick son's life.  In December 1916, a group of nobles murdered Rasputin.  But the officials who supposedly had been appointed through his influence remained.

In March 1917, the people of Russia revolted. (The month was February in the old Russian calendar, which was replaced in 1918.) Violent riots and strikes over shortages of bread and coal accompanied the uprising in Petrograd, the capital of Russia. (Petrograd was known as St. Petersburg until 1914, was renamed Leningrad in 1924, and again became St. Petersburg in 1991.) Nicholas ordered the Duma to dissolve itself, but it ignored his command and set up a provisional (temporary) government.  Nicholas had lost all political support, and he gave up the throne on March 15.  Nicholas and his family were then imprisoned.  Bolshevik revolutionaries almost certainly shot the czar and his family to death in July 1918.

Many soviets were established in Russia at the same time as the provisional government was formed.  The soviets rivaled the provisional government.  Workers and soldiers tried to seize power in Petrograd in July, but the attempt failed.

The October Revolution.  In August 1917, General Lavr Kornilov tried to curb the growing power of the soviets.  But the attempt failed, and the Russian masses became increasingly radical.  On November 7 (October 25 in the old Russian calendar), workers, soldiers, and sailors led by the Bolsheviks took over the Winter Palace, a former royal residence that had become the headquarters of the provisional government.  They overthrew the provisional government and formed a new government headed by Lenin.  Lenin immediately withdrew Russia from World War I.  The new government soon took over Russia's industries and also seized most of the peasants' farm products.

In 1918, the Bolsheviks made Moscow the capital of Russia.  They also changed the name of the Russian Social Democratic Labor Party to the Russian Communist Party.  This name was later changed to the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.  See COMMUNISM.

Civil war and the formation of the U.S.S.R.  From 1918 to 1920, civil war raged between the Communists and the anti-Communists over control of Russia.  The anti-Communists received support from several other countries, including Britain, France, Japan, and the United States.  Nevertheless, the Communists defeated their opponents.  They also established Communist rule in Georgia, Ukraine, eastern Armenia, Belarus, and Central Asia.  The civil war contributed to the increasing discontent among the Russian people.

In 1921, more peasant uprisings and workers' strikes broke out.  That same year, Lenin established a New Economic Policy (NEP) to strengthen Russia.  Under this policy, the government controlled the most important aspects of the economy, including banking, foreign trade, heavy industry, and transportation.  But small businesses could control their own operations, and peasants could keep their farm products.

In December 1922, the Communist government created a new nation called the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.).  It consisted of four republics--the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, Byelorussia (now Belarus and originally called Belarus), Transcaucasia, and Ukraine.  By late 1940, Transcaucasia had been divided into Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia, and 10 more republics had been established, for a total of 16 republics.  The new republics included what are now Estonia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova (then Moldavia), Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.  The Karelo-Finnish Soviet Socialist Republic, established in 1940, was changed to an autonomous republic in 1956.

Stalin.  Lenin died in 1924.  Joseph Stalin, who had been general secretary of the Communist Party since 1922, rapidly gained power.  He defeated his rivals one by one.  By 1929, Stalin had become dictator of the Soviet Union.

In the late 1920's, Stalin began a socialist economic program.  It emphasized the development of heavy industry and the combining of privately owned farms into large, government-run farms.  Many citizens of the Soviet Union opposed Stalin's policies.

In the mid-1930's, Stalin started a program of terror called the Great Purge.  His secret police arrested millions of people.  Most of the prisoners were shot or sent to prison labor camps.  Many of those arrested had helped Stalin rise to power.  Stalin thus eliminated all possible threats to his power and tightened his hold over the Soviet Union.

World War II.  By the late 1930's, German dictator Adolf Hitler was ready to conquer Europe.  In August 1939, the U.S.S.R. and Germany signed a nonaggression pact, a treaty agreeing that neither nation would attack the other.  In September, German forces invaded Poland from the west.  The Soviet Union's forces quickly occupied the eastern part of Poland.

In June 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union and began to advance into the country.  The turning point of the war in the Soviet Union was the Soviet defeat of the Germans in the Battle of Stalingrad (now Volgograd) in 1943.  Soviet troops then drove the Germans back out of the country and across eastern Europe.  They attacked Berlin in April 1945.  Berlin fell to the Soviets on May 2, and German troops surrendered to the Allies five days later.

In August 1945, the U.S.S.R. declared war on Japan.  Japan surrendered to the Allies on Sept. 2, 1945, ending World War II.

The Cold War.  After World War II ended, the Soviet Union extended the influence of Communism into Eastern Europe.  By early 1948, several Eastern European countries had become Soviet satellites (countries controlled by the Soviet Union).  The satellites were Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and--later--East Germany.  The U.S.S.R. also influenced Communist regimes in Albania and Yugoslavia.  It cut off nearly all contact between its satellites and the West.  Mutual distrust and suspicion between East and West developed into a rivalry that became known as the Cold War.  The Cold War shaped the foreign policy of the Soviet Union and of many Western countries until the late 1980's.

Stalin died on March 5, 1953.  In September of that year, Nikita S. Khrushchev became the head of the Communist Party.  In 1958, he also became premier of the Soviet Union.

Khrushchev eased the terrorism that had characterized Stalin's dictatorship and relaxed some of the restrictions on communication, trade, and travel between East and West.  However, the U.S.S.R. continued working to expand its influence in non-Communist countries.  Khrushchev improved Soviet relations with the West, but many of his other policies failed.

In 1964, the highest-ranking Communists overthrew Khrushchev.  Leonid I. Brezhnev became Communist Party head, and Aleksei N. Kosygin became premier.  Brezhnev and Kosygin increased the production of consumer goods and the construction of housing, and they expanded Soviet influence in Africa.

By the mid-1970's, Brezhnev was the most powerful Soviet leader.  He sought to ease tensions between East and West, a policy that became known as detente.  However, detente began to collapse in the late 1970's.  Relations between the Soviet Union and the United States worsened over such issues as Soviet violations of human rights, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and an increase in the number of nuclear weapons by both the Soviet Union and the United States.

The rise of Gorbachev.  In 1985, Mikhail S. Gorbachev became head of the Communist Party.  Gorbachev instituted many changes in the U.S.S.R., including increased freedom of expression in politics, literature, and the arts.  He worked to improve relations between the Soviet Union and the West and to reduce government control over the Soviet economy.

In 1989, the U.S.S.R. held its first contested elections for the newly created Congress of People's Deputies.  The following year, the government voted to allow non-Communist political parties in the Soviet Union.  Many Communist Party members and other Soviet officials opposed Gorbachev's reforms.  But in March 1990, Gorbachev was elected by the Congress of People's Deputies to the newly created office of president of the Soviet Union.

The breakup of the U.S.S.R.  During the late 1980's, people in many parts of the Soviet Union increased their demands for greater freedom from the central government.  In June 1990, the Russian republic declared that laws passed by its legislature took precedence over laws passed by the central government.  By the end of the year, each of the other 14 Soviet republics had made similar declarations.

In July 1991, Gorbachev and the leaders of 10 republics agreed to sign a treaty giving the republics a large amount of self-government.  Five of the republics were scheduled to sign the treaty on August 20.  But on August 19, conservative Communist Party leaders staged a coup against Gorbachev's government.  They imprisoned Gorbachev and his family in their vacation home.  The president of the Russian republic, Boris N. Yeltsin, led popular opposition to the coup, which collapsed on August 21.  After the coup, Gorbachev regained his office of president but resigned as head of the Communist Party.

The coup's collapse renewed the republics' demands for more control over their affairs.  In September 1991, an interim government was established to rule until a new union treaty and constitution could be written and approved.  This government included a State Council, made up of Gorbachev and the leaders of the republics.

On Dec. 8, 1991, Yeltsin and the presidents of Belarus and Ukraine announced the formation of the Commonwealth of Independent States (C.I.S.).  They declared that the Soviet Union had ceased to exist and invited the remaining republics to join the commonwealth.  The members would be independent countries tied by economic and defense links.  Most of the republics joined the C.I.S.

Yeltsin took control of what remained of the central government of the Soviet Union, including the Kremlin.  On Dec. 25, 1991, Gorbachev resigned as Soviet president, and the Soviet Union ceased to exist.

The new nation.  With the end of the Soviet Union, the Russian republic resumed its course as an independent nation.  The breakup of the Soviet Union helped eliminate much of the friction that still remained between the East and the West.

The Russian government slashed military spending in 1992.  The government also made significant cutbacks in the number of people employed in the armed forces.  The cutbacks, in turn, forced large numbers of former military personnel to find homes and jobs as civilians.

After the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russia agreed to maintain a supply of nuclear weapons.  In 1992, the other former Soviet republics with nuclear weapons on their lands--Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan--agreed to eliminate all nuclear weapons on their territories within seven years.  By the end of 1996, the three countries had turned over their nuclear weapons to Russia.

Russia had to establish new relationships with the C.I.S. members.  Some Russian leaders wanted the country to take a leading role.  But the smaller states feared domination by Russia because of its size and power.

Russia also faced the challenges of setting up new economic and governmental systems.  The government ended price controls.  This action caused prices to soar and resulted in a lower standard of living for the Russian people.  The government issued certificates that citizens used to buy shares in state-owned firms.  In addition, President Yeltsin and his government took other steps to increase private ownership of businesses in the country.

Opposition to Yeltsin's economic policies grew in parliament, which included many former Communist Party members and Soviet Union leaders.  In a referendum held in April 1993, a majority of the voters supported Yeltsin and his economic policies.  Opposition to Yeltsin in parliament continued, however.  In September, Yeltsin suspended Vice President Alexander V. Rutskoi, who had become a leader of the anti-Yeltsin group.  Later that month, Yeltsin dissolved the parliament and called for new parliamentary elections in December.  Parliament, in turn, voted to remove Yeltsin from office and to make Rutskoi acting president.

Rutskoi and many other foes of Yeltsin barricaded themselves in the parliament building in Moscow.  At Yeltsin's order, police and interior ministry forces blockaded the building, known as the White House.  In October 1993, anti-Yeltsin crowds rioted in Moscow and tried to break up the blockade.  The next day, Yeltsin ordered the military to take control of the White House.  Rutskoi and other leaders of the movement against Yeltsin were arrested.  In February 1994, parliament granted them amnesty, and they were released.

In December 1993, Russia's voters elected a new parliament and approved a new constitution.  Russia's Choice won the most seats in the State Duma.  This party supports programs to reduce government control of economic policy.  The extreme right-wing Liberal Democratic Party won the second highest number of seats.  This party calls for an end to economic reforms and for Russia to take over the other former Soviet republics.

In 1995 parliamentary elections, the Communist Party won the largest number of seats in the State Duma.  The Communists favor more government control of land and industries.  Our Home Is Russia won the second highest number of seats.  This party favors continued economic and social reform.  In 1996, Yeltsin won a second term as Russia's president.

In 1991, the government of Chechyna, a region in southwestern Russia, demanded independence.  In 1992, violence broke out between the Chechen government and citizens who wanted the region to remain part of Russia.  In December 1994, Russia sent troops against the separatist forces, and serious fighting resulted.  A cease-fire ended the fighting in August 1996.  In May 1997, Yeltsin and the Chechen leader signed a peace treaty.

Recent developments.  In 1998, Russia began to face severe economic problems.  In March, Yeltsin abruptly dismissed his cabinet, including Prime Minister Viktor S. Chernomyrdin.  He forced parliament to accept young, reform-minded Sergei Kiriyenko as prime minister.  In August, Yeltsin dismissed Kiriyenko and tried to bring back Chernomyrdin.  But parliament forced Yeltsin to nominate another candidate.  In September 1998, parliament approved Yevgeny M. Primakov, the minister of foreign affairs, as the new prime minister.  In October, Yeltsin, who had been in poor health for some time, turned over most of his duties to Primakov.  Russia's economic crisis continued.