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Russia Россия Rossiya

Russia Russian: Россия transliterated: Rossiya, officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation (Russian: Ru-Rossiyskaya Federatsiya Российская Федерация​ Rossiyskaya Federatsiya), is a country in northern Eurasia (Europe and Asia together). It is a semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects. Russia shares borders with the following countries (from northwest to southeast): Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania (via Kaliningrad Oblast), Poland (via Kaliningrad Oblast), Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, China, Mongolia and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. It also has maritime borders with Japan (by the Sea of Okhotsk) and the United States (by the Bering Strait). At 17,075,400 square kilometres (6,592,800 sq mi), Russia is, in area, by far the largest country in the world, covering more than an eighth of the Earth’s land area; with 142 million people, it is the ninth largest by population. It extends across the whole of northern Asia and 40% of Europe, spanning 11 time zones, and incorporating a wide range of environments and landforms. Russia has the world's largest reserves of mineral and energy resources, and is considered an energy superpower. It has the world's largest forest reserves and its lakes contain approximately one-quarter of the world's unfrozen fresh water.

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

Russia established worldwide power and influence from the times of the Russian Empire to being the largest and leading constituent of the Soviet Union, the world's first and largest constitutionally socialist state and a recognized superpower. The Russian Federation was founded following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, but is recognized as the continuing legal personality of the Soviet state. Russia is constitutionally a semi-presidential republic with the President acting as head of state and the Prime Minister acting as head of government under a representative democratic structure. Nevertheless, leading Western pro-democracy organizations claim Russia exhibits few democratic attributes, for example the nation is described as ‘not free’ by US-funded Freedom House. Russia has the world's eighth largest GDP by nominal GDP or sixth largest by purchasing power parity with the eighth largest military budget. It is one of the five recognized nuclear weapons states and possesses the world's largest stockpile of weapons of mass destruction. Russia is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, a member of the G8, APEC and the SCO, and is a leading member of the Commonwealth of Independent States. The Russian nation can boast a long tradition of excellence in every aspect of the arts and sciences, as well as a strong tradition in technology, including such significant achievements as the first human spaceflight.

Geography

As with its topography, its climates, vegetation, and soils span vast distances. From north to south the East European Plain is clad sequentially in tundra, coniferous forest (taiga), mixed and broad-leaf forests, grassland (steppe), and semi-desert (fringing the Caspian Sea) as the changes in vegetation reflect the changes in climate. Siberia supports a similar sequence but is taiga. The country contains 23 World Heritage Sites and 40 UNESCO Biosphere reserves.

Topography

The two widest separated points in Russia are about 8,000 km (5,000 mi) apart along a geodesic line. These points are: the boundary with Poland on a 60 km long (40-mi long) spit of land separating the Gulf of Gdańsk from the Vistula Lagoon; and the farthest southeast of the Kuril Islands, a few miles off Hokkaidō Island, Japan. The points which are furthest separated in longitude are 6,600 km (4,100 mi) apart along a geodesic. These points are: in the West, the same spit; in the East, the Big Diomede Island (Ostrov Ratmanova). The Russian Federation spans 11 time zones. Russia has the world's largest forest reserves and is known as 'the lungs of Europe', second only to the Amazon Rainforest in the amount of carbon dioxide it absorbs. It provides a huge amount of oxygen for not just Europe, but the world. With access to three of the world's oceans — the Atlantic, Arctic and Pacific — Russian fishing fleets are a major contributor to the world's fish supply. The Caspian is the source of what is considered the finest caviar in the world.

Most of Russia consists of vast stretches of plains that are predominantly steppe to the south and heavily forested to the north, with tundra along the northern coast. Mountain ranges are found along the southern borders, such as the Caucasus (containing Mount Elbrus, Russia's and Europe's highest point at 5,642 m (18,510 ft)) and the Altai, and in the eastern parts, such as the Verkhoyansk Range or the volcanoes on Kamchatka. The Ural Mountains, rich in mineral resources, form a north-south range that divides Europe and Asia. Russia possesses 10% of the world's arable land. Russia has an extensive coastline of over 37,000 kilometers (23,000 mi) along the Arctic and Pacific Oceans, as well as the Baltic Sea, Sea of Azov, Black and Caspian seas. The Barents Sea, White Sea, Kara Sea, Laptev Sea, East Siberian Sea, Chukchi Sea, Bering Sea, Sea of Okhotsk and the Sea of Japan are linked to Russia. Major islands and archipelagos include Novaya Zemlya, the Franz Josef Land, the Severnaya Zemlya, the New Siberian Islands, Wrangel Island, the Kuril Islands and Sakhalin. The Diomede Islands (one controlled by Russia, the other by the United States) are just three kilometers (1.9 mi) apart, and Kunashir Island is about twenty kilometers (12 mi) from Hokkaidō.

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

Climate

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

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

History

Early periods

One of the first modern human bones Kostenki 1 laid on the Don banks for 35,000 years. In prehistoric times, the vast steppes of Southern Russia were home to tribes of nomadic pastoralists. In classical antiquity, the Pontic Steppe was known as Scythia. Remnants of these steppe civilizations were discovered in the course of the 20th century in such places as Ipatovo, Sintashta, Arkaim, and Pazyryk. In the latter part of the eighth century BC, Greek traders brought classical civilization to the trade emporiums in Tanais and Phanagoria. Between the third and sixth centuries BC, the Bosporan Kingdom, a Hellenistic polity which succeeded the Greek colonies, was overwhelmed by successive waves of nomadic invasions, led by warlike tribes, such as the Huns and Turkic Avars. A Turkic people, the Khazars, ruled the lower Volga basin steppes between the Caspian and Black Seas until the 8th century.

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

Kievan Rus'

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

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

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

Grand Duchy of Moscow

The most powerful successor state to Kievan Rus' was the Grand Duchy of Moscow ('Moscovy' in the Western chronicles). It gradually absorbed the surrounding principalities, including eventually the strong rivals, such as Tver and Novgorod, and thus became the main leading force in the process of Russia's reunification and expansion. While still under the domain of the Mongol-Tatars and with their connivance, Moscow began to assert its influence in Western Russia in the early 14th century. Assisted by the Russian Orthodox Church and Saint Sergius of Radonezh's spiritual revival, Russia inflicted a defeat on the Mongol-Tatars in the Battle of Kulikovo (1380).

Ivan III (Ivan the Great) finally threw off the control of the Tatar invaders, consolidated surrounding areas under Moscow's dominion and was the first to take the title 'grand duke of all the Russias'. After the fall of Constantinople in 1453, Moscow claimed succession to the legacy of the Eastern Roman Empire. Ivan III married Sophia Palaiologina, the niece of the last Byzantine emperor Constantine XI, and made the Byzantine double-headed eagle his own, and eventually Russian, coat-of-arms.

Tsardom of Russia

In development of the Third Rome ideas, the Grand Duke Ivan IV (Ivan the Terrible) was officially crowned the first Tsar ('Caesar') of Russia in 1547. The Tsar promulgated a new code of laws (Sudebnik of 1550), established the first Russian feudal representative body (Zemsky Sobor) and introduced local self-management into the rural regions. During his long reign, Ivan IV nearly doubled the Russian territory by annexing the three Tatar khanates (parts of disintegrated Golden Horde): Kazan and Astrakhan along the Volga River, and Sibirean Khanate in South Western Sibiria. Thus by the end of the 16th century Russia was transformed into a multiethnic, multiconfessional and transcontinental state. But in contrast to these great achievements in the East, Ivan IV's policy in the West brought quite disastrous results. The Russian state was weakened by the long and unsuccessful Livonian War against the coalition of Poland, Lithuania, and Sweden for access to the Baltic coast and sea trade. At the same time Tatars of the Crimean Khanate, the only remaining successor to the Golden Horde, continued to invade Southern Russia in a series of slave raids, and were even able to burn down Moscow in 1571.

The death of Ivan's sons marked the end of the ancient Rurikid Dynasty in 1598, and in combination with the famine of 1601–1603, led to the civil war, the rule of the impostors and foreign intervention during the Time of Troubles in the early 1600s. Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth occupied parts of Russia, including Moscow. But in 1612 Poles were forced to retreat by the Russian volunteer corps, led by two national heroes: Kuzma Minin, a merchant, and Prince Pozharsky. Finally a new dynasty, the Romanovs, acceded the throne in 1613 by the decision of Zemsky Sobor, and Russia started its gradual restoration from the crisis.

The 17th century saw the rapid Russian exploration and colonisation of the huge territories of Sibiria, led mostly by Cossacks hunting for valuable furs and ivory. By the mid-17th century there were Russian settlements in Eastern Siberia, on the Chukchi Peninsula, along the Amur River, and on the Pacific coast. In 1648 the Bering Strait between Asia and North America was first sighted by a Russian explorer Semyon Dezhnev.

Imperial Russia

Under Peter I (Peter the Great), Russia was proclaimed an Empire in 1721 and became a world power. Ruling from 1682 to 1725, Peter defeated Sweden in the Great Northern War, forcing it to cede West Karelia and Ingria (two regions lost by Russia in the Time of Troubles), Estland, and Livland, securing Russia's access to the sea and sea trade. It was in Ingria that Peter founded a new capital, Saint Petersburg. Peter's reforms brought considerable Western European cultural influences to Russia. Catherine II (Catherine the Great), who ruled from 1762 to 1796, continued the efforts to establish Russia as one of the Great Powers of Europe.

In alliance with Prussia and Austria, Russia stood against Napoleon's France and eliminated its rival Poland-Lithuania in a series of partitions, gaining large areas of territory in the west. As a result of its victories in the Russo-Turkish War, by the early 19th century Russia had made significant territorial gains in Transcaucasia. Napoleon's invasion of Russia at the height of his power in 1812 failed miserably as obstinate Russian resistance combined with the bitterly cold Russian winter dealt him a disastrous defeat, in which more than 95% of his invading force perished. The officers in the Napoleonic Wars brought ideas of liberalism back to Russia with them and even attempted to curtail the tsar's powers during the abortive Decembrist revolt of 1825, which was followed by several decades of political repression.

The prevalence of serfdom and the conservative policies of Nicolas I impeded the development of Russia in the mid-nineteenth century. Nicholas's successor Alexander II (1855–1881) enacted significant reforms, including the abolition of serfdom in 1861; these 'Great Reforms' spurred industrialization. However, many socio-economic conflicts were aggravated during Alexander III’s reign and under his son, Nicholas II. Harsh conditions in factories created mass support for the revolutionary socialist movement. In January 1905, striking workers peaceably demonstrated for reforms in Saint Petersburg but were fired upon by troops, killing and wounding hundreds. The abject failure of the Tsar's military forces in the initially-popular Russo-Japanese War, and the event known as 'Bloody Sunday', ignited the Russian Revolution of 1905. Although the uprising was swiftly put down by the army and although Nicholas II retained much of his power, he was forced to concede major reforms, including granting the freedoms of speech and assembly, the legalization of political parties and the creation of an elected legislative assembly, the Duma; however, the hopes for basic improvements in the lives of industrial workers were unfulfilled. Droughts and famines in Russia tended to occur on a fairly regular basis, with famine occurring every 10–13 years. The 1891-92 famine killed approximately half-million people. Cholera epidemics claimed more than 2 million lives.

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

Soviet Russia

Following the October Revolution, a civil war broke out between the new regime and the Socialist Revolutionaries, Mensheviks, and the White movement. The Treaty of Brest-Litovsk concluded hostilities with the Central Powers in World War I. Russia lost its Ukrainian, Polish and Baltic territories, and Finland by signing the treaty. The Allied powers launched a military intervention in support of anti-Communist forces and both the Bolsheviks and White movement carried out campaigns of deportations and executions against each other, known respectively as the Red Terror and White Terror. The famine of 1921 claimed 5 million victims. By the end of the Russian Civil War, some 20 million had died and the Russian economy and infrastructure were completely devastated. Following victory in the Civil War, the Russian SFSR together with three other Soviet republics formed the Soviet Union on 30 December 1922. Out of the 15 republics that constituted the Soviet Union, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, the largest republic in terms of size and making up over half of the total USSR population, dominated the Soviet Union for its entire 69-year history; the USSR was often referred to, though incorrectly, as 'Russia' and its people as 'Russians.'

Following Lenin's death in 1924, Joseph Stalin consolidated power, becoming a dictator. He launched a command economy, rapid industrialization of the largely rural country, and collectivization of its agriculture. These moves transformed the Soviet Union from an agrarian economy to a major industrial powerhouse in a short span of time. This transformation came with a heavy price, however. Millions of citizens died as a consequence of his harsh policies (see Gulag, Dekulakization, Population transfers in the Soviet Union, Soviet famine of 1932–1933, and Great Terror).

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

After Stalin's death, Russian leader Nikita Khrushchev denounced Stalin and eased his repressive policies. He began the process of eliminating the Stalinist political system known as de-Stalinization and abolished the Gulag labor camps, releasing millions of prisoners. The Soviet Union launched the world's first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1 and the Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human being to orbit the Earth aboard the first manned spacecraft, Vostok 1. Tensions with the United States heightened when the two rivals clashed over the deployment of the U.S. Jupiter missiles in Turkey and Soviet missiles in Cuba. Following the ousting of Khrushchev, another period of rule by collective leadership ensued until Leonid Brezhnev established himself in the early 1970s as the pre-eminent figure in Soviet politics. Brezhnev's rule oversaw economic stagnation and the Soviet war in Afghanistan, which drained economic resources and dragged on without achieving meaningful military or political results. Ultimately Soviet forces were withdrawn from Afghanistan in 1989 because of international opposition and a lack of political support from Soviet citizens at home. Tensions rose between the U.S. and Soviet Union in the early 1980s, fueled by anti-Soviet rhetoric in the U.S., the SDI proposal, and the September 1983 downing of Korean Air Lines Flight 007 by the Soviets. From 1985 onwards, Mikhail Gorbachev introduced the policies of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) in an attempt to modernize the country. Prior to its dissolution, the USSR economy was the second largest in the world. During its last years, the economy was afflicted by shortages of goods in grocery stores, huge budget deficits and explosive growth in money supply leading to inflation. In August 1991, an unsuccessful military coup against Gorbachev aimed at preserving the Soviet Union instead led to its collapse. In Russia, Boris Yeltsin came to power and declared the end of socialist rule. The USSR splintered into fifteen independent republics and was officially dissolved in December 1991. Boris Yeltsin was elected the President of Russia in June 1991, in the first direct presidential election in Russian history.

Russian Federation

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

In 1993 a constitutional crisis resulted in the worst civil strife in Moscow since the October Revolution. President Boris Yeltsin dissolved the legislature, a move he acknowledged was unconstitutional. The legislators, who had opposed Yeltsin's moves to consolidate power and his unpopular economic reforms, barricaded themselves inside the White House, impeached Yeltsin, and elected a new President. Major protests against Yeltsin's government resulted in hundreds of deaths. With military support, Yeltsin sent the army to besiege the parliament building and disperse its defenders and used tanks and artillery to eject the legislators.

The 1990s were plagued by armed ethnic conflicts in the North Caucasus. Such conflicts took a form of separatist Islamist insurrections against federal power, or of ethnic/clan conflicts between local groups. Since the Chechen separatists declared independence in the early 1990s, an intermittent guerrilla war (First Chechen War, Second Chechen War) has been fought between disparate Chechen rebel groups and the Russian military. Terrorist attacks against civilians carried out by Chechen separatists, most notably the Moscow theater hostage crisis and Beslan school siege, caused hundreds of deaths and drew worldwide attention. High budget deficits and the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis caused the financial crisis of 1998 and resulted in further GDP decline. On 31 December 1999 Boris Yeltsin resigned from the presidency, handing the post to the recently appointed prime minister, Vladimir Putin, who then won the 2000 election. Putin won popularity for suppressing the Chechen insurgency, although sporadic violence still occurs throughout the North Caucasus. High oil prices and initially weak currency followed by increasing domestic demand, consumption and investments has helped the economy grow for nine straight years, alleviating the standard of living and increasing Russia's clout on the world stage. While many reforms made during the Putin administration have been generally criticized by Western nations as un-democratic, Putin's leadership over the return of order, stability and progress has won him widespread popularity in Russia. On March 7, 2008, Dmitry Medvedev was elected President of Russia, whilst Putin became Prime Minister.

Government and politics

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

The federal government is composed of three branches:
* Legislative: The bicameral Federal Assembly, made up of the State Duma and the Federation Council adopts federal law, declares war, approves treaties, has the power of the purse, and has power of impeachment, by which it can remove the President.
* Executive: The president is the commander-in-chief of the military, can veto legislative bills before they become law, and appoints the Cabinet and other officers, who administer and enforce federal laws and policies.
* Judiciary: The Constitutional Court, Supreme Court, Supreme Court of Arbitration and lower federal courts, whose judges are appointed by the Federation Council on the recommendation of the president, interpret laws and can overturn laws they deem unconstitutional.

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

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

Human rights

Leading international democracy and human rights organizations consider Russia to be an undemocratic nation, allowing few or no political rights and civil liberties to its citizens. International pro-democracy organization Freedom House ranks Russia as 'not free', citing 'carefully engineered elections' and a complete 'absence' of debate.

Amnesty International accuse Russia of committing wide ranging human rights abuses including granting impunity for murderers of human rights activists, imprisoning political dissidents and operating a system of arbitrary arrest. Human Rights Watch claim Russia commits grave human rights violations in Chechnya and allows the systematic abuse of migrant workers.

Freedom of press in Russia is considered amongst the worst in the world by press freedom organization Reporters Without Borders and is ranked 141st in the world for press freedom in their annual survey. The Russian Authorities 'black list' figures that are critical of the government, practice 'official harassment', and 'gag' potential dissidents.

Subdivisions

Federal subjects

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

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

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

Foreign relations and military

The Russian Federation is recognized in international law as continuing the legal personality of the former Soviet Union. Russia continues to implement the international commitments of the USSR, and has assumed the USSR's permanent seat on the UN Security Council, membership in other international organizations, the rights and obligations under international treaties and property and debts. Russia has a multifaceted foreign policy. As of July, 2009, it maintains diplomatic relations with 173 countries and has 142 embassies. Russia's foreign policy is determined by the President and implemented by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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

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

Russia has the largest stockpile of nuclear weapons in the world. It has the second largest fleet of ballistic missile submarines and is the only country apart from the U.S. with a modern strategic bomber force. The country has a large and fully indigenous arms industry, producing all of its own military equipment. Russia is the world's top supplier of weapons, a spot it has held since 2001, accounting for around 30% of worldwide weapons sales and exporting weapons to about 80 countries. Following the Soviet practice, it was mandatory before 2007 for all male citizens aged 18–27 to be drafted for two years' Armed Forces service. Various problems associated with this, such as dedovschina (institutionalised physical and psychological abuse), explain why the armed forces have reduced the conscription term first to 18 months in 2007 and then to 12 since 2008, and are planning to increase the proportion of contract servicemen to 70% of the armed forces by 2010. Defense expenditure has quadrupled over the past six years. Official government military spending for 2008 is $40 billion, making it the eighth largest in the world, though various sources, including US intelligence, and the International Institute for Strategic Studies, have estimated Russia’s military expenditures to be considerably higher. Currently, the military is undergoing a major equipment upgrade with about $200 billion on procurement of military equipment between 2006 and 2015.

Major reforms to improve the organization and the efficiency of the military are currently ongoing, headed by current Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov. The main idea behind his reforms is the transformation from a mass mobilization army to a small force of contract soldiers. Serdyukov has launched plans to reduce the personnel in the central administration by 30%, which would lead to the liquidation of a significant number of positions filled by generals and colonels. He is also demanding drastic cuts in Russia's officer corps. Currently there is an officer to every two and a half men. After the reform there should be just one to every 15, more similar to western armies. The reform would mean losing 200,000 jobs, and has been met with fierce political opposition by the 'old guard.' Because of the pressure, the deadline for implementing the cuts has been put back from 2012 to 2016. Addressing acute and long-standing issues such as the ineffectiveness of Russia’s defense industrial and procurement policies has also been one of Serdyukov's chief aims.

Economy

The economic crisis that struck all post-Soviet countries in the 1990s was nearly twice as intense as the Great Depression in the countries of Western Europe and the United States in the 1930s. Even before the financial crisis of 1998, Russia's GDP was half of what it had been in the early 1990s. Since the turn of the century, rising oil prices, increased foreign investment, higher domestic consumption and greater political stability have bolstered economic growth in Russia. The country ended 2007 with its ninth straight year of growth, averaging 7% annually since the financial crisis of 1998. In 2007, Russia's GDP was $2.076 trillion (est. PPP), the 6th largest in the world, with GDP growing 8.1% from the previous year. Growth was primarily driven by non-traded services and goods for the domestic market, as opposed to oil or mineral extraction and exports. The average salary in Russia was $640 per month in early 2008, up from $80 in 2000. Approximately 14% of Russians lived below the national poverty line in 2007, significantly down from 40% in 1998 at the worst of the post-Soviet collapse. Unemployment in Russia was at 6% in 2007, down from about 12.4% in 1999.

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

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

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

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

Demographics

Ethnic composition (2002)
Russians:     79.8%
Tatars  : 3.8%
Ukrainians: 2.0%
Bashkirs:     1.2%
Chuvash:     1.1%
Chechen:     0.9%
Armenians: 0.8%
Other/unspecified: 10.4%
Population (in millions) 1950–January 2009.

The Russian Federation is a diverse, multi-ethnic society, home to as many as 160 different ethnic groups and indigenous peoples. Though Russia's population is comparatively large, its population density is low because of the country's enormous size. Population is densest in European Russia, near the Ural Mountains, and in southwest Siberia. According to preliminary estimates, the resident population of the Russian Federation on 1 January 2009 was 141,903,979 people. In 2008, the population declined by 121,400 people, or by -0.085% (in 2007 - by 212,000, or 0.15% and in 2006 - by 532,600 people, or 0.37%). In 2008 migration continued to grow by a pace of 2.7% with 281,615 migrants arriving to the Russian Federation, of which 95% came from CIS countries, the vast majority being Russians or Russian speakers. The number of Russian emigrants declined by 16% to 39,508, of which 66% went to other CIS countries. There are also an estimated 10 million illegal immigrants from the ex-Soviet states in Russia. Roughly 116 million ethnic Russians live in Russia and about 20 million more live in former republics of the Soviet Union, mostly in Ukraine and Kazakhstan.

73% of the population lives in urban areas. As of the 2002 Census, the two largest cities in Russia are Moscow (10,126,424 inhabitants) and Saint Petersburg (4,661,219). Eleven other cities have between one and two million inhabitants: Chelyabinsk, Kazan, Novosibirsk, Nizhny Novgorod, Omsk, Perm, Rostov-on-Don, Samara, Ufa, Volgograd, and Yekaterinburg.

Russia's population peaked in 1991 at 148,689,000, but began to experience a rapid decline starting in the mid-90s. The decline has slowed to near stagnation in recent years due to reduced mortality rates, increased birth rates and increased immigration. The number of deaths during 2008 was 363,500 greater than the number of births. This is down from 477,700 in 2007, and 687,100 in 2006. According to data published by the Russian Federal State Statistics Service, the mortality rate in Russia declined 4% in 2007, as compared to 2006, reaching some 2 million deaths, while the birth rate grew 8.3% year-on-year to an estimated 1.6 million live births. The primary causes of Russia's population decrease are a high death rate and low birth rate. While Russia's birth-rate is comparable to that of other European countries (12.1 births per 1000 people in 2008 compared to the European Union average of 9.90 per 1000) its population is declining at a greater rate than many due to a substantially higher death rate (In 2008, Russia's death rate was 14.7 per 1000 people compared to the European Union average of 10.28 per 1000). However, the Russian health ministry predicts that by 2011, the death rate will equal the birth rate due to increases in fertility and decline in mortality.

Rank: Core City: Federal Subject Pop.:
1 - Moscow: Moscow: 10,126,424
2 - Saint Petersburg: Saint Petersburg: 4,661,219
3 - Novosibirsk: Novosibirsk: 1,425,508
4 - Nizhny Novgorod: Nizhny Novgorod: 1,311,252
5 - Yekaterinburg: Sverdlovsk: 1,293,537
6 - Samara: Samara: 1,157,880
7 - Omsk: Omsk: 1,134,016
8 - Kazan: Tatarstan: 1,105,289
9 - Chelyabinsk: Chelyabinsk: 1,077,174
10 - Rostov-on-Don: Rostov: 1,068,267
11 - Ufa: Bashkortostan: 1,042,437
12 - Volgograd:   Volgograd:   1,011,417
13 - Perm: Perm: 1,001,653
14 - Krasnoyarsk: Krasnoyarsk: 909,341
15 - Saratov: Saratov 873,055
16 - Voronezh: Voronezh 848,752
17 - Tolyatti: Samara: 702,879
18 - Krasnodar: Krasnodar: 646,175
19 - Ulyanovsk: Ulyanovsk: 635,947
20 - Izhevsk: Udmurtia: 632,140
2002 Census

Education

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

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

Health

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

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

A study blamed alcohol for more than half the deaths (52%) among Russians aged 15 to 54 from 1990 to 2001. For the same demographic, this compares to 4% of deaths for the rest of the world.

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

Language

Russia's 160 ethnic groups speak some 100 languages. According to the 2002 census, 142.6 million people speak Russian, followed by Tatar with 5.3 million and Ukrainian with 1.8 million speakers. Russian is the only official state language, but the Constitution gives the individual republics the right to make their native language co-official next to Russian. Despite its wide dispersal, the Russian language is homogeneous throughout Russia. Russian is the most geographically widespread language of Eurasia and the most widely spoken Slavic language. Russian belongs to the Indo-European language family and is one of the living members of the East Slavic languages; the others being Belarusian and Ukrainian (and possibly Rusyn). Written examples of Old East Slavic (Old Russian) are attested from the 10th century onwards.

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

Religion

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

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

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

Culture

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

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

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

Literature

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

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

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

Cinema

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

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

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

Visual arts

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

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

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

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

Sports

Russians have been successful at a number of sports and consistently finish in the top rankings at the Olympic Games and in international competitions. During the Soviet era, the national Olympic team placed first in the total number of medals won at 14 of its 18 appearances; with these performances, the USSR was the dominant Olympic power of its era. Since the 1952 Olympic Games, Soviet and later Russian athletes have always been in the top three for the number of gold medals collected at the Summer Olympics. Soviet gymnasts, track-and-field athletes, weight lifters, wrestlers, cross country skiers, and boxers were consistently among the best in the world, and since the collapse of the Soviet Union Russian athletes have continued to dominate international competitions. The 1980 Summer Olympic Games were held in Moscow while the 2014 Winter Olympics will be hosted by Sochi.

As the Soviet Union, Russia was traditionally very strong in basketball, winning various Olympic tournaments, World Championships and Eurobasket. As of 2009 they have various players in the NBA, notably Utah Jazz forward Andrei Kirilenko, and are considered as a worldwide basketball force. In 2007, Russia defeated world champions Spain to win Eurobasket 2007. Russian basketball clubs such as PBC CSKA Moscow (2006 and 2008 Euroleague Champions) have also had great success in European competitions such as the Euroleague and the ULEB Cup.

Although ice hockey was only introduced during the Soviet era, the national team soon dominated the sport internationally, winning gold at almost all the Olympics and World Championships they contested. As with some other sports, the Russian ice hockey programme suffered after the breakup of the Soviet Union with Russia enduring a 15 year gold medal drought. But in recent years they have reemerged as a hockey superpower, winning back to back gold medals in the 2008 and 2009 world championships, and overtaking Canada as the top ranked ice hockey team in the world.

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

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

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russia


Russian Fact File

Sprawling across the easternmost part of northern Europe and occupying the whole of northern Asia, the Russian Federation, often called simply Russia, is the largest country in the world­ it is almost twice the size of the United States ­and it has the sixth largest population. Its 21 republics cover three-quarters of the area of what was for almost 70 years (until it collapsed in 1991) the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

The Russian Federation has long coastlines along the Arctic Ocean in the north and along the Pacific Ocean in the east. Its southeastern coastline is on the Sea of Japan and north of this the Kamchatka Peninsula encloses the Sea of Okhotsk. In its far southwestern corner there is a short stretch of coast along the Caspian Sea; a little further north, it briefly borders the Black Sea; and in the northwest, near St Petersburg, it touches on the eastern tip of the Gulf of Finland. Its mainland has borders with 12 other countries. In the far southeast it borders the northeast tip of North Korea. In the south it borders China in two places: to the east and the west of its long border with Mongolia. The western half of its southern border is with the former Soviet republic of Kazakhstan. To the west of the Caspian Sea are Azerbaijan and Georgia, and north of the Black Sea are Ukraine, Belarus, Latvia, and Estonia. Northeast of the Gulf of Finland is a border with Finland and at its very northwest tip the Russian Federation borders on a tiny part of Norway. Further west, tucked in between Lithuania and Poland, and with a coast on the Baltic Sea, is another small area of Russian territory, centered on the coastal city of Kaliningrad.

History

Until the sixth century AD, almost all of what is now Russia was inhabited only by nomadic tribes of Finnic and Slavic origin. In the sixth century peoples from what are now Iran and Turkey settled the part of southwestern Russia between the Carpathian Mountains and the Volga River, establishing a capital on the Caspian Sea. They in turn were overrun by Viking invaders and traders who spread southward along river routes from the Baltic Sea. One tradition has it that modern Russia dates back to the establishment of a dynasty by the Viking Rurik at Novgorod in AD 862. Soon after, however, the center of power moved farther southwest, to Kiev in present-day Ukraine, and a unified confederation, known as Kievan Rus, emerged. In the tenth century the leader Vladimir was converted to Christianity. Over the next two centuries a Russian culture, based on the traditions of Orthodox Christianity, developed, but in the thirteenth century Kievan Rus fell to invaders from Mongolia and the confederation, broke down into a number of dukedoms, under Mongo! domination. The Muscovite dukes emerged as the most powerful mainly through their role as tribute collectors for the Mongols, Opposition to Mongol rule gathered strength during the fourteenth century and in the fifteenth century the Muscovite Duke Ivan III Finally expelled the Mongols, His grandson, Ivan IV, known as 'The Terrible,' was the first to declare himself 'Tsar of all the Russians,' Under his oppressive rule, which lasted from 1533 to 1584, the power of princes and landowners (known as 'boyars') was broken and the Muscovite state spread eastward across the Urals and into what is now Siberia.

After Ivan's death, a series of internal disputes culminated in Polish invasion in 1609 and, after the ousting of the Poles in 1612, the emergence of the first Romanov tsar, Mikhail, in 1613. Coder his grandson, Peter I (known as 'The Great'), who ruled from 1696 to 1725, the country was renamed 'Russia,' and a new capital was established at St Petersburg. Territories along the Baltic were acquired from Sweden, and western European ideas, technology, and styles of dress and other fashions were embraced. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries Russia extended its borders south and east into Asia.

The defeat of Napoleon's invading armies, in 1812, confirmed Russia's status as a great power, but the country remained socially and industrially backward in comparison with Western Europe.

A feudal system, under which peasants were bonded to landlords, remained until 1861, when Tsar Alexander II abolished serfdom. Alexander's political and social reforms earned him powerful enemies and led to his assassination in 1881. The oppressive rule of his successor, Alexander III, spawned the formation of the Marxist Russian Social Democratic Party in 1898, under the leadership of Vladimir Ilich Ulyanov, who called himself Lenin. Civil unrest intensified following Russia's defeat in its war with Japan in 1904-05, forcing Tsar Nicholas II to establish a parliament, known as the Duma, elected by a very limited suffrage, and to institute some civil liberty reforms.

These reforms, however, failed to stem the revolutionary tide, which was further strengthened by the reverses and heavy loss of life in the First World War. In February 1917, rioting and strikes broke out in the capital, St Petersburg, there was a massive defection of Russian troops, and Tsar Nicholas II abdicated, leading to the decisive revolution of October 1917, in which the All­ Russian Communist Party emerged as the ruling force, with Lenin as dictatorial leader. Four years of civil war ensued, until the communists fully took control. In December 1922, Russia, with Moscow as capital, became the dominant power in the newly formed Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, having seized Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan and established its ascendancy in Ukraine and central Asia.

Following Lenin's death in 1924, there was a bitter factional struggle for power. By 1929 Josef Stalin was the undisputed leader and remained in power until he died in 1953. Under his regime, agriculture was collectivized, industry expanded, and brutal labor camps were established in Siberia for those suspected of espousing dissident ideas. Political rivals and enemies, whether real or imagined, were routinely eliminated in a series of ruthless purges. In one purge in 1929-30, hundreds of thousands of peasants who opposed farm collectivization were either murdered or sent away to remote, desolate parts of the country. Farm collectivization led to immense agricultural disruption and resulted in famine in the early 1930s in which many thousands of people died.

Russia, and the rest of the Soviet Union, suffered terribly during the Second World War. At first allied with Germany, the Soviet Union, in 1939 and 1940, seized territory in Poland and Romania, and annexed the Baltic republics of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. In 1941, Hitler's troops suddenly invaded the Soviet Union, and in the occupation and struggles that ensued in the following four years, an estimated 20 million Soviet citizens were killed.

At the end of the war, the regions that were occupied by Soviet forces-most of Eastern Europe-came under Soviet domination. This gave rise to a 40-year period of international tension as the Soviet Union and the United States assumed the mantles of mutually distrustful, competing superpowers, each building up an arsenal of ever more potentially destructive nuclear weapons. During the premiership of Stalin's successor, Nikita Khrushchev, the Soviet Union and its satellites entered into a defense treaty, the Warsaw Pact, to oppose the Western NATO alliance. Nuclear war seemed to come close in 1962, when a Soviet attempt to place nuclear weapons on Cuba was met by a United States blockade. Khrushchev's humiliating backdown in this crisis, as well as a serious rift between Russia and communist China, led to his being removed from office the next year and his replacement by Leonid Brezhnev.

The Brezhnev era lasted until 1982 and during this time Soviet-Western relations fluctuated. Periods of relaxation, which became known as 'detente,' alternated with times of renewed hostility. Despite this, and despite the USSR's invasions of Czechoslovakia in 1968 and Afghanistan in December 1979, genuine agreements about arms reduction were achieved. During the brief premierships of Brezhnev's two immediate successors, East-West relations soured again, but the accession to the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev in 1985 led to an era of greater trust as well as a less dictatorial and more open style of political leadership, and the first tentative moves toward a loosening of government controls over the economy. The terms glasnost, meaning 'openness' and perestroika, meaning 'restructuring' were used widely at this time, in reference to Gorbachev's reforms.

Growing social unrest, deteriorating economic conditions, and a resurgence of nationalism in a number of Soviet republics created immense strains in the Soviet Union. An attempted coup by communist conservatives took place in 1991 but was put down, largely through the heroic opposition of Boris Yeltsin, who emerged as the de facto leader of the country, enjoying widespread popular support.

Against Gorbachev's wishes, the Soviet Union was officially dissolved in December 1991 and replaced by the Commonwealth of Independent States (see box on facing page). Gorbachev then resigned as president and Yeltsin assumed control. Yeltsin's leadership was confirmed in a national referendum that was held in 1993 and, despite a poor economic situation and widespread hardship, as well as serious misgivings about his health, Yeltsin was re-elected president in 1996. In the parliamentary, or Duma, elections, however, conservative nationalists, some of them stridently anti-Western, received widespread support.

A new constitution, adopted in 1993, established a two-chambered Federal Assembly, headed by a prime minister, who is appointed by the president. The president is popularly elected for a five-year term and has considerable independent powers, including the right to dissolve parliament.

Physical features and land use Stretching all the way from the Arctic Ocean in the north to the border with Kazakhstan in the south, the Ural Mountains separate European Russia in the west from the vast Siberian Plain to the east. European Russia, where most of the population lives and where the bulk of Russian industry and agriculture is located, consists mainly of a huge fertile plain, the East Europe Plain, which has an average elevation of 170 m ( 550 ft) but rises to a maximum of 400 m (1,300 ft). In the far southwest, the Carpathian Mountains form a natural boundary with Georgia and Azerbaijan, and there are upland areas in the far north near the border with Finland. In the western part of the plain are the Valdai Hills, in which the Volga and Dnieper Rivers have their source.

Most of Russia's agriculture is concentrated in the south of the plain, as the harsh climates further north are not conducive to the growing of crops or to the raising of livestock. Less than one­ tenth of Russia is under cultivation. Cereals are the main crops, although in most years the country produces only about half the grain it requires. The rest has to be imported. Livestock raising, most commonly cattle and dairy farming, is also based mainly in the west.

To the east of the Ural Mountains, the Siberian Plain is largely desolate, treeless, and flat. Central Siberia, to the east of the Yenisey River, is a region of plateaus that range from between 450 and 900 m (1,500 and 3,000 ft) in height and rise in the south to a series of mountain ranges that border Mongolia and China. Lowlands flank these plateaus to the north and east. East of the Lena River the country rises again toward the rugged and mountainous east coast. South of the Bering Sea, the Kamchatka Peninsula and the Kuril Islands form part of the Pacific 'Ring of Fire.' This is an area of considerable geothermal activity and there are about 30 active volcanoes.

The landscape of northern Russia is mainly arctic tundra-a treeless expanse which remains frozen throughout the year. Tundra vegetation consists of sedges, grasses, mosses, lichens, and ground-hugging plants. Further south, and in the southwest, the landscape varies between tracts of semi desert and expanses of forest, largely conifers, known as the taiga.

Industry, commerce, and culture Russia, and especially Siberia, has abundant mineral resources. These contributed greatly to the country's rapid transformation during the Soviet period from a predominantly agricultural economy to one that was heavily industrialized. These mineral resources underpin the federation's present reliance on heavy industry and provide important mining exports. They include coal, petroleum, natural gas, iron ore, bauxite, copper, lead, zinc, and gold and other precious metals. Steelmaking, the manufacture of agricultural machine1Y, chemicals, textiles, and food processing are among the principal industries, centered on such large cities to the west of the Urals as Moscow, St Petersburg, Novgorod, and Volgograd, but also in a number of cities in Siberia such as Yekaterinburg and Novosibirsk.

The country's move toward a market economy, has been fraught with difficulties and has been accompanied by a marked increase in social and financial inequalities as a new class of rich entrepreneurs has emerged. The majority of Russians live in relative poverty, victims of steeply rising prices and severe shortages of food and other basic consumer items. Corruption and crime have also increased significantly and a number of the leaders of organized crime are among the richest citizens in the nation. These conditions were aggravated by a virtual collapse of the Russian economy in 1998 and continuing political uncertainty based on serious doubts, unalloyed by official reassurances, about the capacity of the president, Boris Yeltsin, who suffers chronic ill health. There are strong movements within the country for a return to centralized control of the economy and for a more aggressive nationalistic approach to relations with the West.

Russia has contributed much to literature, music, and the performing, Arts, especially in the nineteenth century. Writers such as Turgenev prepared the way for other giants of literature like Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. Among composers, Tchaikovsky and Stravinsky established Russia's place in musical history. The Imperial Russian Ballet was founded in 1735, and Russian ballet has become internationally renowned for its choreography and dancers like Pavlova and Nureyev.

The Commonwealth of Independent States is a loose confederation of twelve former Soviet republics that was formed after the breakdown of the Soviet Union in 1991. The idea for the formation of the commonwealth was agreed to at a meeting of Russian president Boris Yeltsin and the presidents of Belarus and Ukraine in Minsk, in Belarus, in early December 1991 and was ratified at Alma-Ata in Kazakhstan by 11 of the former Soviet republics on 21 December. Georgia and the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania declined to join, although Georgia has since become a member. Not surprisingly, Russia assumed the status of dominant member of the group, taking control of all former Soviet embassies and consulates and occupying the former Soviet Union's seat on the United Nations Security Council. Minsk was designated as the administrative center of the new commonwealth, which was much more an alliance than a state entity. According to the agreement, the political independence of each state was guaranteed in return for a commitment to certain forms of economic and defense cooperation.

The commonwealth remains a tenuous confederation and there are many areas of dispute between its constituent members. There is a natural suspicion that the Russian Federation seeks to impose its political will on the other members, and this was in no way diminished in 1996 when the Russian parliament, or Duma, passed a non-binding resolution in favor of reinstating the former Soviet Union. Difficult economic conditions throughout the former Soviet Union have led to increasing support, especially in Belarus, for a return to the previous status quo.

Fact file

OFFICIAL NAME: Russian Federation
FORM OF GOVERNMENT: Federal republic with two legislative bodies (Federation Council and State Duma)
CAPITAL: Moscow
AREA: 17,075,200 sq km (6,592,735 sq miles)
TIME ZONE GMT: + 3-12 hours
POPULATION: 146,393,569
PROJECTED POPULATION: 2005 144,263,571
POPULATION DENSITY: 8.6 per sq km (22.3 per sq mile)
LIFE EXPECTANCY: 65.1
INFANT MORTALITY: (PER 1,000) 23.0
OFFICIAL LANGUAGE: Russian
OTHER LANGUAGES: More than 100 minority languages
LITERACY RATE: 98.7%
RELIGIONS: Russian Orthodox 27%; Muslim, Jewish, Roman Catholic and other minorities 73%
ETHNIC GROUPS: Russian 81.5%, Tatar 3.8%, Ukrainian 3%, Chuvash 1.2%, Bashkir 0.9%, Belarusian 0.8%, Moldovan 0.7%, other 8.1 %
CURRENCY: Ruble
ECONOMY: Industry 27%, agriculture 15%, education and culture 11 %, other 47%
GNP PER CAPITA: US$2,240
CLIMATE: Warm and dry in far south; cold temperate (long, cold winters and short, mild summers) in most inland areas; polar in far north
HIGHEST POINT: Mt Elbrus 5,633 m (18,481 ft)


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