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Russia, officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects. Russia shares borders with the following countries: Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, China, Mongolia, and North Korea. It also has maritime borders with Japan and the United States . At 6,592,800 sq mi, Russia is by far the largest country in the world, covering more than a ninth of the Earth’s land area. 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. 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, who emerged as a recognizable group in Europe between the 3rd and 8th centuries. 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 Orthodox Christianity from the Byzantine Empire in 988. 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 to become the Russian Empire. 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, that played the decisive role in the allied victory in World War II. 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. 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. One of the first modern human bones of 35,000 years old were found in Kostenki on the Don River banks. 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. In the latter part of the 8th century BC, Greek traders brought classical civilization to the trade emporiums in Tanais and Phanagoria. Between the 3th and 6th centuries BC, the Bosporan Kingdom 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. 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. The 9th century saw the establishment of Kievan Rus', a predecessor state to Russia, Ukraine and Belarus. Scandinavian Norsemen, called "Vikings" combined piracy and trade in their roaming 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 from Rus' people, named Rurik, was elected ruler of Novgorod in 862. His successor Oleg the Prophet moved south and conquered Kiev in 882. Oleg, Rurik's son Igor and Igor's son Svyatoslav subsequently subdued all East Slavic tribes to Kievan rule, destroyed the Khazar khaganate and launched several military expeditions to Byzantium. In the 10th to 11th centuries Kievan Rus' became the largest and most prosperous state 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 from Byzantium and the creation of the first East Slavic written legal code. In the 11th and 12th centuries, constant incursions by nomadic Turkic tribes caused a massive migration of Slavic populations to the safer, heavily forested regions of the north, particularly to the area known as Zalesye. The age of feudalism and decentralization had come, marked by constant in-fighting between members of the princely families that ruled Kievan Rus' collectively. Kiev's dominance waned. Ultimately Kievan Rus' disintegrated; the final blow was the Mongol invasion of 1237–1240, that resulted in the destruction of Kiev and perishing of about a half of total population of Rus'. 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. The Mongol-dominated Vladimir-Suzdal and the independent Novgorod Republic established the basis for the modern Russian nation. The Novgorod Republic together with Pskov retained some degree of autonomy during the time of the Mongol rule and were largely spared the atrocities that affected the rest of the country. Led by Alexander Nevsky, they repelled the invading Swedes in the Battle of the Neva in 1240, as well as the Germanic crusaders in the Battle of the Ice in 1242. The most powerful successor state to Kievan Rus' was the Grand Duchy of Moscow. While still under the domain of the Mongol-Tatars Moscow began to assert its influence in Western Russia in the early 14th century. Assisted by the Russian Orthodox Church and Saint Sergius, under the leadership of Prince Dmitri Donskoy of Moscow, the united army of Russian principalities inflicted a milestone defeat on the Mongol-Tatars in the Battle of Kulikovo (1380). Moscow gradually absorbed the surrounding principalities and became the main leading force in the process of Russia's reunification and expansion. Ivan III (Ivan the Great) finally threw off the control of the Tatar invaders, consolidated the whole of Central and Northern Rus' 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. Grand Duke Ivan IV (Ivan the Terrible) was officially crowned the first Tsar of Russia in 1547. The Tsar promulgated a new code of laws, established the first Russian feudal representative body and introduced local self-management into the rural regions. During his long reign, Ivan IV nearly doubled the already large Russian territory by annexing the three Tatar khanates (parts of disintegrated Golden Horde). Thus by the end of the 16th century Russia was transformed into a multiethnic transcontinental state. 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 impostors and foreign intervention during the Time of Troubles in the early 1600s. Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth occupied parts of Russia, including Moscow. Finally, in 1612 the Poles were forced to retreat by the Russian volunteer corps. 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. Russia continued its territorial growth through the 17th century, which was the age of Cossacks. In 1648, the peasants of Ukraine joined the Zaporozhian Cossacks in rebellion against Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth during the Khmelnytsky Uprising. In 1654 the Ukrainian leader, Bohdan Khmelnytsky, offered to place Ukraine under the protection of the Russian Tsar, Aleksey I. Aleksey's acceptance of this offer led to a protracted war between Poland and Russia. Finally, Ukraine was split along the river Dnieper, leaving the western part under Polish rule and eastern part under Russian. In 1670-71 the Don Cossacks led by Stenka Razin initiated a major Cossack and peasant uprising in the Volga region, but Tsar's troops were successful in defeating the rebels. In the east, the rapid Russian exploration and colonization of the huge territories of Siberia was 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. Peter the Great officially proclaimed the existence of the Russian Empire in 1721. 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, Estland, and Livland, securing Russia's access to the sea and sea trade. It was in Ingria that Peter founded a new capital called Saint Petersburg, Russia's Window to Europe. Peter's reforms brought considerable Western European cultural influences to Russia. The reign of Peter I's daughter Elisabeth in 1741–1762 saw Russia's participation in the Seven Years War (1756 – 1763), sometimes called the first actual World War. During this conflict Russia was able to annex Eastern Prussia for a while, and even take Berlin once, however upon Elisabeth's death all these conquests were returned to Kingdom of Prussia by pro-Prussian Peter III of 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. She extended Russian political control over the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and incorporated most of the Commonwealth territories into Russia during the Partitions of Poland, pushing the Russian frontier westward into Central Europe. In the south, after successful Russo-Turkish Wars against the Ottoman Empire, Catherine advanced Russia's boundary to the Black Sea, finally defeating the Crimean khanate. As a result of victories over Ottomans, by the early 19th century Russia also had made significant territorial gains in Transcaucasia. This continued with Alexander I's (1801-1825) wresting of Finland from the weakened kingdom of Sweden in 1809 and of Bessarabia from the Ottomans in 1812. At the same time, in the second half of the 18th century and in the first half of the 19th, Russians colonised Alaska and even founded some settlements in California. In 1803-1806 the first Russian circumnavigation was made, followed during the 19th century by the other notable Russian sea exploration voyages. In 1820 the Russian expedition discovered the Antarctic continent. In alliance with Prussia and Austria, Russia stood against Napoleon's France. Napoleon's invasion of Russia at the height of his power in 1812 failed miserably as obstinate Russian resistance in combination with the bitterly cold Russian winter dealt him a disastrous defeat. Led by Mikhail Kutuzov and Barclay de Tolly, the Russian army ousted Napoleon from the country and drove through Europe, finally entering Paris. Tsar Alexander I headed Russia's delegation at the Congress of Vienna that defined the map of post-Napoleonic Europe. The officers of the Napoleonic Wars brought ideas of liberalism back to Russia with them and 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 (1825-1855) impeded the development of Russia in the mid-19th century, when a zenith period of Russia's power and influence in Europe was abruptly ended by the Crimean War. Nicholas's successor Alexander II (1855–1881) enacted significant reforms, including the abolition of serfdom in 1861; these Great Reforms spurred industrialization and modernized the Russian army, which had successfully liberated Bulgaria from Ottoman rule in the 1877-1978 Russo-Turkish War. However, many socio-economic conflicts were aggravated during Alexander III’s reign (1881-1894) and under his son, Nicholas II (1894-1917). In January 1905, striking workers peaceably demonstrated for reforms in Saint Petersburg but were fired upon by troops, killing and wounding hundreds. This event, known as "Bloody Sunday", along with the abject failure of the Tsar's military forces in the initially popular Russo-Japanese War ignited the Russian Revolution of 1905. Although the uprising was swiftly put down and 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. In 1914 Russia entered World War I in aid of its ally Serbia and fought a war across the three fronts while isolated from its Entente allies. Russia did not want war but felt that the only alternative was German domination of Europe. 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. This first revolution, or February Revolution, overthrew the Russian monarchy, which was replaced by a shaky coalition of political parties that declared itself the Provisional Government. The abdication of Nicholas II marked the end of imperial rule in Russia. 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, Vladimir Lenin, overthrew the Provisional Government and created the world’s first socialist state. Following the October Revolution, a civil war broke out between the new regime and the counter-revolutionary White movement, while the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk concluded hostilities with the Central Powers in World War I. Russia lost its Ukrainian, Polish, and Baltic territories, and Finland by signing the treaty. The Allied powers launched a military intervention in support of anti-Communist forces and both the Bolsheviks and White movement carried out campaigns of deportations and executions against each other, known respectively as the Red Terror and White Terror. By the end of the Russian Civil War the Russian economy and infrastructure were heavily ruined; the famine of 1921 claimed 5 million victims. The Bolshevik-led Russian SFSR together with three other Soviet republics formed the Soviet Union on 30 December 1922.
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