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Russian Federation
Российская Федерация
Rossiyskaya Federatsiya
Flag Coat of arms
AnthemГосударственный гимн Российской Федерации  (Russian)
Gosudarstvenny gimn Rossiyskoy Federatsii  (transliteration)
State Anthem of the Russian Federation

Capital
(and largest city)
Moscow
55°45′N 37°37′E / 55.75°N 37.617°E / 55.75; 37.617
Official language(s) Russian official throughout the country; 27 others co-official in various regions
Ethnic groups  Russians 79.8%, Tatars 3.8%, Ukrainians 2%, Bashkirs 1.2%, Chuvash 1.1%, Chechen 0.9%, Armenians 0.8%, other – 10.4%
Demonym Russian
Government Federal semi-presidential democratic republic
 -  President Dmitry Medvedev
 -  Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (Independent, but leader of UR)
 -  Chairman of the Federation Council Sergey Mironov (FR)
 -  Chairman of the State Duma Boris Gryzlov (UR)
Legislature Federal Assembly
 -  Upper House Federation Council
 -  Lower House State Duma
Formation
 -  Rurik Dynasty 862 
 -  Kievan Rus' 882 
 -  Vladimir-Suzdal Rus' 1169 
 -  Grand Duchy of Moscow 1283 
 -  Tsardom of Russia 1547 
 -  Russian Empire 1721 
 -  Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic 7 November 1917 
 -  Union of Soviet Socialist Republics 10 December 1922 
 -  Russian Federation 26 December 1991 
Area
 -  Total 17,075,400 km2 (1st)
6,592,800 sq mi 
 -  Water (%) 13[1] (including swamps)
Population
 -  2010 estimate 141,927,297[2] (9th)
 -  2002 census 145,166,731[3] 
 -  Density 8.3/km2 (217th)
21.5/sq mi
GDP (PPP) 2009 estimate
 -  Total $2.126 trillion[4] (8th)
 -  Per capita $15,039[4] (51st)
GDP (nominal) 2009 estimate
 -  Total $1.255 trillion[4] (11th)
 -  Per capita $8,874[4] (54th)
HDI (2007) 0.817[5] (high) (71st)
Currency Ruble (RUB)
Time zone (UTC+2 to +12)
 -  Summer (DST)  (UTC+3 to +13)
Drives on the right
Internet TLD .ru (.su reserved), (.рф2 2009)
Calling code +7
1 The Russian Federation is one of the successors to earlier forms of continuous statehood, starting from the 9th Century AD when Rurik, a Viking warrior, was chosen as the ruler of Novgorod, a point traditionally taken as the beginning of Russian statehood.
2 The .рф Top-level domain is available for use in the Russian Federation since the second quarter of 2009 and only accepts domains which use the Cyrillic alphabet.[6]

Russia (pronounced /ˈrʌʃə/ ( listen); Russian: Россия, tr. Rossiya, pronounced [rɐˈsʲijə]  ( listen)), also officially known as the Russian Federation[7][8] (Russian: Российская Федерация, tr. Rossiyskaya Federatsiya, pronounced [rɐˈsʲijskəjə fʲɪdʲɪˈraʦəjə]  ( listen)), is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects. Russia shares borders with the following countries (from northwest to southeast): Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland (both via Kaliningrad Oblast), Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, China, Mongolia, and North 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 by far the largest country in the world, covering more than a ninth of the Earth's land area. Russia is also the ninth most populous nation in the world with 142 million people.[1] 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,[9] and is considered an energy superpower.[10] [11] [12] It has the world's largest forest reserves and its lakes contain approximately one-quarter of the world's fresh water.[13]

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 AD.[14] 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,[15] beginning the synthesis of Byzantine and Slavic cultures that defined Russian culture for the next millennium.[15] 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 in Europe to Alaska in North America.

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 constitutionally socialist state and a recognized superpower,[16] that played a decisive role in the allied victory in World War II.[17][18][19] 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.[20] Russia has the world's 11th largest economy by nominal GDP or the eighth largest by purchasing power parity, with the fifth largest nominal military budget. It is one of the five recognized nuclear weapons states and possesses the world's largest stockpile of weapons of mass destruction.[21]

Russia is a great power and a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, a member of the G8, G20, the Council of Europe, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Eurasian Economic Community, and is the leading member of the Commonwealth of Independent States. The Russian nation has a long tradition of excellence in every aspect of the arts and sciences,[14] as well as a strong tradition in technology, including such significant achievements as the first human spaceflight.

Contents

Geography

Russia is the largest country in the world; its total area is 17,075,400 square kilometres (6,592,800 sq mi). The country contains 23 UNESCO World Heritage Sites,[22] 40 UNESCO Biosphere reserves,[23] 40 National Parks and 101 nature reserves. Russia has a wide natural resource base, including major deposits of timber, petroleum, natural gas, coal, ores and other mineral resources.

Mount Elbrus, the highest point of the Caucasus, Russia and Europe.
The plains of Western Siberia, Vasyugan River, Tomsk Oblast.
Taiga forest in winter, Arkhangelsk Oblast.
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Topography

The two widest separated points in Russia are about 8,000 km (4,971 mi) apart along a geodesic line. These points are: the boundary with Poland on a 60 km (37 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 (4,101 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. 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.[24] The Caspian is the source of what is considered one of 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. Russia possesses 10% of the world's arable land.[25] Mountain ranges are found along the southern borders, such as the Caucasus (containing Mount Elbrus, which at 5,642 m (18,510 ft) is the highest point in both Russia and Europe) and the Altai (containing Mount Belukha, which at the 4,506 m (14,783 ft) is the highest point of Asian Russia); 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 has an extensive coastline of over 37,000 km (22,991 mi) along the Arctic and Pacific Oceans, as well as along the Baltic Sea, Sea of Azov, Black and Caspian seas.[26]

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 via the Arctic and Pacific oceans. Russia's 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 3 km (1.9 mi) apart, and Kunashir Island is about 20 km (12.4 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, oldest and most capacious freshwater lake.[27] Lake Baikal alone contains over one fifth of the world's fresh surface water.[28] Other major lakes include Lake Ladoga and Lake Onega, two of the largest lakes in Europe. Russia is second only to Brazil in volume of total renewable water resources. Of the country's 100,000 rivers,[29] 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.[26]

The Amur Tiger's natural habitat is confined to the Russian Far East.

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 obstruct the flow of warm air masses from the Indian Ocean, whilst the plain of the west and north makes the country open to Arctic and Atlantic influences.[30]

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.[30] The coldest month is January (February on the shores of the sea), 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.[31] The continental interiors are the driest areas.

A birch forest in Siberia, Novosibirsk Oblast. Birch is a national tree of Russia.

Flora and fauna

From north to south the East European Plain, also known as Russian Plain, is clad sequentially in Arctic 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 largely is taiga. Russia has the world's largest forest reserves,[13] known as "the lungs of Europe",[32] second only to the Amazon Rainforest in the amount of carbon dioxide it absorbs.

There are 266 mammal species and 780 bird species in Russia. A total of 415 animal species have been included in the Red Data Book of the Russian Federation as of 1997[33] and are now protected.

History

Early periods

An approximate map of the cultures in European Russia at the arrival of the Varangians.
Kievan Rus' in the 11th century.
Alexander Nevsky by Pavel Korin on the 1967 Soviet postage stamp.

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.[34]

Remnants of these steppe civilizations were discovered in such places as Ipatovo,[34] Sintashta,[35] Arkaim,[36] and Pazyryk,[37] which bear the earliest known traces of mounted warfare, a key feature in nomadic way of life. In the latter part of the 8th century BC, Greek traders brought classical civilization to the trade emporiums in Tanais and Phanagoria.[38]

Between the third and sixth centuries BC, the Bosporan Kingdom, a Hellenistic polity which succeeded the Greek colonies,[39] was overwhelmed by successive waves of nomadic invasions,[40] 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.[41]

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.[42] 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.[43] From the 7th century onwards, the East Slavs constituted the bulk of the population in Western Russia[43] and slowly but peacefully assimilated the native Finno-Ugric tribes, including the Merya,[44] the Muromians,[45] and the Meshchera.[46]

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,[47] 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.[48]

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,[49] which had been previously dominated by the Khazars;[50] so the state of Kievan Rus' started. 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.[51] 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, 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.[52] The age of feudalism and decentralization had come, marked by constant in-fighting between members of the princely family that ruled Kievan Rus' 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.

Ultimately Kievan Rus' disintegrated, with the final blow being the Mongol invasion of 1237–1240,[53] that resulted in the destruction of Kiev[54] and the death of about a half of total population of Rus'.[55] 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, impeding the country's economic and social development.[56]

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.[15] The Novgorod Republic together with Pskov retained some degree of autonomy during the time of the Mongol yoke and were largely spared the atrocities that affected the rest of the country. Led by Alexander Nevsky, Novgorodians repelled the invading Swedes in the Battle of the Neva in 1240, as well as the Germanic crusaders in the Battle of the Ice in 1242, breaking their attempts to colonize the Northern Rus'.

Grand Duchy of Moscow

Sergius of Radonezh blessing Dmitri Donskoi in Troitse-Sergieva Lavra, before the Battle of Kulikovo. A painting by Ernest Lissner.
The Dormition Cathedral in Moscow Kremlin. Built in the 15th century by an Italian architect, it became the site of coronation of Russian Tsars and Emperors.

The most powerful successor state to Kievan Rus' was the Grand Duchy of Moscow ("Moscovy" in the Western chronicles), initially a part of Vladimir-Suzdal. While still under the domain of the Mongol-Tatars and with their connivance, Moscow began to assert its influence in Western Russia in the early 14th century.

Assisted by the Russian Orthodox Church and Saint Sergius of Radonezh's spiritual revival, 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, 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.

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".[57] 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

Portrait of Ivan IV by Viktor Vasnetsov, 1897

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.[58][59]

During his long reign, Ivan IV nearly doubled the already large 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 Siberia. Thus by the end of the 16th century Russia was transformed into a multiethnic, multiconfessional and 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.[60] 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,[61] and were even able to burn down Moscow in 1571.[62]

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,[63] led to the civil war, the rule of pretenders and foreign intervention during the Time of Troubles in the early 1600s.[64] Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth occupied parts of Russia, including Moscow. In 1612 the Poles were forced to retreat by the Russian volunteer corps, led by two national heroes: Kuzma Minin, a merchant, and Prince Pozharsky. A new dynasty, the Romanovs, acceded the throne in 1613 by the decision of Zemsky Sobor, and Russia started its gradual recovery from the crisis.

Russia continued its territorial growth through the 17th century, which was the age of Cossacks. Cossacks were warriors organized into military communities, resembling pirates and pioneers of the New World. In 1648, the peasants of Ukraine joined the Zaporozhian Cossacks in rebellion against Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth during the Khmelnytsky Uprising, because of the social and religious oppression they suffered under Polish rule. 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 (or Right-bank Ukraine) under Polish rule and eastern part (Left-bank Ukraine and Kiev) under Russian. Soon after that, in 1670-71 the Don Cossacks led by Stenka Razin initiated a major Cossack and peasant uprising in the Volga region, but the Tsar's troops were successful in defeating the rebels.

In the east, the rapid Russian exploration and colonisation of the huge territories of Siberia was led mostly by Cossacks hunting for valuable furs and ivory. Russian explorers pushed eastward primarily along the Siberian river routes, and by the mid-17th century there were Russian settlements in the Eastern Siberia, on the Chukchi Peninsula, along the Amur River, and on the Pacific coast. In 1648 the Bering Strait between Asia and North America was passed for the first time by the expedition of Fedot Popov and Semyon Dezhnev.

Imperial Russia

Peter the Great officially proclaimed the existence of the Russian Empire in 1721. A portrait by Hippolyte Delaroche.
Cathrine II the Great ruled Russia during the Age of Enlightenment. A portrait by Dmitry Levitzky.

Under Peter I (Peter the Great), Russia was proclaimed an Empire in 1721 and became recognized as 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),[65] Estland, and Livland, securing Russia's access to the sea and sea trade.[66] On the Baltic Sea Peter founded a new capital called Saint Petersburg, later known as 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, Cathrine advanced Russia's boundary to the Black Sea, defeating the Crimean khanate. As a result of victories over the 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, like Fort Ross. 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.

Napoleon's withdrawal from Russia, a painting by Adolph Northen.

In alliance with Prussia and Austria, Russia fought against Napoleon's France. Napoleon's invasion of Russia at the height of his power in 1812 failed miserably as the obstinate Russian resistance in combination with the bitterly cold Russian winter dealt him a disastrous defeat, in which more than 95% of his invading force perished.[67] Led by Mikhail Kutuzov and Barclay de Tolly, the Russian army ousted Napoleon from the country and drove through Europe as a part of the Sixth Coalition, 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-nineteenth century, when a zenith period of Russia's power and influence in Europe was disrupted by defeat in 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 1877-1878 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). 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. 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 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 mainly unfulfilled. Between 1850 and 1900, Russia's population doubled, but it remained chiefly rural.[68] The famine of 1891-2 was one of the worst of the eleven major famines that scourged Russia between 1845 and 1922.[69]

The Russian Empire in 1866 and its spheres of influence.
Bolshevik by Boris Kustodiev, a visual representation of the Russian Revolution.

In 1914 Russia entered World War I in response to Austria's declaration of war on Russia's ally Serbia, and fought across multiple fronts while isolated from its Entente allies. The Russian army achieved such successes as the Brusilov Offensive in 1916, destroying the military of Austria-Hungary almost completely.

However, 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 rumors of corruption and treason, leading to the outbreak of the Russian Revolution of 1917, carried out in two major acts.

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 them were led by democratically elected councils called Soviets. 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; the last Tsar 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 Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin, overthrew the Provisional Government and created the world’s first socialist state.

Soviet Russia

Vladimir Lenin, leader of the Bolsheviks and founder of the USSR.
Worker and Kolkhoz Woman, a giant sculpture by Vera Mukhina atop the Soviet pavillion at 1937 World's Fair in Paris.

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, Baltic, and Finnish territories 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 damaged. During the same period, the famine of 1921 claimed 5 million victims.[70]

The Russian SFSR together with three other Soviet republics formed the Soviet Union on 30 December 1922. Out of the 15 republics that later 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, an elected General Secretary of the Communist Party, managed to put down all opposition groups within the party and consolidate much power in his hands. Leon Trotsky, the main proponent of the world revolution, was exiled from the Soviet Union in 1929, and Stalin's idea of socialism in one country became the primary line. In 1930s a number of open political trials gained much attention in the USSR and the world. The continued internal struggle in the Bolshevik party culminated in the Great Purge, a period of mass repressions in 1937-38, in which hundreds of thousands of people were executed, including experienced military leadership.[71]

Since the end of 1920s, the government launched a planned economy, rapid industrialization of the largely rural country, and collectivization of its agriculture. Millions of citizens were relocated during the dekulakization campaign that accompanied the collectivization. Millions of people passed through the Gulag from 1929 to 1953,[72] with millions more being deported and exiled to remote areas of the Soviet Union.[73] The temporary transitional disorganisation of the country's agriculture, combined with the harsh state policies and a drought, led to the famine of 1932–1933.[74] However, though with a heavy price, the Soviet Union was transformed from an agrarian economy to a major industrial powerhouse in a short span of time.

The 1939 poster depicting the fast movement of the USSR from socialism to communism, with Joseph Stalin as a driver of the Soviet locomotive.
The same years but different weathers: a Great Depression era propaganda poster depicting the rise of the Soviet industry compared to plunge in the USA.

In 1933, in Germany, Hitler and his Nazi party came to power, being outspoken enemies of communism and proponents of external aggression and German expansion. Very soon the Soviet foreign policy changed dramatically, completely dropping the idea of seeking the world revolution (the very mention of it was eradicated from the new 1936 Soviet Constitution). The USSR entered the League of Nations, and Soviet diplomacy tried to establish counter-Nazism security pacts with major European countries, but these attempts mostly failed.

The Appeasement policy of Great Britain and France towards Hitler's annexions of Ruhr, Austria and finally of Czechoslovakia (following the Munich agreement of 1938) enlarged the might of Nazi Germany and put a threat of war to the Soviet Union. Around the same time the German Reich allied with Japanese Empire, a rival of the USSR on the Far East and an open enemy in the Soviet–Japanese Border Wars in 1938-1939.

In August of 1939, after another failure of talks with Britain and France, the Soviet government agreed to conclude the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact with Germany, pledging non-aggression between the two countries and dividing their spheres of influence in Eastern Europe. This allowed Hitler to finally start World War II and to conquer Poland, France and other countries acting on single front. At the same time the USSR was able to regain some of the former territories of the Russian Empire in Eastern Europe (see Soviet invasion of Poland and Winter War), and to gain one and a half more years for building up the Soviet military.

On 22 June 1941, Nazi Germany broke the non-aggression treaty and invaded the Soviet Union with the largest and most powerful invasion force in human history,[75] opening the largest theater of the Second World War. Although the German army had considerable success early on, their onslaught was halted in the Battle of Moscow.

Stalingrad, 1942. The vast majority of the fighting in the World War II took place on the Eastern Front.[17] Nazi Germany suffered 80% to 93% of all casualties there.[18][19]

Subsequently the Germans were dealt major defeats first at the Battle of Stalingrad in the winter of 1942–1943,[76] and then in the Battle of Kursk in the summer of 1943. Another German failure was the battle of Leningrad, in which the city was fully blockaded on land between 1941–44 by German and Finnish forces, suffering starvation and more than a million deaths, but never surrendering.

Under Stalin's administration and the leadership of such prominent commanders as Georgy Zhukov and Konstantin Rokossovsky, Soviet forces drove through Eastern Europe in 1944–45 and captured Berlin in May of 1945. After marking this by the Moscow Victory Parade of 1945, the Soviet Army ousted Japanese from China's Manchukuo and North Korea, contributing to the allied victory over Japan.

The Moscow Victory Parade of 1945 was the first major Soviet event recorded on color film.

1941–1945 period of World War II is known in Russia as Great Patriotic War. In this conflict, which included many of the most lethal battle operations in human history, Soviet military and civilian deaths were 10.6 million and 15.9 million respectively,[77] accounting for about a third of all World War II casualties. The Soviet economy and infrastructure suffered massive devastation[78] but the Soviet Union emerged as an acknowledged superpower.

The Red Army occupied Eastern Europe after the war, including the eastern half of Germany. Dependent socialist governments were installed in these satellite states. The USSR maintained control over these nations by many means, sometimes by military force, as in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956. 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.

The Soviet Union exported its Communist ideology to newly formed independent allies, the People's Republic of China and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, while also helping these countries in industrialization and development. Subsequently the ideas of Communism gained ground in Cuba and many other countries.

After Stalin's death and a short period of collective leadership, a new leader Nikita Khrushchev denounced the cult of Stalin's personality and started the process of de-Stalinization. Gulag labor camps were abolished and a great many of prisoners released;[79] the general easement of repressive policies became known later as Khruschev thaw.

First human in space, Yuri Gagarin.

In 1957 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, on 12 April 1961. 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.

Ostankino TV Tower in Moscow, completed in 1967 on the 50th anniversary of the October revolution. 540 metre high, it was the world's tallest free-standing structure at that time.

Following the ousting of Khrushchev, another period of collective rule ensued, until Leonid Brezhnev established himself in the early 1970s as the pre-eminent figure in Soviet politics. Brezhnev's rule oversaw economic stagnation, since the reforms, attempted by the Prime Minister Alexey Kosygin, were stifled. Those reforms had been aimed into shifting the emphasis of the Soviet economy from heavy industry and military production to light industry and the production of consumer goods. However that would mean significant decentralization of economy and implementing capitalist-like elements, and the Communist leadership wouldn't accept this.

In 1979 the Soviet forces entered Afghanistan at the request of the existing communist government. The subsequent occupation drained economic resources and dragged on without achieving meaningful political results. Ultimately Soviet forces were withdrawn from Afghanistan in 1989 because of international opposition, persistent anti-Soviet guerilla warfare (enhanced by the U.S.), and a lack of support from Soviet citizens. Tensions rose between the U.S. and Soviet Union in the early 1980s, fueled by anti-Soviet rhetoric in the U.S., the ongoing Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, the SDI proposal, and the controversial downing in 1983 of Korean Air Lines Flight 007 by the Soviets.

Prior to 1991, the Soviet economy was the second largest in the world,[80] but during its last years it was afflicted by shortages of goods in grocery stores, huge budget deficits and explosive growth in money supply leading to inflation.[81] From 1985 onwards, the last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev introduced the policies of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) in an attempt to modernize the country and make it more democratic. However, this unexpectedly led to the rise of nationalist movements and dissolution of the Soviet Union.

In August 1991, an unsuccessful military coup, directed against Gorbachev and aimed at preserving the Soviet Union, instead led to its collapse. In Russian SFSR, 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

Banknote 5 rubles (1997) front.jpg
5 Russian rubles banknote of 1997, with Millennium of Russia monument and St. Sophia Cathedral on the obverse, while Novgorod Kremlin on the reverse.

During and after the disintegration of the USSR, when wide-ranging reforms including privatisation and market and trade liberalization were being undertaken,[82] the Russian economy went through a major crisis. The period was characterized by deep contraction of output, with GDP declining by roughly 50% between 1990 and the end of 1995 and industrial output declining by over 50%.[82][83]

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.[84][85] Price controls were abolished, privatization was started. Millions plunged into poverty, from 1.5% of the population living in poverty in the late Soviet era, to 39%-49% by mid-1993.[86]

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.[87] The privatization process largely shifted control of enterprises from state agencies to groups of individuals with inside connections in the Government and the mafia. Corruption 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.[88] The depression of state and economy led to the collapse of social services; the birth rate plummeted while the death rate skyrocketed. The early and mid-1990s saw extreme lawlessness, rise of criminal gangs and violent crime.[89]

The 1990s were plagued by armed conflicts in the Northern Caucasus, both ethnic conflicts between local groups and separatist Islamist insurrections against federal power. Since the Chechen separatists had declared independence in the early 1990s, an intermittent guerrilla war was fought between the rebel groups and the Russian military. Terrorist attacks against civilians carried out by separatists, most notably the Moscow theater hostage crisis and Beslan school siege, caused hundreds of deaths and drew worldwide attention.

High budget deficits and the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis caused the financial crisis of 1998[90] and resulted in further GDP decline.[82] On 31 December 1999 President Yeltsin resigned, handing the post to the recently appointed Prime Minister, Vladimir Putin, who then won the 2000 presidential election.

Putin suppressed the Chechen insurgency, although sporadic violence still occurs throughout the Northern 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, improving the standard of living and increasing Russia's influence on the world stage.[26] While many reforms made during the Putin presidency have been generally criticized by Western nations as un-democratic,[91] Putin's leadership over the return of order, stability, and progress has won him widespread popularity in Russia.[92] On 2 March 2008, Dmitry Medvedev was elected President of Russia, whilst Putin became Prime Minister.

Government and politics

Entrance to the Kremlin Senate, part of the Moscow Kremlin and the working residence of the Russian president.
The White House, the seat of the Russian Government, Moscow.

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[93] 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.[94]

Legislative power is vested in the two chambers of the Federal Assembly.[95] 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:

The building of the Russian State Duma on Manege Square in Moscow.

According to the Constitution, the justice in the court is based on the equality of all citizens,[96] judges are independent and subject only to the law,[97] trials are to be open and the accused is guaranteed a defense.[98] Since 1996, Russia has instituted a moratorium on the death penalty, although capital punishment has not been abolished by law.

The president is elected by popular vote for a six-year term (eligible for a second term but constitutionally barred for a third consecutive term);[99] election last held in 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[100] 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

The rights and liberties of the citizens of the Russian Federation are granted by Chapter 2 of the Constitution. Russia is a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and has also ratified a number of other international human rights instruments.

In 2004, Alvaro Gil-Robles, the first Commissioner for Human Rights of the Council of Europe, said that "the fledgling Russian democracy is still, of course, far from perfect, but its existence and its successes cannot be denied."[101]

However, some leading international democracy and human rights organizations consider Russia to have not enough democratic attributes and to allow few political rights and civil liberties to its citizens.[102][103][104] US-funded international organization Freedom House ranks Russia as "not free", citing "carefully engineered elections" and "absence" of debate.[105] Amnesty International accuses 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.[102] Human Rights Watch claims Russia commits grave human rights violations in Chechnya and allows the systematic abuse of migrant workers.[103] Press freedom in Russia is considered amongst the lowest in the world by press freedom organization Reporters Without Borders and is ranked 141st in their annual survey, on the basis that the Russian authorities "black list" figures that are critical of the government, practice "official harassment", and "gag" potential dissidents.[106]

Russian authorities and many Russian experts dismiss these claims and especially criticise the Freedom House. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia has called the 2006 Freedom in the World Report "prefabricated";[107] the ministry also claims that such organizations as Freedom House and Human Rights Watch use the same scheme of voluntary extrapolation of "isolated facts that of course can be found in any country" into "dominant tendencies". The chairwoman of the Civil Society Institution and Human Rights Council at the President of Russia Ella Pamfilova also criticized the Freedom House views on Russia as "ridiculous, absurd and far-fetched"[108].

Foreign relations

Leaders of the BRIC nations in 2008: (l-r) Manmohan Singh of India, Dmitry Medvedev of Russia, Hu Jintao of China and Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva of Brazil.

The Russian Federation is recognized in international law as successor state of the former Soviet Union.[20] 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 2009, it maintains diplomatic relations with 191 countries and has 144 embassies.[109] The foreign policy is determined by the President of Russia and implemented by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.[110]

As one of five permanent members of the UN Security Council, Russia plays a major role in maintaining international peace and security. The country participates in the Quartet on the Middle East and the Six-party talks with North Korea. 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.[111] 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.[112]

Military

Russian Knights and Swifts military aerobatic teams in a rhombus formation

Russia assumed control of Soviet assets abroad and most of the Soviet Union's production facilities and defense industries.[113] 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.[114]

Russian paratroopers at an exercise in Kazakhstan

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.[21] Russia's tank force is the largest in the world, it's surface navy and air force are among the strongest. The country has a large and fully indigenous arms industry, producing most of its own military equipment with only few types of weapons imported. Russia is the world's top supplier of arms, a spot it has held since 2001, accounting for around 30% of worldwide weapons sales[115] and exporting weapons to about 80 countries.[116]

It is mandatory for all male citizens aged 18–27 to be drafted for a year of service in Armed Forces; the government plans to increase the proportion of contract servicemen to 70% by 2010.[26] Defense expenditure has quadrupled over the past six years[117]. According to Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimates, official government military spending for 2008 was $58 billion, the fifth largest in the world,[118] though various sources, including US intelligence,[119] and the International Institute for Strategic Studies,[114] have estimated Russia’s military expenditures to be considerably higher.[120] Currently, the military is undergoing a major equipment upgrade worth about $200 billion between 2006 and 2015.[121] Defense Minister Anatoliy Serdyukov[122] supervises the major reforms aimed to transform a mass mobilization army into a smaller force of contract soldiers.[123]

Subdivisions

Map of the federal subjects of the Russian Federation.
Federal subjects

The Russian Federation comprises 83 federal subjects.[124] These subjects have equal representation—two delegates each—in the Federation Council.[125] 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.
  • 9 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.
  • 4 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.
  • 1 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.
  • 2 federal cities (Moscow and St. Petersburg): major cities that function as separate regions.
Federal districts

Federal subjects are grouped into 8 federal districts, each administered by an envoy appointed by the President of Russia.[126] 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.

Demographics

Ethnic composition (2002)[127]
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 – 1991 of Russian SFSR in USSR, 1991 - 1 January 2010 of Russian Federation.[128]

The Russian Federation is a diverse, multi-ethnic society, home to as many as 160 different ethnic groups and indigenous peoples.[129] Though Russia's population is comparatively large, its density is low because of the country's enormous size.[130] Population is densest in European Russia, near the Ural Mountains, and in southwest Siberia. 73% of the population lives in urban areas while 27% in rural ones.[131] The population of Russia is 141,927,297 as of 1 January 2010.[2]

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.[132][128]

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.[133] Roughly 116 million ethnic Russians live in Russia[134] and about 20 million more live in other former republics of the Soviet Union, mostly in Ukraine and Kazakhstan.[135]

The population of Russia peaked at 148,689,000 in 1991, just before the breakup of the Soviet Union. It began to experience a rapid decline starting in the mid-90s.[136] The decline has slowed to near stagnation in recent years due to reduced death 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.[132][128] 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.[137]

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[128] compared to the European Union average of 9.90 per 1000)[138] its population is declining at a greater rate than many due to a substantially higher death rate (in 2008, Russia's death rate was 14.5 per 1000 people[128] compared to the European Union average of 10.28 per 1000).[139] However, the Russian Ministry of Health and Social Affairs predicts that by 2011, the death rate will equal the birth rate due to increases in fertility and decline in mortality.[140]

Moscow
Moscow
Saint Petersburg
Saint Petersburg
Novosibirsk
Novosibirsk
Yekaterinburg
Yekaterinburg

Rank Core City Federal Subject Pop.

Nizhny Novgorod
Nizhny Novgorod
Samara
Samara
Kazan
Kazan
Omsk
Omsk

1 Moscow Moscow 10,508,971
2 Saint Petersburg Saint Petersburg 4,600,310
3 Novosibirsk Novosibirsk 1,397,191
4 Yekaterinburg Sverdlovsk 1,332,264
5 Nizhny Novgorod Nizhny Novgorod 1,272,527
6 Samara Samara 1,134,716
7 Kazan Tatarstan 1,130,170
8 Omsk Omsk 1,129,120
9 Chelyabinsk Chelyabinsk 1,093,699
10 Rostov-on-Don Rostov 1,048,991
11 Ufa Bashkortostan 1,024,842
12 Perm Perm 985,794
13 Volgograd Volgograd 981,909
14 Krasnoyarsk Krasnoyarsk 947,801
15 Voronezh Voronezh 843,496
16 Saratov Saratov 830,953
17 Tolyatti Samara 720,346
18 Krasnodar Krasnodar 710,686
19 Izhevsk Udmurtia 611,043
20 Yaroslavl Yaroslavl 606,336
Rosstat (2009)[141]

Language

Countries where the Russian language is spoken.

Russia's 160 ethnic groups speak some 100 languages.[14] 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.[142] 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.[143]

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.[144] 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.[145]

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.[146] The language is one of the six official languages of the United Nations.

Religion

A symbol of Russia's religious renaissance, Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, demolished in the Soviet times and rebuilt from 1990–2000

Christianity, Islam, Buddhism and Judaism are Russia’s traditional religions, deemed part of Russia's "historical heritage" in a law passed in 1997.[147] Estimates of believers widely fluctuate among sources, and some reports put the number of non-believers in Russia at 16–48% of the population.[148] Russian Orthodoxy is the dominant religion in Russia.[149] 95% of the registered Orthodox parishes belong to the Russian Orthodox Church while there are a number of smaller Orthodox Churches.[150] 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.[151] Smaller Christian denominations such as Roman Catholics, Armenian Gregorians, and various Protestants exist.

The ancestors of many of today’s Russians adopted Orthodox Christianity in the 10th century.[151] The 2007 International Religious Freedom Report published by the US Department of State said that approximately 100 million citizens consider themselves Russian Orthodox Christians.[152] 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.[153]

All Religions Temple in a multicultural city of Kazan.

It is estimated that Russia is home to some 15–20 million Muslims.[154][155] 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.[156] Russia also has an estimated 3 million to 4 million Muslim migrants from the ex-Soviet states.[157] Most Muslims live in the Volga-Ural region, as well as in the North Caucasus, Moscow,[158] Saint Petersburg and western Siberia.[159]

Buddhism is traditional for three regions of the Russian Federation: Buryatia, Tuva, and Kalmykia.[160] 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.[161]

Health

The Russian Constitution guarantees free, universal health care for all citizens.[162] In practice, however, free health care is partially restricted due to propiska regime.[163][164] While Russia has more physicians, hospitals, and health care workers than almost any other country in the world on a per capita basis,[165][166] 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.[167] As of 2007, the average life expectancy in Russia is 61.5 years for males and 73.9 years for females.[168] The combined average Russian life expectancy of 67.7 years at birth is 10.8 years shorter than the overall figure in the European Union.[169]

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.[170] 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.[26]

A mobile clinic used to provide health care to people at remote railway stations.

Heart diseases account for 56.7% of total deaths, with about 30% involving people still of working age. 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.[171] About 16 million Russians suffer from cardiovascular diseases, placing Russia second in the world, after Ukraine, in this respect.[170] Death rates from homicide, suicide, and cancer are also especially high.[172] 52% of men and 15% of women smoke, more than 260,000 lives believed to be lost each year as a result of tobacco use.[173]

HIV/AIDS, virtually non-existent in the Soviet era, rapidly spread following the collapse, mainly through the explosive growth of intravenous drug use.[174] 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.[175] 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.[176] 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.[177]

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.[178] In 2007, Russia saw the highest birth rate since the collapse of the USSR.[179] 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.[180]

Education

Russia has a free education system guaranteed to all citizens by the Constitution,[181] and has a literacy rate of 99.4%.[26] Entry to higher education is highly competitive.[182] 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.[183][184]

Before 1990 the course of school training in Soviet Union was 10-years, but at the end of 1990 the 11-year course has been officially entered. Education in state-owned secondary schools is free; first tertiary (university level) education is free with reservations: a substantial share of students is enrolled for full pay (many state institutions started to open commercial positions in the last years[185]). In 2004 state spending for education amounted to 3.6% of GDP, or 13% of consolidated state budget.[186]

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. Apart from state higher education institutions, many private ones have emerged to address the need for a skilled work-force for high-tech and emerging industries and economic sectors.[187]

Economy

Regional product per capita as of 2007 (darker is higher).

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.[188][189] Even before the financial crisis of 1998, Russia's GDP was half of what it had been in the early 1990s.[189] 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.[190]

The country ended 2007 with its ninth straight year of growth, averaging 7% annually since 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.[26]

The average salary in Russia was $640 per month in early 2008, up from $80 in 2000.[191] Approximately 14% of Russians lived below the national poverty line in 2007,[192] significantly down from 40% in 1998 at the worst of the post-Soviet collapse.[86] Unemployment in Russia was at 6% in 2007, down from about 12.4% in 1999.[193][194]

A Rosneft petrol station. Russia 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.[26] 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.[195] 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.[196] The country has more higher education graduates than any other country in Europe.[197]

The main office of the Bank of Russia.

A simpler, more streamlined tax code adopted in 2001 reduced the tax burden on people, and dramatically increased state revenue.[198] 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.[199][200]

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 most of its formerly massive debts,[201] leaving it with one of the lowest foreign debts among major economies. 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.[202]

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.[203] 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.[204] 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.

Despite the country's strong economic performance since 1999, however, the World Bank lists several challenges facing the Russian economy including its diversification, encouraging the growth of small and medium enterprises, building human capital and improving corporate governance.[205] Another problem is modernisation of infrastructure, ageing and inadequate after years of being neglected;[206] the government has said $1 trillion will be invested in development of infrastructure by 2020.[207]

Agriculture

Rye Fields, by Ivan Shishkin. Russia is the world's top producer of rye, barley, buckwheat, oats and sunflower seed, and one of the largest producers and exporters of wheat.
A reindeer sled in Arkhangelsk. Russia owns about two-thirds of the world's livestock of domesticated reindeer.[208]

The total area of cultivated land in Russia was estimated as 1,237,294 sq km in 2005, the fourth largest in the world.[209] Unlike most other countries, Russia has large reserves of unused arable land, in part due to the drop in agricultural production during the economy crisis of 1990s, when the area planted to grains dropped by 25%. This was accompanied by a severe decline of livestock inventories.

In 1999-2009, however, Russia's agriculture demonstrated steady growth,[210] and the country turned from a grain importer to the third largest grain exporter after EU and U. S. in 2009.[211] The production of meat has grown from 6,813,000 tonnes in 1999 to 9,331,000 tonnes in 2008, and continues to grow.[212]

This restoration of agriculture was supported by successful farm credit policy of the government, helping both individual farmers and large privatized corporate farms, that once were Soviet kolkhozes and still own the significant share of agricultural land in Russia. While large individual farms and corporate farms concentrate mainly on the production of grain (including for export), as well as husbandry products, small private household plots produce most of the country's yield of potatoes, vegetables and fruits.

Energy

Russia is Europe's key oil and gas supplier.

Russia is known as an energy superpower. The country has the world's largest natural gas reserves, the 8th largest oil reserves, and the second largest coal reserves. Russia is the world's leading natural gas exporter and leading natural gas producer, while also the second largest oil exporter and largest oil producer, though Russia interchanges the latter status with Saudi Arabia from time to time.

Russia is the 4th largest electricity generator in the world and the 5th largest renewable energy producer, the latter due to the well-developed hydroelectricity production in the country. Large cascades of hydropower plants are built in European Russia along big rivers like Volga. The Asian part of Russia also features a number of major hydropower stations, however the gigantic hydroelectric potential of Siberia and the Russian Far East largely remains unexploited.

Russia was the first country to develop civilian nuclear reactor and to introduce the first nuclear power plant. Currently, Russia is the 4th largest nuclear energy producer. Rosatom Nuclear Energy State Corporation manages all the nuclear plants in Russia. Nuclear energy is rapidly developing in Russia, with the aim of increasing the total share of nuclear energy from current 16.9% to 23% by 2020. The Russian government plans to allocate 127 billion rubles ($5.42 billion) to a federal program dedicated to the next generation of nuclear energy technology. About 1 trillion rubles ($42.7 billion) is to be allocated from the federal budget to nuclear power and industry development before 2015.[213] Russia remains among the world leaders in nuclear technology and is a member of ITER international fusion reactor project.

Science and technology

A sculpture in honor of Dmitry Mendeleev and his Periodic table in Slovakia.

At the start of the 18th century the reforms of Peter the Great (the founder of Russian Academy of Sciences and Saint Petersburg State University) and the work of such champions as polymath Mikhail Lomonosov (the founder of Moscow State University) gave a great boost for development of science and innovation in Russia.

In the 19th and 20th centuries the country produced a large number of great scientists and inventors. Nikolai Lobachevsky, a Copernicus of Geometry, developed the non-Euclidean geometry. Dmitry Mendeleev invented the Periodic table, the main framework of the modern chemistry.

Nikolay Benardos introduced the arc welding, further developed by Nikolay Slavyanov, Konstantin Khrenov and other Russian engineers. Gleb Kotelnikov invented the knapsack parachute, while Evgeniy Chertovsky introduced the pressure suit. Pavel Yablochkov and Alexander Lodygin were great pioneers of electrical engineering and inventors of early electric lamps.

Alexander Popov was among the inventors of radio, while Nikolai Basov and Alexander Prokhorov were co-inventors of lasers and masers. Igor Tamm, Andrei Sakharov and Lev Artsimovich developed the idea of tokamak for controlled nuclear fusion and created its first prototype, which finally led to the modern ITER project. Many famous Russian scientists and inventors were émigrés, like Igor Sikorsky and Vladimir Zworykin, and many foreign ones worked in Russia for a long time, like Leonard Euler and Alfred Nobel.

Soyuz TMA-2 is launched from Baikonur carrying one of the first resident crews to the International Space Station.

The greatest Russian successes are in the field of space technology and space exploration. Konstantin Tsiolkovsky was the father of theoretical austronautics.[214] His works had inspired leading Soviet rocket engineers such as Sergey Korolyov, Valentin Glushko and many others that contributed to the success of the Soviet space program at early stages of the Space Race and beyond.

In 1957 the first Earth-orbiting artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, was launched; in 1961 on 12 April the first human trip into space was successfully made by Yury Gagarin; and many other Soviet and Russian space exploration records ensued, including the first spacewalk performed by Alexey Leonov, the first space exploration rover Lunokhod-1 and the first space station Salyut 1. Nowadays Russia is the largest satellite launcher [215][216] and the only provider of transport for space tourism services.

AK-47, the most widely used type of assault rifle in the world.

Other technologies, where Russia historically leads, include nuclear technology, aircraft production and arms industry.

The creation of the first nuclear power plant along with the first nuclear reactors for submarines and surface ships was directed by Igor Kurchatov. NS Lenin was the world's first nuclear powered surface ship as well as the first nuclear powered civilian vessel, and NS Arktika became the first surface ship to reach the North Pole.

A number of prominent Soviet aerospace engineers, inspired by the theoretical works of Nikolai Zhukovsky, supervised the creation of many dozens of models of military and civilian aircraft and founded a number of KBs (Construction Bureaus) that now constitute the bulk of Russian United Aircraft Corporation.

Famous Russian airplanes include the first supersonic passenger jet Tupolev Tu-144 by Alexei Tupolev, MiG fighter aircraft series by Artem Mikoyan and Mikhail Gurevich, and Su series by Pavel Sukhoi and his followers. MiG-15 is the world's most produced jet aircraft in history, while MiG-21 is the most produced supersonic aircraft. During World War II era Bereznyak-Isayev BI-1 was introduced as the first rocket-powered fighter aircraft, and Ilyushin Il-2 bomber became the most produced military aircraft in history. Polikarpov Po-2 Kukuruznik is the world's most produced biplane, and Mil Mi-8 is the most produced helicopter.

T-90 Russian tank in the Indian Army service.

Famous Russian battle tanks include T-34, the best tank design of World War II,[217] and further tanks of T-series, including the most produced tank in history, T-54/55,[218] the first fully gas turbine tank T-80 and the most modern Russian tank T-90. The AK-47 and AK-74 by Mikhail Kalashnikov constitute the most widely used type of assault rifle throughout the world — so much so that more AK-type rifles have been manufactured than all other assault rifles combined.[219][220] With these and other weapons Russia for a long time has been among the world's top suppliers of arms, accounting for around 30% of worldwide weapons sales[115] and exporting weapons to about 80 countries.[116]

The Sukhoi Superjet 100 is the latest civilian product of the Russian aircraft industry.

With such technological achievements, however, since the time of Brezhnev stagnation Russia was lagging significantly behind the West in a number of technologies, especially those concerning energy conservation and consumer goods production. The crisis of 1990-s led to the drastic reduction of the state support for science. Many Russian scientists and university graduates left Russia for Europe or United States; this migration is known as a brain drain.

In 2000-s, on the wave of a new economic boom, the situation in the Russian science and technology has improved, and the government launched a campaign aimed into modernisation and innovation. Russia's President Dmitry Medvedev formulated top 5 priorities for the country's technological development: energy efficiency, IT (including both common products and the products combined with space technology), nuclear energy and pharmaceuticals.[221] Some progress already has been achieved, with Russia's having nearly completed GLONASS, the only global satellite navigation system apart from American GPS, and Russia's being the only country constructing mobile nuclear plants.

Transportation

The marker for kilometre 9288, at the end of the Trans-Siberian Railway in Vladivostok.

Railway transport in Russia is mostly under the control of the state-run Russian Railways monopoly. The company accounts for over 3.6% of Russia’s GDP and handles 39% of the total of Russia’s freight traffic (including pipelines) and more than 42% of passenger traffic.[222] The total length of common-used railway tracks exceeeds 85,500 km,[222] second only to the United States. Over 44,000 km of tracks are electrified,[223] which is the largest number in the world, and additionally there are more than 30,000 km of industrial non-common carrier lines. Railways in Russia, unlike in the most of the world, use broad gauge of 1,520 mm (4 ft 11+56 in), with the exception of 957 km on Sakhalin Island using narrow gauge of 1,067 mm (3 ft 6 in). The most renown railroad in Russia is Trans-Siberian Railway or Transsib, spanning a record 7 time zones and serving the longest single continuous services in the world, Moscow-Vladivostok (9,259 km, 5,753 mi), Moscow–Pyongyang (10,267 km, 6,380 mi)[224] and Kiev–Vladivostok (11,085 km, 6,888 mi).[225]

As of 2006 Russia had 933,000 km of roads, of which 755,000 were paved.[226] Some of these make up the Russian federal motorway system. With a large land area the road density is the lowest of all the G8 and BRIC countries.[227] A Russian saying states that There are two main problems in Russia: fools and roads, however this very lack of roads was of much help to Russians in the times of Napoleon's and Hitler's invasions.

Yamal, one of Russia's nuclear icebreakers (Gallery).

102,000 km of inland waterways in Russia mostly go by natural rivers or lakes. In the European part of the country the network of channels connects the basins of major rivers. Russia's capital, Moscow, is sometimes called "the port of the five seas", due to its waterway connections to the Baltic, White, Caspian, Azov and Black seas.

Major sea ports of Russia include Rostov-on-Don on the Azov Sea, Novorossiysk on the Black Sea, Astrakhan and Makhachkala on the Caspian Sea, Kaliningrad and St. Petersburg on the Baltic Sea, Arkhangelsk on the White Sea, Murmansk on the Barents Sea, Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky and Vladivostok on the Pacific Ocean. In 2008 Russia owned 1448 merchant marine ships. Russia is the only country to have nuclear icebreaker fleet, which is a great advantage in the economic exploitation of Arctic continental shelf of Russia and the development of sea trade through the Northern Sea Route between Europe and East Asia.

There are 74,285 km of oil pipelines in Russia, 13,658 km of pipelines for refined products, 158,767 km of natural gas pipelines [228] By total length of pipelines Russia is second only to the United States. Currently, many new pipeline projects are being realized, including North and South Stream natural gas pipelines to Europe, and ESPO oil pipeline to Russian Far East and China.

Exquisite decoration of Moscow Metro, here shown at Arbatskaya station

Russia has 1216 airports,[229] the busiest being Sheremetyevo, Domodedovo, and Vnukovo in Moscow and Pulkovo in Saint Petersburg. The total length of airlines in Russia exceeds 600,000 km.[230] In the remote regions of the Russian North and Siberia the transportation by air (usually by helicopters) is vital, and in some months of the year it is the only transport link to the rest of the country.

Typically, major Russian cities have well-developed and diverse systems of public transport, with the most common varieties of exploited vehicles being bus, trolleybus and tram. Seven Russian cities, namely Moscow, Saint Petersburg, Nizhny Novgorod, Novosibirsk, Samara, Yekaterinburg and Kazan, have undeground metros, while Volgograd features a metrotram. Total length of metros in Russia is 465.4 km. Moscow Metro and Saint Petersburg Metro are the oldest in Russia, opened in 1935 and 1955 respectively. These two are among the fastest and busiest metro systems in the world, and are famous for rich decorations and unique designs of their stations, which is a common tradition for Russian metros and railways.

Culture

Kuban Cossack Choir performing in the national costumes.

Folk culture and cuisine

There are over 160 different ethnic groups and indigenous peoples in Russia. Ethnic Russians with their Slavic Orthodox culture, Tatars and Bashkirs with their Turkic Muslim culture, Buddhist nomadic Buryats and Kalmyks, Shamanistic peoples of the Far North and Siberia, highlanders of the Northern Caucasus, Finno-Ugric peoples of the Russian North West and Volga Region all contribute to diverse and rich culture of Russia. The ethnic culture is preserved in various museums and ethno-parks, reproduced in cuisine, architecture, cinema and arts, and developed by folk bands, dance ensembles and choirs.

Woodcraft Russian architecture, widely associated with the ethnic culture, is at best represented in wooden churches. Russian traditional wooden dwelling is izba, while the early type of fortified settlements is known as kremlin. Handicraft, like gzhel, khokhloma, pisanka and palekh, is also associated with folk culture. Ethnic Russian clothes include kaftan, kosovorotka and ushanka for men, sarafan and kokoshnik for women, with lapti and valenki as common shoes. The Cossacks of Southern Russia have a separate brand of culture within ethnic Russian, their clothes including burka and papaha, which they share with the peoples of the Northern Caucasus.

Preparation of pelmeni, a common Russian dish of Tatar origin (the word itself is from Komi and Mansi languages). Khokhloma handicraft is seen on the background.

Russian cuisine widely uses fish, poultry, mushrooms, berries, and honey. Crops of rye, wheat, barley, and millet provide the ingredients for a plethora of breads, pancakes, cereals, kvass, beer, and vodka. Black bread is relatively more popular in Russia if compared with the rest of the world. Flavourful soups and stews include shchi, borsch, ukha, solyanka and okroshka.

Smetana (a heavy sour cream) is often added to soups and salads. Pirozhki, blini and syrniki are native types of pankakes. Cutlets (like Chicken Kiev), pelmeni and shashlyk are popular meat dishes, the last two being of Tatar and Caucasus origin respectively. Popular salads include Russian salad, vinaigrette and Dressed Herring.

Russians have many traditions, most prominent being the washing in banya, a hot steam bath somewhat similar to sauna. Old Russian folklore takes its roots in the pagan beliefs of ancient Slavs and now is represented in the Russian fairy tales. Epic Russian bylinas are another important part of Slavic mythology. The oldest bylinas of Kievan cycle were actually recorded mostly in the Russian North, especially in Karelia, where most of the Finnish national epic Kalevala was recorded as well.

Russian Venus by Boris Kustodiev, shows a girl with birch twigs in a rural banya.

Russia's large number of ethnic groups have distinctive traditions of folk music. Typical ethnic Russian musical instruments are gusli, balalaika, zhaleika and garmoshka. Folk music had great influence on the Russian classical composers, and in modern times it is a source of inspiration for a number of popular folk bands, most prominent being Melnitsa. Russian folk songs, as well as patriotic songs of the Soviet era, constitute the bulk of repertoire of the world-renown Red Army choir and other popular Russian ensembles.

Many Russian fairy tales and bylinas were adaptated for animation films, or for feature movies by the prominent directors like Aleksandr Ptushko (Ilya Muromets, Sadko) and Aleksandr Rou (Morozko, Vasilisa the Beautiful). Some Russian poets, including Pyotr Yershov and Leonid Filatov, made a number of well-known poetical interpretations of the classical Russian fairy tales, and in some cases, like that of Alexander Pushkin, also created fully original fairy tale poems of great popularity.

Architecture

Russian architecture began with the woodcraft buildings of ancient Slavs. Since Christianization of Kievan Rus' for several ages Russian architecture was influenced predominantly by the Byzantine architecture, until the Fall of Constantinople. Apart from fortifications (kremlins), the main stone buildings of ancient Rus' were Orthodox churches, with their many domes, often gilded or brightly painted. Aristotle Fioravanti and other Italian architects brought Renaissance trends into Russia.

The 16th century saw the development of unique tent-like churches culminating in Saint Basil's Cathedral. By that time the onion dome design was also fully developed. In the 17th century, the "fiery style" of ornamentation flourished in Moscow and Yaroslavl, gradually paving the way for the Naryshkin baroque of the 1690s. After Peter the Great reforms had made Russia much closer to Western culture, the change of the architectural styles in Russia generally followed that of Western Europe.

Wooden churches of Kizhi, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Triumph Palace, Europe's tallest residential building, is a modern realisation of Stalin Empire Style skyscrapers' design.

The 18th-century taste for rococo architecture led to the splendid works of Bartolomeo Rastrelli and his followers. During the reign of Catherine the Great and her grandson Alexander I, the city of Saint Petersburg was transformed into an outdoor museum of Neoclassical architecture.

The second half of the 19th century was dominated by the Byzantine and Russian Revival style (this corresponds to Gothic Revival in Western Europe). Prevalent styles of the 20th century were the Art Nouveau (Fyodor Shekhtel), Constructivism (Aleksey Shchusev and Konstantin Melnikov), and the Stalin Empire style (Boris Iofan).

After Stalin's death a new Soviet leader, Nikita Khruschev, condemned the "excesses" of the former architectural styles, and in the late Soviet era the architecture of the country was dominated by plain functionalism. This helped somewhat to resolve the housing problem, but created a large quantity of buildings of low architectural quality, much in contrast with the previous bright architecture. After the end of the Soviet Union the situation improved. Many churches demolished in Soviet times were rebuilt, and this process continues along with the restoration of various historical buildings destroyed in World War II. As for the original architecture, there is no longer any common style in modern Russia, though International style has a great influence.

Visual arts

The Trinity icon by Andrei Rublev.

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 became 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. In the early 19th century, when neoclassicism and romantism flourished, famous academic artists focused on mythological and Biblical themes, like Karl Briullov and Alexander Ivanov.

Rus': The Soul of the People by Mikhail Nesterov, symbolic of Russia's historical spiritual quest.

Realism came into dominance in the 19th century. The realists captured Russian identity in landscapes of wide rivers, forests, and birch clearings, as well as vigorous genre scenes and robust portraits of their contemporaries. Other artists focused on social criticism, showing the conditions of the poor and caricaturing authority; critical realism flourished under the reign of Alexander II, with some artists making the circle of human suffering their main theme. Others focused on depicting 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. Leading realists include Ivan Shishkin, Arkhip Kuindzhi, Ivan Kramskoi, Vasily Polenov, Isaac Levitan, Vasily Surikov, Viktor Vasnetsov, and Ilya Repin.

By the turn of the 20th century and on, many Russian artists developed their own vividly unique styles, neither realist nor avante-garde. These include Boris Kustodiev, Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin, Mikhail Vrubel and Nicholas Roerich.

The Amber Room. German-Russian masterpiece, looted by Nazi Germany in World War II and restored in 2003.

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. 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 revolutionary ideas of the avant-garde clashed with the newly emerged conservative direction of socialist realism.

In the Soviet era many 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. Soviet artists produced works that were furiously patriotic and anti-fascist in the 1940s. After the Great Patriotic War Soviet sculptors made multiple monuments to the war dead, marked by a great restrained solemnity.

In the 20th century many Russian artists made their careers in Western Europe, forced to emigrate by the Revolution. Wassily Kandinsky, Marc Chagall, Naum Gabo and others spread their work, ideas, and the impact of Russian art globally.

Classical music and ballet

Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840–1893), composer, the author of the world's most famous works of ballet: Swan Lake, The Nutcracker, and Sleeping Beauty.
A scene from The Nutcracker ballet.

Music in 19th century Russia was defined by the tension between classical composer Mikhail Glinka along with 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.[231]

World-renowned composers of the 20th century included Scriabin, Stravinsky, Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Sviridov. During most of the Soviet Era, music was highly scrutinized and kept within a conservative, accessible idiom in conformity with the 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 vocalists Fyodor Shalyapin, Galina Vishnevskaya, Anna Netrebko and Dmitry Hvorostovsky.[232]

During the early 20th century, Russian ballet 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.[233] Soviet ballet preserved the perfected 19th century traditions,[234] 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 Mariinsky in Saint Petersburg remain famous throughout the world.[235]

Literature and philosophy

Alexander Pushkin (1799–1837), the greatest Russian poet and founder of modern Russian literature. The author of Ruslan and Ludmila and Eugene Onegin.
Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821–1881), writer, one of the greatest psychologists in world literature.[236] The author of Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov.
Anton Chekhov (1860-1904) is famous for his plays and short stories. The author of The Seagull and The Cherry Orchard.
Leo Tolstoy (1828–1910), novelist and philosopher. The author of War and Peace and Anna Karenina.

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.[237] Russia's literary history dates back to the 10th century; in the 18th century its development was boosted by the works of Mikhail Lomonosov and Denis Fonvizin, and by the early 19th century a modern 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".[238]

It continued in the 19th century with the poetry of Mikhail Lermontov and Nikolay Nekrasov, dramas of Aleksandr Ostrovsky and Anton Chekhov, and the prose of Nikolai Gogol, Ivan Turgenev, Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Mikhail Saltykov-Shchedrin, Ivan Goncharov, Aleksey Pisemsky and Nikolai Leskov. 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.[239][240]

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, Russian literature came under strong influence of Symbolism 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.

Some Russian writers, like Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, are known also as philosophers, while many more authors are known primarily for their philosophical works. Russian philosophy blossomed since the 19th century, when it was defined initially by the opposition of Westernizers, advocating Russia's following the Western political and economical models, and Slavophiles, insisting on developing Russia as unique civilization.

The latter group includes Nikolai Danilevsky and Konstantin Leontiev, the early founders of eurasianism. In its further development, Russian philosophy was always marked by deep connection to literature and interest in creativity, society, politics and nationalism; cosmos and religion were other primary subjects. Notable philosopheres of the late 19th and early 20th centuries include Vladimir Solovyev, Sergei Bulgakov, Pavel Florensky and Vladimir Vernadsky. In the 20th century Russian philosophy became dominated by Marxism.

Following the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the ensuing civil war, Russian cultural life was left in chaos. Some prominent writers and philosophers, like Ivan Bunin, Vladimir Nabokov, Lev Shestov, Isaiah Berlin, Alexandre Kojève left the country, while a new generation of talented writers joined together in different organizations with the aim of creating a new and distinctive working-class culture appropriate for the new state, the Soviet Union.

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 the restrictions on literature were eased, and by the 1970s and 1980s, writers were increasingly ignoring the official guidelines. The leading authors of the Soviet era included Yevgeny Zamiatin, Isaac Babel, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Ilf and Petrov, Yury Olesha, Mikhail Bulgakov, Boris Pasternak, Mikhail Sholokhov, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Yevgeny Yevtushenko, and Andrey Voznesensky.

Cinema, animation and media

The world's oldest film school, the Russian State Institute of Cinematography in Moscow.

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.[241] Russian and later Soviet cinema was a hotbed of invention in the period immediately following the 1917, resulting in world-renowned films such as Battleship Potemkin.[242] Soviet-era filmmakers, most notably Sergei Eisenstein and Andrei Tarkovsky, would become some of the world's most innovative and influential directors.

Eisenstein was a student of filmmaker and theorist Lev Kuleshov, who developed the groundbreaking Soviet montage theory of film editing at the world's first film school, the All-Union Institute of Cinematography. 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 somewhat limited creativity, however many Soviet films in this style were artistically successful, like Chapaev, The Cranes Are Flying, and Ballad of a Soldier.[242]

1960s and 1970s saw a greater variety of artistic styles in the Soviet cinema. Eldar Ryazanov's and Leonid Gaidai's comedies of that time were immensely popular, with many of the catch phrases still in use today. In 1961-1968 Sergey Bondarchuk directed an Oscar-winning film adaptation of Tolstoy's epic War and Peace, which was the most expensive film ever made.[243] In 1969, Vladimir Motyl's White Sun of the Desert was released, a very popular film in a genre known as 'osterns'; the film is traditionally watched by cosmonauts before any trip into space.[244]

The famous Odessa Steps scene from the The Battleship Potemkin, 1925.

Russia also has a long and rich tradition of animation, which started already in the late Russian Empire times. Most of Russia's cartoon production for cinema and television was created during Soviet times, when Soyuzmultfilm studio was the largest animation producer. Soviet animators developed a great and unmatched variety of pioneering techniques and aesthetic styles, with prominent directors including Ivan Ivanov-Vano, Fyodor Khitruk and Aleksandr Tatarskiy. Soviet cartoons are still a source for many popular catch phrases, while such cartoon heroes as Russian-style Winnie-the-Pooh, cute little Cheburashka, Wolf and Hare from Nu, Pogodi! being iconic images in Russia and many surrounding countries.

The late 1980s and 1990s were a period of crisis in Russian cinema and animation. 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.[245] Russia's total box-office revenue in 2007 was $565 million, up 37% from the previous year[246] (by comparison, in 1996 revenues stood at $6 million).[245] Russian cinema continues to receive international recognition. Russian Ark (2002) was the first feature film ever to be shot in a single take. The traditions of Soviet animation were developed in the past decade by such directors as Aleksandr Petrov and studios like Melnitsa.

Russia was among the first countries to introduce radio and television. Due to the enormous size of the country Russia leads in the number of TV broadcast stations and repeaters. There were few channels in the Soviet time, but in the past two decades many new state-run and private-owned radio stations and TV channels appeared. In 2005 a state-run English language Russia Today TV started broadcasting, and its Arabic version Rusiya Al-Yaum was launched in 2007.

Modern culture

Heavy metal band Aria is one of the leading Russian rock performers.

Since the late Soviet times Russia has experienced another wave of Western cultural influence, which led to the development of many previously unknown phenomena in the Russian culture. Russia easily has adopted a number of cultural techniques, while providing its own content.

The most vivid example, perhaps, is the Russian rock music, which takes its roots both in the Western rock and roll and heavy metal, and in traditions of the Russian bards of Soviet era, like Vladimir Vysotsky and Bulat Okudzhava. Saint-Petersburg (former Leningrad), Yekaterinburg and Omsk became the main centers of development of the rock music. Popular Russian rock groups include Mashina Vremeni, DDT, Aquarium, Alisa, Kino, Nautilus Pompilius, Aria, Grazhdanskaya Oborona, Splean and Korol i Shut.

At the same time Russian pop music developed from what was known in the Soviet times as estrada into full-fledged industry, with some performers gaining international recognition, like t.A.T.u. in the West or Vitas in China. Lubeh is a very popular and unique group, harmoniously combining the elements of Western rock and roll, traditional Russian folk music and military bard music, featuring a number of rock attributes but often performing on the pop scenes.

In the past decades many new sporting activities came into Russia, including cheerleading, auto racing, snowboarding and skateboarding. Many subcultures became popular among Russian youth, like rappers, Goths, Emo, Anime fans and Live action role-playing gamers. Russian Internet, or Runet, has seen a rapid development in the last years and the rize of a variety of Internet subcultures.

Sports

Bear cub Misha, the mascot, at the closing ceremony of 1980 Summer Olympics.
Maria Sharapova, the world's highest paid female athlete.[247]

Russians have been successful at a number of sports and consistently finish in the top rankings at the Olympic Games and in other international competitions. Combining the total medals of Soviet Union and Russia, the country is second by number of gold medals at Summer Olympics and first at Winter Olympics among all nations.

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, boxers, fencers, shooters, chess players, cross country skiers, biathletes, speed skaters and figure skaters were consistently among the best in the world, along with Soviet basketball, handball, volleyball and ice hockey players. 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. Russian players Valery Kharlamov, Sergey Makarov, Vyacheslav Fetisov and Vladislav Tretiak hold 4 of 6 positions in the IIHF Team of the Century.[248] 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. At that time many prominent Russian players made their career in the NHL.

In recent years Russia has reemerged as a hockey superpower, winning back to back gold medals in the 2008 and 2009 World Championships, and overtaking team Canada as the top ranked ice hockey team in the world.[249] The KHL (Kontinental Hockey League) was founded in 2008 as a successor to the the Russian Superleague. It is seen as a rival to the NHL and is ranked the top hockey league in Europe as of 2009.[250] Bandy, known in Russian as "hockey with a ball", is another traditionally popular ice sport, with national league games averaging around 3500 spectators.[251] The Soviet Union won all the Bandy World Championships from 1957 to 1979.

During the Soviet period, Russia was also a competitive footballing nation. 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). Along with ice hockey and basketball, football is one of the most popular sports in modern Russia. In recent years, Russian football, which downgraded in 1990-s, has experienced 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). The Russian national football team reached the semi-finals of Euro 2008, losing only to eventual champions Spain.

Soviet Union dominated the sport of gymnastics for many years, with such athletes as Larisa Latynina, who currently holds a record of most Olympic medals won per person and most gold Olympic medals won by a woman. Today, Russia is leading in rhythmic gymnastics with such stars as Alina Kabayeva, Irina Tschaschina and Yevgeniya Kanayeva. Russian synchronized swimming is the best in the world, with almost all gold medals having been swept by Russians at Olympics and World Championships for more than a decade.

Figure skating is another popular sport in Russia; in the 1960s, the Soviet Union rose to become a dominant power in figure skating, especially in pair skating and ice dancing, and 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.

National holidays and symbols

Ded Moroz (Russian Santa) at his residence in Veliky Ustyug.
2008 Victory Day (9 May) parade on Moscow's Red Square. That year the participation of military equipment in the Victory Parade was reinstated.

There are seven public holidays in Russia. The New Year is the first in calendar and in popularity. Russian New Year traditions resemble those of the Western Christmas, with New Year Trees and gifts, and Ded Moroz (Father Frost) playing the same role as Santa. Rozhdestvo (Orthodox Christmas) falls on 7 January, because Russian Orthodox Church still follows the Julian (old style) calendar and all Orthodox holidays are 13 days after Catholic ones. Another two major Christian holidays are Paskha (Easter) and Troitsa (Trinity), but there is no need to recognize them as public holidays since they are always celebrated on Sunday. Kurban Bayram and Uraza Bayram are widely celebrated by Russian Muslims.

Further Russian public holidays include Defender of the Fatherland Day (23 February), which honors Russian men, especially those serving in the army; International Women's Day (8 March), which combines the traditions of Mother's Day and Valentine's Day; International Workers' Day (1 May), now renamed Spring and Labor Day; Victory Day (9 May); Russia Day (12 June); and Unity Day (4 November), commemorating the popular uprising which expelled the Polish-Lithuanian occupation force from Moscow in 1612. The latter is a replacement for the old Soviet holiday celebrating October Revolution of 1917 (again, it was falling on November because of the difference of calendars). Fireworks and outdoor concerts are common features of all Russian public holidays.

Victory Day is the second popular holiday in Russia, it commemorates the victory over Nazi Germany in World War II and is widely celebrated throughout the country. A huge military parade, hosted by the President of the Russian Federation, is annually organized in Moscow on Red Square. Similar parades are organized in all major Russian cities and the cities with the status Hero city or City of Military Glory.

Other popular holidays, which are not public, include Old New Year (New Year according to Julian Calendar on 14 January), Tatiana Day (day of Russian students on 25 January), Maslenitsa (an old pagan holiday a week before the Great Lent), Cosmonautics Day (a day of Yury Gagarin's first ever human trip into space on 12 April), Ivan Kupala Day (another pagan Slavic holiday on 7 July) and Peter and Fevronia Day (taking place on 8 July and being the Russian analogue of Valentine's Day, which focuses, however, on the family love and fidelity). On different days in June there are major celebrations of the end of the school year, when graduates from schools and universities traditionally swim in the city fountains; the local varieties of these public events include Scarlet Sails tradition in Saint Petersburg.

Russian football fans with a gigantic Go Russia! banner, featuring Russian Bear on the background of Russian flag.
Scarlet Sails celebration on the Neva river in Saint Petersburg.

State symbols of Russia include the Byzantine double-headed eagle, combined with St. George of Moscow in the Russian coat of arms; these symbols date from the Grand Duchy of Moscow time. Russian flag appeared in the late Tsardom of Russia period and became widely used since Russian Empire times. Russian anthem shares its music with the Soviet Anthem, though not the lyrics (many Russians of older generations just don't know the new lyrics and sing the old ones).

Russian imperial motto God is with us and Soviet motto Proletarians of all countries, unite! are now obsolete and no new motto has been officially introduced to replace them. Hammer and sickle and the full Soviet coat of arms are still widely seen in Russian cities as a part of old architectural decorations. The Soviet Red Stars are also encountered, often on military equipment and war memorials. The Red Banner continues to be honored, especially the Banner of Victory of 1945.

Matryoshka doll is a recognizable symbol of Russia, while the towers of Moscow Kremlin and Saint Basil's Cathedral in Moscow are main Russia's architectural symbols. Cheburashka is a mascot of Russian national Olympic team. Mary, Saint Nicholas, Saint Andrew, Saint George, Saint Alexander Nevsky, Saint Sergius of Radonezh and Saint Seraphim of Sarov are Russia's patron saints.

Chamomile is a flower that Russians often associate with their Motherland, while birch is a national tree. Russian bear is an animal symbol and national personification of Russia, though this image has Western origin and Russians themselves have accepted it fairly recently. The native Russian national personification is Mother Russia, sometimes called Mother Motherland.

Tourism

Grand Cascade in Peterhof, nicknamed Russian Versaille, a popular tourist destination in Saint Petersburg.
Seaside arbour in Sochi, a subtropical Russian resort city and the capital of 2014 Winter Olympics.

Tourism in Russia has seen rapid growth since the late Soviet times, first inner tourism and then international tourism as well. Rich cultural heritage and great natural variety place Russia among the most popular tourist destinations in the world. The country contains 23 UNESCO World Heritage Sites, while many more are on UNESCO's tentative lists.[252] Major tourist routes in Russia include a travel around the Golden Ring of ancient cities, cruises on the big rivers like Volga, and long journeys on the famous Trans-Siberian Railway.

Most popular tourist destinations in Russia are Moscow and Saint Petersburg, the current and the former capitals of the country and great cultural centers, recognized as World Cities. Moscow and Saint Petersburg feature such world-renown museums as Tretyakov Gallery and Hermitage, famous theaters like Bolshoi and Mariinsky, ornate churches like Saint Basil's Cathedral, Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, Saint Isaac's Cathedral and Church of the Savior on Blood, impressive fortifications like Moscow Kremlin and Peter and Paul Fortress, beautiful squares like Red Square and Palace Square, and streets like Tverskaya and Nevsky Prospect.

Rich palaces and parks of extreme beauty are found in the former imperial residences in suburbs of Moscow (Kolomenskoye, Tsaritsyno) and Saint Petersburg (Peterhof, Strelna, Oranienbaum, Gatchina, Pavlovsk, Tsarskoye Selo). Moscow contains a great variety of impressive Soviet era buildings along with modern scyscrapers, while Saint Petersburg, nicknamed Venice of the North, boasts of its classical architecture, many rivers, channels and bridges.

Kazan Kremlin, as well as Kazan in the whole, attracts by a rare combination of Christian Orthodox and Muslim styles

Kazan, the capital of Tatarstan, shows a unique mix of Christian Russian and Muslim Tatar cultures. The city has registered a brand The Third Capital of Russia, though a number of other major Russian cities compete for this status, like Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg and Nizhny Novgorod, all being major cultural centers with rich history and prominent architecture.

Veliky Novgorod, Pskov and the cities of Golden Ring (Vladimir, Yaroslavl, Kostroma and others) have at best preserved the architecture and the spirit of ancient and medieval Rus', and also are among the main tourist destinations. Many old fortifications (typically Kremlins), monasteries and churches are scattered throughout Russia, forming its unique cultural landscape both in big cities and in remote areas.

Mount Belukha, the highest point of Altai and Siberia, a popular alpinist site.

Typical Russian souvenirs include matryoshka doll and other handicraft, samovars for water heating, ushanka and papaha warm hats, fur clothes and other stuff. Russian vodka and caviar are among the food that attracts foreigners, along with honey, blini, pelmeni, borsch and other products and dishes. Diverse regions and ethnic cultures of Russia offer many more different food and souvenirs, and show a great variety of traditions, like Russian banya, Tatar Sabantuy, or Siberian shamanist rituals.

Matryoshka doll taken apart

The warm subtropical Black Sea coast of Russia is the site for a number of popular sea resorts, like Sochi, known for its beaches and wonderful nature. The mountains of the Northern Caucasus contain popular ski resorts, including Dombay.

The most famous natural tourist destination in Russia is lake Baikal, named the Blue Eye of Siberia. This unique lake, oldest and deepest in the world, has crystal-clean waters and is surrounded by taiga-covered mountains. Other popular natural destinations include Kamchatka with its volcanoes and geysers, Karelia with its many lakes and granite rocks, Altai with its snowy mountains and Tyva with its wild steppes.

International rankings

Rankings
Name Year Place Out of # Reference
Wall Street Journal / The Heritage FoundationIndex of Economic Freedom 2010 143rd 179 [2]

See also

References

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  252. ^ Tentative Lists

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Travel guide

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(Redirected to Russia article)

From Wikitravel

Europe : Russia
noframe
Location
noframe
Flag
noframe
Quick Facts
Capital Moscow
Government Federation, semi-presidential republic
Currency Ruble (RUB)
Area 17,075,400km2
Population 142,008,838 (2008 est.)
Language Russian (official), 26 regionally-official
Religion Russian Orthodox 70%, Muslim 24%, Other/atheist 6%
Electricity 220V / 50Hz
Calling Code 7
Internet TLD .ru (.su unused)
Time Zone UTC +2 to UTC +12

Russia, (Russian Росси́я, transliteration Rossiya) - officially known as the Russian Federation (Russian Росси́йская Федера́ция, transliteration Rossiyskaya Federatsiya) - is the world's largest country spanning Eastern Europe, and northern Asia, sharing borders with Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, China, Mongolia and North Korea.

Russia, by mind, one can't understand,
Nor measure by common yardstick.
She has of herself a build unique:
In Russia you only believe.

«Умом Россию не понять…»,
Fyodor Tyutchev, 1866

Russia is the largest country in the world by far; spanning eleven time zones, its territory covers nearly twice as much of the earth as that of the next largest country, Canada. Despite its massive size, much of the country lacks proper soils and climates (either too cold or too dry) for agriculture. Instead it has huge reserves of some of the world's most important resources (oil, gas, coal, platinum, gold, chrome, asbestos). Mount Elbrus (Gora El'brus), at 5,633 m, is Europe's, and Russia's, tallest peak.

Russia has both extensive coastlines bordering the Arctic Ocean and Northwest Pacific, as well as smaller coastlines on the Baltic, Black and Caspian Seas. Russia is bordered by Norway and Finland to the northwest, Estonia, Latvia, Belarus, and Ukraine to the west, Georgia and Azerbaijan to the southwest, Kazakhstan, China and Mongolia to the south, and North Korea to the southeast. The American state of Alaska lies opposite the easternmost point of Russia across the Bering Strait.

Russia also administers the exclave of Kaliningrad Oblast on the Baltic coast located in between Poland and Lithuania.

History

An Imperial Power

Although Russia is a very old country founded during the Middle Ages, it was not considered part of mainstream Europe until the reign of Czar Peter the Great who ruled until 1725. He was a Europhile with an empathy towards Western culture and the first Czar to visit 'Europe proper'. There is a story that while visiting Greenwich Palace in England, he was told that he looked as though he had been dragged through a hedge backwards. His reply was that he had, and in a wheelbarrow!

The Russian Empire was established in 1721, and the three hundred-year chronicle of the Romanovs, who had been in power since 1613, came to fruition. Peter the Great was one of Russia's most charismatic and forceful leaders, and he built the foundations of a new political culture. Trying to westernize the nation, he moved the capital from the old, quasi-medieval city of Moscow to the new city of Saint Petersburg, where it would remain until 1918. The Russian Empire reached its peak during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, producing many colorful and enlightened figures such as Catherine the Great, Dostoevsky, and Tolstoy. The sharp divide between the rulers and the ruled became apparent to all observers in the 19th century, and the botched attempts by the establishment to amend this ended in failure. Russia was technologically, politically and culturally far behind the rest of Europe; this would have tragic results for Czar Nicholas II and his family; the Romanov dynasty,; the Russian Empire; and, not least, the people of Russia. In 1917 the empire and the monarchy was destroyed.

Headquarters of Communism

World War I strained Imperial Russia's governmental and social institutions to the breaking point, allowing a revolution to overthrow an unpopular government and form a socialist, one-party rule, resulting in a brutal civil war lasting until late 1920. After Lenin's death in 1924, a power struggle ensued, with Josef Stalin emerging as the new leader of the Soviet Union. Stalin's brutal rule (1928-53) introduced an economic system called "socialism in one country" that rapidly industrialised the country while completely abandoning many of the idealistic collectivist principals which the revolutionaries of October 1917 had fought for. Indeed, after Stalin's ascent to power, he had most of those involved in the Revolution killed (along with millions who resisted his efforts to collectivise the agricultural sector).

World War II, from a Soviet perspective, between June 1941 and May 1945, added to the woes of the Soviet peoples and led to the deaths of 25-30 million citizens. Their alliance with the Western nations in the fight against, and eventual defeat of, Nazism was a tremendous and courageous achievement, and their capture of Berlin their greatest moment in that War.

After Stalin's death in 1953, the Soviet economy continued to grow strongly under Georgy Malenkov (1953-1955) and Nikita Khrushchev (1955-1964), focusing more resources in production of consumer goods. The Soviet Union eventually reached its political, military, and economic peak during the closing years of Leonid Brezhnev (1964-1982), but subsequent stagnation caused a crisis that would continue until General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev (1985-91) introduced glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) in an attempt to modernize the political system. His initiatives inadvertently released forces that by December 1991 splintered the USSR into 15 separate independent countries, matching those of the 15 republics of the USSR.

A Nascent Democracy

Since then, Russia has struggled in its efforts to rebuild a political system, with the old Soviet elites merely transferring their control of the country through a oligarchical market apparatus. Indeed, Russian organized crime and its links to the now explicitly market-oriented government were evident under the inept Yeltsin administration, even as political reforms were introduced. Subsequently, in recent years, the Putin government has worked hard to recentralize power, revitalise a comatose economy and stifle crime to a mere minimum, yet still well above 1990 levels. A determined guerrilla conflict still plagues Russia in Chechnya and its neighboring republics. As of 7 May 2008, Putin has transferred power to the new President Dimitri Medvedev.

Climate

Climate ranges from steppes in the south to humid continental in much of European Russia; subarctic in Siberia to tundra climate in the polar north; winters vary from cool along Black Sea coast to frigid in Siberia; summers vary from warm in the steppes to cool along the Arctic coast.

Terrain

The terrain consists of broad plains with low hills west of the Urals; vast coniferous forest and tundra in Siberia; uplands and mountains along southern border regions; mountainous and volcanic throughout much of the Russian Far East.

Russia's Federal Districts
Russia's Federal Districts
Northwestern Russia
Central Russia
Chernozemye (Black Earth)
Southern Russia
Volga Region
Urals Region
Siberia
Russian Far East
Kaliningrad Oblast


Cities

Here is a representative sample of nine Russian cities with their Anglicized and Russian Cyrillic names:

The Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg
The Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg
  • Moscow (Москва) — Russia's gargantuan capital is one of the world's greatest cities and has endless attractions to offer an adventurous visitor
  • Irkutsk (Иркутск) — the world's favorite Siberian city, located within an hour of Lake Baikal on the Trans-Siberian Railway
  • Kazan (Казань) — the world's capital of Tatar culture is an attractive city in the heart of the Volga Region with an impressive kremlin
  • Nizhny Novgorod (Нижний Новгород) — often overlooked despite being one of the largest cities in Russia, Nizhny Novgorod is well worth a visit for its kremlin, Sakharov museum, and nearby Makaryev Monastery
  • Saint Petersburg (Санкт-Петербург) — Russia's cultural and former political capital is home to the Hermitage, one of the world's best museums, while the city center is a living open air museum in its own right, making this city one of the world's top travel destinations
  • Sochi (Сочи) — Russia's favorite Black Sea beach resort has been largely unknown to foreigners, but that is set to change in a major way when it hosts the 2014 Winter Olympic Games
  • Vladivostok (Владивосток) — often referred to (somewhat ironically) as "Russia's San Francisco," full of hilly streets and battleships, this is Russia's principal Pacific city and the terminus of the Trans-Siberian Railway
  • Volgograd (Волгоград) — formerly Stalingrad, the scene of perhaps the deciding battle of World War II, and now home to a massive war memorial
  • Yekaterinburg (Екатеринбург) — the center of the Urals region and one of Russia's principal cultural centers is a good stop on the Trans-Siberian Railway and an arrival point for visitors to the Urals, the second russian financial center.
Lake Baikal, the deepest lake in the world
Lake Baikal, the deepest lake in the world
  • Kizhi — one of the most precious sites in all Russia, Kizhi Island on Lake Onega is famous for its spectacular ensemble of traditional wooden churches
  • Lake Baikal — the "pearl of Siberia" is the world's deepest and biggest lake by volume and a remarkable destination for all who love the outdoors
  • Trans-Siberian Railway — perhaps the longest train route in the world, this itinerary takes you across the entire Asian continent (and a good chunk of Europe) the long way
  • Mamayev Kurgan — overlooking the city of Volgograd, this is the memorial on site of the the twentieth century's most important battle, Stalingrad

Get in

Visas

Citizens of most non-CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States) countries must obtain a visa prior to arriving in Russia. Citizens of Croatia (3 months, invitation required), Israel (90 days), Montenegro (90 days), Cuba (30 days), Thailand (30 days), Venezuela (90 days), Argentina (90 days), Hong Kong (14 days), Japan (only for Russian islands in north of Japan) [1], Serbia (30 days, only biometric passports)[2] do not need a visa. Obtaining a Russian visa is a costly, time-consuming, and often frustrating process. Most visitors should start the process at least two months in advance, but it can be done in a few weeks if you are willing to spend a little extra. There is also a way to get a visa in just a few days, but for citizens of some countries, this will cost a couple hundred dollars. For citizens of EU countries, this will cost €130 (or less, for example USD 100 at the San Francisco consulate [3]) and take three days (or even the next day), instead of the usual 4-10 days.

The Invitation

There are number of ways to get a Russian visa, but first of all, you will need an official invitation. The type of visa you receive (see below) depends on the type of invitation that has been issued to you.

The tourist invitation (also called reservation confirmation [4]) is a letter of confirmation of booking and pre-payment of your accommodation and travel arrangements in Russia. You will also need a tourist voucher [5]. These two documents can be obtained from your tour operator if you book a package tour, a government approved hotel in Russia, an on-line hotel booking service or through a Russian travel agency. The sign of government approval is a so called "consular reference," the government registration number with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia. Only hotels and travel agencies that have a consular reference can issue the confirmations valid for visa purposes.

Using a local Visa Service to obtain a Russian Visa may streamline the process. They will double check your application and invitation, go to the embassy for you and return your passport to you. This saves a lot of time and frustration.

It should be noted that tricks and work-arounds such as booking one night in a hotel and getting a visa for 30 days with the paper received from the hotel won't work. Hotels only issue invitations for the length of time you are a guest with them, and the visa will be issued to match the dates of the invitation. However, some travel agencies will issue a confirmation for a fee, without actually collecting the accommodation pre-payment. The legality of such actions are in question and there is a bit of controversy about this. The price for this service is usually USD 30 [6] but since hotels tend charge the same amount[7], it makes sense to obtain the travel voucher and tourist invitation/reservation confirmation directly from the hotel you'll be staying at.

Travelers who plan to stay in more than one hotel would be best advised to seek an invitation through a travel agency rather than a hotel directly to ensure that the invitation will cover the entire length of your stay.

The general steps for obtaining a Russian visa can be found [8]. However, Russian Embassies and Consulates are inconsistent and unreliable. For example, depending on the embassy, they may or may not issue visas by mail or in-person only and may not accept faxed/e-mailed copies of the invitation in lieu of the original. Check with the embassy in before hand.

If you have friends or relatives in Russia you could ask them to sponsor you for a private/homestay visa. They would need to seek an invitation through their local Passport and Visa Division of the Federal Migration Service (formerly OVIR). The problem with these invitations is their tendancy to take a least a month to process. The inviting individual also becomes solely responsible for all your activities while in Russia and can be penalized heavily if something were to go wrong. Because of this, personal invitations are usually not available for a fee through the net.

A business visa requires an entirely different type of invitation. Business invitations are issued by the government and many Russian consulates require the original hard copy (though some will accept a faxed copy. Again, check with the consulate before applying). Obtaining a business invitation is another time consuming and costly process. Any registered company in Russia can apply for a business invitation for a foreign national at the visa and passport office in Russia. It normally takes 4 to 6 weeks to receive one. Some travel agencies in Russia can help with obtaining a business invitation. Business visas are a lot more flexible than tourist visas as they are usually valid for multiple entries and last for up to 12 months.

Business visas have their own particular nuances about how long the visa holder may stay in Russia. Following the introduction of new rules on October 17, 2007, a 12-month Russian business visa (and some other types as well) will only entitle the holder to spend 90 days of the two 180-day periods of validity of the visa within Russia. In addition, should a visitor on a business visa spend 90 consecutive days within the RF, then they will not be allowed to re-enter Russia until a further period of 90 days has passed. This therefore limits the maximum time that may be spent in Russia on a one-year business visa (and some other types of visa) to just 180 days. Other rules were simultaneously introduced placing restrictions on where visas may be obtained by foreign nationals to enter Russia and how frequently the person must leave Russian territory and obtain a new registration on re-arrival.

Invitations for student visas are issued by the educational institution where you plan to study. Most universities and language schools are familiar with the process.

Some Russian local governments have a right to invite foreigners for cultural exchanges by sending a TELEX to the Embassy or Consulate of Russia overseas, requesting the visa be issued to a particular foreigner or group of foreigners. Such TELEW messages are used instead of an invitation. This is normally the way to go if you are invited by the government.

Receiving the Visa

Once you have an invitation you can apply for a visa. The standard price charged by the Russian Consulate for a visa is $100 for most countries ($130 for United States citizens), plus (in some countries) $20 for returning your passport via FedEx (tip: you can avoid the $20 mailing fee if you bring a self-addressed FedEx envelope). EU citizens pay €35 for most kinds of visas, thanks to a reciprocal visa agreement. In order to get a visa you will need a visa application, two passport-size photos, an invitation, and a valid passport. At some Russian border crossings (usually depending on the bordering country) travellers will need to carry two money orders for $100/$130 and $20, as some Russian Consulates do not accept credit cards or personal checks. At other crossings you will need a credit/debit card because the Russian consulates in these countries don't accept money orders, cash or cheques. At some crossings you will need to send all of these to any Russian consulate and wait for few weeks. Some crossings will require that you visit the consulate yourself to submit your application, wait for one week, and then pick it up in person at the consulate (if the consulate doesn't allow mail applications) (referring to a Russian law)[9]. Make sure to check your local Russian consulate's web site. Be prepared for each of these potential payment methods and find out information about the expected payment methods at the border(s) you intend to cross.

Tourist, homestay, and transit visas are issued for one or two entries, and tourist and homestay visas are limited to a visit of 30 days. Transit visas are typically for one to ten days. Other visa categories can be issued for more than two entries as required.

Once you have a visa in hand, check all the dates and information for errors and make sure your name and passport number are correct. It's much easier to correct mistakes before you travel than after you arrive!

Arrival, Customs and Registration

Non-Russian citizens, upon arrival in Russia, will be expected to fill in two copies of the migration card, which is sometimes only available in Cyrillic characters (translations into English and German are available on Lufthansa and Aeroflot). Passport control officers will tear off one half of the migration card and leave you with the other half, and it should be stamped. Keep track of this card as you will need it to register your visa and for your departure from Russia. Not being able to present a migration card when leaving Russia can result in fines and can potentially result in a wait of several days while the authorities decide what to do with you.

Upon entry the passport control officer will also note on your migration card how long you are permitted to remain in Russia. It may not be the same as the validity period of your visa. For example, if you have a thirty-day visa but cannot show that you have the means or sponsorship to remain for the full thirty days, passport control may mark an earlier departure date on your migration card.

Those who enter Russia with valuable electronic items or musical instruments (especially violins that look antique and expensive), antiques, large amounts of currency, or other such items are required to declare those items on the customs entry card and must insist on having the card stamped by a customs officer upon arrival. Even if the customs officer advises that it is not necessary to declare such items, the traveler does have the right to insist on a stamp on his declaration. Having this stamp may prevent considerable hassle (fines, confiscation) upon departure from Russia should the customs agent at departure decide that an item should have been declared upon entry.

You must register your stay within three business days of arrival in country, and within three days of arriving in each new city. If you have an active itinerary and are not staying in any one place for three days, you must register at least once in the first city you visit. Your sponsor (the one who issued the invitation) is responsible for registering you. If you are staying in a hotel, the hotel is also obliged to register you for the length of your stay with them at a minimum. If the hotel fails to register you, there might be a possibility to register in a post office. That however might NOT apply to tourist visas, in which case registering a visa might cost around €25 (e.g. in St. Peterburg).

This can be viewed by tourists as a very dismal law, but travellers must understand that Russia experiences a very high level of illegal immigration (generally from Central Asian countries such as Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, as well as parts of North Korea, and northern areas of China). Debates continue as to how to go about controlling workforce migration from these regions, but registration remains the current means utilized by Russian authorities. There is no exemption from this law (hopefully there will be in a near future), so regardless of your nationality you will be required to register.

Staying in Russia

Russian law doesn't require you to carry your passport and registration card with you, but should you fail to provide a valid ID to a police officer upon request they have l right to hold you for up to 3 hours for "identification purposes". Because of the commonality of these random passport checks it is recommended that you carry your passport with you at all times. This generally applies to more populated areas like Moscow due to the higher immigrational influx larger cities; in other rural and less populated urban areas passport checks occur quite rarely. It is also good to have a copy of your passport, visa, and migration card in case you happen to come across a dishonest/corrupt police officer. It's much harder to randsom a copy of a passport than it is the original, and you can always make another copy. Just remember that a photocopy of your passport is not recognized as a valid ID by Russian law, so having a copy doesn't always help.

Keep in mind that if you have no documents you can be held for up to 3 hours, but not arrested. If the worst should happen and you are detained by police officers, there is no circumstance that should lead to you being put behind bars and/or deprived of your belongings (such as mobile phone or any other) - you can be taken to a police station, where you'll end up sitting on a chair in a normal room while police "identify" you, but again, this rarely happens. Like most countries, you can be arrested if you are suspected of having committed a crime, but being unable to provide an ID is not considered a crime by Russian law and there is no penalty for such an infraction. No physical force can be applied to you while being detained, unless you apply it first. If you happen to be stopped just remember to be confident and remember that it is prohibited by law for a police officer to even shout at you. Make no mistake, Russia is not a military country, and passport checks are around primarily to identify illegal immigration from neighboring countries. Western-looking, caucasian people are very rarely asked for their IDs on the street.

One more usefull tip to remember is that most Russian police officers don't speak English at all, so don't assume the worst by immediately showing them official documents. Attempting to receive a bribe from a tourist only works if you feel threatened or nervous. In most cases they'll just let it slide and wish you a farewell.

Departure from Russia

Russian law is very strict about the amount of time one can stay in Russia on a visa. You may never arrive before the entry date on your visa (you can always arrive later), and you may not depart after the exit date on your visa (likewise, you can always leave earlier). If you overstay – even by a few minutes – you will likely be prohibited from leaving until you obtain a valid exit visa. This requires an intervention by your sponsor, a payment of a fine for breaking the visa regime, and a wait of up to three weeks.

Be especially careful if your flight or train leaves after midnight, because the border guards will not let you depart if you're leaving even 10 minutes after your visa expires! For example, several travelers have had problems when they've boarded a Helsinki-bound train on their day their visa expires, but their train doesn't cross the Finnish border until after midnight. This is because Russia requires one to have an exit visa in order to leave the country. Normally, the exit visa is included in an entry visa for tourists and business... so long as the visa is valid. Other classes require a separate exit visa, and such can take up to three weeks to process.

You must present your passport, visa, and migration card at the border in order to depart. If you've lost your migration card, often you will be able to get by with just paying a nominal fine. If you've lost your passport, your embassy can replace that for you (maybe not instantly), and your sponsor, not your embassy, must apply to the Federal Migration Service to transfer your visa to your replacement passport. Having a copy of your old visa helps with this process, but it is not sufficient to let you depart.

If your overstay was due to reasons such as medical problems, though, the Federal Migration Service may instead issue a Home Return Certificate rather than an exit visa, which is valid to depart Russia within ten days of issue.

Exit and reentry during the time of your visa requires permits. Getting these permits is a Kafkaesque bureaucratic nightmare best avoided entirely by spending more money in advance for a multiple entry visa.

By plane

Moscow and Saint Petersburg are served by direct flights from most European capitals, and Moscow also has direct flights many cities in East Asia, South Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and North America. US non-stop flights from the United States to Russia are offered by Delta (from New York and Atlanta to Moscow, Sheremetyevo) American Airlines (From Chicago to Moscow, Domodedovo), United Airlines (from Washington to Moscow, Domodedovo) and Aeroflot (from New York, Washington and Los Angeles to Moscow, Sheremeryevo). There are also non-stop services offered from Toronto and Montreal, Canada to Moscow, Domodedovo operated by Transaero. Please, mind that there are 3 international airports in Moscow: Sheremetyevo (SVO) in the northwest, Domodedovo (DME) in the south and Vnukovo (VKO) in the southwest. Getting between these airports is quite challenging, because there are no means of rapid transfer between them, so if you are planning a transfer trip, mind airports for all your flights. Usual taxi fee for a trip between any of airports is about RUB 1500, which is expensive unless you travel not alone. You can, of course, use public means of transportation which are much cheaper (ranging from RUB 200 to RUB 500 per person depending on means you choose), but if you don't speak Russian at all and first time in the country - you better think twice before attempting that, you might easily get lost. Sheremetyevo is an old airport built for Summer Olympics in Moscow in 1980 and hasn't experienced any renewal so far. Things are to change with the new terminal which is currently scheduled to become operational in August, 2009. Domodedovo is the newest airport: it's a high-class modern airport, so you'd be better off choosing flights bound for it. Vnukovo is a much smaller airport and is generally operated by low-cost airlines. There are airports in all large cities in Russia. Some international service can be found in: Novosibirsk, Sochi, Vladivostok, Kaliningrad, Ekaterinburg. International service to other destinations is much more limited.

Local airlines are listed in Get around.

Low-cost air-lines from Europe:

From Austria:

  • NIKI [10] flies to Moscow (Domodedovo International Airport [11]) from Vienna (Vienna International Airport). Approximate one-way price — €99.

From Germany:

  • Air Berlin [12] flies to Moscow (Domodedovo International Airport) from Berlin (Berlin Tegel), Duesseldorf (Düsseldorf International), Munich (Franz Josef Strauss Airport) and Stuttgart (Stuttgart Airport). There is also a connection from Berlin (Berlin Tegel) to Saint Petersburg (Pulkovo Airport). Approximate one-way price — €110
  • Germanwings [13] flies to Moscow (Vnukovo International Airport) from Berlin (Berlin Schönefeld), Cologne (Köln Bonn Airport), Hamburg (Hamburg Airport) and Stuttgart (Stuttgart Airport). There are also connections from Berlin (Berlin Schönefeld) and Cologne (Köln Bonn Airport) to Saint Petersburg (Pulkovo Airport). Approximate one-way price — US$100.

From Italy:

  • Evolavia [14] flies to Moscow (Domodedovo International Airport) from Ancona (Raffaello Sanzio Airport) on Wednesday. Approximate one-way price — €140.
  • Wind jet [15] flies to Moscow (Domodedovo International Airport) from Catania (Fontanarossa International Airport), Forlì (L. Ridolfi), Palermo and Verona. Approximate one-way price — €90.

From Norway:

  • Norwegian [16] flies to Saint Petersburg (Pulkovo Airport [17]) from Oslo (Oslo Airport). Approximate one-way price — €94.

From Spain:

  • clickair [18] flies to Moscow (Domodedovo International Airport) from Barcelona (Barcelona Airport). Approximate one-way price — €179.
  • vueling [19] also files to Moscow (Domodedovo International Airport) from Barcelona (Barcelona Airport). One-way fare €110-€180 if booked in advance.

Cheaper ways to get to Moscow from the Middle East, India, South-East Asia and Australia:

From/via United Arab Emirates

  • Emirates [20] flies from Dubai to Domodedovo International Airport. New jets, high quality, a little pricey but sometimes they have really cheap sales. A good option to connect if flying from India, South-East Asia or Australia.
  • Etihad [21] flies from Abu Dhabi to Domodedovo International Airport. Relatively new player on the highly competitive market of Europe to Asia/Australia connections. Offers one-way fares which are just slightly more expensive than a half of the return fare (also, return price generally does not become higher in case of a longer stay up to 1 year), the strategy otherwise employed almost exclusively by low-cost airlines. Offers very competitive rates also, especially for the connecting flights.

From/via Qatar

  • Qatar Airways [22], another player on the Middle Eastern intercontinental connections market, files from Doha to Domodedovo International] airport. One of just 5 airlines of the world rated by Skytrax as 5-star. Nevertheless, connecting airfares from Asia are often quite modest.

Moscow Sheremetyevo Airport (SVO) has different terminals for international and domestic flights. They are located one in front of the other just with the runway in-between, so the effective distance between them is about 5 miles, because you have to take the roundabout road. Shuttle and regular busses between terminals are available for RUB 50, but finding and embarking one may be challenging for a non-Russian speaker. Usual fixed taxi fee is about RUB 800, but beware that a taxi driver can bargain up to 5 times more if he smells that you are a first-timer and might have no knowledge about the things. Make no mistake, domestic terminal is even older than the international one, it was built in 1960s, and you might find yourself in a place you've probably never seen in your life before. This is a kind of terminal that your grandparents used to experience when they were of your age. So, the bottom line is that you'd be better off doing your best to avoid Sheremetyevo airport by all means if you are planning a transfer trip and take flights that operate from Domodedovo airport, where both international and domestic terminals are modern ones and located under the same roof.

By train

Train service is usually reliable. You can get a direct train from many cities in Eastern and Central Europe to Moscow and sometimes Saint Petersburg. Helsinki, Tallinn, Riga, Berlin, Budapest and Warsaw are all possible departure points with daily services to Russia. There is also service from Moscow to all of the Central Asian countries (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, & Uzbekistan) at least 2-3 times per week and is rather long (3.5-5 days). There is service from Moscow to Baku, Azerbaijan (3 days); however, the Azerbaijan-Russia border is only open to CIS passport holders. The Trans-Siberian Railway spans the entire country and connects with Chinese cities such as Beijing and Harbin, as well as Mongolia's Ulaanbaatar. There is also a very infrequent service from Moscow to Pyongyang, North Korea (essentially the Trans-Siberian plus a short link from Vladivostok to Pyongyang).

Most long distance trains have 3 types of cars: soft sleeper for 2 (СВ' pronounced ES-VE, not in all trains), soft sleeper for 4 (купе - kupe, most common) and hard sleeper with open compartment for 6 (плацкарт - platskart). For details on domestic Russian trains, see below in the Get around: By train section.

By car

Traveling in Russia by car can be difficult. Roads may be poorly marked, if marked at all, and poorly maintained, especially outside the cities and towns. Car rental services are only starting to develop in major cities such as Moscow or Saint Petersburg, and are expensive.

Crossing the border by car is a peculiar entertainment.

There is no doubt that car travel is the best way to see the country, but it is a risky enterprise which is recommended only for the brave and capable.

Russian highways have highway patrol police (GAI) roadblock every 20 km or so. If you have an international license plate, prepare to pay a bribe ($5-$20) in some of the most corrupt regions (e.g., in the Caucasus). Russian traffic rules are very numerous and you will be found violating some of them. If you decide not to pay, at best you should expect to spend several hours at every road block.

Service is scarce and poor, and the countryside can be quite dangerous without experience and fluency in the Russian language.

It is possible to travel safely by car in Russia using a private licensed guide. Traveling independently is not recommended, especially for the non-Russian speaker. Guides generally provide their own cars or vans and know the roads, the customs and the countryside making seeing small towns and historic sites possible.

By bus

A few bus companies, most notably Eurolines, operate international coach services from a number of destinations to Moscow and Saint Petersburg. Tallinn, Helsinki, Riga, Vilnius, Warsaw and Berlin all have regular services to Russia.

  • Ferry services operate in the summer between Sochi and Turkey's Trabzon. In Vladivostok there is a scheduled ro-ro ferry to Busan and numerous lines to the different Japanese ports, however they are mostly oriented to the used Japanese car imports and less to tourism. Cruise ships are also call to Russian ports frequently.

There is also a weekly ferry service between Karlskrona in Sweden and Kaliningrad.

Get around

By train

Russia has an extensive rail network linking nearly every city and town. For intercity travel, the train is generally the most convenient option for trips that can be covered overnight. Although accommodations may not be the best, Russian trains have efficient and courteous staff as well as timely departures and arrivals that would impress even a German. The train is an option for longer trips (many Russians continue to use it for trips of 2 days or more), but mainly if you appreciate the nuances and experience of train travel in Russia. For the complete Russian rail experience, the one-week Trans-Siberian Railway has no equal.

Russian trains are divided into types: Long-distance (дальнего следования DAHL'nyehvuh SLEHduhvahnyah) trains generally cover trips more than about 4 hours or 200 kilometers (120 miles). Take a look at the Russian long-distance rail timetable. [23] [24] [25] Shorter distances are covered by the commuter trains (пригородные PREEguhruhdnyyeh), which are popularly called электрички ehlehkTREECHkee. Most train stations (железнодорожный вокзал zhehlyehznohduhROHZHny vahgZAHL) have separate areas for selling tickets for these types.

Most long-distance trains are set up for overnight travel. In these trains, three main kinds of cars are available. The third class car is called platzcart (плацкартный вагон) and is set up with unwalled compartments of four fold out beds opposite two beds on the window wall. These compartments are generally less safe than other classes, but provide for a much more immersive experience. Also, woman travellers sometimes prefer the platzcart to other classes where they might end up in a closed compartment with other male strangers (Russian trains have separate compartments for males and females, if you ask for that when you buy a ticket).

The second class is called coupe (купейный вагон - koopYAYny vahgOHN) and consists of private compartments of four each. The first class is called SV, and consists of compartments for two persons.

Note that several Russian trains, including many international routes, have only 1st and 2nd class available.

Tickets can be bought at the train station, at travel agencies and online. E-tickets can be purchased on Russian Railways website [26] (Russian language only) or at www.RussianTrains.com [27] (English language, but prices are 30-50% higher).

Most stations have a large room called a KASsovyi Zal where tickets are sold. Lines vary widely - some stations are much better organized than others nowadays, and it also depends on the season. If you find the lines unbearably long, it's usually not hard to find an agency that sells train tickets. Commission rates are generally not prohibitive. (For instance, buying your ticket to Saint Petersburg from Moscow, it is much better to walk a flight of steps from the ordinary ticketing office - there are no queues upstairs and R140 is a small premium to pay for this service).

Conductors always provide free water in samovars in every car and will usually sell you tea and lend you a mug and spoon for about 10 rubles, or 35 cents. Most long-distance trains also have dining cars.

For example, Moscow-Vladivostok train coupe ticket in may 2009 was 10791 rub ($327) and SV ticket 29710 rub ($900). Travel time is 148 hours.

Moscow-Saint Petersburg train chair ticket was 400-600 rub, platzcart ticket - 600-700 rub, coupe - 1200-2000 rub (lux coupe - 2000-4000 rub), SV - 13000-18000 rub. Travel time is about 8 hours. Note that there are more types of train between the two capitals than between any other two cities in Russia. Apart from ordinary trains, there are rapid trains (ЭР-200 and The Nevsky Express) that run by day only and cover the 650 km between Moscow and Saint Petersburg in 4 hours. Some of the overnight trains are quite luxurious - these include the traditional The Red Arrow service and the newer, fake-Czarist-era Nikolaevsky Express, complete with attendants in 19-century uniforms. Sheets, towels and prepacked breakfasts are included in all the better trains. Shared bathroom facilities are located at the end of the train car. There are special hatches that one may use to secure the door of the compartment from the inside during the night.

Moscow-Saint Petersburg Express Train takes 5 hours of travel and costs 1100 rubles. Trains are only slightly air conditioned (average temperature inside is about 80 degrees farenheit). No one in the Moscow train station speaks any English, so if you are not familiar enough with Russian to purchase your train ticket in person, it is suggested that you purchase online or through your hotel concierge or travel agent before you depart. Also, note that all signage inside the train station is in Russian only, so finding your correct platform can be challenging. The dining car of the express train is nicely appointed with real table linens, and an impressive menu and wine list, but is 3 to 4 times more expensive than eating in the city before and after you travel.

When going through the countryside in the South of the country or in Siberia locals will sell food and liquor at pretty reasonable prices. Often babushkas will even be selling pre-made meals. Frequently, traders will walk through the traincars between stops and sell everything from crockery to clothes to Lay's chips.

Tickets can be bought at the train station, at travel agencies and online on Russian railways website - if you chose the latter option, you will have to pick up the actual ticket at the staion. Most stations have a large room called a KASsovyi Zal where tickets are sold. Lines vary widely - some stations are much better organized than others nowadays, and it also depends on the season. If you find the lines unbearably long, it's usually not hard to find an agency that sells train tickets. Commission rates are generally not prohibitive. (For instance, buying your ticket to Saint Petersburg from Moscow, it is much better to walk a flight of steps from the ordinary ticketing office - there are no queues upstairs and R140 is a small premium to pay for this service).

The commuter trains are mostly hard-seat train cars. You don't get a designated seat number - you just find space on a bench. These trains have a notorious reputation for being overcrowded, though this has declined somewhat. The trains make very frequent stops and are rather slow. For example, a 200 km trip to Vladimir takes about 3 1/2 hours. Also, they don't have toilets.

Tickets for commuter trains are sold in a separate room from the long-distance trains, and are sometimes sold from stalls located outside.

A few very popular routes, mostly between Moscow and nearby cities such as Vladimir, Yaroslavl, Tula, and others have an express commuter train that is considerably more comfortable. Your ticket will have a designated seat number and the seats are reasonably comfortable. The trains travel to their destination directly and are thus considerably faster.

Note that all long-distance trains in Russia run on Moscow time (which may be up to 9 hours off local time in the Far East).

By bus

Most Russian cities have bus links to cities as far as 5-6 hours away or further. Though generally less comfortable than the train, buses sometimes are a better option time-wise and are worth looking into if the train timetables don't suit you. A small number of cities, notably Suzdal, are not served by train, and thus bus is the only option besides a car.

The Russian word for bus station is Avtovokzal (Ahv-tuh-vuhg-ZAHL). Most cities have just one for long distance buses and the state buses depart from there. However, in Moscow and in some other Russian cities, a number of commercial buses are available, and they generally don't depart from the bus station. Quite often, you'll see commercial buses near train stations. Sometimes they run on schedules, though for popular routes (such as Moscow-Vladimir, Moscow/Yaroslavl, etc.) the buses simply wait to fill up. On these buses payment is usually to the driver.

Russian buses have luggage storage, but if it's an old Eastern-bloc bus, you may find your luggage wet at the end of the trip.

By plane

The tremendous distances of Russia make plane travel highly desirable if you plan to travel to some of Russia's more far-flung attractions. It's worth considering for any destination that is farther than an overnight train ride. Travelling across Russia by train can sound awfully romantic, but it's also time-consuming and rather monotonous. Nearly every major destination of interest has an airport nearby. The great majority of domestic flights are to/from Moscow, but other services exist.

The Russian domestic airline industry had an abominable reputation in the 90s due to uncertain safety records, unreliable timetables, terrible service, uncomfortable airplanes, and substandard airports. Substantial improvements have been made, however. Plane travel in Russia is unlikely to be the highlight of your trip but it has become tolerable.

  • Aeroflot [28] based at Sheremetyevo airport [29], Moscow, is Russia's national airline for local Russian and CIS flights and international flights to worldwide cities (Germany, South Korea, US, etc.). Flights from St. Petersburg back into Moscow run only $57 USD (May 2009) and makes this less expensive and less time consuming than taking the train. Note that you will arrive in Terminal 1 (domestic terminal), so if you are flying out of the country, you will have to commute to Terminal 2 (about 5 km and a 15 ruble bus ride). Many international flights and some internal ones are operated by Boeing and Airbus aircraft, in addition to the remaining Soviet-era fleet.
  • Transaero [30], based at the second biggest in Moscow area Domodedovo airport [31]. , Moscow (across the city from Sheremetyevo) is an independent airline with Boeing aircraft which operates to major cities in Russia and the CIS, and to a few western destinations.
  • S7 airlines (ex-Siberia or Sibir Airlines) [32] Russia's largest domestic carrier with international service to many cities in Germany, China and ex-Soviet republics.
  • Rossiya Airlines (ex-Pulkovo Airlines) [33] has a substantial network based at St Petersburg Pulkovo airport [34] to both major cities in Russia, and to western Europe.

Other major airlines include: KrasAir [35] (under heavy reorganization after being nearly bankrupt) and UTair [36]. Many of these airlines (apart from Transaero, which started as an independent operation) were formed out of the onetime-Aeroflot operation at their home city from Soviet times when the old Aeroflot was broken up.

In March 2009, Rosaviation (federal aviation regulator) has published stats on average delays of departure in 2008, broken down by domestic airline:

  • maximal delays in departure are reported for: Alrosa Avia (40% flights were delayed for 2 hours or more), Moskoviya (17%), Dagestan Airlines (16%), Red Wings (14%), SkyExpress (13%), VIM-Avia (12%), Yakutia (10%)
  • minimal delays are reported for: Aeroflot-Russian airlines, S7/Sibir, Rossia, UTair and UTair-Express, Aeroflot-Nord, Aeroflot-Don, Kuban Airlines, Yamal, Saratov Airlines, Transaero, Tatarstan

By thumb

Russia has a very lively hitchhiking culture, with many hitchhiking clubs, there is even an Academy of Hitchhiking. There are many competitions. Despite horror stories about bad things happening in Russia, it is relatively safe to hitchhike, especially in the countryside. In some regions Russians expect a little bit of money for a ride.

Ecotourism

The association between Russia and its two biggest metropolises, Moscow and St Petersburg, is strong in the minds of tourists, but given its vast expanses and low population density, Russia is a nature lovers paradise as well. Russia has a network of exceptional natural areas, comprising 35 National Parks and 100 Nature Reserves (zapovednik) covering a total land mass larger than Germany. List of Russian Nature Reserves (in Russian) one can find here [38]

Some Russian Nature Reserves on the internet:

  • The Great Arctic State Nature Reserve [39]
  • Central Forest State Nature Bioshere Reserve [40]
  • Ilmen State Reserve [41]

Provided your paperwork is in order, you may visit these areas independently. For those wishing to seek guidance, there are travel agencies specializing in ecotourism in Russia such as:

Talk

Russian is the official language, so wherever you go in Russia, you'll find someone who speaks it. English is becoming a requirement in the business world, and younger people especially will often know enough to communicate, but by no means is English universally understood and spoken. In upscale hotels almost the entire staff has a working knowledge of foreign languages (including English).

You will not learn the language in a short time; concentrate on learning some key "courtesy" phrases, and the Cyrillic alphabet (e.g. "ресторан" spells "restaurant") so you have a chance to recognize street names, labels and public signs.

Russia has hundreds of languages and supports most of them, sending linguists to document them and invent (mostly - in 1920-1960) writing systems for them (all Cyrillic, of course) and making them local official languages. The southern border is lined with Turkic, Mongolian, and Tungusic; the northern with Finnic and Samoyed. The southwest corner has a variety of Caucasian languages; the northeast has the few Chukotko-Kamchatkan languages.

The Russian Orthodox religion is one of the oldest branches of Christianity in the world and continues to have a very large following, despite having been repressed during the communist period. The language spoken in Russian Orthodox church services is Old Church Slavonic, which differs considerably from the modern version and Russian itself.

  • MatRYOshka (матрёшка) - a collection of traditionally painted wooden dolls, each one stacking neatly within another
  • USHANka (ушанка) - a warm hat with ears (ushi)
  • SamoVAR (самовар) - an indigenous design for brewing tea. Note that when purchasing samovars of value (historical, precious gems or metal, etc.), it is wise to check with customs before attempting to take it out of the country
  • Chocolate (шоколад) - Russian chocolate is very good
  • Winter coats in department stores are well made, stylish and excellent values
  • Military greatcoats (sheeNEL) available in hard-to-find stores of military equipment
  • Down pillows of very high quality are to be found
  • HalVA (халва) - it's different from the Turkish kind (in that it's made of sunflower seeds, rather than sesame), but Rot-Front products are really good
  • Honey (мёд) - produced around the country; sorts and quality vary dramatically, but the higher-quality are worth seeking. Moscow hosts a honey market in Kolomenskoe some part of the year. A number of honey shops working all the year round can be found on VDNKh/VVTs grounds.
  • Caviar (икра), only red since 2007 (producing and selling black caviar is prohibited for ecological reasons) most easy to find in large stores (but maybe not the best one)
  • Hard cheese - mostly produced in Altai; occasionally available from there in large stores in Moscow
  • Sparkling wine (шампанское) - Sparkling wine, "Russian Champagne" is surprisingly good (Abrau-Durso is believed to be the best brand, yet there are other good ones, too). Make sure you order it "suKHOye" (dry) or Brut. Many restaurants serve it at room temperature, but if you request it "cold" they can usually find a semi-chilled bottle. The cost is surprisingly low also, about $10 USD
  • Many more traditional crafts

Money

The official currency of Russia is the ruble (рубль) (RUB), divided into 100 kopeks (копеек), introduced in 1998 (although all notes and first issues of coins bear the year 1997). All pre-1998 currency is obsolete.

Coins are issued in 1, 5, 10, and 50 kopek and 1, 2, 5, and 10 (uncommon) ruble denominations. Banknotes come in 5, 10, 50, 100, 500, 1000, and 5000 ruble values. The 5-ruble note is not issued anymore and is very rare in circulation. The 1 and 5 kopek coins are of little use, as their value is low; in many stores prices are rounded up to the nearest 10 kopeks and many people refuse to accept these coins. As of April 15, 2009, one US dollar is equal to 33.39 rubles and one euro is equal to 44.45 rubles.

All banknotes have special marks (dots and lines in relief) to aid the blind in distinguishing values.

Checks: Forget about travelers' checks (only some banks, such as Sberbank, will cash even American Express), and bring enough cash to last you for a few days, as occasionally communications networks handling ATM and credit card transactions are not available (as elsewhere in the world).

Sberbank will cash American Express without comission. In touristy areas and larger cities ATMs are in abundance.

Rubles only: All payments in Russia are officially made in rubles. It's very easy to find currency exchange offices (called bureaus in Saint Petersburg) throughout Russia. Banks and small currency exchange bureaus offer very good rates; hotels and casinos are generally expensive and thus not recommended. You need to show your passport at banks. Be sure to take your time to count how much money you got - different ways are sometimes used to trick the customer.

Small window-in-the-wall offices abound in Moscow and Saint Petersburg but are rare in other cities. They usually offer better exchange rates but don't require identification nor provide any receipts in most cases. Branches of large banks can be found in any major city, and Sberbank outlets are a must in any village down to rayonny centr. Branches of banks are more trustworthy for not-so-attractive rates, and exchange session would last longer requiring a passport and giving you all the receipts you can imagine.

Window-in-the-wall exchanges frequently attract clients by declaring rates for amounts >$1000 / >EUR1000 (but stating this in small font). Rates for smaller amounts are demonstrated only in the window itself and are typically less attractive than even at regular banks. Frequently, people don't notice that rates are different. To make the difference even less evident, rates are set exactly 1.0 rouble different, like 34.18 and 35.18 per Euro. Another trick used by windows-in-the-walls is a tray that makes 1-2 banknotes stick so they become hidden from you. Always check the amounts you are given. Many exchange bureaus will also convert other currencies beyond USD and EUR, although often the rate is not as good. You can compare rates if you buy USD/EUR in your country and sell them in Russia vs direct exchanges from your local currency to roubles at [43]--it displays exchange rates for cash in Moscow for every currency exchanged in Russia.

You will have easier time changing money if your banknotes are absolutely clean, and dollars should be the most recent updated design, as few places will accept the older versions.

Don't change money on the street. Unlike during Soviet times, there is no advantage to dealing with an unofficial vendor. There are several advanced schemes of scam for exchange on the street - better not give them a try.

ATMs / bank machines also called bankomats are common and convenient in Moscow and Saint Petersburg. Other large cities also have them but many times there are restrictions on foreign cards. They usually offer services in multiple languages, and some give out U.S. dollars or local currency. In smaller towns and villages they are often difficult to find or non-existent. Russian ATMs will often limit withdrawals to about USD$1,000 per day. Big hotels are good places to find them.

In Moscow and Saint Petersburg more and more shops, restaurants, and services take credit cards. Visa/MasterCard are more accepted than American Express; Discover, Diners Club and other cards are rarely accepted. Most upscale establishments will accept credit cards, but beyond these it is pure chance.

Museums and sightseeing places take only cash, no credit cards. Have plenty of cash on hand each day to cover entrance fees, photographic fees (museums charge a fee for cameras and video recorders), tours, souvenirs, meals and transportation.

Train Stations outside of major cities only accept rubles also. In Moscow and St Petersburg you can pay by card at some ticket counters - look out for the Visa/Master Card stickers on the windows. The ATM machines at the train station are often out of cash, so obtain your rubles in the city (where ATM's appear on practically every corner) before you go to the train station.

It's better to avoid street ATMs (or at least to be very careful), as sometimes swindlers attach spy devices to them, to get your PIN and card details; the safest option is the ATMs in hotels, banks or big shopping centers.

Blini buckwheat pancakes with salmon roe (ikra), sour cream (smetana) and chopped onion
Blini buckwheat pancakes with salmon roe (ikra), sour cream (smetana) and chopped onion
Pelmeni meat dumplings with three dipping sauces
Pelmeni meat dumplings with three dipping sauces

Russian cuisine derives its rich and varied character from the vast and multicultural expanse of Russia. Its foundations were laid by the peasant food of the rural population in an often harsh climate, with a combination of plentiful fish, poultry, game, mushrooms, berries, and honey. Crops of rye, wheat, buckwheat, barley, and millet provided the ingredients for a plethora of breads, pancakes, cereals, kvass, beer, and vodka. Flavourful soups and stews centred on seasonal or storable produce, fish, and meats. This wholly native food remained the staples for the vast majority of Russians well into the 20th century. Lying on the northern reaches of the ancient Silk Road, as well as Russia's proximity to the Caucasus, Persia, and the Ottoman Empire has provided an inescapable Eastern character to its cooking methods (not so much in European Russia but distinguishable in the North Caucasus). Russia's renowned caviar is easily obtained, however prices can exceed the expenses of your entire trip. Dishes such as beef Stroganov and chicken kiev, from the pre-revolutionary era are available but mainly aimed at tourists as they lost their status and visibility during Soviet times. Russian specialities include:

  • Pelmeni (meat-filled dumplings, especially popular in Ural and Siberian regions)
  • Blini (thin, savoury buckwheat pancakes)
  • Black bread (rye bread, somewhat similar to one used by North American delis and not as dense as German variety)
  • Piroshki (small pies or buns with sweet or savoury filling)
  • Golubtsy (Cabbage rolls)
  • Ikra Baklazhanaya (aubergine spread)
  • Okroshka (Cold soups based on kvass or sour milk)
  • Schi (cabbage soup) and Green schi (sorrel soup, may be served cold)
  • Borsch (beet and garlic soup)
  • Vinegret (salad of boiled beets, potato, carrots and other vegetables with vinegar)
  • Olivier (russian version of potato salad)
  • Shashlyk (various kebabs from the Caucasus republics of the former Soviet Union)

Both Saint Petersburg and Moscow offer sophisticated, world class dining and a wide variety of cuisines including Japanese, Tibetan and Italian. They are also excellent cities to sample some of the best cuisines of the former Soviet Union (e.g., Georgian and Uzbek). It is also possible to eat well and cheaply there without resorting to the many western fast food chains that have opened up. Russians have their own versions of fast food restaurants which range from cafeteria style serving comfort foods to streetside kiosks cooking up blinis or stuffed potatos. Although their menus may not be in English, it is fairly easy to point to what is wanted - or at a picture of it, not unlike at western fast food restaurants. A small Russian dictionary will be useful at non- touristy restaurants offering table service where staff members will not speak English and the menus will be entirely in Cyrillic, but prices very reasonable. Russian meat soups and meat pies are excellent.

It is better not to drink the tap water in Russia and to avoid using ice in drinks, however bottled water and Coca Cola are available everywhere food is served.

Stylish cafes serving cappuccino, espresso, toasted sandwiches, rich cakes and pastries are popping up all over Saint Petersburg and Moscow. Some do double duty as wine bars, others are also internet cafes.

Unlike Europe, cafes in Russia (кафе) do not serve only drinks, but also a full range of meals (typically cooked in advance--unlike restaurants where part or whole cooking cycle is performed after you make an order).

Drink

Vodka, imported liquors (rum, gin, etc), international soft-drinks (Pepsi, Coca- Cola, Fanta, etc), local soft drinks (Tarhun, Buratino, Baikal, etc.), distilled water, kvas (sour-sweet non-alcoholic naturally carbonized drink made from fermented dark bread) and mors (traditional wild berry drink).

Beer in Russia is cheap and the varieties are endless of both Russian and international brands. It is found for sale at any street vendor (warm) or stall (varies) in the center of any city and costs (costs double and triple the closer you are to the center) from about 17 Rubles (about 50 US cents) to 130 Rubles (about 4 US Dollars) for a 0.5l bottle or can. "Small" bottles and cans (0.33l and around) are also widely sold, and there are also plastic bottles of 1, 1.5, 2 liters or even more, similar to those in which soft carbonated drinks are usually sold - many cheaper beers are sold that way and, being even cheaper due to large volume, are quite popular, despite some people say it can have a "plastic" taste. The highest prices (especially in the bars and restaurants) are traditionally in Moscow; Saint-Petersburg, on the other hand, is known for the cheaper and often better beers. Smaller cities and towns generally have similar prices if bought in the shop, but significantly lower ones in the bars and street cafes. Popular local brands of beer are Baltika, Stary Mel'nik, Bochkareff, Zolotaya Bochka, Tin'koff and many others. Locally made (mainly except some Czech and possibly some other European beers - you won't miss these, the price of a "local" Czech beer from the same shelf will be quite different) international trademarks like Holsten, Carlsberg, etc. are also widely available, but their quality doesn't differ so much from local beers. Soft drinks usually start from 20-30 Rubles (yes, same or even more expensive than an average local beer in a same shop) and can cost up to 60 Rubles or more in the Moscow center for a 0.5l plastic bottle or 0.33l can.

Street vendors usually operate mainly in tourist- and local-frequented areas, and many of them (especially those who walk around without a stall) are working without a license, usually paying some kind of a bribe to local police. Their beer, however, is usually OK, as it was just bought in a nearby shop. In the less weekend-oriented locations, large booths ("lar'ki" or "palatki", singular: "laryok" ("stall") or "palatka" (literally, "tent")) can be found everywhere, especially near metro stations and bus stops. They sell soft drinks, beer, and "cocktails" (basically a cheap soft drink mixed with alcohol, bad hangover is guaranteed from the cheaper ones) and their prices, while still not high, are often 20-40% more than those in supermarkets. The chain supermarkets (excluding some "elite" ones) and malls (mostly on bigger cities' outskirts) are usually the cheapest option for buying drinks (for food, the local markets in the smaller cities, but not in Moscow, are often cheaper). Staff of all of these (maybe except in some supermarkets, if you're lucky) does not speak or, at the best, speaks very basic English even in Moscow.

Mixed alcoholic beverages as well as beers at nightclubs and bars are extremely expensive and are served without ice, with the mix (for example, coke) and alcohol charged for separately. Bringing your own is neither encouraged nor allowed, and some (usually dance-all-night venues oriented to the young crowd) places in Moscow even can take some measures to prevent customers from drinking outside (like a face-control who may refuse an entry on return, or the need to pay entry fee again after going out), or even from drinking the tap water instead of overpriced soft drinks by leaving only hot water available in the lavatories. Any illegal drugs are best avoided by the people not accustomed to the country - the enforcement is, in practice, focused on collecting more bribes from those buying and taking, rather than on busting drug-dealers, the people selling recreational illegal drugs in the clubs are too often linked with (or watched by) police; plain-clothes policemen know and frequently visit the venues where drugs are popular, and you will likely end up in a lot of trouble with notoriously corrupt Russian police and probably paying multi-thousand-dollar (if not worse) bribe to get out, if you'll get caught. It really doesn't worth the risk here.

Wines from Georgia and Moldova are quite popular (although all products from Georgia are illegal 2005). In Moscow and Saint Petersburg, most restaurants have a selection of European wines--generally at a high price. Please note that Russians prefer sweet wine as opposed to dry. French Chablis is widely available at restaurants and is of good quality. The Chablis runs about 240 rubles per glass ($8 USD currently). All white wines are served room temperature unless you are at an international hotel that caters to Westerners.

Soviet champagne (Советское Шампанское, Sovetskoye Shampanskoye) or, more politically correctly just sparkling wine (Игристые вина, Igristie vina) is also served everywhere in the former Soviet Union at a reasonable price. The quality is generally on the level of cheap European sparkling wines and by far the most common variety is polusladkoye (semi-sweet), a misnomer for what most Westerners find syrupy-sweet, but the better brands also come in polusukhoe (semi-dry) and sukhoe (dry) varieties. The original producer and Sovetskoye Shampanskoye trademark holder is Latvijas Balzams in Latvia, but Ukrainian brands like Odessa or Krymskoe are also very popular. Among Russian brands, the best brands seem to originate from the southern regions where grapes are widely grown. One of a quality Russian brands is Abrau-Dyurso (200-700 Rubles for a bottle in the supermarket depending on variety); Tsimlyanskoe (150-250 Rubles) is also popular. The quality of the cheapest ones (from 85-120 Rubles, depending on where you buy) varies, you can buy if you do want to have a try while not paying much, but, for returning home, it's wiser to stick to something better.

Sleep

In most cities, quality hotels are really scarce: most were built in Soviet times decades ago and are recently renovated in decor, but rarely in service and attitude. Even for a local, it's quite a problem to find a good hotel without a recommendation from a trusted person. For the same reason, it may be really hard to find a hotel during mass tourist-oriented events like StPete anniversary.

Hotels in Russia may be quite expensive in metropolises and touristy areas. If you do speak a bit of Russian and are not entirely culture shocked, it is much smarter to seek out and rent a room in a private residence. Most Russians are looking to make extra money and, having space to spare, will rent it out to a tourist gladly. Native Moscovites or residents of Saint Petersburg would rather rent out to tourists than their own countrymen: foreigners are considered more trustworthy and orderly. Expect to pay 60-70 USD a night (usually with breakfast prepared by your host), and the accommodations will certainly be very clean and proper if not modern. When it comes to home/family life, Russian culture is very warm and inviting.

Another useful option is short-term apartment rental offered by small companies or individuals. This means that certain flats in regular living buildings are permanently rented out on a daily basis. The flats may differ in their location and quality (from old-fashioned to recently renovated), but in any case you get a one- or two-room apartment with own kitchen, toilet, and bath. Additionally, the hosts provide bed linen as well as cups, plates, and other kitchen equipment. The apartment rental provides great autonomy and flexibility (e.g., there is no strict check-out time). On the other hand, you do not get certain hotel facilities, such as breakfast, laundry service, etc. The price for the daily apartment rental normally does not exceed the price for the hotel of similar quality, so it is a very useful options, especially in large cities. The negotiations are usually quite official: the host collects the data from your ID, while you get a bill and a rental agreement.

A new phenomenon has been the development of "mini-hotels" in large Russian cities. Such hotels usually (but not necessarily!) provide clean modern rooms with private baths at far lower costs than conventional large hotels, approximately $60 vs. well over $150. These small hotels are located within existing apartment buildings and include one, two, or more floors located a story or two above street level. They also often serve breakfast. Saint Petersburg has quite a few with more opening all of the time and some are appearing in Moscow.

Learn

Russia has a long-standing tradition in high-quality education for all citizens. It has also one of the best mass-eduction systems in the world, with excellent results at international educational competitions.

Basic general education lasts for nine years. Graduates of this level may continue their education at senior high school to receive secondary general education. They may also enter an initial vocational school or non-university level higher education institutions.

Higher education is provided by public and non-public (non-State) accredited higher education institutions, of which Lomonosov Moscow State University [44] and Saint Petersburg State University [45] are the most famous.

Due in great part to demands of the international educational organizations, the system of education in Russia began to adopt a system similar to that of Britain and the US: 4 years for the Bachelor's degree and 2 years for a Master's degree. The universities are still in the process of these changes; some of them offer the new system and others still work according to the prior 5-year system, particularly in programs such as law.

Russia's top universities have very competitive entry requirements, and special entry exams are held each year. One of the great attractions of education in Russia is the cost, especially when compared to the quality. Degree study tuition can range from $2000 to $8000 per year, with other costs (room & board, books, etc.) ranging from $1500 to $5000 per year, depending on location and spending habits.

The academic year lasts from Sept 1 to Mid June everywhere, with long summer vacations from July 1st to Aug 31.

Several universities and private schools offer Russian language courses (individual and group tuition).

  • Study in Russia [46] - Russian Language Courses at Voronezh State University
  • EducaCentre [47] - Private school in Saint Petersburg
  • Extra Class[48] - Private school near Dostoyevsky museum in Saint Petersburg
  • Liden & Denz [49] - Private school in Moscow and Saint Petersburg
  • ProBa Language Center [50] St.Petersburg, Russia
  • SRAS [51] School of Russian and Asian Studies (all major Russian cities)
  • Moscow Times [52] Study Guide from Moscow Times newspaper
  • Ziegler & Partner [53] Russian language courses at Moscow State University
Travel Warning

WARNING: Travelling to the North Caucasus is not advised as the current situation there is extremely dangerous, due to ongoing conflict within the region, as well as war between Russia and Georgia.

Largely because of the transition from state socialism to market capitalism, Russia did experience a rise in criminal activity during the 1990's. As those that controlled capital through the state had to reconfigure their business operations towards a free enterprise rationality, profiteering and scams have increased. The truth is that crime was greatly exaggerated in the media, and for the average tourist Moscow, Saint Petersburg and the rest of Russia are actually just as safe as most major European cities. The "Russian Mafia" make for fun movies, but are absolutely not a threat to tourists—at best they and their girlfriends are a tourist attraction themselves, as they often dine in foreigner-friendly establishments. Foreigners are disproportionately targeted by pickpockets; foreigners of a non-white complexion may also be more likely to be harassed by street youths or corrupt officials. But provided you take sensible precautions, nothing bad should happen to you. Keep in mind that the majority of foreigners who do "find" trouble do so while drunk.

However, racially motivated crimes are on rise in Russia, and it may present problems to people with non-Slavic/Northern European appearance, including people from the Caucasus and people of African, Latin American, Middle Eastern, and Asian descent.

Note that everyone in Russia must carry state-issued identification papers; foreigners should carry their passport and visa at all times and present it to police officers if asked. Be sure to keep a photocopy in a secure location just in case. If a police officer stops you, they normally salute you and ask for your passport (listen for words that sound like 'paspart' for a passport request and/or 'veeza' if asked for a visa) and papers (generally in Russian). Hand these to them, they will look at it, hand it back and salute you. This can be an odd and frightening experience on the train into Russia in the middle of the night.

It is sadly a common practice for the police to claim that there are problems with your documentation (passport, immigrations card and residence registration), and to demand a fine (bribe). You have two options: politely, friendly, and firmly explain that actually everything is fine, there is no problem with your documents, and you are willing to go to the police station to clear things up; or give in and fork over the bribe they are demanding. The first option is difficult without some Russian proficiency (and solid nerves), but the police in question will probably back off. The second option works, but it also encourages the corrupt to continue harassing travelers. In tight situations, a 300 ruble bribe is really the most you should give in metropolitan areas. However, it has been known that getting out a mobile phone and threatening to call your embassy can work, and police may well back off at this. Then again, you choice will probably depend on how brave you are feeling at the time.

Russian driving is wild. Drivers attack their art with an equal mix of aggressiveness and incompetence. Guidelines are lax and rarely followed. As a pedestrian, take great care when crossing the roads, as pedestrian crossings are widely ignored. If you are thinking of driving yourself, bear in mind that the Russian traffic police is the most notoriously corrupt institution in the country.

When buying items, it is best to keep your money folded backwards with small bills on the outside and larger on the inside, and to only bring out your cash when actually handing it over. It's also best to separate larger sums from smaller ones and keep the former hidden on your person.

In cities, keep an eye out for juvenile delinquency. Russia has a heartbreakingly large problem of orphaned street children, who unsurprisingly resort to minor crime to keep themselves alive. "Gypsy" children employ some interesting techniques to separate you from your money, including creating a distraction (like fighting between themselves), bumping into you to pick your pockets, or simply swarming a surprised traveler and running their hands through every possible hiding place on your person. In such a situation, don't show weakness, just give the offenders a stiff shove and perhaps a few choice words in Russian and they will look for easier targets. You are far less likely to run across older juvenile delinquents, like belligerent skinheads or football hooligans, but if you do, best to give them a wide berth.

Lastly, Russians, being accustomed to a police state throught most of their history, are unlikely to offer a lot of help if you have a run in with corrupt officials or criminals on the street. As a result, busy main streets are often less safe than quiet back streets—there are simply more opportunities for the corrupt.

Stay healthy

Ensure that all of your vaccinations are up to date, and you have sufficient amounts of any prescription medicine you may be taking. Pharmacies are common in major cities and carry a large supply of quality western medications.

Quality of tap water varies dramatically around the country, and even may be very different within one city. Especially in old buildings, tap water can be non-potable. In the big cities of European Russia, the water is clean of biological contaminants, but often suffers from the presence of heavy metals, due to outdated city plumbing. If you can't buy bottled water, boil water before drinking, or better yet use a special filter for tap water, which you could buy in any supermarket. But normally price for bottled water should not be an obstacle: bottled water costs only about 20-30 rubles ($0.8-$1.1 USD) for 2 liters, but watch out for scam bottled tap water.

Besides local doctors (generally good quality but often working in poor facilities) there are several Western-run medical centers in major Russian cities. These all have different policies for payment (some take credit cards, some require payment in cash up front, even if you have insurance) so make sure you know what you are paying for (and when and how) before you agree to any services.

Be careful not to buy fake vodka, which can be dangerous (seriously here, 'dangerous' doesn't mean 'strong'; it can contain methanol). Only buy vodka in large stores or specialized ones like Aromatnyi Mir [54] in Moscow, with the sticker over the cap and/or the region's barcode on the side.

Some kiosks may sell bad quality meals. If you are unsure, just throw it away. Although most of them are quite good, take note of who buys and what they buy. That could help you make a good choice.

The country's HIV prevalence is steadily rising, mainly for sex workers, young adults and drug users. Be Safe.

Respect

Smile at a Russian in the street and most likely they will not respond in kind. Smiling in Russia is traditionally reserved for friends; smile at a stranger and they will either think you're making fun of them and there's something wrong with their clothes or hairdo, or that you must be an idiot. Furthermore, an automatic Western smile is widely regarded as insincere, as in "You don't really mean it". While that tradition is slowly changing as Russia is becoming more Westernized, smiling is still very rare in customer service as sales assistants, public servants and the like are expected to look serious and businesslike. Hence the very common misconception about Russians that they are a very grim folk and never smile - they do, once they get to know you, and become very welcoming and kind. When approaching a stranger with a question, attempt to use Russian at first and ask if they speak english, Russians are very proud of their language and people will be noticeably more aloof if you approach them speaking English. Even just using the Russian equivalents of 'please' and 'thank you' will make a noticeable difference to people.

Women in the entire CIS/USSR area are traditionally treated with utmost respect. Female travellers should not act surprised or indignant when their Russian male friends pay their bills at restaurants, open every door in front of them, offer their hand to help them climb down that little step or help them carry anything heavier than a handbag - this is not sexual harassment or being condescending to the weaker sex. Male travellers should understand that this is exactly the sort of behavior that most Russian girls and women will expect from them, too.

While tipping traditionally is frowned upon in Russia (many will probably tell you otherwise), it is a recent phenomenon, emerging after the fall of communism, and few waiters think that it's up to the guest to decide how much he or she wants to tip. Should you leave more money than the exact total when paying your bill at a restaurant - particularly if it happens to be more or less like 10% above the total, which is the customary tip in Russia - it will be interpreted as a tip. If the service was particularly bad and you want to make a point, be persistent in your demands to get your change back.

A lot of respect is required when it comes to talking about World War II in the Soviet Union. That conflict was a major tragedy for Soviets and every family has at least one relative among the 15-20 million people who died—way above all of Western Europe and America combined—and the scars of that conflict are still felt today.

Likewise, keep your political opinions to yourself. Ask as many questions you like, but avoid making statements or comments about its past and current political situation. Russia and the Soviet Union had an often violent history and most Russian people are tired of hearing "how bad the Soviet Union was" from western people. They lived it, are proud of both its triumphs and tragedies, and they probably know much more about it than you. Also avoid criticising the conflict in Chechnya. Even though horrific things have happened there, most Russians support Putin and people will say that Chechnya was, is, and will always be Russian.

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Wiktionary

Up to date as of January 15, 2010

Definition from Wiktionary, a free dictionary

English

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Proper noun

Russian Federation

  1. Formal name of Russia.

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