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The Rurik Dynasty, beginning in 862, founded the first East Slavic State, Kievan Rus. Through Kiev's trade relations with Scandinavia and the Byzantine Empire, Kiev began to be influenced by these surrounding regions. Byzantine and Slavic cultures fused, and a Slavic version of the Eastern Orthodox religion formed. As the Norse grew in size, their influence grew in the region of Kiev as well, overtaking the Slav culture and absorbing the Greek Christian influences over the tenth century.
In an attempt to unify Russia in 988, Prince Vladimir of Kiev decided to adopt a central religion. After thorough research conducted by emissaries who traveled to nearby regions to learn about other religions, Vladimir selected Christianity. His emissaries had traveled to Constantinople and saw Christianity's strong unifying effects there, and decided to convert.
The eleventh century in Kiev was the golden age of the Eastern Slavs, with the emergence of a thriving culture. The adoption of religion led to the beautification of cities and growth of culture, with music and churches, like the Cathedral of Saint Sophia. The Eastern Slavs worshipped in the form of art, building ornate churches, and creating golden mosaics in the Byzantine style.
Moscow was founded in 1147 as a defense outpost. The Kremlin in Moscow was fortified in 1156, forming a complex of cathedrals and palaces, and was the residence of the tsars.
In the thirteenth century, the Mongol Golden Horde invaded Kiev, and Kievan Rus disintegrated as a state in 1240. Muscovite Prince Dmitry Donskoy successfully defeated the Mongols in Moscow in 1380, in an important victory. The Mongols ruled Russia for more than 200 years, in the thirteenth through fifteenth centuries. In 1480, Prince Ivan III (Ivan the Great) renounced Russia's allegiance to the Mongols.
Ivan IV, who became known as Ivan the Terrible, expanded Russia and increased the popularity of religion in Russia. Ivan the Terrible was the first ruler in Russia to call himself "Tsar," and increased his own powers accordingly. He led aggressive military conquests and with the death of his son, Fedor, marking the end of the hereditary dynastic line of Rurik, the Time of Troubles began in 1598. Boris Godunov was elected to rule, but during his reign, the people of Russia suffered from famine and the Poles invaded Russia.
The Old Believer's schism in 1667 was a dispute over styles of worship in the Orthodox church. This led to Russia becoming a secular state, which it continues to be today, with a minority of the population active in religious organizations.
Peter the Great came to power and changed Russian life fundamentally, making the power of the state absolute, becoming the Russian Empire. Russia began increasing knowledge in the key fields of technology, science and linguistics, looking to European countries for influences to westernize Russian ideas and art. During his reign, he established St. Petersburg as Russia's capital city on the edge of Europe.
The French army, led by Napoleon, invaded Russia in June 1812, in the Battle of Borodino. Napoleon entered the Kremlin, but the Russians continued to fight. Moscow burned to the ground, but finally the French were defeated and forced out of Russia.
In 1904 and 1905, Russia and Japan went to war over territorial disputes. Russia's defeat came as a shock to much of the world, including Russia, leading to political unrest. A demonstration on January 22, 1905, now known as Bloody Sunday, was part of a labor strike in protest of working conditions. The tsarist government responded to the peaceful protest by shooting down somewhere between a hundred and a few thousand protesters, killing many of them. Bloody Sunday was a major factor leading to the Russian Revolution. In 1917, a series of revolutions overthrew Nicholas II, who was the last Russian Emperor before the Soviet Union (USSR) was created as the world's first socialist state.
Soviet Russia was ruled by Vladimir Lenin, then Joseph Stalin, and became a major world power with a significant role in both World War II and the Cold War. Despite a treaty made between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia during World War II, Germany attacked Russia, and in order to defend its territory, Russia fought back, joining the war on the side of the Allies. Russia emerged from the war as a superpower. During the Cold War, Soviet Russia signed the Warsaw Pact, a defense treaty, on May 14, 1955 along with the communist countries of Eastern Europe.
Mikhail Gorbachev was the last Soviet leader, but with political unrest and a suffering economy, Gorbachev was overthrown, marking the end of communist rule, and the dissolution of the USSR into many nations in 1991. Boris Yeltsin was elected President of the Russian Federation that year, bringing many changes to the nation, but also poverty and corruption. Yeltsin resigned in 1999, and Vladimir Putin then took over, though his government was also said to be corrupt. Putin became Prime Minister in 2008 when Dmitry Medvedev was elected President, but the two swapped roles again after the 2012 elections.
Located in North Asia, Russia is spread over a very large portion of the continent, and is the largest country in the entire world. Russia borders many countries: Azerbaijan, Belarus, China, Estonia, Finland, Georgia, Kazakhstan, North Korea, Latvia, Lithuania, Mongolia, Norway, Poland, and Ukraine. Russia also has a long coastline along the Arctic and North Pacific Oceans, and several smaller seas, including the Baltic, Black, and Caspian Seas.
As such a large nation, Russia has a wide variety of landscapes and natural features. The majority of Russia is made up of plains, steppes and forests, and the northern coast consists of tundra. The major mountain ranges in Russia are located toward the south, and include the Caucasus, Ural, and Altai ranges.
Russia is a semi-presidential republic, with both a president, elected by popular vote, and a prime minister, appointed by the president. Russia's legislative branch is a bicameral Federal Assembly, divided into the upper house, the Federation of Council, and lower house, the State Duma.
Russia is separated into eighty-three smaller divisions, called federal subjects. There are forty-six provinces in Russia, known as oblasts, twenty-one republics, which enjoy a fairly high degree of autonomy, nine territories, or krais, four autonomous districts (okrugs), two federal cities (Moscow and Saint Petersburg), and one autonomous oblast.
Russia's ancient cities form what is known as the Golden Ring, a circle of each of the most important cities from ancient Russia. The world-famous Trans-Siberian Railway is a popular way of getting around the huge country.
Moscow and Saint Petersburg are the most frequently visited cities in Russia, and contain many historical sites, works of art, and unique architecture for which Russia is known. Saint Basil's Cathedral, as well as several other churches and cathedrals, government buildings, and the Moscow Kremlin, are ornate works of art that amaze many travelers every year. Juxtaposed to these unusual structures, Soviet-style buildings, like skyscrapers, are found all around Moscow.
Despite perceptions about Russia's cold harsh weather, there are warm travel destinations in Russia as well, like cities along the Black Sea that have warmer weather and beach resorts.
Russia's education system is free to Russian citizens and managed by the Ministry of Education through regional administrators. Private school educations are available, but students generally attend public schools until university, when some then choose private education.
Students attend a compulsory eleven-year course for their general education, which is divided into elementary education, middle, and then senior education. These are usually all together at one school. After the first nine years of education, students may choose to attend vocational training for their final two years.
Around half of all Russians move on to higher education, attending one of many public or private schools around the country. Russia's university system is undergoing changes to begin following the model of the Bologna Process, like the majority of European countries.
Russia is often called Mother Russia or the Motherland.
The Russian language uses the Cyrillic script as its alphabet.
Around 160 ethnic groups are found around Russia.
Vodka is considered Russia's national drink - the word vodka is derived from the word for water.
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