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RUSSIA


Russia's history extends back over 1,000 years with the establishment by Vikings of a territory they named Rus. The Viking presence diminished through gradual absorption by the native Slavic peoples and by 988, the prince of Kiev had converted to eastern Orthodox Christianity (based in Constantinople). Several hundred years later, the Mongols swept over Russia, remaining through the 14th century. A new ruler named Ivan the Great, brought Moscow to the fore and developed an empire based on his marriage to a Byzantine princess. It was Ivan's grandson, Ivan IV (the Terrible) who took the title Tzar (from the Latin Caesar) and expanded Moscow's realm. The expansion only continued over the next several hundred years and by the end of the 17th century, Peter the Great had made great strides towards transforming Russia into a true power. He devised a new capital called St. Petersburg, which became a glittering European center. But it was Catherine the Great, at the beginning of the 18th century, who entered into treaties and alliance with Prussia and Austria that solidified Russia's position as a true power in Europe. Alexander I, part of the group that successfully defeated Napoleon, held the title not only of Tzar, but grand duke of Finland and king of Poland. The 19th century saw Russia begin to industrialize with development extending to the far reaches of the tzar's realm. In 1917, the tzarist regime fell to revolution led by socialists who intended to create a republican government. This first revolution failed and was supplanted by Bolshevik forces later that year, with Vladimir Lenin as chairman. Communism helped develop the country but it brought with it some of the most repressive governments ever seen. It is unknown how many people died as a direct result of Communist control in Russia but the numbers are doubtless in the double-digit millions, especially those eliminated by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin. Along with some not insignificant successes -- modernization, becoming one of the true superpowers on the planet, the space race, athletics -- the 20th century for Russia and its people was marked by brutal wars (at least 20,000,000 citizens died during World War II alone), disastrous participation in Afghanistan's civil war that was compared to the US quagmire in Vietnam, and, for most of the population of the USSR, economic deprivation. Communism fell in 1992, following the collapse of communist governments throughout eastern Europe. Russia continues to struggle with democracy but seems unlikely to ever return to communism.

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