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Fact Sheet: Russia

One-page fact sheet gives historical & some geographical information about Russia.

Fact Sheet: Russia

Capital: Moscow
Chief cities: Moscow, St. Petersburg (formerly Leningrad), Archangel, Ekaterinburg, Murmansk
Population: 146 million
Languages: Russian, Tartar dialects
Government: Republic; Last summer, Russia elected its first non-communist president, Boris N. Yeltsin
Chief religions: Russian Orthodoxy, Islam, Judaism and other Christian groups
Natural resources: Oil, iron, manganese, timber, natural gas and fish


Origins The people known as the Russians stem from two tribal groups, the Varangians from Scandinavia and the Eastern Slavs from Central Europe. Called the Rus in the 9th century A.D., these peoples intermarried, developed commercial ties with Constantinople and established Kiev as their capital. The Rus evolved into three groups – Byelorussians, Ukrainians and the Russians.

988-989 A.D. Vladimir, the Grand Prince of Kiev, adopted Christianity in the Byzantine manner and instructed the Rus to be baptized. Clergy and artisans were imported from the Byzantine capital of Constantinople.

Early 12th century The northern cities of Novgorod and Pskov declared their independence from Kiev in 1136. Styling their city as “Lord Novgorod the Great,” these merchant inhabitants elected a prince to lead their “republic” in times of war.

1223 A.D. Kiev fell to the Mongols. The invaders plundered Kiev’s churches, monasteries and palaces. For two centuries, the Rus domain was fragmented into city states, its princes, vassals. The Orthodox Church replaced the state in artistic and cultural patronage and became the symbol of the Rus identity.

15th and 16th centuries Moscow replaced Kiev as the center of the state. In 1489, the church declared its independence from Constantinople and created the Russian patriarchate. Moscow’s grand princes styled themselves as “tsar” (caesar) and glorified the “Third Rome” with churches and palaces.

1682-1725 Peter the Great wrenched the Russian nation from its Byzantine roots, creating St. Petersburg, Russia’s “window on the West,” as his new capital. The emperor imported western architects, erected vast rococo palaces, forcibly moved the nobility to his new city and abolished the Orthodox patriarchate.

1917 After years of ineffectual rule, military embarrassments (Russo-Japanese War and World War I) and economic collapse, Russia’s last tsar, Nicholas II, abdicated the throne. The provisional governments inability to feed the masses prompted Vladimir I. Lenin, a former lawyer, to seize power.

July 1918 In the Siberian city of Ekaterinburg, Nicholas and his family were murdered, ending the Romanov dynasty. Meanwhile, the nation waged a bloody civil war which ended in 1921.

1941-45 Nazi Germany attacked Soviet Russia after Hitler negotiated a non-aggression pact with Stalin. Following many losses, Stalin appealed to Russian nationalism and lifted restrictions on the Orthodox Church.

1985 After years of stagnation under Brezhnev and other hardliners, Mikhail Gorbachev surfaced as a proponent of reform. With his campaign of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring), Gorbachev has changed the direction of the Soviet Union and the world.

EUROPEAN RUSSIA: Geographical Information

St. Petersburg’s baroque and rococo palaces line the Neva River. Called the “Venice of the North,” the city was built by Peter the Great’s command.

Moscow’s famous Cathedral of St. Basil the Blessed was commissioned in the 16th century by Tsar Ivan the Terrible. According to tradition, the tsar ordered the architects’ eyes plucked out to prevent them from creating a more beautiful object.

Novgorod’s Cathedral of Haghia Sophia was built in the 11th century. Tradition assigns the creation of the onion dome to Novgorodian architects.

The trident, currently used as a symbol of independent Ukraine, was used on the coins of the Kievan Rus as far back as the 10th century A.D.

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