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Russian Federation

Major Cities:
Moscow, St. Petersburg, Nizhniy Novgorod, Novosibirsk

Other Cities:
Samara, Vladivostok, Volgograd, Yekaterinburg


This chapter was adapted from the Department of State Post Report 2000 for Russia. Supplemental material has been added to increase coverage of minor cities, facts have been updated, and some material has been condensed. Readers are encouraged to visit the Department of State's web site at for the most recent information available on travel to this country.


Russia sprawls across nearly one-sixth of the Earth's land mass (about 17 million square kilometers). It embraces a varied topography and has every type of climate except tropical.

The Ural Mountains mark the traditional division between European and Asiatic Russia. To the west, Russian territory stretches over a broad plain, broken only by occasional low hills. To the east are the vast Siberian lowlands and the deserts of central Asia. Beyond are the barren Siberian highlands and the mountain ranges of the Russian Far East. Great pine forests cover half the country; south of these are the steppes (prairies), where the soil is rich and dark. A small subtropical zone lies south of the steppes, along the shores of the Black and Caspian Seas.

Climate is varied. Winters are long and cold and summers brief. In parts of the eastern Siberian tundra, temperatures of-68°C (-90°F) have been recorded.

The Russian Federation is a multi-ethnic state that comprises more than 100 ethnic groups. The majority of the population is Eastern Slavic, but it is made up of peoples belonging to less numerous ethnic groups, including Eskimos. Although most groups are distinguished by their own language and culture, Russian language and traditions are well established, with Russian the common language in government and education.

Religion, long suppressed under the Soviet regime, now flourishes, and examples of all major and many less widely practiced religions can be found. Once an underdeveloped, peasant society, Russia made considerable economic progress under Communist rule, mainly by the force of a centralized command economy and basic industrialization. Soviet communism, already stagnant by the 1980s and ill-equipped to meet the demands of Mikhail Gorbachev's glasnost and perestroika, collapsed by 1991, forcing Russia into a difficult transition toward a democratic state and market-based economy.

The Russian Federation continues to seek to redefine its relationships with its new independent neighbors, as well as its role in the world.



Moscow's official population is approximately 9 million. It is the center of government and plays an important role in the country's political, economical, cultural, scientific, and military activity. Moscow is first mentioned in history in 1147 A.D. as Prince Yuriy Dolgorukiy's hunting camp. Due to its strategic position on a north-south trade route from Rostov to Ryazan, Moscow was the center of trade and government in what eventually became the Russian Empire.

As the Russian Empire expanded, so grew Moscow's influence and importance, until the early 18th century when Peter the Great moved the nation's capital to St. Petersburg. As Russia's second city, Moscow retained its primacy only in trade, until the leaders of Soviet Russia transferred the capital back to Moscow early in 1918. Subsequently, Moscow more than quadrupled in population and territory (878 square kilometers). In the past 20 years, the city's difficulties in housing and in supplying its large and growing population have led to calls for limits on growth and crack-downs on the huge "unregistered" population.

After a decade-long lapse, the U.S. entered into diplomatic relations with the U.S.S.R. in 1933. In 1991, the U.S.S.R. was formally dissolved. The Russian Federation emerged as the largest of the new independent states of the former Soviet Union. Russia has diplomatic relations with most of the world's countries, and more than 100 of these maintain missions in Moscow. News correspondents, business representatives, and students from throughout the world live in the Russian capital. There is a heavy, year-round flow of foreign tourists and official delegations. Moscow's resident American community numbers about 5,000 (including dependents), consisting of Embassy personnel, business representatives, correspondents, clergy, exchange students, and professors.

American tourists number about 100-200,000 annually. Moscow contains many attractions of interest for visitors. Those open to the public include the Kremlin; monasteries and churches in and around Moscow, as well as museums, parks, permanent exhibition centers, and a variety of musical, dramatic, and dance attractions. Many small towns of interest lie within a day's drive of Moscow, including the old monastery town of Sergiyev Posad (formerly Zagorsk), Yasnaya Polyana, Tolstoy's home, and the Borodino battlefield, site of the greatest battle of Napoleon's 1812 invasion of Russia.

Moscow offers a rich cultural environment, and warrants the enormous local pride in its treasures and traditions. Myriad museums are devoted to the various arts, literature, music, politics, history, and sciences. Hundreds of small churches and large cathedrals throughout the city are open to visitors. In addition to the famous Bolshoi Theater, with its large repertoire of Russian and internationally famous opera and ballet, other theaters and concert halls feature popular and classical plays, concerts, recitals, and all of the performing arts. Children's theater, a puppet theater, a planetarium, and other performances geared especially to younger people are also available. The Russian circuses with their rich history are overwhelmingly popular with children and adults alike.

On the negative side, life in Moscow can be difficult and stressful. Air pollution, severe winter conditions, language barriers, chaotic rush hour traffic, and long hours at work take their toll on even the most well-adjusted residents. Street crime is still a problem and African and Asian Americans have been victims of racially motivated attacks.

Moscow is 3 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time, and 8 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time.


Electric clocks and other electrical items with motors designed for 60 cycles may not work correctly; 220v 50hz items can be purchased locally, if needed.


For the Western consumer, the availability of food and household products is improving. Most food and household products used by a typical American family can now be purchased.

When American brands are not available locally, a European equivalent can usually be purchased. Vendors other than Russian stores and markets include Western outlets such as Stockmann.

Some visitors do a lot of shopping at local "rynoks" These are open-air farmers' markets located in different parts of the city, typically near metro stations. Rynoks carry a large selection of fresh bread and seasonal as well as imported fresh produce. Meat is also available for purchase, but buying fresh, unrefrigerated meat is risky. Rynoks often have stalls that stock non-food items, such as cleaning products, soft drinks and liquor, health care products, pet food and paper goods at prices that are cheaper than in the other stores. In many instances the quality of the products tends to be lower. Larger rynoks also sell flowers, plants, clothing items, and leather goods. Be aware, however, that shopping in rynoks can pose challenges, including the need to maneuver through crowded spaces and language problems for non-Russian speakers. Bargaining is an accepted and common practice at rynoks but not at conventional stores and supermarkets, where prices are marked.


Temperatures during the year can range from-40° to +95 °F. Moscow winters can be very cold, especially if one is used to winter temperatures above freezing. It is necessary to be prepared for the harsh winter climate with plenty of warm clothing and outerwear. Men and women often wait until they arrive to buy a fur hat, and many women also purchase fur coats and boots locally. Other locally available winter gear may not meet American standards and/or style. Summers are short and often cool. Sweaters and a coat are necessary no matter what time of year you arrive.

The best type of clothing to have in Moscow is washable since clothing soils easily. Sturdy, waterproof clothing and footwear with good treads is essential. Sidewalks can be slick in winter and muddy and wet during the rest of the year. One should consider bringing enough clothing to last until replacements can be ordered through catalogs or while on leave outside of Russia.

Slippers or clogs are useful around the house in winter and spring as mud, ice, salt, and dirt can be tracked in off the streets and playgrounds. Russians usually take off their shoes when entering a home (and children are expected to), so it is appropriate to have a couple of extra pairs of slippers for guests who do not feel comfortable coming into your home with their shoes on. Slippers can be purchased locally.

Sports equipment and sportswear should be brought to Moscow when possible. There are various recreational activities at hand, including swimming, soccer, baseball, volleyball, cycling, rollerblading, etc. Traditional Russian wooden children's sleds are available for purchase in the city, but may be hard to find. Western winter sports equipment can be found around town but the prices tend to be high. Cross-country skiing, ice-skating and sledding are all common winter sports. The outdoor tennis court at Rosinka is also turned into a skating rink during the winter.

Men: Both heavy and light topcoats are desirable for spring and fall. Men wear down parkas and heavy topcoats appropriate for evening over their suits in the winter. Lined raincoats are not warm enough in the dead of winter although many people wear them in the spring and fall.

Warm gloves, warm and waterproof boots, and a warm hat are all essential. Building interiors are often too hot by American standards in winter, but in fall and spring, when there is no central heating, indoors can be uncomfortably cool. Light sweaters or vests that can be worn under suit jackets are convenient. Bring appropriate cold-weather clothes for outdoor sports. Lighter wool suits are desirable for summer wear.

Women: In general, women in Moscow wear the same style clothing as worn in the U.S. Moderately dressy suits with nice blouses and dresses are worn most often for receptions, dinners, and evenings out.

Women need a light coat, raincoat, and heavy coat. These could include anything from a mid-calf washable down coat with a hood, to fur coats, and/or a raincoat with a zip-out liner. Warm, waterproof, thick-soled boots, rainboots, warm gloves or mittens, and thermal or silk long underwear are useful. It is quite common (and completely acceptable by Russian standards) to wear sturdy boots to a dinner or reception, carrying other "inside" shoes and changing upon arrival. Sportswear, a bathing suit, and a large supply of stockings, tights, and underwear are important to bring, although they may all be obtained locally at prices higher than in the U.S.

Children: Children can never have enough hats and scarves, sets of gloves and mittens, rain boots and rain gear, as well as snowsuits, pants and boots. Locally purchased clothing may not meet American standards and/or styles and in many cases is more expensive than in the U.S.

Babies need warm winter clothing. Scarves, hats, mittens, and wool clothing for infants are available locally, but the prices are much higher than one would pay in the U.S.

Supplies and Services

European toiletries, paper goods, household cleaners, film, and basic children's toys and games are available in local shops. Be aware that prices are often much higher than in the U.S.

CDs are available for sale in kiosks around town and in music stores. There is even a CD rynok. There are numerous computer stores and a computer rynok in Moscow, but it could be more affordable to buy dual-voltage equipment, computer games and supplies in the U.S. Computer paper, ribbon cartridges and other computer supplies are available at computer stores, kiosks and large bookstores. Be advised that the locally available A4 size paper may not fit all printers.

E-mail and Internet surfing helps keep visitors in touch with the U.S. There are several providers from which to choose. Plan to spend about twice as much for an internet connection in Moscow as you might in the U.S.

A multisystem television set and multisystem VCR receiving NTSC, PAL, and SECAM (Russian) signals are useful in Moscow. Cable service is available.

Religious Activities

Most major religions are now represented in Moscow although services in English are not always available.


The Anglo-American School (AAS) is supported by the U.S., British and Canadian embassies. The school accepts children from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. It is located at the Pokrovsky Hills (Hines) complex; children living in Pokrovsky Hills can walk to school. The school usually opens during the third or fourth week in August. It is accredited by the New England Association of Schools and Colleges.

Most schools in Moscow are unable to accept children with special needs. If your child has an individual educational program (IEP), or needs assistance outside the classroom, please discuss these requirements with school officials as far in advance as possible.

Other Educational Opportunities

Piano rentals, music lessons, horseback riding, fencing, gymnastics, ballet classes, and private tutors for Russian and other languages are reasonably priced. The International Women's Club and American Women's Club both offer a variety of activities, such as yoga, aerobics, and Russian conversation groups, depending upon interest and availability of instruction.


Spectator sports include hockey, football (soccer), and basketball. A large number of international tournaments and championships are held, with increased participation by U.S. teams. Some people have participated in such diverse outdoor sports as skydiving, whitewater rafting, and wild game hunting. Your marksmanship can be tested at Moscow's shooting club; firearms, ammunition, and lessons are available at the site. There is a country club in Moscow that has a golf course. Unfortunately, this sport here is extremely expensive and the golf course is a long drive from town. There is a spring softball and baseball league for children.

Touring and Outdoor Activities

Moscow contains a broad spectrum of museums, from pre-Revolutionary art treasures to science and history. Tours to the seat of the Russian Government, the Kremlin, Lenin's Tomb, and the picturesque, colorful GUM Department store on Red Square, and the homes of such revered Russians as Tolstoy, Gorky, and Chekhov may all be arranged with the assistance of local travel bureaus. Walking tours to the many architectural landmarks in Moscow are a good way to get a feel for the city. Moscow's underground metro system is justly famous. Many stations are elaborately decorated. Izmailovsky Park has become the main attraction for souvenir shopping in a frenzied bazaar atmosphere. Every weekend, local artists and craftsmen gather there to sell their wares to throngs of visitors.

In and around Moscow, sightseers will find historic palaces and museums, surrounded by gardens and parks. You can reach St. Petersburg, Tallinn, Riga, Vilnius, Kiev, and many other interesting cities by overnight sleeper train. Other cities such as Sochi, Tbilisi, and Tashkent are only a few hours away by air.


The principal hotels and restaurants offer American, European, Russian, and ethnic cuisine from the Commonwealth of Independent States. The quality of food and service is generally acceptable, and new restaurants seem to be opening daily. English/Russian menus are available at many. On the whole, dining out in Moscow is more expensive than in equivalent restaurants in the U.S. Western chains such as McDonald's, TGI Fridays, Sbarro's, KFC, and Pizza Hut continue to grow. There are several English-language publications for the foreign community that regularly print restaurant reviews and reliable guides to the better restaurants.

For the theatergoer, Moscow offers a wide range of entertainment at prices lower than in the U.S. The Bolshoi Theater offers world-famous ballet and opera programs during all but the summer months. For Russian speakers, the city also has several extraordinarily good dramatic theaters. One of the best is the Moscow Art Theater, where plays by classic Russian playwrights such as Chekhov are often performed. The city's children's and puppet theaters, including the world-famous Obraztsov Puppet Theater, are prime attractions for families. Both Moscow Circuses are highly recommended for children and adults alike. For classical music lovers, the Moscow Conservatory has a full annual schedule of concerts and recitals featuring Russia's best musical performers. The city also has an active jazz scene. Rock music has gained in popularity in recent years, and concerts are held quite frequently around the city. Tickets to most events are inexpensive and can be bought in advance at the theater or stadium box office, at special kiosks scattered about the city, or obtained by local tour companies. Several movie theaters show first-run, Western-made movies in English or dubbed in Russian.

The American Women's Organization offers children's holiday parties.

St. Petersburg

St. Petersburg, with a population of nearly 5 million, is the second largest city in Russia. Peter the Great founded St. Petersburg in 1703 and transferred the capital from Moscow to St. Petersburg in 1712 to provide Russia with a "Window on the West." The city was renamed Petrograd at the outset of World War I, and in 1918 the capital was moved back to Moscow. On January 26, 1924, 5 days after Lenin's death, the city's name was changed to Leningrad. During WWII, the city suffered historic tragedy as over 480,000 people starved to death in the 900-day siege. In 1991, as a result of a citywide referendum, the city resumed its historical name of St. Petersburg.

St. Petersburg is slightly warmer than Moscow, but it is damper since winter winds blow off the Gulf of Finland. Snow may fall as early as October, and sunlight dwindles to only a few hours a day in the months of January and February. March is generally the rainiest month of the year. June brings the beautiful "White Nights" when the sun barely dips below the horizon. Summer weather can be quite varied, with temperatures fluctuating between the 50s and 80s.

Although the city declined in political importance with the move of the capital back to Moscow, St. Petersburg retained importance as a military-industrial and cultural center. With a highly skilled labor force and a long history of industry and commerce, St. Petersburg is a major producer of electric and electronic equipment, machine tools, nuclear reactor equipment, precision instruments, TV equipment, ships, heavy machinery, tractors, chemicals, and other sophisticated products, as well as consumer goods. It has one of the country's largest dry-cargo ports. It remains a major center for publication, education, and scientific research.

Since August 1991, St. Petersburg has been a reform-minded city. Its large military-industrial center, however, has been slow to adapt to changing conditions. U.S. investment in St. Petersburg has increased significantly in recent years with the opening of several major production facilities. The St. Petersburg consular district taken as a whole accounts for approximately 50% of all U.S. investment in Russia. Nevertheless, crime has increased as a result of the uncertain political and economic situations.

Both local and foreign donations have been focused at preserving and restoring the older parts of the city and outlying imperial residences, which were heavily damaged during World War II.

The older parts of St. Petersburg continue to suffer from the lack of investment over the past 8 decades.


Electrical service in St. Petersburg (including off-compound apartments) is 220v, 50 hz. Most electrical outlets accept two round prongs; two general types are in use. Most apartments have both "German" and the smaller European-sized outlets.


The growing season in St. Petersburg is short. Seasonal produce appears in the local markets for shorter periods than in Moscow. In winter, local greenhouses provide a small supply of produce; fresh fruits and vegetables are also brought from the southern parts of Russia and Europe at inflated prices. Finnish supermarkets offer a selection of fruits and vegetables year-round at prices considerably higher than those in the Washington, D.C. area.

The selection of meats available in local Western-style grocery stores is more limited than in the U.S., though acceptable chicken and pork is usually available. Beef tends to be significantly inferior to that found in the U.S.


Winter temperatures in St. Petersburg can fall to-40 °E The climate is damper than in Moscow. All visitors should pack appropriate clothing. Warm parkas, boots, long underwear, face masks, hats, etc., are invaluable during the winter months. Warm clothing for children and infants is essential.

Rain, melting snow, and dirty streets combine to make walking in St. Petersburg messy during fall and spring. Waterproof, insulated footwear or galoshes are a must. Dark-colored clothes (especially slacks and jeans) are more practical than white or light-colored clothes. Winter clothing and rainwear of all sizes are available in St. Petersburg, but prices are high.

Days are warm in summer, but by August, nights are cool. Except in the middle of summer, you will find many opportunities to wear sweaters. Summer is the time of mosquitoes, so bring plenty of insect repellent. Mosquito nets are also advisable to make sleeping more comfortable for small children.

Supplies and Services

Although most everyday items can be found in St. Petersburg, prices on certain items tend to be higher than in the U.S. Feminine hygiene products, Western name brand kitchen and cleaning supplies, cosmetics, and name brand drugs are generally more expensive than in the U.S. A common problem when buying cleaning, kitchen, and automobile supplies is having to contend with usage instructions in a language other than Russian or English.

Local drycleaning facilities are improving, but consistently acceptable service remains elusive. Reliable drycleaning is available in major hotels and through a few private services, although rates are much higher than in the U.S. Spot remover and cold-water detergents are indispensable. Avoid clothing that needs frequent cleaning.

Russian beauticians and barber-shops are satisfactory, and prices are reasonable. Appointments are recommended.

Domestic Help

Domestic help is readily available at affordable rates. You may hire Russian citizens as housekeepers or nannies for your children, since permanent day care is not always available.

Religious Activities

Within or near St. Petersburg are many active Russian Orthodox churches, several Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Baptist churches, a Jewish synagogue, several branches of the Mormon church, and various other religious organizations. There are also missionaries from many religious denominations.

Most religious services take place in Russian. Strictly foreign congregations hold services in their native languages, including English, French, and German.


The Anglo-American School of St. Petersburg, a branch of the Anglo-American School of Moscow, serves students in kindergarten through grade 12. The strong American-based curriculum is enriched with instruction in local culture and history through visits to and instruction from the city's numerous museums. Kindergarten students must be 5 years old by December 31 of the year of entrance. The school is located in a former Russian kindergarten building on Petrograd Island and is able to accommodate approximately 95 students. For the 1999/2000 academic school year, approximately 90 students were enrolled representing 18 nationalities.

Some parents have used Russian day care or kindergarten facilities. They have proven satisfactory for those few parents and children who are willing to cope with learning a new language, unfamiliar food, and rather strict discipline. During the initial months, the adjustment can be difficult. Russian facilities operate on a three-quarter or full-day basis. As they are set up for working parents, the facilities are often crowded, and significant delays can be expected in finding and getting access to a suitable facility.

Special Educational Opportunities

Those individuals with even average language skills may take advantage of public classes and lessons in all areas of interest where other students and participants are Russian-speaking nationals.


Depending on the season, you may make your own arrangements to attend football (soccer), ice hockey, figure skating, track-and-field, boxing, basketball, auto, bicycle and motorcycle racing, and swimming events. In most cases, prices are inexpensive. Soccer and ice hockey are especially popular; teams in both sports are excellent.

Swimming is not recommended in the Gulf of Finland because of the high level of organic and other pollutants. However, indoor swimming pools are available, with some restrictions. If you wish to use a public pool, you must have written permission from a Russian doctor attesting to your state of health. Fishing is popular in the Neva and the Gulf, but eating fish from the Neva is not recommended. Excursion motorboats, including hydro-foils, also ply the river and canals for sightseeing. There are good bicycle paths in some city parks and along the Gulf.

Winter sports include cross-country skiing and ice-skating. Outdoor rinks throughout the city are open to staff members. Cross country skiing is possible at city parks outside the city center and in the Repino-Zelenogorsk resort area near the Consulate General recreation facility on the Gulf of Finland. Skates and skis are available in St. Petersburg or in Finland, although if you are an avid winter sports enthusiast, bring your own equipment.

Touring and Outdoor Activities

Near St. Petersburg are former royal palace grounds that have been beautifully restored and are now open to the public. These include Peterhof, with its magnificent grounds and fountains; Pavlovsk, the most completely restored royal home; and Tsarskoe Selo, formerly Pushkin, in which are located several palaces, one of which was the home of the last tsar and his family. Other palaces, such as Oranienbaum and Gatchina, are easily accessible for day trips.

Many people usually travel to these palaces in their own vehicles, but public transportation, including summer hydrofoil service to Peter-hof, is available, convenient, and inexpensive, though crowded.

St. Petersburg has about 40 museums covering a broad range of exhibits, from anthropology to zoology. First among these is the world-famous Hermitage, well-known for its collections of Rembrandts, French Impressionists, and Scythian gold. In the Russian Museum, you can see the best of Russian art through the centuries from the icons of Rublev to present-day painters. Several large cathedrals have also been opened to the public as museums, though many-such as St. Isaac's Cathedral, one of the largest in the world, and the Kazanskiy Cathedral-now function again as churches. The Peter and Paul Cathedral contains graves of Russian tsars since Peter the Great.

St. Petersburg offers a feast for the amateur and the serious photographer. There are a number of very good local photography shops which offer color developing and printing at reasonable prices.

Finland: The Finnish border is about 140 miles away-a 3-hour auto trip in good weather from St. Petersburg. You may like to travel to border towns, such as Lappeenranta, for shopping or relaxation. Helsinki is another 3 hours from the border, for a total trip of about 250 miles.

Several flights operate daily between St. Petersburg and Helsinki. The flight is about 43 minutes. Trains between St. Petersburg and Helsinki run daily. Round-trip train fare currently ranges from $90 to $150. A one-way trip takes about 5 hours.

Estonia: Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, is approximately 200 miles away and can be reached in 4-5 hours by car and 10 hours by train. There is one night train that runs between St. Petersburg and Tallinn. Round-trip train fare is less than $50.

The smaller university town of Tartu is located less than 150 miles west of Tallinn and can be reached by daily buses and trains in 3-4 hours. Round-trip bus fare is $20 and train/electrichka fares range from $30-$60.

Latvia: The capital, Riga, is 400 miles from St. Petersburg. A total trip by car is approximately 7-8 hours, by train approximately 11-12 hours. One train runs daily from St. Petersburg to Riga. Round-trip train fare is approximately $85-$145.

Lithuania: The capital, Vilnius, is approximately 460 miles away. A total trip by car is about 8-9 hours, by train 11-13 hours. Trains to Vilnius run daily. Round-trip train fare is between $60$125.


St. Petersburg has about 30 theaters, concert halls, opera houses, and "palaces of culture" that offer a wide variety of ballet, opera, classical music, and plays. The best known is the Mariinskiy Theater, formerly named and recognized around the world as the Kirov Opera and Ballet Theater. The Mussorgskiy Opera and Ballet Theater (formerly Maliy Theater) also has a full repertoire of ballet and opera, and arranges its vacation period so that it performs throughout July and August, when the Mariinskiy is usually on vacation or on tour. St. Petersburg has two symphony orchestras, one of which enjoys a worldwide reputation. The Philharmonic Hall, named after local composer Dmitriy Shostakovich, is one of the finest in Europe. There are other concert halls and a choir hall, all of which offer programs during the September-June season.

The St. Petersburg Circus is definitely worth a visit. Light operettas are given at the Musical Comedy Theater, and there are two puppet theaters in town. The October Concert Hall and the city's several palaces of culture often have concerts that feature popular music or play host to foreign troupes. Both cultural and sporting events are staged at the Yubileyniy and several other palaces of sport.

Serious theater fans, whether or not they speak Russian, will find visits to the Maliy Dramatic Theater, Otkrytiy Theater, and the Theater on Liteiniy worthwhile. These are considered locally to be the most avant-garde of the regular theaters and include in their repertoires works by contemporary American playwrights, such as Tennessee Williams and Arthur Miller. The Pushkin Theater is one of the most splendidly housed in Europe.

Films shown in English or with English subtitles are a rarity-usually, Russian is dubbed over the original language. Two movie houses in St. Petersburg show first-run films in English, although only infrequently. Videocassettes in English may be rented at a few places in the city.

Social Activities

The American community in St. Petersburg-including students on study-abroad programs, research fellows, businessmen, interns, missionaries, and volunteers-is close-knit, and informal get-togethers and spontaneous acquaintances with a wide variety of individuals from the U.S. are common.

The Marine Security Guard Detachment invites both members of the Consulate General community and private citizens from outside of the Consulate General (including Russians) to social functions at the Marine House approximately every 2-3 weeks.

In the past few years, St. Petersburg has enjoyed a significant increase in the quantity and quality of restaurants. A quick glance at the restaurant guide in the city's English-language newspaper shows restaurants that specialize in Chinese, European, French, German, Indian, Italian, Korean, Mexican, and Russian cuisine, as well as several pizza establishments. Other restaurants offer Georgian, American, and Central Asian cuisine. Many of the "Western-style" restaurants offer a mixture of Russian and international dishes.

Several of the hotel restaurants, and many of the Russian restaurants, offer floor shows. Most of the others offer some form of entertainment-from jazz combos to folk ensembles-often somewhat louder than musical entertainment to which Americans are accustomed. Service is sometimes slower than in American restaurants.

Recent years have also seen a large growth in fast-food establishments in the city, with prices comparable to those in the U.S. There are fast food shops specializing in roasted chicken, pizza, and Russian treats. The first of five Golden Arches appeared in St. Petersburg in 1996.

Possibilities for social contacts between Russian citizens and foreigners have normalized and become comparable to those in other countries. Frequently, opportunities arise for such contacts during daily work or while traveling outside the city. St. Petersburg also has an active and growing American and international business community.


General health conditions in St. Petersburg are similar to those in Moscow, although dampness probably accounts for a higher incidence of colds and respiratory ailments.

For health problems Americans and their families primarily use the American Medical Center of St. Petersburg or the EuroMed Clinic. The AMC is the only primarily English-speaking medical clinic in St. Petersburg. It is staffed with both Western-trained medical doctors and Russian doctors. AMC currently offers the services of a Western-trained dentist. Pharmacy and laboratory services are available on site. The AMC offers 24-hour doctor availability, house calls, and emergency care. All of these services are extremely expensive. American's have also used the services of special St. Petersburg polyclinics for adults and children, depending on the circumstances of the illness or injury.

While local pharmacies offer a panoply of medications, it is often difficult to find a particular brand or formulation.

The St. Petersburg water supply originates from nearby Lake Ladoga. Western health authorities have noted a high incidence of infection by the intestinal parasite giardia lamblia in travelers returning from St. Petersburg. Such evidence points to St. Petersburg as a possible site of infection. This diarrhea-inducing parasite is found in many parts of the world and can be contracted by drinking untreated tap water.


Unleaded gasoline is available throughout St. Petersburg. The city has a small but growing number of service stations, but replacement parts for both Russian and Western automobiles can often be difficult to obtain locally. Bring only cars in excellent condition.

The following dealers also have offices in St. Petersburg, with limited service centers: BMW, Chevy, Chrysler, Ford, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar, Jeep, Mazda, Mercedes, Nissan, Peugeot, Saab, and Volvo. Supplies and services are expensive.

Winterizing your car is important because of low winter temperatures. Low viscosity oil and antifreeze protection to-40 °F should be provided before a fall or winter shipment. Since few vehicles will start without assistance on the coldest mornings, bring a strong battery and jumper cables.

Snow tires, or at least tires with good all-weather treads, are necessary for winter driving (November through March).If you are in Finland, the law requires snow tires during severe winter weather. Studded snow tires may be used only between mid-October and mid-April. Snow tires (and studs, when used) must be on all four wheels.


Vladivostok is Russia's principal Pacific port and the largest city in the Russian Far East, with a population of about 700,000. Founded in 1860 as a military outpost, Vladivostok abruptly became the Russian Pacific naval base when Port Arthur fell in the Russo-Japanese War. The city now serves as the capital of Primorskiy Kray (Maritime Territory). Vladivostok's harbor is a major fishing and shipping hub, and the city acts as the eastern terminus of the Trans-Siberian railroad.

Before World War 11, Vladivostok was well on its way to becoming an international commercial center. The Soviets closed the city to foreigners in 1958, however, and it was only declared an open city as of January 1, 1992. Currently, Vladivostok's foreign contacts and foreign population are rapidly growing as American, Japanese, Korean, and Chinese businesses and tourists move into the Russian Far East in increasing numbers.

Vladivostok has a relatively mild climate by Russian standards, moderated by its location on the Pacific Ocean. Spring is chilly until May, with occasional snow occurring in March. Summers are cool and rainy, and autumn is beautiful, with its warm temperatures and sunny weather. Winter is cold and dry, with temperatures ranging between 0 °F and 25 °F. Brisk, humid sea winds can make temperatures seem even colder.

Vladivostok is 10 hours ahead of Greenwich mean time (GMT), 15 hours ahead of eastern standard time (EST).


Electricity is 220v, 50-hertz, AC. Outlets are primarily standard Russian two-prong (round). This size is similar to standard European, but the prongs are somewhat thinner

Vladivostok's utility systems are antiquated. Hot water outages are common in summer and fall, and occasional heating and electricity outages occur.


The range and quality of foods available locally is improving, but still limited, especially in winter. Foods available locally in summer/fall include: fruits (apples, oranges, lemons, bananas), onions, potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, garlic, pork, beef, eggs, fish (fresh, frozen, smoked, and salted), and shellfish. Imported soft drinks, beer, and juices are available as well as imported tinned meats, rice, and macaroni. In winter, vegetables and meats are much harder to find, and the availability of most other foods varies from week to week. Prices are relatively low by American standards.


Although the availability and quality of clothing in Vladivostok is increasing, it remains difficult, if not impossible, to purchase Western-quality clothing locally. Inexpensive, Chinese-made clothing and shoes are becoming increasingly available, but quality is low.

Men: Men should bring wool suits, sweaters, gloves, heavy winter coats, lightweight jackets, and a good raincoat with liner. Insulated boots, scarves, and winter hats are useful in the cold winter months. Good-quality fur hats may be purchased in Vladivostok at reasonable prices. Even in the summer months, heavyweight, woolen clothing can often be worn. Business attire in Russia is similar to that in the U.S. Bring sturdy, comfortable shoes, since Vladivostok's weather can cause shoes to wear quickly. Bring a full supply of casual clothes, including bathing suits, as swimming is possible at some beaches in late summer.

Women: Bring two pairs of each style shoe you plan to wear. Women's shoes, particularly pumps, wear quickly here and cannot be easily repaired. Business attire is similar to that in the U.S. At social events, cocktail dresses are usually worn.

Children: Bring mainly sturdy, warm, washable play clothes. Zippered, one-piece nylon snowsuits are recommended, together with material to patch this type of garment. Waterproof boots with insulated foam lining, several pairs of waterproof mittens, long thermal underwear, and waterproof snow pants are all recommended. Bring scarves, woolen hats and hoods, rubber boots, warm slacks, knee socks, tights, slicker raincoats with hoods, tennis shoes, and warm sweaters. Nightgowns or pajamas, slippers, and bathrobes are also needed. Summer clothing should include washable play clothes, slacks, jeans, shorts, and bathing suits. Babies need warm winter clothing.

Supplies and Services

Bring insect repellent effective against mosquitoes and ticks. Bring any necessary over-the-counter and prescription medicines, cosmetics, and toiletries, such as shampoo, soap, and toothpaste.

Although many basic services are available in some form in Vladivostok, quality is often poor and service slow. Local barbers and hairdressers can provide basic, competent haircuts for relatively low prices. Shoe repair and tailoring services are available, but of low quality.


There is an international school, operated by Quality Schools International, for grades kindergarten through sixth grade. It offers a traditional American curriculum. English language schooling in Vladivostok is limited. Several city schools offer "English-language" programs that are actually carried out primarily in Russian with one or two classes a day taught in English. Local schools have adequate curriculum by American standards, but the schools lack sufficient supplies, equipment, and teaching materials. Overcrowding has forced most of the schools to adopt a two-shift daily schedule. The language barrier may make total reliance on the Russian system difficult.

Special Educational Opportunities

There are several area universities offering courses on a variety of subjects, leading to a degree. However, students must have a strong command of Russian to be accepted.


Vladivostok, Primorskiy Territory, and the entire Russian Far East offer a wide variety of outdoor activities. In Vladivostok, popular summer sports include sailing, fishing, hunting, tennis, baseball, and soccer. Winter sports include basketball, cross-country skiing, ice skating, and ice fishing. There are several public tennis courts in Vladivostok, although most are in relatively poor condition, and during the peak season (May-September), players often must wait for a court. Public basketball courts (indoor and out-door) and soccer/baseball fields are also available. There are many opportunities for Americans to participate in local sports through affiliation with various club teams or through social contacts. Sailboats and motor vessels may be rented and are popular in the summer for trips to nearby islands and beaches. It is also possible to go deep-sea fishing, while shore fishing and freshwater (particularly trout) fishing are popular throughout the region. Hiking and camping are also popular, particularly in the mountains and taiga (primeval forest) north of the city. Swimming is not recommended at many of the beaches near the city due to environmental concerns and the relatively cold water. There are several sandy beaches, which offer good sites for picnics and sunbathing, within an hour's drive of the city. Scuba diving for advanced divers is available and some scuba equipment may even be rented locally.

Vladivostok's relatively snow-free winters make it necessary to travel inland for the best cross-country skiing, but deep snow can be found less than 100 miles away. Downhill skiing is available in various locations in the Russian Far East. Bring all sports equipment, including skis, skates, balls, and rackets. Equipment available locally is of poor quality.

Touring and Outdoor Activities

Although the Russian Far Eastlacks the variety of historic sites and old cities found in the European parts of Russia, it does offer a wide variety of beautiful scenery for the adventurous traveler. The Primorskiy territory coast, marked by numerous rocky islands, steep cliffs, and isolated beaches, is accessible by chartered boat. Tour companies offer hiking and camping tours to the taiga, Kamchatka's volcanoes, and winter ski trips to Siberian ski areas. Hunting and fishing expeditions can also be arranged. The city of Khabarovsk, about 450 miles north of Vladivostok on the Amur River, is the other main center and economic hub of the Russian Far East and can be reached by overnight train or a 90-minute Aeroflot Flight.

Travel within Russia can be tiring. Frequent transportation schedule changes, below-standard hotels, and harsh weather can combine to make an international trip more attractive. Currently, there are international flights to Korea, Japan, and China. In summer, there is a regularly scheduled passenger liner service to Japan and south Korea on Russian ships.


Vladivostok has limited entertainment facilities, but the number is increasing as the city develops. There are several good joint-venture restaurants in the city, with prices ranging from inexpensive to moderate. Although there are nightclubs and casinos, nightlife for the foreign community centers around restaurants and home entertaining.

Vladivostok has several small museums, including an art museum, a museum of natural history, and a military museum. Unlike many Russian cities of its size, Vladivostok has no major, permanent orchestra, theater, or circus troupe.

Visiting musical and theatrical performers, the Moscow Circus and other travelling circuses, a small local orchestra, and several small local theater groups provide cultural entertainment.

Many foreign residents bring video-cassette recorders. Because there are no tape clubs in Vladivostok, bring a supply with you. You can add tapes by ordering from catalogs or by borrowing from friends. Some Russian (PAL/SECAM) videos may be purchased on the local economy, including American films and TV shows that have been dubbed into Russian. Bring a large supply of books and other reading materials with you. English-language books, periodicals, and newspapers are not available in Vladivostok, so magazine subscriptions are also important.

You may read about current events in Vladivostok on the Internet at the following sites: or The former is a Russian-language daily which has an English weekly page. The latter is an English-language internet newspaper.

Social Activities

The social life among the small American community is casual and personally arranged. The total resident American population of Vladivostok numbers about 70, not including the official American community, so contacts between Americans are frequent.

Americans have no difficulty meeting Russians through professional and social interaction. There is an International Women's Club, consisting of American, Russian, Korean, Japanese, and Indian women. Due to the relatively small size of the foreign community, contacts are frequent.


You should endeavor to receive all necessary inoculations before arriving in Vladivostok. Among those required are Japanese B encephalitis vaccines (for both tick and mosquito), hepatitis B vaccine, and gamma globulin. Several of these vaccines are given as a series over several months, so advance planning is required.

Local Russian medical facilities are not recommended, except in case of emergency.

Bottled water is also readily available in the city. Other health hazards include mosquitoes, which carry a strain of Japanese B encephalitis, and ticks, which carry another strain of the same disease. Vaccinations provide complete protection, but bring mosquito and tick repellent anyway to avoid bites.


As Vladivostok's public transportation is limited, bring a vehicle. Japanese vehicles are common in the city, and Toyota and Nissan maintain service centers with trained mechanics. South Korean and European vehicles are slowly becoming more common. Consider a four-wheel-drive vehicle, because Vladivostok's hilly terrain makes winter driving difficult. Snow tires are helpful in winter, but are not mandatory, as snowfall is infrequent. As protection against car theft and vandalism, bring a steering wheel lock or other theft-protection device.

Before departing, ensure that Vladivostok is listed as an entry point on your Russian visa.


Yekaterinburg lays claim to the title of Russia's third largest city and former President Yeltsin's home-town. It is best known to Americans as the place where the last Tsar and his family were murdered by the Bolsheviks in 1918 and the location where American U-2 spy plane pilot Gary Powers was shot down in 1960. Yekaterinburg is situated in the foothills of the Ural Mountains and is nominally an Asian city, lying 20 miles east of the continental divide between Europe and Asia. Like Chicago, its closest American counterpart, Yekaterinburg is the unofficial capital of a key region in the country's heartland, the Urals.

Yekaterinburg was founded in 1723 by Peter the Great, who named it for his wife Catherine I. Tsar Peter recognized the importance of the iron and copper-rich Urals region for Imperial Russia's industrial and military development. By the mid-18th century, metallurgical plants had sprung up across the Urals to cast cannons and Yekaterinburg's mint was producing most of Russia's coins.

Today, Yekaterinburg, much like Pittsburgh in the 1970s, is struggling to cope with dramatic economic changes that have made its heavy industries uncompetitive on the world market. Huge defense plants are struggling to survive, while retail and service sectors are developing rapidly. Yekaterinburg and the surrounding area were a center of the Soviet Union's military industrial complex. Soviet tanks, missiles and aircraft engines were made in the Urals. As a result, the Soviets closed the entire region to contact with the outside world for over 40 years during the Cold War. In 1992, thanks to lobbying efforts by local leaders, the new Russian Federation opened Yekaterinburg and the Urals to contact with the West.

The U.S. was at the forefront of Western efforts to seek to establish contacts in the Urals.


The availability and quality of foods is improving here, but is still limited, especially in winter. Fresh fruits and vegetables are usually available, but selection varies seasonally. Many American staples rarely appear on store shelves. Imported liquor and wine are in short supply and expensive. Availability of items is subject to change. Yekaterinburg's water is not potable.


Yekaterinburg has a continental climate similar to that of the American Midwest, with freezing winter temperatures and warm summers. Winter temperatures occasionally drop as low as minus 40 °F and the first snow usually falls in October. Planning for winter weather should be a high priority. Winter-weight clothing and boots are essential. Snow and ice make the sidewalks very slippery, so footwear with traction is highly recommended. Since the climate is very dry during the winter months, skin moisturizer plus lip balm are recommended items to bring.

Religious Activities

There are no religious services conducted in English in the city. Russian Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Muslim, Seventh day Adventist, Pentecostal, and Jewish services are held weekly. The Methodists, Baptists, Lutherans and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints carry out missionary activities locally, and several of these missions also have weekly services.


There is now one English-language school in Yekaterinburg, but with a Russian curriculum. Other city schools offer one or two classes a day conducted in English. There are no international schools.


The Urals' many lakes, forests and mountains are great for hiking, swimming and fishing. Winter sports include cross-country skiing and ice skating. The Ural Mountains, however, offer only limited opportunities for downhill skiing. Yekaterinburg's most popular spectator sports are hockey, basketball, and soccer.

Touring and Outdoor Activities

The Urals possess beautiful natural scenery, particularly northern Tyumen's distant tundra and taiga. For Russian history and culture buffs, ConGen Yekaterinburg's consular district offers many landmarks including the childhood home museums of classical composer Tschaikovskiy and mad monk Rasputin; the Nizhnyaya Sinyachika village outdoor museum of pre-revolutionary architecture; historic cities like Tobolsk; and the 400-year-old monastery at Verkhoturye, the 16th century capital of the Urals.

Travel is usually routed through Frankfurt (via Lufthansa's direct flight three times per week) or through Moscow via daily Urals Air, Transaero, or Aeroflot flights. There are also regular flights to St. Petersburg and other major cities in the former Soviet Union. Yekaterinburg's airport now features charter flights to many foreign countries, including Turkey, China, and the United Arab Emirates.


The performing arts are Yekaterinburg's cultural strong point. The city has an excellent symphony orchestra, opera and ballet theater, and many other performing arts venues. Tickets are inexpensive. The city's most notable museums are its fine arts museum, which contains paintings by some of Russia's 19th-century masters, and the geological museum which houses an extensive collection of stones and gems from the Urals.

Yekaterinburg's nightlife options are limited. There are a handful of expensive Western-style restaurants and bars, none of which would be worth frequenting in a more cosmopolitan city. Glitzy nightclubs and casinos have appeared to serve the city's nouveau riche clientele. Several new dance clubs have sprung up that offer a chance to rub shoulders with Yekaterinburg's more affluent youth.


Yekaterinburg's health care delivery system does not meet American standards. There is no Western clinic in the city. Basic health care is marginal; dental care is inadequate. Visit a physician and dentist prior to arrival. Inoculations against all forms of hepatitis as well as tick-borne encephalitis (usually received in Russia) are especially important. The nearest Western-style basic medical care is available in Moscow, a 2-hour flight from Yekaterinburg, or in Frankfurt, a 4-hour flight away.


Yekaterinburg is a cash-only economy; credit cards are rarely accepted; travelers checks are not accepted anywhere.


SAMARA , formerly Kuybyshev, an administrative center, is situated on the Volga River, 550 miles southeast of Moscow. It was founded in 1586. The city's position at the convergence of the Volga and Samara rivers contributed to its growth as a trade hub, as well as its status as a provincial capital. There are a number of factories here, many powered by a hydroelectric plant up-river. Samara has research and cultural organizations, and a population of nearly 1.3 million.

VOLGOGRAD , formerly Stalin-grad, is best known for its valiant stand against the German Army in a decisive battle during World War II. The city was almost totally destroyed, and the losses of human life (on both sides) numbered in the hundreds of thousands. Volgograd was known as Tsaritsyn before its name was Stalingrad; in 1961, it was given its present designation. It originated as a Russian fort against raiders in 1589, and became an important city with the advent of railroads. Today, it is a major river port and railroad junction, and has over one million residents. A large hydroelectric power station is located in the city, which is situated at the terminus of the Volga-Don canal.

NIZHNIY NOVGOROD , formerly Gorki, is a major river port and one of the chief industrial cities of the Russian Federation. Its population is over 1.4 million. Its named was changed in 1932 from Nizhniy Novgorod to honor Maksim Gorki, novelist and playwright who was born here in 1868. In 1991, its name was changed back to Nizhniy Novgorod.

The city, situated where the Volga River meets the Okra, was a frontier post in the early part of the 13th century. It was a principal trading center for Russia and the East. Nizhniy Novgorod was the capital of its principality in the 14th century, before its annexation by Moscow in 1392, and later became famous for its large, successful trade fairs. In the 18th and 19th centuries, it was known as a cultural and political center.

NOVOSIBIRSK is the largest industrial center in Siberia, and a rail, river, and air transportation hub. It is the capital of the oblast whose name it bears. The Siberian branch of the world-famous Academy of Science is located here. The population is over 1.4 million.

Known as Novonikolayevsk from its founding in 1896 until it was renamed in 1925, the city became a trade center during the building of the Trans-Siberian Railroad. During the Second World War, entire industrial plants were moved here from threatened areas of the western Soviet Union.


Geography and Climate

The Russian Federation is physically the largest country in the world, covering 17 million square kilometers or 1.8 times the size of the U.S. The territory of the Russian Federation covers 11 time zones and stretches 6,000 miles from east to west. It has a population of about 147.5 million compared with the 265 million in the U.S. Politically, the Russian Federation is a union of 89 constituent republics, regions, and territories that enjoy varying degrees of economic and political independence from the central government located in the capital, Moscow.

In the 19th century, most Russians lived in small, isolated villages, with little freedom to travel. Now, Russia is predominantly urban. Traditionally, Russia's population, with the exception of the upper class, has had few modern comforts and conveniences. Enclosed by long borders, with few natural defenses, Russians have a history of xenophobia. Given Russia's long history of authoritarian governments, until recently few Russians had much experience with pluralist democracy and market-based economy. Increasingly, however, democratic institutions and market economics are finding widespread support. A dynamic private sector has given rise to a growing middle class in and around the major metropolitan centers.

Moscow is the largest city in Russia and is located west of the great Russian plain on the banks of the Moscow Rivet at 37°73 E and 55°45 The city is built on several low hills varying from 25 feet to 815 feet above sea level. Moscow's short summers are as warm as those in the northern U.S. Winters in Moscow are comparable to winters in Chicago. Snow begins in October and continues periodically through April, although snowfall in May is not unusual. Annual rainfall averages 21 inches, with the heaviest rains falling between May and October. Prevailing winds are southerly and southwesterly. Due to Moscow's northern location, daylight varies from 7 hours in December to 17-1/2 hours in June. The average temperature in June and July is 66 °F, but the summer temperatures frequently reach the low 90s. In the winter the temperature may fall to minus 40 °F, but the average December and January temperature is 14 °E Though Moscow's winter air usually is dry, the wind chill factor makes the temperature feel much colder.

St. Petersburg, Russia's second largest city and the former imperial capital, is located on a flat plain at the mouth of the Neva River on the Gulf of Finland at 55° 57 N and 30° 20 E. Established in 1703, the city is built on a series of 101 islands, and is laced by canals and various streams of the Neva. The climate in St. Petersburg is milder than in Moscow but is damp and misty. Average temperatures are 64 °F in July and 17 °F in January. St. Petersburg is famous for its "white nights" which occur in June when the sun shines for nearly 19 hours and sunset only brings semi-darkness.

Yekaterinburg, Russia's third largest city with an estimated population of 1.5 million, is located near the center of Russia, at the crossroads between Europe and Asia. It is the Russian equivalent of Pittsburgh and second only to Moscow in terms of industrial production. Founded in 1723, Yekaterinburg today is the seat of the government for the Sverdlovsk region, which contains numerous heavy industries, mining concerns, and steel factories. In addition, Yekaterinburg is a major center for industrial research and development as well as home to numerous institutes of higher education, technical training, and scientific research.

Vladivostok, the largest city in the Russian Far East and home to the Russian Pacific fleet, is an important center for trade with the Pacific Rim countries. Closed to foreigners from 1958 to 1992, the city now is home to many foreign businesses and consulates. The climate in Vladivostok is milder than in many other Russian cities due to its location on the Pacific Ocean. Winter temperatures range between 0° and 25 °F.


The majority of Russia's 148 million inhabitants is predominantly Slavic. The Federation consists of 89 subjects, including constituent republics, territories, and autonomous regions that enjoy varying degrees of economic and political independence from the central government. Moscow is Russia's largest city (population: 9 million) and is the capital of the Federation. St. Petersburg is Russia's second largest city (population 5 million). In the Russian Far East, the predominant city is Vladivostok, which is becoming an important commercial center in the Federation's trade with the Pacific Rim.

Public Institutions

Politically, economically, and socially, the Russian Federation continues to be in a state of transition. Although constitutional structures are well-defined and democratic in concept, genuine democratization continues to be a slow, but generally positive transition. The 1993 Constitution provides for an elected President and a government headed by a Prime Minister. There is a bicameral legislature, the Federal Assembly, consisting of the State Duma and the Federation Council. The President and the members of the Federal Assembly have won office in competitive elections judged to be largely free and fair, with a broad range of political parties and movements contesting offices.

The most recent elections to Russia's lower half of the Federal Assembly, the State Duma, were held in December 1999. The last presidential election took place in March 2000. Membership in the upper house of the Federal Assembly, the Federation Council, was made elective in 1996. Each of the Federation's 89 constituent republics, regions, and territories is represented by two members, the head of the local executive branch and the chair of the local legislature. The State Duma comprises 450 seats, of which half are from single-mandate districts and half are from party lists. Both chambers participate in shaping policy and enacting legislation, though the State Duma bears the brunt of the legislative workload.

Although it is beginning to show signs of independence, Russia's judiciary remains relatively weak and ineffective compared with the legislative and executive branches of the government. Judges are now only starting to assert their constitutionally mandated powers. The country's highest court, the Constitutional Court, reconvened in March 1995, after the new 1993 Constitution entered into force. The Constitution empowers the court to arbitrate disputes between the other two branches and between the central and regional governments. It also is authorized to rule on violations of constitutional rights, to examine appeals from various bodies, and to participate in impeachment proceedings against the President. The Constitutional Court, however, may not examine cases on its own initiative and is limited in the scope of issues it can hear.

A vigorous and critical media demonstrates that freedom of the press continues to exist in Russia. However, financial constraints make it nearly impossible for the print and broadcast media to survive without the support of business or political sponsors, who, as a result, have the power to influence public opinion. Such sponsors generally represent a sufficiently broad cross section of the Russian political spectrum to provide a variety of points of view on political developments in Russia. Russian television and radio are similarly affected, but provide a narrower spectrum of political viewpoints than the print media.

Arts, Science, and Education

Russian research, in some physical and mathematics sciences and in some branches of medicine, is of a high order. In history, sociology, psychology, political science, and, even in certain biological sciences, Marxist and Leninist preconceptions seriously retarded the development of objective scholarship. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russian scientists have been allowed more academic freedom, but this freedom has resulted in a serious depletion of the country's human resources, as many Russian scientists have emigrated to other countries, creating a "brain drain."

Commerce and Industry

Russia remains in the process of developing the legal basis of a modern market economy. Since for several generations the economy was ruled by a command system that prohibited private enterprise, this task is formidable, and was exacerbated by the August 1998 financial crisis and threefold ruble depreciation. Business operating costs are relatively high, as are interest rates for business loans; and tax and accounting regulations remain murky. Interpretations of laws and regulations often vary. Reflecting this environment, foreign investment has entered Russia at a cautious pace, albeit one that seems to be accelerating again as of mid-2000, since the advent of the Putin administration has been perceived as promising greater political and economic stability. Various sources estimate cumulative foreign direct investment in Russia through 1999 at between $12-$13 billion, most of which has gone into oil extraction and food and consumer goods manufacturing. Russia's government coffers have received a boost from taxes on higher oil export revenues in 1999-2000, although it remains to be seen whether this windfall can be used to leverage the broader economy and promote the restructuring that Russian enterprises must undergo if they are to become more competitive.

In downtown Moscow itself, the economic and commercial transition are more advanced than in the country at large. Western consumer goods are generally available in Moscow, although retail and wholesale outlets are fewer and farther between than in Western countries. The service sector (in everything from internet service and residential cable TV to dentistry, hotels and restaurants to department stores and fast-food delivery) is developing rapidly, fueled by the inflow of Western companies over the past decade (most of whom have retained a presence here despite belt-tightening during the economic downturn in 1998-99).



Driving in Russia requires constant attention, as Russian traffic regulations and procedures differ from those in the U.S. Speed limits are seldom observed; there is little, if any, lane discipline; and defensive driving is mandatory. Many pedestrians, oblivious to oncoming traffic, cross the street at random, which presents a real hazard. Streets are dimly lit at night and pedestrians wear dark clothing that makes them difficult to see. Although trucks are not allowed inside the Garden Ring without a special pass, numerous trucks and outsized, overloaded vehicles transit the rest of the city.

In mid 1999, a new Niva or Lada cost about $3,500, while a Volga was more and a Zhiguli less. Transaction time to purchase and register a Russian vehicle is usually 7-10 working days.

All imported vehicles should be new or in first-class mechanical condition to pass the strict Russian inspection requirements for vehicle registration:

  • Each automobile must have at least two headlights, each with high and low beams. Supplementary lights are permitted, including side lights and fog lights. Front parking lights must be white; rear lights must be red, not yellow or tinted.
  • Front and rear turn signals are required. Front turn signal must be white or orange; rear must be red or orange.
  • Each vehicle must be equipped with a first-aid kit, fire extinguisher, and emergency warning reflector triangle.

Russian gasoline comes in 82, 92, 95, and 98 octane. Unleaded gasoline is widely available, and diesel fuel, although available, is usually of poor quality. There is no need to remove the catalytic converter unless extensive travel is planned for outside the city, where unleaded fuel is not as widely available.

Front-wheel-and four-wheel-drive vehicles offer the best handling in the Russian winter. The main streets in Moscow are regularly plowed; however, some side streets and housing complex parking lots may remain covered with snow and ice throughout the winter.

The Russian government requires that cars be covered by third-party liability insurance.

Ingosstrakh is an official Russian insurance company that offers third-party liability and comprehensive-collision coverage. Policies may be arranged within 2 days. Coverage is immediately invalidated if a driver is charged with drunk driving. The policy may require that covered vehicle damage be repaired in a Russian garage. Ingosstrakh rates are based on engine size, as measured by engine displacement. Insurance for sixand eight-cylinder cars costs more through Ingosstrakh than through a U.S. company. Ingosstrakh third-party liability insurance has two categories with different amounts of coverage. The average cost in 2000 for Ingosstrakh third-party liability insurance was $250 for an American car.

United Services Officers Insurance Brokers, Ltd.,44 High Street, Winchester, Hants, England, offers policies, including third-party liability and comprehensive and collision coverage.

Clements and Company, 1625 Eye Street, NW, Washington, D.C., has a policy that provides coverage for transportation of vehicles from anywhere in the world to Russia. Coverage includes comprehensive collision and protection against marine, fire, and theft loss. However, it does not cover third-party liability. Clements' rate structure is based on the U.S. Bluebook value of the car, and costs may be somewhat lower than those of Ingosstrakh.


The Moscow street plan is a wheel with the Kremlin and Red Square at the hub. Around the hub are three concentric circles-the Boulevard ring, the Garden ring, and the outer ring highway (MKAD). A fourth ring is under construction and should be completed by 2003. The extensive public transportation system consists of buses, streetcars, trolley buses, and the metro. This system covers the entire city, but riders should be prepared to contend with pushing and shoving. The prices for riding the public transport are constantly changing but remain inexpensive. The metro runs from about 0600 until 0100. Stations are clean and safe, and many are internationally famous for the beauty of their interior design.

Taxis can be ordered from private companies. Private cars can be hailed on the street; however, the Regional Security Office advises against this practice. Drivers are sometimes reluctant to stop late in the evening or in bad weather, and the price must be negotiated in advance. Always ride in the back seat and never engage a vehicle that already has another passenger.


Rail and air transport networks are extensive, and service is adequate on both systems. First-class train fares are inexpensive. The overnight train to St. Petersburg is comfortable, but there is the danger of crime. The country's size makes flying to some of the more remote cities more convenient than train travel. Air traffic is sometimes unreliable due to delays caused by bad weather.


Telephone and Telegraph

Telephone service from Moscow to the U.S. and to most European cities is not up to Western standards, but is improving. Recently, U.S.-based telephone companies such as AT&T and Sprint have established direct-dial facilities in Moscow. International calls can be placed by using telephone credit cards made available by these companies. Bring a personal AT&T, Sprint, or MCI calling card for personal long-distance calls.

Radio and TV

All media are in transition in Russia. There are now many joint venture radio stations, with English-speaking announcers who play America's top 40. For example, Radio Maximum, FM 103.7, is English speaking each morning from 6 am until 10 am. The station airs news, weather, business reports, and contemporary rock music. Open Radio on both AM 918 kHz and FM 102.3 MHz rebroadcasts Voice of America (VOA) and BBC programs, plus business and local news programs of their own. Reception of these radio stations is excellent, even on the cheaper "jam boxes." In addition, there is a wide range of excellent Russian radio stations on both AM and FM bands; however, the Russian FM spectrum does not conform to the U.S. FM bands. To receive all Russian FM radio stations, purchase a Russian radio.

Outside of Moscow and St. Petersburg, a good short-wave radio is needed to receive the VOA and BBC broadcasts.

The Russian system is SECAM. American NTSC TV's will usually receive a black-and-white video signal but will not receive audio. Bring or buy a multisystem set that will enable the viewing of Russian programs and cable channels. A multisystem VCR is also helpful, as this enables one to watch Russian and U.S. videotapes.

Newspapers, Magazines, and Technical Journals

An increasing number of Western newspapers is available in Moscow. The International Herald Tribune, USA Today, Wall Street Journal, Time, Newsweek, and the Economist are available at tourist hotels. Western newspapers arrive in Moscow the day after publication.

In Moscow, there are several English-language newspapers for the foreign community. Most are free and include lists of upcoming cultural events, restaurant reviews, TV schedules, and general news of the city and community. All of these papers contain news of the foreign community and coverage and analysis of Russian news and events.

Many publications are available for those who read Russian. In addition to the 2,000 newspapers and magazines that are published in Russian, there is a growing number of Western publications now available in Russian.

Health and Medicine

Medical Facilities

Moscow has three dental clinics with American-trained dentists and laboratory technicians. The Adventist Dental Clinic also has a Western-trained orthodontist on staff.

When hospitalization is needed, Michurnskiy Kremlin Clinic is utilized for diagnostic and in-patient care. The facility offers the highest level of Russian medical care available and has a 24-hour ambulance service. In addition, the American Medical Center has opened a full-service clinic on a membership basis.

For cases requiring advanced diagnostic procedures, surgery, or complicated treatment not available at the Michurinskiy Kremlin Clinic, patients are evacuated to London, Frankfurt, Helsinki, or the U.S.

Community Health

Although the standard of public cleanliness in Russia does not equal that of the U.S. and Western Europe, garbage collection is relatively dependable, and sewage is treated adequately. Public restrooms are usually unsanitary. Streets and public buildings are not clean, but conditions do not pose health hazards.

Moscow's water may not be adequately treated, and drinking water should be boiled or filtered as a precaution.

The Moscow area, as is the case in many parts of Russia, has the potential for environmental hazards. No serious detrimental health effects have been demonstrated from microwaves, NPPD, or nuclear fallout.

Preventive Measures

During the winter, the air in Moscow, especially in offices and apartments, becomes very dry. This sometimes causes dry skin and aggravates respiratory problems. Dry mucous membranes of the respiratory system are vulnerable to infection and irritation. Respiratory infections are common during winter. Reliable food sources are plentiful in Moscow. These local markets and the import stores offer a wide variety of foods, including fresh, dried, and canned products.

Personal Health Measures_

All immunizations should be current, including diphtheria, hepatitis A, and hepatitis B.

There are many reliable pharmacies in Moscow, and many medicines that require a prescription in the U.S. can be obtained over the counter in Moscow. Many Western medications are available in these pharmacies, but not all, and sometimes there are shortages of previously available medications. The best advice is still to bring several months' supply of any medication that is taken regularly or needed for urgent situations.

Several optical services have opened in Moscow, but bring an extra pair of glasses, plus the prescription. Those who wear contact lenses sometimes experience discomfort because of the dry, dusty Moscow air.


Passage, Customs and Duties

Currently, Delta is the only American airline that regularly flies to Moscow and St. Petersburg. However, check the latest schedules to determine what carriers and stopover combinations are authorized.

You can drive over the routes Prague-Warsaw-Brest-Moscow or Helsinki-St. Petersburg-Moscow with prior Russian Government approval. When driving by way of Warsaw, allow at least 6 weeks to arrange the Russian-Brest entrance visa and Czechoslovak and Polish transit visas.

The overland trip should be undertaken only by experienced drivers accompanied by another passenger or by two cars traveling together. If you do not have a Russian driver's license, have a valid U.S. license and an international driver's license available. Gasoline is often difficult to find in Russia outside of major cities. Gas stations take cash only.

Road travel in Russia is not geared to high-speed, long-distance runs. Surfaces vary greatly, detours are frequent, and drivers often do not perform according to expectations. Heavy truck traffic makes passing extremely dangerous. Service facilities are seldom seen and never to be depended on for parts. A carefully planned pacing is the best approach.

Currently, Delta flies into St. Petersburg. If transiting Eastern Europe en route, check for compliance with visa requirements and be aware that flight schedules between St. Petersburg and Eastern European cities often change without notice. If arriving by car, enter from Helsinki.

Initial travel to Vladivostok is possible either by air via Moscow or across the Pacific on an American carrier. There are frequent trans-Pacific flights from Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, and Los Angeles to Tokyo and Seoul, and biweekly flights in summer from Seattle to Vladivostok via Anchorage and Magadan. Travelers choosing to transit Tokyo must take a "bullet train" from Tokyo to Niigata (about 2 hours). Aeroflot flies twice weekly (Thursdays and Sundays) from Niigata to Vladivostok. Travelers transiting Seoul must catch the weekly (Sunday) Aeroflot flight from Seoul to Khabarovsk, then fly or take an overnight train from Khabarovsk to Vladivostok.

U.S. citizens must possess a valid U.S. passport and appropriate visas for travel to or transit through Russia, whether by train, car, ship or airplane.

Russian visas should be obtained from an embassy or consulate in the U.S. or abroad in advance of travel, as it is impossible to obtain a Russian entry visa upon arrival. Travelers who arrive without an entry visa are not permitted to enter Russia and face immediate expulsion by route of entry, at the traveler's expense. Errors in dates or other information on the visa may result in denial of entry, and it is helpful to have someone who reads Russian check the visa before departing the United States.

Visas are valid for specific dates. An entry/exit visa reflects two dates written in the European style (day, month, year). The first date indicates the earliest day you may enter Russia; the second date indicates the last day you are permitted to be in Russia using that visa. Sometimes, the length of a visa may not correspond to the length of your planned stay. Before starting your trip, be sure your visa is valid for the dates of your planned entry and departure. Travelers who spend more than three days in the country must register their visa through their hotel or sponsor. It is helpful to make a photocopy of your visa in the event of loss, but note that a copy of your visa will not be sufficient for leaving the country, as Russian border officials always ask for the original.

The office that issued your visa must approve amendment of a visa necessitated by illness or changes in travel plans. If travelers experience entry and exit visa problems they and/or their sponsor must contact the nearest Russian visa and passport office (OVIR) for assistance. Visitors who overstay their visa's validity, even for one day, or who neglect to register their visa will be prevented from leaving until this is corrected, which usually requires payment of a fee and results in a missed flight or other connection.

Due to the possibility of random document checks by police, U.S. citizens should carry their original passports and registered visas with them at all times. Failure to provide proper documentation can result in detention and/or heavy fines. It is not necessary for travelers to have either entry or itinerary points in the Russian Federation printed on their visas.

All travelers must continue to list on the visa application all areas to be visited and subsequently register with authorities at each destination. There are several closed cities throughout Russia. Travelers who attempt to enter these cities without prior authorization are subject to fines, court hearings and/or deportation. Travelers should check with their sponsor, hotel or the nearest Russian visa and passport office before traveling to unfamiliar cities and towns.

Any person applying for a visa for a stay of more than three months must present a certificate showing that he/she is HIV-negative. The certificate must contain the applicant's passport data, proposed length of stay in Russia, blood test results for HIV infection, including date of the test, signature of the doctor conducting the test, medical examination results, diagnostic series and seal of the hospital/medical organization. The HIV test must be administered no later than three months prior to travel, and the certificate must be in both Russian and English.

Russia issues visas (with the exception of transit visas) based on support from a sponsor, usually an individual or local organization. Generally speaking, visas sponsored by Russian individuals are "guest" visas, and visas sponsored by tour agencies or hotels are "tourist" visas. Note that travelers who enter Russia on "tourist" visas, but who then reside with Russian individuals, may have difficulty registering their visas and may be required by Russian authorities to depart Russia sooner than they had planned. Student visas allow only for one entry. The sponsoring school is responsible for registering the visa and obtaining an exit visa. It is important to know who your sponsor is and how to contact him/her because Russian law requires that your sponsor apply on your behalf for replacement, extension or changes to your visa. Even if your visa was obtained through a travel agency in the United States, there is always a Russian legal entity whose name is indicated on the visa and who is considered to be your legal sponsor. The U.S. Embassy cannot act as your sponsor. U.S. citizens should contact their tour company or hotel in advance for information on visa sponsorship.

Persons holding both Russian and U.S. passports should be aware that if they enter Russia on a Russian passport that subsequently expires, Russian authorities will not permit them to depart using their U.S. passport. Since it may take several months to obtain a new Russian passport to satisfy Russian requirements for departure, travelers are advised to ensure that their Russian passports will be valid for the duration of their stay or that they travel on a valid U.S. passport and Russian visa.

For additional information concerning entry and exit requirements, travelers may contact the Russian Embassy, Consular Section, 2641 Tunlaw Rd., NW, Washington, DC 20007, telephone (202) 939-8907, web site-, or the Russian consulates in New York (tel. 212-348-0926/55), San Francisco (tel. 415-928-6878, 415-929-0862, 415-202-9800/01) or Seattle (tel. 206-728-1910).

Russian customs laws and regulations are in a state of flux and are not consistently enforced. When arriving in Russia, travelers must declare all items of value on a customs form; the same form used during arrival in Russia must be presented to customs officials at the time of departure. As of October 2001, travelers must declare all foreign currency they are bringing into Russia. Non-residents of Russia are prohibited from taking any cash money in currency other than the Russian ruble out of the country unless it has been declared upon arrival or wired, and supported by an appropriate document. Those with stamped declaration forms may exit Russia with a sum of foreign currency no greater than the sum declared upon entry. Lost or stolen customs forms should be reported to the Russian police, and a police report (spravka) should be obtained to present to customs officials upon departure. Often, however, the traveler will find that the lost customs declaration cannot be replaced. Travelers attempting to depart Russia with more money than was on their original customs form face possible detention, arrest, fines and confiscation of currency.

Travelers should obtain receipts for all high-value items (including caviar) purchased in Russia. Any article that could appear old or as having cultural value to the customs service, including artwork, icons, samovars, rugs and antiques, must have a certificate indicating that it has no historical or cultural value. It is illegal to remove such items from Russia without this certificate. Certificates will not be granted for the export of articles that are more than 100 years old, no matter the value. These certificates may be obtained from the Russian Ministry of Culture. For further information, Russian speakers may call the Airport Sheremetyevo-2 Customs Information Service in Moscow at (7) (095) 578-2125/578-2120, or, in St. Petersburg, the Ministry of Culture may be reached at 311-3496.

Russia also has very strict rules on the importation of large quantities of medication, and of some medications regardless of quantity. It is advisable to contact the Russian Embassy or one of Russia's consulates for specific information regarding this or other customs regulations.

Americans living in or visiting Russia are encouraged to register at the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy or at the U.S. consulate general closest to the region of Russia they will be visiting, and to obtain updated information on travel and security within Russia. The U.S. Embassy is located in Moscow at Novinskiy Bulvar 19/23; tel: (7) (095) 728-5000, fax: (7) (095) 728-5084. After-hours emergencies: (7) (095) 728-5000. Also, monitor the Embassy's web site at or e-mail at [email protected].


All pets entering Russia must be accompanied by a certificate of good health issued not more than 10 days prior to arrival. Veterinary care is available but technology is not very advanced. Animals with chronic problems probably should not be brought.

All pets should be given distemper, hepatitis, leptospira bactrin, parvovirus, and rabies immunizations before entering the Russian Federation. A rabies and an immunization certification stating dates must be available for customs formalities. Check with your airline concerning regulations and how far in advance you need the shots given to your pet.

There are veterinary clinics in Moscow that stock rabies, distemper, leptospira bactrin, and parvovirus vaccines for dogs and cats. Other pet medicines and supplies (worm pills, flea powder, vitamins, soap, etc.) should be brought with you.

Currency, Banking, and Weights and Measures

The Russian unit of currency is the ruble, composed of 100 kopecks.

The rate of exchange is relatively stable at 28-29 rubles to the dollar. Check local banks or hotels for the latest rate.

Numerous banks and dollar exchange facilities are located throughout the city.

The metric system of weights and measures is used.

Special Information

The importation and use of Global Positioning Systems and other radio electronic devices are subject to special rules and regulations in Russia. In general, mapping and natural resource data collection activities associated with normal, commercial, and scientific collaboration may result in seizure of the equipment and/or arrest of the user. The penalty for using a GPS device in a manner which is determined to have compromised Russian national security can be a prison term of ten to twenty years. In December 1997, a U.S. citizen was imprisoned in Rostov-na-Donu for ten days on charges of espionage for using a GPS device to check the efficacy of newly-installed telecommunications equipment. He and his company believed the GPS had been legally imported and were not aware that Russian authorities considered nearby government installations secret.

No traveler should seek to import or use GPS equipment in any manner unless it has been properly and fully documented by the traveler in accordance with the instructions of the Glavgossvyaznadzor (Main Inspectorate in Communications) and is declared in full on a customs declaration at the point of entry to the Russian Federation.

All radio electronic devices brought into Russia must have a certificate from Glavgossvyaznadzor (Main Inspectorate in Communications) of the Russian Federation. This includes all emitting, transmitting, and receiving equipment such as GPS devices, cellular telephones, satellite telephones, and other kinds of radio electronic equipment. Excluded from the list are consumer electronic devices such as AM/FM radios.

To obtain permission to bring in a cellular telephone , an agreement for service from a local cellular provider in Russia is required. That agreement and a letter of guarantee to pay for the cellular service must be sent to Glavgossvyaznadzor along with a request for permission to import the telephone. Based on these documents, a certificate is issued. This procedure is reported to take two weeks. Without a certificate, no cellular telephone can be brought into the country, regardless of whether or not it is meant for use in Russia. Permission for the above devices may also be required from the State Customs Committee of the Russian Federation.

The State Customs Committee has stated that there are no restrictions on bringing laptop computers into the Russian Federation for personal use. The software , however, can be inspected upon departure; and some equipment and software have been confiscated because of the data contained in them, or due to software encryption, which is standard in many programs.

For more information, contact: State Customs Committee of the Russian Federation, Russia 107842 Moscow. 1A Komsomolskaya Place, Telephone: 7-095-975-4070. Department for clearance of items for personal use: Telephone: 7-095-975-4095, Glavgossvyaznadzor, Russia 117909 Moscow, Second Spasnailovkovsky 6, Telephone: 7-095-238-6331, Fax: 7-095-238-5102.


Jan. 1 & 2New Year's Day

Jan. 7Christmas (Orthodox)

Jan. 25St. Tatiana Day

Apr. 1Laughter Day (Fool Day)

Apr/MayEaster (Russian Orthodox)

Mar. 8International Women's Day

May 1Labor Day

May 2Spring Day

May 9Victory Day

June 12 Independence Day

Nov. 7Day of Consent and Reconciliation

Dec. 12Constitution Day


The following titles are provided as a general indication of the material published on this country:

Baedeker, Karl. Baedeker's Handbook for Travelers: Russia. Arno Press: New York, 1914 (Reprinted 1970).

Binyon, Michael. Life in Russia. Pantheon: 1984.

Daglieb, Robert. Coping with Russia. Basil Blackwell, Ltd: Oxford, 1985.

Feshback, Murray and Fred Friendly, Jr. Ecocide in the USSR. Basic Books: New York, 1991.

Kaiser, Robert. Russia: The People and the Power. Atheneum: New York, 1976.

Klose, Kevin. Russia and the Russians. Norton & Co.: 1984.

Louis, Victor and Jennifer. The Complete Guide to the Soviet Union. St. Martin's Press: New York, 1980.

Massier, Suzanne. Land of the Fire-bird. Simon & Schuster: New York, 1980.

Plessix Gray, Francine du. Soviet Women Walking the Tightrope. Doubleday: New York, 1989.

Pomer, Vladimir. Parting with Illusions. Avon Books: New York, 1990.

Schecter, Jerrold. An American Family in Moscow. Little, Brown & Co.: Boston, 1975.

Shipler, David K. Russia: Broken Idols, Solemn Dreams. Times Books: New York, 1983.

Smith, Hedrick. The New Russians. Random House, Inc.: New York, 1990.

Smith, Hedrick. The Russians. Quadrangle Books: New York, 1976.

Willis, David. KLASS: Status and Privileges in the Soviet Union. St. Martin's Press: New York, 1985.

Wilson, Edmund. To the Finland Station. Praeger: New York, 1968.

U.S.-Soviet/U.S.-Russian Relations

Bishop, Donald G. The Roosevelt-Litvinov Agreements: The American View. Syracuse University Press: Syracuse, 1965.

Bohlen, Charles E. Witness to History, 1929-1969. Norton: New York, 1973.

Daniels, Robert V. Russia: The Roots of Confrontation. Harvard University Press: Cambridge, 1985.

Feis, Herbert. From Trust to Terror: Onset of the Cold War, 1945-1950. Norton: New York, 1970.

Harriman, W Averell, and Elie Abel. Special Envoy to Churchill and Stalin, 1945-1946. Random House: New York, 1975.

Horelick, Arnold L., ed. U.S.-Soviet Relations-The Next Phase. Cornell University Press: Ithaca and London, 1986.

Kerman, George F. Soviet-American Relations, 1917-1920 (two volumes). Princeton University Press: Princeton, 1956-58.

Kohler, Foy. Understanding the Russians: A Citizen's Primer. Harper & Row: New York, 1970.

Newhouse, John. Cold Dawn: The Story of SALT. Holt, Rinehart & Winston, Inc.: New York, 1973.

Ulam, Adam B. Expansion and Coexistence: The History of Soviet Foreign Policy, 1917-1973. Praeger: New York, 1974.

. The Bolsheviks. Macmillan: New York, 1965.

Foreign Policy

Edmonds, Robin. Soviet Foreign Policy, 1962-1973: The Paradox of Super Power. Oxford University Press: New York, 1977.

Horelick, Arnold L. and Myron Rush. Strategic Power and Soviet Foreign Policy. University of Chicago Press: Chicago, 1966.

Kerman, George E. Russia and the West Under Lenin and Stalin. Little, Brown & Co.: Boston, 1961.

The Old Regime

Bialer, Seweryn. The Soviet Paradox: External Expansion, Internal Decline. Alfred A. Knopf New York, 1986.

Billington, James H. The Icon and the Axe. Knoft: New York, 1966.

Blum, Jerome. Lord and Peasant in Russia from the Ninth to the Nineteenth Century. Princeton University Press: Princeton, 1961.

Byrnes, Robert E, ed. After Brezhnev, Sources of Soviet Conduct in the 1980s. Indiana University Press: Bloomington, 1983.

Pares, Bernard. A History of Russia. AMS Press: New York, 1965.

Pipes, Richard. Russia Under the Old Regime. Scribner: New York, 1975. Venturi, Franco. Roots of Revolution. Grosset and Dunlap: New York, 1966.

The Revolutionary Period

Cohen, Stephen E. Bukharin and the Bolshevik Revolution: A Political Biography, 1888-1938. Alfred A. Knopf. New York, 1973.

Courtois, Stephane & others. The Black Book of Communism: Crimes, Terror, Repression. Harvard University.

Deustcher, Isaac. The Prophet Armed: Trotsky, 1879-1921, vol. 1; The Prophet Unarmed: Trotsky, 1921-1929, vol. 2; and The Prophet Outcast: Trotsky, 1929-1940, vol. 3. Random House: New York, 1965.

Hunt, R. Carew. The Theory and Practice of Communism. Penguin Books: New York, 1963

Marx, Karl. The Communist Manifesto. Penguin Books: New York, 1968.

Pipes, Richard. The Formation of the Soviet Union: Communism and Nationalism, 1917-1923. Harvard University Press: Cambridge, 1964.

Reed, John. Ten Days That Shook the World. International Publishing Co.: New York, 1967.

Rosenberg, William G., Ed. Bolshevik Visions: First Phase of the Cultural Revolution in Soviet Russia. Ardis Publishers: Ann Arbor, 1984.

Salisbury, Harrison. Black Night, White Snow: Russia's Revolutions (19051917). Doubleday & Co.: New York, 1978.

Trotsky, Leon. The Russian Revolution: The Overthrow of Tzarism and the Triumph of the Soviets. (Abbreviated edition). Doubleday & Co.: New York, 1959.

Tucker, Robert C., ed. The Lenin Anthology. W. W. Norton and Co.: New York, 1975.

Ulam, Adam. Dangerous Relations: The Soviet Union in World Politics, 1970-1982. Oxford University Press: New York, 1983.

Wolfe, Bertram. Three Who Made a Revolution. Dell Publishing Company: New York, 1964.

Zbarsky, Ilya & Samuel Hutchinson. Lenin's Embalmers. Harvill.

The Stalinist Period

Carr, Edward H. A History of Soviet Russia (9 volumes). Macmillan: New York, 1953.

Conquest, Robert. Kolyma. The Arctic Death Camp. Viking Press: New York, 1978.

Conquest, Robert. The Great Terror: Stalin's Purge of the Thirties. Macmillan: New York, 1973.

Djilas, Milovan. Conversations with Stalin. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.: New York, 1962.

Ginsburg, Yevgenia. Journey into the Whirlwind. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.: 1975.

Medvedev, Roy. Let History Judge: The Origins and Consequences of Stalinism. Random House: New York, 1973.

Medvedev, Zhores. The Rise and Fall of T.D. Lysenko. Doubleday & Company: New York, 1971.

Salisbury, Harrison. 900 Days: The Seige of Leningrad. Harper & Row: New York, 1969.

Ulam, Sm. Stalin: The Man and His Era. Viking Press: New York, 1973.

Post-Stalin Period

Barron, John. KGB: The Secret Work of Soviet Secret Agents. Reader's Digest Press: New York, 1974.

Bloch, Sidney and Peter Reddaway. Psychiatric Terror. Basic Books, Inc.: New York, 1977.

Brzezinski, Zbigniew. Ideology and Power in Soviet Politics. Green-wood Press, Inc.: Westport, 1976.

Fainsod, Merle. How Russia Is Ruled. Harvard University Press: Cambridge, 1963.

Hingley, Ronald. The Russian Mind. Scribner: New York, 1977.

Katz, Zev, et al. Handbook of Major Soviet Nationalities. Free Press: New York, 1975.

Medvedev, Roy and Zhores. A Question of Madness. Random House: New York, 1972.

Medvedev, Roy and Zhores. Krushchev: The Years in Power. Columbia University Press: New York, 1976.

S Chapiro, Leonard. Communist Party of the Soviet Union. Random House: New York, 1971.

Talbott, Strobe, ed. Krushchev Remembers. Little, Brown & Co.: Boston, 1971.

Tatu, Michael. Power in the Kremlin: From Krushchev to Kosygin. Viking Press: New York, 1969.

Tokes, Rudolph L. Dissent in the USSR: Politics, Ideology, and People. Johns Hopkins University Press: Baltimore, 1975.

Russian Literature

Chekhov, Anton. The Cherry Orchard. Grove Press, Inc.: New York, 1977. The Sea Gull. Harper & Row: New York, 1977.

Chekov, Anton. Three Sisters. Macmillan: New York, 1969.

Dostoyevsky, Fedor. Brothers Karamazov. Norton: New York, 1976.

Dostoyevsky, Fedor . Crime and Punishment. Norton: New York, 1975.

Dostoyevsky, Fedor . Notes from the Underground. T.Y. Crowell Co.: New York, 1975. Gogol, Nicolai. Dead Souls. Norton: New York, 1971.

Lermontov. A Hero of Our Times. Penguin Books, New York, 1966.

Tolstoy, L. Anna Karenina. Bantam Books, Inc.: New York, 1977.

Tolstoy, L. War and Peace. Apollo Editions: New York, 1977.

Turgenev. Fathers and Sons. Washington Square Press, Inc.: New York, 1977.

Soviet Literature

Bulgakov, Mikhail. Heart of a Dog. Grove Press, Inc.: New York, 1968.

Bulgakov, Mikhail. Master and Margarita. Grove Press, Inc.: New York, 1967.

Gorky, Maxim. Mother. Progress Publications: Chicago, 1976.

Kopelev, Lev. To Be Preserved Forever. J.B. Lippincott, Company: Philadelphia, 1977.

Pasternak, Boris. Dr. Zhivago. New American Library: New York, 1974.

Sholokhov, T. Mikhail. And Quiet Flows the Don. Random House: New York, 1965.

Solzhenitsyn, A. August 1914. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc.: New York, 1972.

Solzhenitsyn, A. Cancer Ward. Dell Publishing Co.: New York, 1974.

Solzhenitsyn, A. The First Circle. Bantam Books, Inc.: New York, 1976.

Solzhenitsyn, A. The Gulag Archipelago (3 volumes). Harper & Row: New York, 1974-77.

Solzhenitsyn, A. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich. Praeger: New York, 1963.

Tertz, Abram. The Trial Begins. McCosh, Melvin, Bookseller: Excelsior, 1960.

Voinovich, Vladimir. The Ivankaid. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc.: New York, 1977.

Voinovich, Vladimir. The Life and Extraordinary Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, Inc.: New York, 1977.

Voznesensky, Andrei. Antiworlds and the Fifth Ace. Schocken Books, Inc.: New York, 1973.

Zamiatin, Eugene. We. Gregg Press, Inc.: Boston, 1975.

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Russian Federation

Rossiyskaya Federatsiya



In terms of territory, Russia is the world's largest country. With a total area of 17,075,200 kilometers (6,592,735 square miles), Russia covers about one-eighth of the world's land surface. Russia is 60 percent larger than the world's second-largest country, Canada. But, like Canada, much of Russia's territory is located above the 50th parallel, where subarctic and arctic weather conditions are prevalent. Until the disintegration of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR or "Soviet Union") in 1991, the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic was the largest and dominant administrative component of the Soviet Union. In August 1991, the Russian Republic was one of the 15 countries that declared independence from the Soviet Union.

Russia stretches from its westernmost point in the city of Kaliningrad, just north of Warsaw, Poland, to its easternmost point at Big Diomede Island in the Bering Strait. Within eyesight is Little Diomede Island, belonging to the United States just off the coast of Alaska's Seward Peninsula. Russia's great breadth of territory includes many different geographical regions. These include areas of permafrost (areas of eternal ice) in Siberia and the Far North as well as taiga and steppes (vast grassland). Much of Russia's northern and eastern coastline is hemmed in by ice for much of the year, complicating navigation. However, Russia has year-round warm water seaports at Murmansk on its northwestern coastline of the Barents Sea and at Vladivostok at the far eastern coast on the Sea of Japan.


The population of Russia was estimated at 146,001,176 (July 2000 est.) by official U.S. government sources. According to official figures, the Russian population growth rate is negative, declining at a rate of 3 percent a year. The birth rate was at 9 births per 1,000 persons per year in 2000. The death rate was at 13.8 deaths per population per year. The declining population in Russia is taking place in the presence of a net in-flow of migrants. Migration to Russia averaged 1.38 migrants per year per 1,000 persons during 2000. The migration into Russia is composed heavily of migrants from the 14 countries of the former USSR that adjoin Russia but became independent states in late 1991.

Roughly 80 percent of Russia's population is ethnic Russian. The remaining 20 percent is made up of a wide variety of ethnic groups including Tatar, Ukrainian, Belarussian, Moldavian, Kazakh, and many others. About three-fourths of the population of Russia is urban. Moscow, Russia's capital and largest city, is home to some 9 million people. Russia has a well-educated population with near universal literacy.

Previously Russia was the world's sixth most populous country, following China, India, the United States, Indonesia, and Brazil. The Population Reference Bureau, one of the world's leading professional demographic organizations, differs with the official U.S. government estimates regarding the size of Russia's population, and estimated Russia's population in July 2000 to be 145,231,000. At the same time, the bureau estimated Pakistan's population to be 150,648,000. This differs with the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency's (CIA) World Factbook, which estimated Russia's population to be 146,001,176 and Pakistan's to be 141,553,775. Despite the difficulties in measuring population accurately, it is clear that Russia's population is declining and Pakistan's is growing rapidly. If the estimates of the Population Reference Bureau are accurate, Pakistan has already overtaken Russia. This would mean that Russia, previously the world's sixth most populous country, has fallen to seventh place behind Pakistan. Even if the figures are not exactly accurate, the population trends suggest that this transition is not far away.

The USSR was a multinational country with a population of 289 million people. The country was made up of more than 100 ethnic or "national" groups. Today's Russian Federation (or simply "Russia") emerged from the USSR with roughly one-half of the USSR's population. In the aftermath of the Soviet breakup, millions of people relocated from the parts of the USSR in which they lived to new homes in the 15 countries that resulted. This migration involved many of the citizens of the USSR relocating to their native homelands. Even after these population adjustments, however, Russia is still a large and varied country. Dozens of different language groups and ethnic groups occupy Russia today.

Many of the minority groups within Russia have asserted their right to greater cultural autonomy and, sometimes, political autonomy. A minority area within Russia inhabited largely by the Chechen people proclaimed independence from Russia in 1994. Russian troops crushed the separatist movement. Russia proclaimed victory over the breakaway area of Chechnya in 1996, but the war erupted again in 1997. The brutal Chechen war has left much of this corner of Russia in ruins and has contributed to an ethnic terrorist campaign against Russia. Chechnya lies in one of Russia's most economically strategic regions, across which passes oil and gas pipelines carrying energy resources to European and world markets. Independence in Chechnya would result in these pipelines falling under the control of Chechnya rather than Russia.


Russia today has a diversified economy, but its most important sector is the sale of raw materials and primary commodities such as oil, timber, and gold. Russia is well-endowed with natural resources and raw materials. Russia ranks among the world's leading producers of petroleum and gas, copper, manganese, bauxite, graphite, uranium, titanium, gold, silver, and platinum. The former Soviet Union was a leading international producer of manufactured items such as chemicals, weapons, and military and aerospace equipment. Much of the industrial base of these manufacturing sectors was located within the Russian Republic itself. However, the disintegration of the USSR led to significant interruptions in commercial relationships.

During its 73 years of existence, the USSR grew to be a great military superpower. Measured in terms of crude output, the USSR created the foundation for massive production possibilities. The USSR became one of the world's largest producers of numerous processed materials and manufactured items, ranging from foodstuffs to nuclear warheads. But efficiency of productionthat is the ratio of inputs to outputs for any given product was not a major objective of the Soviet economic system. Great emphasis was put on outputs. Accordingly, the USSR developed an economic system that was focused almost exclusively on the achievement of production targets. The system proved to be extremely bureaucratic and highly resistant to technological change. The Soviet economic system was not capable of meeting the requirements of the dynamic international markets of the 21st century. Even before the Soviet Union broke up, the Russian government began initiating reforms to move the economy from a centrally-planned to a market-based liberal economy . This process of change has come to be known as the transition to a market economy.

Soon after independence, the Russian government announced a much more ambitious program of political and economic reform. The program included a transformation of the economy from the principles of state planning and administrative direction to market-based economics. Price controls were lifted. Government subsidies were eliminated or reduced. The government budget was organized along new lines so that it could be balanced through bringing tax revenues into line with government spending. A restrictive monetary policy was adopted. Foreign trade was liberalized through the lifting of export and import controls. The Russian currency, the ruble, was allowed to devalue to bring it into line with market rates. Privatization and restructuring of state monopolies was undertaken. Efforts were commenced to establish the legal and regulatory structure for a market environment. New legislation was passed to establish laws and procedures for the banking industry, capital markets, civil and contract law, adjudication of commercial disputes, and the development of a social safety net to cushion the social impact of economic structural transformation.

But the first years of transition proved very difficult for Russia. In its first decade as a market-oriented economy, the Russian economy suffered a contraction of nearly 60 percent over pre-independence levels as measured by GDP. Sharp declines in production in key industries and exports led to a continuously contracting economy between 1990 and 1997 as industrial production went into a "free fall," dropping more than 50 percent during the decade of the 1990s. The Soviet military-industrial complex, suppliers of goods to the state sector, and light industry were the hardest hit by the structural adjustment to a market-oriented economy and the withdrawal from superpower status.

In 1997 the economy began to show the first signs of post-transition recovery, posting a growth rate of slightly less than 1 percent. Despite the "shock therapy" of a rapid transition and the decline in industrial production, increase in poverty and unemployment, and the weakening of the social service infrastructure , Russia was beginning to show signs of an economic turnaround. Inflation , which skyrocketed in 1993 and 1994, finally had been brought under control. The ruble was stabilized. An ambitious privatization program had transferred thousands of enterprises to private ownership. Important market-oriented laws had also been passed, including a commercial code governing business relations and the establishment of an arbitration court for resolving economic disputes.

However, in the summer of 1998, a powerful wave of financial instability that originated in the Asian financial crisis of 1997 swept through the Russian financial community. The Russian economy has undergone tremendous stress as it has moved from a centrally-planned economy toward a free market system . Difficulties in implementing fiscal reforms aimed at raising government revenues and a dependence on short-term borrowing to finance government budget deficits led to a serious financial crisis in 1998. Lower prices for Russia's major export earners (oil and minerals) and a loss of investor confidence due to the Asian financial crisis exacerbated financial problems. The result was a rapid decline in the value of the ruble, flight of foreign investment, delayed payments on government and private debts, a breakdown of commercial transactions through the banking system, and the threat of runaway inflation. In August 1998 the Russian government allowed the ruble to fall precipitously and postponed payment on US$40 billion in treasury bonds. In the wake of the financial crisis, billions of dollars of foreign direct investment were swept out of the country, investor confidence fell, and Russia moved into a sharp economic contraction.

The 1998 financial crisis produced a steep and sudden decline in personal incomes, as GDP per capita in Russia dropped from US$3,056 in 1997 to US$1,867 in 1998. The sharp decline in per capita income and contraction of the financial markets also had some benign effects, however. In some economic sectors, Russian economic performance improved as higher world prices for fuelsworld oil prices nearly tripled in 1999and some metals facilitated improvement in exports. The Russian ruble was devalued in connection with the financial crisis. The devalued ruble rendered Russian-made products relatively cheaper than imports. This contributed to increased purchases of domestically produced goods and services as well as facilitating exports.

In 1999 output increased for only the second time since 1991, by an officially estimated 3.2 percent, regaining much of the ground lost during the 4.6 percent drop of 1998. The 1999 increase was achieved despite a year of potential turmoil that included the ousting of 3 premiers and culminated in the New Year's Eve resignation of President Boris Yeltsin. Of great help was the tripling of international oil prices in the second half of 1999, raising the export surplus to US$29 billion. On the negative side, inflation rose to an average 86 percent in 1999, compared with a 28 percent average in 1998. Average citizens found their real wages fall by roughly 30 percent and their pensions by 45 percent. The new Russian government, under the leadership of Vladimir Putin, gave high priority to supplementing low incomes by paying back wage and pension IOUs. However, many investors, both domestic and international, remained on the sidelines, scared off by Russia's long-standing problems with capital flight , widespread corruption, and newspaper articles on organized crime and the Russian mafia. The international press gave sensational coverage to investigations of money laundering schemes designed to move ill-gotten gains into safe havens out of Russia.

The rebound continued in 2000 as the Russian economy grew briskly throughout the year, far exceeding expectations. Buoyed by the devaluation of the ruble and a sharp increase in average oil export prices over 1999 levels, real GDP surpassed its pre-1998 crisis level, growing by over 8 percent in 2000. Growth in industrial output, which reached 8 percent in 1999, further increased in 2000. The increase in industrial production led to a reduction in the unemployment rate, with recorded unemployment falling to just over 10 percent by the end of 2000.

On the negative side, it must be noted that Russia's economic growth was still largely concentrated in a few sectors. Nor were the benefits of growth widely distributed throughout the society. More than one-third of the population of the Russian Federation continued to live below the poverty line. The social assistance provided by the government was not sufficient and was not successfully targeted to the poor and those most in need. In sum, the general quality of the government's services has deteriorated since 1991. The poor and the most vulnerable were the most directly affected by this deterioration.

The declines in industrial production have taken place simultaneously with a modest but steady growth in the trade and service sectors. These sectors were underdeveloped during the years of the USSR's central planning. The majority of Russian manufacturing enterprises remain uncompetitive if judged by world standards. Output has continued to fall at medium and large Russian enterprises, while many small companies and joint ventures have grown in output and efficiency. Overall, services have grown to account for more than 50 percent of GDP, with manufacturing contributing just slightly less than 40 percent and agriculture accounting for just under 10 percent. Overall trends indicate that the portion of GDP accounted for by services and taxes was increasing while industrial production and manufacturing were decreasing in importance as contributors to GDP. In December 2000, the Russian parliament (the Federal Assembly) passed Russia's first post-Soviet balanced budget.


Until 1991 Russia was the largest republic in the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, born out of the Russian Revolution that took place in 1917-18. Russia was ruled by a monarchy headed by a tsar until 1917 when, following Russia's disastrous participation in the First World War, the tsar abdicated the throne, leaving a provisional government in power. In the harsh Russian winter of 1917 a band of Marxist revolutionaries seized power. The Marxists called themselves the Bolsheviks ( bolshe in the Russian language means "larger," and this group of Marxists claimed to be in the majority, hence "Bolsheviks").

The Bolshevik Revolution introduced a new form of government and economics to the world. The Bolsheviks promised that they would create a humanitarian Marxist form of economics. The Bolsheviks championed the labor theory of value, claiming that all value was derived from the importance of the human effort that went into creating a good or service. They promised to create a new economic system that would eliminate economic exploitation of people, would substitute cooperative production for boom and bust cycles of production under capitalism , and would free people to take only what they needed from society and contribute whatever they could. The Soviet government followed this economic policy throughout its 73-year rule.

Political and economic discord brought the USSR to a critical juncture in the 1980s, when a new and dynamic political leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, introduced plans for economic restructuring and political reform. Gorbachev announced major political changes at the 19th Conference of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (CPSU) in June and July 1988. Gorbachev invited the leaders from the 15 Soviet Socialist Republics of the USSR to announce that free elections and economic reform were on the country's agenda.

There were those who thought that the reform efforts would allow the system to release some steam. In reality, once the lid was off, the situation quickly boiled over into a massive change of political and economic systems. A group of high party leaders from 11 of the 15 Soviet republics met in December 1991 in Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan, to pass an agreement that declared the "Union of Soviet Socialist Republics shall henceforth cease to exist." The leading countries in the world rapidly acknowledged this declaration. The Alma-Ata Declaration sealed the fate of the Soviet Union and created a successor, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS). The CISa loose affiliation of the former Soviet stateshas not proved to be a viable political entity, and today exists largely in form. Without a popular referendum or mandate, without parliamentary advice or consent, and without judicial review, the Soviet state simply was declared a thing of the past. USSR President Mikhail Gorbachev, acknowledging the inevitable, resigned on 25 December 1991. The Soviet flag ceased to fly over the Kremlin.

Today, the Russian Federation is a constitutional democracy with 3 branches: executive, legislative, and judicial. The Russian Constitution, which came into effect on 12 December 1993, recognizes a separation of powers. The constitution describes the purposes of government, outlines the rights and responsibilities of citizens, and defines the structure of public institutions in the Russian Federation. The legal framework is based on a civil law system, and there is judicial review of legislation.

Despite the separation of powers, in terms of process, the Russian Federation functions as a presidential style of government, which concentrates most authority in the president as the head of state. The first president of the Russian Federation was Boris Nikolaevich Yeltsin, who was succeeded by Vladimir Putin. The Russian president is elected for a 4-year term. There is no vice-president. In the event of the incapacity of the president to carry out the constitutional mandate, the prime minister succeeds the president. The legislative branch consists of the Federal Assembly, made up of an upper housethe Council of Federation, made up of 1 representative from each of Russia's 89 federal constituent unitsand a lower housethe State Duma, made of up 450 seats.

The executive branch includes: 1) the Presidential Administration, which drafts presidential decrees and provides staff and policy support to the entire executive branch; 2) the Security Council, which was established as a presidential advisory body in June 1991 and restructured in March 1992, when it was given responsibility for managing state security; 3) the Cabinet, which includes the ministersthe heads of the government ministries, who are appointed by the president; 4) the Council of Heads of Republics, which includes the leaders of the 21 ethnic-based republics; and 5) the Council of Heads of Administrations, which includes the leaders of the 66 autonomous territories and regions, as well as the mayors of Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Since 1991 the Russian government has frequently tried to minimize its budget deficits by failing to pay for wages and pensions. Weak tax administration, a cumbersome tax system with high rates that invite tax evasion, falling industrial output, the use of barter in the economy, and blunt refusal to pay by large, politically powerful firms has weakened the government's ability to meet its obligations. Under the new leadership of President Vladimir Putin, overcoming the travail of the collapse of the financial markets in Russia in August 1998 is high on the government's agenda. A comprehensive program to transform the Russian economy was approved on 26 July 2000. The Putin government has sought to establish a prudent fiscal policy in part by collecting significantly higher tax revenues than anticipated under the state budget and managing to restrain spending. The government placed considerable emphasis on reforms of the tax code.

But there are other weaknesses in the structure of the government. The Russian state bureaucracy is still at an early stage of its adjustment to the needs of a modern market-oriented economy. The objectives, functions, and competencies of the different governance structures are poorly defined, leaving substantial space open for discretionary action by bureaucrats. Civil servants are underpaid and inadequately monitored, which creates a strong incentive for the use of public office for private gain. Government decisions, privileges, and regulatory exemptions in Russia are routinely and quite openly influenced by bribes to public officials. While there are many civil servants who maintain high professional standards, the institutions within which they serve are poorly equipped to regulate a market-oriented economy.

Fair and impartial adjudication of disputes is a key to an effectively functioning market economy. Russia's judiciary and justice system remain weak. Numerous matters that are dealt with by administrative authority in European countries remain subject to political influence in Russia. The 1993 constitution empowers the courts to arbitrate disputes between the executive and legislative branches and between Moscow and the regional and local governments. The court also is authorized to rule on violations of constitutional rights, to examine appeals from various bodies, and to participate in impeachment proceedings against the president. The July 1994 Law on the Constitutional Court prohibits the court from examining cases on its own initiative and limits the scope of issues the court can hear. President Yeltsin reconvened the Constitutional Court in March 1995 following its suspension in October 1993. The Russian government has begun to reform the criminal justice system and judicial institutions, including the reintroduction of jury trials in certain criminal cases. Despite these efforts, judges are only beginning to assert their constitutionally-mandated independence from other branches of government.

Public accountability is complicated by the existence of a substantial informal sector . One of its features is the practice of barter arrangements. Many enterprises, being unable to meet their commercial or their tax obligations, turn to barter transactions. Because these barters are not always denominated in currency, their true value for purposes of taxation is often obscure. Moreover, many local and regional governments have been willing in the past to sometimes accept barter payments or "in-kind" payments in lieu of taxes from enterprises that could not pay but had an important social role as a major employer in the community.

When Russia liberalized its economy, explicit budgetary subsidies for enterprises were drastically curtailed. However, industrial enterprises have continued to be supported by "implicit subsidies" channeled largely through the energy sector and lax tax enforcement. These implicit subsidies have taken the form of non-cash settlements for energy and tax payments. Sometimes these non-cash settlements were "payments-in-kind," such as when a factory could not pay its tax bill in rubles because it was not selling its goods. It would then agree with the local tax authorities to pay in production of the goods it makes. This might mean that a tire factory, for instance, would pay its local tax bill in the form of tires supplied to the local tax authority. The tires, in turn, would be used or traded by the tax authorities. These forms of payment were also used to pay energy companies for electricity and gas, which are critical for the operation of factories.


The transportation infrastructure in Russia is underdeveloped. The transport system is heavily Moscow-centered, with virtually all transportation channels of economic significance emanating from Moscow. Commercial transportation relies heavily on rail. Roughly 90 percent of commercial haulage is rail-based and insufficiently integrated into world transport systems. The Russian trucking industry is only minimally developed, and roads are not designed to carry heavy and long-distance truck traffic.

The Russian railway system includes a total of 150,000 kilometers (93,210 miles) of broad gauge rail, making it one of the most extensive railway systems in the world. However, of this total only 87,000 kilometers (54,061 miles) is in "common carrier" service. The remaining 63,000 kilometers (39,148 miles) serve specific industries or are dedicated railways lines and are not available for common carrier use. Following decades of insufficient investment in maintenance and capital improvement, the railway infrastructure has badly deteriorated. About 30 percent of freight cars, 40 percent of passenger cars, and nearly half the locomotives are of such poor quality that they should be replaced immediately.

The Russian highway system includes a total of 948,000 kilometers (589,087 miles) of road including 416,000 kilometers (258,502 miles) that serve specific industries or farms and are not maintained by governmental highway maintenance departments. Of the total road system, only 336,000 kilometers (208,790 miles) are paved. Russia's great territorial expanses and rugged terrain have hindered the development of a nation-wide highway

Country Newspapers Radios TV Sets a Cable subscribers a Mobile Phones a Fax Machines a Personal Computers a Internet Hosts b Internet Users b
1996 1997 1998 1998 1998 1998 1998 1999 1999
Russia 105 418 420 78.5 5 0.4 40.6 13.06 2,700
United States 215 2,146 847 244.3 256 78.4 458.6 1,508.77 74,100
China N/A 333 272 40.0 19 1.6 8.9 0.50 8,900
Germany 311 948 580 214.5 170 73.1 304.7 173.96 14,400
aData are from International Telecommunication Union, World Telecommunication Development Report 1999 and are per 1,000 people.
bData are from the Internet Software Consortium ( and are per 10,000 people.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.

system. The European parts of the country are much better served than the areas east of the Ural mountains.

The Russian waterways system is an important component of the transportation infrastructure. Total navigable routes in general use by the Russian River Fleet amount to 101,000 kilometers (62,761 miles). Among Russia's most important ports are Arkhangelsk, Kaliningrad, Kazan, Krasnoyarsk, Moscow, Murmansk, Novorossiysk, St. Petersburg, Rostov, Sochi, Vladivostok, Volgograd, and Vyborg. The Russian merchant marine includes some 700 ocean-going vessels, but its fleet is twice as old as the global average.

Russia has some 630 improved airport facilities, 50 of which are capable of accommodating international flights. The country also has an extensive oil and gas pipeline system, with some 48,000 kilometers (29,827 miles) of pipelines for crude petroleum, 15,000 kilometers (9,321 miles) designed for shipment of refined petroleum products, and 140,000 kilometers (86,996 miles) designed for shipment of natural gas.

There are serious capital and operating inefficiencies and poor financial performance in what should be cost-recovery sectors, that is, sectors that should be able to pay their own way through user fees rather than through central government subsidies or direct administration. These include public utilities (called "natural monopolies" in Russia) such as public transportation, water, gas, and electricity, as well as some commercial transportation systems such as river and lake navigation. Transportation tariffs (user fees) have not kept pace with inflation.

Russia's overall electricity production (1998) was 771.94 billion kilowatt hours (kWh). Of this amount, some 69 percent was produced through burning fossil fuel, 20 percent resulted from hydroelectric generation, and roughly 13 percent was produced at commercial atomic generating stations. Electricity consumption amounted to 702.71 billion kWh, while 21 billion kWh was exported and 5.8 billion kWh was imported.

Effective wholesale gas and electricity tariffs have been at only around one-tenth of the Western European level for the past decade, with the ratio even worse in distribution to households. The problem has been exacerbated by low rates of cash collection. In the power sector, cash collection rates stood at less than 20 percent in 2000. Due to its financial unattractiveness but also due to the lack of an appropriate legal and regulatory framework to facilitate private sector participation, infrastructure services are generally provided by state and local government-owned entities. Progress in the corporatization (turning utility systems into corporate entities) and commercialization of infrastructure has been poor. There has been some separation of publicly-owned service providers from government, transforming them into legally autonomous corporate entities. However, there continues to be a high degree of government (federal, regional, and local) interference in their management and financial operations.

Russia's telecommunications system is in the midst of the global telecommunications revolution. The country's phone system has undergone significant changes since the breakup of the state phone monopoly in 1990. By 2000, there were over 1,000 companies licensed to offer communication services. During this period access to digital lines has improved, particularly in urban centers. Internet and e-mail services are now widespread and rapidly improving. In a few short years, Russia made significant progress toward building the telecommunications infrastructure necessary for a market economy. Cross-country digital trunk lines run from Saint Petersburg in the northwest to Khabarovsk in the Russian Far East and from Moscow in the country's European center to Novorossiysk in the south. The telephone systems in over 60 regional capitals had installed modern digital infrastructures by 2000. Cellular services, both analog and digital, expanded rapidly in 2000 and 2001. Three undersea fiber-optic cables connect Russia to the international phone system. Digital switches in several cities provide more than 50,000 lines for international calls. Satellite earth stations provide access to Intelsat, Inter-sputnik, Eutelsat, Inmarsat, and Orbita.


The chief sectors of the Russian economy are natural resources, industry, and agriculture. The natural resources sector includes petroleum, natural gas, timber, furs, and precious and nonferrous metals. The agriculture sector includes grain, sugar beets, sunflower seeds, meat, and dairy products. Manufacturing and industry includes a complete range of manufactures, notably automobiles, trucks, trains, agricultural equipment, advanced aircraft, aerospace, machine and equipment products, mining and extractive industry, medical and scientific instruments, and construction equipment. Trade exports emphasize petroleum and petroleum products, natural gas, woods and wood products, metals, and chemicals. Major markets include the countries of the European Union, the other former Soviet countries, China, and Japan, as well as countries of the Middle East. Imports include machinery and equipment, chemicals, consumer goods , medicines, meat, sugar, and semi-finished metal products. The trading partners for imports are the same as those for exports.

The Soviet economy created distorting policies and reduced the interest of firms and individuals to use natural resources carefully. The costly and destructive environmental legacy of the Soviet economy is still very much evident in Russia. There is a high risk of environmental accidents and emergencies. Environmental policy at both the federal and regional levels is not always consistent or clear. Enforcement of regulations to protect the environment is often left to the discretion of the firms that create the problems. The merging of the independent environmental agency into the Ministry of Natural Resources in 1999 created a further cause for concern given the potential conflicts of interest of the institutions involved.

Russia is the most industrialized of the former Soviet Republics. However, much of its industry is antiquated and highly inefficient. Besides its resource-based industries, it has developed large manufacturing capacities, notably in machinery. Russia inherited most of the defense industrial base of the Soviet Union. Efforts have been made with little significant success over the past few years to convert defense industries to civilian use.

Most major industry sectors showed an increase in output in 1999 over 1998. However, this was not true of agribusiness and the power and fuel sectors, which showed improvements over 1998, but declines compared to 1997. The sub-sectors showing declines in output in 1999 over 1998 include heating oil, machine tools, television, and sausage production. Some sub-sectors that fared poorly in the mid-and late 1990s, such as light industry and the pulp/paper, chemical, and building materials sector, showed increased output in 1999 over 1998. Sectors that fared the worst in 1998 included light industry, metallurgy, chemicals, and agribusiness. Despite across-the-board improvements in recent years, many Russian enterprises remain uncompetitive. In addition, output through 2000 continued to decline at medium and large Russian enterprises, while small companies and joint ventures were responsible for increased output. The CIA World Factbook estimated that agriculture accounted for 7 percent of GDP, industry 34 percent, and services 59 percent in 1999.


Employment in agriculture and forestry remained relatively constant in recent years. Agriculture and forestry employment accounted for about 14 percent of total employment in 1999, about the same level as a decade earlier. Russia comprises roughly three-quarters of the territory of the former Soviet Union, but only a small amount of this vast area is suited for agriculture because of its arid climate and inconsistent rainfall. Nevertheless, with 133 million hectares of arable land, a large agrarian workforce (14 percent of the total), and 146 million inhabitants to feed, Russia is a major regional and global agricultural producer and consumer. The Russian fishing industry is the world's fourth-largest, behind Japan, the United States, and China. Russia accounts for one-quarter of the world's production of fresh and frozen fish and about one-third of world output of canned fish. Russia has a major forestry industry, possessing one-quarter of the world's forests.

Northern areas concentrate mainly on livestock and the southern parts and western Siberia produce grain. Restructuring of former state farms has been an extremely slow process, partially due to the lack of a land code allowing for the free sale, purchase, and mortgage of agricultural land. Private farms and garden plots of individuals account for more than one-half of all agricultural production. Much of the agricultural sector has been almost unaffected by the transition to the free market. Accordingly, the output performance of agriculture has been very weak. This has tended to strengthen the arguments of those who oppose economic reform in favor of a return to the state-managed economy of the past.

Primary agriculture in Russia continues to be dominated by inefficient, Soviet-type collective farms with outdated technologies and management skills and strong political connections, especially at the regional level. Household plots and small private farms comprising only 3 percent of the agricultural land account for over 40 percent of the country's food production. The business infrastructure for the agriculture sector is especially underdeveloped including support services, transportation, distribution networks, and financial services. For agriculture in Russia to go through the transformation to a modern system, the key step will be establishing and enforcing farmers' rights to use land. The first step in this process is to develop an efficient system of issuing and protecting title to land rights. This will also require a more reliable and enforceable framework for secured financial transactions so that farmers can buy and sell their land or use the land as collateral for obtaining loans.

The economic reform that began in Russia in the early 1990s reduced Russia's livestock sector. The down-sizing of the livestock sector ended the need for imports of feed grain, soybeans, and meal. At the same time, imports of meat and other high-value products such as processed foods, fruit, and beverages grew considerably. The 1998 economic crisis reduced Russia's ability to import food. After plunging to extremely low levels in late 1998, agricultural imports rebounded in 1999. Imports of most agricultural and food products grew to roughly 60 percent of the level of the pre-crisis period. Imports dropped because the crisis reduced consumer incomes, thereby decreasing demand for food in general, and the severe crisis-induced depreciation of the ruble made imported food more expensive compared to Russian domestic output.

The large former state and collective farms control most land. Farm workers can branch off as private farmers by obtaining a grant of land from their parent farm, though they lack full ownership rights. The land code proposed by the Russian legislature (the Duma) does not change existing lawthat is, it does not allow the free purchase and sale of land for agricultural use. Rather, it would allow land to be bought and sold solely for economically insignificant purposes, such as building a summer cottage, a dacha.


Russia has a range of mining and extractive industries. These include coal, oil, and gas extraction as well as the chemicals and metals industries. Russian enterprises take part in all forms of machine building from rolling mills to high-performance aircraft and space vehicles. Russian enterprises are involved in shipbuilding, manufacturing of road and rail transportation equipment, communications equipment, agricultural machinery, tractors, and construction equipment. Russian firms produce electric power generating and transmitting equipment, medical and scientific instruments, consumer durables, textiles, foodstuffs, processed food products, and handicrafts.

Russia is a leading producer and exporter of minerals, gold, and all major fuels. Oil and gas exports continue to be the main source of hard currency . Russia has vast reserves of oil, gas, and timber. Siberia and the Russian Far East are particularly rich in natural resources. However, most deposits of resources are located in remote areas with challenging climate conditions.

The most important export sector is energy. Russia is the world leader in natural gas production, third in oil, and fourth in coal. Gazprom, the large natural gas monopoly, inherited from the former USSR a massive network of production and distribution facilities that was built over a period of decades. The energy industry is significant also in its intricate ties with political elites. Energy monopolies are thus able to enjoy special privileges such as subsidies of various kinds. However, much of the physical infrastructure is in a state of disrepair. Gazprom will require billions of dollars to upgrade its physical systems. Declining energy prices hit Russia hard in the mid-1990s. The rebound in energy prices in the late 1990s was a great benefit to Russia's foreign trade account.

The oil sector has undergone substantial liberalization and now is primarily restructured and privately held. The oil industry, unlike gas and electricity, was broken up into a dozen companies as it was privatized. Oil prices have therefore moved very quickly toward world prices. Oil export tariffs were phased out entirely in July 1996. Simultaneously, however, oil production excise taxes were increased.

Russia has an estimated 49 to 55 billion barrels of oil in proven reserves, but aging equipment and poorly developed fields are making it difficult to develop these reserves. The depletion of existing oilfields, deterioration in transport infrastructure, and an acute shortage of investmentaggravated by the country's August 1998 financial crisismay lead to further declines in oil production unless these trends can be reversed.

Natural gas is the predominant fuel in Russia, accounting for nearly half of the country's domestic consumption. With 1.7 quadrillion cubic feet (TCF) in proven gas reserves, Russia has more than enough for itself, allowing it to export significant amounts of gas. In fact, Russia is the world's largest gas exporter. Europe is a major consumer. Although the country's natural gas production has dipped only slightly (8 percent from 1992 to 1999) during the transition to democracy, low investment has raised concerns about future production levels. Gas production in the established West Siberian fields that account for 76 percent of Russian gas output is declining. At the same time, the planned development of new fields continues to be delayed as a result of lack of investment resources.


Russia's previously underdeveloped services sector has played an important role in containing the social calamity of the collapse of the USSR, manufacturing and industrial sectors. The service sector employed 55 percent of the workforce and contributed 59 percent of GDP in 1999, according to the CIA World Factbook. Important service industries include financial services; advertising, marketing, and sales; tourism; and retail trade.


Foreign and domestic tourism was centrally managed during the Soviet Union. In 1991 the tourism industry was reorganized and today is one of the most important branches of the service sector, both in terms of total revenue and numbers of employees. The number of tourist companies has grown from several state tourist organizations in 1991 to several hundred in the larger Russian cities today. Most tourist firms are small, employing fewer than 15 people, and function as both operators and agencies. Operators are those firms that develop their own tourist routes. Tourist agencies market the existing routes established by operators. Most travel transactions involve the domestic market, offering travel services within Russia either for foreigners or for domestic travelers. Providing services for Russians traveling abroad is a smaller but more lucrative market.

The August 1998 financial crisis in Russia had a major impact upon the tourist industry. The number of Russian tourists traveling to foreign countries dropped off sharply and the number of foreign tourists visiting Russia also declined. According to the Russian Statistical Committee, the number of Russians visiting the United States in 1999 fell by nearly half between 1998 (175,660) and 1999 (95,280). The number of Americans visiting Russia also fell considerably between 1998 (216,976) and 1999 (177,120).

In the old USSR domestic tourism was one of the largest industries. There were many resorts, recreational centers, tourist bases, and summer camps for children. Large enterprise and labor unions provided people with inexpensive package tours. During the first years after the breakup of the Soviet Union, domestic tourism declined sharply, but has regained ground since then. Russian tourists travel abroad to Europe, the countries of the Mediterranean, and the United Statesa popular tourist destination for young people. Local foreign language schools often offer English language training in the United States to teenagers and young people. Obtaining visas to travel to the United States, however, involves complicated regulations and is often a hindrance.

Russia is a popular destination for foreign tourists, primarily because of its cultural attractions. Over 80 percent of foreign tourists come to Russia with the intention of visiting Moscow and/or St. Petersburg. However, in recent years the country's natural environment has attracted a growing proportion of foreign travelers. Russia may one day become a popular destination for eco-travel, attracting adventure travelers and tourists looking for something out of the ordinary. Travel to Russia is particularly well-represented by travelers from Germany, China, the United States, Japan, Italy, Poland, Turkey, and Israel.

A legacy of Soviet-era infrastructure neglect, oppressive paperwork, high costs, and lack of local marketing know-how have limited attractiveness of travel to Russia for many foreigners. Despite improvements in the first decade since the Soviet breakup, the Russian travel industry continues to be hindered by the lack of accommodations and travel-related services that are in accordance with international standards. Recent years have witnessed improvements in the quality of services. In addition, new programs have been instituted that provide training in hotel and restaurant management services. At the same time, new hotel, restaurant, and recreational equipment and expertise have become more widely available.


The Russian government has put considerable emphasis in recent years on restructuring and stabilizing the banking system and the financial services industry. A legal framework was adopted, establishing procedures for forming statutory capital, specifying procedures for starting and terminating commercial bank activities, procedures of issuing and recalling licenses for bank audits, establishing procedures for bank bankruptcies, and establishing procedures for the operation of non-banking financial organizations that offer financial services and were licensed and regulated by the National Bank.

But the Russian banking system is still in a state of transition. Banks do not have the resources, capability, or the population's trust to attract substantial savings and channel them to productive investments. While ruble lending doubled in the 2 years following the August 1998 financial crisis, loans remained at the pre-crisis level of 30 percent of total bank assets. The Russian Central Bank reduced its refinancing rate 3 times in 2000, to 33 percent, signaling an attempt to lower lending rates. However, banks still perceived commercial lending as risky, and some banks were inexperienced at assessing credit risk. The Russian Central Bank announced that it was developing a procedure to finance banks for promissary notes, rights of claim under credit agreements, and mortgages.


Russia's foreign trade consisted of US$75 billion in exports and imports of US$48.2 billion in 1999 and then to US$105.1 billion in exports and US$44.2 billion in imports by 2000. Russia sells a broad range of commodities and manufactures including petroleum and petroleum products, natural gas, wood and wood products, metals, chemicals, and a wide variety of civilian and military manufactures. Russia's largest trading partners for exports are Ukraine, Germany, United States, Belarus, the Netherlands, and China. Russia imports machinery and equipment, consumer goods, medicines, meat, grain, sugar, and semi-finished metal products. Russia's largest trading partners for imports are Germany, Belarus, Ukraine, the United States, Kazakhstan, and Italy.

Real GDP growth in Russia in 1999 was over 3 percent. The main contributing factors were the devaluation of the ruble, which made Russian products competitive abroad and at home; high commodity prices on international markets, particularly oil (while domestic costs were substantially lower); low inflation and a consensus that inflation must be controlled; and a relatively healthy fiscal situation based on strict government budget discipline. The major contributor to growth was trade performance. Exports rose to US$74.3 billion while imports slumped by 30 percent to US$41.1 billion. As a result, net exports ballooned to US$33.2 billion, more than double the previous year's level. Higher oil prices had a major effect on export performance, particularly in the latter half of the year. Even though volumes of crude oil exports (to non-CIS countries) were down by 3 percent, prices jumped 46 percent. Fuels and energy comprise 42 percent of Russian exports. Other exports performed better in 1999; fertilizer exports were up 16.7 percent, forestry products up 38 percent, copper up 17.6 percent, and aluminum up 10 percent.

Trade (expressed in billions of US$): Russia
exports Imports
1975 N/A N/A
1980 N/A N/A
1985 N/A N/A
1990 N/A N/A
1995 81.096 60.945
1998 74.160 58.996
SOURCE: International Monetary Fund. International Financial Statistics Yearbook 1999.

Trade with other former Soviet states is overwhelmingly in energy and industrial products, and in many instances has been, until quite recently, conducted by barter. Russia's trade surpluses eroded over the course of 1998. Imports to Russia grew by 10-15 percent per year between 1995 and 1997, as consumers benefited from an appreciating ruble and rising average wages. At the same time, export revenues were falling, due in particular to sharply lower prices for oil and gas (accounting for 43 percent of merchandise exports in 1997). Moreover, Russia's manufactured exports compete poorly on the world market, especially since Asian goods have become less expensive following steep currency devaluations. The devaluation of the ruble and difficulties in completing transactions through the Russian banking system reduced imports substantially. Frequent changes in customs regulations also have created problems for foreign and domestic traders and investors.

Russian oil companies have been rushing to export their oil (resulting in a windfall of hard currency coming into the country) to such an extent that Russian officials have set export quotas in order to maintain an adequate domestic supply of oil. In 2000, Russian net oil exports totaled 4.3 million metric barrels a day (MMBD). In addition to export quotas and higher taxes levied on oil exports, a serious problem facing exporters is the lack of export routes. Russia is maneuvering to become a major player in the exploration, development, and export of oil from the Caspian Sea. Transneft is the parastatal responsible for Russia's extensive oil pipeline system. Many of these pipelines are in a poor state of repair. The Russian Fuel and Energy Ministry notes that almost 5 percent of crude oil produced in Russia is lost through pipeline leaks. Transneft lacks the funding to repair or upgrade many of these malfunctioning pipes. The company's focus has been on building new pipelines rather than repairing the old. In addition to those in the Caspian Sea Region, Russia has a number of new oil and gas pipelines planned or already under construction.


At the start of the economic transition, key reform-oriented policy makers in the Russian government sought to get market price mechanisms working as quickly as possible. These reformists argued that price liberalization and policies designed to bring about macroeconomic stabilization could be expected to impose some economic hardship for a period of time, but that it was better to live with temporary difficulties than to be burdened by distorted prices and unsound policies that might endure for years or even decades. This pro-reform perspective became known as "shock therapy." The reformists took their inspiration in large measure from Western monetarist doctrines that maintained that

Exchange rates: Russia
rubles per US$1
Jan 2001 28.3592
2000 28.1292
1999 24.6199
1998 9.7051
1997 5,785
1996 5,121
Note: The post-January 1, 1998 ruble is equal to 1,000 of the pre-January 1, 1998 rubles.
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [ONLINE].

sound monetary policy should be the basis of a govern-ment's economic programs.

The Russian post- communist economic transition thus started with prices being rapidly liberated from artificially low levels. This led to a rapid rise in prices for many basic commodities. It also led quickly to an immediate burst of inflation. The pent-up demand for consumer goods that had been suppressed during the period of Soviet central planning gave additional impetus to inflation as consumers rushed to buy previously unavailable goods, thereby bidding up prices. Early in the transition, inflation averaged over 1,000 percent per year in Russia. As inflation ate away at the value of the ruble, the amount of money necessary to buy a loaf of bread, for instance, appeared to grow inordinately large. While the size of the numbers on a country's currency should be arbitrarythat is, no one should care if the cost of a loaf of bread is 1 ruble or 1,000 rubleswhat matters is what proportion this represents of a person's income. The fact that it had become necessary in Russia to hand over large amounts of rubles to buy simple, everyday necessities was psychologically unnerving for the public. To address this problem, on 1 January 1998 Russia "rede-nominated" its ruble, introducing new bills with 3 fewer zeros than pre-1998 rubles.

Redenomination is a process by which a country's money is reissued but assigned a different number. The Russian bank authorities simply decided to remove the "excess" 3 zeroes after the numbers on the face of the currency. For instance, a 1,000 ruble note was reissued as a 1 ruble note. At the same time, Russia re-introduced the traditional coin, the kopek, valued at 1/100th of a ruble.

These redenomination measures were primarily for convenience. They were designed to have no technical effect on the value of the currency. However, they did have an effect on the public. These measures tended to contribute to the erosion in public confidence in the currency and an increase in the use of foreign currencies, particularly the dollar, as an alternative to saving.

Russia has undertaken a number of different approaches to exchange rate policy. These included establishing a "currency corridor" in 1995 and a "crawling band" mechanism from 1995 to 1997. For the most part, these measures were viewed as part of an effort to establish a more "natural" ruble-to-foreign currency rate. From 1994 until 1998, falling inflation, slow money supply growth, and the effective functioning of Russia's ruble-dollar mechanisms contributed to a period of relative ruble stability. In January 1998, with the ruble trading at just over 6 to the dollar, Russia replaced the crawling band mechanism with a more freely floating but still semi-managed ruble. The exchange rate policy allowed the ruble to fluctuate within 15 percent around a central exchange rate, which Russia intended to maintain at between 6.1 and 6.2 rubles to the U.S. dollar between 1998 and 2000. In July 1998, the ruble was trading at R6.2 to the U.S. dollar. In August of 1998, Russia widened the band within which the ruble was allowed to fluctuate, resulting in an unofficial but real devaluation of the ruble. In total, the ruble lost 71 percent of its value in 1998, closing the year at R20.65 to the dollar. The ruble fell to R25 and lower to the dollar in April 1999, mildly appreciated in value through early summer, but began to decline again at the height of summer. The ruble ended 1999 at R27 to the dollar.

The monetary authority in the former Soviet Union was the Soviet Central Bank. The Soviet Central Bank functioned as an investment mechanism to achieve social objectives, not as a bank in the Western sense of provider of specific financial services. Soviet practice emphasized financial stability and the assignment of prices not on the basis of relationships of scarcity (that is, supply and demand) but on the basis of social criteria. Prices were established at levels that the government thought would achieve the most social good. Typically, necessities such as bread and housing were extraordinarily cheap to the consumer while luxuries, such as cars and foreign vacations were extremely high or unavailable altogether. Prices of foreign goods were established indirectly through the exchange rate that was stipulated by the Central Bank for foreign currencies. When the transition started, price liberalization implied that buyers and sellers should be able to establish their own agreed-upon prices. New laws were passed to allow the functioning of private banks, but initially these banks did not have provisions for inter-bank settlement of accounts. Consequently, the private banks begin to function less as banks and more as investment funds.

Spurred on by the potential gains of the initial waves of privatization of state enterprises between 1993 and 1995, these private banks in fact offered few financial services but served mainly as holding companies for large investors and conglomerates. The unevenness of supply and demand in the transitional markets created opportunities for great profit-taking and great risk-taking. This led to a serious problem of capital flight. As investors and speculators captured gains from buying and selling, they sought to park their earnings in stable investments. For the most part, this meant foreign currencies, particularly the American dollar. For a period of time in 1992 and 1993, Western currencies were in popular use in Russia and were preferred to the ruble. Massive amounts of money moved out of the Russian economy to Europe and America. To address this problem of capital flight, the government imposed a series of frequently changing regulations on the financial services industry between 1993 and 1994. In 1994, the Central Bank imposed new currency controls, requiring all exchanges of foreign currency to go through licensed currency traders who were closely regulated by the government.

After the financial markets collapsed in 1998, the Russian central bank, aided by increased technical assistance from the international financial institutions and Western countries, developed a considerable amount of autonomy from the Russian government. This allowed the central banking authorities to resist the attempts of the government to call upon the bank's assets to solve short-term problems or address the demands of important political constituencies. Gradually, the role of the Russian Central Bank came to resemble that of most market economies, a role in which the bank functions as a neutral and independent manager of financial functions, not as a personal banker to the government or government officials.


The transition from communism to a market-based economy did not create poverty in Russia, but it certainly made life more difficult for many groups of people. Poverty became widespread in 1992 and grew in 1993, widening from not more than about 10 percent of the population in the 1980s to nearly 30 percent by 1993. Poverty, often associated with family size, was concentrated increasingly in families with children, as well as in families with unemployed or handicapped persons. Poverty grew especially quickly in the rural areas. Certain

GDP per Capita (US$)
Country 1975 1980 1985 1990 1998
Russia 2,555 3,654 3,463 3,668 2,138
United States 19,364 21,529 23,200 25,363 29,683
China 138 168 261 349 727
Germany N/A N/A N/A N/A 31,141
SOURCE: United Nations. Human Development Report 2000; Trends in human development and per capita income.
Distribution of Income or Consumption by Percentage Share: Russia
Lowest 10% 1.7
Lowest 20% 4.4
Second 20% 8.6
Third 20% 13.3
Fourth 20% 20.1
Highest 20% 53.7
Highest 10% 38.7
Survey year: 1998
Note: This information refers to expenditure shares by percentiles of the population and is ranked by per capita expenditure.
SOURCE: 2000 World Development Indicators [CD-ROM].

geographical regions of Russia were disproportionately affected by poverty, reflecting increasing disparities in wages. The Russian Far North and Far East were hard hit. Poverty was strongly associated with single-parent status, and the majority of such households were female-headed.

Measuring poverty is difficult. Nevertheless, it is undisputed that a large share of the Russian population lives below the poverty line. The social assistance provided by the Russian government has not been sufficiently targeted to the poor. According to surveys of the standard of living, the share of eligible households who did not receive social benefits increased from 60 to 80 percent. Further, the share of the households that were legally entitled to public benefits and received them has decreased dramatically as local governments have "postponed" payments. Measures of public satisfaction indicate the quality of government services has generally deteriorated since 1991, and the poor, particularly the elderly poor, have been the most directly affected.

The economic transition also witnessed the "feminization" of poverty. Single-mother families and single elderly women make up a group with the highest poverty risk. In the case of single-mother families, poverty factors include the low individual income of the mother. Added to this is the insufficient amount of private and public transfers designed to partly offset the absence of other income sources such as alimony after divorce or pensions for the benefit of children after the death of their father.

The elderly also suffer from insufficient pensions, of which 90 percent go to women, according to a World Bank report. The average pension allowance is two-thirds of a retiree's cost of living. This means that pensions cannot meet even the most basic necessities of the elderly population. The problem for women retirees is compounded by the fact that pensions, which for this age group is largely the only source of income, are higher for men of retirement age than for women.

Household Consumption in PPP Terms
Country All Food Clothing and footwear Fuel and power a Health care b Education b Transport & Communications Other
Russia 28 11 16 7 15 8 16
United States 13 9 9 4 6 8 51
China N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A N/A
Germany 14 6 7 2 10 7 53
Data represent percentage of consumption in PPP terms.
aExcludes energy used for transport.
bIncludes government and private expenditures.
SOURCE: World Bank. World Development Indicators 2000.


Russia has paid a high social price for its rapid progress in the transition from communism. Under communism, economic growth was restrained but there was a very low level of inequality. Most workers made roughly the same income. Extremes of high and low incomes were rare. Since embarking on a market economy, Russia's rapid macroeconomic and political reforms created anxiety among the citizens who came to expect a modest but dependable lifestyle. Russia's abandonment of subsidies for Soviet-era industries permitted a steep industrial decline, throwing millions of citizens out of work. Today the Russian labor force is undergoing tremendous change. Although well-educated and skilled, it is mismatched to the rapidly changing needs of the Russian economy. Millions of Russian workers are underemployed . Unemployment is highest among women and young people. Many Russian workers compensate by working other part-time jobs.

Russia's financial crisis had a severe effect on wages in the country. Many employees were helpless as ruble devaluation and price increases drastically eroded the buying power of their salaries. Meanwhile, both foreign and Russian companies, faced with their own challenges stemming from the crisis, resorted to pay cuts in order to maintain what staff they felt able to keep. As a result of the financial crisis, although nominal wages in Russia continued to climb, real wages in the country continued to fall. The average nominal monthly wage in January 1999 was approximately 1,200 rubles. In January 2000, the nominal wage was roughly 1,575 rubles, or about US$58 at the prevailing exchange rate at the time. According to official figures, real wages and real disposable income had fallen roughly 30 percent by the end of 1999 compared to 1997.

According to a minimum wage law signed by President Putin in June 2000, the minimum wage increased to 300 rubles per month by mid-2001. In December 1999, the average monthly subsistence minimum was 943 rubles, or approximately US$36 at the prevailing exchange rate. Therefore, approximately one-third of Russia's population is living below the subsistence level. As of 1 February 2000, Russian pensions increased 20 percent. The minimum Russian pension is 410 rubles per month. The average pension is 650 rubles per month, which is still below the subsistence minimum.

Although the Russian government has been using International Labor Organization (an arm of the United Nations) statistical methods to determine unemployment, officially reported unemployment levels in Russia, as with other official statistics, have often been lower than figures determined by the international community. Russia reported several years of very slowly growing unemployment, which temporarily peaked at 9.6 percent in the spring of 1997 before dropping to a low of 9 percent at the end of 1997. During this time, alternative estimates of unemployment suggested a combined unemployment and underemployment rate of between 12 and 15 percent. In 1998 unemployment levels resumed their climb. In the wake of Russia's financial crisis, both Russian and foreign companies resorted to layoffs and salary cuts. In November 1998, when the official unemployment rate was 11.6 percent, the Russian Ministry of Economy predicted that unemployment would grow 70 percent by 2001. In early June 1999 the Russian government reported that unemployment had reached 14.2 percent of the country's workforce, or 10.4 million people, the highest level ever officially reported by Russia. For much of 1999 the unemployment rate hovered at 12.4 percent, or 9.12 million people. Russia closed 1999 with an official unemployment level of 11.7 percent.

Russia's well-educated but relatively inexpensive labor force has been a leading attraction for foreign firms. While in the early 1990s many Western firms initially found it challenging to find employees educated in Western business concepts and practices, there is a growing pool in Russia of individuals with Western business exposure, education, and experience. Russian law requires that wages be paid in rubles.


945. Treaty of Igor with Byzantium (Constantinople) establishes first claim to government in the many lands of Russia, known as the many "Russias."

1237. Mongol tribesmen, invading from the East, conquer Russia and impose foreign rule for over 240 years.

1565-72. Ivan the Terrible's "reign of terror" establishes a precedent of strong, unaccountable central government.

1802. Formation of the first government ministries, establishing a strong principle of government control of the private economy.

1864-85. Conquest of Central Asia.

1891. Beginning of the Trans-Siberian railway.

1906. First Duma (parliament) established; first written constitution adopted.

1914. World War I begins.

1917. Russia pulls out of World War I; Bolsheviks take power and begin communist era.

1918. The period of "war communism" with emphasis on administrative direction of the economy is introduced.

1921. Retreating from tight control of the economy, the government introduces the "New Economic Policy" (NEP). The policy favors market-based economic relations in lieu of administrative measures.

1928. Return to communism and top-down direction of the economy as the first "Five-Year Plan" is adopted. Joseph Stalin (Iosef Dhugashvili) assumes control of the communist party organization. Agriculture is collectivized. A massive industrialization campaign begins.

1932-33. A severe famine in Ukraine is testimony to the effects of the agricultural collectivization program.

1937-41. The Stalin-era purges of political opponents take place.

1941. German invasion of USSR (June 22) and Second World War.

1957. First Soviet "Sputnik" (satellite) is launched. The "space race" begins.

1973. United States and the USSR embrace "Détente," a policy of relaxation of tensions, and adopt a new bilateral trade agreement, but implementation is not successful.

1979. In December, Soviets invade Afghanistan. This futile war drains Soviet resources and creates negative sentiment toward communist party rule. This eventually plays an important role in the collapse of communism.

1985. Mikhail Gorbachev becomes communist party leader, calling for economic reforms ( perestroika ) and greater openness ( glasnost ).

1986. 26 April disaster at Chernobyl nuclear generating station debunks myth of Soviet technological superiority.

1989. Political reforms begin in Central Europe; Berlin Wall comes down.

1991. On 19 August, a group of Communist Party hardliners announces takeover of the Soviet government. The takeover fails. Boris Yeltsin emerges as the most popular politician.

1991. On 21 December, 11 high leaders of USSR meet in Alma-Ata, Kazakhstan, to sign the "Alma-Ata Declaration" ending the USSR and establishing the "Commonwealth of Independent States" (CIS).

1992. On 2 January, Russian prime minister frees prices; ruble value plummets; prices skyrocket.

1992. On 1 October, voucher privatization begins in Russia.

1993. On 21 September President Yeltsin dissolves the parliament. On 22 September a breakaway parliament appoints Vice President Alexander Rutskoi as president. On 4 October, government forces loyal to Yeltsin storm the parliament building and arrest Rutskoi and the disloyal parliament.

1998. Following a massive sell-off of Russian bonds, securities, and rubles, the prime minister announces a ruble devaluation; financial markets are paralyzed by liquidity shortages, and share prices plunge. Unable to pay its creditors, Russia defaults on foreign loans.

1998. Yeltsin fires the prime minister and the entire government cabinet. He appoints Victor Chernomyrdin as interim prime minister, but parliament refuses to confirm him.

1999. After months of political turmoil, Yeltsin appoints Vladimir Putin as prime minister.

2000. On 31 December, Yeltsin resigns the presidency (with a full pardon), leaving Vladimir Putin as head of state.

2000. Vladimir Putin is elected president.


The Russian economy faces serious challenges. Russian industry is not likely to regain an important role in a global economy that demands peak efficiency. Consequently, the export of primary commodities and raw materials is likely to remain the bulwark of economic development. Primary commodity markets are relatively more susceptible to fluctuations than are industrial markets. Russia is likely to continue to be influenced by economic trends that it cannot control. International investors, including the major investment banks, commercial investors, and companies interested in expanding their businesses in world markets have remained on the sidelines, scared off by Russia's long-standing problems with capital flight, reliance on barter transactions, corruption of government officials, and fears of organized crime.

The Russian government and leading economists in the country have developed a consensus on the need for various kinds of administrative changes. Failures such as corruption are not moral failures, but a failure of administrative structure. There is a consensus that the country needs to strengthen the institutional and legal underpinnings of a market economy. Improving the legal and regulatory structure would provide a reliable framework for improving governance, strengthening the rule of law, reducing corruption, and attracting the long-term capital needed for deep restructuring and sustained growth. The country also needs to improve its tax system to encourage greater tax compliance and a realistic appreciation in the population that the people must pay for the costs of a modern society. The government must avoid pressures to use central bank money to finance its budget deficit. Further reforms are needed in the banking sector, including a legal framework to make it easier to close down troubled banks.

Any measures aiming to reduce poverty levels among workers are primarily associated with the increase in the official wages drawn by the lower paid workers, the majority of which are women, and also with the identification and taxation of income in Russia's informal sector.

A positive sign was that in mid-year 2000, the Russian government adopted an official development strategy for the period 2000-10. The strategy identified economic policy directed at ensuring equal conditions of market competition, protecting ownership rights, eliminating administrative barriers to entrepreneurship, making the economy more open, and carrying out tax reform. The strategy identified the creation of an effective state performing the function of a guarantor of external and internal security and also of social, political, and economic stability. The strategy spoke of a "new social contract" between the more active sections of Russian society and the reformed government.

Russia's economy remains very vulnerable to external shocks and has not yet been able to develop a stable base for continued growth and poverty reduction. While the data are not yet sufficient to carefully assess the impact of the economic recovery on the enterprise sector, it appears that the rebound in the non-oil/gas traded goods sector has so far been driven by the real depreciation of the ruble and the greater availability of capital. Furthermore, there are indications that industrial growth is beginning to slow. Therefore, maintaining a realistic exchange rate, while controlling inflation, must remain a policy priority for sustaining the recovery and future growth of the real economy. Strong fiscal discipline needs to be maintained. A large swing factor is, of course, the level of capital flight, the reduction of which depends on progressive improvement in the investment climate in Russia. Finally, over the longer-term, Russia's deteriorating infrastructure is a matter of concern. Russia's basic public infrastructureincluding roads, bridges, railways, ports, housing, and public facilities such as schools and hospitalswas built during the Soviet period. After independence, investment in maintenance and new construction of public infrastructure has fallen dramatically. Russia's aging physical plant is likely to become an increasing constraint to growth unless an improved investment climate can ensure substantially higher levels of investments than is presently the case.


Russia has no territories or colonies.


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Gregory Gleason




Ruble (R). R1 equals 100 kopeks. Coins are in denominations of R1, 2, and 5. Paper currency is in denominations of R10, 50, 100, and 500.


Petroleum and petroleum products, natural gas, wood and wood products, metals, chemicals, and a wide variety of civilian and military manufactures.


Machinery and equipment, consumer goods, medicines, meat, grain, sugar, semi-finished metal products.


US$1.12 trillion (purchasing power parity, 2000 est.).


Exports: US$105.1 billion (2000 est.). Imports: US$44.2 billion (2000 est.).

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RUSSIA. Russian food is typically hearty in taste, with mustard, horseradish, and dill among the predominant flavorings. The cuisine is distinguished by the many fermented and preserved foods that are necessitated by the short growing season of the Russian North. Cabbage (sauerkraut) and cucumbers (pickles) are enjoyed greatly, as are a wide range of salted fish, vegetables, and meats. Fish and produce are also frequently dried or brined for lengthy storage. Foraged foods, especially mushrooms, are important to both Russian diet and culture. Although the Russians have never excelled at making hard cheeses, they prepare an expert array of fresh dairy products, such as creamy curd cheese (tvorog ) and various cultured yogurt-like preparations (riazhenka, prostokvasha ), in addition to excellent sour cream (smetana ). Honey is the traditional Russian sweetener and is used as the basis for drinks, fruit preserves, and desserts. Early condiments (known as vzvar, from the word "to boil") consisted of onions or beets cooked slowly in honey until rich and sweet.

Russian cuisine is known for its extensive repertoire of soups. The national soup (shchi ) is made from cabbage, either salted (sauerkraut) or fresh, in which case it is known as "lazy" shchi. The beet soup (borshch ) commonly associated with Russian cuisine is actually native to Ukraine, to the south of Russia; it became popular abroad following Jewish emigration from that region. Soup is traditionally served at the midday meal and is accompanied by an assortment of small pies, croutons, or dumplings. The Russian diet tends to be high in carbohydrates, with a vast array of breads, notably dark sour rye, and grains, especially buckwheat (grechnevaya kasha ).

The national cuisine is further distinguished by wonderful pies filled with myriad combinations of meat, fish, or vegetables. Prepared in all shapes and sizes, pies are both festive and a practical way to use up leftovers. The most elegant pie is, perhaps, the kulebyaka, a multilayered fish pie with thin pancakes (blinchiki ), kasha, and salmon (including the spinal marrow or viziga ) that was adopted into French cuisine as coulibiac.

Diet of the Early Slavs

Early Slavic agriculture was largely grain based. Hearty crops like rye, oats, barley, buckwheat, spelt, and millet provided the mainstay of the diet, most often in the form of gruel or baked into cakes made of meal sweetened with honey and flavored with berry juice. Although wheat was cultivated in the South, it remained of secondary importance. From the Scythians, a Eurasian tribe that roamed the steppes of southern Russian from the eighth to the fourth centuries B.C.E., the early Slavs learned how to make leavened breads, using primarily sourdough. Grains were supplemented by legumes (gorokh ), an important source of protein. Freshwater fish and wildfowl, both of which were abundant, provided additional sources of protein. Vegetable and nut oils (especially hempseed and linseed), foraged mushrooms and berries, and orchard fruits such as cherries, pears, plums, and apples supplemented the largely carbohydrate diet. Also critical were cultivated vegetables, including turnips, beets, radishes, onions, garlic, cabbage, and cucumbers. Turnips were an important staple until the widespread (and enforced) cultivation of the potato in the nineteenth century. Given the geographical limitations on agriculture, much of the population lived in a state between hunger and starvation, and up through the twentieth century Russia experienced frequent famines.

The earliest domestic livestock included cows, pigs, sheep, and goats; chicken, ducks, geese; turkey was introduced somewhat later. Butter was traditionally prepared from cow's milk by heating sour cream, rather than by churning it from sweet cream, a method the Russians learned only in the eighteenth century from the Finns.

By the twelfth century the Russians were already boiling down salt from water from the White Sea, but salt remained an expensive commodity that only the wealthy could afford. Even those who could afford salt used it sparingly. A seventeenth-century German visitor Adam Olearius, complained that "in Moscow, they use coarse salt fish, which sometimes stinks because they are thrifty with the salt. Nevertheless, they like to eat it." In general, the affluent had a plentiful assortment of fish, meat, fruits, vegetables, and grains, a diet that contrasted greatly with the meager rations of most of the population, who subsisted on little more than oatmeal gruel (tolokno ) and rye bread. Although the soil around Moscow and in the south of Russia yielded excellent produce, the growing season was short, and most people did not have access to a variety of foods.

Cooking Methods

Apart from the methods used for preserving food, boiling and baking were the most common ways of preparing foods (frying and grilling were also practiced). By 1600 rich and poor alike were cooking food in the Russian masonry stove (pech' ), which was massive enough to take up nearly one-quarter of a peasant cottage. This stove defined the living space, demarcating the female and male spheres of the room into the cooking area (female) to the left of the hearth, and the icon-dominated "beautiful corner" (male) to the right. The earliest stoves had no flue, causing smoke to issue directly into the cottage; more prosperous families replaced these "black" stoves with more refined "white" stoves fitted with chimney pipes. Russian peasants generally believed that the stove held mystical powers, with a house spirit (domovoi ) residing beneath or behind it.

Food could be prepared in many different ways on the stoveboiled, baked, steamed, roasted, and braised. Many of Russia's most typical dishes reflected the specific properties of the stove, which blazed and was very hot after firing and then gradually diminished in the intensity of its heat. Breads and pies were baked when the oven was still very hot, either right in the fire's ashes or immediately after they had been scraped out. Once the temperature began to fall, grain dishes could cook in the diminishing heat, which ensured that porridges were crusty on top and creamy within. As the oven's heat continued to subside, the stove was ideal for the braised vegetables and slow-cooked stews that represent the best of Russian cooking. Dairy products were cultured in any residual oven heat.

Whether the medieval Russian diet was varied or sparse, the cooking methods for rich and poor were nearly analogous. Although Tsar Peter the Great introduced the cooktop (plita ) from Holland in the eighteenth century, and metal stoves became common in urban dwellings in the nineteenth century, the Russian stove remained in use in the countryside well into the twentieth century.

Influence of the Russian Orthodox Church

In 988 Grand Prince Vladimir of Kievan Russia adopted Christianity for his people. Many of the existing pagan celebrations, such as those marking the seasonal solstices, were transformed into religious holidays like Christmas and Easter. The Orthodox Church had a profound influence on the Russian diet, dividing the year into feast days (skoromnyi ) and fast days (postnyi ). The latter accounted for approximately 180 days of the year. The fast periods largely coincided with times in the agricultural year when food supplies were running low. Most Russians took fasting seriously, strictly following the proscriptions against meat and dairy products. In addition to meatless Wednesdays and Fridays, the Russians also observed extended fasts, the most important of which were the Great Lenten Fast (forty days, plus one week, Passion Week, which precedes Easter), the Christmas or Filippov Fast (the six weeks preceding Christmas), the Fast of Saints Peter and Paul (beginning in late May or June and lasting from one to six weeks, depending on when Easter fell); and the Fast of the Dormition (two weeks in August). On the most stringent fast days (Lent and the Dormition Fast), even fish and vegetable oil were forbidden. Generally, the poorer the household, the more devoutly it fasted, since meat and dairy products were at best scarce even on nonfast days. For the wealthy, fasting did not necessarily mean deprivation. A mid-seventeenth-century state dinner given on a fast day for the English ambassador Carlisle offered no fewer than five hundred dishes, not one of which was made with meat products. Throughout the nineteenth century, cookbooks offered suggestions for both feast day and fast day meals. In addition to recipes for fish and vegetarian dishes, the cookbooks provided information on substituting nut oils and almond milk for dairy products in cooking and baking.

Holidays and Ritual Foods

Numerous feast days compensated for the stringent fasts. Feasts were held in celebration of weddings, funerals, and the name days of saints, which the Russians observed instead of birthdays. Many religious holidays were also considered feast days. Just before the rigorous Lenten fast came Butter Week (Maslenitsa ), similar to Mardi Gras, except that it lasted a full week. Although no meat was allowed, the Russians consumed excessive amounts of dairy products, most often in the form of blinies. These traditional yeast-raised pancakes, made with buckwheat or wheat flour, are porous enough to soak up plenty of melted butter. Topped with caviar, smoked fish, pickled herring, or sometimes jam, the bliny can be traced back to pagan times, when the early Slavs baked round pancakes in the image of the sun to welcome its return at winter's end.

Easter is the most important holiday in the Russian Orthodox year. Throughout Easter week a table is kept laden with food. The two most traditional foods are kulich, a tall loaf of bread enriched with eggs, butter, sugar, and candied fruits, glazed with confectioners' sugar, and often topped with a rose; and paskha, fresh farmer's cheese mixed with cream and butter and molded into a pyramid shape. Raisins or nuts are used to decorate it with the letters XB for "Christ is Risen."

Virtually every festive occasion calls for a special bread. Pies, such as an elaborate chicken pie layered with vegetables (kurnik ), are served at weddings; a sweet, pretzel-shaped loaf (krendel' ) is traditional for name days; and animal-shaped buns are distributed to Christmas revelers. These buns, as well as the lark-shaped breads baked to celebrate the return of the birds in spring, predate the Christian era. Other breads, such as one baked in the shape of a ladder for the holiday of the Ascension, have Christian roots. Kut'ia, which is a dish of wheat berries sweetened with honey and flavored with dried fruits or nuts, is traditionally served at funeral repasts.

The Tradition of Hospitality

The Russian word for hospitality (khlebosol'stvo ) derives from the words for bread (khleb ) and salt (sol' ). Taken together, they mean a regalement with that which is most basic to life, and that which is a luxury. A large, round loaf milled from the finest flour (karavai ) was traditionally presented as a symbol of hospitality or was offered to newlyweds as a housewarming gift. The loaf often had an indentation in the top crust to hold a small dish of salt. The act of honoring guests lies at the heart of the Russian national identity. As counseled by the Domostroi, a sixteenth-century manual that teaches household management and piety, guests are sacred; by receiving them well, you also serve God. One should offer guests are the very best food available. The Russians took this advice to heart: even the poorest households did not turn strangers away.

The sharing of bread was ritualized in the practice of "begging for crusts," which occurred whenever food shortages threatened the peasantry. Unlike simple begging, which was looked down upon, "begging for crusts" was accepted as part of the natural order: each peasant family knew that the situation could be reversed, and next time they might be the ones in need of food after a bad harvest.

In medieval Russia hospitality to foreigners was expressed through the institution of the podacha, a ritualized presentation of food. Privileged guests at the tsar's palace were given confectionery items to bring home at the end of each feast; the amount given was determined by the person's rank. Anyone unable to attend the festivities might have the podacha delivered to his residence by couriers, who would parade through the streets of Moscow in a display of the tsar's power and largesse.

Today, the hissing samovar or tea urn is the acknowledged symbol of Russian hospitality, ready to serve unexpected guests at a moment's notice. However, this tradition is relatively recent, as use of the samovar became widespread only in the second half of the nineteenth century.

Alcohol Consumption

The Primary Chronicle, Russia's earliest historical record, relates that Grand Prince Vladimir proclaimed "Drinking is the joy of Rus' " when he chose Christianity over Islam, which forbids the consumption of alcohol. From the earliest times the Russians enjoyed alcoholic beverages, especially mead, a fermented honey wine flavored with berries and herbs; kvas, a mildly alcoholic beverage made from fermented bread or grain; berezovitsa, lightly fermented birch juice; and beer. Distilled spirits, in the form of vodka, appeared only in the fifteenth century, introduced from Poland and the Baltic region. Vodka was originally used for medicinal purposes, but it gradually displaced the older beverages in popularity, and by the seventeenth century spirits were already causing social problems. Because the high taxes on vodka filled the state coffers, the government was not eager to curtail use of the substance (a few privileged noblemen were given the right to produce vodka, but the government basically had a monopoly on its production). In the late nineteenth century the famous chemist Dmitri Mendeleev set the optimal alcoholic content of vodka at 40 percent spirits diluted with distilled water. Commercial producers capitalized on Mendeleev's pronouncement, and Russia has been known ever since for its excellent vodka.

Tsar Ivan the Terrible established the first taverns (kabaki ) in the sixteenth century by for the sole benefit of his elite guards. Since then the government has vacillated between strict and lax approaches to vodka consumption, at times encouraging it to build up the state treasury and ease public unrest, at other times curtailing access to the drink. Tsar Peter the Great was known to ply his guests with drink in order to find out what was really going on at court, and he himself engaged in drinking binges that lasted for days at a time. More recently, in the Soviet era, two Communist leaders, Yuri Andropov and Mikhail Gorbachev, attempted to control access to vodka. Their ill-fated attempts caused widespread discontent, as well as severe shortages of sugar, which people purchased in bulk to produce moonshine.

Eastern Influence on Russian Cuisine

In 945 Russia, though still not unified, initiated trade with Constantinople, the seat of the Byzantine Empire. In exchange for honey and furs, the Russians received rice, spices, and wines. In 1237 the Mongols invaded the Russian principalities, and for nearly two hundred years Russia had to pay tribute to the Golden Horde. The occupation was not without culinary benefits. The Mongols reopened the ancient trade routes between China and the West, which had become too dangerous due to frequent tribal wars. Foods introduced along these routes included noodles and cultured milk products such as koumiss, the fermented mare's milk drunk by Turkic nomads.

With Russia's conquest of the Volga region in the mid-sixteenth century, the Russians were able to trade for spices like pepper, saffron, cinnamon, and ginger, as well as rhubarb, which became an extremely lucrative export crop. Also from the Volga region came sweet watermelons from Astrakhan, at the mouth of the Volga, and increased access to sturgeon, sterlet, and caviar from the Caspian Sea.

Tsar Ivan IV (the Terrible; 15301584) led a series of Eastern campaigns to subjugate the khanates of Kazan, Astrakhan, and Tatar Bashkiria; in 1582 he also annexed Siberia. This eastward expansion introduced the Russians to pel'meni, wonton-like pockets of boiled dough filled with ground meat and onions. The Russians serve these dumplings either with vinegar and mustard or with butter and sour cream. Pel'meni are frequently made in large quantities at the beginning of winter and kept frozen outdoors in a bag, ready for boiling into a quick meal. Exotic fresh and dried fruits were also introduced from the East, and raisins and dried apricots have held a prominent place in Russian cuisine ever since.

Tea also arrived in Russia by way of Siberia. As early as 1567 emissaries from Ivan IV had spoken of this strange brew, but it wasn't until 1638 that tea found its way to the royal court. The signing of the Treaty of Nerchinsk in 1689 established regular trade between Russia and China. From then on tea became a valuable commodity, although until the nineteenth century tea drinking was largely confined to Moscow's urban population.

With the expansion of the Russian Empire into the Caucasus and central Asia, beginning in the late eighteenth century and continuing under Soviet rule, dishes from Eastern cuisines entered into the Russian repertoire. From Georgia came grilled meats (shashlyki ), flattened chicken cooked under a brick (tabaka ), and herbed kidney beans (lobio ); from Armenia came flat bread (lavash ); from Azerbaijan, ground lamb kebabs (lyulya-kebab ); from Tatar Crimea, fried meat pies (chebureki ); from Uzbekistan, rice pilaf (plov ) and dumplings (manty ); and from Kyrgyzstan, lamb and noodle stew (lagman ).

The Era of Muscovy

During the era of Muscovy (from the fourteenth to early eighteenth centuries) the disparity between rich and poor became firmly established, resulting in two very different cuisines. The poor ate little more than bread, gruel, and soup made from vegetables and grains. The wealthy, on the other hand, ate so lavishly that foreign visitors like the French envoy Foy de la Neuville, on a 1689 visit, declared them gluttons. Foreigners generally considered the Russians uncivilized, not only due to their prodigious appetites, but also due to the pleasure they so openly expressed from their meals via belching and other bodily sounds.

The wealthy indulged in feasts that lasted for hours. Pickled or salted beef, ham, suckling pig, elk, boar, lamb, and rabbit all appeared on the table. Swan was considered the most luxurious of birds, although the wealthy also enjoyed crane, heron, black grouse, hazel hen, partridge, lark, goose, duck, and chicken. Veal was rarely consumed, and the Russian Orthodox Church forbade eating doves, since the birds symbolized the Holy Spirit. Hot and cold soups, noodle dishes, roasts, and sauces were seasoned with onion, garlic, pepper, saffron, and sometimes savory. The combination of sweet and sour so typical of medieval foods throughout Europe was especially compatible with Russian tastes. Rich, dark swan meat was often served with vinegar or a combination of sour milk, pickles, and prunes.

The tsar's table was furnished year-round with fish from distant waters, transported whole or in pieces, fresh or salted, or brined in barrels. Sturgeon and sterlet were brought live in tanks from the Caspian Sea to Moscow; whitefish came from Lake Ladoga; and several varieties of salmon were sent overland from the Kolsk Peninsula in the far North. Pike, bream, perch, pike-perch, and many other sorts of excellent fish were caught in the rivers and ponds around Moscow.

Eighteenth-Century Reforms

The reforms carried out by Peter I (the Great; 16721725) affected virtually every aspect of Russian life. Upper-class women, who had previously lived in seclusion, were allowed into male company and could eat at the same table as men. Peter introduced napkins from Holland (until his reign, tables had been covered with short cloths, the edges of which were used to wipe the hands and mouth while eating). Since large joints of meat were carved and served in small pieces at table, several people would generally share forks and knives among them, but Peter encouraged the use of individual twopronged forks.

In the kitchen, the most significant development for Russian cuisine was the introduction of the Dutch range, which, contrary to the traditional Russian stove, relied on a cooktop more than on oven chambers. This change necessitated more labor-intensive cooking methods as well as new utensils. Saucepans, for instance, replaced the customary earthenware pots.

Peter was eager to acquaint Russians with new foodstuffs and culinary methods that he had learned on his extensive travels. From Holland he imported not only hothouse vegetables and fruits (pineapples became a particular Russian passion), but also aged cheeses, which the Russians did not know how to make. He sought grape varietals that could thrive in southern Russia and placed the two-centuries-old Astrakhan winery under the supervision of a French vintner to increase its quality and production.

In 1712 the imperial court moved from Moscow to Saint Petersburg. The design of the commercial center (Gostinyi dvor ) incorporated a canal right in the building so that boats could unload their wares on site. Petersburg's significant foreign population influenced the city's eating habits, and foods such as waffles and artichokes found welcome reception. Furthermore, the young Russian men whom Peter had sent abroad to further their education returned with new tastes. Seeking more variety in their diet, they began to import exotic foods. When Peter hired a Saxon as his private chef, the nobility soon followed suit. Thus Russia's first foreign chefs came primarily from Saxony, Bavaria, and Austria.

Because the founding of Saint Petersburg had caused trade to decline at the far northern port of Archangel on the White Sea, in 1721 Peter issued an ukaze ordering his people to eat ocean fish. Previously the Russians had used only freshwater fish from rivers and lakes, and many were suspicious of such strange species as cod, whiting, and mackerel.

French Influence on Russian Cuisine

The culinary changes wrought during Peter's thirty-six-year reign were so great that by the time his daughter Elizabeth seized the throne in 1741, lemons and oranges were no longer a luxury, and English beer was in greater vogue than traditional Russian brews. As the century progressed, more and more European influences came to bear on traditional Russian methods. The vocabulary introduced into Russian over the course of the eighteenth century reveals influences from the Dutch, German, English, and ultimately French cuisines. By the close of the eighteenth century, food in the homes of the wealthy was unabashedly French, and Russia's most affluent families employed French chefs, whose style supplanted the Germanic influences of Peter's era.

With so much foreign influence, Russian cuisine lost its simple national character and became increasingly complex. By the end of century, meat was cut into small pieces that demanded complicated handling, as opposed to the large joints of meat that had been roasted or braised in the great Russian stove, or grilled on a spit. As the nineteenth century drew near, many French dining habits were firmly entrenched in Russia, although sometimes with a Russian twist. One practice that came into vogue among the aristocracy was the open table, at which any nobleman, invited or not, was welcome to dine. The conservative prince Mikhail Shcherbatov, in his treatise On the Corruption of Morals in Russia, complained that the nobility's excessive socializing at table led to moral deterioration. He was troubled that the nobility gave so little thought to the relationship between the food served and the religious obligations underlying it. Even so, Peter the Great's reforms and the subsequent refinements to the table broadened and polished Russian cuisine. Adapting western trends to their own needs and tastes, the Russians ultimately made their table quite sophisticated.

Table Service and Meal Times

The Russian peasantry ate their meager fare from a communal bowl, with each individual wielding his or her own spoon. The wealthy, however, sat down to a vastly different table, which was also distinct from its European counterparts. By the seventeenth century society meals throughout Europe were served in the style known as service à la française, which meant that for each course, all of the foods were set out on the table, ranked according to size and symmetrically arranged. The Russians ate in a manner that came to be known as service à la russe (it eventually replaced the French style of service in Europe in the late nineteenth century). Here the table was not previously laid with the foods for each course. Instead, each dish was brought individually to the table and presented with fanfare before being removed to the kitchen or sideboard for carving. Each diner received a portioned serving, which ensured that the food was still hot and at the peak of freshness. Furthermore, diners were not limited to the foods located within reach. The drawback of service à la russe was that it entailed a large and well-trained staff.

Under Peter the Great, the multicourse banquets typical of the Muscovite era began to evolve into the sequence of four courses that is familiar today. Peter's war with Sweden and his travels in Holland resulted in the introduction of the lavish zakuska (hors d'oeuvres) table that has become the hallmark of Russian cuisine. Adapted from the Swedish smorgasbord, an array of salted and smoked foods, including caviar, salmon, sturgeon, herring, pickles, and ham, is offered before the main course. Open-faced sandwiches with meat or cheese reflect a direct borrowing from Dutch practice. After the zakuski, soup is served, then a main course, followed by dessert.

Meal times were rather flexible. The wealthy, having no immediate tasks to attend to, often slept late and did not have breakfast until mid-morning. The main meal of the day (obed ) took place at around 2:00 P.M., followed by a late-afternoon collation or tea, then supper between 8:00 and 10:00 P.M. Peasant families had more structured mealtimes. Breakfast (zavtrak ) was typically eaten at 5:00 or 6:00 A.M., followed by the so-called second breakfast (vtoroi zavtrak ) at around 10:00 A.M., providing a break from the day's labors. Dinner was eaten any time between 12:00 and 2:00 P.M., with a midday snack (poldnik ) at 4:00 or 5:00 P.M. Supper (uzhin ) was generally served at 8:00 P.M., and, after tea drinking became an established custom in the late nineteenth century, tea (chai ) often followed. For those who could afford a variety of foods, the Russian breakfast was a hearty affair, complete with porridge (often buckwheat or semolina), smoked or pickled fish, and eggs or pancakes. The main meal of the day was still not considered complete without a soup course before the entrée.

Revolutionary Changes

The indulgent lifestyle of the aristocracy and gentry came to an abrupt end with the Revolution of 1917 and the subsequent establishment of the Soviet Union. The new Bolshevik government undertook a radical transformation of social life, promoting as one of their platforms the liberation of women from kitchen drudgery. To this end, vast communal dining facilities ("factory kitchens") were set up. However, because the food was bad, and most families did not like the impersonal cafeteria style of these facilities, the experiment ultimately failed. What did take hold, however, were communal kitchens in urban houses that had been requisitioned by the government. The great influx of people into the cities following the Revolution of 1917 caused a housing shortage that led to the creation of communal apartments, with sometimes as many as a dozen families sharing a kitchen. Communal kitchens, some of which still exist, contributed to the disintegration of family life and created social tensions.

The political and economic turmoil of the Civil War (19171922), coupled with drought in the Volga region, caused a severe famine between 1921 and 1922, in which nearly half a million people died. But this loss of life is small in comparison to the many millions who perished during Joseph Stalin's enforced collectivization of agriculture, which he carried out between 1929 and 1934, especially in Ukraine. Under this policy, private farms were destroyed and agriculture organized into state-run collective farms (kolkhozy ). Collectivization proved disastrous for Soviet agriculture, as it was inefficient and discouraged personal initiative. The Soviet Union was forced to import much of its grain from the United States and Canada and frequently suffered from food deficits.

The Soviet Era

The Soviet Union was never a fully egalitarian society. Most of the populace subsisted on a monotonous diet of poor-quality food, but the government and cultural elite had access to special stores and goods, so they were able to eat well. Although the government ensured that no one went hungry (all factory workers, for instance, received a free lunch at state expense), the average diet was not especially nutritious, as it was low in fresh fruits and vegetables.

The Soviet period was marked by extraordinary hardship. Following collectivization and the political purges of the late 1930s, the Russians endured World War II, also known as the Great Patriotic War. During the Siege of Leningrad (19411944), which lasted for nearly nine hundred days, roughly one million people died of starvation. At the most critical point in the siege, the bread ration for factory workers was only 250 grams (8.8 ounces) a day, 125 grams (4.4 ounces) for all others, with no other food available. Leningraders resorted to eating whatever they could scavenge from the city or find in their apartments, including tooth powder, Vaseline, glycerine, cologne, wallpaper paste scraped from the walls, flour dust collected from cracks in the kitchen floorboards, and spattered grease that was licked from the kitchen walls.

Although life stabilized after the war, the Soviet era was generally characterized by a low standard of living. Shopping was especially difficult, with long lines even for basic foodstuffs. There was very little variety. When socalled deficit items did suddenly appear, shoppers had to stand in line for hours. The vocabulary reflected this reality: products were "obtained" (dostat' ) rather than "bought" (kupit' ). Because of the hierarchy of food distribution, country dwellers flooded daily into Moscow, increasing the crowds and further limiting availability.

The state food stores had very little to offer, but decent foodstuffs could be purchased at the farmers' markets, where entrepreneurs from Georgia, Armenia, and central Asia sold lemons, melons, and high-quality meat and produce, often at steep prices. To survive, most Soviet citizens became adept at working the unofficial barter economy, and they knew how to take advantage of the black market. Restaurants were few; those that existed frequently offered only one item from their menu and subjected diners to surly service. Therefore most Russians ate at home. The Soviet-era kitchen table became the site of the most important social interactions, where information was exchanged, poetry recited, politics argued, friendships expressed. Despite the food shortages, the difficulty of shopping, and the cramped living space, Russians still took pride in being generous toward their guests, and the tradition of hospitality endured.

Post-Soviet Russia

The Soviet Union was officially disbanded at the end of 1991. The following year saw the introduction of stringent market reforms, which brought economic hardship to the general population. With a safety net no longer in place, beggars appeared on the streets. The countryside, in particular, suffered from insufficient food. Russia's economic problems were exacerbated by the crash of 1998, when the ruble lost two-thirds of its value. Still, the Russians are a resourceful people, and in the early twenty-first century the economy was back on its feet.

The collapse of the Soviet state initially brought a rash of investors to Russia, and numerous fast-food chains, such as McDonald's, gained a foothold. In response to so many Western imports, a feeling of national pride gradually emerged, and domestic chains like Russkoye Bistro began to compete with the foreign establishments. Homegrown products again appeared on the market when the economic turmoil of the 1990s caused many foreign firms to leave. Once the economy stabilized, many restaurants opened that offered expensive and elegant pre-Revolutionary fare, nostalgic country-style cooking, and ethnic cuisine. After seventy years of isolation under Soviet rule, the populace was eager to experiment with new tastes.

With the appearance of self-service grocery stores, shopping was simplified, and it was no longer necessary to stand in line for food. However, one might question whether shrink-wrapped tomatoes imported from the Canary Islands represent progress when locally grown produce can be bought at the market or at curbside kiosks. The slick grocery stores with their aisles of imported goods and the expensive restaurants were status symbols for the wealthy class of New Russians who had money to spare: the majority could not afford them. These New Russians also bought food magazines (unheard of during the Soviet era) and cookbooks: both the French Cordon Bleu cooking course and the Hare Krishna Book of Vegetarian Cooking were translated into Russian. Young Russians became increasingly aware of diet and nutrition, the down side being that eating disorders began to appear.

Meanwhile, average Russians could only admire the glossy publications and the wide variety of foods, which were beyond their means. Police in a number of cities have had to put Operation Harvest into effect to protect the potato fieldswhich were now private propertyfrom hungry poachers. Significantly, the consumerism of the moneyed class was balanced by a return to spiritual values, as many Russians once again expressed their identity through the foods they choose either to eat or forego.

See also Asia, Central ; Central Europe ; Christianity: Eastern Orthodox Christianity ; Food as a Weapon of War ; France ; Siberia .


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Darra Goldstein


The Russians were the first to develop a caviar industry based on the several varieties of sturgeon that they fished, and the world's best caviar still comes from the Caspian Sea. The thirteenth-century court of Grand Prince Yaroslav of Novgorod had a special sturgeon master to oversee the procurement, preparation, and serving of sturgeon. The roe was particularly relished. (Although Russians consider sturgeon roe the finest, they also enjoy the eggs from such fish as burbot, white salmon, pike, carp, and grayling, although technically this roe is not considered caviar.)

Making caviar is extremely labor-intensive, as the fish eggs are both fragile and perishable. The roe must be extracted by hand, then kept cold during processing (generally at 28°32°F [2°0°C]) to keep it fresh. Salt is added to lower the temperature at which the eggs will freeze, as well as to help preserve them. The best fresh caviar, which contains roughly 4 percent salt, is known as malosol ("little salt" in Russian). Today, for exports to Europe, the Russians also add a small amount of borax to the roe, which works as a preservative and reduces the need for salt. Borax gives the eggs a slightly sweeter taste and makes them a bit oilier. Russia omits the borax for caviar imported into the United States, which prohibits the sale of borax-treated eggs.

The flavor and quality of caviar depend on the type of sturgeon it is taken from. The most common types, in decreasing order of size, are beluga, osetra, and sevruga. Beluga sturgeon can weigh over two thousand pounds; its roe is a pearly gray and has a very subtle flavor. Many Russians prefer the strong flavor of payusnaya or pressed caviar, made from eggs that have been broken in processing or from very mature eggs pressed into a concentrate the consistency of thick jam.

Caviar was standard fare for the wealthy on the numerous fast days dictated by the Russian Orthodox Church, when meat and dairy products were proscribed. Medieval Russians often left the roe in the egg sac. They seasoned it with salt and pepper, then dusted it with flour and fried it, serving an onion, cranberry, or saffron sauce on the side. Sometimes they offered the cooked caviar cold, cut into slices and flavored with an herb vinegar or mustard sauce. For the Muscovite dish kal'ia, pressed caviar was cut into thin rounds, then placed in an earthenware pot with chopped onion, pepper, pickles, pickle brine, and water. This mixture was steamed in the Russian stove, with additional pepper added upon serving. Nineteenth-century culinary fashion called for slicing pressed caviar and serving it in a napkin as "serviette caviar." Elena Molokhovets, Russia's Mrs. Beeton, suggested a more practical use for pressed caviar. In her classic cookbook, A Gift to Young Housewives, she explains how to clarify bouillon with pressed caviar, using onequarter pound of the caviar in place of two egg whites.

By the mid-nineteenth century the finest sturgeon caviar had become rare enough that it was generally served unadorned. Astrakhan caviar, with its large, gray grains, was considered the ultimate roe. It was served on toast points or mounded in a pyramid and decorated with lemon wedges with croutons on the side. Late-nineteenth-century cookbooks sometimes cautioned against buying caviar with a greenish tinge, which was caused by treatment with a dye containing copper salts.

All varieties of sturgeon are endangered, due to environmental pollution and poaching (there is a thriving black market in caviar in southern Russia). The political and economic chaos that afflicted Russia after the collapse of the Soviet Union caused many foreign purveyors to turn to Iran for the highest quality caviar. Now, in order to keep up with world demand for the roe, scientists are experimenting with farm-raised sturgeon, particularly in the Caspian waters belonging to Kazakhstan.

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RUSSIA. Russia emerged as a state at the end of the fifteenth century on the northeastern periphery of Europe, with a thin population spread over the forest belt of the east European plain. Never having seen either feudalism or serfdom, its society was different from that of western Europe. Its Christianity came from Byzantium, which further set it apart from its western neighbors. During the sixteenth to eighteenth century Russian society changed rapidly, with the appearance of serfdom, economic growth, and expansion south into the steppe and east to Siberia. The Russian state grew in size and sophistication, especially after the reign of Peter I the Great (ruled 16821725). Peter inaugurated a vast cultural revolution, bringing European secular culture to Russia and thus including Russia in the circle of European civilization.


The core of the Russian state was the Moscow principality, which gained control of the original Russian ethnographic territory with the annexation of Novgorod (1478), Pskov (1510), and other neighboring regions. Essentially a household state managed by a few secretaries and the boyar elite, the Russian state began to acquire the trappings of state administration in the reign of Ivan IV, "the Terrible" (ruled 15331584). The growth of the state in the center was not matched by a corresponding development in local administration. The abolition of "feeding," direct payments in kind from local areas to provincial governors, occurred in the 1540s. From then on the treasury paid local officials, but tax collection remained largely in the purview of the local communities, which collected the dues as a service to the crown. Thus the grand claims of the tsars to autocracy met very sharp limits in the small size and limited competence of administration, especially local administration.

In the seventeenth century the central apparatus grew swiftly, reaching some two thousand officials and scribes by the 1680s. Again provincial administration lagged behind, with huge areas managed only by a governor with a staff of some five to ten clerks and scribes and little or no armed force. Even the cadastres that registered landholdings and tax obligations of the rural population were compiled almost entirely on the bases of the village communities' own reports of their population and holdings. These cadastres allowed the state to collect an annual tax on peasant households, mainly to support the army. The collections were also in the hands of the village communities, which meant that collection was slow and often in arrears. The state did have some more effective tools for raising revenue, such as the sales tax and the vodka monopoly. Older systems persisted, such as the expectations that musketeers would live partly from trade and handicrafts and that the gentry cavalry would live from their estates, both serving in the military only during the summer months. These methods were enough to ensure Russia success in some wars and expansion to the south and east. At the same time the state had little effective control over the countryside. Confronted with popular unrest, as in 16041605, 16481650, and 16711672 (the great Cossack revolt of Stepan Razin), the tsar could do little more than call out the army and hope that it could restore order.

Administrative reform. Ultimately, the existing forms proved inadequate in the face of the larger aims of Peter the Great. Peter transformed the Russian state. After several experiments, he established the Senate to coordinate government and take the routine tasks away from the tsar, eleven colleges or ministries headed by a committee for central administration, a reorganized local administration, and the Table of Ranks (1722) to regulate promotions and status in the army and civil service. His army was a permanent body, living in barracks and ready to fight at any time of the year. He shifted the burden of taxes further onto the peasantry by the introduction of the "soul tax," levied on individuals, not households. He attempted to increase the size and effectiveness of provincial administration, but here he was less successful. Some of his measures in this area had to be rescinded as too complex and expensive.

Catherine II the Great (ruled 17621796) and her son Paul I (ruled 17961801) continued the reordering of the state along European lines. Catherine redrew internal boundaries into more easily administered provinces, increasing the size and rationalizing the structure of provincial governments. She also introduced modest participation by the gentry into the judicial system, as well as similar forms of participation in the courts for the urban elites. Her Charter to the Nobility (1785) specified the rights and obligations of the gentry, for the first time introducing such formulations into Russian legislation. The outcome was a great increase in efficiency in the provinces, but the neglect of the central administration. Her son Paul recentralized government in the 1790s. Both reigns prepared the way for a more modern central state after 1801. The result was a relatively modern government in St. Petersburg, still resting on thin foundations in the provinces. If to a lesser extent than in the sixteenth century, the autocracy of the tsars still meant grand claims and more limited reality. Society was only in part subject to state direction.


For the whole of the early modern period Russia remained an agrarian society. In the sixteenth century Russian peasants inhabited settlements often of two to four small households, widely scattered along the rivers and lakes of the central and northern forest zones. While the peasants of the center and northwest cultivated grain and raised livestock in modest quantities, northern peasants derived most of their livelihood from hunting and selling furs and obtaining other forest products as well as preparing salt from saline springs. The life of the Russian peasantry changed fundamentally at the end of the sixteenth century with the appearance of serfdom. Unfortunately little is known about the process and causes of enserfment. The law regulated only peasant movement, at first allowing landlords to bring back peasants who left the estates within five years, but by 1649 allowing them to do so in perpetuity. The restrictions on peasant mobility, though difficult to enforce in practice, corresponded to the state's need for a stable tax base and populated land to reward the gentry cavalrymen.

By the mid-seventeenth century a bit over half of the Russian peasants were serfs of secular landlords, about a fifth serfs of the monasteries and bishops, and another fifth, concentrated in the north, the Urals, the Volga region, Siberia, and the southern border, remained free and normally without gentry or ecclesiastical landlords. The north prospered in these years, especially as the increasing trade with Holland and England opened new markets for furs and other forest products and the expansion of population in Russia itself meant a growing market for salt. The population of Russia grew rapidly after recovery from the Time of Troubles (15981613), reaching about eleven million by the 1670s. Much of the increase came from colonization of new land in the south and the Volga region.

Among the peasants of Russia who were not serfs, nearly half were also non-Russian in ethnicity. The largest groups lived in the middle Volga region, the descendants of the peoples of the Kazan' Tatar khanate. The Muslim Tatars lived in villages around Kazan', while the Bashkir pastoralists occupied the steppe to their southeast toward the southern Urals. To the north, east, and west of these Turkic-speaking peoples were other, smaller Turkic and Finnic groups, animists in religion. All of them paid a tax to the state called yasak and were not enserfed. Similarly, the incorporation of the Ukrainian Cossack Hetmanate into Russia as an autonomous unit brought in Ukrainian peasants who were legally free (mainly as Cossacks), and more than half of whom also owned their own land.

Among peasants and townspeople, households were small, comprising the nuclear family and occasionally a relative. Better-off townspeople and northern peasants might have a servant or two in addition, while the nobles maintained large staffs of house servants, artisans, and stewards. Some of the latter were bondsmen in the sixteenth and seventeenth century, a status that merged with serfdom in the early eighteenth century. The greatest aristocrats maintained huge establishments in Moscow, with hundreds of servants as well as a large body of administrators for their vast estates. Toward the very end of the seventeenth century the aristocrats began to build the first country houses, mostly within a few hours' ride of Moscow.

The ruling elite of Russia was organized in a system of court and military ranks, at the top being the Duma ranksboyar; okol'nichii, a sort of junior boyar; Duma gentleman; and Duma secretaryin all about a hundred men from some two hundred families by 1600. They formed the pinnacle of the sovereign's court, and in turn the core of the Moscow ranked gentry. Below them were the provincial gentry, organized for purposes of military service around provincial towns or forts, more or less coinciding with residence and landholding patterns. Men with Duma ranks, especially the two highest, held all important household positions at the court, military commands, and provincial governorships, and in the seventeenth century also headed almost all chanceries (prikazy). Immensely wealthy, the boyars also provided the inner circle of advisers, formally through the Duma or tsar's council and informally as friends or favorites of the tsar. Other than the tsar's relatives by marriage, powerful men from outside this circle were extremely rare.

In elite families women were secluded in separate parts of the houses and did not join in the all-male banquets that were the staple of elite socialization. Women of all classes were expected to dress modestly, in the voluminous traditional Russian clothing and with their hair covered, and to obey fathers and husbands. But women also owned and managed property, including tax obligations to the state. This was particularly true of the mothers and wives of the gentry, whose men were often away with the army every summer for years in a row. In merchant families the men traveled to distant markets while the women stayed home and ran the business as well as the household.

Social control. The inability of the state to regulate social life to the extent of Western societies placed a premium on various forms of communal solidarity. The urban and peasant communities collected taxes themselves and judged many petty crimes and civil disputes. The absence of any police or military force over large areas meant that even serious crimes (murder, rape, banditry) were often left to local communities, rather than to state authorities as required by law. The local communities had a conception of what sort of actions by administrators were incorrect and petitioned the tsar or revolted if these were violated. Sometimes state and community norms coincided. Many disputes over slander, verbal arguments, and insults were settled in state courts as disputes over honor. Everyone in the Russian state, even slaves and serfs, had honor, and an insult to that honor was punished by fines or, if the victim was higher in rank, by beating, prison, or various rituals of humiliation. Repeated violations of the community and state norms of honor put the offender outside the protection of his neighbors, as did witchcraft (the majority of accused witches were male).


Until the very end of the seventeenth century, culture in Russia was essentially equivalent to religion. Though the predecessors of the Russian princes had received Orthodox Christianity from Byzantium, Russia did not inherit the secular culture of Byzantium, with its ancient Greek classics. The language of the church was not Greek but Church Slavonic, a dialect of early medieval Bulgaria. Thus the religious literature of Russia had its foundation in Slavonic translations of the church fathers and some later Byzantine theological and devotional literature.

Until 1448 the Orthodox church in Russia was under the jurisdiction of the patriarch of Constantinople, who appointed the metropolitan of Kiev and later of Moscow. Most of the metropolitans were thus Greeks or southern Slavs, and the Moscow princes had little say in their appointment. At the council of Ferrara-Florence (14381445), however, the Greek metropolitan of Moscow, Isidoros, went over to Rome, and the Russian church and the Moscow prince deposed him, appointing the Russian Iona in his place. The Orthodox church thus became in fact autocephalous. Even after the restoration of Orthodoxy in Constantinople, the Russians continued to select their own metropolitan. Conflicts between the princes and tsars and the metropolitans were inevitable, especially as the tsars tried to increase their power over the church in the course of the centuries. If Metropolitan Makarii was an ally to Ivan the Terrible, his successors were expected to obey, and Metropolitan Filipp was murdered for opposing Ivan in 1569. The elevation of the metropolitan to the rank of patriarch by the Greeks in 1589 regularized Russia's relations with the Greek church, but the new patriarch, Iov, was very much the tsar's man.

Structurally the church in Russia differed in some ways from the Byzantine model. In place of the many small eparchies in the former Byzantium, the sees of Russian bishops were very extensive, and bishops were few in number and controlled little landed wealth, except for the metropolitan (later patriarch) of Moscow. The monasteries, in contrast, were as great and wealthy as those of the Greeks, if not more so. Collectively they were the lord of at least a fifth of the peasantry, more in central Russia. They were also the spiritual centers of Orthodoxy, producing almost all the saints and the devotional literature, original and translated from Greek. Only the metropolitan of Moscow himself, and to some extent the archbishop of Novgorod, had comparable spiritual authority and power at the start of the sixteenth century.

Laymen came to the monasteries for occasional spiritual advice, but also for pilgrimages to the burial places of holy monks and saints. They came for cures at the many shrines, both relics of saints and miracle-working icons. The elite and the provincial gentry tried to bury their dead in the monastery cemeteries and pay for liturgies for the dead. Particular monasteries became the objects of charity of particular clans and families, who endowed them with land, money, and valuable vestments, books, and even whole churches. Most larger monasteries enjoyed valuable immunities from taxation as well as from local judges and administrators. The parish clergy of the sixteenth century largely served churches created by private foundations and were subject to the founders' jurisdiction. They lived poorly on small parcels of land or meager income from services and gifts from parishioners. The clergy was not yet a hereditary caste, though most parish clergy were of humble origin, while monks were usually lesser gentry landholders. The ruling elite almost never entered monastic life voluntarily, though they gave generously to support it and buried their dead at the great monasteries.

Religious life for the laity in the sixteenth century revolved around the celebration of the liturgy in daily life, observation of the many fasts, and processions and pilgrimages to local shrines and monasteries. Preaching was virtually nonexistent, and the spiritual and moral direction came mainly from the clergy as spiritual fathers of laymen, each parish priest and sometimes monks taking on a group of families to follow through life.

Reform within the church. In the seventeenth century the Orthodox church saw many changes. The increasing influence of Kiev and the Ukrainian church under Polish rule played a major role. The Orthodox church in Kiev retained its dogmatic beliefs but also began to present them in the neo-Scholastic forms of Catholic theology. The basis of learning was no longer the fathers but Latin grammar and the Jesuit curriculum in language and philosophy. Preaching became a prominent part of religious life, while miracle cults and shrines were secondary and mainly served the purpose of confessional propaganda. Simultaneously in Russia reformers among the parish clergy called for greater propagation of Orthodox teaching and stronger discipline, coming to influence Tsar Alexis I (ruled 16451676) on these matters. In 1649 the tsar invited the first of a series of Kiev-trained clergy to Moscow to aid in translation of religious texts. They also preached in and around the court, giving a strong impulse to native reformers.

Earlier in the century Patriarch Filaret (d. 1633) had been a powerful figure, dominating his son, Tsar Michael (ruled 16131645), as long as he was alive, but his power came more from his position as the tsar's father than from his position in the church hierarchy. In 1652 Nikon, one of the reformers, was selected patriarch by the reformers in the church, with the informal pressure of the tsar. Besides taking a crucial role in secular politics, Nikon introduced liturgical reforms that ultimately caused a schism in the church. He left the office in 1658 over a quarrel with the tsar, a dispute only resolved by his deposition at the council of 16661667. The later patriarchs Ioakim (reigned 16741690) and Adrian (16901700) reinforced the power of the patriarchate and the clergy, striving especially hard and largely successfully to remove the parish clergy from the power of gentry church founders and place them under ecclesiastical jurisdiction.

In the later seventeenth century the impulses from Kiev grew stronger every decade, reinforced by the establishment in 1687 of the first real school in Russia, the Slavonic-Greek-Latin Academy in Moscow. Though its teachers were Greeks, they were Italian-educated and relied exclusively on Jesuit textbooks. These changes in the church, supported by the increasing flow of secular texts from the west, especially from Poland, changed the culture of the court and ruling elite, taking them away from traditional Orthodoxy with its monastic orientation toward a lay religion that included a much stronger moral element as well as some elements of secular culture. Greater changes were ahead.

Cultural change and secularization. These changes came from Peter the Great, who vastly accelerated the pace and scope of change. Culturally, his reign was a revolution. He sent young noblemen abroad to study languages, mathematics, and other subjects. He ordered the printing presses to produce a long series of texts basic to secular culture, elementary reading texts, introductions to history, architecture, mathematics, geography, and military sciences. He reoriented the ritual of the court away from the pilgrimages and virtually daily attendance at liturgy to secular celebrations of great victories and name-days and birthdays of the tsar's family and favorites. His new city of St. Petersburg was a port city with European-style architecture and only one monastery, in contrast to the dozens in and around Moscow. By the end of his reign the basic ideas of European politics, art, and learning were available in textbooks translated into Russian. In thirty-six years, the old exclusively religious culture came to an end.

The church also changed rapidly in Peter's time. At the death of Patriarch Adrian Peter appointed a Ukrainian, Stefan Iavorskii, as locum tenens of the patriarchate. Throughout his reign he preferred Ukrainians to Russians as bishops, a practice that continued until the 1760s. Eventually Peter abolished the patriarchate altogether and established in its place the Holy Synod, a board composed of laymen and clergy appointed by the tsar to run the church. The monasteries came to play a very subordinate role. In the later seventeenth century their revenues had already been placed under state control, and Peter reestablished that policy, hoping to use them as hospitals and schools rather than centers of ascetic spirituality.


Peter's political and administrative measures were not as radical, but they nevertheless had major effects. They produced a European style of absolutism in the central government, though still without sufficient apparatus outside the capital. Combined with victory over Sweden and the acquisition of a Baltic seacoast and new capital, Peter's state-building made Russia a major regional power, and one with a European culture. His successors in the eighteenth century continued to reorder and build the state, maintaining Russia's power as well. In the 1730s Empress Anna (ruled 17301740) upheld Russian influence in Poland and retained a foothold on the Black Sea. Russia was an active participant in the Seven Years' War (17561763), emerging with no concrete gains but considerable prestige owing to the defeat of Frederick the Great of Prussia. It was Catherine the Great who made Russia a great power in Europe, with two successful Turkish wars (17681774, 17871792) and the partitions of Poland (1772, 1793, 1795). These victories moved Russia's borders far to the west, incorporating most of Ukraine, Belarus, and Lithuania and conquering Crimea and the whole of the northern Black Sea coast.

While the years from Peter's death until the middle of the reign of Elizabeth (ruled 17411762) were devoted to court intrigues and succession struggles, the 1750s saw the resumption of policies designed to modernize state and society. Under the influence of her favorite, Count Ivan Ivanovich Shuvalov, Elizabeth founded Russia's first university in Moscow (1755) and encouraged other cultural projects, such as Russian-language theater at court. Other measures included fostering trade and industry, the abolition of internal tolls, and other economic projects. Plans to free the nobility from obligatory military service and to confiscate monastery lands came to fruition only after Elizabeth's death.

Catherine's reign saw more extensive political projects in the Legislative Commission (1767) and reorganization of provincial as well as central administration. These measures included a certain element of participation by the nobility and urban elites, as well as the delineation of their rights and privileges in law. By the end of her reign the issue of serfdom arose, most sharply in the work of Aleksandr Radishchev, who condemned the institution on moral and economic grounds. Catherine herself was by then alarmed at the French Revolution and sent Radishchev to prison, but his ideas, like her own measures, were typical products of the European Enlightenment.


The Enlightenment was the first European current of thought to be fully received in Russia. Peter's cultural revolution had laid a foundation not only by example but through new institutions as well. His plan for an Academy of Sciences was realized in 1725, after his death. The academy brought scientists and scholars of European reputation to St. Petersburg, where they not only pursued their researches but also taught Russian students. The Noble Cadet Corps, based on the European noble academies, came into being in 1731, teaching young noblemen a curriculum that emphasized modern languages, law, history, and the sciences as well as proper behavior at court. Few formal schools followed its example, but private tutors among the gentry and private gymnasia supplemented the few state schools. The theater, dramatic and musical, flourished at the court, joined in the 1750s by a Russian-language dramatic theater and even theaters outside the capital. The Academy of Arts (1758) trained Russian painters to supplement the few Western and Western-trained artists already at work. Catherine founded a Society for the Translation of Foreign Books in 1768, which merged into the Academy of Letters in 1783. St. Petersburg evolved into a city of largely baroque and classical architecture, built by Italians and Germans. Even in Moscow and the provinces classical palaces sprang up alongside ancient churches and monasteries in the older Russian styles.

Both within the framework of these institutions and outside of them, Russians absorbed European thought and culture with great speed. Most of the well-known European writers of the time appeared in Russian translationall of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, for instance, except Du contrat social (1762; Social contract), had appeared by 1780. Works that remained untranslated nevertheless circulated widely, since the elite generally knew either German or French by mid-century. Russia contributed little that was original to European culture in the eighteenth century. Its art and literature followed European patterns, as with Aleksandr Petrovich Sumarokov's (17171744) tragedies, based on the models of Jean Racine and Voltaire. Even the church followed European patterns, in spite of the turn toward Russian rather than Ukrainian bishops in the 1760s. Earlier in the century the seminaries and other church schools continued the seventeenth-century Jesuit curriculum inherited from Kiev, but gradually other trends emerged. Pietism was a major influence after about 1750, with Johann Arndt's Vier Bücher vom wahren Christentum (16051609; True christianity) a work widely read, even by such luminaries as St. Tikhon Zadonskii. The great preachers of Catherine's time, such as Metropolitan of Moscow Platon Levshin, followed Lutheran models, preaching a mildly rationalized Christianity and sentimentalizing morality.

Political thought stayed within the framework created elsewhere by Voltaire, Charles-Louis de Secondat de Montesquieu, and others, propounding ideas of enlightened absolutism, aristocratic rights and privileges, and the need to create legal order. Radishchev was unusual in his radicalism in the face of serfdom, but he too borrowed his theoretical arguments from European writers on slavery, such as the abbé de Raynal. The importance of the eighteenth century lay not in original contributions but in the thorough integration of European thought and art into Russian culture.


Underneath the intellectual growth and ferment Russian society moved within the inherited framework of serf agriculture, but some new phenomena emerged. The settlement of the southern steppe with its rich black earth soil continued, especially after the Turkish wars and the defeat of Crimea. The southern steppe zone gradually became an area of great estates worked mainly by labor services, which diminished or disappeared in central Russia. The new ports on the Black Sea gave an outlet to grain from the steppe, while central Russia turned more to market gardening, crafts, and seasonal labor such as transport on the great rivers. The result was a boom for the gentry, who began to build great country houses on their estates, even those far from the cities. Nobles tried to use the latest ideas in European agrarian practices to enhance their incomes. In Peter's reign noblewomen had emerged from seclusion to mix freely with men and women outside the family at home and at court. They retained more property rights and played a larger role in estate management than women farther west. For non-elite women, however, little changed.

The serf peasants of central Russia found themselves neighbors of the "economic peasants" when monastic lands were confiscated in 1764 and put under the College of the Economy. Many of the former monastery villages were great centers of crafts and trade, producing dynasties of wealthy merchants. In these villages and those of great noblemen the crafts began to turn into more modern enterprises. In the Sheremetev villages of Ivanovo and Voznesensk serf entrepreneurs built cotton textile factories and hired their fellow serfs as laborers. The Urals, with more primitive technology but low costs, became a major iron producer. By the 1760s St. Petersburg was the center of Russian trade in the Baltic, as Peter had hoped, becoming the home of an international business community of Russians, Germans, Swedes, Britons, Dutch, and other commercial peoples. In the Volga area the growing trade with Persia and Central Asia came to a large extent into the hands of the Kazan' Tatars, giving them a new significance in the area and incidentally a leading role among Muslims in Russia. The conquest of the south and the foundation of Odessa in 1794 gave rise to a new port and new trade, dominated by Greeks, Jews, Bulgarians, Poles, and even some Russians, exporting grain to western Europe and trading with the Ottoman Empire. In remote Siberia, the Russian-American Company entered the fur trade in Alaska.

Russia's population grew rapidly, reaching some thirty-six million by 1800, of which only about six million came from territorial annexation. This demographic expansion, which continued into the twentieth century, provided an important stimulus to economic growth and to colonization of the southern steppe as well as eastern regions. If the center and south of Russia prospered, the north went into decline, resulting from the decline of the northern salt industry and the shift of the fur trade ever farther east. The Siberian economy was hampered by low population, but the discovery of silver and gold in the 1720s laid the foundation for a new and increasingly important industry, one largely under state control.

The expansion of the empire brought in new peoples. The nomadic Bashkirs, Kalmyks, and Tatars were now fully inside Russian borders in the south. The partitions of Poland brought most of the Ukrainian people into Russia, as well as Lithuanians and Belarusians. In the vast formerly Polish territories the nobility was almost entirely Polish, and initially Russia maintained Polish local gentry institutions, placing them under Russian governors. The towns in this area were largely Jewish in population, bringing another new people into the Russian orbit. As with the Polish nobility, Russian policy initially preserved preexisting community structures. In the old Ukrainian Hetmanate, the defection of Hetman Ivan Mazepa to Sweden in 1708 led Peter to appoint his own hetman and later abolish the office. Local institutions and laws remained, however, until the 1780s, when Catherine's reform of provincial administration meant the end of the Hetmanate's remaining autonomy. It also meant the integration of the Cossack nobility into the Russian imperial nobility, reflected in high positions in the army and government. Similarly, the German nobility of the Baltic provinces retained local rights and elected institutions until the 1780s, while Baltic German families played an increasingly central role in St. Petersburg. As many conservative Polish magnates chose to serve the tsars as well after 1796, the Russian ruling elite took on an increasingly multiethnic character, with Germans, Poles, and Ukrainians prominent in all spheres of the government and military services.

At the end of the eighteenth century Catherine's son Paul, frightened by the French Revolution, satisfied his conservative instincts by a recentralization of government, paradoxically coupled with some restoration of local gentry rights in the Baltic provinces and elsewhere. His eccentric personality, however, led to his assassination on 11 March 1801, ushering in a new century and a return to more liberal measures under his son Alexander I. Russia's society, state, and especially culture changed rapidly in the early modern era, but not enough to erode the basic structures. Those would have to wait for more powerful forces still to come.

See also Alexis I (Russia) ; Anna (Russia) ; Autocracy ; Avvakum Petrovich ; Black Sea Steppe ; Boris Godunov (Russia) ; Catherine II (Russia) ; Elizabeth (Russia) ; False Dmitrii, First ; Fur Trade: Russia ; Ivan III (Muscovy) ; Ivan IV, "the Terrible" (Russia) ; Law: Russian Law ; Michael Romanov (Russia) ; Morozova, Boiarynia ; Nikon, patriarch ; Old Believers ; Oprichnina ; Orthodoxy, Russian ; Paul I (Russia) ; Peter I (Russia) ; Pugachev Revolt ; Razin, Stepan ; Romanov Dynasty (Russia) ; Russian Literature and Language ; Russo-Ottoman Wars ; Russo-Polish Wars ; Serfdom in Russia ; Sofiia Alekseevna ; Time of Troubles (Russia) ; Vasilii III (Muscovy) .


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The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 has been followed by years of economic, political, and cultural tumult with serious repercussions for individuals and families. As the country struggles to privatize industries and services, jobs have been lost, workers have gone unpaid, inflation has skyrocketed, crime rates have multiplied, and people have discovered that attitudes and skills that garnered good positions in the former socialist command-economy do not always bring success in the new world of competitive business. Although well-heeled new Russians symbolize the wealth that can be achieved under capitalism, poverty rates have soared and the gulf between rich and poor has widened dramatically. Hand-in-hand with the economic revolution are shifts in ideology concerning the degree to which government may interfere in interpersonal matters. This has meant the easing of controls on a variety of details concerning marriage and childrearing, but it has also meant a much weakened social safety net.

The Demographic Crisis

The social costs of the country's political and economic upheaval since the Soviet collapse are sharply conveyed by figures reflecting the demographic crisis of the decade that followed. Between 1992 and 2000, Russia's population declined by more than three million people. Birth rates trail mortality rates. In 1989, Russian women had an average of 2.0 children; today, the average family has only 1.3 children. (Replacement requires 2.2 children per family.) Low birth rates are blamed on young spouses' reluctance to have children in challenging times and on infertility resulting from previous abortions and poor maternal health (Russian Life 2001; Bubnova et al. 2000).

Malnutrition and deficiencies in the health care system contribute to high infant mortality rates (an average of 16.7 infant deaths per 1,000 live births from 1995 to 2000) and poor health in children. For adults, drinking, smoking, lack of exercise, and stress are additional risk factors (Breeva 2000a; LaFraniere 2001; United Nations Population Division 2000). In 1987, the life expectancy of Russian men and women was 64.9 and 74.6 years, respectively. In 1998, these numbers had dropped to 61.3 and 72.9 years (Veselkova and Zemlianova 2000). The greater vulnerability of males creates a sex ratio that is among the most unbalanced in the world.

The Family in Soviet Times

Before the Revolution of 1917 (that replaced tsarist rule with Soviet rule), arranged marriages were common and family life was heavily patriarchal. Early Soviet law reflected more egalitarian beliefs. Marriages were to be voluntary and based on mutual respect and love. On paper, men and women were given roughly equal rights. However, in reality, discrimination at work and at home continued. Though Soviet ideology and financial need led virtually all women into the workplace, few held positions of prestige or equal pay. At home, the double-shift prevailed—employed women returned home from work to a full measure of housework and little participation by their husbands (Ispa 1984; Boss and Gurko 1994).

On the positive side, important supports for families were put into place. Partially because the government wanted to increase the birth rate and partially because such practices fit with socialist ideology, liberal maternity leave policies were put into place, families with small children were paid stipends, families with three or more children were given priority access to some goods and services, and the availability of childcare centers and after-school programs was widened. At the same time, the government did little to make safe, reliable birth control available. Many women resorted to abortion (legalized in 1955) as a form of birth control.

Soviet ideology stipulated that the family existed to serve the state. In that vein, the Marriage and Family Code of 1969 promoted government oversight of important marital and childrearing decisions. Parents were to obey the prescriptions of teachers and pediatric health care providers and to foster communist morality in their children (putting the collective interest above personal concerns). Coworkers, teachers, and others who detected breaches of proper parenting strategies or marital relations were encouraged to intervene.

Post-Soviet Legal Codes Affecting the Family

Soviet family law was thus contrary to democratic views that a partnership should exist between individuals and the state and that family privacy should be respected. After the collapse of Soviet rule, authoritarian laws pertaining to the family were therefore scrapped. The Family Code of 1995, which was partially modeled after the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, outlawed "arbitrary intervention" by outsiders in family matters. Parents have clear obligations to care for their children, but only in the case of child maltreatment do others have the right to intervene. Even then, every effort must be made to preserve the family unit. Removing the child is to be a last resort. Moreover, children now have the right to voice their opinions. Their preferences are to be taken seriously during custody hearings and other disputes.

The new code also supports self-determination in marriage. Engaged couples may write their own marriage contracts specifying the percentage of income and property to be shared. (Soviet family law did not deal with property rights because, according to socialist ideology, citizens were not supposed to concern themselves with material possessions.) Another innovation in the 1995 Family Code was the explicit recognition of fathers' rights to participate in parental decision-making, to take parental leaves, and to win custody after divorce (Butler and Kuraeva 2001).

The 1995 code also abandons the Soviet view that, when children are involved, judges decide if a marriage may be dissolved. Now, when desire for divorce is mutual, judges must grant the request regardless of spouses' motives; the court's role is limited to decisions regarding custody and protection of children's property interests. When only one spouse desires divorce, the couple may opt for a court hearing. However, if either spouse refuses to air private difficulties in court, the judge's only option is to give the couple three months to reconcile. After three months, the divorce is granted even if only one spouse wants it. Lawmakers reasoned that children's interests are not served by the maintenance of unhappy marriages. The only exceptions involve cases in which the husband wants a divorce but the wife is pregnant or they have child who is less than a year old (Antokolskaya 1996; Dyuzheva 1995).

The 1995 Family Code is also notable for its stance regarding individuals' responsibility for the well-being of extended family members. It continues Soviet tradition in requiring financial support not only of one's own children, but also of needy parents, siblings, grandchildren, and grandparents. This includes the legal right of relatives to live in the family home no matter what their age or marital status and no matter what the size of the dwelling. Post-Soviet price inflation coupled with stagnant pensions has seriously affected the quality of life of the aged; many couples must help elderly relatives with financial support, if not with daily care.

Even before the 1995 Family Code, the 1992 Education Law had sought to democratize relationships between parents, teachers, the community, and students. Whereas during Soviet times, schools were expected to guide and, where necessary, instruct, parents on vospitanie (moral upbringing) (Grigorenko 2000), the 1992 law gave parents the right to use their discretion in accepting or rejecting teachers' and health care workers' instructions. Moreover, parents have the right to be informed about school educational philosophies and strategies and may choose preferred types of schooling (public, private, religious, or at home) for their children.

Accordingly, the Parents' Committee, which had operated since Soviet times, appears to have changed in nature from being a vehicle for teachers to enlist parental support with vospitanie, to one that assists in the daily life of school, helps with children's education, and serves a platform for the voicing of complaints. In addition, a new School Council composed of parents, teachers, students, and community representatives has been introduced. However, the relationship of this body to other decision-making bodies has not been clearly spelled out and it seems that, in many cases, its function has been limited.

It must be said that, realistically speaking, it will be years before most Russian families feel these legal changes in practice. Many parents, teachers, and health care workers are unaware of parents' new rights. Second, for most families, especially for those living outside of the major large cities, choices of educational institutions are limited. Third, though some educators are indeed engaging in a more collaborative effort with parents than ever existed during Soviet times, creating new types of relationships is often difficult for parents and professionals socialized in different times according to different standards. Fourth, the age-old priority of the mother-child over the father-child relationship will be difficult to rebalance, as evidenced by the fact that, in the vast majority of cases, mothers are still awarded custody after divorce (Butler and Kuraeva 2001).

Common Patterns in Contemporary Marital and Parent-Child Relationships

Russians tend to marry and bear children young. The average age at marriage in the late 1990s was 22, and the peak childbearing years were from 20 to 24. There is strong social pressure to marry; both sexes tend to believe that women in particular cannot be fulfilled if they never marry. In surveys, husbands and wives tend to rate their marriages as satisfactory and to explain that their families provide a haven in which one can be oneself, express opinions openly, and find emotional support (Goodwin and Emelyanova 1995b; Vannoy et al. 1999). Yet divorce rates are among the highest in the world and have been increasing since 1991 (Bubnova et al. 2000; Dyuzheva 1995). Alcohol abuse is blamed in a large number of the cases. Family tensions arising from unemployment, poverty, labor migration, disagreements about gender roles, and improved housing access (allowing divorcing couples to move apart) contribute as well. Also troublesome are high rates of spouse abuse, often rooted in alcoholism and patriarchal tradition (Vannoy et al. 1999).

Olga Zdravomyslova (2000) calls Russian families quasi-patriarchal. Her research shows that, though husbands and wives rely on one another for emotional support and help in decision making, men nonetheless have higher status, expect to be the main breadwinners, and leave most housework and childcare to their wives. Surveys suggest that preference for the egalitarian distribution of household labor is rising, especially among young couples, but in the majority of families, traditional gender roles are maintained. As in many parts of the world, more people espouse egalitarianism than actually practice it, and men tend to be more traditional in this regard than women. This means that, in general, men handle repairs and women are in charge of day-in-and-day-out domestic tasks, including the nurturing of children (Vannoy et al. 1999). Elena Breeva (2000b) found that, accordingly, adolescents indicated that they felt much closer to their mothers than to their fathers.

Although it is not unusual cross-culturally for children to feel closer to their mothers than to their fathers, the Russian situation has some unique features. As demonstrated in centuries of literature, art, and folklore, motherhood in Russia is held in special reverence. Even today, the traditional Russian image of mother is of a woman who is everloving and always ready to sacrifice for her children. Her ability to endure endless work and hardship in order to provide for family needs has earned her adjectives such as virtuous and strong (e.g., Hubbs 1988; Young 1996). Moreover, according to Russian sociologists, during the Soviet period, wives and mothers came to be the de facto family heads because their contributions—financial support plus domestic labor—were greater than men's financial support only. The Soviet socialist command economy further undermined men's position because at work there were few opportunities to exercise initiative. Their status at home thus could not benefit from prestige garnered at work. This pattern has persisted into the post-Soviet era (Zdravomyslova 2000).

At the same time, a backlash against maternal employment that began in the Soviet years has since accelerated. Having a stay-at-home wife has become a status symbol for young businessmen, and many young women would prefer to stay home if they could afford it. The difficulties post-Soviet women face in finding satisfying, well-paying employment and good quality child care are certainly factors. In post-Soviet Russia, women have suffered unemployment and underemployment even more than men. Moreover, cuts in state support to childcare centers and after-school programs have led to thousands of closings. High fees at remaining programs make them inaccessible for many families. As a result, across Russia, only 50 percent of young children attend preschool programs (Fillipov 2001). Contemporary messages from the mass media glorifying sexiness and passive femininity contribute to the devaluing of female employment. In addition, family histories are at play. Generations of Soviet children grew up with limited availability to their mothers and keen awareness of their mothers' exhaustion from coping with dual roles. Since the 1970s, the envisioned—but hard to attain—solution in many minds has been for fathers to earn enough to permit mothers to stay home (Attwood 1996; Ispa 1988; Vannoy et al. 1999).

In 1970, after several visits to the USSR, Urie Bronfenbrenner wrote about the devotion to children he detected everywhere he turned. In general, Russians are indeed a child-loving people. Family relationships tend to be close and children in particular are cherished. Yet economic hardship and the strain of parents' heavy workloads have had negative implications for a growing number of children. In 2001, childcare providers and teachers told Jean Ispa that, although most parents are committed to doing everything possible for their children, many are too harried. The educators worried about children from low-income families, where resources are stretched, but also about neglected children of the new class of well-to-do entrepreneurs. Many such parents spend long hours establishing and managing their businesses—and therefore very little time at home.

Another concern voiced by many adults reflect the belief that the advent of a "predatory capitalism" (Lisovskii 1999, p. 58) and increasing social polarization have challenged the traditional value systems and led to anomie and a "spiritual vacuum," particularly among the young. Oleg Karpukhin (2000a, 2000b) believes that many young Russians have become alienated from the cultural and historical values the Russian people have lived by and this has resulted in widespread anxiety and depression. In their place, he argues, has been the formation for youth of value systems gleaned from mass culture and mass media and at odds with traditional parental values. For many Russian commentators, such developments have resulted in a shift from consideration for family and others to a preoccupation with the well-being of oneself, a growth of immorality, and a loss of spirituality. Others note that many children, particularly in the large cities, are more independent, self-confident, relaxed, and entrepreneurially inclined than their Soviet-era predecessors.

As everywhere in the world, family attitudes and behavior in Russia differ according to adult educational level and occupational prestige as well as according to the personalities of the individuals involved. For example, when compared to manual workers, educated individuals and entrepreneurs tend to have more liberal attitudes toward divorce, to share more of their most intimate thoughts with their spouses, and to be more likely to espouse goals for children that are centered on developing curiosity and independence of thought rather than on winning obedience (Ispa 1994; Goodwin and Emelyanova 1995a; Vannoy et al. 1999).

It is also necessary to recognize the relativity of perceptions about value changes among Russian youth. Although Russian commentators worry about increases in anti-intellectual, instrumental attitudes, international studies suggest that many Russian young people still reflect traditional respect for parents and scholarship, especially when compared with their Western peers (Elliott et al. 1999, 2001).

Stability and Reform in Compulsory and Higher Education

The Russian educational system provides free and compulsory education from the age of six or seven to fifteen years. Two more years of upper secondary schooling are available for those who wish it, thus providing a ten-year education. It is intended that the addition of an eleventh year at age seventeen will soon make the age of school leaving the same as that of most other industrialized nations.

An outstanding feature of the system of compulsory education in Russia, in comparison with most other countries, has been its durability. In the half century between the mid-1930s and mid-1980s, the basic system changed only in minor ways by gradual evolution. (It should be noted that many of the moral and social precepts outlined in Soviet documentation would be shared by contemporary U.S. and U.K. readers.) Nonetheless, pressure for educational democratization mushroomed during the time of Gorbachev's glasnost. At the national level, pressure for decentralization brought republics more independence and control over management and curriculum content. At the local level, democratization and decentralization led to demands for schools to have increased bureaucratic and budgetary freedoms. At the level of the student, individual needs were increasingly recognized and concern was voiced about the rigid system of schooling and heavy workload that, it was argued, served to alienate and overly stress many students. Reforms centered around six key concepts: decentralization (of regions and of schools), de-ideologization (removal of communist ideology from schools), democratization (giving greater freedoms for educational decision-making to teachers, parents and students), diversification (allowing the development of different school types), humanization (placing greater emphasis upon student individuality and needs), and humanitization (increasing the proportion of time allocated to arts and humanities in the curriculum).

The above elements of reform were realized through the 1992 Law on Education and its 1996 amendment. Education was now seen to include both obuchenie (instruction) and vospitanie—though the latter was downgraded from preeminent to subsidiary status in order to avoid any redolence of Soviet indoctrination. This was a reversal of Soviet policy wherein obrazovanie (education) was seen as a component of all-important vospitanie and individual differences were seen as elements to be overcome through the influence of education.

Greater emphasis on competitiveness and individualism have been reflected in the education system by a plethora of structural and pedagogic reforms, many of which have resulted in the development of socially divisive educational hierarchies and inequalities (Konstantinovskii and Khokhlushkina 2000). If the 1980s was the era of many innovatory and experimental teaching approaches, the 1990s was a time of diversification and differentiation in the type and roles of schools (Sutherland 1999). Although the expected increase in private and religious schools largely failed to materialize (Galina Cherednichenko [2000] lists only ninety-eight such schools in Moscow for the 1997–98 school year), there has been a mushrooming of gymnasia, schools that are approved to run specialized programs for more able students, and schools that offer intensive instruction in one or more specialized subjects. In 1991, there were 100 gymnasia in Russia; by 1998, there were 1,013. In 1999, some 15 percent of the school population was attending specialist schools. Not surprisingly, the most able students and the most skilled teachers gravitate to these well-resourced schools. Many specialist schools require entry examinations and admit only top scorers.

The result is polarization: Although attendance at institutes and universities has increased, so have dropout rates among secondary students. Students for whom learning is a struggle and who find themselves in unfashionable schools have become increasingly alienated. Increasing disenchantment with schooling appears to be partially due to student concern that school curricula have changed too little to prepare them for the new economic pressures that will mark their passage into adulthood. Alienation is exacerbated by massive curriculum overload that leaves many students exhausted and allows little time for socialization and leisure (Andriushina 2000; Fillipov 2001).

Vladimir Lisovskii (1999) notes that under socialism, one could feel socially protected, education was free, and employment was guaranteed. Honest poverty and concern for country and one's collective traditionally underpinned much Russian behavior (van der Wolf and Roeser 2000). Opportunities for advancement and remuneration were made available irrespective of the individual's level of education (Kopytov 2000). Many now worry that the highly unstable economic situation, in which entrepreneurial skills can bring about immense wealth, has resulted in a shift from the traditional regard for education as intrinsically valuable to a focus on education as a means for achieving the individualistic goals of success and prosperity (Nikandrov 1995).

This value shift is seen in higher education. For some, further study is a means to avoid conscription in the army, whereas for the majority it is primarily a means to economic security. Because not all academic disciplines are well-rewarded and high levels of education do not necessarily result in material gain (Zubok 1999), the most popular courses are those that promise the greatest financial rewards such as economics, finance, law, and foreign languages (Rutkevich 2000). Those who have graduated in other subjects are increasingly turning their backs on their disciplines in the search for greater income.

In a study of fourteen- and fifteen-year-olds in two cities, Moscow and Ivanovo, Irina Shurygina (2000) identified three categories of adolescent attitudes toward higher education. The traditional Soviet model was one whereby success was primarily related to having a higher education and an "intellectual" profession. Families that are relatively impoverished but that have a history of high educational performance still tend to reflect this model. The second model is that of the entrepreneur, where high earnings are seen to have little or no connection to one's education or the intellectual demands of one's career. Here, one might anticipate finding a high proportion of less educated, but comparatively more affluent, families. A third model, new to Russian society, involves the assimilation of both the above involving a combination of education and money and power.

Russia has long enjoyed a reputation for high educational standards, something echoed both by the World Bank (Canning, Moock, and Heleniak 1999) and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (1998). Several international comparisons in mathematics and science indicate performance largely superior to that of the United States, particularly for the most able graduates, where Russian students perform close to the top of the international league. Despite their many economic and social difficulties, massive cuts in spending on education throughout the 1990s (falling five-fold between 1991 and 1995), and growing concern within the country about a perceived decline in educational standards (e.g., Dolzhenko 1998), levels of educational performance, classroom behavior, academic engagement, and motivation continue to impress Western educationalists (cf. Hufton and Elliott 2000; Alexander 2000; Bucur and Eklof 1999). Their observations have tended to take place in larger cosmopolitan cities, however, and it is likely that educational standards are declining in more poorly resourced small town and rural areas (Sinagatullin 2001; Tarasov 2000).

Child Homelessness and Orphanage Care

One outcome of the economic upheavals of the post-Soviet period is a great increase in the number of homeless children. The Russian government and UNESCO estimate that in 2001, there were up to three million homeless children in Russia (Harrigan 2001; Tretyak 2001). Some are children of parents who have died or been imprisoned, some are abandoned, and some have run away from conflict-, abuse-, and alcohol-ridden homes. To survive, many become involved in begging, petty crime, and prostitution. Drug use and suicide are also serious problems. Russian children's charities and organizations such as the U.S.-based Love's Bridge and the Red Cross are working to provide shelters and other services to homeless children, but the need still far outweighs available help.

Approximately 1.5 percent of all Russian children are orphaned (Facts and Figures 2001). Between 600,000 and 700,000 children (90% of whom have a living parent) live in orphanages. Concern about orphanage conditions came to a head when Human Rights Watch (1998) published reports describing inhumane care in understaffed and under-funded institutions. Although the quality of care varies from orphanage to orphanage, the report exposed poor living and learning conditions and stigmatization based on notions about the heritability of mental deficiencies and social incompetence. A network of smaller family-like homes for orphans is in its infancy but holds promise of higher quality care. A significant proportion of children are now adopted by foreigners, many of whom are resident in the United States.


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jean m. ispa

julian g. elliott

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Official name: Russian Federation

Area: 17,075,200 square kilometers (6,592,771 square miles)

Highest point on mainland: Mount El'brus (5,633 meters/18,481 feet)

Lowest point on land: Caspian Sea (28 meters/92 feet below sea level)

Hemispheres: Northern, Eastern, and Western

Time zones: 3 p.m. Moscow = noon GMT; 12 a.m. Anadyr = noon GMT

Longest distances: 4,000 kilometers (2,400 miles) from north to south; 10,000 kilometers (6,200 miles) from east to west

Coastline: 37,653 kilometers (23,396 miles)

Land boundaries: 19,961 kilometers (12,403 miles) total boundary length; Azerbaijan 284 kilometers (176 miles); Belarus 959 kilometers (596 miles); China 3,605 kilometers (2,265 miles); Estonia 294 kilometers (183 miles); Finland 1,313 kilometers (816 miles); Georgia 723 kilometers (449 miles); Kazakhstan 6,846 kilometers (4,254 miles); Latvia 217 kilometers (135 miles); Lithuania 227 kilometers (141 miles); Mongolia 3,485 kilometers (2,165 miles); North Korea 19 kilometers (12 miles); Norway 167 kilometers (104 miles); Poland 206 kilometers (128 miles); and Ukraine 1,576 kilometers (979 miles)

Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)


Russia is the largest country in the world, spreading from northeastern Europe across the entire northern width of the Asian continent. It shares borders with fourteen other countries and has coastlines on the Arctic and Pacific Oceans. With a total area of about 17,075,200 square kilometers (6,592,771 square miles), it is nearly twice the size of the United States. Russia is administratively divided into forty-nine oblasts, twenty-one republics, ten autonomous okrugs, six krays, two federal cities, and one autonomous oblast.


A small portion of Russia, the Kaliningrad Oblast, is located in Eastern Europe between Poland and Lithuania. There are no overseas dependencies of Russia.


It is said that Russia has only two seasons: summer and winter. Though this is a slight exaggeration, the statement accurately characterizes the country's harsh climate with its long, cold winters and short, cool summers. These conditions are owing to Russia's location in the high northerly latitudes. More than half the country lies above 60° north latitude, with only relatively small areas below 50° north. Furthermore, the high mountains that form Russia's southern border effectively block out warm air masses. The predominant movement of the country's weather systems from east to west essentially nullifies any moderating influence the warm waters of the Pacific Ocean might have on the climate. In winter, Siberia lies under a vast high-pressure cell centered in Mongolia, which keeps the region enveloped in frigid air. The magnitude of this cold is not easy to grasp. Soil in the far northern permafrost can be frozen several hundred meters deep. Even into southern Siberia, the land is covered by snow for more than six months. The annual average temperature for most of Siberia is below freezing. For the majority of European Russia, the average is only somewhat higher.

In summer, warm, moist air from the Atlantic Ocean is able to push east to central Siberia, under the influence of a prevailing low-pressure system. That area thus receives moisture-bearing air that delivers fairly high amounts of precipitation. Russia's short growing season relies heavily upon this rainfall to water its crops; unfortunately, distribution of the moisture in many areas is often irregular and unpredictable. Droughts are not uncommon, especially in early summer. On the other hand, heavy rains in middle and late summer may compromise harvesting. In the east, late-summer Pacific air can bring monsoon-like rainfall, with disastrous effects.

Overall, lack of sunshine characterizes the Russian climate. Overcast skies are the rule, especially in winter. In December, for example, Moscow typically experiences twenty-three days of cloud cover. Sunless winter days are the rule throughout the nation.

Russia's climate zones lie in easily distinguishable belts that run from east to west across the whole country. In the far north, Novaya Zemlya, Severnaya Zemlya, and numerous smaller Arctic islands experience a polar desert climate. Below this, a tundra climate predominates for at least 100 kilometers (60 miles) south, extending up into the steep mountain slopes far to the east. Next, a broad subarctic zone passes southward as far as St. Petersburg in the west, crosses the Urals, and takes in nearly all the rest of Siberia. Last is a wide belt of cold, dry steppe climate starting at the Black Sea, crossing the North Caucasian Plain, moving through the lower Volga Valley and the southern Urals into Siberia.

City January Temperature Averages July Temperature Averages
Moscow -16°C to -9°C (3°F to 16°F) 13°C to 23°C (55°F to 73°F)
Vladivostok -18°C to -11°C (0°F to 13°F) 16°C to 22°C (60°F to 71°F)
Verkhoyansk -32°C (-26°F) 13°C to 37°C (56°F to 98°F)

Most of Russia experiences only modest precipitation, but the averages vary by region. On the Great European Plain, averages decrease from more than 80 centimeters (30 inches) in the west to less than 40 centimeters (16 inches) on the Caspian Sea shoreline. Siberia uniformly sees annual precipitation ranging from 50 to 80 centimeters (20 to 32 inches), although amounts are generally less than 30 centimeters (12 inches) in extreme northeastern Siberia. At high elevations, precipitation totals may reach 100 centimeters (40 inches) or more, but in the valleys they average less than 30 centimeters (12 inches).


Russia can be categorized into several large regions. From west to east, they are the Great European Plain; the Ural Mountains; the mountain systems and ranges along much of Russia's southern border; and Siberia, which includes the West Siberian Plain, the Central Siberian Plateau, and the mountain ranges of northeastern Siberia and the Kamchatka Peninsula.

Most of Russia is located on the Eurasian Tectonic Plate, but eastern Russia is on the North American Plate. The exact boundary between the two plates is uncertain. The Pacific Plate is located off of Russia's eastern coastline. The movement of these three plates against each other is a cause of significant earthquakes and volcanoes in this region, especially on Kamchatka. Seismic activity is also common in the Caucasus Mountains in the southwest.


Seacoast and Undersea Features

The majority of Russia's coastline is on the Arctic Ocean and its seas, including the White Sea, Barents Sea, Kara Sea, Laptev Sea, East Siberian Sea, and the Chukchi Sea. Located almost entirely north of the Arctic Circle, much of the water here remains frozen for the better part of the year. One exception is the area in the far west, where the Gulf Stream current warms the waters of the Barents Sea near the Kola Peninsula, allowing the port of Murmansk to function year-round. The eastern coastline of Russia lies on the Pacific Ocean and its seas, including the Bering Sea, the Sea of Okhotsk, and a portion of the Sea of Japan. Western Russia has short coastlines along the Baltic Sea (in northern Europe) and the Black Sea (an inland sea between southeastern Europe and Asia), both of which are seas of the Atlantic Ocean.

Sea Inlets and Straits

The Gulf of Ob' and the estuary of the Yenisey River are inlets of the coastline of the Kara Sea. A channel called the Proliv Dmitrya Lapteva connects the Laptev Sea to the East Siberian Sea. Long Strait near the northeast coast connects the East Siberian Sea to the Chukchi Sea and separates the mainland from Wrangel Island. The Bering Strait separates Siberia and Alaska by a mere 86 kilometers (53 miles) and connects the Chukchi Sea to the Bering Sea. Shelikhova Bay is a deep inlet of the Sea of Okhotsk. The Gulf of Anadyr, near the northeastern tip of Russia, is an inlet of the Bering Sea. Russia's principal Pacific Ocean port, Vladivostok, is found on Peter the Great Bay, within the Sea of Japan. The Tatar Strait connects the Sea of Okhotsk to the Sea of Japan. The Gulf of Finland in the west is an inlet of the Baltic Sea. St. Petersburg is located at its apex. The Sea of Azov is an inlet of the Black Sea, located at the southwestern Russian border.

Islands and Archipelagos

Many islands lie within the Arctic and Pacific Oceans off the shores of Russia. Franz Josef Land is comprised of about one hundred small islands in the Arctic Ocean; it is the northern-most part of Russia and is among the north-ernmost lands on Earth. Other large Arctic islands are Novaya Zemlya, Vaygach Island, Wrangel Island, and the Severnaya Zemlya and New Siberian Islands groups. Many small islands and island chains are scattered among these larger groups.

In the Pacific, the Kuril Islands curve southwest from the Kamchatka Peninsula to Japan. Although the Kuril Islands are under Russian administration, Japan and Russia dispute ownership of the four southernmost islands. Also lying in the Pacific is Sakhalin, a large island that separates the Seas of Okhotsk and Japan.

Coastal Features

No country in the world can surpass Russia's 37,653 kilometers (23,396 miles) of coastline. Yet most of this coastline is so far north that it is frozen for much of the year. Despite the fact that frozen harbors mean Russia has very few outlets to the ocean that remain open all year, Russian shipping and fishing thrives on all its seas.

The coastlines contain many peninsulas and capes. Gydan Peninsula lies between the Gulf of Ob' and the estuary of the Yenisey River. Continuing to the east, the Taymyr Peninsula extends north, reaching mainland Russia's northernmost point at Cape Chelyuskin.

The Chukchi Peninsula stretches out to become Russia's easternmost point, with the Chukchi Sea of the Arctic Ocean to the north and the Bering Sea of the Pacific Ocean to the south. Further south is the large Kamchatka Peninsula. Kamchatka encloses the Sea of Okhotsk to the west.


Russia was even larger in the past than it is today. Russia controlled Finland, Alaska, and parts of modern-day Poland at various times in history. After World War I (191418), Russia technically ceased to be an independent country, instead becoming part of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R., or the Soviet Union). Russia was by far the largest of the republics that made up the Soviet Union, however, and was considered to be the ruling power of that nation. The Soviet Union started to dissolve in 1991. Eventually, many nations within the Soviet Union became independent of Russia.


The Caspian Sea, on Russia's southern border between Europe and Asia, is not a true sea; it is actually a saltwater lake and the largest inland body of water in the world. The Caspian is held in a vast land depression with no outlet to any ocean. Although many rivers drain into it, water escapes only through evaporation. The Caspian's salinity results from accumulated salts. The sea extends approximately 1,210 kilometers (750 miles) from north to south and 210 to 436 kilometers (130 to 271 miles) from east to west. Its area is 371,000 square kilometers (143,000 square miles). Its mean depth is about 170 meters (550 feet), with the deepest areas in the south.

Most other Russian lakes were formed by glaciation. The largest such lakes in European Russia are Ladoga (17,703 square kilometers/ 6,835 square miles) and Onega (9,609 square kilometers/3,701 square miles), northeast of St. Petersburg. They are also the two largest lakes in all of Europe (since the Caspian Sea is generally not counted as a lake). Other large lakes in western Russia include Lake Peipus on the Estonian border and the reservoirs of the Volga River.

Lake Baikal in southern Siberia is the largest lake in Russia and the largest lake in Asia (excluding the Caspian Sea). It is 632 kilometers (392 miles) long and 59 kilometers (32 miles) wide, with a surface area of 30,510 square kilometers (11,870 square miles). It has a maximum depth of 1,742 meters (5,715 feet), making it the deepest body of freshwater on Earth. Due to its great depth, Lake Baikal also has the greatest volume of any freshwater lake. It is said to contain one-fifth of Earth's fresh surface water. Other large Siberian lakes include Lakes Taymyr, Chany, and Khanka and the Novosibirsk, Bratsk, and Zeya Reservoirs. There also are many smaller lakes.


Most of Russia's urban population lives along the banks of the nation's many rivers. The most important commercial river in Russia is the Volga, which is also the longest river in Europe. The Volga begins in the hills west of Moscow and flows southeastward for 3,689 kilometers (2,293 miles) to the Caspian Sea. Four of Russia's largest cities are located on its banks: Nizhniy Novgorod, Samara, Kazan', and Volgograd. The Kama River flows west out of the southern Urals and into the Volga. This also is a major waterway for both Russia and Europe.

Also located in European Russia are the Dnieper and the Don Rivers. Although the Dnieper flows mainly through Belarus and Ukraine, it has headwaters in the hills west of Moscow. The Don flows from its origins in the Central Russian Upland south of Moscow for 1,860 kilometers (1,153 miles) before emptying into the Sea of Azov at Rostov-na-Donu.

Further east is the Ural River, which flows south from the Ural Mountains into Kazakhstan before reaching the Caspian Sea. The Ural River is traditionally considered part of the boundary between Europe and Asia.

A number of major rivers drain into the Pacific and Arctic Oceans from the Siberian plateau and mountain areas in the east. The Irtysh-Ob' river system flows through the West Siberian Plain, emptying into the Arctic at the Gulf of Ob'. The Irtysh is the longer of the two rivers, but is a tributary to the Ob'. Together they have a length of 5,380 kilometers (3,335 miles), making them the longest river system in Russia.

On the far side of the Central Siberian Plateau is the Lena, the longest individual river in Russia at 4,400 kilometers (2,700 miles). It too empties into the Arctic, and it has many large tributaries including the Aldan, Vitim, and Vilyui. The third great Arctic river, the Yenisey (4,000 kilometers/2,480 miles), flows across the Central Siberian Plateau. Its largest tributary, the Lower Tunguska, is itself roughly 3,226 kilometers (2,000 miles) long. Other major tributaries include the Stony Tunguska and Angara.

The same river systems that account for such an enormous flow of water into the Arctic Ocean are also responsible for creating vast swamps in the West Siberian Plain. Snow and ice in the warmer regions, where the rivers have their sources, thaw well before the northern regions, causing great flooding to the north. The Vasyugan'ye Swamp in the center of the West Siberian Plain, for example, covers 48,000 square kilometers (18,500 square feet). The same effect can be observed with other Siberian river systems.

The Amur River (2,874 kilometers/1,768 miles) is the most important Siberian river flowing into the Pacific Ocean. Its major tributaries are the Argun, Ussuri, and Shilka. The Amur River, with its primary tributary the Ussuri River, comprises a significant section of the boundary between Russia and China.


There are no desert regions in Russia.


In all nearly 10 percent of Russian territory can be classified as swampland. Much of this is concentrated in the West Siberian Plain, which lies between the Ural Mountains and the Yenisey River. This plain is a vast area of lowlands, probably the largest expanse of flat land anywhere in the world. It stretches from the steppes of Central Asia in the south to the Arctic Ocean in the north, covering a region nearly 1,800 kilometers (1,100 miles) wide. Flat and poorly drained, these lowlands feature many swamps, marshes, and peat bogs, with significant oil and natural gas deposits in their central and northern regions.


The areas now known as Siberia and Alaska were once connected by a stretch of land that surfaced during the Ice Ages, an area that researchers have called the Bering Land Bridge or Beringia. Archaeologists believe that the first ancestors of the Native Americans crossed this bridge from Asia into North America more than thirteen thousand years ago. Over time, as the Bering and Chukchi Seas rose, they covered Beringia. Remnants of the region can still be seen at the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve on Seward Peninsula in Alaska.

The Ural Mountains separate two vast plains: the Great European Plain and the even larger West Siberian Plain. Both of these so-called plains contain a wide variety of terrain, including vast forests, swamps, and stretches of tundra. The plains also contain many areas of grassland and farmland, however, especially the Great European Plain.

The central portion of the Great European Plain between St. Petersburg and the Ukrainian border features a mixed forest of both conifers and deciduous trees. Oak, beech, maple, and hornbeam are the primary broad-leaf tree species. Moving south, the mixed forest passes through a narrow zone of forest steppe, which is 150 kilometers (95 miles) wide, on average, before giving way to a zone of true steppe.

The steppe is a broad band of nearly treeless, grassy plains that extends across Hungary, Ukraine, southern Russia, and Kazakhstan before ending in Manchuria. Although historically presented as the typical Russian landscape, the steppe in Russia proper is in fact quite small, located mainly northwest of the Greater Caucasus Mountains and stretching across the southern Volga Valley, the southern Urals, and parts of western Siberia.

Isolated pockets of steppe can also be found in the mountain valleys of southeastern Siberia. Moderate temperatures and normally adequate levels of sunshine and moisture give the steppe zone relatively favorable conditions for agriculture, although precipitation here can be unpredictable, sometimes even catastrophically dry.

Tundra makes up about 10 percent of Russian land, a treeless and marshy plain that lies along Russia's northernmost zone. The tundra stretches from the Finnish border to the Bering Strait, then extends south along the Pacific coast to the Kamchatka Peninsula. The North Siberian and Kolyma lowlands are entirely made up of tundra. Only mosses, lichens, dwarf willows and shrubs can grow on the permafrost and survive the long, harsh, sunless winters. In summer, dusk comes at midnight and dawn follows within minutes. The powerful Siberian rivers that cut across the tundra toward the Arctic Ocean do a poor job of draining the region, due to partial and intermittent thawing. The most important physical process at work in the tundra is frost weathering, a vestige of the glaciation that shaped it during the last Ice Age.


The areas now known as Siberia and Alaska were once connected by a stretch of land that surfaced during the Ice Ages, an area that researchers have called the Bering Land Bridge or Beringia. Archaeologists believe that the first ancestors of the Native Americans crossed this bridge from Asia into North America more than thirteen thousand years ago. Over time, as the Bering and Chukchi Seas rose, they covered Beringia. Remnants of the region can still be seen at the Bering Land Bridge National Preserve on Seward Peninsula in Alaska.

There are many regions of hills and uplands in Russia. The Valdai Hills are the most noteworthy. Although not particularly tall (from 182 to 304 meters/600 to 1000 feet in elevation), they are among the highest summits located in the Great European Plain of western Russia. Many important rivers have their source there, including the Volga.


With nine major mountain ranges, Russia can be considered among the most mountainous countries in the world. Eastern Russia is by far more mountainous than the west, while the center section of the country is primarily low plains.

The Urals are perhaps the best known of Russia's mountain ranges, as they define the boundary between Asia to the east and Europe to the west. A lengthy range, the Urals extend 2,100 kilometers (1,300 miles) from the northern border of Kazakhstan all the way to the Arctic Ocean. The highest peak, Mount Narodnaya, is only 1,894 meters (6,212 feet) in elevation, however. The Urals have never offered any significant barrier to travel.

Located between the Black and Caspian Seas, the Caucasus Mountains consist of two major chains separated by lowlands. The northern Greater Caucasus range forms most of the border between Russia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, as well as marking the boundary between Asia to the south and Europe to the north. These mountain systems are made up of granite, other crystalline rocks, and some volcanic formations. Elevations in the Greater Caucasus reach a maximum of 5,633 meters (18,481 feet) at the extinct volcano Mount El'brus, the highest peak both in Russia and on the continent of Europe.

Russia's other mountains are far to the east. The Altay Shan and Sayan Mountains are found in the area north of Mongolia, west of Lake Baikal. Further east are the Yablonovyy Range and Stanovoy Mountains. They follow much of the southern border of central and eastern Siberia on toward the Pacific Ocean, where they join the other eastern ranges. The Altay Shan are the tallest of these; they include Mount Pelukha (4,619 meters/15,157 feet). The other ranges average less than 3,048 meters (10,000 feet) in height.

The topography east of the Lena River is predominantly mountainous, with the elevations becoming higher and more rugged farther to the east. Major ranges in this region are Verkhoyanskiy, Cherskiy, Kolyma, Koryak, and Sredinnyy. The easternmost ranges feature live volcanoes. As many as 120 volcanoes dot the Kamchatka Peninsula, and no fewer than 23 are active. Klyuchevskaya Sopka, the highest of these, reaches 4,750 meters (15,584 feet).

Moving offshore, these same mountains form the Kuril Islands, where thirty of one hundred volcanoes are active. Across the Sea of Okhotsk, in Russia's southeasternmost area, there are several low mountain ranges, including the Sikhote-Alin' Mountains and the mountains of Sakhalin Island.


Though there are many caves throughout the country of Russia, geological information or maps concerning them are not easy to obtain. One of the most famous of the many caves is Kapova Cave, which is known for its Paleolithic paintings of mammoths, rhinos, horses, and bison. Excavations from the two-level cavern uncovered human remains as well as animal bones and charcoal, indicating that people once lived there.


In an area known as the Kursk Magnetic Anomaly, near Ukraine, vast iron-ore deposits affect Earth's magnetic field.

Another famous site is the Kungur Ice Cave, located near the town of Kungur, southeast of Perm. It contains over 6,000 meters (19,685 feet) of passageways. The entire depth of the cavern, however, has not been completely explored. The cave features many large columns of stalagmites and huge icicle stalactites.


The Central Siberian Plateau is an enormous stretch of rolling land between the Yenisey and the Lena Rivers. Heights of this vast plateau range from 500 to 700 meters (1,600 to 2,300 feet) on average. Its surface is eroded by the many rivers, some forming deep canyons. Layers of sedimentary rock, subsequently intruded by volcanic lava, were deposited long ago on top of igneous and metamorphic rock. Within the layers of sedimentary rock are rich deposits of coal.


Several canals connect most of European Russia's rivers. These rivers provide a vital transportation system, carrying fully two-thirds of the nation's inland water traffic. Because of one series of canals, it is possible to travel from St. Petersburg to Moscow entirely by boat.

Russia's many rivers give the nation a great potential for hydroelectric power. In fact, Russia already has four of the ten largest hydroelectric plants in the world. The SayanoShushensk Dam on the Yenisey River is part of the fourth-largest plant and is also the twelfth-highest dam in the world, with a height of 242 meters (794 feet). The Krasnoyarsk Dam belongs to the fifth-largest hydroelectric plant in the world, while the Bratsk Dam and the Ust-Ilim Dam are eighth and tenth, respectively. The Saratov Dam on the Volga River is also listed as one of the world's largest dams.


Books and Periodicals

Clark, Miles. "A Russian Voyage." National Geographic, June 1994, 114-138.

Edwards, Mike. "Siberia: In from the Cold." National Geographic, March 1990, 2-39.

Jacobsen, Karen. The Russian Federation. Chicago: Children's Press, 1994.

Lydolph, Paul E. Geography of the U.S.S.R. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1964.

Torchinsky, Oleg. Russia. New York: Marshall Cavendish, 1994

Web Site

Russian National Tourism Office. (accessed June 13, 2003).

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ETHNONYMS: Russkiy, Velikorusskiy; formerly, Rus', Ross


Identification. Russians are the largest subdivision of the Eastern Slavs, the other members of which are Ukrainians and Belarussians. The Russian language emerged from the common East Slavic tongue, Ancient Russian or Old Church Slavonic, by the fourteenth century a.d. in the Rostov-Suzdal' area of central Russia.

Location. In 1979 eight administrative provinces (oblasts) of central Russia were over 97 percent Russian; in addition, over 90 percent of the population in a north' south ellipse encompassed by St. Petersburg, Arkhangel'sk, Gorki, Volgograd, Rostov-na-Donu, Belgorod, and Smolensk was Russian. Three areas in the Urals and western SiberiaKurgan, Novosibirsk, and Kemerovo oblastslikewise were over 90 percent Russian.

These Russian areas are flat or rolling, with a mix of forests and steppes, mostly glaciated in European Russia and loessial in western Siberia. They have cold, snowy winters and summers ranging from cool to very hot. Soils are podzolic in the north and chernozemic in the south. The Russian lands are transected by important rivers, the Oka, Volga, Don, Donets, and Severnaya Dvina in Europe and the Ob system in western Siberia. Peripheral waters include Lakes Ladoga and Onega, the White Sea, and the Gulf of Finland in the European North and the Sea of Azov in the south.

Natural conditions in the Russian environment have been profoundly altered by agriculture, which has left only residual forests south of Moscow; by extensive water development, especially on the Volga and Don; and especially by urbanization. In 1989 only fourteen of thirty primarily Russian oblasts were under 70 percent urban. Tambov, 56 percent urban, was the most rural Russian area in Europe. Conversely, St. Petersburg, Moscow, Ivanovo, and Yaroslavl in Europe and Kemerovo in Siberia were over 80 percent urban. The largest primarily Russian cities were Moscow (9.0 million), St. Petersburg (5.0 million), Nizhny Novgorod (1.4 million), and Novosibirsk (1.4 million).

Despite the degree of urbanization, Russians remain deeply attached to their natural environment. A dacha in the countryside, even if it is a humble cabin, is much sought after and often obtained. Russian poetry, which remains a highly esteemed expressive form (and a mainstay of education), often celebrates the beauty of the land. Contrast Pushkin's "Winter Evening" and Yesenin's "The Golden Grove Has Ceased to Speak." Although these poems were written years ago, the environment to which they referbirches, oaks, pines, feather grass, nightingales and cranes, and the Russian rivershas deep and pervasive meaning to this day.

Demography. Expanding with the rise of Muscovy, the Russian people numbered more than 8 million by 1678. Concentrated in central and northern Russia and thinly settled in the Urals and Siberia, they formed about 40 percent of the population of the Russian Empire of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. By 1917 their numbers had grown to about 76 million, with somewhat less than half of these in their ancient core area but only 10 percent outside the boundaries of today's Russia. Prior to World War II the Russian population was characterized by high fertility and mortalitya crude birth rate of 33 per 1,000, a death rate of 23.6 per 1,000, and a life expectancy of about 44 years. World War II and its aftermaths had disastrous effects: the 1959 census reported that, for the ages 35 and over, there were only 54 men for 100 women, the absolute deficiency of men in these ages coming to 12.2 million. By 1979-1980 the Russian population had reached 137.4 million, with 25 percent of the gain between 1939 and 1979 coming from Russification, but the natural increase rate, with dropping fertility, averaged only about 6 per 1,000 over the same period. Recent Russian life expectancies at birth are among the lowest for any urbanized population: the 1988 figures were 69.9 years for both sexes, 64.8 years for men, and 74.4 years for women. Infant mortality for the Russian Republic in that year was 18.9 per 1,000 births (three-quarters of the USSR average). By 1979 one-third of the Russian population of 137 million lived in the old core area, another half elsewhere in the Russian Republic, and only 17 percent in the other parts of the USSR, where, however, they often constituted a large minority or a near majority (Estonia). Today the population is 150 million. The Russian population has grown at a historic rate of 0.9 percent annually.

Cardiovascular stress associated with smoking, alcoholism, the workplace, and family life is the major cause of death today. For women, the combination of heavy domestic work loads and full-time employment contributes to the death rate. This, as well as poor housing, spouse abuse (associated with alcoholism), and unplanned pregnancies partly account for a lifetime average of five abortions per womanmore than twice the number of live births. Fewer than 60 percent of Russian women practice a contraceptive method other than withdrawal or the rhythm method; the total number of women suffering from the consequences of abortions and related medical practices is hard to assess but certainly high.

Migration, particularly to and from Siberia, has had a marked effect on the population, with only 10 to 20 percent of the migrants remaining in their adopted homes after five years. Such movements of population are of course associated with social and political stress.

Linguistic Affiliation. Speakers of Russian form the largest East Slavic speech community, the other members being Ukrainian and Belarussian. After the Common Slavic, Common East Slavic, and Old Russian stages, the Russian language emerged in about the fourteenth century in central Russia (centered on Rostov-Suzdal'). The Russian language has historically been divided among northern, cental, and southern dialects and by marked differences between the popular, administrative, and ecclesiastical styles, which are still evident in vocabulary and syntax. Russian has also been influenced by other languages, notably Finno-Ugric in its early stages, Germanic, Turkic, Greek, Polish, and, above all, French and, most recently, English.

History and Cultural Relations

Since the fifteenth century, the Russian state has been distinguished by centralized, generally autocratic rule, strongly dependent upon a service class (oprichnina, dvoryanstvo, Communist party). This was particularly developed by Peter I. Even in 1987 a party monograph stated that "it is important that not only directors, but rank and file workmen, collective farmers, and intellectuals understand their place and role in perestroyka" (Laptev, ed., 1987, 22). Although alternative foci of power (the Orthodox church, the National Assembly Zemskiy Sobor, the high aristocracy, the local Zemstva) have emerged from time to time, they have been repeatedly co-opted and controlled. Only the widely dispersed, deeply devoted, and secretive Old Believers have resisted control despite persecution since the seventeenth century.

The rise and expansion of the Russian state, in a context of hostile states and peoples, has been at enormous cost in wars and rebellions, famines and epidemics. The Tatar raids, the Time of Troubles (a period of dynastic conflict, 1598-1613), the Swedish War, the Napoleonic Wars, the Crimean War, the Russo-Japanese War, and world wars I and II brought great misery. For 150 years, the drafting of serfs for 25 years of military service was deeply mourned in every village. Peter I instituted a modest vehicle for military and civilian upward mobility, through the system of progressively earned ranks. A modern-day parallel was the nomenklatura, a system of specified ranks in the former USSR.

Autocratic, often capricious, political power has combined with other elements of Russian social culture to limit the extent and stability of social stratification. In earlier times, estates were constantly being dispersed because of falls from favor and the equal inheritance rights of all sons (as opposed to primogeniture). Although there were many merchant families, some of them extremely wealthy, trade was in general not highly valued and was prohibited for those of noble descent. Modest alternative avenues of social ascent (as defined in the Tables of Rank) were open even to Jews, who were otherwise a persecuted minority confined to the western Pale.

Serfdom, which began during the medieval period, reached its nadir in the eighteenth century when Aleksandr Radishchev's A Journey from St. Petersburg to Moscow disclosed appalling abuses. Conditions on the great estates, particularly for household serfs, were those of true slavery, although they were better for the land-working serfs, particularly those under the quitrent (obrok ) system (the other system being to work on shares). Because, as in other frontier lands, there was no serfdom in Siberia, it provided an escape and some reliefhence the continuing stream of fugitive serfs, who settled these regions and often became Cossacks.

From the 1930s in the former USSR, the collective farmer represented a dispossessed class lacking the internal passport needed for urban residence. Only collective-farm chairmenparty appointees after 1956were in a position to control farm resources and incomes. Virtually the only area of collective-farm freedom was the de facto possession of small private plots that produced an extraordinary share of Russian foodstuffs, including meat, dairy products, and vegetables. This is increasingly the case today. Within this rural domain, incidentally, elements of customary law have persisted with remarkable vitality. Despite the partial privatization of land and various programs and projects, many Russian peasants are primarily interested in more effective production (e.g., by working together) than they are in private ownership of land as a matter of principle.

Russian industrialization has varied between periods of intensive development and those of prolonged stagnation. In the Kievan period, the cities, as archaeology shows, were centers of local and even international trade and of production through many sophisticated crafts. By the sixteenth century Muscovy's trade with England and other parts of Europe had stimulated technological development. But it was not until Peter I that a strategically oriented program of industrialization was initiated and pushed forward with considerable success. Its central and continuing weaknesses were the dependence on facilities granted to court favorites and on serf (i.e., slave) labor. Despite these weaknesses, there was, in the eighteenth century, phenomenal growth in many areas, the opening of mines and factories, and, among central and northern peasants, the growth of large cottage industries with an enormous inventory of goods such as wooden spoons for export to Asia via Kazan. By the nineteenth century steam power was used, especially in the growing textile industry; during the latter part of the nineteenth and first part of the twentieth centuries, Russia experienced the most rapid industrial growth in modern world history. In general, though, government efforts failed to help rising small entrepreneurs, and the subsidization of inefficient favorites went on. By the eve of World War I, Russia had become an industrial world power, comparable to France, Germany, and the other Western powers that had aided it with their capital.

Although permanent urbanization encompassed barely 10 percent of the Russian population in 1913, a great part of the central and northern Russian population was engaged in migratory industrial labor as well as crafts. This permitted very rapid economic growth in the 1920s. With the rise of German and Japanese militarism, Soviet industrialization took a strategic direction, stressing widely dispersed heavy industrial production, which has continued to dominate to this day. Vast numbers of workers were essential for the huge tasks, and forced labor was a basic recruitment mechanism from 1933 to 1957. In addition, between 1940 and 1957, the State Labor Reserves drafted millions of young people, whose barracks life greatly depressed family formation, induced cultural discontinuity, and encouraged alcoholism and violence.

Generally, the new cities built standardized housingapartment blocks with central play areas for children. But housing rarely approached real needs, nor did it provide the desired privacy. In 1984 in Kemerovo, about 40 percent of the population lived in apartment blocks, another 40 percent resided in traditional wooden houses without running water or plumbing but with electricity, and the remainder were in dormitories.

The class of intellectuals, despite attrition through oppression, censorship, and internal conflicts, has been of great significance in modern times. With its origins mainly in the educational reforms of the eighteenth century, and drastically enlarged through the intellectual explosion and political tensions of the nineteenth century, the intelligentsia, defined partly by intellectual and partly by political criteria, became a decisive factor in the revolutions of the twentieth century and remains peculiarly powerful in the chaotic scene of the early 1990s.


In 1985 the Russian Republic had about 83.8 million persons of working age (men reckoned from 16 to 59 years of age; women from 16 to 54). The number employed as workers and service personnel was about 63 million, whereas collective farmers numbered 4.5 million. Fifty-two percent of this civilian employment was female. Eighty-one percent of the working-age population was working. Nonworkers, unemployed, and people working exclusively in the private sector composed the remainderor somewhat more, since a fair proportion of older men were still employed. The total labor force, including that concerned with private agricultural plots, was divided as follows: industry and construction, 42 percent; agriculture and forestry, 14 percent; transport and communications, 10 percent; trade and food services, 8 percent; health, physical education, social security, and science, 18 percent: governmental administration, 3 percent; housing and miscellaneous, 5 percent.

Economic returns included pay and entitlements, which depended on the place of employment, party status, and other determinants. In 1985 pay averaged 210 rubles per month, running highest in water transport (287 rubles) and lowest in "cultural work" (123 rubles). Service in remote areas, such as the Arctic, led to large bonuses; all Siberians get "northern percentages" (but prices are higher in Siberia). Entitlements covered housing, health care, day care, vacation sites, and even the right to purchase luxuries such as Volga cars, but these benefits were all but absent for the "unorganized" population, which included children not attending nurseries and schools, the unemployed, and the retired, particularly in rural areas.

The state and cooperative retail trade, including food services, provide only a partial picture of consumption; the unofficial shadow economy is not measured in the official statistics, although it involves a large part of the economy; nor are the large price differences for various social groups included. Official figures for 1985 indicate that 51 percent of the total volume of sales was for foodstuffs, including 5 percent on meat and fowl and 3 percent on bologna. Dairy products took about 3 percent; fats, 2.4 percent; eggs, almost 2 percent. Bread, heavily subsidized, accounted for 2.6 percent; vegetables and fruits, for 3.5 percent. Potatoes continue to be a mainstay of the diet, and most families seem to have a supply of them. Of nonfood items, clothes, footwear, and cloth were the largest component at 21.4 percent. Consumer durables (i.e., cars, furniture, carpets, bicycles, and motorcycles) came to 8.4 percent, whereas soap, detergents, and perfume took 1.6 percent. Printed matterRussians are avid readerswas 1.4 percent. All else came to 15.7 percent.

These statistics reflect the austere way of life of the majority of the Russian population. Only occasionally can an average Russian enjoy traditional foods such as pirozhk i (meator cabbage-filled turnovers) or go to the circus, enjoy tapes or concerts, or travel freely by car or motorcycle to escape overcrowded housing. This context gives rise to high rates of alcoholism and family violence.

Kinship, Marriage, and Family

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the bilateral kindred was the basic Russian social unit among both peasants and aristocrats (such as the Aksakov family on the Ural frontier). This kindred was delimited in Russian kinship terminology by the exogamic units set by churchly canon: four "links" for consanguinai kin, two for affinal; only the archaic term dyadina (father's brother's wife, mother's brother's wife) extended further. The terminology is isolating, except that no distinction is made among consanguinal kin between male and female lines of descent; cousin terms derive from sibling terms; gender suffixes distinguish the sexes among the consanguinai kin of ascending generations and among affinal kin (except daughter's husband and son's wife); and the terms for daughter's husband and sister's husband are merged. Within the kindred, patterns of behavior other than exogamy were largely determined by the specific coresidence patterns of each household. The nuclear family, often supplemented by a grandmother or aunt, was particularly important in the south, but in the central regions patrilocally or fraternally extended families were common, and in the north the large extended family, often numbering more than twenty persons in the household, was typical. Within these households, whatever their size, parental, especially paternal, authority prevailed. To this day on the collective farms, and to a lesser extent in the cities, various joint household budgets persist. Christenings, reverence of icons, and parental blessings of various kinds strengthen human relations. A basic, endearing term for all types of kin is rodnoy or rodnaya (kinsman, kinswoman), from rod (clan). Until recently, at least, godparenthood (kum, kuma ), often by a relative, constituted a lifelong tie of central importance.

Although premarital sex and single parenthood were always common among Russian peasants and workers, marriage continues to be a major socioreligious act. Traditionally it was mainly an economic contract between the heads of two households, reinforced by the payment of the wedding costs by the groom's household and the provision of a substantial dowry by the mother of the bride. Both patrilocal and matrilocal marriage were practiced, although the former was preferred and more frequent. In matrilocal marriages, parents without sons adopted a son-in-law under a contract that stipulated that he support them for the remainder of their lives and give them a decent burial. Although marriages today are individual commitments, they are often associated with obligations to older female relatives. In Kemerovo, for example, families can gain prized housing rights by means of a coresident grandmother, real or adopted, who is thus protected and in turn helps with child care and household tasks. (This "structural babushka" may be a grandparent's sister or other older female relative.)

Sociopolitical Organization

In contrast to the abundance of pre-Revolutionary data, recent materials on Russian social structure are fragmentary. Clearly much has changed since 1985. It may be surmised, however, that traditional kin groups, informal networks, and elements of customary law have persisted to a considerable extent in areas least disturbed by migration (e.g., Ryazan and Tambov provinces). The pervasive social controls of the Communist party, designed to suppress alternative sources and processes of power, seem to have had major limitations and were often mitigated by kindred and friends acting in a "handshake all around" (krugovaya poruka )that is, exchanging and sharing food and other commodities in informal networks.


The Christianization of Russia in a.d. 988 was a formal royal act that signified the continuing closeness of church and state. Even during Mongol domination, the church was exempt from taxation and enjoyed vast possessions. Through ritual, saintly example, and legal innovations, the church promoted such values as the cardinal importance of love, the respect due to parents, the obligation to give alms, and the abhorrence of suicide. Much of the customary law, including aspects of women's rights, came from the church. The veneration of icons (e.g., in the "red corner" in peasant homes) was adopted in various figurative ways by the Communist party for its own sacred imagery. Prayers and blessings by family elders on important occasions, religious processions, and fasting as a major expression of religious devotion became deeply embedded in peasant and worker culture. Christening and burial in consecrated ground have retained much of their significance, even though priests as ritualists were never very close to peasant or worker life. Such non-Christian practices as soothsaying on New Year's have persisted. Today over half of all Russians, particularly in Europe, appear to be active religious believers, their Orthodox dogma and ritual having changed very little. Weddings and other rituals still have a traditional character; Easter ritual trappings such as painted eggs and kulich cake are retained in a quasi-secular setting. The revitalization of Orthodoxy has gone hand in hand with the rapid growth of various Eastern religions, mysticisms, parapsychology, and belief in "paranormal phenomena" (some of the latter being regarded as "scientific").

See also Don Cossacks; Old Believers; Russian Peasants; Siberiaki


Berezovskiy, V. N., and N. I. Krotov (1990). Neformal'naya rossiya: O neformal'nykh politizirovannykh dvizheniyakh i gruppakh v RSFSR ("Nonformal" Russia: On "nonformal" politicized movements and groups in the RSFSR). Moscow: Molodaya Gvardiya.

Bruk, S. 1., and V. M. Kabuzan (1982). "Dinamika chislennosti i rasseleniya Russkikh posie Velikoy oktyabr'skoysotsialisticheskoy revolutsiyi" (Dynamics of the number and distribution of the Russians after the Great October Socialist Revolution). Sovetskaia Etnografiia 5:3-21.

Bruk, S. I., and V. M. Kabuzan (1982). "Dinamika chislennosti i rasseleniya Russkogo etnosa (1678-1917)" (Dynamics of the numbers and distribution of the Rusian ethnic population, 1678-1917). Sovetskaia Etnografiia 4:9-25.

Budina, O. R., and M. N. Shmeleva (1982). "Traditsiya v kul'turno-bytovom razitiyi sovremennogo Russkogo goroda" (Tradition in the development of daily culture in the contemporary Russian city). Sovetskaia Etnografiia 6:27-39.

Filin, F. P. (1981). Istoriya leksiki Russkogo literaturnogo yazyka: Kontsa xvii-nachala xix veka (History of the lexicon of the Russian literary tongue: End of the seventeenth to the early nineteenth centuries). Moscow: Nauka.

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Katkova, I. P., and I. S. Shurandina (1987). "O rabote uchastkovogo vracha-pediatra s semey po preduprezhdeniya sluchayev smerti detey" (On the work of a primary care pediatrician with families at risk of child death). Sovetskoye Zdravookhraneniye 6:21 -24.

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LOCATION: Russian Federation

POPULATION: 150 million [total population of country: 80 percent are ethnic Russians]


RELIGION: Russian Orthodox; Baptist; Seventh-Day Adventist; Jehovah's Witness


Ethnic Russians account for about 80 percent of the Russian Federation's population, but the country is very diverse. There are many language groups represented by over one hundred different ethnic groups. Besides the Russians, this article also contains profiles on five other ethnic groups, each from different linguistic, geographic, and cultural backgrounds: the Chechens (a Caucasian group), the Chukchi (Paleo-Siberian), the Mordvins (Finno-Ugric), the Nentsy (Samoyedic), and the Tatars (Turkic).

The Russians are primarily eastern Slavs, but many also have a Finnish, Siberian, Turkish, or Baltic heritage. Since the Russians have spread over such a large territory, many culturally distinct subgroups have developed because of ethnic mixing or isolation.

The Slavic ancestors of the Russians may have first settled in the area north of the Black Sea. The culture and religion of this early Russian state was influenced by the Byzantine (or Eastern Roman) empire. During the Mongol occupation (c. 12401480), the Mongols made the Russians pay them tribute and taxes, but the Mongols let the ruling princes and the Russian Orthodox Church remain in power. The period of Mongol rule disrupted cultural links with the rest of Europe and is part of the reason why Russia was not influenced by the Renaissance, Reformation, or Industrial Revolution when those events occurred in Western Europe.

After a dozen years of power struggles, in 1613 the Russian nobility elected Michael Romanov as the new tsar (emperorthe empress was called tsarina ). The Romanov dynasty produced Tsar Peter I (16721725, better known as Peter the Great), considered the greatest tsar in Russian history. During the reign of the Tsarina Catherine II (who ruled 176296, also known as Catherine the Great), the Russian Empire added substantial territory through conquest.

For centuries, serfdom was a way of life for most Russian peasants who did not own any land. Serfdom was a form of bonded labor similar to slavery, except that a serf belonged to the master's land. Whenever land was sold, the serfs who worked on that land became the property of the new owner. After the Russians defeated Napoleon's army in the War of 1812, Tsar Alexander I (who ruled 180125) eventually abolished serfdom in a few small areas near the Baltic Sea.

In 1825, a group of army officers called the Decembrists organized the first revolt against the imperial government. Although the revolt failed, its memory served to rally the people in later years. In 1861 Tsar Alexander II (ruled 185581) freed the serfs, but in 1881 he was assassinated by terrorists. Industrialization helped improve the economy, but a financial crisis in 1899, crop failures, and an embarrassing defeat in the 1905 war with Japan led to more civil unrest and strikes by organized labor. Millions of Russian peasants were moving from the country into cities, which made it possible for them to get politically organized. At the start of the twentieth century, many Russians had come to believe that the imperial government was incapable of properly running the country.

During World War I (191418), the Russians found themselves fighting in a useless war that plunged the nation into deeper economic and social problems. Tsar Nicholas II (who ruled 18941917) gave up the throne, and a temporary government briefly had loose control. Then the Bolsheviks, led by Vladimir Lenin (governed 191724), took over the government. In 1918, Lenin had the entire royal family executed. Russia was called the Soviet Union after that time.

The Soviet era lasted from 1917 to 1991. In the 1920s and 1930s, the Soviet government under Josef Stalin (governed 192453) instituted policies of terror and persecution to keep its power. The government wanted to control all property and information in order to keep people in line. Millions of Russians were eventually imprisoned, exiled, or executed on made-up charges and suspicion. An estimated 20 million Soviet citizens died during 192838 from Stalin's reign of terror and from preventable famine.

The most profound event during the Soviet years was World War II (193945), which Russians call "the Great Patriotic War." An estimated 27 million Soviet citizens died in the war, half of whom were civilians or prisoners. After World War II, the Soviet Union quickly rebuilt its military and became a rival of the United States. During the 1950s and 1960s, the Soviet Union, under the leadership of Nikita Khrushchev (governed 195364), and the United States began building nuclear weapons to use against each other in the event of warfare.

During the 1970s, there was political and economic stagnation (lack of movement or progress) in the Soviet Union. In the mid-1980s, widespread reforms began under the leadership of Mikhail Gorbachev (governed 198591), and those reforms brought a new optimism to the Russian people. However, the Soviet administration had always relied on a strong central government to control the people, and the reforms and the economic problems eventually caused the Soviet Union to split apart.

When the Soviet Union ceased to exist in 1991, the Russian people were filled with hope for a bright future. They had their first chance in history to freely choose their own leadership through democratic elections. During the 1990s, however, the people realized that the transition from central planning (socialism) to a market economy (capitalism) would not be quick and painless.


By 1800, Russia extended into much of Eastern Europe and Central Asia, and even had territorial claims in North America. At that point, Russia was the largest country in the world to cover a single land mass. Russia is still the largest country in the world, covering about 12 percent of the world's land surface. Today, many of the country's eighty-nine administrative regions are considered ethnic homelands and have various degrees of independence and control over their own affairs. For this reason, the country as a whole is known as the "Russian Federation."

During the Soviet years, most Russians were not allowed to leave the Soviet Union. But many did settle outside of Russia in the other republics of the Soviet Union, especially in urban or industrial areas. Since the end of the Soviet era, there has been a massive movement of Russians to and from the Russian Federation. Many ethnic Russians in the other former Soviet republics have moved to Russia because some of those new governments have pressured them to leave. Some Russians have left the homeland altogether since now they are free to emigrate.


Modern Russian is an Eastern Slavic language. During the tenth century, two Orthodox monks, Cyril and Methodius, created a new alphabet in order to translate the Bible into the Russians' native language. The Cyrillic alphabet, as it is called, is used in Russian and some other Slavic languages.

Common male first names include Aleksander, Boris, Dmitri, Ivan, Leonid, Mikhail, Sergei, and Vladimir. First names for women typically end with an "a" or "ya" sound and include Anastasia, Maria, Natalya, Olga, Sophia, Svetlana, Tatyana, and Valentina.

Examples of everyday Russian words include Kak delah? (How's it going?), da (yes), nyet (no), pozhaluistah (please), spaseebo (thank you), and do sveedanniya (goodbye).


Traditional Russian fairy tales are just as likely to have a sad ending as a happy one. A fairy tale hero is usually a prince or a simpleton, such as Ivanushka Durak. Famous evil figures in Russian fairy tales include Baba Yaga, a witch who lives in a house supported by chicken legs; and Koshchey the Immortal, a dragon that can only be killed if the egg that holds the essence of its death is found. Animal tales deal with funny encounters between animals that have human qualities.

The origin of one of the world's most famous Christmas traditions began with St. Nicholas of Myra, a patron saint of Russia. According to legend, Prince Vladimir (who declared Christianity the official religion of Russia in ad 988) personally selected the generous Nicholas to be the advocate of the people and protect the oppressed. From Russia, the fame of St. Nicholas spread to other peoples.


In ad 988, Prince Vladimir proclaimed Christianity as the religion of his realm in order to ally his kingdom with the powerful Byzantine Empire. Russian Orthodoxy grew out of this Byzantine influence. A typical Russian Orthodox church usually has many icons (images of persons who are revered as holy). Magnificent ceremonies on holy days are a well-known part of the Russian Orthodox tradition. The congregation typically stands during the service (many churches have no pews) and move to various stations around the sanctuary.

During the Soviet era, religious intolerance became official policy, and some 85 percent of all churches were shut down and the property seized. This was because the communists were atheists who saw the Russian Orthodox Church as a player in the corrupt imperial system of the tsars. The tsars claimed that their authority was God-given and they were supported by the Russian Orthodox Church. The Soviet government encouraged discrimination against those with spiritual beliefs, and Russians were even imprisoned and killed for their faith. Many religious activities were conducted secretly during that time.

Since the end of the Soviet Union, many of the closed churches have begun to reopen. For many, Russian Orthodoxy is a cultural as well as a religious institution, and it serves as a link to a pre-Soviet heritage. The Russian Orthodox Church survived the Soviet era and for many Russians is a symbol of the Russian national spirit and identity. There has also been a recent interest among Russians in faiths more common in the West (such as Baptist, Seventh-Day Adventist, and Jehovah's Witness).

Superstition and mysticism have also long been a part of Russian spiritual culture. Russians today are often very open to the possibility of psychic phenomena, mental telepathy, and UFOs (unidentified flying objects).


Orthodox Christmas occurs on January 7 (the Russian Orthodox Church still follows the old Julian calendar, which differs from the modern Gregorian calendar by thirteen days). Epiphany, which occurs twelve days after Christmas, is a major holy day in the Russian Orthodox Church. Easter (in March or April) is the most important religious holiday and is highly revered by the Russian Orthodox Church with elaborate rituals and extravagance.

Russians also celebrate holidays that became prominent during the Soviet era. New Year's Day is a major holiday among modern Russians, and usually the week preceding January 1 is full of festivals. Women's Day is celebrated on March 8, and women usually get gifts and do not work on that day. May Day, on May 1, is no longer International Workers' Solidarity Day as it was during the Soviet era, but is now a festival known as Labor and Spring Day. Victory Day on May 9 commemorates the end of World War II in Europe and is usually observed as a time to solemnly honor those who died during that war.


Completion of high school or university are important moments that mark the passage into adulthood. Entrance into military service was also revered in the same way. Weddings are usually followed by a trip in a special black limousine (marked with two large interlinked rings on the top) to pay respect and leave flowers at a local memorial.


In public situations, Russians can be very reserved and formal. In private and informal settings, they are very friendly and sincere. Russians use patronymics (where the father's first name forms the root of the child's middle name) in formal and business situations. For example, the patronymic for the son of Pavel (Paul) is "Pavlovich," and "Pavlovna" for a daughter. Adult acquaintances and casual friends usually talk to each other using the first name combined with the patronymic.

Veterans are highly honored in Russia, particularly anyone who defended or aided the Soviet Union during World War II.


During the Soviet years, Russians received health care from a large state-run system that provided services free of charge. In theory, the socialist system was supposed to serve everyone fairly, use the most recent technology, promote preventive medicine, and be open to recommendations from the public. In reality, however, resources were distributed unequally. Political leaders received the best care and rural areas got poor equipment and inexperienced personnel. Although medical care was free, many health care professionals moonlighted to make extra money because official health care usually involved long lines and waiting lists. Although the number of doctors doubled from the 1960s to the 1980s, health indicators such as illness rates and life expectancy worsened during that time.


Russian women typically get married between the ages of nineteen and twenty-two, while men are usually between twenty and twenty-four years old at marriage. During the Soviet era, nonreligious marriages became common, and new Soviet marriage customs developed. Couples who decided to marry would have to register at a local office, where they would be assigned a wedding date that allowed them enough time to reconsider.

Although Russian society favors large families, the birth rate among Russians has been low since the 1970s, due to economic uncertainty and a high frequency of abortions among Russian women. This was especially true during the Soviet years, when contraceptives were often unavailable. Most urban Russian families have only one or two children, but rural families frequently have more.

Russian adults typically do not hesitate to assist any child in need, and parents will often make tremendous personal sacrifices for their children. It is also common for Russian adults to scold any misbehaving child, regardless of relation. Since so many households have only a single child, Russian parents are often accused of raising a generation of spoiled children.


Most Russians wear Western-style clothing on a daily basis and for special occasions. Jeans and other types of practical work clothes are often worn as well. Russians usually try to appear as neatly groomed and dressed as possible when out in public. Many Russians do not possess a large wardrobe, but will often try to have just a few garments of high quality.

Traditional costumes are usually only seen during cultural performances or sometimes in the country. Young Russian girls often wear huge bows in their hair. Older women often wear a large kerchief or scarf over the head and tied under the chin. This headcovering is often referred to as a babushka, named after the Russian word for "grandmother." Men and women wear fur hats to keep warm during the frigid winter months.


Russians typically drink chai (hot tea). A typical Russian meal has four courses: zakuski (appetizers), pervoye (first), vtoroye (second), and sladkoe (dessert). Zakuski usually include fish, cold cuts, or salads. Alcoholic drinks such as pivo (beer), vodka, konyak (brandy), or kvass (made from rye) are customarily served during a formal meal. Ikra (caviar), a famous Russian appetizer made from harvested sturgeon eggs, is also a part of formal Russian cuisine. Borshch (borscht) is a traditional everyday Russian soup, made with red beets and beef, usually served with a dollop of sour cream. Blini are small crepes served with different types of fillings; pirozhki are fried rolls that usually have a meat or vegetable filling. Morozhenoye (ice cream) is a popular year-round treat. Kartoshki (potatoes) are often served at meals, either boiled, mashed, as pancakes, or as a kugel (baked pudding).


After Russian children are about one year old, they go to a day nursery called a yasli until they are about three years old. From age three to age six or seven, Russians attend detski sad (kindergarten). Elementary school (grades one to four) is called nachalnaya shkola. At age eleven, Russian children enter the fifth grade and stay in srednaya shkola (high school) through the tenth grade, usually at age seventeen. After the ninth grade, a student may follow one of three educational paths: vocational school, professional training at a tekhnikum (secondary specialized school), or two years of general high school as preparation for university studies. In order to go to a high school, students need to pass an exam in language and mathematics at the end of the ninth grade.

Attending a university or science institute is difficult because there is much competition just to get in. There is a series of special examinations, and many students will spend a whole year studying for those tests. A program of college takes five years for a master's degree (there is no equivalent to a bachelor's degree in Russian universities) or six years for a medical degree.

Children are exposed at an early age to systems that stress or value collective efforts. Students in schools often perform in groups and are graded as a team rather than as individuals. Teachers often tell students their grades out loud, so that each person knows what grade the others received.


Russian epic songs, known as byliny, were traditionally sung by peasants and date back to before the sixteenth century. Some of the byliny are probably over a thousand years old. One of the typical Yuletide observances by Russians is the singing of kolyadi, carols that have their roots in pagan culture. The verses typically come from old songs about the sun, moon, and stars.

The most well-known folk instruments are probably the balalaika (a triangular guitar with three strings) and the garmon' (concertina). Some instruments, such as the gusli (psaltery), gudok (similar to a rebec, a primitive violin), and rog (horn) have been a part of Russian folk music for over a thousand years.

Classical Russian literature is an important part of Russian culture. Poetry recitals, going to plays, and discussing novels are all popular activities for Russians. These activities are enjoyed by Russians of all social levels, not just by an educated few. Russians often revere their poets, playwrights, and authors as popular celebrities.


During the Soviet years, the government controlled labor by setting wages and terms of employment. The problems that came with government control over the labor market, however, were huge. Production goals were set by the state and were supposed to replace profit as a motive. Consumer goods were often given a low priority for production, which meant that there were often shortages of everyday items. Workers had no incentive to be productive, while factory managers had little motivation to operate efficiently. A popular saying by workers during the Soviet years summarizes the situation: "We pretend to work, and they pretend to pay us."

With the collapse of the Soviet Union, many workers found themselves unemployed. As a result, unemployment and homelessness became visible in post-Soviet society. However, private businesses and money-making opportunities have also risen out of this situation.


Soccer and hockey are popular team sports that Russians enjoy playing as well as watching. Sports societies and organizations were prominent in the Soviet years, and the government promoted participation in a wide variety of sports. The role of sports in Russian life makes international competitions, such as the Olympics, very important social rallying events.

Skiing and ice skating are popular recreational activities. Tennis has become increasingly more popular since the mid-1950s. Gymnastics and acrobatics are also prominent, perhaps due to the influence of ballet and the circus on popular culture. Baseball, basketball, and golf have been growing in popularity as well.

Russian society reveres shakhmahty (chess) as a sport. During the Soviet years, chess masters became highly respected members of society and often received special privileges and honors. Chess instruction starts in kindergarten, and children study the strategies and techniques of champions before they begin serious competition at around age ten. There are thousands of Russian children who have achieved the International Chess Federation's rank of chess master.


Russians are fond of outdoor activities. It is not unusual to see people outdoors playing chess or musical instruments and singing, even during the cold winters. The circus is traditionally a popular form of entertainment among Russians.

Russians also have a strong ballet tradition, which started in 1738 and was patterned after the classical French style. During the 1800s, many new ballets were choreographed using traditional Russian themes and compositions. Russian ballet is known for its elaborate choreography and stages.


Traditional Russian folk art often uses elaborate designs on everyday objects. The designs are sometimes simply spirals or other patterns, but they might also be scenes from fairy tales or of famous people or places. Perhaps the best-known lacquered Russian folk art piece is the matryoshka, a series of wooden dolls that nest inside each other. The dolls usually show a woman in traditional dress, but in recent years other themes have included modern political figures, celebrities, and holiday designs.


Since the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russians have been confronted with many of the old social problems that existed during the Soviet era, as well as with a new set of problems brought about by the rapid changes in society. The change to private ownership created new opportunities but also resulted in high unemployment in many areas. Because of high inflation and economic instability, many elderly persons who live on a government pension are now very poor. Life expectancy and health rates have plunged as well.

Ethnic hostilities have flared up in some parts of Russia that were conquered either by the Soviet government or during the imperial Russian era. When the Soviet government collapsed, there was enough instability for some areas to gain partial independence or even try to break away completely from the Russian government. The fiercest fighting of this type occurred in Chechnya, a region in the Caucasus Mountains near Georgia. Between 1994 and 1996, thousands of Russian troops were sent into the area, and many people on both sides were killed.

Alcohol abuse has traditionally been a problem for the Russians. Alcoholism was prevalent during the Soviet years and is still a problem today. Family violence is often a consequence of alcoholism.

Crime rates have risen rapidly in Russia since the end of the Soviet Union, which has made the economic situation even worse. Much of the crime problem is due to the threats and violence caused by organized crime, which has gained considerable power in some areas. Organized crime is also aided in some places because of corruption among local officials. Russians often look down on the "new rich," who are assumed to be criminals.

Unemployment is high for women, and prostitution has become a popular way for women to make money. Many teenage girls believe that a career in prostitution will pay more than most legitimate professions ever would, regardless of education. About one-fourth of Russia's prostitutes have received some sort of higher education.


Arnold, Helen. Russia. Austin, Tex.: Raintree Steck-Vaughn, 1996.

Bickman, Connie. Russia. Edina, Minn.: Abdo & Daughters, 1994.

Brown, Archie, Michael Kaser, and Gerald S. Smith, ed. The Cambridge Encyclopedia of Russia and the Former Soviet Union. Cambridge: University Press, 1994.

Murrell, Kathleen Berton. Russia. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1998.

Schomp, Virginia. Russia: New Freedoms, New Challenges. Tarrytown, N.Y.: Benchmark Books, 1996.

Streissguth, Thomas. A Ticket to Russia. Minneapolis, Minn.: CarolRhoda Books, 1997.


Embassy of Russia, Washington, D.C. Russia. [Online]Available, 1998.

Interknowledge Corp. and Russian National Tourist Office. Russia. [Online] Available, 1998.

World Travel Guide. Russia. [Online] Available, 1998.

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The earliest origins of Russian culture are in dispute. Some believe that the ancestors of the modern Russians were seventh- or ninth-century migrants from the Vistula River valley (now Poland). Other archaeological evidence suggests that Slavic pastoralists may have spread across the central plains of Eurasia as much as a thousand years earlier, coexisting alongside northern Finnic and Lithuanian tribes. Whatever their prehistory, people sharing the same language, beliefs, social practices, and religion have occupied what is now Russia for at least a millennium. By the tenth century c.e., Eastern Slavic society was culturally distinct and highly developed in terms of agriculture, technology, commerce, and governance. Prince Vladimir I brought Byzantine Christianity to Kiev in 988 and sponsored the baptism of the peoples of Rus, a gradual process that blended Slavic pre-Christian practices with Eastern Orthodoxy.

The Russian Empire grew steadily from the eighteenth to the twentieth century through colonization of Siberia, Central Asia, and the Caucasus. The Soviet era brought further territorial expansion. Population density also grew throughout the millennium. By 1991, the year of the end of the Soviet Union, the population of the Russian Federation was 146,393,000. Ethnic Russians comprised 81 percent of this number, with more than one hundred other ethnic nationalities, many of them culturally Russified, making up the rest. There is a recognizably Russian culture among the population of the Russian Federation and strong cultural continuity among the Russians living in the newly independent republics of Central Asia, the Baltic region, and the Caucasus.

Russia's cultural history is multifaceted, encompassing both the distinct patterns of the rural peasantry and the intricate social rituals of the aristocracy, the mercantile caste, the bureaucracy, and other groups. Russia's thousand-year history of class stratification, imperial growth and contraction, political consolidation and disintegration, repression and relaxation, messianism and self-examination, and socioeconomic and cultural interconnections with other nations has had far-reaching effects on every aspect of Russian national culture.

For many centuries, the question of whether Russian culture was more "eastern" or "western" was a burning issue. Situated at the crossroads of major civilizations and empiresScandinavian, Byzantine, Persian, Chinese, Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, Britishthe peoples of Russia have profoundly influenced and been influenced by them all in terms of trade, technology, language, religion, politics, and the arts.

Since at least the time of Peter the Great, Russian writers, artists, politicians, and philosophers, as well as ordinary people in everyday discourse, have engaged in intensive cultural self-examination. Ethnic Russians have struggled to redefine their national identity in the wake of the Soviet collapse and the turmoil that accompanied the end of communism.

The northern climate has influenced cultural, social, and political institutions, settlement patterns, household configurations, village politics, agricultural systems, and technologies. Defiance of the natural limitations of this harsh environment is seen throughout Russian history and plays a significant role in local identity.

country and city

In 1917 the population of Russia was more than 80 percent rural. The disruptions of the Soviet periodcivil war, rural collectivization, world warbrought a massive migration to the cities. By 1996, 73 percent of the population was urban. Although there are still tens of thousands of small villages, many are simply disappearing as older people die and the younger generation departs. But despite the demise of rural communities, much of the urban population retains strong material and psychological ties to the countryside. Many own modest dachas within an hour or two of their city apartments and spend their weekends and summers gardening, hiking, hunting, gathering mushrooms and berries, and swimming in lakes and rivers. Some people maintain ties to their natal villages or those of their parents or grandparents and travel there to mark significant family events.

In the years since the collapse of the Soviet Union, a tiny minority has accrued enough wealth to build private homes and estates on the outskirts of the cities, but most people live in small apartments in apartment blocks. Space in flats can be tight, so a single room may serve as living room, bedroom, and dining room. Domestic furnishing is fairly consistent, for reasons of both cultural style and limited purchasing power. The range of consumer décor choices has become enormous in the largest cities but elsewhere only slightly better than it was during the Soviet period, when state stores offered little design variation. Architectural and domestic styles are changing gradually with growing consumer opportunities and increased attention to global fashions.

At home, people spend much time in the kitchen, eating and drinking tea (or something stronger), talking, reading, watching television, cooking, or working on crafts. When guests come, people sit at the table for the entire gathering. Public spaces around apartment blocks are often decayed and dirty, so the threshold to a family's apartment marks a transition to private, clean space. Everyone removes shoes just inside the doorway to prevent dirt being brought inside, and slippers are worn at home.

Urban parks are an important space of everyday life. People spend leisure time strolling or sitting on benches to talk, smoke, play chess, or read. Smaller urban parks may center on a statue of a writer or political leader, and these squares are popular meeting places. Public plazas in urban centers have played a role in political and social life for centuries. The most famous of all, Moscow's Red Square, is a historical site of government ritual, revolutionary protest, and rebellion. The central sites where parades, concerts, and state funerals are held also provide a place for festivals, family outings, and commemorations.

gender relations, family, and kinship

Russian society has always been structured around gendered divisions of labor. Prerevolutionary rural communities were patrilocal; newly married women moved in with their husband's family and were fully subservient to his parents until they had borne sons. The details of household management were codified in texts such as the Domostroi that addressed even intimate practices of family life and patriarchal authority, influencing both the peasantry and the aristocracy. Around the turn of the twentieth century, rural and urban women of all classes experienced the loosening of gender norms,

and many women pushed the boundaries of their social options.

After the 1917 revolution, communist ideology promoted the liberation of women and families from oppressive norms and structures. Women engaged in what had been male-only work in agriculture, construction, and manufacturing. During the Soviet period, they played increasingly significant roles in medicine, engineering, the sciences, and other fields. By the 1980s, one-third of the deputies in the Supreme Soviet were female, and women accounted for more than 50 percent of the students in higher education. But though "liberated" to work in the public sphere, women often retained the burden of household labor. Moreover, their equal employment status was not fully reflected in the workplace, where gender discrimination was common.

Some of the hard-earned status of women eroded after 1991. Unemployment increased in the 1990s, and women were frequently the first discharged. Managerial jobs in the new commercial sectors were largely held by men, and a traditionalist view of work and family reasserted itself throughout society. The devaluation of women's labor contributions has been devastating for women who need to work. Some women became entrepreneurs, but they faced stiff gender prejudice in starting businesses. The percentage of women holding political office has declined, and women's participation in high levels of industry, the sciences, the arts, and the government has shrunk. Some young women turn to prostitution, or work in bars and nightclubs, which may seem to be a way to escape poverty.

Despite Soviet indoctrination, traditional gender ideologies never vanished: Men are not supposed to be able to cook, clean, or perform child care, whereas women are seen as driving cars, supervising others, and engaging in politics poorly. Women are held in high regard as mothers, nurturers, and bearers of culture. Although feminists have challenged these dichotomous gender norms, and few families can afford to divide labor along strict gender lines, such ideas are widespread. Students receive equal education, but some school activities and expectations are divided by gender.

Romantic love is the standard motivation for marriage, and cultural tradition idealizes the passion of lovers, often in a tragic form. People meet partners at school or university, at work, or at clubs or music venues. Premarital sex is generally tolerated. With little variation over the decades, twenty-three has been the average age at marriage. Almost half of all marriages end in divorce, with economic hardship and alcohol abuse being contributing factors. Ethnic intermarriage became fairly common in Soviet times.

The nuclear family is the fundamental domestic unit, and married couples crave apartments of their own. Since the housing shortage and the high price of new apartments make this difficult, family units are often multigenerational. Many couples with children live with a widowed parent, often a grandmother, who provides child care and cooking. A grandparent's monthly pension may be a crucial part of family income.

Kinship is reckoned bilaterally (counting both parents' sides), but naming is patrilineal. Until the mid-nineteenth century, kin terms for more than sixty relations were in use; since then the number of terms has greatly decreased. Even across distances, people maintain strong relations with their siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins, and nieces and nephews, and many are close with even more distant relatives. Among the social factors that support such ties are the low level of geographic mobility, the importance of networks of mutual aid, and regular visits to relatives in ancestral villages for summer rest and gardening.

Childbirth practices reflect traditional ideas. Women stay in the hospital for at least a week after a birth, during which time fathers are allowed to see mother and baby only briefly. Infants used to be swaddled at birth and continue to be bundled tightly, especially when venturing outside. Many customary beliefs about medical or supernatural dangers surround pregnancy, birthing, and new babies.

Academic standards are high, and students are well trained in world history, foreign languages, music, mathematics, and science. Although the figures have gradually dropped since the Soviet years, more than 90 percent of the population completes secondary education, and around 12 percent go on for higher education. The literacy rate is one of the world's highest. Post-secondary education confers social prestige and is more and more essential for economic success.

religious beliefs and practices

Most Russians identify themselves as Orthodox Christians. Not all are active church members, but observance of major holidays is increasing. The state has returned thousands of churches, icons, and religious objects appropriated during the Soviet period to local religious communities. Orthodox practice hinges on the emotive experience of liturgy and the veneration of icons, and the faithful light candles, pray, and bow before sacred images of the Virgin Mary and the saints. Rural houses feature a special corner where the family's icon hangs, and many apartments have an icon shelf. Religious practices were proscribed during the Soviet era but continued anyway.

Pre-Christian practices and beliefs have persisted over a millennium of Orthodoxy. Traditional beliefs about forest and house spirits, the evil eye, and metaphysical healing are found everywhereand are especially strong in rural areas. Certain prohibitions stem from them; for example, evil intentions are attracted by bragging about good fortune or health, and can be cured only by metaphysical intervention of some kind.

Folk medicine is highly developed. Herbal remedies are used for everyday maladies. Professional practitioners advertise their services for treating serious illnesses and life problems. Homeopathy, the application of leeches, mineral baths, light therapy, and other treatments are popular. Physicians may also prescribe herbal teas, tinctures, and plasters.

Proper treatment and remembrance of the dead is important. The dead are prevented from staying among the living by covering mirrors with black cloth, laying out the body in ways that help usher out the spirit, and accompanying the deceased from home to church and from church to cemetery in elaborate processions. In the church or hall where the body is displayed, mourners circle the open coffin counterclockwise and kiss the body or put flowers on it. After burial, mourners gather to share vodka and food while remembering the deceased with stories and anecdotes. The soul remains on earth for forty days, when a second gathering is held to bid it farewell as it departs for heaven. The anniversary of a death is memorialized every year; some people travel long distances to visit the graves of their loved ones.

calendrical ritual

Holidays fill the calendar. Some are Orthodox or pre-Christian, some mark historical events, some are secular, and a few, like Valentine's Day, are post-Soviet imports. March 8, International Women's Day, is a legal holiday. Men bring flowers to the women in their lives and congratulate female friends, coworkers, and relatives. May Day, commemorating international labor solidarity, heralds the coming of spring. Victory Day on May 9 celebrates the Soviet capture of Berlin and the end of World War II in Europe. This holiday is sacred to older people, who gather to remember family, friends, and comrades lost in the war. Russia Day, June 12, marks independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 with parades and fireworks. October Revolution Day, November 7, is celebrated mostly by communists nostalgic for Soviet power. New Year's Eve is the most lavish secular holiday. Grandfather Frost and the Snow Maiden leave gifts under a decorated New Year's Tree, and people gather for song, feasting, vodka, and champagne. The party may last all night. The observance of Christmas and Easter and other Orthodox holidays has grown since the end of Soviet religious repression.


Bead and potatoes are the basic everyday foods. Cabbage, carrots, and beets are staple vegetables; onions and garlic are used liberally. Russians generally love meat. Sausage, salami, pork, beef, mutton, chicken, and dried or salted fish are widely available and inexpensive.

Breakfast is a quick snack of coffee or tea with bread and sausage or cheese. Lunch is a hot meal, with soup, potatoes, macaroni, rice or buckwheat kasha, ground meat cutlets, and peas or grated cabbage (or, for business people, a quick meal in one of the increasing number of fast-food cafés). A later supper may consist of boiled potatoes, soured cabbage, and bread or simply bread and sausage or cheese. There is a huge array of cakes, pies, and chocolates.

Russian cuisine features many dairy products, such as tvorog, a local version of cottage cheese, and many hard cheeses and fermented milk products. These items can be purchased from large shops or farmers' markets or made at home. In provincial towns, fresh milk is sold from trucks, although bottles and cartons of pasteurized milk are available everywhere. Russians are great tea drinkers.

Fruits are widely cultivated in home gardens. Fruits and berries are made into preserves, compotes, cordials, and concentrates for the winter months. Mushroom picking is an art, and many people salt, dry, or pickle them. Cabbage, cucumbers, garlic, and tomatoes are salted or pickled. The chronic shortages of the Soviet era led many people to produce food for themselves. The impoverishment of the post-socialist era means that a significant portion of the population continues to depend on their own produce. Some estimates hold that 80 percent of the vegetables consumed in Russia are grown in small family plots.

Coffee has grown in popularity and is often served thick and strong. Although wine, beer, cognac, and champagne are popular, vodka reigns among alcoholic beverages.

Ceremonial occasions highlight food customs. Communal feasting marks birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, the achievement of a goal, important purchases, and major holidays. Tables are laden with salads, appetizers, sausage and cheese, and pickled foods, followed by meat and potatoes, and meat or cabbage pies. Vodka and wine are drunk throughout the meal, which may continue for many hours. Toasting is elaborate and can be sentimental, humorous, poetic, ribald, or reverential. Vodka is always drunk straight, accompanied by a pickled or salty food.

A growing number of people observe Lenten fasts during which they consume no meat, butter, eggs, or vodka. Easter provides an opportunity for a fast-breaking celebration with special foods.

everyday etiquette

Language rules play a significant part in good manners. When addressing elders, except for parents and grandparents, persons of higher status, strangers, and acquaintances, people use the second-person plural pronoun. The informal second-person singular is used only among friends, within the family, and among close coworkers of equal status. Addressing someone formally entails using the person's full name and patronymic. Misuse of the informal mode is insulting.

Table rituals are also important. Hosts and hostesses try to show unfailing generosity, and guests must accept hospitality with a willingness to be served, pampered, and stuffed full of food and drink.

Sitting on the floor or putting one's shoes on a table is prohibited. Proper femininity requires that clothes be immaculately clean and pressed, grooming fastidious, and comportment elegant and reserved. By contrast, in crowds, on lines, and on public transport, active shoving and pushing are the norm. In Soviet times, demure, nonflashy dress was valued, but this norm has changed with the explosion of fashion and the growth of subcultural identity.

The word uncultured is used by older people against family or strangers as a reprimand for inappropriate behavior. The public use of this reprimand diminished as the social status of elders fell after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and as aggressive behavior in the cities became a mark of the coolness of youth.

cultural symbols and arts

The cupolas of Moscow's St. Basil's Cathedral are a popular visual symbol of Russia both within the country and abroad. Photographs of St. Basil's and many other churches and cathedrals adorn homes, offices, and media images.

Bread symbolizes central aspects of the national self-image. It is the mark of hospitality, as in the ritual of khleb-sol ("bread and salt"), welcoming visitors with a round loaf with a salt cellar on top. In broader terms, bread is the symbol of life. Other foods are also cultural symbols: black caviar, which signifies luxury; mushrooms and berries, the gifts of forest and dacha; pancakes served before Lent; the potato, symbol of survival in hard times, and vodka, symbolizing camaraderie and mischief-making.

Forest plants, animals, and objects are also important symbols. Birches conjure up the romance of the countryside; wolf, bear, and fox, are ubiquitous in folktales and modern cartoons; the peasant cottage signifies the intimate world of the past. Inside the cottage are other cultural symbols: the huge clay stove, the samovar, and the Orthodox icon in its corner. Although most Russians live in urban apartments, images of traditional rural life are still meaningful.

Conversation is rich with metaphors and proverbs, summarizing a complex view of shared identity. Russians think of the soul (dusha ) as an internal spiritual conjunction of heart, mind, and culture. Friendship depends on a meeting of souls, accomplished through shared suffering or joyor by feasting and drinking. Soul is said to be one of the metaphysical mechanisms that unite Russians into a people (narod ). Stemming from the ancient Slavic for "kin" and "birth," and meaning "citizens of a nation," "ethnic group," or "crowd," narod refers to the composite identity of the people through history and is often invoked by politicians. People speak in terms of belonging by "blood"; a person is thought of as having Russian blood, Jewish blood, Armenian blood, or some other ethnic blood, and culture is supposedly transmitted through the blood.

Cultural symbols abound in folk art. Animal, bird, plant, solar, and goddess motifs, and a palette of reds and golden yellows with traces of black and green prevail in painted wooden objects and embroidered textiles. Soviet state studios kept many folk media alive, and the postsocialist period has seen independent craftspersons return to traditional mythological motifs. Folk art objects are popular and are found in homes everywhere.

The end of Soviet power meant an explosive opening of Russia to the world, with all of the changes for better and worse that come with globalization. Popular culture in Russia has become characterized by the vibrant and fertile mixing of local and international styles in music, art, literature, and film. Obsessions with mafia criminals, the new wealthy (so-called New Russians), biznismeny, and modern technology fill the media. Yet alongside this, indigenous artistic genres, shared symbols and values, and social practices hold their own and continue to shape the world of meaning and identity.

See also: feminism; folklore; marriage and family life; nationalism in the arts; nationalities policy, soviet; nationalities policy, tsarist; nation and nationality; orthodoxy; peasantry; slavophiles


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Kingston-Mann, Esther, and Mixter, Timothy, eds. (1991). Peasant Economy, Culture and Politics of European Russia, 18001921. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

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Nancy Ries

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Salat Olivier (Russian Salad)....................................... 124
Bliny (Russian Pancakes)............................................ 125
Bliny Filling ............................................................... 126
Cabbage Pirozhki or Piroghi ...................................... 126
Pashka....................................................................... 128
Sbiten (Russian National Winter Beverage) ................ 128
Borscht (Beet Soup) .................................................. 129
Sharlotka (Apple Cake).............................................. 130
Klyukva S Sakharom (Frosted Cranberries)................. 130
Semechki (Toasted Sunflower Seeds)......................... 131
Chai Po-Russki (Tea, Russian-Style) ............................ 131


Russia is the largest country in Europe, with 6.6 million square miles (17 million square kilometers). It is 1.8 times the size of the United States. Russian land extends to the Arctic Ocean in the north. Russia shares borders with China and Mongolia to the south, and Ukraine, Latvia, Belarus, Lithuania, and Finland to the west. About three-fourths of the land is arable (able to be farmed), although the output from farms decreased during the 1980s and 1990s. After the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) broke apart in 1991, the Russian government started a program to encourage small farmers. From 1991 to 2001 about 150,000 new small farms were established.


Russia has a history of a diet based on crops that can thrive in cold climates, such as grains (rye, barley, buckwheat, and wheat), root vegetables (beets, turnips, potatoes, onions), and cabbage. Ivan III (ruled 14621505) brought Italian craftsmen to Russia to build public buildings. These craftsmen introduced pasta, frozen desserts (gelato and sherbet), and pastries to the Russian diet.

Peter I (ruled 16821725), known as "The Great," included a French chef in his court. It was during his reign that Russians began to serve meals in courses, rather than to serve all the food at once. From that time until the Russian Revolution in 1917, many wealthy Russian families employed French chefs. When French chefs returned home to France, they introduced popular Russian dishes to the people of Europe. The Salade Russe, known in Russia as Salat Olivier or Salad Rusky was created during the era of Nicholas II (in power until 1917) by a French chef.

Salat Olivier (Russian Salad)


  • 3 large potatoes
  • 2 carrots, boiled and diced
  • 4 hardboiled eggs; 3 should be chopped and 1 cut into quarters for garnish
  • ½ onion, finely chopped
  • 2 dill pickles, chopped
  • ½ cup canned or frozen peas, drained
  • ¼ pound bologna, chopped
  • 2 to 4 Tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 4 to 6 large lettuce leaves


  1. Peel the potatoes, cut them in half, and place them in a saucepan. Cover the potatoes with water, heat over high heat until the water boils, and simmer until the potatoes can be pierced with a fork (about 15 to 20 minutes). Drain and allow to cool.
  2. Repeat the same process with the two carrots.
  3. When both are cooled, cut into cubes and place in a large mixing bowl.
  4. Add remaining ingredients (except mayonnaise) and toss gently to combine.
  5. Stir in 2 Tablespoons of mayonnaise, or enough mayonnaise to hold ingredients together.
  6. Arrange clean, dry lettuce leaves on a platter, and mound the salad in a pyramid shape in the center.
  7. Spread more mayonnaise over the top of the salad like frosting.
  8. Garnish with hardboiled egg slices.

Serves 6 to 8.

From the time of the Russian Revolution in 1917 until 1981, all of the restaurants in Russia (then part of the USSR) were owned and operated by the government. Most stores were run by the government, too. Due to food shortages and inefficient store management, families had to stand in long lines to buy bread, meat, and other basic food items. In 1981 President Mikhail Gorbachev began reforms that culminated in the 1991 breakup of the USSR and the beginnings of a democracy. But the sale and purchase of food was still regulated by the government as of the end of the twentieth century.


Traditional Russian cooking relied on a pech' or oven, rather than a burner as a heat source. The oven had two compartmentsone for slow cooking and the other for quick baking. The pech' also heated the homes of the peasants, and therefore occupied a central spot in the main room of the house. Traditional dishes include roasted meats, vegetables, soups, and stews. A staple of the Russian diet is dark, heavy bread. It is not uncommon for a family of four to eat three or four loaves of bread a day. Also popular are bliny (thin pancakes), and a variety of savory and sweet pies called either piroghi (large pies) orpirozhki (small pies). They are usually filled with fish, cheese, jam, cabbage, mushrooms, chopped hard-cooked eggs, or meat. The possibilities are unlimited. These pies are served alone or with soup at lunch. Hot sweetened tea, called chai, is served frequently from a samovar (large brass boiler) that heats water and steeps the tea leaves to form a concentrated mixture.

Russians eat more fish than most other cultures because, under the Russian Orthodox Church, many days of the year were fasting days and fish was the only meat allowed. Sturgeon is the favorite fish of the Russians, from which black caviar (fish eggs) is collected. Kissel, a piece of stewed fruit thickened with cornstarch with milk poured over it, is a traditional dessert.

Bliny is a traditional Russian dish that is eaten in great quantity during Maslyanitsa (Butter Week, the Russian equivalent of Mardi Gras), the last week before Lent. Good bliny must be very thin, the thinner the better. Bliny may be served with sweet or savory filling or with butter, sour cream, caviar, fresh fruit, or smoked fish.

Bliny (Russian Pancakes)


  • 3 eggs
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 1½ cups milk
  • 1 cup flour (buckwheat flour is traditional)
  • ½ teaspoon vanilla
  • Vegetable oil


  1. Beat eggs until foamy in a medium mixing bowl. Add sugar, salt, and milk.
  2. Add flour and mix well until no lumps remain. Add vanilla.
  3. Pour a little vegetable oil into a small frying pan. Heat the pan over medium heat.
  4. Using a ladle, pour a very thin layer of batter into the pan.
  5. Cook until edges begin to curl and brown, and then carefully turn to brown the other side.
  6. Serve with filling (recipe follows). May also be served with butter, jam, sour cream, or fresh fruit.

Bliny Filling


  • 1 package frozen berries (strawberries, raspberries, or blueberries)
  • ¼ cup water
  • 2 Tablespoons cornstarch.


  1. Thaw frozen berries, and place into a saucepan.
  2. In a measuring cup or drinking glass, dissolve cornstarch completely in ¼ cup water.
  3. Stir cornstarch mixture into berries and heat slowly until the berry mixture thickens.

Cabbage Pirozhki or Piroghi

This recipe involves three steps: making the dough, making the filling, and assembling the pies.

Ingredients for dough

  • 2½ cups sifted flour
  • 1½ teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup vegetable shortening
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • 1 egg
  • Ice water

Ingredients for filling

  • 5 cups chopped cabbage (2 small heads of cabbage)
  • 2 Tablespoons salt
  • 4 cups boiling water
  • 2 chopped onions
  • 4 Tablespoons butter
  • 1 Tablespoon dill or parsley, minced
  • 2 hard-boiled eggs


  1. Make dough: Sift dry ingredients together. Add shortening and butter into dry mixture, mixing with a pastry blender or a fork until the mixture looks like oatmeal.
  2. Beat the egg slightly in a measuring cup and add enough ice water to make ½ cup fluid. Pour egg and water into the flour mixture and mix well.
  3. Roll out the dough on a board or countertop dusted with more flour. If the dough seems sticky, sprinkle the surface of the dough and the rolling surface with more flour.
  4. To make piroghi (large pie): Roll dough into a rectangle approximately 24 inches x 16 inches. It is ready for stuffing.
  5. To make pirozhki (small pies): Take eggsized balls of dough, flatten, and roll out. Repeat with remaining dough. The small pies are now ready for stuffing.
  6. Make filling: Remove the tough outer leaves from 2 heads of cabbage, and cut the heads into quarters, removing the tough core. Chop the cabbage leaves finely.
  7. Mix cabbage with salt in a bowl and let stand for 15 minutes. Pour the cabbage into a colander in the sink and drain.
  8. Heat 4 cups of water to boiling and carefully pour boiling water over the cabbage in the colander. Let drain.
  9. Next, melt the butter in a large skillet and add the chopped onion. Sauté until softened (about 5 minutes).
  10. Add the drained cabbage to the skillet and continue cooking, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, until the cabbage is soft (about 30 minutes).
  11. While the cabbage is cooking, remove the shells from the hard-boiled eggs and chop the eggs.
  12. Add dill or parsley and chopped eggs to the cooked cabbage and cook for 2 or 3 minutes longer. Remove from heat.
  13. Preheat oven to 375°F.
  14. To assemble piroghi: Transfer the dough rectangle to the greased cookie sheet.
  15. Spread the cabbage mixture over ½ the dough, fold the dough over and pinch the edges together.
  16. To assemble pirozhki: Fill each pirozhki with about 1½ Tablespoons of the cabbage mixture.
  17. Pinch edges together and place on a greased cookie sheet with the seamless edge up.
  18. Bake the piroghi for about 30 minutes, until golden.
  19. Bake the pirozhkis for about 15 minutes.

Serves 8 to 10.


The Russian Orthodox Church celebrates the New Year on January 1, Christmas on January 7 and Epiphany on January 19. At New Year's, Ded Moroz (Grandfather Frost), a character from folklore, may be seen at holiday events distributing pryaniki, a sweet cookie to signify wishes for a sweet new year. The Russian equivalent for Mardi Gras happens during Maslyanitsa (Butter-week) when bliny are eaten nonstop. For Easter, Orthodox Russian women bake cakes and decorate them elaborately to resemble the rounded domes of the Orthodox churches. The cakes are given either to the priest on Easter Sunday, or served at home. The Easter bread is always cut lengthwise instead of in vertical slices. Pashka, a cold mixture of soft cheese (tvorog ), butter, almonds, and currants, is formed in a special mold shaped like a pyramid with the top cut off to represent the tomb of Jesus. Russian Easter eggs are often colored red to signify the resurrection of Jesus. This is done by hard-boiling eggs with either red onion peel or beets. Roast pork is served for the main meal at Easter. A roast goose is traditional at Christmas.



  • 2 packages (8-ounces each) cream cheese
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) butter at room temperature
  • 1¾ cup confectioners' sugar
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 1 cup currants
  • 1 cup toasted almonds

Optional: Clean new flowerpot and clean muslin fabric (or clean fabric from a sheet or pillowcase) to mold pashka


  1. Put cream cheese into a large mixing bowl and beat until very smooth.
  2. Add butter and continue beating until well mixed and very smooth and creamy.
  3. Add sugar, a little at a time, beating well. Add vanilla.
  4. Add currants and toasted almonds and stir gently to combine.
  5. If flowerpot is not being used to mold pashka, pour cheese mixture into a pie pan, cake pan, or other serving dish. Smooth the top surface, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate at least two hours, until ready to serve.
  6. To use flowerpot mold: Line the flowerpot with the fabric, smoothing it to line the surface of the pot. Transfer the cheese mixture to the flowerpot, pushing the mixture down to remove air pockets. Fold the fabric over the top, and place a small saucer on the top to weight down the mixture. Refrigerate on a plate (some liquid may leak out of the hole in the bottom of the flowerpot) for at least two hours. To serve, remove saucer, unwrap fabric, and put a serving plate over the flowerpot and turn it upside down to unmold. Carefully remove the fabric.

Serves 10 to 12.

Sbiten (Russian National Winter Beverage)


  • 10 cups water
  • 1 pound berry jam (16 ounces)
  • ½ cup honey
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 1 teaspoon cloves
  • ½ teaspoon cinnamon


  1. Measure the water into a large pot and heat until the water boils.
  2. Stir in jam, honey, ginger, cloves, and cinnamon.
  3. Simmer, stirring constantly, for 5 minutes. Ladle into mugs and serve hot.

Serves 10 to 12.


Russians eat four meals a day, starting with zavtrak or "morning coffee." Lunch, or obyed, is a small two-dish meal lasting from 12 noon until 1 p.m. Usually kasha, or baked buckwheat, is served at lunch. Dinner, or uzhin, is the most elaborate meal beginning at 6 p.m. and typically featuring four courses. The first course is zakuski or "little bite." Zakuski may feature a few simple appetizers (such as bread and cheese or herbed butter) to twenty or more elaborate creations requiring hours of preparation. Selodka, or herring with a vinegar and oil dressing, is the best-known appetizer, and it almost always makes an appearance during the zakuski. The first course is often soup, although soup may also be the entrée. Favorite soups include borscht (beet soup traditionally served with sour cream); shchyee (cabbage soup); and solyanka (a tomato-based chowder). The main course may be roast meat, with potatoes and root vegetables. Dessert may be ice cream or cheesecake. A few hours after dinner, usually around 9 or 10 p.m., Russians have their fourth and final meal of the day, centered on the samovar (ornate urn for serving coffee or tea) for tea and cakes, such as Sharlotka (Apple Cake). Visitors are encouraged to drop in for tea at night, sometimes staying until midnight. Restaurants often end the meal with Klyukva S Sakharom (Frosted Cranberries).

Borscht (Beet Soup)


  • 3 cans (14 ounce) beef broth
  • 2 medium beets
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 onion
  • 3 potatoes
  • ¼ head of cabbage
  • 1 Tablespoon tomato paste
  • ½ green pepper
  • ½ fresh parsley
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • Vegetable or olive oil
  • Sour cream as garnish
  • Sugar, to taste


  1. Prepare onions and carrots by chopping them.
  2. Pour a little vegetable oil into a skillet and add the carrots and onions. Cook until softened, and set aside.
  3. Peel the beets and chop or slice both into small bite-sized pieces.
  4. Remove the seeds from the green pepper and chop.
  5. Put the chopped beets and green pepper into a small saucepan and add about ½ cup of broth and the tomato paste. Cover the pot and simmer the vegetables for about 30 minutes until the beets are tender.
  6. While the beets and peppers are cooking, pour the remaining broth into a large saucepan and heat it almost to boiling.
  7. Chop the cabbage and add it to the broth.
  8. Peel the potatoes, cut them into bite-size pieces and add to broth.
  9. Add cooked onions and carrots to broth. Simmer the soup for about 20 minutes.
  10. When the beets are tender, add them to the broth. Add lemon juice, salt, sugar, parsley, and garlic cloves.
  11. Simmer 10 more minutes, and serve hot, with a dollop of sour cream in each bowl.

Serves 10 to 12.

Sharlotka (Apple Cake)


  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 3 tart apples, such as Granny Smith


  1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
  2. Combine flour, sugar, and eggs, beating well to completely dissolve the sugar.
  3. Wash the apples, cut them into quarters, and cut away the core and seeds.
  4. Cut the apples into thin slices.
  5. Grease a round cake pan and dust it lightly with flour or plain, unseasoned white bread crumbs to prevent the cake from sticking.
  6. Arrange all apple slices on the bottom of the pan.
  7. Pour the batter mixture over the apples, spreading it gently with a rubber spatula.
  8. Bake for 25 minutes until a toothpick, inserted into the center of the cake, comes out dry and the cake is beginning to pull away from the edges of the pan.
  9. Cool 10 minutes on a wire rack. Run a knife around the edges of the pan, and place a serving plate over the pan. Invert the pan (turn the pan upside-down) onto the serving plate. May be served warm or at room temperature.

Serves 10 to 12.

Klyukva S Sakharom (Frosted Cranberries)


  • 1 pound bag of fresh cranberries
  • 1 egg white
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 2-foot long piece of wax paper


  1. Preheat the oven to 150°F (lowest setting possible).
  2. Beat the egg white with an electric mixer or wire whisk until foamy but not stiff.
  3. Rinse the cranberries in a colander, discarding any shriveled or spoiled berries.
  4. Pour the cranberries into the egg white, stirring gently until the berries are all completely coated.
  5. Measure the sugar into another large bowl. Add the cranberries, and toss until the berries are completely covered with sugar.
  6. Spread the cranberries on a shallow baking pan, such as a cookie sheet, with edges.
  7. Bake for about 12 minutes until the sugar has melted.
  8. Spread a 2-foot long piece of wax paper out on the counter or table.
  9. Spread the cranberries out on the paper, separating them, to dry.
  10. Leave them undisturbed overnight. The frosted cranberries will keep in an airtight container or plastic bag for 2 weeks.

Historically, when guests first arrived at a Russian home, the hostess welcomed them with a loaf of bread and a small amount of salt. The guest was expected to take a piece of the bread, dip it in the salt, and eat it. This explains the Russian word for hospitality, khlebosol'stvo (khleb "bread" and sol "salt"). The hostess sits at the head of the table with the most respected guest at her right. Her husband sits where he wants to sit.

Semechki (Toasted Sunflower Seeds)


  • 1 cup sunflower seeds in the hull
  • 2 Tablespoons butter
  • Salt, to taste (optional)


  1. Preheat oven to 325°F.
  2. Melt the butter in a bowl in the microwave or in a skillet over low heat on the stove.
  3. Toss the seeds in the butter, coating them well.
  4. Spread the seed on a cookie sheet.
  5. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until just golden. Sprinkle with salt. (Seeds may be shelled first, and then sprinkled with salt if preferred.)

Chai Po-Russki (Tea, Russian-Style)

Chai Po-Russki (tea) is usually served with a variety of cakes and candies.


  • 1 teaspoon loose black tea per person, plus 1 teaspoon "for the pot"
  • 1 cup water per person
  • 1 whole cardamom pod or ½ teaspoon cardamom
  • 1 lemon, sliced
  • Cream


  1. Measure tea into a saucepan. Add water and cardamom and bring to a boil.
  2. Remove from heat and allow to steep for 2 minutes. Pour tea through a strainer into cups.
  3. Add slices of lemon or cream to taste. (Do not use lemon and cream together, as the lemon will curdle the cream.)

A meal might consist of borscht (beet soup) with bread and pickles, or could be more elaborate. The soup must be served very hot. All dishes are served at the table from large serving dishes. It is proper for the hostess to encourage her guests to eat more than they really want to eat.

Lining many city streets are vending machines selling gazirovannaya voda (sparkling water), not in cans or bottles, but dispensed into a glass. The machine includes a scrubbing brush with cold water for the customer to use to clean the glass before using it. Also readily available are sunflower seeds sold by vendors at open stalls from large burlap sacks. Many Russians snack on sunflower seeds daily.


At the beginning of 2001, Russians continued to struggle with shortages of some food items. According to a World Bank report, about 3 percent of children under age five are underweight, and about 13 percent have not grown to the appropriate height for their age. These are both signs that a small percentage of young children in Russia are not receiving adequate nutrition from their daily diet.



Goldstein, Darra. A La Russe: A Cookbook of Russian Hospitality. 2nd ed. Montpelier, VT: Russian Life Books, 1999.

Kropotkin, Alexandra. The Best of Russian Cooking. New York: Hippocrene Books, 1997.

Toomre, Joyce. Classic Russian Cooking: Elena Molokhovets' A 'Gift to Young Housewives.' Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1992.

Visson, Lynn. The Russian Heritage Cookbook. Dana Point, CA: Casa Dana Books, 1998.

Volokh, Anne with Mavis Manus. The Art of Russian Cuisine. New York: MacMillan, 1983.

Web Sites

Russian Foods. [Online] Available (accessed January 31, 2001).

Zina's Cookbook. [Online] Available (accessed August 17, 2001).

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Spiritualism was first introduced in Russia by people who had been introduced to the subject abroad, witnessing manifestations of psychic phenomena and acquaintance with the works of Allan Kardec, the French exponent of Spiritism.

The new doctrine found its followers chiefly among the members of the professions and the aristocracy, finally including the reigning monarch of that time, Alexander II. Members of his family and entourage also became devoted adherents. Because of the immense influence of such converts, the progress of Spiritualism in Russia was made smoother.

Much of the spiritualist propaganda, manifestations, and publications were conducted under various ruses and deceptions such as the circulation of a paper entitled "The Rebus," professedly devoted to innocent rebuses and charades and only incidentally mentioning Spiritualism, the real object of its being.

Among the distinguished devotees of the subject was Prince Wittgenstein, aide-de-camp and trusted friend of Alexander II, who not only avowed his beliefs openly but arranged for various mediums, including D. D. Home, to give séances before the emperor. The Czar was impressed, and, from that time onward he consulted mediums and their prophetic powers as to the advisability of any contemplated change or step in his life.

Another Russian of high position socially and officially was Alexander N. Aksakof, who interested himself in Spiritualism, arranging séances to which he invited the scientific men of the University, editing a paper Psychische Studien, translating into Russian the works of Emanuel Swedenborg and various French, American, and English writers of the same subject, thus becoming a leader in the movement.

Later, with his friends Boutlerof and Wagner, professors respectively of chemistry and zoology at the University of St. Petersburg, he specially commenced a series of séances for the investigation of the phenomena in an experimental manner and a scientific committee was formed under the leadership of Professor Mendeleyef, who afterward issued an adverse report on the matter. This accused the mediums of trickery and their followers of easy credulity and the usual warfare proceeded between the scientific investigators and spiritual enthusiasts.

At the other extreme of the social scale, among the peasantry and uneducated classes generally, the grossest superstition existed, a profound belief in supernatural agencies and cases were often reported in the columns of Russian papers. Stories abounded of wonder-working, obsession and various miraculous happenings, all ascribed to demoniac or angelic influence, or in districts where the inhabitants were still pagan to local deities and witchcraft.

The final years of the Romanov dynasty were dominated by the strange charismatic figure of the monk Rasputin, murdered shortly before the outbreak of the Russian Revolution of 1917. Grigory Yefimovich, was a Siberian peasant who had entered a monastery at 18, but left, married and had 4 children. He became absorbed in a peculiar sect that promoted licentious behavior"Rasputin" was the nickname he was given because it means, "debauched one." Rasputin entered the royal circle in 1903 in the height of the popularity of the occult among the socially elite. He did not meet the royal family until 1905, but quickly gained favor particularly with the Czarina because he was able to help control the young Alexander's bleeding due to his hemophilia. Evidence suggests that Rasputin engaged his hypnotic prowess to calm the child which resulted in easing the bleeding.

During the same period, Russian philosopher and mystic, Peter Demianovitch Ouspensky, (1878-1947) who was a disciple of Georgei Ivanovitch Gurdijeff in connection with the Theosophy movement of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky began to rise to prominence in small elite circles of Europe. According to Peter Washington in his 1993 book, Madame Blavatsky's Baboon, "The self-taught Ouspensky was tempted more by Luciferean visions of self-transcendance, dreaming of a humanity remade in the image of gods by its own strenuous efforts." Ouspensky was never officially a member of the Theosophical Society, which was banned in Russia until 1908. By 1914 when World War I began and the revolution in Russia became imminent, Ouspensky moved away from Theosophy. He was in an ongoing search to raise consciousnesshis own and othersin order to understand why, as was his belief, humans continued to relive past lives, and past mistakes.

In the modern era, especially during the 1960s, there was widespread modern interest in parapsychology in the USSR. Its popularity emerged again after the ultraconservative science of the Stalin era. One of the pioneers in this psychic renaissance was Leonid L. Vasiliev (1891-1966), who helped to establish the first parapsychology laboratory in the Soviet Union, at Leningrad. His book Mysterious Manifestations of the Human Psyche (1959) was published in the United States under the title Mysterious Phenomena of the Human Psyche (University Books, 1965).

One possible stimulus for Soviet interest in extrasensory perception (ESP) was the belief that ESP might have military significance. In 1959, a story was leaked in the French press that the United States Navy had experimented with telepathic communication between the atomic submarine Nautilus and a shore base.

Another surprising Soviet interest was disclosed in the readiness of the authorities to permit lectures and demonstrations by Hindu hatha yogis. This had nothing to do with prerevolutionary bourgeois cults of mysticism, but rather indicated willingness to learn about the alleged paranormal physical feats claimed for yoga. Russians have always placed great importance on physical training and sport. In addition, any system of physical culture that promised unusual feats of endurance or control of automatic nervous functions might also have relevance to the physical stresses involved in space travel.

By 1966 the Soviet Union was financing more than twenty centers for the scientific study of the paranormal, involving an annual budget of around 12 to 20 million rubles ($13 to $21 million). Soviet parapsychologists studied reports of such American psychics as Edgar Cayce, Jeane Dixon, and Ted Serios, as well as the parapsychological research of J. B. Rhine and his colleagues.

Throughout the 1960s, Soviet parapsychologists investigated the phenomena of their own sensitives in such fields as dowsings, psychokinesis, telepathy, psychic healing, and eyeless sight. Soviet individuals such as Nina Kulagina in psychokinesis and Rosa Kuleshova who claimed abilities such as fingertip vision (eyeless sight) became widely known and discussed even outside the Soviet Union.

Perhaps because of such international publicity, Soviet authorities sporadically suppressed information on parapsychological research, while a backlash of dogmatic conservatism impeded parapsychology studies. The essentially practical investigations into paranormal faculties by Soviet scientists did hold out hope through the 1970s that they might achieve a real breakthrough in such fields of study.

In his book Psychic Warfare: Threat or Illusion? (1983), Martin Ebon claims that in the early 1970s the KGB took over extensive parapsychological research to attempt to identify psi particles in order to discover unknown communication channels in living cells for the transfer of information and to conduct follow-up studies on such subjects as hypnosis at a distance. On a popular level, interest has grown in such areas as thoughtography and UFOs.

In the book Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain (1970), Sheila Ostrander and Lynn Schroeder revealed the wide range of Soviet research in parapsychology. Much of their book was based on firsthand interviews and observations during visits to the Soviet Union and other Eastern European countries. The book is useful as a record of information on individuals and organizations at the peak of Communist psychic research.

Eyeless Sight and Psychokinesis

Rosa Kuleshova, exponent of fingertip vision or eyeless sight, reportedly suffered from overexposure of her talent and for a time was accused of cheating before her strange abilities were reasserted. Meanwhile, Abram Novemeisky at the Nizhnig Tagil Pedagogical Institute in the Urals experimented with graphic arts students; he claimed that one in six individuals could distinguish between two colors by fingertip vision.

Yakov Fishelev of the Sverdlovsk Pedagogical Institute confirmed such findings and also experimented with subjects at the Pyshma school for the blind, starting with fingertip color recognition and then developing the ability to distinguish shapes of letters. S. N. Dobronravov of Sverdlovsk reported that he had found "skin sight" potential in 72 percent of children, mostly between the ages of 7 and 12.

At the Filatov Institute Laboratory of the Physiology of Vision, in Odessa, an experiment was conducted by Dr. Andrei Shevalev. His subject was Vania Dubrovich, an eight-year-old boy blind from early childhood, whose eyes and optical nerves had been removed. Shevalev attached a lens to Vania's forehead, and the boy learned to distinguish degrees of light through the lens. This experiment claimed to open up new possibilities of "skin glasses."

In the field of psychokinesis (PK), the unusual ability of Nina Kulagina to move small objects at a distance without contact was first discovered by L. L. Vasiliev, after Kulagina had demonstrated a talent for "skin vision." Vasiliev found that she could influence a compass needle by holding her hands over it. In further PK tests it was discovered that she could disturb or move objects at a distance. Film records were made demonstrating her PK ability. Among other feats Kulagina apparently changed the flow of sand in an hourglass and made letters appear on photographic paper by mental force. In early reports, her identity was at first hidden under the pseudonym Nelya Mikhailovna.

In March 1988 Kulagina won a libel action against the magazine Man and Law, published by the Soviet Justice Ministry. Two articles by Vyacheslav Strelkov published in the magazine described her as "a swindler and a crook." The Moscow court ruled that Strelkov had no firm evidence on which to base his allegations, and the magazine was ordered to publish an apology. In a subsequent appeal to the Moscow city court, the district court's ruling was upheld: "the articles published by Man and Law besmirch the honor and dignity of Nina Kulagina andit must publish an apology."

Recent Developments

In the freer atmosphere of public debate and expression of opinion arising from the Mikhail Gorbachev policy of glasnost, public support and discussion of psychic matters increased. Psychic healing received much attention, and the healer Barbara Ivanova treated many prominent officials. She has also undertaken distant healing through the telephone.

In the field of dowsing and radiesthesia, Soviet scientists like G. Bogomolov and Nikolai Sochevanov have collected data to support the reality of such phenomena. With recently developed techniques and apparatus, dowsers have been used to locate damaged cables, water pipes, and electrical lines, as well as underground minerals and water. One series of dowsing tests suggested that women dowsers have a higher ability than men. Dowsing and radiesthetic work is now reported as the "biophysical effect."

Soviet experiments in telepathy are well advanced. Vasiliev studied spontaneous telepathy for nearly 40 years and collected hundreds of circumstantial accounts. In 1967 Yuri Kamensky in Moscow claimed to successfully relayed a telepathic message to Karl Nikolaiev in Leningrad; the message was in a form of Morse code. Other telepathy experiments involved the transmission of emotions, monitored by EEG records. A number of experiments were conducted to ascertain optimum conditions for telepathic transmission, involving a complex of touch, visualization, and thought.

Sometimes a biological sympathy between sender and receiver (heartbeat, brain wave, and similar synchronism) was found to facilitate transmission. Even the influence of highfrequency electromagnetic waves on telepathy was studied, while the neurologist Vladimir Bekhterev experimented with telepathy between human beings and animals.

One development in Soviet parapsychology claiming a significant amount of attention in the 1970s was Kirlian photography, developed by Semyon D. Kirlian and Valentina C. Kirlian, as a method of photographing a corona discharge in human beings and other objects both living and inanimate. It was hoped that an auralike phenomena had been discovered, but the effects reported early in experimentation were later shown to be an effect of differential pressure placed on the film by objects being photographed.

In 1960 the Soviet Academy of Sciences declared that the search for UFOs was "unscientific." However it seems that reports of UFOs were closely studied, a matter of control of Soviet air space, and some Soviet researchers were prepared to consider the possibility of extraterrestrial intelligences.

Over the past two or three decades, there have been many reports of UFO phenomena from the USSR. On October 9, 1989, the Soviet news agency, TASS, astonished the world by reporting claims that a UFO had landed on the evening of September 27, 1989, in a park at Voronezh, a city of 900,000 inhabitants some three hundred miles southeast of Moscow, and that the UFO occupants had walked about and been seen by many people (cf. Flying Saucer Review, vol. 34, no. 4, 1898).

The practical and scientific investigations of Soviet scientists into every major aspect of the paranormal was in sharp contrast to the more romantic interest of Western countries, where psychics demonstrate for entertainment. The down-to-earth Soviet approach into the how and why of the paranormal appeared to be yielding results with clearly practical applications.

The strong, and long-held folk traditions of the Russian people are expected to emerge as the country re-shapes its identity. In his book, The Russian Challenge and the Year 2000, Russian ex-patriate Alexander Yanov, living in the United States since 1975, discussed the issues facing the country since the fall of the Soviet Empire. He noted that, "Orthodox marxisim has been exhausted as an ideological resource for the system, just as the ideology of tsarism was exhausted at the beginning of the twentieth century. Alternative ideological resources are needed to enable the empire to survive a 'systemic' crisis." Published two years before the fall of the Berlin Wall, Yanov's book offered an interesting perspective while reform was anticipated. As Russians continue to pursue a free, elective government as a commonwealth, political reform will begin to shape other apsects of Russian life, as well. The curiosity that they have demonstrated for centuries regarding the inner workings of their consciousnessthroughout artistic, cultural and religious pursuit especiallycould evolve dramatically in the area of parapsychology, as well. While continuing in the economically stressed atmosphere of the demise of the USSR and the emergence of the Commonwealth of Independent States, parapsychology has suffered and its future is as yet not discernible.

(See also Slavs )


[Note: For an authoritative survey of Soviet research in parapsychology and psychotronics, see the journal Psi Research, edited by Larissa Vilenskaya, published quarterly by Washington Research Institute and Parapsychology Research Group, San Francisco, California.]

Berger, Arthur S., and Joyce Berger. The Encyclopedia of Parapsychology and Psychical Research. New York: Paragon House, 1991.

Ebon, Martin. Psychic Discoveries by the Russians. New York: Parapsychology Foundation, 1963. Reprint, New York: New American Library, 1971.

. Psychic Warfare: Threat or Illusion? New York: McGraw-Hill, 1983.

Hobana, Ion, and J. Weverbergh. Unidentified Flying Objects from Behind the Iron Curtain. London: Souvenir Press, 1974. Reprint, London: Corgi, 1975.

Ostrander, Sheila, and Lynn Schroeder. Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1970. Reprint, New York: Bantam, 1971. Washington, Peter. Madame Blavatsky's Baboon. New York: Schocken Books, 1993.

Yanov, Alexander. The Russian Challenge and the Year 2000. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1987.

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Country statistics


17,075,000sq km (6,592,800sq mi)



capital (population):

Moscow (8,389,200)


Federal multi-party republic

ethnic groups:

Russian 82%, Tatar 4%, Ukrainian 3%, Chuvash 1%, more than 100 other nationalities


Russian (official)


Russian Orthodox 55%, Muslim 5%, Jewish 1%


Russian rouble = 100 kopecks

Federation in e Europe and n Asia. The Russian Federation is the world's largest country. The Urals form a natural border between European and Asian Russia (Siberia). About 25% of Russia lies in Europe, w of the Urals. European Russia contains about 80% of Russia's population, including the capital, Moscow. It is predominantly a vast plain. The Caucasus Mountains form Russia's sw border with Georgia and Azerbaijan, and include Europe's highest peak, Mount Elbrus, at 5633m (18,481ft). Grozny, capital of Chechenia, lies close to the Georgian border. The port of Astrakhan lies on the shore of the Caspian Sea, the world's largest inland body of water. St Petersburg, Russia's second-largest city, is a Baltic seaport. Archangel is the major White Sea port. European Russia's major rivers are the Don and the Volga (Europe's longest river). Volgograd lies on the banks of the Volga. Siberia is a land of plains and plateaux, with mountains in the e and s. It is drained by the rivers Ob, Yenisei, and Lena. The industrial centre of Novosibirsk lies on the River Ob. Close to the Mongolian border lies Lake Baikal (the world's deepest lake). On its shores lies Irkutsk. Vladivostock is the major port on the Sea of Japan. Sakhalin and the Kuril Islands have often been a source of conflict with Japan. The Kamchatka Peninsula contains many active volcanoes.

Climate and Vegetation

The climate varies from n to s and also from w to e. Moscow has a continental climate with cold, snowy winters and warm summers. Siberia has a much harsher and drier climate. In Northern Siberia, winter temperatures often fall below −46°C (−51°F). The far n is tundra. Mosses and lichens grow during the short summer, but the subsoil is permafrost. To the s is the taiga, a vast region of coniferous forest. In the w and e are mixed forests of conifer, oak, and beech. South-central Russia contains large areas of former steppe, most of which is now under the plough; its dark, chernozem soils are among the world's most fertile. The semi-desert lowlands around the Caspian Sea are hardy grassland. The Caucasus Mountains have lush forests of oak and beech.

History and Politics

According to tradition, the Varangian king, Rurik, established the first Russian state in 862. His successor, Oleg, made Kiev, his capital and the state became known as Kievan Rus. Vladimir I adopted Greek Orthodox Christianity as the state religion in 988. Vladimir and Kiev vied for political supremacy. In 1237–40, the Mongol Tatars conquered Russia and established the Golden Horde. Saint Alexander Nevski became Great Khan of Kiev. In the 14th century, Moscow gradually grew in importance, and the Grand Duchy of Moscow was established in 1380. Ivan III (the Great) greatly extended the power of Moscow, began the construction of the Kremlin, and completed the conquest of the Golden Horde in 1480.

In 1547, Ivan IV (the Terrible) was crowned Tsar of all Russia. Ivan the Terrible conquered the Tatar khanates of Kazan (1552) and Astrakhan (1556), gaining control of the River Volga, and began the conquest of Siberia. Following the death of Boris Godunov (1605), Russia was subject to foreign incursions and ruled by a series of usurpers. In 1613, Michael founded the Romanov tsarist dynasty which ruled Russia until 1917. The reign (1696–1725) of Peter I (the Great) marked the start of the westernization and modernization of Russia: central governmental institutions emerged, and the Church became subordinate to the monarchy. Centralization was achieved at the expense of increasing the number of serfs. Russia expanded w to the Baltic Sea, and St Petersburg was born in 1703. Peter made it his capital in 1712.

In 1762, Catherine II (the Great) became Empress. Under her authoritarian government, Russia became the greatest power in continental Europe, acquiring much of Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine. Alexander I's territorial gains led him into direct conflict with the imperial ambitions of Napoleon I. Napoleon captured Moscow in 1812, but the harsh Russian winter devastated his army. The Decembrist Conspiracy (1825) unsuccessfully tried to prevent the accession of Nicholas I. Nicholas' reign was characterized by the battle against liberalization. At the end of his reign, Russia became embroiled in the disastrous Crimean War (1853–56). Alexander II undertook much-needed reforms, such as the emancipation of the serfs. Alexander III's rule was more reactionary, but continued Russia's industrialization, helped by the construction of the Trans-Siberian Railway. Alexander was succeeded by the last Romanov tsar, Nicholas II.In the 1890s, drought caused famine in rural areas and there was much discontent in the cities. Defeat in the Russo-Japanese War (1904–05) precipitated the Russian Revolution of 1905. Nicholas II was forced to adopt a new constitution and establish an elected Duma (parliament). Democratic reforms were soon reversed, revolutionary groups brutally suppressed, and pogroms encouraged. The Russian Social Democratic Labor Party was secretly founded in 1898, supported primarily by industrial workers. In 1912, the Party split into Bolshevik and Menshevik factions. Russia's support of a Greater Slavic state contributed to the outbreak of World War I. Russia was ill-prepared for war, and suffered great hardship. The Russian Revolution (1917) had two main phases. In March, Nicholas II was forced to abdicate (he and his family were executed in July 1918), and a provisional government was formed. In July, Kerensky became prime minister, but failed to satisfy the radical hunger of the soviets.

In November 1917, the Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, seized power and proclaimed Russia a Soviet Federated Socialist Republic. In 1918, the capital transferred to Moscow. Under the terms of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (1918), Russia withdrew from World War I, but was forced to cede much territory to the Central Powers. For the next five years, civil war raged between the Reds and Whites (monarchists and anti-communists), complicated by foreign intervention. The Bolsheviks emerged victorious, but Russia was left devastated. In 1922, Russia united with Ukraine, Belarus, and Transcaucasia (Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia) to form the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (for history 1922–91, see Soviet Union).

In June 1991 Boris Yeltsin was elected President of the Russian Republic. In August 1991, communist hardliners arrested the Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and attempted to capture the Russian parliament in Moscow. Democratic forces rallied behind Yeltsin, and the coup was defeated. Yeltsin emerged as the major power player. On December 25, 1991, Gorbachev resigned as president of the USSR, and on December 31, the Soviet Union was dissolved. The Russian Federation became a co-founder of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), composed of former Soviet Republics. In March 1992, the central government in Moscow agreed a new Federal Treaty with the autonomous republics within the Russian Federation. Chechenia refused to sign, and declared independence. Institutional forces frustrated Yeltsin's reforms, leading him to dissolve Parliament in September 1993. Parliamentary leaders formed a rival government, but the coup failed. In December 1993, a new democratic constitution was adopted. Yeltsin's made slow progress in the democratization of political institutions and reform of the social economy. A central political problem was the representation of Russia's diverse minorities. Many ethnic groups demanded greater autonomy within the Federation. In 1992, direct rule was imposed in Ingush and North Ossetia. From 1994 to 1996, Russia was embroiled in a costly civil war in the secessionist state of Chechenia. In 1996, despite concern about his ill-health, Yeltsin was re-elected. In 1998, the financial crisis in Southeast Asia devastated the Russian economy and Yeltsin dismissed the entire cabinet, including the Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. In August 1998, the stock market collapsed and the rouble devalued by 50%. Yeltsin again dismissed the entire cabinet and was forced to appoint Yevgeni Primakov as prime minister.

In 1999 Yeltsin resigned in favour of Vladimir Putin, who relaunched the war in Chechenia. Putin won the 2000 elections. The continuing conflict in Chechenia has lead to hundreds of deaths in Russia in a series of major terrorist attacks, such as the attack on a Moscow theatre (2002), the bombing of two passenger flights (2004), and the attack on a school in Beslan (2004).


Under Soviet rule, Russia transformed from an agrarian economy into the world's second greatest industrial power. By the 1970s, concentration on the military-industrial complex and a bloated bureaucracy caused the economy to stagnate. Gorbachev's policy of perestroika was an attempt to correct this weakness. Yeltsin sped up the pace of reform. In 1993, the command economy was abolished, private ownership was re-introduced, and mass privitization began. Industry employs 46% of the workforce and contributes 48% of GDP (2000 GDP per capita, US$7700). Mining is the most valuable activity. Russia is the world's leading producer of natural gas and nickel, and the world's third-largest producer of crude oil, lignite, and brown coal. It is the world's second-largest manufacturer of aluminium and phosphates. Light industries are growing in importance. Most farmland is still government-owned or run as collectives. Russia is the world's largest producer of barley, oats, rye, and potatoes. It is the world's second-largest producer of beef and veal.

Political map

Physical map


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The fur trade involved exploiting a finite resource (fur-bearing animals) and cultivating new populations when supplies were depleted below sustainable numbers. Russians served as middlemen between fur-producing northern boreal zones and the main markets for furs, which were situated along the rim of Eurasia (Europe and the Middle East). Novgorod played a critical role in the medieval fur trade, but by the fifteenth century Moscow began to displace Novgorod and competed with Kazan' for trade routes and supplies of furs.

The heyday of the fur trade began in the sixteenth century with the conquest of Siberia. The Stroganov family established trading posts across the Ural Mountains and sent their agents into Siberia to purchase furs with European wares and iron goods. The Stroganovs marketed their furs to English and Dutch merchants and also acted as purchasing agents for the Russian court. In 1574 they were granted a charter to develop the Tura and Tobol river basins extending into Siberia and were authorized to build forts, use cannons, and outfit a private army. As a result of increasing friction with the native peoples and the Khanate of Siberia, the Stroganovs hired a band of Cossacks from the Don to defend and expand their holdings. Yermak Timofeyevich and his men set out in 1582 and soon conquered Sibir' (or Isker), the capital of the Khanate. Word of Yermak's conquest reached Moscow, and reinforcements were sent to complete the conquest.

After establishing a garrison and provisioning system at Tobol'sk, small bands of Russians with firearms and small artillery advanced across the river systems of Siberia in lightweight boats to set up forts at portages and other strategic points. Much of the subsequent conquest of Siberia was carried out by private entrepreneurs and small armed bands who took oaths from natives, imposed tribute, and sent reports and furs back to forts and administrative centers. Rivalries among indigenous populations also facilitated conquest, as native peoples under Russian jurisdiction expanded control over more distant groups. In only a few decades almost all of Siberia came under Russian control.

The fur trade was linked to the yasak system of tribute collected from native tribes of Siberia. Although the Russian government preferred to extract tribute in furs, it also accepted reindeer skins, grain, walrus ivory, etc. Native populations (termed inozemtsy ) were divided into districts and assigned annual tribute quotas, usually five to ten sables (or an equivalent in other goods) per male. In order to keep natives from simply picking up and leaving, the Russians procured hostages from native chieftains. While sedentary groups were recorded in meticulous tribute books according to households or tribal units, tribute was only collected irregularly from mobile, non-settled groups. Native elites were coopted into Russian service through regular gifts and supplies of liquor.

The Russian government espoused paternalistic policies in order to maintain the ability of natives to pay tribute. Russian hunters and trappers were ordered not to enter native hunting grounds. The forced baptism of natives, sale of alcohol to them, and the buying and selling of native women and children were prohibited. Officials were admonished not to extort more furs than established by the quotas, and they were banned from engaging in private trade. In reality none of these policies was strictly enforced. Degradation of native social structures and endemic corruption resulted from the trade.

To secure for itself the lion's share of the profits from the trade in luxury furs, the Russian government set up a purchasing system to acquire the best furs for the state coffers. In addition to a generous markup on high-quality furs destined for export, the government also made money on the differential between fur prices in Siberia and Moscow. While European merchants were generally shut out of Siberia, Tatar and Bukharan traders were allowed to participate in the trade. In order to tax and monitor the flow of goods between Siberia and central provinces, the government set up checkpoints along main routes to examine cargo and travel documents.

In the seventeenth century well over a thousand Russian entrepreneurs and trappers journeyed to Siberia annually. Many of them settled permanently, and their numbers were supplemented by soldiers, exiles, and forced migrants sent by the government. In the late seventeenth century there were over 25,000 Russian households in Siberia. By the early eighteenth century settlements in Siberia began to produce enough grain for subsistence and in many areas mining and manufacturing surpassed the fur trade in economic importance.

Market demand and local greed fueled intensive hunting, which resulted in the exhaustion of animal breeding populations. Russian innovations in traps, nets, and hunting dogs also contributed to a rapid depletion of fur supplies. In a good year Russian and native hunters harvested more than half a million squirrels, 100,000 sables, and more than tens of thousands of black foxes. Government income from the fur trade peaked in the 1640s and amounted to over 100,000 rubles, about 10 percent of state revenue. By the early eighteenth century revenues had declined to less than half of their peak. As supplies became rare in the vicinity of the major river basins of Siberia, hunters and trappers began exploiting more distant sources of furs, eventually reaching Alaska and the North American coast.

See also Black Sea Steppe ; Imperial Expansion, Russia .


Fisher, Raymond H. The Russian Fur Trade, 15501700. Berkeley, 1943.

Martin, Janet. Treasure of the Land of Darkness: The Fur Trade and Its Significance for Medieval Russia. Cambridge, U.K., and New York, 1986.

Pavlov, P. N. Pushnoi promysel v Sibiri XVII v. Krasnoyarsk, 1972.

Brian Boeck

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Russian Federation


The Russian Federation (formerly the RSFSR, one of the fifteen republics of the USSR) covers almost twice the area of the United States of America, or 17,075,200 square kilometers (6,591,100 square miles). It is divided into eighty-nine separate territories. The country reaches from Moscow in the west over the Urals and the vast Siberian plains to the Sea of Okhotsk in the east. The Russian Federation is bounded by Norway and Finland in the northwest; by Estonia, Latvia, Belarus, and Ukraine in the west; by Georgia and Azerbaijan in the southwest; and by Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and China along the southern land border. The Kaliningrad region is a Russian exclave on the Baltic Sea and is bordered by Lithuania and Poland.

The Russian Federation was established in 1991, when the USSR disintegrated and the former RSFSR became an independent state. A declaration of state sovereignty was adopted on June 12, 1991 (now a national holiday), and official independence from the USSR was established on August 24,1991. The Russian Federation replaced the USSR as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council. The term Russia has been applied loosely to the Russian Empire until 1917, to the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (RSFSR) from 1917 to 1991, to the Russian Federation since 1991, or even (incorrectly) to mean the whole of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). The term has also been used to designate the area inhabited by the Russian people, as distinguished from other Eastern Slavs and from non-Slavic peoples.

Moscow, the ninth largest city in the world, the largest Russian city, and the capital of the Russian Federation, was founded in 1147. The city's focal point is Red Square, bound on one side by the Kremlin and its thick red fortress wall containing twenty towers. The tsars were crowned there; in fact, Ivan the Terrible's throne is situated near the entrance. The second largest city, St. Petersburg, is situated northwest of Moscow and was known as a cultural center with elegant palaces. The city is spread over forty-two islands in the delta of the Neva River.

The terrain of the Russian Federation consists of broad plains with low hills west of the Urals; vast coniferous forest and tundra in Siberia; and uplands and mountains along the southern border regions. Although the largest country in the world in terms of area, the Russian Federation is unfavorably located in relation to the major sea lanes of the world. Despite its size, much of the country lacks proper soils and climates (either too cold or too dry) for agriculture. It does, however, have enormous resources of oil and gas, as well as numerous trace metals.

Since 1991, Russia has struggled in its efforts to build a democratic political system and market economy to replace the strict social, political, and economic controls of the Communist period. The country adopted a constitution on December 12, 1993, and established a bicameral Federal Assembly (Federalnoye Sobraniye). Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin was elected to the office of president of the Federation on May 7, 2000, with 52.9 percent of the vote, as opposed to 29.2 percent for the Communist representative, Gennady Zyuganov, and5.8 percent for the democratic centrist, Grigory Yavlinsky.

See also: gorbachev, mikhail sergeyevich; putin, vladimir vladimirovich; russian soviet federated socialist republic; yeltsin, boris nikolayevich


Brown, Archie, ed. (2001). Gorbachev, Yeltsin, and Putin: Political Leadership in Russia's Transition. Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Herspring, Dale R., ed. (2003). Putin's Russia: Past Imperfect, Future Uncertain. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.

Kotkin, Stephen. (2001). Armageddon Averted: The Soviet Collapse, 19702000. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Malia, Martin. (1999). Russia under Western Eyes: From the Bronze Horseman to the Lenin Mausoleum. Cambridge, MA: Belnap Press.

Satter, David. (2003). Darkness at Dawn: The Rise of the Russian Criminal State. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Shevtsova, Lilia. (2003). Putin's Russia. Washington, DC: Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Sunlop, John B. (1993). The Rise of Russia and the Fall of the Soviet Empire. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Johanna Granville

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The Russian state traces its foundations back to the realm of Kievan Rus, established by Scandinavian Vikings in the ninth century a.d. This state controlled trade in honey, wax, timber, and slaves along the rivers running through the plains and forests of Russia and the Ukraine. Russian culture was heavily influenced by the Byzantine Empire and the Eastern (Greek) Orthodox Church after the Kievan ruler Vladimir I forced the baptism of Kiev's nobles into the new religion in 988.

Kiev eventually weakened through struggles among its ruling dynasty, and power over the Slavic peoples of the steppes and river valleys passed to more northerly cities such as Novgorod, Vladimir, and Suzdal. The process was completed in the thirteenth century, when a wave of Tatar (Mongol) horsemen overran Kiev and the Russian princely states. Novgorod survived the onslaught and prospered through trade with the west through the Baltic Sea and northern Europe. The Russian princes paid heavy tributes to the Tatar realm, known as the Golden Horde, and its rulers at the city of Sarai, near the northern shores of the Caspian Sea, until the late fifteenth century. The Tatar princes allowed the princes and the Russian Orthodox Church to remain in authority over Russian economic and cultural life. Russia was cut off from the political and cultural influence of the west. In the thirteenth century, Alexander Nevsky, a prince of Novgorod, successfully defended his domains against a hostile force of Scandinavians and German Teutonic Knights.

The principality of Moscow, founded by a son of Alexander Nevsky, gained considerable power when the Tatars recognized the authority of its rulers over the rest of Russia. When the patriarch (head) of the Russian church made the city his capital, Moscow gained further status and influence. In 1380, the Tatars suffered a crushing defeat at the Battle of Kulikovo, after which their influence on the northern princes and on Russia began to wane. The Moscow prince Ivan III the Great defied the Tatars by ending Russian tribute, absorbed several rival principalities into his state, and declared himself emperor of all the Russians. His successor Ivan IV the Terrible took the title of tsar, or emperor. He destroyed the last remnants of the Golden Horde at Kazan and Astrakhan, after which the Russian Empire emerged as the largest and most powerful state in eastern Europe. Ivan codified the laws of Russia, expanded its territory to the west, and ruthlessly subordinated the Russian boyars (nobles) to his will. He also established trade links with western Europe.

Through this time, Russian contacts with the innovations and scholarship of the Renaissance was limited. By its ties to the eastern church, Russia also took no part in the struggle between the western (Catholic) church and the Protestant Reformation. In the early seventeenth century, after a lengthy civil conflict known as the Time of Troubles, the Romanov dynasty emerged. Under the Romanov tsar Peter the Great, a new city was established at Saint Petersburg, on an arm of the Baltic Sea. Peter's intention was to open his state to trade and exchange with the west. Through the seventeenth and eighteenth century artists and architects arrived from western Europe. The Romanov leaders had enormous palaces and country mansions built in imitation of the classically inspired buildings of Renaissance Europe, and began collecting the works of western painters and sculptors.

See Also: Fall of Constantinople

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357. Russia

See also 94. COMMUNISM .

one of those who conspired to overthrow Russian Czar Nicholas I in December, 1825. Also Dekebrist .
study of the policies, doctrines, programs, etc., of the government of the Soviet Union. Kremlinologist, n.
something characteristic of or influenced by Russia, its people, customs, language, etc.
an obsession with Russia and things Russian.
great fondness for or interest in Russia, its people, customs, language, art, etc. Russophile, n., adj.
one who specializes in the study of Slavic languages, literatures, or other aspects of Slavic culture. Also Slavist .
enthusiasm for or admiration of things Slavic, as Slavic literature, language, culture, customs, etc. Slavophil, Slavophile, n., adj.
fear or hatred of things Slavic, especially of real or imagined Soviet political influence. Slavophobe , n. Slavophobic, adj.
Sovietism, sovietism
1. the soviet system of government and the principles and practices of such a government.
2. a policy, action, etc., typical of the Soviet Union. Sovietist, sovietist , n., adj.
study of the Soviet Union, especially its government, policies, etc. Sovietologist, n.

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Culture Name



Identification. "Rus" may derive from the name of a tribe that gained political ascendancy in Kiev and other Slavic towns and lent its name to the language, culture, and state. Some scholars believe this to have been a Varangian (Viking) clan from Scandinavia, and others hold that it was a Slavic tribe. Some historians believe that "Rus" derives from an ancient name for the Volga River.

People ethnically identified as Russians have been politically and culturally dominant in a vast area for five hundred years of tsarist and Soviet imperial expansion. However, despite repression of their cultural autonomy, minority cultures have survived within the Russian Federation; including the peoples of the North Caucasus, numerous indigenous groups in Siberia, the Tatars in the Volga region, and the East Slavic Ukrainians and Belorusians. The last three groups are widely dispersed throughout the federation. All but the youngest citizens share a Soviet cultural experience, since under Communist Party rule the state shaped and controlled daily life and social practice. Much of that experience is being rejected by Russians and non-Russians who are reclaiming or reinventing their ethnic or traditional pasts; many communities are asserting a specific local identity in terms of language and culture. There is a broad cultural continuity throughout the federation and among the millions of Russians in the newly independent republics of Central Asia, the Baltic region, and the Caucasus.

Location and Geography. In addition to being the largest, the Russian Federation is one of the world's northernmost countries. It encompasses 6,592,658 square miles (17,075,000 square kilometers), from its borders with Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Belarus, and Ukraine on the west to the Bering Strait in the far northeast and from its borders with Georgia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and China in the south to the Arctic Ocean in the north.

European Russia, the most densely populated, urbanized, and industrialized region, lies between the Ukraine-Belarus border and the Ural Mountains. Seventy-eight percent of the population lives in this area. Two large industrial cities are located above the Arctic Circle: Murmansk on the Kola Peninsula and Norilsk in Siberia.

The great plains are divided by six ecological bands. In the northeast, above the Arctic Circle, lies a huge expanse of frigid, occasionally marshy tundra, a nearly unpopulated region where much of the land is permanently frozen and little grows but moss and shrubs. Below that is the taiga, a vast expanse of coniferous forest, which gradually blends with a band of mixed coniferous and deciduous forest to cover half the country. The capital, Moscow, is in the center of this region, where much agriculture has been located despite the thin, poor soil. A line of mixed forest and prairie with more arable soil characterizes the central areas, followed by Russia's "breadbasket," the black earth belt that constitutes less than a tenth of the national territory. Below that, the relatively arid steppe, with grasslands and semidesert and desert regions, runs along the northern edge of the Caucasus Mountains and north of the Caspian Sea beyond the Volga River basin into Central Asia.

The climate of much of European Russia is continental, with long, cold winters and short, hot summers. In the northern areas, winter days are dark and long; in the summer, the days are long and the sun barely sets. With the exception of the black earth belt, Russia has fairly poor soil, a short growing season, low precipitation, and large arid steppe regions unfit for agriculture except with extensive irrigation. These factors limit agricultural production and account for the frequency of crop failures; what is produced requires substantial labor. The huge forests provide for foraging, hunting, and logging.

Many great rivers transect the country, such as the Dvina, Don, Oka, and Volga in the European heartland and the Ob, Yenisei, and Lena in Siberia; most of these rivers are linked by subsidiary waterways. Until the advent of railways and roads, the rivers were the only efficient way to travel, and they remain a significant form of transport for people and materials. Limited access to year-round seaports has always been a military and commercial problem. A lack of natural borders has meant vulnerability to invasion, a danger offset by the size of the country and its harsh, long winters.

These environmental factors have affected the demographic profile and shaped cultural, social, and political institutions, influencing colonizing projects, settlement patterns, household configurations, village politics, agricultural systems, and military technologies. Bold defiance of these natural limitations include Peter the Great's founding of Saint Petersburg on northern swamplands in 1703, and the twentieth-century plan to reverse the northerly flow of some of Siberia's rivers to facilitate the movement of natural resources. Equally important is the ability of rural and urban dwellers to survive challenging conditions of land, climate, and politics. Tens of millions of families depend on food they grow for themselves.

Demography. In July 1999, the population was estimated at 146,393,000, a decline of more than two million since the end of the Soviet Union in 1991. The current figure includes several million immigrants and refugees from newly independent former Soviet republics. Since 1991, a stark drop in the birthrate has combined with a dramatic rise in the mortality rate. Average life expectancy for both men and women has declined since the 1980s.

This population decline is expected to worsen in the next decade. It is largely the result of the economic and social upheavals of the postsocialist period, which have impoverished the population and caused a decay of social services. Growing unemployment, long-term nonpayment of wages and pensions, paid wages that are below the poverty line, unsafe working and road conditions, the spread of infectious diseases, and the impoverishment of public health care systems have caused stress, depression, family breakdown, and rising rates of alcoholism, suicide, homicide, and domestic violence. Circulatory diseases, accidents, and suicides attributable to alcohol abuse are the leading causes of death among men. Malnutrition, disease, industrial pollution, poor health care, and reliance on abortion for birth control have reduced fertility rates and increased maternal and infant mortality.

In 1999, Russians accounted for 81 percent of the population and were the dominant ethnic group in all but a few regions. Other major ethnic nationalities are Tatars (4 percent), Ukrainians (3 percent), Chuvash (1 percent), Bashkir (1 percent), Belarussian (1 percent), and Mordovians (1 percent). Dozens of other ethnic nationalities make up the remaining 8 percent. There has been a significant rate of intermarriage between ethnic populations.

Until the twentieth century, the population grew steadily. The population of Rus' in the twelfth century is estimated at seven million. By 1796, Russia had a population of thirty-six million, to which territorial annexation had contributed greatly. In the 1850s, the population was sixty-seven million. The abolition of serfdom, accompanied by urbanization, industrialization, and internal migration in the second half of the nineteenth century, led to significant population growth, and by 1897 the population was 125 million. By 1917, the year of the Russian Revolution, the population had grown to 170 million. Famines, largely caused by civil war and the Soviet collectivization of agriculture, decimated the rural population in the 1920s and 1930s. In 1941, the population was around two hundred million. World War II caused the deaths of more than twenty million Soviet citizens. After the 1940s, population growth was slowed by the gender disparity and devastation of infrastructure caused by war.

Linguistic Affiliation. Russian is one of three East Slavic languages of the Slavic branch of the Indo-European language family. It is the most widely spoken Slavic language, with 1.39 million people speaking it as their native language and tens of millions more using it as a second language. Many people in non-Russian ethnic groups speak Russian as their native or only language, partly as a result of tsarist and Soviet campaigns to suppress minority languages. The collapse of the Soviet Union opened the way for linguistic revival movements in many ethnic communities.

There are three major dialects (northern, southern, and central), but they are mutually intelligible. Russian has been influenced by other languages, particularly Greek (Byzantine Christian) in the Kievan period, French in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and English in the twentieth.

The Cyrillic alphabet was brought to Kievan Rus' along with Christianity in the tenth and eleventh centuries by the followers of Saint Cyril and Saint Methodius, who invented the first Slavic alphabet, Glagolitic, in the ninth century. Along with Old Russian, Church Slavonic was the primary literary language until the early eighteenth century, when it was reformed as part of Peter the Great's westernization and secularization campaigns. Many important texts were written in Church Slavonic and the more vernacular Old Russian, including historical chronicles, epic poems, folklore, and liturgical and legal works.

Symbolism. A popular visual symbol is Moscow's Saint Basil's cathedral with its colorful cupolas. Images of Saint Basil's and those of hundreds of other churches and cathedrals are key symbols of the country's long Orthodox history. Calendars, posters, and postcards with images of Orthodox churches are common in apartments and offices.

Bread symbolizes key aspects of the national self-image. It is the mark of hospitality, as in khlebsol ("bread-salt"), the ancient custom of welcoming a visitor with a round loaf with a salt cellar on top. This tradition can be observed at political and diplomatic events when a host receives an important guest. In broader terms, bread is the symbol of life; in times of hardship it is the primary food, and being "without bread" signals starvation. Other foods are also important symbols: black caviar, which signifies luxury and plenty as well as the bounty of the rivers and seas; mushrooms and berries, the gifts of the forest and dacha; bliny, pancakes served before Lent; the potato, staple of the diet; and vodka, a symbol of camaraderie and communication.

Forest plants, creatures, and objects are widely used in symbolic ways. The white birch conjures the romance of the countryside; the wolf, bear, and fox are ubiquitous in folktales and modern cartoons; and the peasant hut izba signifies the cozy world of the past. Inside the izba are three other cultural symbols: the plump clay or tiled stove; the samovar, and the Orthodox icon in its corner shrine. While most people live in urban apartments images of traditional life still have great power and meaning.

Everyday conversation is filled with metaphors summarizing a highly complex view of shared cultural identity. Russians talk of soul dusha to refer to an internal spiritual domain that is the intersection point of heart, mind, and culture. True communion depends on an opening up of souls that is accomplished through shared suffering or joy. Communal feasting and drinking also can help open up the soul. Soul is said to be one of the metaphysical mechanisms that unite Russians into a "people" narod. Stemming from ancient Slavic words for clan, kin, and birth, and meaning "citizens of a nation," "ethnic group," or simply a "crowd of people," narod is used to refer to the composite identity and experience of the people through history. It often is invoked by politicians hoping to align themselves with the population. Leaders of the Soviet Union, trying to unite ethnic groups under a single multinational identity, ritualistically employed the term "Soviet people" (sovietskii narod ). People still speak in terms of belonging by "blood"; a person is seen to have Russian blood, Jewish blood, Armenian blood, or a mixture of ethnic bloods. Nationalist discourse uses this concept to stress the purity of one's own people and disparage those with "foreign" blood.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the calendar of national holidays was altered. The compulsory celebration of the Great October Revolution (7 November) was diminished in scale, although it is still officially marked. The Day of Victory (9 May), the Soviet capture of Berlin that ended World War II, still provokes strong feelings. Cemeteries, parks, and public places are filled every year with people gathering to memorialize the war, and the media celebrate the heroism of the Soviet peoples. Even though these tributes are tempered by revisionist history, a core of patriotic feeling remains. A new political holiday is Russian Independence Day (12 June), marking the establishment of the Russian Federation in 1991. New Year's Eve is the most widely observed holiday. The observance of Christmas and Easter and other Orthodox holidays has grown since the end of the Soviet repression of religious observance.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. The area now called Russia has always been multicultural. The Eastern Slavic tribes, the ancestors of modern Russians, traditionally are thought to have originated in the Vistula River valley in what is now Poland and to have migrated eastward in the seventh to the ninth centuries. Other evidence suggests that Eastern Slavic pastoral peoples were widespread in the central and eastern portions of the plain that stretches across the northern half of the Eurasian continent a thousand years earlier, coexisting with Finnic and Lithuanian tribes to the north and enduring recurring waves of conquest.

For more than a millennium, people sharing cultural traits, social structures, and religious beliefs have occupied present-day Russia, Ukraine, and Belorusia. Eastern Slavic society was culturally distinct and highly developed in terms of agriculture, technology, commerce, and governance by the tenth century. By the eleventh century a huge expanse had come under the nominal rule of the Kievan princes; at that time, the city-state of Kiev on the Dniepr River in present-day Ukraine was rivaled in size and splendor only by Novgorod far to the north. Prince Vladimir I, who ruled Kievan Rus' from 980 until 1015, brought Byzantine (Orthodox) Christianity to Kiev in 988 and sponsored the widespread baptism of the peoples of Rus'. A gradual process of the melding of pre-Christian practices with those of Orthodoxy consolidated the population under one political and cultural system. An intricate written code of customary law, the Pravda Russkaia, was in place by the eleventh century.

Wars after the death of Prince Yaroslavl the Wise in 1054 caused the gradual disintegration of Kievan Rus' until 1240, when Kiev fell under the domination of the Mongol Empire. The fall of Kievan Rus' and the political fragmentation that followed divided the Eastern Slavs into three distinct cultural-linguistic groups: Ukrainian, Belorusian, and Russian. The Mongols destroyed many cities and towns, and created a complex administrative system to exact tribute from its peoples and princes; Mongol control lasted until the late fifteenth century, although with less impact after 1380. The political power and territorial control of Muscovy expanded greatly under the four-decade reign of Ivan III, who died in 1505 after routing the Mongol armies. From that time on, the Russian state developed and expanded, with Moscow at its center. Ivan IV (the Terrible) was the first to crown himself tsar in 1546. He ruled in an increasingly arbitrary and absolutist fashion, brutalizing the aristocratic boyars in a decade-long period of terror known as the oprichnina. The century's end brought the "Time of Troubles"fifteen years of political instability and civil and class strife that resulted in widespread impoverishment and famine, enserfment of the peasantry, and waves of migration of peasants to the edges of Russian territory.

Under Peter the Great, the Romanov tsar who ruled from 1682 to 1725, Russia began a period of imperial expansion that continued into the Soviet period. Peter attempted to modernize and westernize the country militarily, administratively, economically, and culturally, often through the use of force. His reforms changed society irrevocably, particularly through his introduction of new military and agricultural technologies, a formal educational system, a tight system of class ranking and service, and the founding of the European-style city of Saint Petersburg. Peter moved the capital from Moscow to Petersburg, where it remained until after the 1917 revolution.

After Peter's reign, Russian imperial rule expanded southward into the Crimea, southeast along the Volga River, and eastward across the Siberian forests to the Pacific Ocean. Through further expansion during the Soviet period (19171991), Russians achieved political and demographic dominance over a territory equal to one-sixth of the world's land surface. After 1991, Russian geopolitical power declined, but the federation remains the largest country in the world.

National Identity. Russia has had a thousand-year history of growth and contraction, political consolidation and disintegration, repression and relaxation, messianism and self-definition, and varying forms of socioeconomic interdependence with other nations. This history has had far-reaching effects on the other populations of Eurasia as well as on every aspect of the national culture.

For many centuries, the question of whether Russian culture is more "eastern" or "western" has been a burning issue. Situated at the crossroads of important cultures and civilizations in every direction, the Slavic groups and other peoples of Russia have profoundly influenced and been influenced by them all in terms of trade, technology, language, religion, politics, and the arts.

Ethnic Relations. Inter-ethnic relations are fraught with tensions spawned over centuries of Russian and Soviet colonial domination and activated in the aftermath of the collapse of the Soviet state. Most conflicts are multidimensional, simultaneously involving struggles for political control, rights over natural resources, migration and relocation, and the revitalization of national or ethnic cultures, religions, languages, and identities. Soviet policieswhich compelled the use of the Russian language on all peoples, organized massive changes in livelihood and lifestyle for tens of millions, forcibly moved whole populations (such as Crimean Tatars and Meshketian Turks), installed ethnic Russian political elites and managers in non-Russian regions, and extracted the wealth from local production into central coffers without sufficient economic return to the peripherieshave set the stage for the conflicts of today.

Conflicts over resources are heated in parts of Siberia and the Far East. The Sakha (Yahut) are trying to claim rights to some economic benefits from the vast diamond, oil, gold, and other mineral wealth in their republic. This struggle to reap even marginal benefits from their own territories has long been blocked by Russian central control over the resource extraction industries, and by the strategic relocation of tens of thousands of Russians to Yakutia in the Soviet period. This battle over resources is associated with a growing nationalist movement. Other Siberian peoples are engaged in similar struggles over oil and gas revenues, and rights to traditional fisheries, forest products, and reindeer-grazing lands. Environmental issues play a significant role, too, as people fight to prevent or reverse the spoiling of rivers, lakes, and soils by the oil and mining industries.

Occupation of the North Caucasus has been a cause of conflict for three centuries. Russia waged devastating wars with Chechnya from the mid-1990s on, attempting to repress local independence movements, stem a pan-Islamic movement from taking hold there, and maintain access to the oil wealth of the Caspian sea. There are few signs that this conflict will be resolved peacefully, and relations are characterized by intense hatred, prejudice, and propagandizing on both sides. Roots of this conflict lie in a long history of violent repression and impoverishment in Chechnya.

Internal migration and displacement has contributed greatly to ethnic tensions and prejudice, as several million Russians have returned from newly independent states in Central Asia, the Caucasus, and the Baltics, feeling themselves unwanted guests in those places, or in some cases (Tajikistan, Armenia, and Azerbaijan) escaping civil wars. Border regions between Russia and former Soviet republics, which often contain highly mixed and intermarried Russian and non-Russian populations, present a significant problem.

In general, unflattering and insulting stereo-types of Siberian natives, Koreans, Central Asians, peoples of the Caucasus, Ukrainians, Jews, and other ethnic nationalities are widely shared among Russians and circulate unimpeded in print media. One effect of the wars in Chechnya has been constant police harassment and public suspicion of the Caucasian residents of Moscow, Saint Petersburg, and other cities.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

In 1851, 92 percent of the population lived in rural villages, and at the time of the 1917 revolution, the population was more than 80 percent rural. The Soviet period brought movement to the cities as people tried to escape the harsh conditions on state-run collective farms. More than half of the rural population today is over age 65, because young people continue to migrate to the cities. Although there are still tens of thousands of small villages, many are disappearing as people die or depart.

By 1996, 73 percent of the population was urban, with most people living in high-rise apartment blocks constructed after the 1950s. Much of the urban population retains strong material and psychological ties to the countryside. Many people own modest dachas within an hour or two of their apartments and on weekends or in the summer work in their gardens, hike, hunt or gather in the forests, and bathe in lakes and rivers. Many other people retain ties to their natal villages or those of their parents or grandparents.

The largest cities are Moscow, nine million people; Saint Petersburg, nearly five million, Nizhnii Novgorod and Novosibirsk, 1.4 million each; Yekaterinburg, 1.3 million; and Samara, 1.2 million. After the end of the communist era, many places were rededicated with their prerevolutionary names.

Cities such as Moscow, Novgorod, Pskov, and Yaroslavl grew around the old fortresses (kremlins) and monasteries that formed their centers and near the gates where artisans and traders peddled their goods. The old cities reflect their complex and often violent histories through the coexistence of multiple styles. In the European regions, Byzantine churches from the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries stand in the shadows of modernist high-rises, with Renaissance, Baroque, or Neoclassical architecture nearby. These variegated cityscapes may be covered with grime, reflecting the proximity of industrial enterprises and the lack of funds for maintenance. In the wealthiest city centers, the post-Soviet years have brought varying degrees of urban revitalization.

Other cities were built almost from scratch and reflect a passion for grandiose urban planning. Saint Petersburg was built to secure access to the Gulf of Finland and the Baltic Sea. Catherine the Great saw to it that Petersburg became a European city, with streets, avenues, and plazas, designed in an elegant Venetian style. In the Soviet era, ambitious building projects led to the founding and construction of industrial cities such as Magnitogorsk, Russia's "Steeltown," in the 1930s.

The central parts of most cities have important governmental, commercial, and religious buildings. Intermingled with these edifices are multistoried nineteenth-century town houses now used for commercial purposes or housing, and neighborhoods of walk-up apartment blocks. Farther out from the center stand rows of white apartment towers dating from the 1960s. Reaching from ten to thirty stories, these mammoth buildings house the majority of the population in small apartments. Although they are often distant from city centers and industrial areas, these apartments have provided privacy and security to millions of families. They are spacious compared to the barracks or communal apartments in which many families lived until the 1950s. Almost all the cities share this general layout, although some have avoided the fires and demolition campaigns that destroyed millions of traditional wooden structures in the past.

A modern grandiosity characterizes the state buildings constructed in Soviet cities from the 1930s to the 1950s. As the capital, Moscow was virtually transformed, but other cities were also reshaped by Stalinist architectural projects, which juxtaposed monumentalist neoclassicism with revolutionary modernism and industrial futurism. In the 1930s, subway systems were constructed beneath the largest cities, including the vast Moscow Metro.

Immensity in architecture and wide boulevards and plazas often result in inhospitable urban spaces. In the Soviet period, many amenities were unavailable or overburdened. Commercial venues were organized in a top down fashion through state planning, and shopping was a challenge. Some goods and services were located in distant neighborhoods, although day care centers and schools were always close. The commercial privatization of the post-Soviet years has brought new stores, restaurants, and cafés that offer a variety of food and manufactured goods. This has occurred to a lesser extent in provincial towns and villages, many of which have experienced a decline in public services.

An important element of urban life are the enormous public parks and forested areas within or adjacent to city boundaries. The result of this prerevolutionary and Soviet urban planning remains a source of pleasure and recreation. People spend hours strolling or sitting on benches to talk, smoke, play chess, or read. Smaller urban parks sometimes center on a statue of a writer or political leader; ten years after the end of communist rule, statues of Lenin still anchor parks and plazas. Statues often serve as meeting places, and a park may have a special identity as the gathering place for a subcultural group such as hippies, punks, gays, or literati.

The huge public plazas in many cities have been central to political life for centuries. Moscow's Red Square and Manezh are historically significant spaces used for government ritual, revolutionary protest, parades, concerts, holiday celebrations, and state funerals.

Until recently, when new wealth has allowed a small proportion of the population to build private homes and mansions on urban fringes, domestic existence has meant living in small apartments. Because of limited space, the largest room serves as living room, bedroom, and dining room for many families. Domestic furnishing is highly consistent, in part because until the 1990s all furniture was purchased from state stores, where variation was limited. Among the characteristics of Russian taste are functional furniture, of oriental-type carpets on the walls, and large wardrobes instead of closets. The bath and toilet are commonly located in small separate rooms side by side. Narrow balconies are used for storage, tools, laundry, and sitting.

Family members spend much of their time at the kitchen table, eating and drinking tea while talking, reading, watching television, cooking, or working on crafts. When guests come, all sit around one table for the entire gathering, which may continue for hours. Wedding parties usually take place at the home of the family of the bride or groom, and everyone squeezes around an extended table.

Although public spaces within and around apartment blocks are often decrepit and dirty, the threshold to a family's apartment marks a crucial transition zone to private space, which is clean and tidy. Shoes are remain just inside the doorway to keep dirt from the interior of the home.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. The most common food is bread. Potatoes, cabbage, carrots, and beets are the standard vegetables; potatoes are a staple. Onions and garlic are used liberally, especially in soups, stews, and salads.

Russians generally love meat. Starvation means having no bread, while poverty means going without hard sausage kolbasa. Sausage, pork, beef, mutton, chicken, and dried or salted fish are widely available and relatively cheap. Only some can afford to buy delicacies such as veal, duck, sturgeon, and salmon. Traditional aristocratic fare included such fancy foods, many of which are popular among the newly wealthy classes today.

For most people, breakfast is a quick snack of coffee or tea with bread and sausage or cheese. Lunch is a hot meal, with soup, potatoes, macaroni, rice or buckwheat kasha, ground meat cutlets, and peas or grated cabbage. This meal may be eaten in a workplace cafeteria at midday or after people return home from work; a later supper may consist of boiled potatoes, soured cabbage, and bread or simply bread and sausage.

People eat a wide range of dairy products, such as tvorog, a kind of cottage cheese, and riazhenka, slightly soured milk. These items can be purchased from large shops or private farmers' markets or made at home. In provincial cities and towns, unpasteurized milk is sold from tanker trucks, although bottles and cartons of pasteurized milk are available everywhere, as is sour cream. Hard and soft cheeses are also popular.

Fruits are widely loved and cultivated. In late summer, fruits and berries are harvested and made into preserves, compotes, cordials, and concentrates for the winter months. Mushroom picking is an art, and many people can identify edible local varieties, which they salt, dry or can. Cabbage, cucumbers, garlic, and tomatoes are preserved by salting or pickling.

Russians are connoisseurs of tea. Coffee has grown in popularity and is often served thick and strong. Although wine, beer, cognac, and champagne are popular, vodka is the most common drink. Home-brewed vodka is a mainstay and serves as a crucial form of currency in rural areas.

Restaurants were not highly developed under communism, but the post-Soviet period has seen an explosion of restaurants, cafés, and fast-food places in the cities. The majority of people never eat out, for economic reasons and because they feel that restaurants do not provide food as good as that prepared at home. Restaurants and cafés cater largely to the new business classes. Workplace cafeterias and buffets still serve rudimentary midday meals for workers, but even these inexpensive meals are out of reach for many people.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Communal feasting is central to marking birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, achievements, significant purchases, and major public holidays. The table is laden with salads, appetizers, sausage and cheese, and pickled foods, followed by hot meat, potatoes, and pirozhki (meat or cabbage pies). Vodka and wine are drunk throughout the meal, which may last six to ten hours. Although table manners and hosting rituals are complex, the most important concern the rituals around vodka drinking. Toasting is elaborate and can be sentimental, humorous, poetic, ribald, or reverential. Vodka is always drunk straight, accompanied by a pickled or salty food.

Many people observe Lenten fasts, at which they consume no meat, butter, or eggs and occasionally do without vodka. Easter provides an opportunity for a fast-breaking celebration with special foods.

Basic Economy. The Soviet command economy provided a secure living standard for the entire population. Production systems were highly developed, technologically specialized, and spread strategically throughout the country. Almost all consumer and industrial products were produced within the nation or in the Soviet bloc countries. With the end of state support in 1991, many production enterprises declined or collapsed, and imports of higher-quality products reduced the market for domestic goods. This is true of consumer goods such as electronics, fashion, housewares, and automobiles as well as industrial, scientific, medical, construction, and agricultural equipment. As a result of collapsing markets,poor management, and ill-conceived privatization processes, many factories sit idle, while others have been dismantled and sold off. Some sectors, such as the food processing and distribution industries, are staging a slow comeback through modernization and a commitment to providing affordable local products.

The chronic shortages of the Soviet era led many people to produce for themselves. The current impoverishment has increased the importance of this practice, with a significant portion of the population partially dependent on their own produce. Many rural people raise food products for sale, and up to 80 percent of the vegetables consumed are produced in small private plots. The major crops grown by large agricultural enterprises are grain, sunflower seeds, and sugar beets. Livestock production has declined because of reduced government subsidies for feed and falling demand.

Land Tenure and Property. Under communism, all land, enterprises, and urban housing were state property, although there were several different forms of state control and individuals could hold long-term and inheritable use rights to land and apartments. The postcommunist period has seen an ongoing struggle over privatization and the commodification of land. While family apartments can now be privatized, legal reform of land ownership has been held up in the parliament (Duma), because of opposition by communist politicians. Some regions have instituted local land reform, and there is pressure to legislate coherent federal land reform to improve agricultural efficiency. Traditional views that land and natural resources cannot be owned but are collective resources have complicated the privatization process. This view is strengthened by many people's experience of watching privatization benefit only the existing elites.

Commercial Activities. Russia still manufactures a large range of consumer products, including food, clothing, automobiles, and household durables. The construction, banking, publishing, telecommunications, transport, and computer service industries are highly developed.

The unofficial economy, which grew out of the black market of the Soviet period, is huge and intricate and may account for over 50 percent of total economic activity. This shadow economy includes whole industries owned or controlled by organized crime, unreported trading activity, wages paid under the table to avoid taxes, wages and interenterprise payments made by barter, and rent-seeking and bribery schemes on the part of government officials. Attempts to end these entrenched systems have been ineffective.

Major Industries. European Russia was semi-industrialized by 1917, and Soviet modernization campaigns fully industrialized the country and spurred the development of mining, energy production, and heavy manufacturing. The Soviet Union was a major extractor of oil, natural gas, coal, and ferrous and nonferrous metals and a large producer of steel, chemicals, and paper products. Along with the automotive industry, the Soviet aircraft, truck, shipbuilding, railway, agricultural, road-building and construction machinery, military, and space industries produced for exportation as well as domestic use, although quality was often not up to world standards and plants were inefficient. Production levels in all these industries have declined significantly since 1991 as domestic and international demand has dropped, state subsidies have diminished, and new capital investment has been scarce.

Trade. Fuel and energy products constitute the major exports. Imports of foodstuffs, machine equipment, computers and other electronics, and chemicals are substantial. Major trading partners are the countries of the CIS (former Soviet republics, especially Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan) as well as Germany, Italy, Poland, the United States, the Netherlands, Britain, and Japan.

Division of Labor. Under the Soviet system, training for professional, academic, artistic, management, and other "intelligentsia" careers was highly developed in universities. Working-class students were taught the necessary skills in specialized institutes. The system was designed to ensure an adequate supply of workers in all sectors of the economy, and one of its results was a well-trained and stable workforce. Many aspects of this system have collapsed as whole industries have declined or shifted away from Soviet-era priorities. Huge numbers of personnel have left their original fields for careers in banking and finance, advertising, marketing, commerce, tourism, telecommunications, and security. Regions that offered steady employment for millions now house outdated, stagnant industries; high levels of unemployment in these areas force people to migrate or hunt for jobs. This has led to a confusing variety of choices for young people and the challenge of retooling in an uncertain economic landscape for the older generations. The predictable structures of industries and professions have been replaced by a more flexible system with opportunities for entrepreneurs from any social background. Success can be elusive, because of imperfect commercial laws and law enforcement, the difficulty of securing capital, criminality and corruption, and cutthroat competition.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. For centuries, the aristocratic and merchant classes were nearly castelike, with endogamous marriage, a strict social hierarchy, and highly codified behaviors. Peasants and serfs constituted a largely impoverished rural population. After emancipation in 1861, as Russia developed slowly along capitalist lines, peasants migrated to factories in urban areas, where they formed an impoverished industrial working class. Strikes and protests and the radicalization of the intelligentsia led to the revolution of 1905, which prompted limited constitutional and social reform along with a reactionary crackdown on political opposition.

Widespread destitution, the ravages of World War I, and ineffective political leadership set the stage for the revolutionary activity of February 1917 in which the government was overthrown; this was followed by the political revolution of October 1917, in which the Bolsheviks took power and introduced communist ideology and social transformation. In the civil war of 19171921 and under Stalin in the 1930s, aristocrats, merchants, and well-off peasants were killed, imprisoned, exiled, or forced to emigrate and their property was confiscated.

The Soviet Union was supposed to be ruled by councils (Soviets) formed from the working masses. The creation of social and economic equality was the goal of early communist ideologues. However, Soviet society evolved into a class-stratified and class-conscious state where communist elites and some professionals had special access to goods, services, and housing. Bureaucratic workers and shop clerks used their control of services or goods to benefit themselves through a set of practices known as blat. However, education, health care, and other social services were available to all.

Although they had special privileges, most Communist Party officials did not accrue wealth. Postsocialist privatization has allowed many of them to build large fortunes, by parlaying their political status into direct ownership of state resources and industries. A new entrepreneurial class has developed, some of whose members have become fabulously wealthy. More slowly, a middle class is emerging in the cities, formed of intellectuals newly employed in business ventures and midlevel management and service personnel. Most of the population is impoverished, because of industrial collapse, inflation, financial crises, and privatization structures that benefit only the powerful. In 2000, 37 percent of the population lived below the minimum subsistence level of $34 per month. In some regions of Siberia and the Far East, the provision of critical services such as heating, fuel, and water has collapsed. Coal miners and industrial workers have faced severe shortages of critical supplies such as soap, long-term wage arrears, and the collapse of medical clinics and schools.

Symbols of Social Stratification. "New Russians" are all presumed to drive late-model Mercedes or Jeeps, live in fancy new red brick dachas, dress in designer clothes, speak on cell phones, and wear heavy gold chains and rings with diamonds. There is some truth to this image, which reflects a popular sense that wealth is vulgar.

Political Life

Government. The years under Boris Yeltsin (19911999), were characterized by the reorganization of governmental structures and functions, with conflict over the balance of power between the president and the parliament, and between central and regional powers. A constitution approved by referendum in 1993 provided for a democratic federation with executive, legislative, and judicial branches. The parliament is divided into upper and lower houses. The lower house is the Duma, with 450 elected members; the upper house was to consist of local governors and legislators from the eighty-nine administrative regions, although the newly elected president, Vladimir Putin, replaced the governors with centrally appointed members, giving the president greater control over that house. Putin also changed the electoral and party system to remold the structure and power of the Duma. Economic issues have been at the heart of many political conflicts; battles over fiscal policy, privatization, control of key resources, tax collection, and social welfare provisions have been fierce and sometimes violent.

Leadership and Political Officials. The state has always been prone to authoritarian rule with censorship and strong government control over the media; oppression of political opposition, partly through the secret police; bureaucratic centralization; and legislation by decree. In the Soviet era, political purges killed millions and sent millions more to hard labor or internal exile. Although overt repression ended with Gorbachev and democratization has become a proclaimed political value, the mechanisms of democratic practice are far from universal.

With the end of communism, control over enterprises and whole industries was up for grabs, and top political leaders secured state resources for themselves, their families, and their colleagues, leading to cynicism among the public. Cronyism, bribe taking, inside deals among political and business leaders, a lack of transparency in decision making, and contradictory legislation have further alienated the populace from the political process.

There are over twenty-five registered political parties, although only five are substantial in size. Political fragmentation has been a problem, and coalitions between parties have been unstable.

Social Problems and Control. The rate of violent crimes grew steadily after the end of Stalin's repressive regime. The ubiquity of state authority in the form of the KGB, the police, the Communist Party, and the military created an atmosphere of surveillance and control. Drug abuse was relatively low because of the strong control of border regions, although it increased during the war in Afghanistan (19791989).

Economic crime, corruption and bribe taking, black market activity, and theft of state property were normal daily practice for many citizens and officials. An informal culture of networking facilitated the exchange of favors, access, and information and allowed many people to accrue privileges and material benefits. These activities were illegal but rarely prosecuted. One effect of widespread participation in shadow networks and black marketeering was a general disdain for legality.

The economic and social liberalization of the late 1980s set the stage for an explosion of criminal activity. Extortion through the offering of "protection" services became a fact of life for businesses and financed the expansion of mafia activity. The mafia has infiltrated every branch of industry: up to 70 percent of all banks may be mafia-owned, and organized crime plays a substantial role in raw material exports. In little more than a decade, the mafia created vast local and international networks for drug trafficking, prostitution, arms smuggling, nuclear materials smuggling, counterfeiting, money laundering, and auto theft. Mafia-organized contract killings have become common in the cities, and thousands of political leaders, businesspeople, and journalists have been murdered. Because law enforcement is weak and corrupt and because the mafia has close ties with government and business leaders, efforts to reduce its influence have been ineffective. Weak legislation, a judiciary that is underfunded, overwhelmed by cases, and plagued by corruption and overcrowded jails has created a society whose regulatory mechanisms cannot deal with the current conditions. Most people see no point in appealing to the law for assistance or protection.

Juvenile delinquency has grown substantially, along with narcotic abuse, prostitution, the spread of AIDS, and homelessness among teens and children. A number of dramatic terrorist acts have occurredpossibly connected to the war in Chechnya, which also has created opportunities for gun running, extortion, and kidnapping.

Military Activity. After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Russia experienced a blow to its national pride and identity. Without a Cold War to legitimize a military presence in client states, few fiscal resources, and no longer the center of a superpower state, Russia's military forces contracted, and its military doctrine was revised to focus on national defense and the maintenance of political stability (particularly in border regions). Military issues today include the expansion of NATO, the need for multilateral nuclear disarmament, and separatist movements in the northern Caucasus.

Although military expenditure has decreased and the number of personnel in the armed forces has fallen, sizable forces are stationed in Georgia, Armenia, Moldova, and Tajikistan; these are nominally peacekeeping forces, but one of their functions is to protect Russian strategic interests.

Russia has waged two wars with Chechnya to repress independence movements in that republic. Russia wants to maintain access to the Caspian Sea's rich oil reserves, hopes to prevent the spread of Moslem fundamentalist movements in its territory, and fears that other ethnically based republics and autonomous regions will pursue independence if Chechnya succeeds. Russian forces invaded Chechnya in 1994 and in the following two years nearly leveled the capital city, Grozny, and killed at least thirty thousand of its citizens, including many ethnic Russians. Several thousand Russian forces were killed, and public opinion turned against the war. Russian forces began to withdraw in 1996. In 1999, Chechen rebels in Dagestan gave Russia a justification to renew its attacks; in this second war, Grozny was destroyed, thousands more were killed, and tens of thousands became refugees. Publicity about young men returning home maimed or dead spurred a movement of mothers against the war. Ferocious propaganda stimulated the populace to virulent nationalism and racism against those Russians called "blacks."

Social Welfare and Change Programs

Soviet paternalism has given way to a weak welfare state. Soviet citizens were guaranteed free schooling, free comprehensive medical care, housing, maternity leave, and annual vacations, and there was an extensive system of pensions and special subsidies for retired persons, invalids, and war veterans. Although the level of access to social provisions was not uniform, most citizens' basic needs were met and people were largely satisfied with the services they received.

Budgetary difficulties have made it increasingly difficult for the postsocialist government to provide the services mandated by law, and new legislation has expanded the range of services. The result is the overall crumbling of social welfare systems. Hospitals and schools are in bad condition, especially outside the largest urban centers. International lending agencies such as the International Monetary Fund have pressed Russia to privatize social welfare and curtail subsidies. Government officials have delayed dismantling the welfare state for political reasons and a widely held view that people should be protected from poverty.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

Until Gorbachev, the only legal organizations and associations were those created and managed by the government bureaucracy and the Communist Party. The nongovernmental sector consisted of underground dissident groups, networks, and clubs. Although there was a wide range of unofficial activity, independent political and religious groups were persecuted by the KGB and legal authorities. Since the late 1980s, civil society has grown dramatically and includes organizations that span the country and cover major areas of concern. Groups in every region are dedicated to humanitarian, environmental, medical, cultural, religious, feminist, pacifist, and other causes. Groups focusing on the development and democratization of technical, commercial, legal, and political institutions are active. Scarce resources force many groups to operate on a shoe-string budget, although partnerships with international foundations have provided start-up funds and strategic support.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. Traditionally, society was structured around gendered divisions of labor and authority. Rural communities were exogamous, patrilocal, and patriarchal, with newly married women subservient in the families of their husbands until they had borne sons. Among the gentry, every detail of household management was prescribed and encoded in laws that addressed even the most intimate details of family life.

A key part of communist ideology was the freeing of women from oppressive norms and structures. Women were trained for and encouraged to take up what was previously male-only labor, such as operating agricultural machinery, working in construction, and laying and maintaining roads and railbeds. Nurseries and day care centers were established to free women from child rearing. Women's increased participation in medicine, engineering, the sciences, and other fields was supported. "Liberated" to work in public jobs, women often retained the burden of all household work as people held to customary notions of domestic propriety. Also, their equal employment status was not reflected in the workplace, where women faced several forms of discrimination. Nevertheless, in a number of domains, particularly in medicine and education, Soviet women gained authority and status. By the 1980s, one-third of the deputies to the Supreme Soviet were female, and women accounted for over 50 percent of students in higher education.

Much of the hard-earned status of women has eroded. As unemployment grew in the 1990s, the first to be discharged from lifelong positions were women; management jobs in the new commercial sector were reserved for men, and a traditionalist view of work and family reasserted itself throughout society. In part, this was a backlash against the "double burden" of employment and household labor; some women whose husbands had succeeded in the new economy were glad to leave their jobs and take up full-time household and family care. For women who want or need to work, recent trends toward devaluing women's work have been demoralizing and financially devastating. Some women have become entrepreneurs, although they face gender prejudice in setting up businesses and often are not taken seriously. The percentage of women holding political office has declined, and women's participation in high levels of industry, the sciences, the arts, and the government has shrunk, especially in big cities. Significant numbers of young women have been lured into prostitution, which appears to be the only way to escape poverty for many impoverished women from provincial regions.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. Many people have an inflexible image of gender roles and skills: men cannot cook, clean house, or perform child care, whereas women are bad at driving cars, managing finances, and supervising others. Men are valued for patriarchal and stern leadership, bravery, physical strength, and rationality; women are valued for beauty, intuition, emotional depth, and selfless generosity. Women are disproportionately represented among the devout, but the priesthood and hierarchy of the Orthodox Church are strictly male. Some new religious groups have women in leadership roles. Women are held in high regard as mothers, nurturers, and bearers of the most sacred dimensions of the culture. Many people value this conception of femininity and fear that it will be spoiled by feminists. Women's movement activists struggle against this viewpoint.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Marriage. Romantic love is considered the only acceptable motivation for marriage, and there is a long tradition in literature, poetry, and song of idealizing lovers' passion, usually with tragic overtones, although bawdy approaches to the topic are also popular. Contemporary practice also highlights more pragmatic and cynical aspects of marital relationships, such as improving one's economic status or housing prospects. People frequently meet partners at school, university, or at work, although discotheques and clubs in the cities have become popular meeting places. Premarital sex is generally accepted, and marriages arising from unplanned pregnancies are not uncommon. Since the 1930s, twenty-three years has been the average age at marriage. Cohabitation is tolerated, but legal marriage is greatly preferred. Although economic un-certainty has led many to marry later or not at all, 97 percent of adults marry by age forty, and most before age thirty. Approximately one-half of all marriages end in divorce. Economic hardship and alcohol abuse are major contributing factors. Ethnic intermarriage became fairly common in Soviet times, and most people have at least one ancestor of a different nationality.

Domestic Unit. The multigenerational extended family living with the husband's family characterized peasant life until the twentieth century although household size varied by region. Among the aristocracy, the size and structure of the household unit was more flexible, although strict patriarchal control over the labor and behavior of the household was standard across social classes. One goal of the revolution was to replace traditional family practices with non-authoritarian communal living units. This experiment was short-lived, and after the 1930s, the values of family autonomy and privacy survived state intrusion.

The nuclear family is the most important domestic unit, and most married couples want an apartment of their own, away from their parents. The housing shortage and the high cost of new housing have made this a challenge, and families often live in apartments holding three generations, sometimes in stress-provoking conditions. Many couples with children live with a widowed parent of one spouse, most often the grandmother, who provides child care and food preparation. A grandparent's monthly pension may contribute significantly to the family budget.

Inheritance. Among the gentry, before the revolution, property was divided among all the living sons; as a result, large estates often were dissipated through fragmentation. Among the peasantry, household property included tools, clothes, and domestic items, while arable, pasture, and forest lands were held in common by the village and regularly repartitioned to provide adequate land for each family. Families with more married sons were allotted larger pieces of land. An ethos of egalitarianism with regard to property inheritance has remained strong.

In the Soviet period and for most families today, the most important real property consists of apartments and dachas. Ensuring that children have legal title to their parents' or grandparents' housing requires officially registering of the children as residents of those places before the death of the title holder. Otherwise, the title can revert to the government. With the advent of new wealth, inheritance laws are being reformulated, but there is controversy about taxes and legal procedures.

Kin Groups. Kinship is reckoned bilaterally, including consanguineal and affineal relations, although among the gentry recorded genealogies usually stressed the paternal. Until the mid-nineteenth century, kin terms for over sixty specific relations were in common use; with the social transformations of the last century, the number of terms has decreased. Even across distances, close relations are maintained between a person and his or her siblings, grandparents, aunts and uncles, cousins and their families, and nieces and nephews, and many people stay in touch with more distant relatives. Among the factors that account for the sustaining of close ties are a lack of geographic mobility, the importance of networks of support in hard times, and regular visits to relatives in ancestral villages in the summer to rest, work, or visit family graves.

There has been a resurgence of interest in aristocratic roots. The exploration and celebration of one's genealogical background has become quite popular, and some members of aristocratic families abroad have returned to visit their families' former estates and re-assert their rank. Many people are intrigued by the romance and drama of the great families of the past.


Infant Care. Most women give birth in often overcrowded and understaffed maternity hospitals. Childbirth practices reflect traditional ideologies: birthing mothers are supposed to be stoical and are criticized for crying or complaining. Women stay in the hospital for at least a week after a birth, during which time fathers are allowed to see the mother and baby only through a glass window. It is feared that fathers may spread germs or will be repulsed by the "female business" involved in birthing. After the birth, women are encouraged to nurse, although maternal malnutrition often causes failure at breast-feeding and formula is given instead. State maternity benefits and laws on maternity leave are generous, although they often are not observed by private businesses, and pregnant women may be fired. Infants used to be swaddled at birth and are still wrapped and bundled tightly except during bathing and diapering. It is thought that they will injure themselves otherwise. Many customary beliefs about the evil eye and other natural or supernatural dangers surround pregnancy, birthing, and new babies. Although they are coddled, very young babies can be spoken to as if they understood "civilized" behavior and may be scolded for crying, grabbing, or hair pulling. Babies are kept very warm but also get fresh air; it is common to see parents or grandmothers walking in a park on a frigid day with a heavily bundled infant, its face peeking out from the blankets in its carriage.

Child Rearing and Education. The Soviet state provided nurseries and preschools for children, from the smallest infants through seven-year-olds starting elementary school. There were never enough places to go around, and so mothers going back to work after maternity leave might rely on grandmothers or other female relatives. A range of methods ensured that children were inculcated with the values of communal responsibility and proper social behavior. Learning to follow instructions and rules was valued over developing creativity and initiative. Very little has changed, although funding for public child care and education has diminished, forcing teachers to provide services with reduced resources in aging and inadequate facilities. Major changes have been made in school curricula, but most schools rely on teaching materials prepared by centralized federal committees, ensuring widespread standardization of education. Progressivism in education is not highly developed. Academic standards remain high, and students are well trained in world history, foreign languages, music, mathematics, and science. In Soviet times, the values of internationalism were stressed, and the Soviet Union's role in modeling a multiethnic nation was highlighted; that has been replaced by an emphasis on the importance of citizenship and the nation's achievements in the arts and sciences.

Many nonacademic activities and expectations may be structured in terms of gender. Girls and boys are dressed in very different ways and given different responsibilities. Girls are encouraged to be quiet, friendly, and mutually supportive, while boys are expected to be noisy, boisterous, and competitive.

The school year is highly ritualized from the opening day of classes to graduation, with celebrations and performances, some of which involve parents. Many students spend their entire educational career in one school. A sense of identification with the school and lifelong friendships develop in these institutions, and students commonly keep in touch with each other and with their teachers and principals well into adulthood. Schools may commemorate the accomplishments of their graduates.

Higher Education. The Soviet Union had a world-class system of higher education, with forty universities and hundreds of institutions specializing in academic, scientific, professional, and technical disciplines. Business education, especially in management, finance, and marketing, has been developed only since 1991, but there are more than one thousand business training schools, including some at the most prestigious universities, such as Moscow State University. More than 90 percent of the population has completed secondary education, and around 12 percent have received a higher education. Ninety-nine percent of the adult population is literate, although literacy and completion rates are declining among educationally disadvantaged ethnic groups in the North Caucasus, southern Siberia, and the Far East. Higher education has come to be valued as a mark of social prestige and is regarded as critically important for economic success.


The most significant elements of etiquette are the verbal markers of social status. People use the second person plural pronoun when addressing elders except for parents and grandparents, persons of higher status, strangers, and acquaintances. The informal second person singular is used only among close friends, within the natal family, and among close coworkers of equal status. The more distant two people are socially, the more likely it is that they will address each other with full formality. Addressing someone formally also entails using the person's full name and patronymic. Misuse of the informal mode is extremely insulting.

Table behavior is circumscribed by a code of manners. Hosts and hostesses must show unfailing generosity, even with unexpected guests, and guests must receive that hospitality with a show of willingness to be served, fed, and pampered. Drinking together and toasting are important aspects of these rituals.

The filthiness of urban surfaces means that one never sits on the ground or puts shod feet on a table. Proper feminine behavior requires the observance of a number of specific practices: clothes must always be immaculately clean and pressed, fastidious grooming is critical, and comportment should be elegant and reserved. However, in crowds, lines, and public transport, active shoving and pushing are the norm.

In Soviet times, being demure and not drawing attention to oneself through dress or behavior were highly valued, but this norm has vanished with the explosion of fashion and attention-getting subcultural identities.

The word "uncultured" is used by grandmothers and older people as a reprimand for behavior on the part of their charges or total strangers that are considered uncouth or inappropriate. The use of this reprimand has diminished as the social status of elders has fallen and as blatantly offensive behavior in the cities has become a mark of the power and "coolness" of youthful traders and "toughs."


Religious Beliefs. Although Prince Vladimir converted the East Slavs to Orthodox Christianity in 988, pre-Christian polytheism persisted for hundreds of years among the people, alongside Christian practices and beliefs. Many animistic elements, rites, and feasts associated with the agricultural calendar have persisted. Christian practices such as the curative application of "holy water" from a church are structured along the lines of pre-Christian customs. Churches frequently were constructed on ancient sacred sites. Traditional beliefs about forest and house spirits and metaphysical healing practices still exist among urbanized intellectuals and the working classes, especially among rural populations. A number of behavioral prohibitions stem from old beliefs: whistling indoors summons ill fortune and evil spirits are attracted by bragging or calling attention to good fortune or health. Telling people they have a lovely child may cause discomfort and necessitate warding off the evil eye.

The Soviet Union promoted "scientific atheism," severely repressed all religious organizations, and destroyed or took over many religious properties and sacred objects. The recent revitalization of religious identification and practice has been swift and strong among adherents of Orthodoxy, Islam, Buddhism, Protestantism, Catholicism, and Judaism, although many Jews have emigrated. Indigenous shamanism is also being revived among many Siberian and Mongolian peoples. The state has returned thousands of churches, mosques, and temples as well as icons and other religious objects appropriated during the Soviet period to their respective communities. Monasteries and religious schools and training centers for all faiths have sprung up or reopened, and the number of religious practitioners has more than doubled since the 1970s. There has also been an explosion of alternative and New Age spiritual movements, publications, and practitioners.

A majority of ethnic Russians identify themselves as Orthodox Christians. A much smaller number are active participants in church activities, but the observance of key holidays is increasing. The Russian Orthodox Church has always been institutionally powerful, aligned with the state since Kievan times and even in the Soviet period, when it was allowed to function within strict limits. The control and reach of the state have often been secured through the administrative networks and ideological influence of the Orthodox church.

Islam has been important throughout Russian history. It has been the major religion in the northern Caucasus since the eighth century and in the Volga region since the tenth. Today, Islam is the second largest religion, after Russian Orthodoxy, with at least 19 million practitioners, and among ethnic minorities most Tatars, Bashkirs, Kazakhs, Chechens, and Avars, are Sunni Muslim. Moscow is a center of Islam in Russia, with many active mosques and organizations to serve the one to two million Muslims in Moscow. There are significant populations in many other large cities as well.

Before the revolution, most of Russia's Jews were confined to rural settlements and endured constant persecution. In addition to facing both popular and official anti-Semitism in the Soviet period, Jewish populations were repressed and secularized to the point where the majority were nonpracticing and Judaism was regarded as an ethnicity but not a religious identity. From the 1970s, a slow rediscovery of Jewish tradition, both sacred and secular, has occurred, while major waves of emigration have reduced the numbers of Jews. A few synagogues functioned nominally during the Soviet period, and these have been somewhat revitalized in recent years as some of the several million Jews remaining in Russia rediscover lost traditions and rituals.

Buddhism was officially recognized in Russia in 1741. It is the primary religion of ethnic Buryats, Kalmyks, and Tuvans. Harshly persecuted under Stalin, when most temples and monasteries were destroyed and lamas murdered or sent to the Gulag, Buddhism has made a steady revival, and today claims several million adherents, among ethnic Slavs as well as traditionally Buddhist populations.

Roman Catholicism is practiced mainly be ethnic Poles, Germans, and Lithuanians. Various Protestant sects are long established, especially among ethnic Ukrainians, and in the years since perestroika foreign evangelical sects have sought adherents among nonbelievers and members of other religious groups. In 1997, the controversial "Law on Freedom of Conscience and Religious Associations" was passed, granting full rights of organization and association to only four religions: Orthodoxy, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism. Others have to go through a complex registration process and their activities are restricted.

Religious Practitioners. The administrative head of the Russian Orthodox Church is the Moscow patriarchate. Bishops and metropolitans lead the 128 dioceses. Parish priests, who are trained in seminaries and are obliged to marry, serve the 19,000 parishes. The number of parishes and monasteries has grown substantially with the restoration of religious freedom. Islamic muftis lead the Muslim Spiritual Boards, with a variety of jurisdictions, but the hierarchical and regional structure of Islam in Russia is in flux, as numerous religious and religious-political organizations, institutes, and cultural centers vie for authority and followers. Mullahs are the local teachers and interpreters of Islam; many are hereditary, but some young mullahs are challenging existing structures of authority. Among Buddhists, lamas are the most important spiritual leaders and teachers.

Rituals and Holy Places. For most Orthodox believers, religious practice centers on the emotive experience of liturgy, which is chanted daily, on Sundays, and in long, elaborate services on holy days. Icons depicting the Virgin Mary and the saints are widely venerated, and the faithful light candles, pray, bow, and sometimes weep before these sacred images. The peasant hut of the last century always centered on the "red corner" where the family's icon hung, and many urban apartments have a table or shelf set aside for an icon. Churches and cathedrals are the most important sites of Orthodox worship. Local parishes across the country have raised funds to rebuild and restore churches destroyed by the Soviets, with some support from the Moscow patriarchate. Tens of millions of dollars are being spent to restore cathedrals in the large cities. Some, like the enormous Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow, torn down in 1931, have been rebuilt from scratch and are widely venerated as symbols of the rebirth of Russian Orthodoxy.

A similar rebuilding and reclamation of older sites of worship has occurred among Russia's Islamic, Jewish, and Buddhist communities.

Death and the Afterlife. Proper care for and remembrance of the dead are considered very important. Around the time of death, it is crucial to do certain things to prevent the dead from staying or returning: mirrors are covered with black cloth, the body is laid out in ways that facilitate the ushering out of the spirit, and mourners accompany the deceased from home to church and from church to cemetery. In the church or hall where the body is displayed, mourners circle the open coffin counterclockwise and may kiss or lay flowers on the body. After burial, mourners return to the family's home, where certain foods are served with vodka and the deceased is remembered with stories and anecdotes. Food and vodka may be set at his or her place for nurturance of the soul. The soul remains on earth for forty days, at which time the family holds a second gathering to bid farewell as the soul departs for heaven. The anniversary of a death is memorialized every year; some people travel great distances to visit their loved ones' graves.

Medicine and Health Care

Socialized medicine was a cornerstone of Soviet society. The medical sciences were well developed, with particular success in cardiology, oncology, and laser surgery. However, demand for medical services was often greater than the system could handle, and many hospitals and clinics were understaffed, underequipped, and lacking in supplies. Party officials and other elites had access to worldclass, special clinics while the majority received the basic level of care available in the public clinics. Rural and provincial areas were especially ill served.

A secondary system of private medicine has developed alongside the state system. These privatized medical services are affordable by a limited proportion of the population; private insurance programs are in the early stages of development. Occasionally, private businesses pay for the medical care of their employees. Medicines and services are not available at prices all people can afford because funding for public health services have declined.

Social changes have been accompanied by the spread of communicable diseases. Tuberculosis has swept through prisons and other institutions, and the rates of venereal disease, hepatitis, and AIDS have grown. Poverty, poor living conditions, lack of adequate sanitation, drug abuse, and industrial pollution have contributed to a widespread decline in public health.

Folk medicine has traditionally been utilized, and hundreds of herbal and alternative remedies are commonly used; people grow herbs at their dachas for healing purposes. The practice of folk or alternative medicine has been legalized, and tens of thousands of practitioners advertise their services. Herbal medicine, homeopathy, the application of leeches, spiritual healing, mineral baths, light therapy, and other exotic forms of treatment are widely used. Professional physicians often prescribe folk therapies such as herbal teas or tinctures and mustard plasters.

Secular Celebrations

International Women's Day on 8 March, celebrating the contributions and role of women in social life, is a legal holiday and a day off from work; men bring flowers to the women in their lives, or call or send cards to congratulate female friends, wives, and relatives. Television features special shows dedicated to women, femininity, and the "female virtues." May Day, or Labor Day (1 May), the day of international labor solidarity, previously marked with parades, is now an occasion to celebrate the coming of spring. The Day of Victory on 9 May commemorates the Soviet capture of Berlin and the end of World War II. This holiday is taken seriously by older people, who gather to remember family members, friends, and comrades lost in the war. Television runs solemn tributes to veterans and war heroes. The Day of Russia on 12 June marks independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. It features parades and fireworks. The Day of the October Revolution, on 7 November is celebrated only by communists and people nostalgic for Soviet power. New Year's Eve is the most lavishly celebrated secular holiday. Grandfather Frost and his helper the Snow Maiden leave gifts under a decorated New Year's Tree, and people gather to await midnight with laughter, song, feasting, and vodka and champagne. These parties often last through the night.

The Arts and Humanities

Support for the Arts. State support for the arts was provided by the Soviet government because literature, art, theater, and music were perceived as media through which political ideologies could be conveyed. The state nourished the production of the arts through organizations such as the Composer's Union and the Writer's Union, which provided monetary support and social services, while monitoring and guiding creative output. After 1991, federal funding diminished greatly, just as artists were experiencing creative freedom for the first time. While private publishing houses, galleries, and theaters have appeared, the public has turned away from this art to enjoy detective, romance, adventure, and horror novels and films. Popular culture has enjoyed a renaissance, and artists struggle to support themselves.

Literature. Russia has always been primarily an oral culture in which a wide range of folkloric genres and traditions has flourished and provided the primary form of entertainment. Pre-Christian epic ballads, agricultural songs, laments, and tales dating back to before the tenth century were recorded for the first time in the seventeenth century. Folktales and epic poems were carried by itinerant storytellers; riddles, jokes, and verbal games were popular in every village; and there was a broad spectrum of folk poetry, from sacred ritual verse to ribald ditties. Most great writers incorporated folkloric themes and genres in their work, and folklore is still widely known and shared.

The first written literature dates from the eleventh century, with the production of religious texts, including translations from Byzantine works, original sermons and other didactic works, and hagiographies. Chronicles such as the Russian Primary Chronicle are among the most important medieval literature in Old Russian. The Song of Igor's Campaign, a saga of the twelfth century campaign of Prince Igor against the Polovtsy, is a work of outstanding poetic beauty, metaphoric sophistication, and political commentary.

With the rise of Muscovy in the fifteenth century, a new literary tradition began to take shape with many historical, biographical, and instructional works, most with a religious character, along with ecclesiastical texts. More secular and popular literature appeared in the sixteenth century. A period of classicism in the eighteenth century saw the development of political and social satire, comedy, and romanticism.

The golden age of literature began in the early nineteenth century with the poet Aleksandr Pushkin, whose narrative poem, Eugene Onegin, transformed Russian literature with its shrewd depiction of social life and romantic love. The poetry and prose of Mikhail Lermontov; the stories, longer prose, and plays of Nikolai Gogol; and the stories and novels of Ivan Turgenev opened new paths in terms of language, psychological insight, and sociopolitical commentary. The works of the novelists Fyodor Dostoevsky and Lev Tolstoy took the novel to new levels of psychological realism, philosophical contemplation, and epic tragedy. Anton Chekhov's stories and plays were profoundly innovative. Most Russians know their national literature well.

The turn of the twentieth century ushered in a renewal of poetry, with competing schools of symbolism, acmeism, and futurism. For a brief period before and after the revolution, experimentation and utopianism in all the arts existed alongside realistic and satirical fiction. Many of the greatest literary figures of this period were imprisoned, exiled, or killed during the 1930s. A few key figures such as Boris Pasternak, Anna Akhmatova, and Marina Tsvetaeva, managed to survive but suffered great personal losses.

Socialist realism became the only officially sanctioned and supported mode of artistic production. It was supposed to present a realistic picture of workers and peasants building a socialist utopia. Thousands of paintings, sculptures, novels, plays, poems, songs, and motion pictures were created to accord with socialist realist doctrine; the vast majority were stilted and didactic. Works of art that diverged from the socialist realist mold were frequently repressed. Writers such as Aleksander Solzhenitsyn and Joseph Brodsky were hounded, and ultimately expelled. Except for the time of "the thaw" under Krushchev in the early 1960s, much creative work took place underground or was not published. Gorbachev's policy of glasnost opened the way for previously repressed work to be made public. In the late 1980s, dozens of works critical of Soviet politics or revealing the contradictions of Soviet life were openly published for the first time.

The post-Soviet years have brought writers of dark and droll social realism, such as Tatyana Tolstaya and Liudmilla Petrushevskaya, to the fore. The modern parables of Vladimir Makanin and Viktor Pelevin have become popular among literati and the young reading public.

Graphic Arts. Folk arts are ancient and varied. Animal, bird, plant, solar, and goddess motifs, and a palette of reds and golden yellows with traces of black and green favored by peasant artists prevail across a range of folk art media, particularly in painted wooden objects and embroidered textiles. There have been several periods of decline and revitalization as animist expressions were repressed under Christianization a thousand years ago and then under the Soviet regime. In both cases, peasant artists changed their output to accord with the dominant ideology. Soviet state-run studios kept many folk media alive, and the postsocialist period has seen independent craftspersons return to traditional mythological motifs, such as that of the Sirin, a bird with a woman's head and breasts.

With the adoption of Christianity in 988, Byzantine religious architecture and icon painting were brought to Russia. Several indigenous schools took root in Muscovy after ties with Byzantium were cut under the Mongols. Even though much of his work was destroyed by fire, Andrei Rublev (ca.13601430) is Russia's most renowned icon painter; the subtle color, harmonious composition, and spiritual serenity of his images are still revered.

After the sixteenth century, the tsar's court, the gentry, and wealthy merchants supported metalworking, jewelry, textile, and porcelain workshops. An array of these crafts is on display in the Kremlin's Armory.

Secular painting, particularly portraiture and cityscapes, developed in the eighteenth century, spurred by the Empress Elizabeth's founding of the Academy of Fine Arts in Petersburg in 1757 and the collections amassed by Catherine the Great. The nineteenth century brought romanticism and realism. Realism characterized the work of the so-called Wanderers Society, a socially progressive movement of the 1870s; Ilia Repin is the most famous of the movement's artists. A folk art movement began later in the nineteenth century. The World of Art movement in the early twentieth century produced the theater designer and ballet impresario Serge Diaghelev, the abstract impressionist Vasilii Kandinsky, and the inspiration for a Symbolist movement. Abstraction dominated after 1910, especially in the form of neoprimitivism, Cubism, Suprematism, Futurism, and Constructivism. After the revolution, the abstract works of Constructivists such as Malevich, Tatlin, and Rodchenko were supported by the head of the People's Commissariat of Enlightenment. These artists had an industrial aesthetic that valued a proletarian utilitarianism, but their art was abstract and formalistic, out of synch with the development of Socialist Realism. After 1953, pluralism in the arts grew quietly until the blossoming of unofficial art movements from the 1960s on, with artistic circles rediscovering and experimenting with abstraction, expressionism, magic realism, and other suppressed genres. Underground exhibits often were held in artists' apartments and studios and in city parks, and some were important cultural and political events.

With the relaxation of censorship in the mid-1980s, new waves of performance art, postmodernism, and minimalism occurred, but there was also a surge of both harsh and critical realism and romantic longing for a spiritually whole Russia. In the 1980s, avant-garde painting gained popularity worldwide.

Performance Arts. The performing arts include those seen as "high culture"symphonic music, opera, ballet, and theaterand the popular forms, encompassing everything from gypsy ballads to folk choruses, rock music to raves. In the first category are the composers of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, such as Piotr Tchaikovsky, Modest Mussorgsky, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Sergei Prokofiev, Igor Stravinsky, and Dmitry Shostakovich; opera greats such as Fedor Chaliapin; the ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev and the dancers Vaslav Nijinsky, Anna Pavlova, Rudolph Nurieyev and Mikhail Baryshnikov; and the theatrical producer and acting teacher Konstantin Stanislavsky. Russians are still foremost in many areas of music and dance. Classical music and dance performances were state-subsidized so that tickets were relatively inexpensive and attendance was very high. Ballets and orchestras toured even in remote regions in an attempt to "bring culture to the masses." The level of appreciation for and amateur performance of music remain high.

Western rock music became popular in the 1960s largely through illegal copies of albums that circulated from hand to hand. Rock flourishes today among tens of thousands of rock groups and dozens of famous bands. Estrada, an often vulgar or campy form of pop singing and performance, has been popular since the prerevolutionary period. The singer Alla Pugacheva is the most famous artist in this genre. Folk choruses sing traditional and contemporary folk songs, either a capellà or accompanied by a balalaika and other native instruments. Bard singing arose in the postwar period as a quiet mode of protest but became enormously popular, with "secret" festivals in the countryside attracting thousands of fans. No social gathering is complete without impassioned singing and guitar playing. Most people know the words to many songs. Many young people are devoted to contemporary musical forms such as techno, hip-hop, and rap. Raves and other participatory musical events are very popular in the cities.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

The Soviet Union fostered the development of the physical sciences, and although hampered by the slow development of the computer industry and outdated laboratory equipment, many of its scientists and scientific institutions did important work. Fields with potential military application, such as physics, chemistry, and mathematics, along with other disciplines, were supported. Much of the money for the sciences has vanished. Where it exists, private or foundation funding can provide only minimal resources. Dozens of prestigious institutes are nearly closed, lacking funds even for essentials such as electricity and water.

The social sciences were organized around Marxist-Leninist theory and thus were forced to frame research in terms of dialectical materialism. Until the mid-1980s, social problems were not freely discussed and research that might portray living conditions or social attitudes in a negative light was restricted. Since the era of Gorbachev's reforms, the social sciences have flourished even though financing for pure research has been limited. Applied sociology has benefited, as polling has become a mainstay of business.


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Nancy Ries

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The people of Russia are called Russians. A little more than 80 percent of the population are Russian by ancestry. About 3 percent of the population is Ukrainian. For more information on Ukrainians, see the chapter on Ukraine in Volume 9.

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Russiajosher, washer •moksha • tonsure • dishwasher •whitewasher • Portia • launcher •brochure, kosher, Scotia •fuchsia • pusher • penpusher •blusher, crusher, flusher, gusher, Prussia, rusher, Russia, usher •cruncher, luncher, puncher •cowpuncher • Udmurtia •inertia, Persia

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Russia, officially the Russian Federation, Rus. Rossiya, republic (2005 est. pop. 143,420,000), 6,591,100 sq mi (17,070,949 sq km). The country is bounded by Norway and Finland in the northwest; by Estonia, Latvia, Belarus, and Ukraine in the west; by Georgia and Azerbaijan in the southwest; and by Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and China along the southern land border. The Kaliningrad Region is an exclave on the Baltic Sea bordered by Lithuania and Poland. Moscow is the capital and largest city.

In its political meaning, the term Russia applies to the Russian Empire until 1917, to the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (RSFSR) from 1917 to 1991, and to the Russian Federation since 1991. The name also is often used informally to mean the whole of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR); the Russia Federation was established in 1991 when the USSR disintegrated and the former RSFSR became an independent nation. The term Russia also is used to designate the area inhabited by the Russian people as distinguished from other Eastern Slavs and from non-Slavic peoples.

Land and People

Major Geographic Features

The world's largest country by land area, Russia ranks sixth in terms of population. It occupies much of E Europe and all of N Asia, extending for c.5,000 mi (8,000 km) from the Baltic Sea in the west to the Pacific Ocean in the east and for 1,500 to 2,500 mi (2,400–4,000 km) from the Arctic Ocean in the north to the Black Sea, the Caucasus, the Altai and Sayan mts., and the Amur and Ussuri rivers in the south. Russia also spans 11 time zones. The Urals form the conventional geographic boundary between the European and Siberian parts of Russia. Russia's dominant relief features are (from west to east) the East European plain, the Urals, the West Siberian lowland, and the central Siberian plateau.

Mt. Elbrus (18,481 ft/5,633 m), in the Caucasus, is the highest peak in the country. The chief rivers draining the European Russia are the Don (into the Black Sea), the Volga (into the Caspian Sea), the Northern Dvina (into the White Sea), the Western Dvina (into the Baltic Sea), and the Pechora (into the Barents Sea). (For the main physical features of the Siberian Russia, see Siberia.) The climate of Russia, generally continental, varies from extreme cold in N Russia and Siberia (where Verkhoyansk, the coldest settled place on earth, is situated), to subtropical along the Black Sea shore. The soil and vegetation zones include the tundra and taiga belts, the entire wooded steppe and northern black-earth steppes, and isolated sections of semidesert, desert, and subtropical zones. (For additional information, see the discussion of the nine physioeconomic regions under Economy below.)

Population and Ethnic Groups

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia experienced a decline in population. The decline was due in part to the difficult economic conditions the nation endured, especially in the 1990s, which led to a low birth rate, a reduced male life expectancy, and emigration. The population drop was slowed somewhat by immigration consisting mainly of ethnic Russians from other areas of the former Soviet Union, but it has continued during the early 21st cent.

There are at least 60 different recognized ethnic groups in Russia, but the vast majority of the population are Russians (80%). There are also Ukrainians (2%) and such non-Slavic linguistic and ethnic groups as Tatars (4%), Bashkirs, Chuvash, Komi, Komi-Permyaks, Udmurts, Mari, Mordovians, Jews, Germans, Armenians, and numerous groups in the Far North and in the Caucasus. Russian is the official language.

Political Subdivisions and Major Cities

Administratively, Russia has generally relied on regional divisions inherited from the Stalin and Brezhnev constitutions of 1936 and 1977. Each area with a predominantly Russian population is constituted as a territory (kray) or region (oblast); some non-Russian nationalities are constituted, in descending order of importance, as republics, autonomous regions (oblasts), and autonomous areas (okrugs). Russia has 21 republics: Adygey, Altai, Bashkortostan, Buryat, Chechnya, Chuvash, Dagestan, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkar, Kalmykia, Karachay-Cherkess, Karelia, Khakass, Komi, Mari El, Mordovia, North Ossetia-Alania, Sakha, Tatarstan, Tuva, and Udmurt; one autonomous region (or oblast): Jewish; 4 autonomous national areas (okrugs): Chukotka, Khanty-Mansi, Nenets, and Yamalo-Nenets; 46 Russian regions (oblasts); 9 Russian territories (krays); and 2 federal cities (gorods; the cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg). In 2014 Russia occupied and annexed the Ukrainian territories of Crimea and Sevastopol, which are administered as a republic and a federal city, respectively; the annexations were not generally recognized internationally. Oblasts and krays are roughly equivalent to provinces. In addition to Moscow, other major urban areas in Russia include Saint Petersburg (formerly Leningrad), Nizhny Novgorod (formerly Gorky), Rostov-na-Donu, Volgograd, Kazan, Samara (formerly Kuybyshev), Ufa, Perm, Yekaterinburg (formerly Sverdlovsk), Omsk, Chelyabinsk, Novosibirsk, and Vladivostok.

After the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, all of the former autonomous republics of the RSFSR were raised to full republic status, and four of the autonomous regions were made full republics as well. Under President Putin, the government undertook to consolidate the patchwork federal structure of the federation and assert central government authority. In 2000 the administrative units of Russia were grouped into regional administrative districts, which now number eight. The federal districts (and their adminstrative centers) are Northwest (St. Petersburg), Central (Moscow), Volga (Nizhny Novgorod), Southern (Rostov-na-Donu), North Caucasus (Pyatigorsk), Urals (Yekaterinburg), Siberian (Novosibirsk), and Far East (Khabarovsk). Subsequently, a number of smaller administrative units have been abolished and merged with larger neighboring regions to form several new territories (krays)

Religion and Education

The majority of Russia's population has no religious affiliation due to the antireligious ideology of the Soviet Union. The Russian Orthodox Church, headquartered in Moscow, has about 60 million adherents; the numbers have grown rapidly since the end of Soviet rule. There are also communities of Old Believers, a group that broke with the Orthodox Church in the 17th cent., as well as a large Muslim minority. Other religions include various Christian churches, Lamaist Buddhism, Judaism, and tribal religions. Partly in reaction to proselytizing by Protestant evangelicals, Mormons, and others, a 1997 Russian law granted superior status to the Russian Orthodox Church (and other older Russian religions). The Orthodox Church has since developed even closer ties with the government.



The Russian Federation inherited a Marxist-Leninist command economy from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Chief among the characteristics of the economy was an almost total absence of private productive capital. All enterprises were owned by the state, with each person receiving a salary for his or her efforts. Farmland was also almost entirely state-owned: 95% of all farmland was either state-owned or collectivized. All economic planning was done by government officials based in Moscow. Market forces played no part in their decision-making. The workforce was estimated at about 70 million persons in 1989.

During the Gorbachev era many of the basic elements of the Soviet command economy were weakened. The policies of glasnost and perestroika loosened social controls. Limited private ownership of businesses and land was granted, and prices were allowed to rise in accordance with market forces.

Following the failed August Coup and independence, the assets of the Communist party were seized and a new era of a market-based economy was proclaimed. Companies were given permission to become private entities, except for those enterprises employing over 10,000 workers or providing gas, oil, or pharmaceuticals. In 1991, Russia joined with other countries of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in a loose affiliation aimed in part at establishing a coordinated economic policy. The rapid change from a severely controlled system to the beginnings of a market economy created chaotic conditions; some Russians profited greatly, but most suffered economic hardship as privatization and other economic reforms progressed. By late 1997, inflation appeared to have been brought under control and industrial production had begun to slowly increase.

The country was once again plunged into economic upheaval, however, when the ruble plummeted in May, 1998, following a crisis in Asian financial markets. Unable to pay its foreign debts, Russia struggled to restructure loans and keep its new financial services sector from collapsing. By 2001, however, the Russian economy recovered and benefited from economic reforms and a rise in oil prices, and raw material exports, especially, oil and natural gas, have become more important economically since then. In July, 2003, a law permitting the sale of farmland was passed by the parliament; foreigners are banned from purchasing agricultural land but may lease it. Privatization of state-owned companies has continued, but more slowly, and under President Putin the government intervened more freely in economic affairs, for example, to solidify state ownership of Russia's energy industry. Because of this, foreign investment in the economy has remained relatively low. In 2006 the ruble became fully convertible when the government ended restrictions on currency transactions, and oil revenues enabled the government to pay off some $23 billion in foreign debt ahead of schedule.

The Russian Federation possesses a well-developed road and rail network in its European third, a more limited network in Siberia, and still fewer roads and rail lines in the Russian Far East. Barges on the vast network of inland waterways can carry a huge amount of traffic. In E Siberia, ships carry virtually all heavy freight. Most of Russia's cities and towns are connected by air. Exports are dominated by natural resources, particularly oil, natural gas, nickel, and timber; chemicals and military manufactures are also important exports. Imports include machinery and equipment, consumer goods, medicines, meat, sugar, and metal products. The main trading partners are Germany, Ukraine, China, and Italy.

Physioeconomically, the Russian Federation may be conveniently divided into 9 major regions: the Central European Region, the North and Northwest European Region, the Volga Region, the North Caucasus, the Ural Region, Western Siberia, Eastern Siberia, Northern and Northwestern Siberia, and the Russian Far East.

Central European Area

This flat, rolling country, with Moscow as its center, forms a major industrial region. Besides Moscow, major cities include Nizhniy Novgorod (formerly Gorky), Smolensk, Yaroslavl, Vladimir, Tula, Dzerzhinsk, and Rybinsk. Trucks, ships, railway rolling stock, machine tools, electronic equipment, cotton and woolen textiles, and chemicals are the principal industrial products. The Volga and Oka rivers are the major water routes, and the Moscow-Volga and Don-Volga canals link Moscow with the Caspian and Baltic seas. Many rail lines serve the area.

North and Northwest European Area

St. Petersburg (formerly Leningrad), the industrial center of this area, has industries producing machine tools, electronic equipment, chemicals, ships, and precision instruments. Other cities include Pskov, Tver (formerly Kalinin), Murmansk, Arkhangelsk, and Vologda. The hills, marshy plains, lakes, and desolate plateaus contain rich deposits of coal (Pechora Basin), oil (Ukhta), iron ore, and bauxite, and the area is a prime source of lumber. The chief water routes are the Baltic-Belomor Canal and the Volga-Baltic Waterway.


This area, stretching along the greatest river of European Russia, has highly developed hydroelectric power installations, including major dams at Volgograd, Kazan, Samara (formerly Kuybyshev), and Balakovo. Farm machinery, ships, chemicals, and textiles are manufactured, and extensive oil and gas fields are worked. Agricultural products include wheat, vegetables, cotton, hemp, oilseeds, and fruit. Livestock raising and fishing are also important.

North Caucasus

In this area, descending northward from the principal chain of the Caucasus Mts. to a level plain, are found rich deposits of oil, natural gas, and coal. The major cities are Rostov-na-Donu, Krasnodar, Grozny, Vladikavkaz, and Novorossiysk. Sochi is a popular resort. Farm machinery, coal, petroleum, and natural gas are the chief products. The Kuban River region, a fertile black-earth area, is one of the chief granaries of Russia. Wheat, sugar beets, tobacco, rice, and sunflower seeds are grown, and cattle are raised. Other rivers include the Don, the Kuma, and the Terek, and the Volga-Don Canal is a major transportation route.

Ural Area

The southern half of the Ural region has been a major center of Russian iron and steel production. A substantial share of Soviet petroleum was produced there, mainly in Bashkortostan. Deposits of iron ore, manganese, and aluminum ore are mined. The major industrial centers are Magnitogorsk, Yekaterinburg (formerly Sverdlovsk), Chelyabinsk, Nizhni Tagil, and Perm. Several trunk railroads serve the area, and rivers include the Kama and Belaya in the west and the Ural in the south.

Western Siberia

This vast plain—marshy and thinly populated in the north, hilly in the south—is of growing economic importance. At Novosibirsk and Kamen-na-Obi are large hydroelectric stations. Other principal cities include Kemerovo and Novokuznetsk. The Kuznetsk Basin in the southwest is a center of coal mining, oil refining, and the production of iron, steel, machinery, and chemicals. The Ob-Irtysh drainage system crosses this area, which is also served by the Trans-Siberian and South Siberian rail lines. Barnaul is a major rail junction. Agricultural products include wheat, rice, oats, and sugar beets, and livestock is raised.

Eastern Siberia

In this area of plateaus, mountains, and river basins, the major cities—Krasnoyarsk, Irkutsk, Ulan-Ude, and Chita—are located along the Trans-Siberian RR. A branch line links Ulan-Ude with Mongolia and Beijing, China. There are hydroelectric stations at Bratsk, Krasnoyarsk, and Irkutsk. Coal, gold, graphite, iron ore, aluminum ore, zinc, and lead are mined in the area, and livestock is raised.

Northern and Northeastern Siberia

Covering nearly half of Russian territory, this is the least populated and least developed area. The Ob, Yenisei, and Lena rivers flow to the Arctic. Through the use of atomic-powered icebreakers, the Northern Sea Route has gained increasing economic importance. The Kolyma gold fields are the principal source of Russian gold, and industrial diamonds are mined in the Sakha Republic, notably at Mirny. Fur trapping and hunting are the chief activities in the taiga and tundra regions.

Russian Far East

Bordering on the Pacific Ocean, the region has Komsomolsk, Khabarovsk, Yakutsk, and Vladivostok as its chief cities. Machinery is produced, and lumbering, fishing, hunting, and fur trapping are important. The Trans-Siberian RR follows the Amur and Ussuri rivers and terminates at the port of Vladivostok.


The Russian Federation is governed under the constitution of 1993, as amended. The head of state is a popularly elected president who is eligible to serve two consecutive terms (and additional nonconsecutive terms); the length of the term was extended from four years to six beginning in 2012. The president appoints the prime minister and can dissolve the legislature if it three times refuses to approve his choice for that post. The legislature, or Federal Assembly, is divided into an upper Federation Council and a lower State Duma. The Federation Council has 166 members, consisting of two representatives from the governments of each republic, territory, region, and area; their terms parallel the terms of the governmental body that elected or appointed them (unless that body removes them from office). The State Duma has 450 members. The seats are distributed proportionally among those parties whose national vote is at least 7%. Members of the State Duma serve five-year terms. The Civic Chamber, which was established in 2005, is empowered to investigate elected and appointed government officials and advise on national legislation. Its 126 members are appointed by the president or chosen by the members of the chamber from among prominent nongovernmental individuals. Members serve two-year terms. Administratively, the country is divided into 46 Russian regions, 21 ethnically non-Russian republics, 4 autonomous national areas, 9 largely Russian territories, the federal cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg, and one autonomous region.


The following article deals with the formation and history of the Russian state and empire until 1917 and after the formation of the contemporary Russian Federation in 1991. Information on the period from 1917 to 1991 can be found in the entry on the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. See also the table entitled Russian and Soviet Rulers since 1462.

Early Russia

Numerous remains indicate that Russia was inhabited in the Paleolithic period. By the 7th cent. BC the northern shore of the Black Sea and the Crimea were controlled by the Scythians (see under Scythia); in the 3d cent. BC the Scythians were displaced by the Sarmatians (see under Sarmatia). Later the open steppes of Russia were invaded by numerous peoples, notably the Germanic Goths (3d cent. AD), the Asian Huns (4th cent.), and the Turkic Avars (6th cent.). The Turkic Khazars built up (7th cent.) a powerful state in S Russia, and the Eastern Bulgars established (8th cent.) their empire in the Volga region. By the 9th cent. the Eastern Slavs had settled in N Ukraine, in Belarus, and in the regions of Novgorod and Smolensk, and they had established colonies to the east on the Oka and upper Volga rivers. The chief Slavic tribes in S Russia were dominated by the Khazars.

The origin of the Russian state coincides with the arrival (9th cent.) of Scandinavian traders and warriors, the Varangians. Tradition has it that one of their leaders, Rurik, established himself peaceably at Novgorod by 862 and founded a dynasty. The name Russ or Rhos possibly originally designated the Varangians, or some of them, but it was early extended to the Eastern Slavs and became the name of their country in general. Rurik's successor, Oleg (reigned 879–912), transferred (882) his residence to Kiev, which remained the capital of Kievan Rus until 1169. He united the Eastern Slavs and freed them from Khazar suzerainty, and signed (911) a commercial treaty with the Byzantine Empire. Under Sviatoslav (reigned 964–72) the duchy reached the peak of its power.

Christianity was made the state religion by Vladimir I (reigned 980–1015), who adopted (988–89) the Greek Orthodox rite. Thus Byzantine cultural influence became predominant. After the death of Yaroslav (reigned 1019–54), Kievan Rus was divided in a rotation system among his sons. Political supremacy shifted, passing from Kiev to the western principalities of Halych and Volodymyr (see Volodymyr-Volynskyy and Volhynia) and to the northeastern principality of Suzdal-Vladimir (see Vladimir). In 1169, Kiev was stormed by the Suzdal prince Andrei Bogolubsky (reigned 1169–74), who made Vladimir the capital of the grand duchy. In 1237–40 the Mongols (commonly called Tatars) under Batu Khan invaded Russia and destroyed all the chief Russian cities except Novgorod and Pskov. In S and E Russia the Tatars established the empire of the Golden Horde, which lasted until 1480.

Belarus, most of the Ukraine, and part of W Russia were incorporated (14th cent.) into the grand duchy of Lithuania. Thus NE Russia became the main center of economic and political life. At the end of the 13th cent. Tver was the most important political center, but in the 14th cent. the Muscovite princes of the grand duchy of Vladimir, although still tributary to the Tatars, began to consolidate their position. Under Ivan I (Ivan Kalita; reigned 1328–41), Moscow took precedence over the other cities. After the victory of Dmitri Donskoi (reigned 1359–89) over the Tatars at Kulikovo in 1380, the grand duchy of Vladimir was bequeathed, without the sanction of the Golden Horde, to his son Vasily (reigned 1389–1425), and its rulers began to be called grand dukes of Moscow or Muscovy (see Moscow, grand duchy of).

Consolidation of the Russian State

Under Ivan III (1462–1505) and his successor, Vasily III (1505–33), the Muscovite state expanded, and its rulers became more absolute. The principality of Yaroslavl was annexed in 1463 and Rostov-Suzdal in 1474; Novgorod was conquered in 1478, Tver in 1485, Pskov in 1510, and Ryazan in 1521. The Mari, Yurga, and Komi were subjugated at the end of the 14th cent., and the Pechora and Karelians at the end of the 15th cent. Ivan ceased to pay tribute to the Tatars, and in 1497 he adopted the first code of laws. Having married the niece of the last Byzantine emperor, Ivan considered Moscow the "third Rome" and himself heir to the tradition of the Byzantine Empire.

In 1547, at the age of 17, Ivan IV (Ivan the Terrible; reigned 1533–84) was crowned czar of all Russia. He conquered the Tatar khanates of Kazan (1552) and Astrakhan (1556), establishing Russian rule over the huge area of the middle and lower Volga; thus he laid the basis for the colonization and annexation of Siberia, begun by the Cossack Yermak in 1581. The conquered border territories were colonized by Russian settlers and defended by the Cossacks. At home, Ivan crushed the opposition of the great feudal nobles—the boyars—and set up an autocratic government. After the reign of the sickly Feodor I (1584–98), state power passed to Boris Godunov (reigned 1598–1605), who was elected czar by a zemsky sobor [national council].

With the death of Boris in 1605 began the "Time of Troubles" —a political crisis marked by the appearance of pretenders (see Dmitri) and the intervention of foreign powers. In 1609, Sigismund III of Poland invaded Russia, and in 1610 Polish troops entered Moscow according to an agreement concluded with the boyars. However, in 1612, Russian forces led by Prince Dmitri Pozharski took Moscow, and in 1613 a zemsky sobor unanimously chose Michael Romanov as czar (see Michael; reigned 1613–45). Thus began the Romanov dynasty, which ruled Russia until 1917. Michael was succeeded by Alexis (reigned 1645–76), who gained E Ukraine from Poland.

Russia in the 17th cent. was still medieval in culture and outlook, and it was not regarded as a member of the European community of nations. In its economic development it was centuries behind Western Europe; distrust of foreign ways and innovations kept its inhabitants ignorant and isolated. The consolidation of central power was effected not with the help of the almost nonexistent middle class or by social reforms but by forcibly depriving the nobility and gentry of their political influence. The nobles were compensated with land grants and with increasing rights over the peasants. Thus serfdom (see serf), which became a legal institution in Russia in 1649, included growing numbers of persons and became increasingly oppressive. The process of enserfment, which reached its peak in the 18th cent., resulted in several violent peasant revolts, notably those led by Stenka Razin (1667–71) and by Pugachev (1773–75).

Empire and European Eminence

During the reign (1689–1725) of Peter I (Peter the Great) Russian politics, administration, and culture were altered considerably. However, the trend of increased autocracy and enserfment of peasants was accelerated by the changes. Peter, who assumed (1721) the title of emperor, "Westernized" Russia by using stringent methods to force on the people a series of reforms. He created a regular conscript army and navy. He abolished the patriarchate of Moscow (see Orthodox Eastern Church) and created (1721) the Holy Synod, directly subordinate to the emperor, thus depriving the church of the last vestiges of independence. He recast the administrative and fiscal systems, creating new organs of central government and reforming local administration, and he also founded the first modern industries and made an attempt to introduce elements of Western education.

Seeking to make Russia a maritime power, Peter acquired Livonia, Ingermanland (Ingria), Estonia, and parts of Karelia and Finland as a result of the Northern War (1700–1721), thus securing a foothold on the Baltic Sea. As a symbol of the new conquests he founded (1703) Saint Petersburg on the Gulf of Finland and transferred (1712) his capital there. Russia was rapidly becoming a European power. Peter also began the Russian push to the Black Sea, taking Azov in 1696, but his war with Turkey from 1711 to 1713 ended in failure and the loss of Azov. In addition, he sent (1725) Vitus Bering on an exploratory trip to NE Siberia.

The Russo-Turkish Wars of the next two centuries resulted in the expansion of Russia at the expense of the Ottoman Empire and in the growing influence of Russia on Ottoman affairs (see Eastern Question). Russia also took an increasing part in European affairs. The immediate successors of Peter the Great were Catherine I (reigned 1725–27), Peter II (reigned 1727–30), Anna (reigned 1730–40), and Ivan VI (reigned 1740–41). Empress Elizabeth (reigned 1741–62) successfully sided against Prussia in the Seven Years War, but her successor, Peter III, took Russia out of the war.

Peter's wife successfully seized power from him (1762), and when he was murdered shortly thereafter she became empress as Catherine II (Catherine the Great; reigned 1762–96). Under her rule Russia became the chief power of continental Europe. She continued Peter I's policies of absolute rule at home and of territorial expansion at the expense of neighboring states. The three successive partitions of Poland (1772, 1793, 1795; see Poland, partitions of), the annexations of the Crimea (1783) and of Courland (1795), and the treaties of Kuchuk Kainarji (1774) and Jassy (1792) with Turkey gave Russia vast new territories in the west and south, including what is now Belarus, parts of Ukraine W of the Dnieper River, and the Black Sea shores. Catherine's administrative reforms further centralized power. The suppression of Pugachev's rebellion strengthened the privileged classes and lessened the chances of social reform. However, under her "enlightened despotism," Russian writers, scientists, and artists began the great creative efforts that culminated in the late 19th and early 20th cent.

Russia became involved in the French Revolutionary Wars under Catherine's successor, the demented Paul I, who was murdered in 1801. His son, Alexander I (reigned 1801–25), joined the third coalition against Napoleon I, but made peace with France at Tilsit (1807) and annexed (1809) Finland from Sweden. In wars with Turkey and Persia, Alexander gained Bessarabia by the Treaty of Bucharest (1812) and Caucasian territories by the Treaty of Gulistan (1813). In 1812, Napoleon began his great onslaught on Russia and took Moscow, but his army was repulsed and nearly annihilated in the winter of that year. Napoleon's downfall and the peace settlement (see Vienna, Congress of) made Russia and Austria the leading powers on the Continent at the head of the Holy Alliance.

Reaction, Reform, and Expansion

Liberal ideas gained influence among the Russian aristocracy and educated bourgeoisie despite Alexander I's growing intransigence. They found an outlet in the unsuccessful Decembrist Conspiracy of 1825 (see Decembrists), which sought to prevent the accession of Nicholas I. Under Nicholas (reigned 1825–55), Russia became the most reactionary European power, acting as the "policeman of Europe" in opposing liberalism and helping Austria to quash the Hungarian revolution (1848–49). Russian Poland, nominally a kingdom ruled by the Russian emperor, lost its autonomy after an unsuccessful rising there in 1830–31.

A clash of interests between Russia and the Western powers over the Ottoman Empire led to the Crimean War (1854–56), which revealed the inner weakness of Russia. Alexander II (reigned 1855–81), who acceded one year before the war ended, passed important liberal reforms during the first decade of his reign, after which time he became increasingly conservative. Just as he seemed to be entering another liberal phase, Alexander was assassinated in 1881. Among his reforms, the liberation (1861) of the serfs (see Emancipation, Edict of) was the most far-reaching, but significant changes were also made in local government, the judicial system, and education.

During the second half of the 19th cent., Russia continued its territorial expansion, and industrialization was accelerated. The remainder of the Caucasus was acquired and pacified; the territories of what is now the Central Asian Republics, including Turkistan, were taken during 1864–65; and the southern section of the Far Eastern Territory (see Russian Far East) was acquired from China. Russia thus reached the frontiers of Afghanistan and China and the shores of the Pacific Ocean. Vladivostok was founded in 1860; in the early 20th cent. it became an important naval base. The Trans-Siberian RR (constructed 1891–1905) opened much of Siberia to colonization and exploitation.

Alexander III (reigned 1881–94), who succeeded Alexander II, pursued a reactionary domestic policy, guided by the influential Pobyedonostzev. Alexander was followed by Nicholas II (reigned 1894–1917), the last Russian emperor, a generally incompetent ruler surrounded by a reactionary entourage. However, there was considerable financial and industrial development, directed largely by Count Witte. Russia, having suffered a severe diplomatic setback at the Congress of Berlin (see Berlin, Congress of, 1878), eventually abandoned the Three Emperors' League with Germany and Austria-Hungary and in 1892 entered into an alliance with republican France. This alliance led to the Triple Entente (see Triple Alliance and Triple Entente) of England, France, and Russia.

War and Revolution

The disastrous and unpopular Russo-Japanese War (1904–5) led to the Revolution of 1905 (see Russian Revolution). Nicholas II was forced to grant a constitution, and a parliament (see duma) was established. Soon, however, the new democratic freedoms were curtailed, as the government again became reactionary. As a result, there was renewed agitation by revolutionaries; the emperor countered with police terror and attempted to channel popular discontent into anti-Semitic outbreaks (see pogrom). At the same time, Piotr Stolypin (prime minister during 1906–11) tried to create a class of independent landowning peasants by breaking up and redistributing the land held by village communities (see mir); however, he refused to split up the estates held by large landlords and generally ignored the peasant masses.

Although the Russian economy was mainly agricultural and underdeveloped, industry—largely financed by foreign capital—was growing rapidly in a few centers, notably St. Petersburg, Moscow, and the Baku (Bakı; now in Azerbaijan) oil fields. It was particularly among the industrial workers, who because of their geographic concentration possessed great political strength, that the leftist Social Democratic party found its adherents. The formal split of the party into Bolshevism and Menshevism in 1912 had crucial consequences after the outbreak of the Russian Revolution of 1917. By promoting Pan-Slavism in the Balkan Peninsula and in Austria-Hungary, Russia played a leading role in the events that led to the outbreak (1914) of World War I. Ill-prepared and cut off from its allies in the West, the country suffered serious reverses in the war at the hands of the Germans and Austrians.

Inflation, food shortages, and poor morale among the troops contributed to the outbreak of the February Revolution of 1917. Nicholas abdicated in Mar., 1917 (he was executed in July, 1918). A provisional government under Prince Lvov, a moderate, tried to continue the war effort, but was opposed by the soviets (councils) of workers and soldiers. Kerensky, who succeeded Lvov as prime minister in July, 1917, was also unable to enforce the authority of the central government. Finally, on Nov. 7, 1917 (Oct. 25 O.S.), the Bolsheviks, led by Lenin, seized the government. Russia ended its involvement in World War I by signing the humiliating Treaty of Brest-Litovsk (Mar., 1918), under which it lost much territory to the Central Powers.

Shortly after the signing of the treaty, and partly because of the reaction to its poor terms, civil war (complicated by foreign intervention) broke out in Russia. It continued until 1920, when the Soviet regime emerged victorious. (For a more detailed account of the intellectual and political background of the Russian Revolution and for the events of the revolution and the civil war, see Russian Revolution.) Poland, Finland, and the Baltic countries emerged as independent states in the aftermath of the civil war; Ukraine, Belorussia, and the Transcaucasian countries of Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia proclaimed their independence, but by 1921 were conquered by the Soviet armies. In 1917, Russia was officially proclaimed the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic, which in 1922 was united with the Ukrainian, Belorussian, and Transcaucasian republics to form the see Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

Post-Soviet Russia

After more than seven decades of Soviet rule, the regime of President Gorbachev marked the end of repressive political controls and permitted nationalist movements to arise in the constituent republics of the USSR. In 1990, Boris Yeltsin and other nationalists and reformers were elected to the Russian parliament; Yeltsin was subsequently chosen Russian president. Under Yeltsin, Russia declared its sovereignty (but not its independence) and began to challenge the central government's authority. In 1991, Yeltsin was reelected in the first popular election for president in the history of the Russian Republic.

Yeltsin and the leaders of eight other republics reached a power-sharing agreement with Gorbachev, but its imminent signing provoked a coup attempt (Aug., 1991) by Soviet hard-liners. In the aftermath, the USSR disintegrated. With Ukraine and Belarus, Russia established the Commonwealth of Independent States. When Gorbachev resigned (Dec., 1991), Yeltsin had already taken control of most of the central government, and Russia assumed the USSR's UN seat.

Yeltsin moved rapidly to end or reduce state control of the economy, but control of parliament by former Communists led to conflicts and power struggles. On Sept. 21, 1993, Yeltsin suspended the parliament and called for new elections. Parliament retaliated by naming Vice President Aleksandr Rutskoi as acting president, and anti-Yeltsin forces barricaded themselves inside the parliament building. On Oct. 3, supporters of the anti-Yeltsin group broke through a security cordon to join the occupation, and also attacked other sites in the capital. The military interceded on Yeltsin's side, and on Oct. 4, after a bloody battle, troops recaptured the parliament building. Many people were jailed, and the parliament was dissolved.

In Dec., 1993, voters approved a new constitution that strengthened presidential power, establishing a mixed presidential-parliamentary system similar to that of France. In legislative elections at the same time, Yeltsin supporters fell short of a majority, as voters also supported ultranationalists, radical reformers, Communists, and others. The Russian government, under Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, generally advocated moderate reform. The program made slow but discernible progress in stimulating growth and halting rampant inflation, but the economy continued to suffer from serious malfunctions, including a weak banking system and widespread corruption. Corruption has since worsened and become more pervasive.

In Feb., 1994, parliament granted amnesty to persons implicated in the Aug., 1991, coup attempt and the Oct., 1993, rebellion. In the Dec., 1995, legislative elections the Communist party won the largest share of the vote (22%) and more than a third of the seats in the State Duma. The results were a new rebuff to Yeltsin and his government, and he subsequently replaced the more liberal ministers in the government with pragmatists and conservatives. Although his popularity had significantly diminished since he was first elected president, he ran again in June, 1996. He finished ahead of his chief rival, Communist Gennady Zyuganov, in the first round and was reelected after a runoff in July. Ministerial replacements continued, and in Mar., 1998, Yeltsin dismissed his entire cabinet, hiring a new group of economic reformers and naming Sergei Kiriyenko as prime minister. By August he had dismissed many of his top aides and attempted to reinstate Chernomyrdin as prime minister. The nomination was rejected by parliament, however, and Yevgeny Primakov, a compromise candidate agreeable to reformers and Communists, became the prime minister in September; two Communists became ministers in the government.

Primakov acted as a stabilizing influence, avoiding economic disaster in the wake of Russia's Aug., 1998, financial crisis, but his increasing popularity and his public support for the Communists in his government even as their party was mounting an impeachment of Yeltsin in the Duma led to his firing in May, 1999. Yeltsin appointed Sergei Stepashin as prime minister, and the impeachment failed to win the necessary votes. A sense of political crisis returned in August when Islamic militants from Chechnya invaded Dagestan (see below), and Yeltsin replaced Stepashin with Vladimir Putin. After a series of terrorist bombings in Moscow and elsewhere that were blamed on Chechen militants, Putin launched an invasion of Chechnya. That action bolstered his popularity, as did a slight upturn in the economy due to rising prices for oil, Russia's most important export (industrial output continued to contract). Although with slightly less than a quarter of the vote the Communist party remained the single largest vote-getter in the Dec., 1999, parliamentary elections, center-right parties allied with Putin won nearly a third, and the vote was regarded as a mandate for Putin. On Dec. 31, Yeltsin resigned as president, and Putin became acting president.

One of Putin's first acts was to form an alliance with the Communists in the Duma; together his supporters (the Unity bloc) and the Communists held about 40% of the seats. In the elections of Mar., 2000, Putin bested ten other candidates to win election as Russia's president. Putin introduced several measures designed to increase central government control over the various Russian administrative units, including grouping them in seven large regional districts, ending the right of the units' executives to serve in the Federation Council, and suspending a number of laws that conflicted with federal law. He also won the authority to remove governors and dissolve legislatures that enact laws that conflict with the national constitution. Mikhail M. Kasyanov, a liberal, was appointed prime minister, and a broad plan for liberal economic reforms was enacted. The alliance with the Communists lasted until 2002, when Unity, which had earlier absorbed the populist Fatherland bloc, was strong enough to control the Duma alone.

Putin secured parliamentary ratification of the comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty and the SALT II treaty (see disarmament, nuclear), and actively opposed modifying the ABM treaty so that the United States could build a larger missile defense system than the agreement permitted. Russia has proposed, however, a mobile, pan-European missile defense system that would function similarly, although it would not violate the ABM treaty. Significant reductions in the size of the armed forces also have been undertaken.

After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, Russia had to confront separatist movements in several ethnically based republics and other areas, including Tatarstan and, most notably, Chechnya, which declared independence upon the dissolution of the Soviet Union in Dec., 1991. Russian troops were sent there in Dec., 1994; subsequent fighting resulted in heavy casualties, with the Chechen capital of Grozny reduced to rubble by Russian bombardment. A peace accord between Russia and Chechnya was signed in Moscow in May, 1996. The invasion of Dagestan by Islamic militants from Chechnya in 1999 and a series of terrorist bombings in Russia during Aug.–Sept., 1999, however, led to Russian air raids on Chechnya in Sept., 1999, and a subsequent full-scale ground invasion of the breakaway republic that again devastated its capital and resulted in ongoing guerrilla warfare. Chechen terrorists have also continued to mount attacks outside Chechnya, including the seizure of a crowded Moscow theater in Oct., 2002, and a school in Beslan, North Ossetia, in Sept, 2004.

In the mid- and late 1990s, Russia took steps toward closer relations with some of the former Soviet republics. Several agreements designed to bring about economic, military, and political integration with Belarus were signed, but progress toward that goal has been slow. Both nations also signed an agreement with Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan that called for establishing stronger ties. Tajikistan and Uzbekistan later joined the economic grouping the four established, which has been known as the Eurasian Economic Community since 2001. Years of negotiations with Ukraine over the disposition of the Black Sea fleet ended in an accord in 1997 that divided the ships between them and permitted Russia to base its fleet in Sevastopol for 20 years. A 25-year extension of that lease (in exchange for Russia's giving Ukraine a discounted price for natural gas) was negotiated in 2010.

The agreement with Ukraine was seen in part as an attempt to forestall closer Ukrainian ties with NATO. Russia has objected to any NATO expansion that excludes Russia; in June, 1994, Russia reluctantly agreed to an association with NATO under the arrangement known as the Partnership for Peace. Although several former Eastern European satellites joined NATO in 1999, any expansion that included nations once part of the Soviet Union would be highly sensitive. In the civil war and subsequent clashes in the former Yugoslavia, Russia was sympathetic toward the Serbs, a traditional ally, and there was considerable Russian opposition to such policies as NATO's bombing of Serb positions, especially in 1999.

Under Putin, Russia also revived its ties with many former Soviet client states, and used its economic leverage to reassert its sway over the more independent-minded former Soviet republics, particularly Georgia. The country nonetheless continued to maintain warmer ties with the West than the old Soviet Union did. Putin was a supporter of the U.S. "war on terrorism" , and in 2001 Russia began to explore establishing closer ties with NATO, which culminated in the establishment (2002) of a NATO-Russia Council through which Russia could participate in NATO discussions on many nondefense issues. Russia even returned to Afghanistan, providing aid in the aftermath of the overthrow of the Taliban. Russia did, however, resist the idea of resorting to military intervention in Iraq in order to eliminate weapons of mass destruction, and as the United States pressed in 2003 for a Security Council resolution supporting the use of force, Russia joined France in vowing to veto such a resolution. By the end of 2003, Russia had experienced five years of steady economic growth, and recovered (and even seen benefits) from the collapse of the ruble in 1998.

In 2003 tensions flared with Ukraine over the Kerch Strait, sparked by Russia's building of a sea dike there, but the conflict was peacefully resolved. In Sept., 2003, Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine signed an agreement to create a common economic space. Internally, there was a conflict between the government and the extremely rich tycoons known as the oligarchs over the extent of the role business executives would be allowed to play in politics. Mikhail Khodorkovsky, chairman of the Russian oil giant Yukos, was arrested in October on charges of fraud and tax evasion, but his political aspirations and the government's desire to regain control over valuable resources were believed to have had as much to due with the government's move against him as any crime. In Dec., 2004, Yukos assests were sold to a little-known, newly established company that was soon acquired by a state-run oil company. Khodorkovsky was convicted in May, 2005; he was convicted of additional charges in Dec., 2010, after a trial that was seen by many as pretext for keeping him in prison. In 2014 a group of Yukos shareholders were awarded some $50 billion in damages by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, and the European Court of Human Rights ordered Russia to pay roughly $2.5 billion to Yukos shareholders. Both decisions criticized the Russian governments' actions against the company. A number of national courts also rendered verdicts in favor of Yukos shareholders.

The Dec., 2003, elections resulted in a major victory for the United Russia bloc and its allies. The loose group of Putin supporters ultimately secured two thirds of the seats, but outside observers criticized the election campaign for being strongly biased toward pro-government candidates and parties. Prior to the Mar., 2004 presidential elections Putin dismissed Prime Minister Kasyanov and his government; the prime minister had been critical of Yukos investigation. Mikhail Y. Fradkov, who had served largely in a number of economic and trade positions, was named to replace Kasyanov. Putin was reelected by a landslide in Mar., 2004, but observers again criticized the campaign as biased.

A series of deadly, Chechnya-related terror attacks during the summer culminated in the seizure of a school in Beslan, North Ossetia, which ended with the deaths more of more than 300 people, many of them children. Putin responded by calling for, among other changes, an end to the election of Duma representatives from districts and the appointment (instead of election) of the executives of oblasts and similar divisions of Russia. These moves, which were subsequently enacted, further centralized power in the Russian Federation and diminished its federal aspects. The federal government also sought to reduce the number of oblasts and regions by encouraging the merger of smaller units into larger ones.

Russia's reputation suffered internationally in late 2004 when it threw its support behind presidential candidates in Ukraine and the Georgian region of Abkhazia; in both elections, the candidates Moscow opposed ultimately succeeded despite strong resistance on the part of the existing governments to change. Russia subsequently (Mar., 2005) moved quickly to side with opponents of Kyrgyzstan president Akayev when he was forced from office. Large-scale violence re-erupted in the Caucasus in Oct., 2005, when militants with ties to the Chechen rebels mounted coordinated attacks in Nalchik, the capital of Kabardino-Balkaria.

In late 2005 Russia found itself accused of using its state-controlled gas monopoly, Gazprom, as a punitive instrument of foreign policy when the company insisted that Ukraine pay market rates for natural gas, despite having been given a favorable long-term contract when Russia had unsuccessfully tried to influence the Ukrainian presidential race. When negotiations failed, Gazprom cut off supplies to Ukraine in Jan., 2006, a move that also affected supplies in transit to other European nations, provoking European concerns about the reliability of Russian gas deliveries. (The subsequent reduction in deliveries to Europe during a extreme cold snap in Russia in Jan., 2006, only reinforced concerns about reliability.) Although the dispute was soon resolved by a compromise, the affair hurt Russia's and Gazprom's image, and led to tensions with with the nations of the European Union.

The question of Russia's manipulation of its energy shipments for political purposes became an issue again in late 2006 when Gazprom announced it would double the rate it charged Georgia (to roughly market rates); the move followed several retaliatory actions taken against Georgia by the Russian government (see below). Gazprom also increased its charges for natural gas to several other formerly Soviet-ruled nations. One such nation, Belarus, usually a strong Russian ally, responsed to an increase in the Russian duty on oil exported to it by imposing a transit tax on Russian oil exported through pipelines in Belarus. The move provoked a spat that led Russia to cut off oil for several days before Belarus revoked the tax; the cutoff again raised questions in the EU about Russia's reliability as an energy supplier.

Tensions with Moldova (over the Trans-Dniester region) and with Georgia increased in early 2006, and Russia banned the imports of wine and brandy from both nations, supposedly for health reasons. The arrest by Georgia in Sept., 2006, of several Russians on charges of spying provoked a strong retaliatory response from Russia, including the breaking of all transport and postal links; the links were not restored until 2008. Within Georgia, however, the Russian actions seemed to solidify support for the Georgian government. Asserted health issues have been used by Russia to ban food imports from other nations, such as Poland and Ukraine, with whom Russia has had conflicts, and other forms of economic retaliation were used against Estonia in 2007 after a Soviet war memorial was relocated from downtown Tallinn. New membership requirements for political parties, introduced in 2007, forced the dissolution of a number of opposition parties, but those requirements were greatly eased by legislation passed in 2012.

American plans, revealed in 2007, to include components of its missile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic provoked a strong response from Russia. President Putin said in June that such a move would force Russia to target Europe with its weapons; the president also announced that he was suspending Russia's participation in the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty (the suspension took effect in Dec., 2007, and all participation was ended in Mar., 2015). In Sept., 2007, Putin replaced Prime Minister Fradkov with Viktor Zubkov, the head of Russia's financial monitoring service and an associate of Putin's since the early 1990s.

United Russia, running in Dec., 2007, with Putin's explicit support, again dominated the parliamentary elections; once again, foreign observers noted the progovernment bias of the campaigning, and there were some complaints of vote fraud. The same month Putin announced his support for Dmitri Medvedev, a first deputy prime minister, to succeed him as president in 2008. In the Mar., 2008, vote Medvedev was easily elected to the post, but the presidential election also was marred by progovernment bias and other irregularities.

Meanwhile, in February, Russia's Gazprom threatened to cut Ukraine's gas supply over unpaid debts; although the cut was averted, the issue reemerged in March, when supplies were reduced for several days. Russia's strong objections to NATO membership for Ukraine and Georgia contributed to NATO's decision to offer those nations eventual membership but not begin the process that would ultimately lead to their admission. Those objections may also have been behind Russia's increasingly provocative actions in 2008 with respect to the Georgian separatist regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

In July, 2008, the Czech Republic signed an agreement with the United States to base a radar system there; shortly thereafter there was a decrease in Russian oil supplies to the Czech Republic that Russia attributed to technical problems. Poland agreed to allow the basing of interceptors on its territory the following month. Also in July, Russia and China signed an agreement that finalized the demarcation of their shared borders; the pact was the last in a series of border agreements (1991, 1994, and 2004).

In Aug., 2008, after Georgia attempted to reestablish control over South Ossetia by force following a period of escalating tensions and violence, Russian troops drove Georgian troops from the region and invaded and occupied for a time neighboring parts of Georgia. Russia also reinforced its forces in Abkhazia, and it subsequently recognized Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent and established defense pacts with them. (In 2014 and 2015, Russia signed treaties with Abkhazia and South Ossetia, respectively, intended to integrate their militaries and economies with Russia's.) Putin's active and public role in the events of Aug., 2008, was seen as confirmation of his continuing preeminence in Russia's leadership.

Russia's attack against Georgia sparked concern in the United States and Europe, especially in E Europe, but also in the Commonwealth of Independent States, which President Medvedev subsequently declared by all but name as an area of special Russian privilege and influence. The fighting in Georgia also negatively affected international investment in Russia. Subsequently, the global financial crisis and falling oil, gas, and metals prices adversely affected Russian banks and stock markets, requiring massive government financial interventions, some of which continued into 2010. In Jan., 2009, Russia and Ukraine again reached an impasse over Russian natural gas sales to Ukraine, and it led a three-week shipment stoppage that also affected many European nations for part of that time. Shipments resumed after a new, ten-year agreement between Russian and Ukrainian energy companies was signed, but relations remained prickly. A drop in Ukrainian energy needs led Ukraine seek modification of the agreement in late 2009, and gas shipments and transshipments remained a point of contention is subsequent years. Local elections in Oct., 2009, resulted in significant wins for United Russia, but opposition leaders and independent observers denounced the results as fraudulent, and many opposition candidates were disqualified from running.

In Nov., 2009, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia signed agreements to establish in 2010 the customs union envisioned in the 2003 common economic space agreement; Ukraine, whose relations with Russia had soured since 2003, did not join. Although Russia's relations with Belarus were strained in Jan., 2010, over the amount of discounted oil Russia would sell its neighbor—Russia agreed to sell Belarus only enough discounted oil to meet its needs, but Belarus had been refining and exporting additional discounted oil at significant profit—when the customs union was begun in July, 2010, Belarus was a member. The three signatories subsequently agreed in May, 2014, to establish the Eurasian Economic Union in Jan., 2015, to increase economic integration and coordination.

N Caucasus Islamist insurgents mounted terror bombings in the Moscow subway in Mar., 2010, that killed 39 people; other bombings followed in Dagestan. The following month Russia and the United States signed the New START nuclear disarmament treaty; replacing START I, it set lower deployed warhead limits. In June–Aug., 2010, many parts of Russia suffered from an extended heat wave, which continued into September in some sections of S Russia. The heat and its associated drought had a devastating affect on crops, especially grain, and as a price-stabilization measure the government banned most grain exports until mid-2011. Conditions also led to an outbreak of wildfires, particularly in W Russia, which produced unhealthy smogs in Moscow and other cities. Caucasus Islamists claimed credit for the suicide bombing of one of Moscow's airports in Jan., 2011, in which 35 people died. In the Mar., 2011, regional elections, the ruling United Russia party won, but with less than half the vote it triumphed largely due to the divided opposition.

Putin announced in September that he would run again for president in 2012; at the same time, he called for Medvedev to lead United Russia in the Dec., 2011, parliamentary elections and become prime minister. In the parliamentary vote, United Russia won about 50% of the votes and a majority of the seats, but suffered significant losses compared to 2007 in a result that was seen as a personal setback for Putin. Observers criticized the election as flawed, and the Communists and others charged the government with fraud, leading to the most significant antigovernment protests in years. In the Mar., 2012, presidential election, Putin won with more than 60% of the vote amid charges of voting fraud and vote-counting irregularities. After Putin took office in May, he named Medvedev prime minister. Putin's new term as president was marked by increased government suppression and harassment of opposition groups, increased government control of the media, and recurring confrontations, mainly focused on trade and energy, with many of the E European nations that were formerly part of the Soviet Union.

After Ukrainian president Yanukovych was ousted (Feb., 2014), following weeks of protests beginning in late 2013 that were sparked by his rejection of an European Union association agreement in favor of aid and concessions from Russia, Russian forces moved to occupy Crimea and Sevastopol (the site of Russia's main Black Sea naval base) and then annexed the Crimean peninsula (Mar., 2014). The annexation was rejected in the UN General Assembly (Russia vetoed a Security Council resolution), and led to limited sanctions from Western nations, directed mainly at Putin's associates.

Russia also positioned sizable military forces not far from the Ukrainian border, promoted the destablization of SE Ukraine, and issued veiled threats that it might intervene militarily. Russia allowed arms and Russian paramilitaries across the border into Ukraine in the civil conflict in E Ukraine that followed its seizure of Crimea, and when Ukrainian forces appeared to be reestablishing control in August, Russian troops intervened on the side of the rebels. As a result, more severe sanctions were imposed, and Russia responded with sanctions of its own; Russia continued to support the rebels. These events, combined with falling oil prices, had a negative impact on the Russian economy and the value of the ruble. Disputes over payment for Russian natural gas led Gazprom to halt deliveries to Ukraine in June, 2014; EU-brokered negotiations led in October to a deal to restore gas deliveries, but Ukraine suspended purchases in July, 2015.


See V. O. Kliuchevskii, A History of Russia (tr., 5 vol., 1911–31; repr. 1960); H. Seton-Watson, The Russian Empire, 1801–1917 (1967); P. N. Miliukov et al., History of Russia (tr., 3 vol., 1968–69); R. E. Zelnik, Labor and Society in Tsarist Russia (1971); S. Galai, The Liberation Movement in Russia, 1900–1905 (1973); P. Dukes, The Making of Russian Absolutism, 1613–1801 (1982); H. Rogger, Russia in the Age of Modernisation and Revolution, 1881–1917 (1983); H. Smith, The Russians (1983) and The New Russians (1990); N. Riasanovsky, A History of Russia (1984); A. Kahan, The Plow, the Hammer, and the Knout: An Economic History of Eighteenth-Century Russia (1985); R. O. Crummey, The Formation of Muscovy, 1304–1613 (1987); S. H. Loory and A. Imse, Seven Days That Shook the World (1991); A. Roxburgh, The Second Russian Revolution (1991); R. Pipes, A Concise History of the Russian Revolution (1995); G. Hosking, Russia: People and Empire, 1552–1917 (1997); G. Freeze et al., Russia: A History (1998); R. Brady, Kapitalizm: Russia's Struggle to Free Its Economy (1999); M. Malia, Russia under Western Eyes (1999); D. K. Simes, After the Collapse: Russia Seeks Its Place as a Great Power (1999); S. F. Cohen, Failed Crusade: America and the Tragedy of Post-Communist Russia (2000); C. Freeland, Sale of the Century: Russia's Wild Ride from Communism to Capitalism (2000); G. Hosking, Russia and the Russians: A History (2001); D. Lieven, Empire: The Russian Empire and Its Rivals (2001) and Russia against Napoleon (2010); O. Figes, Natasha's Dance: A Cultural History of Russia (2002); A. Soldatov and I. Borogan, The New Nobility: The Restoration of Russia's Security State and the Enduring Legacy of the KGB (2010); S. Plokhy, The Last Empire: The Final Days of the Soviet Union (2014).

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RUSSIA , former empire in Eastern Europe; from 1918 the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (R.S.F.S.R.), from 1923 the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.); from 1990 the Russian Federation.

Until 1772


The penetration of Jews into the territories now incorporated within the Union began in the border regions beyond the Caucasus Mountains and the shores of the Black Sea. Traditions and legends connect the arrival of the Jews in *Armenia and *Georgia with the *Ten Lost Tribes (c. 721 b.c.e.) or with the Babylonian *Exile (586 b.c.e.). Clearer information on the settlement of the Jews in these regions has come down from the Hellenistic period. Ruins, recordings, and inscriptions on tombstones testify to the existence of important Jewish communities in the Greek colonies on the Black Sea shores, Chersonesus near *Sevastopol, *Kerch, and other places. Religious persecutions in the *Byzantine Empire caused many Jews to emigrate to these communities. At the time of the wars between the Muslims and Persians during the seventh century many Jews emigrated to the Caucasus and beyond, where they established communities which during subsequent generations maintained relations with the centers of Jewish learning in Babylonia and Persia. From the early Middle Ages, Jewish merchants, referred to in Hebrew as holkhei Rusyah, regularly traveled through the Slavonic and Khazar lands on their way to India and China. They traded in slaves, textiles, hides, spices and arms. It was during this period that the accepted term in Hebrew literature for those lands – Ere? Kena'an ("Land of Canaan") – appeared (originating in the etymological interpretation of the name "Slavs"), and the merchants were said to be familiar with the "language of Canaan" (Slavonic). It is clear that the conversion to Judaism of the kingdom of the *Khazars during the first half of the eighth century was to a certain degree due to the existence of the many Jewish communities in this region. Jews from the Christian and Muslim countries which bordered upon the Khazar realm were later attracted to the Jewish kingdom. Possibly refugees who escaped from this kingdom formed one of the elements of Russian Jewry in later generations, though their proportion in the composition of this Jewry is still under discussion.

The kingdom of the Jewish Khazars is referred to in ancient Russian literature as the "Land of the Jews," and warriors of the Russian epic poetry wage war against the Jewish warrior, the "zhidovin." According to one tradition, Prince Vladimir of Kiev conversed with Jews on religion before accepting Orthodox Christianity. At the same time, there were Jews living in Kiev. Ancient Russian sources mention the "Gate of the Jews" in Kiev. The Jews lived in the town under the protection of the prince, and when the inhabitants of the town rebelled against Prince Vladimir ii Monomachus (1117) they also attacked the houses of the Jews. Extracts of religious *disputations held in Kiev between monks and clergy and Jews have been preserved in the early Russian religious literature. There were also Jewish settlements in *Chernigov and Vladimir-Volynski. The Jews of Kiev also communicated with their coreligionists in Babylonia and Western Europe on religious questions. During the 12th century, there is mention of R. *Moses of Kiev who corresponded with Rabbenu Jacob b. Meir *Tam and with the Gaon *Samuel b. Ali of Baghdad.

The invasion of the Mongols (1237) and their rule brought much suffering to the Jews of Russia. An important community – *Rabbanites as well as *Karaites – subsequently developed in Theodosia (*Feodosiya, Crimea) and its surroundings, first under Genoese rule (1260–1475) and later under the Tatar khans of Crimea.

from the 14th century

From the beginning of the 14th century, the Lithuanians gained control over western Russia. Under Lithuania the first extensive privileges were granted to Jewish communities in the region at the end of the 14th century. Under Poland-Lithuania the wave of Jewish emigration and large-scale settlement from Poland to the *Ukraine,*Volhynia, and *Podolia from the middle of the 16th century laid the foundations at the close of this century for most of the Jewish communities of the Ukraine and Belorussia, and their Polish-Jewish culture and autonomy (see *Great Poland; *Councils of the Lands). In 1648–49 the *Chmielnicki massacres devastated the Jews of the Ukraine, and some years later the Muscovite armies annihilated the Jews in the cities of Belorussia and Lithuania that they had captured. During the 18th century, the Jews suffered severely during the revolts of the *Haidamacks. With the partitions of Poland at the end of the 18th century, most of the Jews of Lithuania and the Ukraine, and at the beginning of the 19th century also those of Poland, found themselves under Russian rule. During the 19th and 20th centuries Russian Jewry was, however, essentially an organic continuity of the Jewry of Poland and Lithuania in the ethnic as well as cultural respects.

principality of moscow

In the principality of Moscow, the nucleus of the future Russian Empire, Jews were not tolerated. This negative attitude toward Jews was connected with the negative attitude to foreigners in general, who were considered heretics and agents of the enemies of the state. During the 15th century, Jews arrived within the borders of the principality of Moscow in the wake of their trade from both the Tatar kingdom of Crimea and Poland-Lithuania. During the 1470s, the religious sect known in Russian history as the "*Judaizers" (Zhidovstvuyushchiye) was discovered in the large commercial city of *Novgorod and at the court in Moscow. The Jews were accused of having influenced and initiated the establishment of the sect. When Czar Ivan iv Vasilievich ("the Terrible"; 1530–84) temporarily annexed the town of Pskov to his territory, he ordered that all Jews who refused to convert to Christianity should be drowned in the river. During the following two centuries, Jews entered Russia either illegally or with authorization from Poland and Lithuania on trade, and they occasionally settled in border towns. Repeated decrees issued by the Russian rulers prohibiting the entry of Jewish merchants within their territories, and explicit articles included in the treaties between Poland and Russia emphasizing these prohibitions, testify that this penetration was a regular occurrence. Small Jewish communities existed during the early 19th century in the region of *Smolensk. In 1738 the Jew, Baruch b. Leib, was arrested and accused of having converted the officer Alexander *Voznitsyn to Judaism. Both were burned at the stake in St. Petersburg. In 1742 Czarina Elizabeth Petrovna ordered the expulsion of the few Jews living in her kingdom. When the senate attempted to obtain cancellation of the expulsion order by pointing out the economic loss which would be suffered by the Russian merchants and the state, the czarina retorted: "I do not want any benefit from the enemies of Christ."

At the beginning of the reign of Catherine ii, the question of authorizing the entry of Jews for trading purposes again arose. The czarina, who was inclined toward authorizing their admission, was compelled to reverse her decision in the face of hostile public opinion. Some Jews nevertheless penetrated into Russia during this period, while the authorities did not disturb those living in the territories conquered from Turkey in 1768 (Crimea and the Black Sea shore) and even unofficially encouraged the settlement of additional Jews in these territories. The question of the presence of Jews within the borders of the empire was however decided by historical circumstances, when at the close of the 18th century hundreds of thousands of Jews were placed under the dominion of the czars as a result of the three partitions of Poland (1772, 1793 and 1795).

Within the Russian Empire: First Phase (1772–1881)

The Jews who lived in the regions annexed by Russia (the "Western Region" and the "Vistula Region" in the terms of the Russian administration) formed a distinct social class. In continuation of their economic functions in Poland-Lithuania, they essentially formed the middle class between the aristocracy and the landowners on the one hand, and the masses of enslaved peasants on the other. Many of them earned their livelihood from the lease of villages, flour mills, forests, inns and taverns. Others were merchants, shopkeepers or hawkers. The remainder were craftsmen who worked for both landowner and peasant. Some of them lived in townlets which had mostly been founded on the initiative of the landowners and served as centers for the merchants and the craftsmen, while others lived in villages or at junctions of routes. It is estimated that the occupational structure of the Jews at the beginning of the 19th century was as shown in Table: 19th-Century Jewish Occupations, Russia.

Occupation %
Innkeeping and leases30
Trade and brokerage30
No fixed occupation21
Religious officials3

The economic position of the Jews steadily deteriorated with their confinement to the *Pale of Settlement (see below), their rapid growth in numbers, and consequent gradual proletarianization and increasing pauperization. The autonomy of the Jewish community was at first recognized. The Jews maintained their traditional educational network.

When they came under Russian rule, many of the communities had become heavily indebted. Economic difficulties, the burden of taxes – in particular the meat tax (see *korobka) – and social tensions drove many Jews to abandon the townlets and settle in villages or on the estates of noblemen. During the period of their transfer to Russian domination, the Jews of the "Western Region" were involved in a grave conflict between the *?asidim and the *Mitnaggedim. Once the Russian government gained control of this region, it became involved in this conflict. Complaints and slander even resulted in the arrest of *Shneur Zalman of Lyady in 1798 and his transfer to St. Petersburg for interrogation. The various ?asidic "courts" (the most important of which were those of *Lubavichi-Lyady, *Stolin, Talnoye, *Gora-Kalwaria, *Aleksandrow), as well as the yeshivot of the mitnaggedic type in Lithuania (the most important in the townlets of *Volozhin, founded in 1803, *Mir, *Telz (Telsiai), Eishishki (Eisiskes), and *Slobodka; see also *Maggid; *Musar movement) combined to form a flourishing and variegated Jewish culture.

crystallization of russian policy toward the jews

From the beginning of its annexation of the Polish territories, the Russian government adopted the attitude of viewing the Jews there as the "Jewish Problem," to be solved ultimately by their *assimilation or expulsion. During the first 50 years after incorporation within the borders of the empire, the general tendency of the government was to maintain the status of the Jews as it had been under Polish rule, while adapting it to the Russian requirements. A decree of 1791 confirmed the right of residence of the Jews in the territories annexed from Poland and permitted their settlement in the uninhabited steppes of the Black Sea shore, conquered from Turkey at the close of the 18th century, and in the provinces to the east of the R. Dnieper (*Chernigov and *Poltava) only. Thus crystallized the Pale of Settlement, which took its final form with the annexation of Bessarabia in 1812, and the "Kingdom of Poland" in 1815, extending from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea and including 25 provinces with an area of nearly 1,000,000 sq. km. (286,000 sq. mi.). The Jews formed one ninth of the total population of the area. Jewish residence was also authorized in *Courland and, at a later date, in the Caucasus and Russian Central Asia to Jews who had lived in these regions before the Russian conquest.

In the regions annexed from Poland, the Jews were caught up in the dilemma facing czarist rule there. The regime, whose power rested on the nobility, refrained from throwing the responsibility for the miserable plight of the mainly Orthodox peasants onto the Christian landowners, mainly of the Polish Catholic nobility, preferring to blame the Jews in the villages; it accepted the claim of the local nobility and officials allied to it that the Jews were causing the exploitation of the peasants (see G.R. *Derzhavin). The Jewish autonomy and independent culture added to this antagonism, as being alien to the Russian centralist regime and Christian-feudal culture.

These concerns animated the first "Jewish Statute" promulgated in 1804. Its first article authorized the admission of the Jews to all the elementary, secondary and higher schools in Russia. Jews were also authorized to establish their own schools, provided that the language of instruction was Russian, Polish or German. The most important of the economic articles of the statute was the prohibition of the residence of Jews in the villages, of all leasing activity in the villages, and of the sale of alcoholic beverages (see *Wine and Liquor Trade) to the peasants. This struck at the source of livelihood of thousands of Jewish families. The legislation therefore declared that Jews would be allowed to settle as peasants on their lands or on the lands which would be allocated to them by the government. Government support was also promised to factories which would employ Jewish workers and to craftsmen.

In 1817 Alexander i outlawed the *blood libel which had caused terror and suffering to the Jewish communities in the 18th century.

A short while after the publication of the "Jewish Statute," the expulsion of the Jews from the villages began, as did their settlement in southern Russia. It was, however, soon evident that agricultural settlement (see *agriculture) could not rapidly absorb the thousands of Jewish families who had been removed from their livelihoods. The expulsion order was therefore delayed, this being also due to the political and military situation in Russia during the war against Napoleon. Only in 1822 was the systematic expulsion of the Jews from the villages, especially in the provinces of Belorussia, resumed. An unsuccessful attempt was also made to induce the Jews to convert to Christianity by promises of *emancipation and government support for their settlement on the land.

under nicholas i

The reign of *Nicholas i (1825–55) forms a somber chapter in the history of Russian Jewry. This czar, notorious in Russian history for his cruelty, sought to solve the "Jewish Problem" by suppression and coercion. In 1827 he ordered the conscription of Jewish youths into the army under the iniquitous *Cantonists system which conscripted youths aged from 12 to 25 years into military service; those aged under 18 were sent to special military schools also attended by the children of soldiers. This law caused profound demoralization within the communities of Lithuania and the Ukraine (it did not apply to the Jews of the "Polish" provinces). Nobody wished to serve in the army in the prevailing inhuman conditions and the "trustees" responsible on behalf of the communities for filling the quotas of conscripts were compelled to employ "snatchers" ("khapers") to seize the youngsters. The military obligations of the Jews in Russia brought no alleviation of their condition in other spheres, and the expulsions of Jews from the villages continued with regularity. The Jews were also expelled from Kiev, and any new settlement of Jews in the towns and townlets within a distance of 50 versts of the country's borders was prohibited in 1843. On the other hand, the government encouraged agricultural settlement among Jews. The settlers were exempted from military service. Many Jewish settlements were established on government and privately owned lands in southern Russia and other regions of the Pale of Settlement.

During the 1840s, the government began to concern itself with the education of the Jews. Since the Jews had not made use of the opportunity which had been given to them in 1804 to study in the general schools, the government decided to establish a network of special schools for them. The maintenance of these schools would be provided for by a special tax (the "*candle tax") which would be imposed on them. In order to pave the way for this activity, the government sent Max *Lilienthal, a German Jew employed as teacher in the school established in Riga by the local maskilim, on a reconnaissance trip through the Pale of Settlement. During 1841–42 Lilienthal visited the large communities of the Pale of Settlement – Vilna, Minsk, Berdichev, Odessa, and Kiev. He was received with suspicion by the Jewish masses, who regarded the project to establish government schools for Jews as a medium for the estrangement of their children from their religion. In 1844 a decree was issued ordering the establishment of these schools, whose teachers would be both Christians and Jews. In secret instructions which accompanied the decree, it was declared that "the purpose of the education of the Jews is to bring them nearer to the Christians and to uproot their harmful beliefs which are influenced by the Talmud." Lilienthal became aware of the government's intentions and fled from Russia. The government established this network of schools which depended for instruction upon a handful of maskilim and at the head of which were the seminaries for rabbis and teachers of Vilna and *Zhitomir. These institutions, to which the Jewish masses shrank from sending their children, served as the cradle for a class of Russian-speaking maskilim which was to play an important role in the lives of the Jews during the following generations.

In 1844 the government abolished the Polish-style communities but was nevertheless compelled to recognize a limited communal organization whose function it was to watch over the conscription into the army and the collection of the special taxes – the korobka and "candle tax." The community was also responsible for the election of the *kazyonny ravvin ("government-appointed rabbi"), whose function it was to register births, marriages, and deaths and to deliver sermons on official holidays extolling the government. A law was also issued prohibiting Jews from growing pe'ot ("sidelocks") and wearing their traditional clothes.

The next stage of the program of Nicholas i was the division of the Jews of his country into two groups: "useful" and "non-useful." Among the "useful" ranked the wealthy merchants, craftsmen, and agriculturalists. All the other Jews, the small tradesmen and the poorer classes, constituted the "non-useful" and were threatened with general conscription into the army, where they would be trained in crafts or agriculture. This project encountered the opposition of Russian statesmen and aroused the intervention of the Jews of Western Europe on behalf of their coreligionists. In 1846 Sir Moses *Montefiore traveled from England to Russia for this purpose. The order to classify the Jews according to these categories was nevertheless issued in 1851. The Crimean War delayed its application but amplified the tragedy of military conscription. The quota was increased threefold and the "snatchers" were given a free hand to seize children and travelers who did not possess documents, and hand them over to the army. The reign of Nicholas i came to an end with the memory of those days of intensified kidnapping.

under alexander ii

The reign of *Alexander ii (1855–81) is connected with great reforms in the Russian regime, the most important of which was the emancipation of the peasants in 1861 from their servitude to the landowners. Toward the Jews, Alexander ii adopted a milder policy with the same objective as that of his predecessor of achieving the assimilation of the Jews to Russian society. He repealed the severest of his father's decrees (including the Cantonists system) and gave a different interpretation to the classification system by granting various rights – in the first place the right of residence throughout Russia – to selected groups of "useful" Jews, which included wealthy merchants (1859), university graduates (1861), certified craftsmen (1865), as well as medical staff of every category (medical orderlies and midwives). The Jewish communities outside the Pale of Settlement rapidly expanded, especially those of St. Petersburg and Moscow whose influence on the way of life of Russian Jewry became important.

In 1874 a general draft into the army was introduced in Russia. Thousands of young Jews were now called upon to serve in the army of the czar for four years. Important alleviations were granted to those having a Russian secondary-school education. This encouraged the stream of Jews toward the Russian schools. At the same time, Jews were not admitted to officers' ranks.

The general atmosphere the new laws engendered was of no less importance than the laws themselves. The administration relaxed its pressure on the Jews and there was a feeling among them that the government was slowly but surely proceeding toward the emancipation of the Jews. Jews began to take part in the intellectual and cultural life of Russia in journalism, literature, law, the theater and the arts; the number of professionals was then very small in Russia, and Jews soon became prominent among their ranks in quantity and quality. Some Jews distinguished themselves, such as the composer Anton *Rubinstein (baptized in childhood), the sculptor Mark *Antokolski and the painter Isaac *Levitan.

This appearance of Jews in economic, political and cultural life immediately aroused a sharp reaction in Russian society. The leading opponents of the Jews included several of the country's most prominent intellectuals, such as the authors Ivan Aksakov and Fyodor Dostoyevski. The attitude of the liberal and revolutionary elements in Russia toward the Jews was also lukewarm. The Jews were accused of maintaining "a state within a state" (the enemies of the Jews found support for this opinion in the work of the apostate J. *Brafman, The Book of the Kahal, published in 1869), and of "exploiting" the Russian masses; even the blood libel was renewed by agitators (as that of Kutais in 1878). However, the principal argument of the hate-mongers was that the Jews were an alien element invading the areas of Russian life, gaining control of economic and cultural positions, and a most destructive influence. Many newspapers, led by the influential Novoye Vremya, engaged in anti-Jewish agitation. The anti-Jewish movement gained in strength especially after the Balkan War (1877–78), when a wave of Slavophile nationalism swept through Russian society.

population growth

One of the factors which influenced the position of the Jews was their high natural increase, due to the high birthrate and the relatively low mortality among children – the result of the devoted care of Jewish mothers as well as of medical progress. The number of Jews in Russia, which in 1850 had been estimated at 2,350,000, rose to over 5,000,000 at the close of the 19th century, notwithstanding a considerable emigration abroad. Governmental commissions appointed to deal with the "Jewish Problem" received instructions to seek methods for the reduction of the number of Jews in the country.

economic position

The natural growth resulted in increased competition in the traditionally Jewish occupations. The numbers of small shopkeepers, peddlers and brokers rose steadily. Many joined the craftsmen's class, a step which in those days was considered a fall in social status. A Jewish proletariat began to develop; it included workshop and factory workers, daily workers, male and female domestics, and porters. At the same time there also emerged a small but influential class of wealthy Jews who succeeded in adapting to the requirements of the Russian Empire and established contacts with government circles. The first members of this class were contractors engaged by the government in the building of roads and fortresses, or purveyors to army offices and units. During the reign of Nicholas i, many Jews engaged in leasing the sale of alcoholic beverages which had become a government monopoly. From the 1860s, Jews played an important role in the construction of railroads and the development of mines, industry (especially the foodstuff and textile industries), and export trade (timber; grain). They were among the leading founders of the banking network of Russia. This class of Jews was prominent in St. Petersburg, Moscow, Odessa, Kiev and Warsaw. This upper bourgeoisie, headed by the *Guenzburg and *Polyakov families, considered themselves the leaders of Russian Jewry. They were closely connected with Jews who had acquired a higher education and had penetrated the Russian intelligentsia and the liberal professions (lawyers, physicians, architects, newspaper editors, scientists and writers). The wealth and the status of this small class was however unable to alleviate the suffering of the destitute masses. After the emancipation of the serfs in 1861, the serious lack of land for the Russian peasants themselves became evident and the government ceased to encourage Jewish settlement on the land. Emigration became the only outlet. Until the 1870s, the migration was mainly an internal one, from Lithuania and Belorussia in the direction of southern Russia. While in 1847, only 2.5 percent of Russian Jews lived in the southern provinces, the proportion had increased to 13.8 percent in 1897. Important new communities appeared in this region: Odessa (about 140,000 Jews), Yekaterinoslav (*Dnepropetrovsk), Yelizavetgrad (*Kirovograd), *Kremenchug, etc. The famine in Lithuania at the end of the 1870s encouraged emigration toward Western Europe and the United States.

haskalah in russia

From the middle of the 19th century, *Haskalah became influential among Russian Jewry. Its first manifestations, combined with signs of assimilation, appeared in the large commercial cities (Warsaw, Odessa, Riga). Among the Russian adherents of Haskalah, there was a trend to preserve Judaism and its values; hence they tended to seek changes based mainly on a thread of continuity. Although there were also circles which stood for complete assimilation and absorption in Eastern Europe (the "Poles of the Mosaic Faith" of Poland, nihilist and socialist circles in Russia), the majority of the maskilim sought a path which would preserve the national or national-religious identity of the Jews, while some of them even developed an indubitable nationalist ideology (Pere? *Smolenskin). The herald of the Haskalah in Russia was the author Isaac Dov (Baer) *Levinsohn. In his Te'udah be-Yisrael (Vilna, 1828), he formulated an educational and productivization program. The most distinguished pioneers of Haskalah in Russia were the author Abraham *Mapu, the father of the Hebrew novel, and the poet Judah Leib *Gordon. Even though the maskilim were at first opposed to Yiddish, which they sought to replace by the language of the country, some of them later created a secular Yiddish literature (I.M. *Dick; Shalom Yankev *Abramovitsh (Mendele Mokher Seforim); and others). At the initiative of the maskilim, there also emerged a Jewish press in Hebrew (*Ha -Maggid, founded in 1856; *Ha-Meli?); in Yiddish (*Kol Mevasser); and in Russian (*Razsvet, founded in 1860; Den). The ?evrat Mefi?ei Haskalah ("*Society for the Promotion of Culture among the Jews of Russia"), founded in 1863 by a group of wealthy Jews and intellectuals of St. Petersburg, was an important factor in spreading Haskalah and the Russian language among Jews.

These books and newspapers infiltrated into the batteimidrash and the yeshivot, influencing students to leave them. Severe ideological disputes broke out in many communities, often between father and son, rabbi and disciples. The government assisted the spread of Haskalah as long as its adherents supported loyalty to the czarist regime (as expressed by J.L. Gordon – "to your king a serf") and cooperated in promoting educational and productivization programs, as well as in its opposition to the traditional leadership. By the 1870s, the activity of the maskilim began to bear fruit. The mass of Jewish youth streamed to the Russian-Jewish and general Russian schools. The general conscription law of 1874 encouraged this process, and thus began the estrangement of the intellectual youth from its people and Jewish affairs – to the despair of the nationalist wing of the Haskalah which resigned itself to this situation. However, the rise of the antisemitic movement within Russian society during the late 1870s (see above) resulted in a nationalist awakening among this youth. This was expressed in the development of a Jewish-Russian press and literature dealing with the problems of the Jews and Judaism (Razsvet; Russki Yevrey; *Voskhod).

Within the Russian Empire: Second Phase (1881–1917)

The year 1881 was a turning point in the history of the Jews of Russia. In March 1881 revolutionaries assassinated Alexanderii. Confusion reigned throughout the country. The revolutionaries called on the people to rebel. The regime was compelled to protect itself, and the Russian government found a scapegoat: the notion was encouraged that the Jews were responsible for the misfortunes of the nation. Anti-Jewish riots (*pogroms) broke out in a number of towns and townlets of southern Russia including Yelizavetgrad (Kirovograd) and Kiev. These disorders consisted of looting, while there were few acts of murder or rape. Similar pogroms were repeated in 1882 (*Balta, etc.); in 1883 (Yekaterinoslav, now Dnepropetrovsk, *Krivoi Rog, Novo-Moskovsk, etc.); and in 1884 (Nizhni-Novgorod, now *Gorki). The indifference to – and at times even sympathy for – the rioters on the part of the Russian intellectuals shocked many Jews, especially the maskilim among them. Revolutionary circles which hoped to transform these disorders into a revolt against the landowners and government also supported the rioters. The new czar, *Alexander iii (1881–94), and his cabinet underlined these trends in their policy toward the Jews. Provincial commissions were appointed in the wake of the pogroms to investigate their causes. In the main, these commissions stated that "Jewish exploitation" had caused the pogroms. Based on this finding, the "Temporary Laws" were published in May 1882 (see *May Laws). These prohibited the Jews from living in villages and restricted the limits of their residence to the towns and townlets. In an attempt to halt the flood of Jews now seeking entry to secondary schools and universities, and their competition with the non-Jewish element, the number of Jewish students in the secondary and higher schools was limited by law in 1886 to 10 percent in the Pale of Settlement and to 3–5 percent outside it. This *numerus clausus did much to accomplish the radicalization of Jewish youth in Russia. Many went to study abroad; others were able to enter Russian schools only if showing outstanding ability. All became embittered and disillusioned with the existing Russian society. In 1891 the systematic expulsion of most of the Jews from Moscow began. The pogroms were indeed halted in 1884 but instead administrative harassment of Jews became worse. The police strictly applied the discriminatory laws, and the expulsion of Jews from towns and villages where they had lived peacefully during the reign of Alexander ii was effected, either under the law or with the help of bribery, to become a daily occurrence. The press (which was subjected to severe censorship) conducted a campaign of unbridled antisemitic propaganda. K. *Pobedonostsev, the head of the "Holy Synod" (the governing body of the Russian Orthodox Church), formulated the objectives of the government when he expressed the hope that "one third of the Jews will convert, one third will die, and one third will flee the country."

This policy was also continued under *Nicholas ii (1894–1918). In reaction to the growth of the revolutionary movement, in which the radicalized Jewish youth took an increasing part, the government gave free rein to the antisemitic press and agitation. During Passover in 1903, a pogrom broke out in *Kishinev in which many Jews lost their lives. From then on pogroms became a part of government policy. They gained in violence in 1904 (in Zhitomir) and reached their climax in October 1905, immediately after the czar had been compelled to proclaim the granting of a constitution to his people. In these pogroms, the police and the army openly supported the rioters and protected them against the Jewish self-defense organizations (see below). Pogroms accompanied by bloodshed in which the army actively participated occurred in *Bialystok (June 1906) and *Siedlce (September 1906). The establishment of the Imperial Duma brought no change to the situation of the Jews. There was indeed a limited Jewish representation in the Duma (12 delegates in the first Duma of 1906 and two to four delegates in the second, third and fourth Dumas), but this representation was faced by a powerful Rightist party – the *Union of the Russian People – and related parties, whose principal weapon in the political struggle against the liberal and radical elements was a savage antisemitism which overtly called for the elimination of the Jews from Russia.

It was these circles which produced the "Protocols of the *Elders of Zion" which served, and still serve, as fuel for antisemitism throughout the world. In this atmosphere, a proposal for a debate in the Duma on the abolition of the Pale of Settlement was shelved, while a suggestion to exclude the Jews from military service was not accepted for the sole reason that the government could not dispense with the service of about 40,000 Jewish soldiers. Characteristic of this period was the law issued in 1912 which prohibited the appointment as officers not only of apostates from Judaism, but also of their children and grandchildren. In 1913 the government held a blood libel trial in Kiev involving Mendel *Beilis: the antisemitic propaganda was intensified and the government mobilized its police and judicial cadres to obtain his conviction. A strong defense was mustered, including the Jews O. *Grusenberg and Rabbi J. *Mazeh, which succeeded in disproving the libel: the jury, consisting of 12 Russian peasants, acquitted the accused.

The pogroms, restrictive decrees and administrative pressure caused a mass emigration of Jews from Russia, especially to the United States. During 1881 to 1914 about 2,000,000 Jews left Russia. This emigration did not result in a decrease in the Jewish population of the country as the high birthrate recompensed the losses through emigration. The economic situation improved, however, because the pressure on the sources of livelihood did not grow at its former pace and also because the emigrants rapidly began to send financial assistance to their relatives in Russia. Several attempts were made to organize and regulate this continual emigration, the most important by the Jewish philanthropist Baron Maurice de *Hirsch who reached an agreement in 1891 with the Russian government on the transfer of 3,000,000 Jews within 25 years to Argentina. For this purpose, the *Jewish Colonization Association (ica) was established. Even though the project was not realized, ica was very active in promoting Jewish agricultural settlement both in the lands of emigration and in Russia itself.

jewish population at the close of the 19th century

The comprehensive population census of 1897 provides a general picture of the demographic and economic condition of Russian Jewry at the close of the 19th century. In the census 5,189,400 Jews were counted; they constituted 4.13 percent of the total Russian population and about one-half of world Jewry. Their distribution over the Russian Empire appears in Table: Russian Jewish Population, 1897.

Region Number of Jews % of total population
1 93.9% of the Jews of Russia.
2 Excluding the Jews of Bukhara.
Ukraine, Bessarabia2,148,0599.3
Lithuania, Belorussia1,410,00114.1
Russian Poland1,316,57614.1
Total in Pale of Settlement 4,874,63611.51
Interior of Russia, Finland208,3530.34
Siberia, Russian Central Asia47,9410.352
Total Russian Jewish Population 5,189,4014.13

In certain provinces of the Pale of Settlement, the percentage of Jews rose above their general proportion (18.12 percent in the province of Warsaw; 17.28 percent in the province of Grodno). The overwhelming majority of the Jews in the Pale lived in towns (48.84 percent) and townlets (33.05 percent). Only 18.11 percent lived in villages. The Jews of the villages nevertheless numbered about 890,000. A decisive factor in the social pattern of Russian Jewry was its concentration in the towns and townlets. The townlet (see *shtetl) – a legacy of the social structure of ancient Poland – was a center of commerce and crafts for the neighboring villagers and its population was mostly Jewish. There Jewish tradition, cohesion, and folkways were well preserved, serving as the basis and starting point for both the conservative and innovative forces in Jewish culture. In the larger cities, the majority of the Jews also resided in the same locality and led their own social life.

The largest Jewish communities in Russia in 1897 appear in Table: Jewish Communities in Russia, 1897.

City Number of Jews % of total population
Yekaterinoslav (Dnepropetrovsk)40,93736.3

There were also many medium-sized towns in which the majority of the population was Jewish.

economic structure

This concentration of the Jews, and their intensive and variegated cultural life, made them a clearly distinct nation living in the Pale of Settlement. Their occupations and professional structure also gave a specific character to their society. In 1897 the Jews of Russia could be divided according to their sources of livelihood as shown in Table: Jews' Sources of Livelihood, Russia, 1897.

Occupation %
Crafts and industry35.43
Domestics and daily workers6.61
Liberal professions and administration5.22
Without regular source of livelihood5.49

In the Pale of Settlement Jews formed 72.8 percent of those engaged in commerce, 31.4 percent of those engaged in crafts and industry, and 20.9 percent of those engaged in transportation. At the close of the 19th century, the Jewish proletariat increased and numbered some 600,000. Approximately half of them were apprentices and workers employed by craftsmen, about 100,000 were salesmen, about 70,000 were factory workers, and the remainder daily workers, porters, and domestics. The desire of this proletariat to improve its material and social status, and its contacts with the revolutionary Jewish intelligentsia during the generation which preceded the 1917 Revolution, became an important factor in the lives of the Jews of Russia.

ideological trends

The last 20 years of the czarist regime were a time of tension and renaissance for the Jews, especially within the younger circles. This awakening essentially stemmed from conscious resistance to, and rejection of, the oppressive regime, the degraded status of the Jew in the country, and the search for methods for change. One response to the oppressive policy of the czarist government was to join one of the trends of the Russian revolutionary movement. The radical Jewish youth joined clandestine organizations in the towns of Russia and abroad. Many Jews ranked among the leaders of the revolutionaries. The leaders of the Social Democrats included J. *Martov and L. *Trotsky, while Ch. *Zhitlowski and G.A. *Gershuni figured among the founders of the Socialist Revolutionary Party of Russia. With the growth of national consciousness in revolutionary circles at the close of the 19th century, a Jewish workers' revolutionary movement was formed. Workers' unions which had been founded through the initiative of Jewish intellectuals united and established the *Bund in 1897. The Bund played an important role in the Russian revolutionary movement in the Pale of Settlement. It regarded itself as part of the all-Russian Social Democratic Party but gradually came to insist upon certain national demands such as: the right to cultural autonomy for the Jewish masses, recognition of Yiddish as the national language of the Jews, the establishment of schools in this language, and the development of the press and literature. The Bund was particularly successful in Lithuania and Poland, where after a short time it raised the social status of the worker and the apprentice, and implanted in them the courage to stand up to their employers and the authorities.

Another response of the Jews to their oppression in Russia found expression in the Zionist movement. Zionism originated in the *?ibbat Zion movement which came into being after the pogroms of 1881–83 (see also Leon *Pinsker). A few of the hundreds of thousands of Jews who left for overseas turned toward Ere? Israel and established the first settlements there. ?ovevei Zion societies in Russia propagated the idea of this settlement and raised funds for its maintenance. The movement gained great impetus with the appearance of Theodor *Herzl, the convention of the First Zionist Congress in Basle, and the founding of the World Zionist Organization (1897). Because of the political regime of Russia, the central institutions of the Zionist Organization were established in Western Europe, even though the mass of its members and influence came from Russian Jewry. Zionism won adherence among all Jewish groups: the Orthodox and maskilim, the middle class and proletariat, the youth and intelligentsia.