Russia is an enormous country spanning much of Asia and Europe. It covers 6,592,800 square miles (17,075,400 sq. km), making it the largest nation on earth, and nearly twice as large as the United States or China. It shares borders with Azerbaijan, Belarus, China, Estonia, Finland, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Mongolia, North Korea, Norway, Poland, and the Ukraine.
Much of the land that is now Russia has been inhabited for millennia. Early inhabitants such as the Scythians and other tribes made their homes throughout the region. The Greeks arrived in parts of the region in the 7th century BCE, and was eventually succeeded by the Bosporan Kingdom. The Bosporans were eventually driven down by various nomadic groups, such as the Huns and Avars, who pushed through this area on their way elsewhere.
In the 7th century, a number of Slavic tribes began to arrive, settling and populating the region that is now western Russia. In the 9th century, Vikings from Scandinavia began to settle in the region, eventually forming a loose confederation of states that was known as Kievan Rus’.
The waning power of Keivan Rus’ in the face of internal strife meant that the confederation was not at all equipped to deal with the Golden Horde of the Mongols when they swept down from the steppes in the 13th century. While the Mongols destroyed great swaths of the country, they also assisted in repelling invaders from the West trying to force Roman Catholicism on the region, and helped develop a number of key infrastructures, including a cohesive military organization and postal network.
The principality of Moscow was formed in the late 13th century, quickly rising in power. By the end of the 14th century the Mongols had been driven back substantially, and the power of Moscow continued to grow. During the 15th century the Grand Duchy of Moscow continued to acquire land and consolidate its power, eventually defeating the Mongols completely, and by the 16th century having unified most of the region.
In the mid-16th century Moscow enforced its claim of control over Russia ruthlessly under the rule of Ivan IV, also known as Ivan the Terrible, who conquered large amounts of land and spread east into Siberia. When Ivan died, the state went into disarray, and over the next decade the country would lose both land and power. In the early 17th century a new ruler, Michael Romanov, was elected, founding the Romanov Dynasty that would go on to rule Russia until its modern revolution.
The Romanovs consolidated political power even further, and under Peter I (Peter the Great) underwent a massive campaign of Westernization. The Russian Empire under Peter drove back the Ottoman Turks, and secured land from Sweden. In the mid-18th century Catherine II, also known as Catherine the Great, took power, further extending the country's reach into Central Europe. Her successor went on to conquer Finland, and to repel Napoleon in the early-19th century.
Russia went on to become increasingly autocratic, and pushed into Ottoman lands in the Balkans. It liberalized substantially during the early 20th century in an attempt to quiet growing discontent, but the remaining Imperial system, along with the incredible drain of World War I, led to a full-blown revolution in 1917.
Following the abdication of the Czar, a Civil War broke out between the various factions vying for control of the new government. The Bolshevik faction eliminated all dissidents and rivals through their Red Army and secret police, and eventually seized control of the government. In 1922 the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) was formed under Lenin, instituting a Communist government over all of Russia and its holdings.
Following the death of Lenin, a power struggle took place at the top levels of government, resulting in the eventual ascension of Stalin. Stalin would rule the Soviet Union brutally until his death in 1953, implementing massive purges. The Soviet Union, having risen to the status of a superpower, also faced severe losses and the destruction of infrastructure during World War II.
Concerns by the United States over the future path of Eastern Europe after the war led to the Cold War. Through the 1980s, severe cracks began to appear in the structure of the Soviet Union. Although formulated like a modern state, in many ways it remained a patchwork compilation of territories acquired after World War I, and the successor to the Ottoman and Austro-Hungarian Empires. In 1991 the Soviet Union collapsed, with its constituent parts declaring independence, although many of them retained close ties to the Russian Federation.
Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Russia has begun to implement more capitalist economic reforms, opening the country drastically to the West and the rest of the world. The early years of these reforms proved catastrophic, with a severe depression sweeping the nation. Since 1999, the nation has started to recover economically, although at the same time the government appears to becoming increasingly more autocratic, consolidating power and curtailing liberties.
Russia dwarfs all other countries on Earth in terms of land area, so it’s unsurprising that there is plenty for a visitor to do there. While travelers should avoid conflict zones like Chechnya and Dagestan, that still leaves a lot of territory to cover. Moscow and St. Petersburg are both known for their depth of culture and Orthodox churches. Many people enjoy seeing the country by taking the Trans-Siberian railway across the length of the country, nearly 6000 miles (10,000 km), passing by Lake Baikal, and going through Irkutsk.