Russia today is made up of a wide group of very different peoples and lands. The origins of the people we call the Russians are believed to come from a mixture of Viking tribes from Scandinavia and the Slavic peoples of what is now Ukraine. The first known leader was Rurik who is chronicled as the ruler of Novgorod in 860.The capital city was Kiev and during the 11th century the Kiev Russ became Christian and enjoyed a period of unparalleled growth and civilization. All this was to end in destruction as the Mongol horde swept westwards and crushed al resistance in their path. Kiev never recovered but a small well-defended town called Moscow became the centre of a new period of development for the Russ. First working with the Mongol invader, but later overthrowing them and driving them back to what are now Chuvashia and Tatarstan, the kings of Moscow began to acquire more and more territory by war, alliance and marriage.
Ivan the fourth became known as Ivan the Terrible for his brutal suppression of his opponents and for his cruel treatment of his enemies. Before his death in 1584, he conquered the remaining centres of Tatar power such as Kazan and Astrakhan and began the Russian expansion into Siberia. During his reign some of Russia's finest architecture was created including the magnificent St Basil's cathedral in Moscow. Once again, however, Russia was plunged into conflict following the death of his son without leaving a clear heir to the throne. Power struggles, famine and finally waves of invaders from Poland and the Baltic completed Russia's misery until in 1612 Minin and Pozharsky led a militia army and reclaimed all the lost territory. During the peace which followed, the new Tsar was chosen, Michael Romanov who founded the dynasty of the Romanovs which lasted until the 1917 revolution.
By the end of the 17th Century, Russia stretched from the Pacific Ocean to the Baltic Sea and Tsar Peter the Great decided it was time to bring Russia up to the level of other European cities. He founded St Petersburg and instituted a period of growth and construction in the city which is still admired to this day. The beauty and grandeur of the city is in no small part thanks to his vision for Russia. The following century saw rulers such as Catherine the Great crush peasant revolts and reinforce the power of the landowning classes but in 1812, Napoleon launched an invasion of Russia. His campaign was nearly successful but the terrible winter and resolute resistance led to his defeat and brought the Russian army to the gates of Paris.
During the remainder of the 19th century, Russia lagged behind the Western nations as they became industrialized and it was not until 1861 that the serfs were finally emancipated. It was a time of stirring undercurrents of political discontent and a period of conflicting ideologies which were to spill over into the 20th century. Following a disastrous war with Japan in 1905, revolution tore at the regime and Tsar Nicholas II was forced to form the Duma or parliament to represent the views of his people. Due to a treaty with Serbia, Russia was brought into the First World War and following strikes, rationing and heavy loss of life, once again in October 1917, revolution broke out in Russia. This time the revolutionary forces held power and executed the royal family. Led by Lenin, the Bolshevik party created a new socialist Russia and began the huge task of modernizing the country. The revolution spread and from 1922 until 1991 the history of Russia becomes the history of the USSR.
The revolution instigated massive social and political changes but as the leadership passed into the hands of Stalin, it became clear that the spectre of absolute power and the terror that comes with it had returned to Russia. Many millions of people faced imprisonment in forced labour camps as successive economic plans were put in place. In 1941, once again Russia fell victim to invasion by the Nazis. In what is know as the great patriotic war, the Russian people suffered enormous casualties before driving back the enemy and creating what became the post-war map of Europe.
The ensuing 40 years were a period of tension and mistrust between East and West made all the more poignant by the nuclear arms race and the competition to conquer space. By the end of the 1980's political pressure, economic factors and a long drawn out conflict in Afghanistan saw the breakdown of the USSR and the end of Soviet power. Russia was once again in crisis, a deep economic crisis which saw huge price increases and a very uncertain time for Russian citizens. When Vladimir Putin took office in 2000, things were at rock bottom but despite gloomy forecasts, growth has taken off and Russia is once again taking its place on the world stage.