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At an early period in the history of Greece, we hear of colonies established on the northern shore of the Pontus Euxinus or Hospitable Sea, as they named the Black Sea. In the fourth century before our era, some of these colonies united under a hereditary archon or governor, probably for the purpose of securing better protection against the barbarians who dwelt further inland. The Greeks mention these barbarians as the Scythians.
The truth is that we know very little about the early inhabitants of Russia; nor do they concern us greatly, because grave changes occurred in the fourth century of our era. At that time several large and warlike tribes of Central Asia moved westward compelling other tribes on their route to join them or to move ahead. Thus they gathered strength until it looked as if Asia was bent upon the conquest of Europe. They poured in through the gap between the Ural mountains and the Caspian Sea, and the civilized people of southeastern Europe were unable to cope with the savage hordes. In the vanguard were the Goths, who made an effort to settle in Scythia, but they were forced to move on when Attila, who is known as the Scourge of God, swooped down upon them with his Huns. He was followed by a host of Finns, Bulgarians, Magyars, and Slavs who, however, left his wake, scattered and settled down. Soon after the Slavs became known to Greek authors and were described by them. They were divided into a number of tribes, among them the Russian Slavs who settled about the sources of the Volga and the Oka, and were the founders of Novgorod, Pskof, and Izborsk.
The history of Russia begins with that of the East Slavs, the ethnic group that eventually split into the Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians (white Russians). The first East Slavic state, Kievan Rus', adopted Christianity from the Byzantine Empire in 988, beginning the synthesis of Byzantine and Slavic cultures that defined Russian culture for the next seven centuries. Kievan Rus' ultimately disintegrated as a state, leaving a number of states competing for claims to be the heirs to its civilization and dominant position.
Founded in the 12th century, the Principality of Muscovy was able to emerge from over 200 years of Mongol domination (13th-15th centuries) and to gradually conquer and absorb surrounding principalities. In the early 17th century, a new Romanov Dynasty continued this policy of expansion across Siberia to the Pacific. Under PETER I (ruled 1682-1725), hegemony was extended to the Baltic Sea and the country was renamed the Russian Empire. By the 18th century, the Grand Duchy of Moscow had become the huge Russian Empire, stretching from Poland eastward to the Pacific Ocean. During the 19th century, more territorial acquisitions were made in Europe and Asia. Expansion in the western direction sharpened Russia's awareness of its backwardness and shattered the isolation in which the initial stages of expansion had occurred. Successive regimes of the 19th century responded to such pressures with a combination of halfhearted reform and repression. Russian serfdom was abolished in 1861, but its abolition was achieved on terms unfavorable to the peasants and served to increase revolutionary pressures. Between the abolition of serfdom and the beginning of World War I in 1914, the Stolypin reforms, the constitution of 1906 and State Duma introduced notable changes in economy and politics of Russia, but the tsars were still not willing to cede autocratic rule.
Military defeat and food shortages triggered the Russian Revolution in 1917, bringing the Communist Bolsheviks to power. Between 1922 and 1991, the history of Russia is essentially the history of the Soviet Union, effectively an ideologically based empire which was roughly coterminous with the Russian Repeated devastating defeats of the Russian army in World War I led to widespread rioting in the major cities of the Russian Empire and to the overthrow in 1917 of the imperial household. The Communists under Vladimir LENIN seized power soon after and formed the USSR. The brutal rule of Joseph STALIN (1928-53) strengthened communist rule and Russian dominance of the Soviet Union at a cost of tens of millions of lives. The Soviet economy and society stagnated in the following decades until General Secretary Mikhail GORBACHEV (1985-91) introduced glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) in an attempt to modernize Communism, but his initiatives inadvertently released forces that by December 1991 splintered the USSR into Russia and 14 other independent republics. Since then, Russia has struggled in its efforts to build a democratic political system and market economy to replace the social, political, and economic controls of the Communist period. While some progress has been made on the economic front, and Russia's management of its windfall oil wealth has improved its financial standing, recent years have seen a recentralization of power under Vladimir PUTIN and democratic institutions remain weak. Russia has severely weakened the Chechen rebel movement, and has shifted its focus to socioeconomic development in the depressed North Caucasus region.
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