A civilization in Civilization Revolution 2
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Indo-European, Ural-Altaic, and other races have occupied what is now the territory of Russia since 2000 BC, but little is known about them. Modern Russia dates from about 770 AD, when Viking explorers began an intensive penetration of the Volga region. From bases in estuaries along the eastern Baltic, Scandinavian bands, probably in search of new trade routes to the east, began to penetrate territory populated by Finnish and Slavic tribes, where they found unlimited natural resources.
Within a few decades the Rus, as the Viking settlers were known, together with other Scandinavians operating farther west, extended their raiding activities down the main river routes toward Baghdad and Constantinople. By 1000 AD the Rus had established an extensive empire with a capital at the city of Kiev and had been converted to Christianity by Byzantine missionaries.
The united Kievan state broke apart after 1054 under the pressure of attacks by nomads from the steppes, fragmenting Russia into a number of independent principalities. The devastating attack by the Mongols in 1237-40 resulted in widespread destruction of cities, loss of life, and wiped out a developing commercial middle class centered around the fur trade. This helped bring about the long rule of autocracy in Russia.
Of the various Russian principalities, Muscovy was to ultimately achieve dominance. Eventually the leader Ivan IV (1533-84), known as "Ivan the Terrible," gained enough power to take the title of "Tsar", or Emperor, in 1547. This "gathering of the Russian lands" became a conscious and irresistible five-century drive by Moscow to annex all Slavic lands, both the Russian territories and the Belorussian and Ukrainian regions.
Two of the Tsars during this period are especially notable. Peter I (1694-1725), known as "Peter the Great," constructed a new capital at St. Petersburg, shifting his country's focus towards Europe. Catherine the Great (1762-1796), expanded Russia's dominance to the northern shore of the Black Sea and into the steppes beyond the Urals. Catherine's partitioning of Poland also helped bring Russia closer to the rest of Europe, at least geographically.
During this period the Russian rulers remained largely indifferent to the welfare of the Russian people, who lived lives of untold misery under the brutal whip of the aristocracy. By the time of Nicholas II (1894-1917) Russia was in disarray, plagued by internal dissent. World War I imposed stresses on the Tsardom that it could not meet, and the Russian Revolution broke out in 1917. A bitter struggle between Red (Communist) and White (Tsarist) forces lasted until the Bolsheviks were victorious in 1922.
Stalin would complete the consolidation of Communist power begun by Lenin, most notably through the forced industrialization of the Five-Year Plans and the mass starvations engendered by the collectivization of agriculture. Despite an almost inhuman level of suffering imposed on the Russian people, Stalin would lead the Soviet Union through the greatest threat to its existence during the Nazi invasion of 1941-45, and help it emerge as one of the world's superpowers following the Second World War.
But in the ensuing Cold War, Russia's economy tottered towards collapse. The Communist economic system worked well at producing millions of tons of iron for use in tanks, but was unable to produce simple household goods to improve the daily lives of its people. Mikhail Gorbachev attempted to revive the stagnant Soviet economy through the relaxation of economic and political controls, but the forces of free speech and a free market quickly took hold as the central government began to lose its grip. Within a few years, the Soviet satellites in Eastern Europe were declaring their independence.
Boris Yeltsin dissolved the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in December 1991, banned the Communist Party in Russia, and seized all of its property, becoming the first president of Russia. After decades of near chaos, the Russian government has once again begun to regain control, and fueled by its huge oil resources, Russia is once again becoming a dominant force in Eastern Europe, and across the world.
Russia has more territory than any other nation on earth, yet has fewer people than modern Bangladesh, a nation that could fit seven times within the Sakha Republic, a single state in Russia.
Many of the greatest writers of the modern era were born on Russian soil. Fyodor Dostoevsky, often considered the world's first modern novelist, Leo Tolstoy, author of War and Peace, and Anton Chekhov, one of the first playwrights to portray everyday life on stage, were all Russian natives.