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The largest of the former Soviet republics, the Russian Federation has almost 142 million people, 40 nationalities, and a history as imposing as the length of its political borders.
In its earliest form, the term "Rhos," or "Rus," first came to be applied to the Varangians and, later, the Slavs who peopled the region currently known as Russia in the tenth to eleventh centuries. Like many other parts of Eurasia, these territories were overrun by the Mongol invaders until Ivan the Great eventually tossed off their control.
In 1547, the era of the tsars began with the coronation of Ivan the Terrible. During his long reign, Ivan annexed the Muslim polities along the Volga River and transformed Russia into a multiethnic and multiconfessional state. Peter the Great, who ruled from 1689-1725, was responsible for founding the new capital, Saint Petersburg. Peter succeeded in bringing ideas and culture from Western Europe to a severely underdeveloped Russia. After his reforms, Russia emerged as a major European power. From 1762 to 1796, Catherine I continued efforts at establishing Russia as one of the great powers of Europe.
At the start of the 20th century, devastating defeats of the Russian army in the Russo-Japanese War and World War I, coupled with the resultant deterioration of the economy, led to widespread rioting in the major cities of the Russian Empire and the 1917 overthrow of the Romanovs. At the close of the Russian Revolution, the Bolsheviks—a Marxist political faction—seized power in Petrograd and Moscow under the leadership of Vladimir Lenin. The Bolsheviks changed their name to the Communist Party, which formed the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.), in 1922. After Lenin's death in 1924, a Georgian named Joseph Stalin assumed dictatorial power, and Leon Trotsky and almost all other “Old Bolsheviks” from the time of the Revolution were killed or exiled.
In 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union, as the U.S.S.R. was commonly known, as part of World War II; the Red Army stopped the Nazi offensive at the Battle of Stalingrad in 1943, which became the decisive turning point for Germany's fortunes in the war. The Soviet Union emerged from World War II as an acknowledged superpower—the beginning of a struggle against the United States to achieve economic, political, and ideological dominance over the Third World that became known as the Cold War.
After Stalin’s death in 1953, General Secretary Nikita Khrushchev became the undisputed leader of the Soviet Union, followed by Leonid Brezhnev and the reform-minded Mikhail Gorbachev. Gorbechev’s liberal polices led to a coup attempt—a move that failed to remove him from power yet ultimately contributed to the fall of the Soviet Union. The new emerging leader, Boris Yeltsin, ended Communist rule; the Soviet Union splintered into 15 independent republics, and was officially dissolved in December of 1991. Vladimir Putin later became president, followed by Dmitry Medvedev in 2008. (During this period, Putin served as Prime Minister.) In March of 2012, Putin was elected to a third term as president.