Russia has its cultural origins in Kyivan Rus, the kingdom located in what is today Ukraine and Belarus. From here the Slavs expanded into modern European Russia. The birth of the Russian state is usually identified with the founding of Novgorod in AD 862, although until 1480 Russia was overrun by the Mongols.
It was not until the Romanov dynasty (1613–1917) that Russia became the vast nation it is today – territorial expansion from the 17th to 19th centuries saw the country increase in size exponentially to include Siberia, the Arctic, the Russian Far East, Central Asia and the Caucasus. Peter the Great dragged the country kicking and screaming out of the Dark Ages, setting up a navy and building a new capital, St Petersburg, in 1703. Catherine the Great continued Peter’s progressive policies to create a world power by the mid-18th century.
The 19th century saw feverish capitalist development undermined by successively autocratic and backwards tsars. The most prominent example was Nicholas II, whose refusal to countenance serious change precipitated the 1917 revolution. What began as a liberal revolution was hijacked later the same year in a coup led by the Bolsheviks under Lenin, which resulted in the setting up of the world’s first communist state.
The Communist Party held power from 1917 until 1991, during which time Russia became a superpower, having created the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) and absorbing some 14 neighbouring states between 1922 and 1945. The terror of Stalin, the reforms of Khrushchev and the stagnation during the Brezhnev era finally led to Mikhail Gorbachev’s period of reform known as perestroika in 1985. Within six years the USSR had collapsed alongside communism and reformer Boris Yeltsin led Russia into a new world of cutthroat capitalism.