Russia, which takes up vast pieces of land (ranging from Eastern Europe, to Siberia — northeastern Asia) traces its history back to the Slavic tribes that fought over the European portions (around 800 AD, when the Vikings in nearby Scandinavia first came to rise). This, while Russian Asia took notice among historians when Mongol warrior Genghis Khan created an empire during the 13th century by invading various portions of that territory, as well as China and much of central Asia.
Russia as a power began to take shape under Ivan the Great during the 1400s (in consolidating his rule over the European Russian lands), and under Ivan IV (a.k.a. Ivan the Terrible) during the 1500s (who expanded his rule into present-day Russian Asia). By the time Peter the Great ruled over Russia (1672-1725), the country was three times the size of continental Europe – spanning from the Baltic Sea to the Pacific Ocean. With the country militarily defeating the Ottoman Empire under Catherine the Great (advancing Russia’s southern boundary to the Black Sea), Russia weathered and survived French military leader Napoleon’s invasion, confirming its position as one of Europe’s great powers. However, its economic backwardness (at a time when the Industrial Revolution was in full swing in Western Europe and the USA) limited Russia’s influence internationally, with serfdom being abolished in 1861, and calls for the elimination of the Russian monarch (czardom) taking shape in the early 1900s.
Taking advantage of local resentment toward Russia’s participation in World War I, Communist leader Vladimir Lenin launched that country’s world-famous revolution in 1917 that overthrew its monarch. Lenin’s rise to power established the first Communist state in the world – putting Russia in the center of the world stage as a country that championed a political & economic system different from the capitalist economies of the west. Subsequent Russian ruler Joseph Stalin‘s Great Purge of 1937-1938 consolidated Communism in that country.
After Russia’s participation in World War II (acting as the eastern front against Nazi Germany), the Cold War emerged between the western powers (headed by the USA) who wanted to reverse the spread of world Communism, and the growing number of countries that joined Moscow’s quest to bring that economic system worldwide. With a costly nuclear weapons race between Russia and the USA taking place into the 1970s & 1980s, as well as proxy wars being fought in the name of either defending (or defeating) Communism – from Vietnam in southeast Asia, to Central America (El Salvador and Nicaragua), Africa (Angola, Ethiopia, and Mozambique) and elsewhere, Soviet Russia collapsed by 1991 (under Russian ruler Mikhail Gorbachev).
With the creation of the Russian Federation under Boris Yeltsin during the early 1990s, on-and-off democratic reforms were introduced, along with a free market economic system. More dramatically, portions of the once-mighty Soviet empire became independent – ranging from the Baltic Republics (Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania), to central Asian territories (such as Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan), and other areas, such as the Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. In more recent years, Russia is still a work-in-progress (both politically and economically) under the country’s current rulers Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev – with oil, gas and coal being important sources of income for the country.
According to Oxford Economics, Russia’s evolving tourism sector was 5.9% of GDP in 2011 – larger than the GDP of the country’s automotive and chemical manufacturing sectors. By 2012, over 25 million international tourists visited Russia (generating US$11.2 billion in tourism receipts). Many tourists are drawn to Moscow, the country’s capital, whose population currently stands at 11 million (making it the most populous city in Europe, and the largest city in Russia. Along with the Kremlin (the medieval city-fortress that is the current residence of the country’s president), tourists are attracted to the city’s architectural wonder, St. Basil’s Church (which is synonymous with Russia’s identity), cultural destinations like the Bolshoi Theatre, and exploring portions of the city that have been transformed by the country’s transition to capitalism.
Along with Moscow, another major tourist destination in Russia is the city of St. Petersburg (which faces the Baltic Sea). Founded by Russian Czar Peter the Great in 1703, it was the imperial capital of Russia during the early years of the 18th century, and from 1732 to 1918. St. Petersburg’s historic center is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, as well as being the home of The Hermitage (one of the largest art museums in the world). Other tourist attractions can also be found in St. Petersburg – from museums to royal palaces. St. Petersburg’s status as Russia’s second largest city is confirmed by the presence of foreign consulates, offices of various international corporations, banks and other businesses.