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Updated 2024 January 6


Россия « Rossija »

Russia is a historical and cultural nation of the North Slavic continuum, the region in which that nation lives, any of the primary states dominated by that nation, or the countries based on those states.

In the predominant modern usage, the Russian nation is an identity nation; Russians are, and are only, those who consider themselves to be Russian. But it is also possible to identify a Russian nation objectively, for purposes of historical continuity. One way to do this is language, using as a reference the North Slavic dialect of Moscow (Москва « Moskva »), now called simply “Russian” (Русский « Russkiĭ »). In this sense, a Russian is any speaker of Russian, or, especially further in the past, any speaker of a North Slavic dialect in a region where the Moscow dialect serves or served as the standard dialect or most common lingua franca. Though all of North Slavic is a continuum, Russian is conventionally grouped with the dialects that it is most mutually intelligible with — Ukrainian (Українська « Ukransĵka »), Belarusian (Беларускі « Belaruskí »), and Transcarpathian Ruthenian (Русиньскый « Rusinĵskyĭ ») — as East Slavic, whose culture traces back to Ruthenia, or Rus. Medieval Rus society reached its greatest level of centralization under a state based in Kiev (Кыѥвъ « Kyvə »; modern Киев « Kiev » / Київ « Kiv »), thus known as Kievan Rus. The eventual decline of Kievan Rus led to the emergence of Moscow as a center of power.

Under Kievan Rus, Moscow was originally merely a subordinate town in the principality of Vladimir-Suzdal (Володимѣръ « Volodiměrə », modern Владимир « Vladimir »; Суждаль « Suždalĵ », modern Суздаль « Suzdalĵ »). As central Kievan authority was waning, Moscow eventually gained control of Vladimir-Suzdal. But at the same time, the Mongol empire was gaining control of Kievan Rus, including Moscow and Vladimir-Suzdal as well as Kiev; so the Moscow-based state, originally known, historiographically, as “Muscovy”, began as a vassal territory of the Mongols, under a ruler variously given as “duke” or “prince” (князь « knjazĵ », a cognate of ‘king’). Muscovy eventually emerged as an independent monarchy, notably during the reign of Ivan III (“the Great”, Иванъ Васильевичъ « Ivanə Vasilĵevičə »), who brought an end to Russian subordination to Turkic-Mongol rule, greatly expanded Muscovian territory, claimed the leadership of all Rus, and began using the title ‘czar’ or ‘tsar’ (царь « carĵ », “emperor”), which evolved from the Roman imperial title ‘CAESAR’, itself tracing back to the personal cognomen of the Roman dictator Julius Caesar (CAIVS IVLIVS CAESAR). The tsardom was made official with the formal start to the reign of Ivan’s grandson, Ivan IV (“the Terrible”, Иванъ Васильевичъ (Грозный) « Ivanə Vasilĵevičə (Groznyĭ) »; the epithet ‘Грозный’ actually means “awesome”).

Russia is traditionally within Eastern Christianity, specifically Eastern Orthodoxy, and has its own autonomous (“autocephalous”) church, the Russian Orthodox Church. As with the rest of East Slavic culture, its conversion was at the hands of missionaries from Slavic Macedonia, and the Russian dialect thus has a large body of borrowed vocabulary from those missionaries’ South Slavic literary dialect, Old Church Slavonic (Словѣньскъ « Slověnĵskə »), as well as the borrowed Greek vocabulary typical of Christian culture more broadly. The borrowed South Slavic vocabulary gives Russian a system of paired cognates, with an inherited North Slavic stem used for common objects and concepts, and a borrowed South Slavic stem used for technical objects and concepts (similar to the relationship between inherited Germanic vocabulary and borrowed Romance and Greek vocabulary in English). The East Slavs also adopted the Cyrillic script used by the South Slavs, which was based on the Greek script; Cyrillic was later spread further through Russian imperialism.

The Russian monarchy was brought down by a revolution in 1917 (the “February Revolution”), resulting in a provisional republic, which was itself overthrown the same year in a coup (the “October Revolution”) by a faction of the Russian Social-Democratic Labor Party (Россійская Соціалъ-Демократическая Рабочая Партія « Rossíĭskaja Socíalə-Demokratičeskaja Rabočaja Partíja »), which was the main Russian revolutionary Communist party. That faction called itself the “Bolsheviks” (Большевик « Bolĵševik », “majoritarian”), despite being the smaller faction, and was led by V.I. Lenin (Владимир Ильич Ленин « Vladimir Ilĵič Lenin »). The Bolsheviks established the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (Союз Советских Социалистических Республик « Sojuz Sovetskix Socialističeskix Respublik »), or simply the Soviet Union (Советский Союз « Sovetskiĭ Sojuz »), named for the workers’ soviets (совет « sovet », “council”) established, starting with the 1905 revolution, as local unions and later governments. During and after World War II, the Soviet Union seized effective control of much of Eastern Europe, beginning with a pact with Nazi Germany to divide territories between them; the pact fell apart when Germany invaded the Soviet Union, and as the Soviet army progressed westward, it took control of further territories, up to and including much of Germany itself. The Union’s spatial extent peaked with its brief occupation of Afghanistan.

There is a common tendency to use the term ‘Russia’ to refer to the pre-1917 Russian Empire and to the post-1991 Russian Federation, but never to the Soviet Union. Some of this is pedantic: the Soviet Union did not call itself ‘Russia’, and there was a unit (“republic”) within the Soviet Union that was identified as “Russia”, namely the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic (Российская Советская Федеративная Социалистическая Республика « Rossiĭskaja Sovetskaja Federativnaja Socialističeskaja Respublika »), which became the present Russian Federation after 1991. Some of this is historical-ideological: in the beginning, leftists were incentivized to agree that there had been a dramatic break from the Russian Empire, and that distinction was continued, as habit for some but for others as a response to the same incentives. But within a few years of its inception the Soviet régime had reconquered nearly all the lands of the Russian Empire, and was dominated (notwithstanding the presence of a few Russified figures like Stalin) by the Russian nation, just as the empire had been. The Russian Federation itself willingly claims to be the successor of the Soviet Union, notably seeking and inheriting its permanent seat on the UN Security Council and its nuclear-weapons franchise; it also uses a reworded Soviet anthem. And though the Russian Federation is, thanks to the dissolution of the Soviet Union, significantly smaller than the tsardom at its peak, it remains an empire, with numerous subject peoples, especially Turks. Some of them, notably Chechnya (Noxçiyçö), have attempted to break away or even for a time succeeded in breaking away from continued Russian rule.

The ascension of Vladimir Putin (Владимир Владимирович Путин « Vladimir Vladimirovič Putin ») to power in 2000 not only curtailed an incipient liberalism in the Russian Federation, but has reinforced Russian imperial and irredentist aspirations and Soviet nostalgia. This has included active attempts to bring about pro-Russia politics in other post-Soviet states, the seizure of Crimea (Крым « Krym »), military support for the breakaway states in the Donbass (Донбасс « Donbass »), establishing protectorates in territories that have broken away from other post-Soviet states, and, most recently, the full-scale invasion of Ukraine and the incorporation of the Donbass and other parts of historical Novorossiya.

The presence of native Russian speakers outside the Russian Federation is partially due to Russian colonization, with the Russian state at times deliberately settling Russians among other cultures, and partially due to assimiliation, with children of other cultures growing up speaking the lingua franca, but there is a third explanation in some cases. Novorossiya, the northern coastal region of the Black Sea and conventionally considered to be the southern part of Ukraine, was not traditionally Ukrainian territory, or even part of the North Slavic lands at all. It was conquered by the Russian Empire from the Ottoman Turks, and the Turkic residents displaced; it was then repopulated by Slavs from the rest of the empire, many of whom were Russian-speaking from the beginning. Crimea was not administered as part of the Ukrainian province of the state until 1954.

During the early period of Bolshevik rule, two lasting cultural reforms were made. One was a change to Russian orthography; some characters were eliminated and others curtailed. The other was a shift from the Julian calendar to the Gregorian calendar, bringing Russia in line with the West. The October Revolution, for example, took place in the period known as “October” in the Julian calendar, but during November according to the present Gregorian calendar.

Apart from Moscow, major cities that are wholly or partially within cultural Russia include Saint Petersburg (Санкт-Петербург « Sankt-Peterburg »), Kiev (Киев « Kiev »), Minsk (Минск « Minsk »), Nizhny Novgorod (Нижний Новгород « Nižniĭ Novgorod », “Lower Novgorod”), Екатеринбург « Ekaterinburg », Kharkov (Харьков « Xarĵkov »), Donetsk (Донецк « Doneck »), Volgograd (Волгоград « Volgograd »), Dnieper (Днепр « Dnepr »), Rostov-on-Don (Ростов-на-Дону « Rostov-na-Donu »), and Novosibirsk (Новосибирск « Novosibirsk »).

Due to the Bolshevik practice of renaming places, many cities in Russia have borne other names in recent history. After the Communist Party fell from power, many of the Bolshevik names were simply rolled back to the pre-Bolshevik names, albeit in the new orthography. Some examples:
Санктъ Петербургъ « Sanktə Peterburgə » → Петроградъ « Petrogradə » → Ленинград « Leningrad » → Санкт-Петербург « Sankt-Peterburg »
Царицынъ « Caricynə » (Tsaritsyn) → Сталинград « Stalingrad » → Волгоград « Volgograd »
Екатеринбургъ « Ekaterinburgə » → Свердловск « Sverdlovsk » → Екатеринбург « Ekaterinburg »
KönigsbergКалининград « Kaliningrad »
Нижній-Новгородъ « Nižníĭ-Novgorodə » → Горький « Gorĵkiĭ » → Нижний Новгород « Nižniĭ Novgorod »
Самара « Samara » → Куйбышев « Kuĭbyšev » → Самара « Samara »
Тверь « Tverĵ » → Калинин « Kalinin » → Тверь « Tverĵ »

The Russian dominance of a large portion of Eurasia for many centuries has left a lasting cultural impact, such that one of the typical world regions used in academia is defined by the extent of Russian rule.

In Russian, there is a distinction between two adjectives that are both glossed as “Russian”. ‘Русск-’ « Russk- » refers to the Russian people as a cultural and ethnic group, or to their culture or history. ‘Российск-’ « Rossiĭsk- » refers to Russia as a place.

For the modern Russian state:



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