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Over the centuries, numerous people invaded Russia including the Germanic Goths, the Asian Huns, and the Turkic Avars. By the 9th C, the Eastern Slavs had settled in many parts of Russia. The origin of the Russian state coincides with the arrival of Scandinavian traders and warriors, the Varangians. Under their reign, the Eastern Slavs were united. Christianity was made the state religion by Vladimir I (reigned 980–1015), who adopted the Greek Orthodox rite. So the Byzantine cultural influence became predominant. In 1237–40, the Mongols (or Tatars) under Batu Khan invaded Russia and destroyed most of the chief Russian cities. Their empire of the Golden Horde lasted until 1480 until Dmitri Donskoi won over the Tatars at Kulikovo in 1380.

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 pol¬icies 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. Nicholas II was forced to grant a constitution and a parliament (duma) was established.

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.

After more than seven decades of Soviet rule, the regime of President Gorbachev marked the end of repressive political controls and permitted nationalist movements to arise in the constituent republics of the USSR. In 1990, Boris Yeltsin and other nationalists and reformers were elected to the Russian parliament; Yeltsin was subsequently chosen Russian president.

Yeltsin and the leaders of eight other republics reached a power-sharing agreement with Gorbachev, but its imminent signing provoked a coup attempt by Soviet hard-liners. In the aftermath, the USSR disintegrated. With Ukraine and Belarus, Russia established the Commonwealth of Independent States. When Gorbachev resigned, Yeltsin had already taken control of most of the central government, and Russia assumed the USSR's UN seat.