The Russian Federation (Russian: Росси́йская Федера́ция, transliteration: Rossiyskaya Federatsiya or Rossijskaja Federacija), or Russia (Russian: Росси́я, transliteration: Rossiya or Rossija), is a country that stretches over a vast expanse of eastern Europe and northern Asia. With an area of 17,075,400 km² (6,595,600 mi²), it is the largest country in the world, covering almost twice the territory of the next-largest nation, Canada. It ranks eighth in the world in population, following China, India, the United States, Indonesia, Brazil, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.
Formerly the dominant republic of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), Russia is an independent country, and an influential member of the Commonwealth of Independent States, since the union's dissolution in December 1991. In the Soviet Union Russia was called the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (RSFSR).
During World War I, Tsarist Russia experienced famine and economic collapse. The demoralized Russian Army suffered severe military setbacks, and many soldiers deserted the front lines. Dissatisfaction with the monarchy and its policy of continuing the war grew. Tsar Nicholas II abdicated in February of 1917.
The first leader of the Soviet Union was Vladimir Lenin, who led the Bolshevik faction of Communists. Popular pressure induced Lenin to proclaim the Bolshevik seizure of power in October of 1917. One of the first acts of the Communist government was to withdraw from World War I. Following the peace Treaty of Brest-Litovsk, the Soviet Union turned over most of the area of Ukraine and Belarus to Germany.
Immediately, however, supporters of the Tsarist regime broke out in revolt, resulting in years of all-out civil war, which lasted until 1922. Known as the "whites," these forces were aided by Western intervention. Allied armies led by the United States, the United Kingdom, and France, seeking to prevent the spread of Communism or Russia's exit from the war effort, attempted to invade the Soviet Union and support forces hostile to the Bolsheviks with the intention of overthrowing the Soviet regime.
When World War II ended in Europe on May 8, 1945, Soviet and Western (US, British, and French) troops were located in particular places, essentially, along a line in the center of Europe ranging from Lubeck to Triest. Aside from a few minor adjustments, this would be the "iron curtain" of the Cold War. In hindsight, Yalta signified the agreement of both sides that they could stay there and that neither side would use force to push the other out. This tacit accord applied to Asia as well, as evinced by U.S. occupation of Japan and the division of Korea. Politically, therefore, Yalta was an agreement on the postwar status quo in which Soviet Union hegemony reigned over about one third and the United States over two thirds.
Most of the area, population, and industrial production of the Soviet Union, then one of the world's two superpowers, lay in Russia. Consequently, after the breakup of the USSR, Russia again vied for an influential role on the world stage. This influence is notable, but is still far from that of the former Soviet Union.
In the mid and late 1980s General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev introduced glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) in an attempt to modernize Communism. His initiatives inadvertently released forces that by December 1991 splintered the USSR into 15 independent republics of which Russia is the largest. Since then, Russia has struggled in its efforts to build a democratic political system and market economy to replace the strict social, political, and economic controls of the Communist period. Since Chechnya declared independence in the early 1990's, an intermittent guerrilla war has been fought between disparate Chechen groups and the Russian military. Some of these groups have become increasingly Islamist over the course of the struggle. It is estimated that over 200,000 people have died in this conflict. Minor conflicts also exist in North Ossetia and Ingushetia.