Russia (Russian: Россия, Rossiya), or the Russian Federation (Russian: Rossiyskaya Federatsiya), is one of the three major supraglobal powers (those being the United States, the Peoples Republic of China and of course the Russian Federation) and is a massive transcontinental country extending over much of northern Eurasia. It is a Semi-Presidential and Parliamentary Republic with a powerful President and Premier, comprising 83 federal subjects and the state Duma (the White House or Russian Parliament) and with a strong executive body, well known as the Kremlin. Russia shares land borders with the following countries (counterclockwise from northwest to southeast): Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania (via Kaliningrad Oblast), Poland (via Kaliningrad Oblast), Belarus, Ukraine, Georgia, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, China, Mongolia and North Korea. It also borders the Arctic Ocean, the Pacific Ocean, the Caspian Sea, the Baltic Sea, and the Black Sea. Russia is close to the United States (Alaska) and Japan. At 17,075,400 square kilometres (6,592,800 sq mi), Russia is the largest country in the world, covering nearly a seventh of the Earth’s land area; with 142 million people, it is the ninth largest by population. It extends across the whole of northern Asia and 40% of Europe, spanning 11 time zones and incorporating a great range of environments and landforms. Russia has the world’s greatest reserves of mineral and energy resources, and is considered the number one energy superpower. It has the world’s largest forest reserves and its lakes contain approximately one-quarter of the world’s unfrozen fresh water.

The nation’s history began with that of the East Slavs. The Slavs emerged as a recognizable group in Europe between the 3rd and 8th centuries AD. Founded and ruled by a noble Viking warrior class and their descendants, the first East Slavic state, Kievan Rus, who arose in the 9th century and adopted Christianity from the Byzantine Empire in 988AD, beginning the synthesis of Byzantine and Slavic cultures that defined Russian culture for the next millennium. Kievan Rus devolved into 50 to 60 Russian pricncipalities, as the lands were divided into many small feudal states. The most powerful successor state to Kievan Rus was Moscow, which served as the main force in the Russian reunification process 1300-1480AD and lead the independence struggle against the Golden Horde, commonly known as the the Tatar Mongols. Moscow gradually reunified the surrounding Russian principalities and came to dominate the cultural and political legacy of Kievan Rus by the 15th and 16th centuries under Ivan III (The Great) and first to be called Tsar of all the Russias, as the Grand Duchy of Muscovy was supreme at the Great Standoff on the Ugra River (Ugorschina in Russian). Derived from Ugra (the Great Standoff on the Ugra River) was an on again-off again conflict between the forces of Akhmat Khan, Khan of the Great Horde, vs. the Grand Duke Ivan III of Muscovy and other Russian Armies under the control of his brothers in 1480. This resulted in the eventual retreat of the Tatar-Mongols and is often taken as the end of Tatar rule over Russia. 

Having consolidated the core of Russia under his rule, Ivan III became the first Moscow ruler to adopt the title of Tsar and Ruler of all Rus. Ivan competed with his powerful northwestern rival Lithuania for control over some of the semi-independent former principalities of Kievan Rus in the upper Dnieper and Donets river basins. Through the defections of some princes, border skirmishes, and a long, inconclusive war with Lithuania that ended only in 1503, Ivan III was able to push westward, and the the new Russian State in Moscow tripled in size under his rule.

The reign of the Tsars started officially with Ivan IV of Russia (Ivan the Terrible), the first monarch to be crowned Tsar of all the Russias in 1547, but in practice it started with Ivan III, who completed centralization of the state (traditionally known as the gathering of the Russian lands) and at the same time as Louis XI did the same in France. The eventual complete defeat of the Tatar Khan and the capture of Kazan was achieved by Tsar Ivan IV who was the first to reign as the new Russian overlord propelling the Grand Duchy of Muscovy to be named Russia. 

By the end of the 16th and early 17th centuries, the nation had greatly expanded through military and naval conquest, annexation and exploration to become the Russian Empire. This status was greatly enhanced by the reformist euro-centric Tsar Peter the Great in the early 18th century, which made the Imperial Russian Empire the third largest empire in history, stretching from Poland eastward to the Pacific Ocean and Alaska. Russia established worldwide power and influence from the times of the Russian Empire to being the largest and leading constituent of the Soviet Russian Socialist Federated Republics (Soviet Union) and the world’s first and largest constitutionally socialist state and a recognized superpower. The nation can boast a long tradition of excellence in every aspect of the arts and sciences. The Russian Federation was founded following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, but is recognized as the continuing legal personality of the Soviet Union. It has one of the world’s fastest growing major economies and has the world’s eleventh largest GDP by nominal GDP or seventh largest by purchasing power parity with the eighth largest military budget. Russia is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, a member of the G8, APECSCO, the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO) and is a largest member of the Commonwealth of Independent States. It is one of the five recognized nuclear weapons states and possesses the world’s largest stockpile of offensive nuclear forces, which still remain on hair-trigger alert with it’s `supposed, former Cold War foes’ giving claim to many of a new growing rift of `spheres of influence’ in Europe and Asia between them.

There has been some concern over the new Customs Union of Belarus, Kazakhstan and Russia which came into effect after July 2011. On November 19, 2011 the founding member states put together a joint commission on fostering closer economic ties, planning to create a Eurasian Union by 2015 – from January 1, 2012, the three states have begun introducing a single economic space, along with the Russian Federation’s entry into the WTO. The United States seems mildly opposed to the Customs Union, seeing it as an attempt to reestablish a Russian dominated Soviet-type union amongst the Post-USSR states. So far this has not been the case – in fact it has allowed greater cross territory trade to take that otherwise would have been 10s of billions USD less! Armenia, the Ukraine,  Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan are due to decide on union status in 2013 along with oddly enough Vietnam?

The US is mildly opposed to the Customs Union, seeing it as an attempt to reestablish a Russian dominated Soviet-like union amongst the former USSR republics as mentioned earlier, Former Secretary of State Clinton stated in December 2012: `It’s not going to be called that [USSR]. It’s going to be called customs union, it will be called Eurasian Union and all of that, but let’s make no mistake about it. We know what the goal is and we are trying to figure out effective ways to slow down or prevent it.’ Again much of this fervor has been dismissed by the business world, the IMF and the World Bank.

The Eurasian Economic Community (EURASEC) was established by Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, having grown out of the CIS Customs Union. Ukraine and Moldova have observer status in the community, however Ukraine has declared its desire not to become a full member state. Because having common borders with the rest of the community is a prerequisite for full membership, Moldova is thus barred from seeking it. Uzbekistan applied for membership in October 2005, when the process of merging CACO and the Eurasian Economic Community began; it joined on 25 January 2006.

EURASEC is being transformed as of 2010, along withe new Customs Union as a WTO entry vehicle for the Russian Federation, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and with the possible help of the new Ukrainian Government (the Ukraine – which became a WTO member state in 2008). These other former Soviet Republics have never been accepted with the exception of the Ukraine, which leaned heavily West until 2010

The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) consists of 12 former Soviet Republics that differ in their membership status. As of September 2008, 9 countries have ratified the CIS charter and are full CIS members (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Moldova, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan), one country (Turkmenistan) is an associate member, one country (Georgia) has declared its decision to leave the CIS, and one country (Ukraine) is a founding and participating country, but legally not a member country – but again this may change with the new Moscow-centric President Viktor Yanukovych being elected in just February 2010.

The Union State (Russian: Союзное государство, Belarusian: Саюзная дзяржава), semi-officially known as Union State of Russia and Belarus (Russian: Союзное государство России и Беларуси, Belarusian: Саюзная дзяржава Расіі і Беларусі), is a supranational entity consisting of the Russian Federation and the Republic of Belarus.

Originally, the Commonwealth of Russia and Belarus was formed on April 2, 1996. The basis of the union was strengthened on April 2, 1997, with the signing of the “Treaty on the Union between Belarus and Russia” at which time its name was changed to the Union of Belarus and Russia. Several further agreements were signed on December 25, 1998, with the intention of providing greater political, economic, and social integration. Nevertheless, the nature of this original political entity remained exceedingly vague. Under pressure from his own political opponents, who advocated a reunion of the two states, and from Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko, who sought to tie his exceedingly weak economy to Russia’s, then Russian President Boris Yeltsin initiated the creation of the current Union in order to harmonize the political and economic differences between the two nations. A similar proposal had been put forward by Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev in 1994, envisioning the founding of a `Eurasian Union,’ but this proposal was never adopted or seriously pursued. The Treaty on the Creation of a Union State of Russia and Belarus was signed on December 8, 1999. The intention was to eventually achieve a United Federation like the Soviet Union; with a common president, parliament, flag, coat of arms, anthem, constitution, army, citizenship, currency, etc. The current Union was ratified by the Russian State Duma on December 22, 1999 and the National Assembly of Belarus on January 26, 2000. The latter is the date the Treaty and the Union officially came into effect.

With a possible Moscow-centric and newly-elected Ukraine President and government on the horizon, and the joint Customs Union of the Russian Federation, Belarus and Kazakhstan being created (all Foundation States of the former USSR) … many in the West have suggested that the Kremlin is pushing for the recreation of a Soviet-like Union of Republics.