Russia is the largest country by the size of its land, but much of it is in the cold north where few live. It has about as many people as Japan, Java, Pakistan or Brazil. America has twice as many people as it does.
It is still one of the top powers of the world, but it is not as powerful as it once was.
In the late 1900s both Russia and America had enough atom bombs to blow each other up and much of the rest of the world too. For about 40 years the world stood on the edge of complete destruction in what was called the Cold War.
In those days Russia was ruled by communists. They remade society according to the ideas of Karl Marx. The government owned everything. There was no private property: you could not buy land or run your own business. The government ran everything.
The people were not free. It was a democracy on paper, but the communists won every election. The people were not allowed to form their own parties to stand against the communists in elections. They had no freedom of speech or religion. The television and the newspapers and even most of the writers repeated government lies.
When the communists took over Russia in 1918 they kept its empire – the neighbouring countries it ruled to the west and the south – and named the whole thing the Soviet Union, also known as the USSR (or, in Russian, CCCP). They made a new flag: it was red with a yellow hammer and sickle in the corner.
Their war machines had red stars just as America’s had white stars.
If America was the new Rome, Russia was the new Constantinople. Its roots go back to the Byzantine empire. People are mostly Eastern Orthodox.
The Soviet Union was strong on the outside, but falling apart on the inside. Communism did not work in the long run, at least not for such a big country. In the 1980s, Gorbachev tried to save communism through reform, but it was too little too late.
In 1988 they pulled their troops out of Afghanistan, which they were never able to bring under its rule.
In 1989 they lost their control over eastern Europe and the Berlin Wall fell.
In 1991 the communists themselves fell from power. The countries that were part of the Soviet empire broke free. People in the West could not believe their eyes. It had seemed like the Soviet Union was going to be their enemy for years and years.
In the 1800s the empire was ruled by the tsar. Most Russians worked the land and the country was poor. It was the communists who brought in industry.
In the 1700s Russians settled Siberia. Go east, young man. Peter the Great began to bring in Western ways.
Russians were once ruled by Mongols and Turks: the Golden Horde, Tartary and all that.