Formation of the Russian State

The Russian state has a long history, encompassing over 11 centuries. Archeological work in Ukraine points to the existence of settlements north of the Black Sea in the Paleolithic period, placing human presence in the Dnieper basin well over 10,000 years ago. The ancient Slavic tribes that gave rise to the Russian, Ukrainian, and Belarusian people originated in the Dnieper basin shortly before the time of Christ, probably by the 4th century B.C. The Greeks and Romans came in touch with these people as their cultural spheres of influence intersected north of the Black Sea more than 2,000 years ago. However, little is known about them prior to the late 9th century A.D. The Primary Chronicle (also called the Tale of Bygone Years, compiled in Kiev ca. 1113 A.D.) and other historical documents begin their narrative at about 850 A.D., the time when the Slavs were beginning to realize their collective identity as a people united by language and culture. Ironically, they invited foreigners—Varangians from Scandinavia—to rule them at the time. A Varangian prince, Rurik, first came to Novgorod in the north. He was selected as a common ruler by several Slavic and Finno-Ugric tribes in about 860 A.D., before moving south and extending his authority to Kiev. The Primary Chronicle cites him as the progenitor of the Rurik Dynasty. It is possible that the word Rus comes from the typical red color of the Varangians' hair.

Brief Timeline of Russia's History

  • 880 Oleg establishes Kiev as the capital of Kievan Rus. Wars with the Pechenegs, Khazars, and other nomadic invaders from south and east.
  • 988 Prince Vladimir of Kiev converts to Orthodox Christianity and baptizes the people of Rus.
    Early 1000s Yaroslav the Wise compiles the first legal code. The St. Sophia Cathedral is built in Kiev. The Kiev Caves Monastery is established by Sts. Anthony and Theodosius near Kiev.
  • 1147 Moscow is founded in the Vladimir-Suzdal region by Yuri Dolgoruky.
  • 1219–1240 Mongolian conquest of Rus (Genghis Khan, Batu, etc.). The period of the Tatar–Mongol Yoke begins.
  • 1242 Prince Alexander Nevsky defeats the Teutonic knights on Lake Chudskoe.
  • 1288–1340 Ivan I (“Kalita”) strengthens the principality of Moscow.
  • 1380 Prince Dmitry Donskoy of Moscow scores a victory over the Tatars at Kulikovo.
  • 1392 St. Sergius of Radonezh (founder of Holy Trinity Monastery) dies. Andrei Rublev paints his famous religious icons at about this time. Flowering of Russian Orthodox spirituality.
  • 1480 Ivan III of Moscow calls himself the first tsar. Building of the white-stone Kremlin in Moscow. The Tatar–Mongol Yoke is finally broken; Novgorod, Vyatka, Pskov, and Tver are subordinated to Moscow.
  • 1533–1584 Reign of Ivan IV (“the Terrible”). Kazan and Astrakhan are conquered. Yermak crosses the Urals into western Siberia (Tobolsk is founded in 1587).
  • 1598–1613 Death of Tsar Feodor ends the Rurik dynasty. Reign of Boris Godunov. Two “false Dimitrys” on the throne. “Time of Troubles” begins with Polish invasion, ends with crowning of Mikhail Romanov (1613).
  • 1645–1680s Reign of Alexei Mikhailovich Romanov. Rapid eastern expansion into Siberia (many cities are founded—Yeniseisk in 1619, Yakutsk in 1632, Anadyr 1649, Irkutsk 1652).
  • 1666 Patriarch Nikon's church reforms lead to the Great Schism between “Old Believers” and the newly reformed church.
  • 1712 St. Petersburg becomes the new capital. Peter I (the Great) brings in Western customs, creates first Russian Navy, greatly diminishes church power by abolishing patriarchate. Two expeditions to discover Alaska (1728, 1741).
  • 1762–1796 Reign of Catherine the Great (originally from Germany). “Russian Baroque” period. Westward expansion into Lithuania, Belarus, and the Crimea. Annexation of Poland. Buildings in Italian style are constructed in St. Petersburg and Moscow.
  • 1812–1814 War with Napoleon during the reign of Alexander I. Battle of Borodino. Moscow is burned down. The French are eventually expelled, and the Russians invade Paris.
  • 1825 Nicholas I becomes tsar. Decembrists' Revolt. Reactionary period. Alexander Pushkin is writing his famous works at this time.
  • 1850s Crimean War against Turkey. Russian expansion into the Caucasus.
  • 1861–1882 Serfdom is abolished (1861). Alexander II is murdered by anarchists (1882). Dostoevsky and Tolstoy write their great novels.
  • 1860–1875 Manchuria is annexed from China (1860), Sakhalin Island from Japan (1875).
  • 1904–1905 Russo-Japanese War. “First Russian Revolution”; Duma legislature is established by Nicholas II as a concession.
  • 1905–1914 Prime Minister Stolypin implements agricultural reforms, but is assassinated (1911). Rapid industrialization. World War I begins (1914). 1917 Nicholas II abdicates the throne in February. Interim government is formed. Bolsheviks seize power on October 25 (November 7 on the Gregorian calendar).
  • 1917–1922 Civil War; White Army loses. Hunger. New Economic Policy (NEP) is instituted by Lenin. U.S.S.R. is formed in 1922. First labor camps are founded.
  • 1924 Lenin dies. Struggle for succession between Joseph Stalin and other followers of Lenin, most notably Leo Trotsky.
  • 1928–1953 Stalin's period. Collectivization, industrialization, cultural revolution. Kulaks (more prosperous peasant farmers) exiled into Siberia (early 1930s). Mass terror beginning in 1935, especially 1937–1938. The GULAG system matures.
  • 1941–1945 The U.S.S.R. is invaded by Germany. World War II. Key battles: Moscow (autumn, 1941), Stalingrad (winter 1942–1943), Kursk (summer 1943), siege of Leningrad (1941–1943), Germany's defeat (1944–1945).
  • 1953–1962 Nikita Khrushchev initiates reforms. Cold War begins. Sputnik is launched (1957); Yuri Gagarin becomes the first man in space (1961). Cuban missile crisis (1962). Khrushchev is replaced by Leonid Brezhnev.
  • 1963–1985 “Stagnation” or late Soviet period. Dissidents' movement arises. Increasing economic problems. Afghanistan is invaded (1979).
  • 1985–1991 Gorbachev's perestroika. Failed coup in Moscow and the end of Communist government (August 1991). The U.S.S.R. ceases to exist, and Yeltsin rises to power (December 1991).
  • 1991–2008 Economic reforms under Yeltsin. Two Chechen wars. Vladimir Putin becomes president (2000) and then prime minister (2008). Dmitry Medvedev becomes president (2008).

Early History (850–1480 A.D.)

Geographically, the old Kievan Rus was centered on the city of Kiev. Located on the right (west) bank of the Dnieper, just above the rapids, Kiev provided a convenient, highly visible, and defensible outpost, well suited for control over the southern reaches of the big river. The Dnieper originates not far from Smolensk, and people could easily travel from the Baltic to the Black Sea via the Neva and Volkhov Rivers into the Dnieper, with minimal portaging near the headwaters; this was the famous route used by the Varangians to trade with the Greeks. Kiev's location along this major north–south thoroughfare of medieval Eastern Europe facilitated its quick rise to prominence. Also noteworthy was its location at the “ecotone” (transition area) between the deciduous forests to the north and the open steppe to the south. Each biome provided some unique products to the nascent nation. For example, timber and furs came from the forest, while many agricultural crops could be grown in the steppe.

The Slavs were historically people of forested floodplains; they avoided large expanses of open grassland, which were harder to defend against hostile tribes. Other important cities of the period, such as Chernigov, Novgorod, Pskov, and Smolensk, were located farther north. The first few centuries of this early state were filled with numerous battles between various Slavic princes for the control of Kiev, and more substantial fights against the invading Asiatic nomads from the eastern steppe: the Khazars, the Pechenegs, the Polovtsians, and finally the Tatars, all of whom were eager to sack and loot Kievan Rus. During the years from 1054 to 1224, no fewer than 64 principalities existed; about 300 princes put forth succession claims, and their disputes led to a few dozen local wars. In this sense, the Eastern Slavs were no different from most Western European tribes of the period (Gauls, Franks, Anglo-Saxons, and others).

The early Slavs were animists (Vignette 6.1). The conversion of Prince Vladimir to Orthodox Christianity in 988 A.D. was a significant event, in that it allowed a powerful alliance between the Greek-based Byzantine Empire (the surviving eastern half of the original Roman Empire) and the Slavic people. This opened up possibilities for mutual defense, cultural enrichment, and improved trade. Vladimir's successors remained in Kiev for about two more centuries (until the mid-1300s), but eventually the relentless nomadic attacks from the southeastern steppes forced a geographic resettlement much farther to the north, toward present-day Vladimir, Suzdal, and Yaroslavl, along the Volga River. The Volga basin provided a convenient forested retreat away from the less defensible Kiev.

The eventual rise of Moscow to the preeminent position among Russian cities had to do with some pure luck and the political talents of the early princes there, but it also owed a good deal to geography: Originally an insignificant wooden fort (established in 1147), it was located at a perfect midpoint between the sources of the Dnieper and the Volga. It was situated on a tributary (the Moscow) of a tributary (the Oka) of the Volga—not on the main water artery, but close enough to Smolensk (100 km to the west in the Dnieper basin) that the Dnieper headwaters could be easily reached. In the age before highways, all transportation of goods took place by rivers. The forests of the area were mixed pine, spruce, basswood, maple, and oak, providing a sheltered existence and plenty of timber. The agricultural potential was lower than in the south because of the colder climate, but barley, oats, rye, and even wheat could be grown, along with a variety of common vegetables (beets, turnips, carrots, and cabbage) along the floodplains. Hunting for wild boar, bear, moose, European deer, wood bison, and wild cow provided enough meat for the growing population.

Moscow's real rise started with Prince Daniel in the early 14th century. It was situated on a high pine forest hill (bor) above the Moscow River at its confluence with the smaller Neglinnaya—an extremely defensible site. In the middle of the 14th century, the head of the Russian church moved his see from Vladimir to Moscow, thus making the latter not only a political but also a spiritual center. At the heart of the city was the Kremlin, meaning “stronghold” in Russian— a large white-stone (later red brick) fortress, with its oldest cathedrals dating back to the early 15th century. It occupies about 30 ha today and is triangular in shape: Its south side runs along the Moscow River, its western side along the now-buried Neglinnaya River, and its eastern side where the Red Square was formerly protected by a moat. Incidentally, the name “Red” means “beautiful” in Russian, and has nothing to do with either bloody history or Communism. Although the Moscow Kremlin is the most famous one, many older Russian cities have kremlins as well: Novgorod, Pskov, Yaroslavl, Vladimir, and Suzdal, for example. Typically these settlements were located in similar spots, on hills high above the confluence of two rivers in the generally flat Russian plain.

Between 1230 and 1480, Russia was under the foreign rule of the Tatars and Mongols. The invasions started during the rule of Genghis Khan and continued for more than two centuries. The Mongols ruled from a distance, requiring Russian princes to pay tribute and sometimes extorting contributions of slaves as well. The Tatars forged alliances with the Mongols and were their main foot soldiers; as a result, this period came to be called the time of the “Tatar–Mongol Yoke.” Although self-ruling Slavic princedoms persisted, few were powerful enough to challenge the Mongols directly, except Muscovy.

Maturity and the Great Tsars (1480–1917)

By 1480, the new Slavic state of Muscovy was firmly centered on the city of Moscow and extended out to the north and east for about 800 km into the Volga River basin. Through forging alliances with some states and through conquering others, the great princes of Moscow managed to extend their reach into the territory of Novgorod (a city as old as Kiev, and traditionally very independent in spirit) by the time of Ivan III (1480). Ivan married the daughter of the last Byzantine emperor and claimed that Russia was to be the successor of the rapidly vanishing empire of his in-laws. Accordingly, he was the first to be crowned as a “tsar” (Caesar) of All Rus, and undertook a series of aggressive building projects to enhance Moscow's power and prestige. He enlarged the stone-walled Kremlin and invited the best Italian architects to complete magnificent cathedrals in the early 1400s. Two of these cathedrals, honoring the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and the Archangel Michael, are especially famous achievements from this era. By the birth of his grandson, Ivan IV (“the Terrible,” which is better translated into modern English as “the Majestic”), in 1530, Moscow's geographic reach extended all the way to Arkhangelsk on the White Sea. The emerging state would not, however, gain access to the Baltic Sea for another two centuries, or to the Black Sea for over two and a half.

Ivan IV conquered Kazan and the Astrakhan khanates of the Volga Tatars in the mid-1550s, thus ending the period of the Tatar–Mongol Yoke and opening up vast expanses of the lower Volga and the Urals to Russian settlement. Many of the settlers were frontiersmen, called Cossacks, who form an ethnic subgroup within the Russian people today. The Cossacks are a mixed group with both Slavic and Tatar cultural traits. The Caspian Sea and western Siberia were now within the reach of Moscow. The first capital of Russian Siberia was established in Tobolsk (on the Tobol River, which is part of the Ob–Irtysh system) in 1587. Tyumen, Yeniseisk, Irkutsk, Yakutsk, and other Siberian cities followed shortly afterward.

The main exploratory push and the expansion of the Russian frontier across Siberia came in the mid-17th century with the new Romanov dynasty. After a time of troubles and a major war with Poland in the early 17th century, the period of Rurik rule ended, and a time of relative peace and prosperity came. The lure of Siberian furs, gold, and timber, coupled with a relatively small and not very hostile native population, encouraged rapid Russian expansion into Siberia. Astonishingly, in less than one century (from 1580 to 1650), the Russian state was extended from Tyumen in western Siberia all the way to Okhotsk on the Pacific Coast! Of course, this vast area was not fully settled by any means, but about two dozen forts were built at strategic locations. Typically these forts were located along major rivers at convenient confluence points, because the exploration proceeded primarily along the great waterways by boat in summer and by sleigh on ice in winter. Every major Siberian city that was established during this period is situated on a big river.

The movement was somewhat analogous to the opening of the American West, except that it was driven less by farmers and more by fur traders (similar in lifestyle to the French trappers of Canada), and that the direction of movement was of course from west to east (not the other way around). The early settlers were a highly mobile force, not interested in farming or other sedentary pursuits. Virtually all of central and eastern Siberia is underlain by permafrost, which makes farming almost impossible in any case. Still, it took only 70 years for the state to quadruple its size—a feat probably unmatched in human history. In comparison, the movement to the west, north, and south was much slower, because more developed states and tribes there made rapid expansion impossible. To the west and north were the Swedes, Germans, and Poles. To the south were the Crimean Tatars and the Turks, as well as Central Asian and Caucasian tribes.

Under Peter the Great, the Baltic Sea became accessible through the creation of the new seaport of St. Petersburg. Built on the coastal swamp at the mouth of the Neva River at the cost of a few thousand lives, it became known as Russia's “Window to Europe.” The great project began in 1703, and the capital was moved from Moscow to St. Petersburg in 1712. Catherine the Great pushed the Russian frontier to the Black Sea by defeating the Crimean Tatars and their Turkish allies. This was accomplished by capturing a few strategic fortresses along the Azov Sea in the second half of the 18th century. In the mid- to late 19th century, the Russian Empire expanded into Central Asia to the present-day border with Afghanistan, and into the Caucasus and Manchuria on the Pacific Coast. Although these land acquisitions into the Russian Empire were by no means small, they were still dwarfed by the giant Siberian expansion. Further advances in the south were halted by very high mountains (the Pamirs and the Tien Shan) and strong, hostile groups of people in Persia, Afghanistan, Turkey, and China. Japan finally stopped the Russian advance into northeast China with its victory in the Russo-Japanese War in 1904, when the Russian colony of Port Arthur (now Lushunku) fell at the southern tip of Liaodong Peninsula.

At its peak, the Russian Empire occupied over 22 million km2 (i.e., it was equal in size to all of North America and made up 15% of the world's landmass). In 1913, it was second in the world by area after the British Empire, third by population after China and the British Empire, and fifth in terms of gross domestic product (GDP) (Treivish, 2005). Great Britain controlled almost 25% of the world's landmass (including Canada, Australia, and India); in the mid- to late 19th century, it clashed with the Russian Empire repeatedly along geographic fracture zones in the Black Sea basin, in Persia, and in Afghanistan. By the start of World War I in 1914, the Russian Empire included most of Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova (Bessarabia); Finland, Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia; the Central Asian states (Russian Turkestan); Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia; significant portions of Poland; and some Turkish cities in the Balkans. Only about 45% of its population consisted of ethnic Russians. The total population was 125 million in 1897, the time of the first Russian census.

Alaska was sold in 1867 to the United States for $7.2 million, or merely $100 million in today's dollars—an astonishingly cheap price, although back then Secretary of State Seward was asked in Congress why so much money was spent on the acquisition of “rocks and ice.” The Russian government wished to sell off this territory, largely because of the expenses it had incurred while fighting the Crimean War with Turkey and Britain in the Black Sea basin. Russia had lost this war in 1856; that same year, British and allied French warships attacked and took the town of Petropavlovsk in Kamchatka. This latter attack raised a question about the security of Russian America. If Russia could not successfully protect even Petropavlovsk, would it be able to protect Sitka or Kodiak across the Bering Sea? There was also concern about losing Alaska as a result of British invasion from Canada, and advisors to the Romanovs advocated making the sale to a third party (the United States) while they were still in a position to negotiate a fair price. Russian settlements in Alaska had always been sparse; the total of fewer than 800 Russian settlers included a few businessmen, some government officials, and some Orthodox missionaries who worked to convert the Aleuts to Christianity, although it did not include several thousand inhabitants of mixed Russian and Aleutian descent. The southernmost point in North America to which Russian influence extended was Fort Ross (just north of Santa Rosa, California), which is now a state historical park.

In a landmark political decision, Alexander II abolished the serfdom of the Russian peasants in 1861, allowing millions to begin life as free people and not subject to the rule of their landlords. Virtually no land was provided to the serfs, however, except in distant Siberia and southern Ukraine; as a result, many freed serfs emigrated to the United States and Canada toward the end of the 19th century. Among those who remained, discontent with the lack of land sparked dissent and riots in the early 20th century. In the urban settings, Jews were subject to many pogroms at this time (especially in Ukraine), because they were perceived as economically savvy but unfair merchants, and of course as culturally and ethnically distinct.

The Romanov Empire came to a bitter end in 1917, as two successful revolutions shook the country. The capitalist “February Revolution” removed the last Romanov emperor, Nicholas II, and installed a provisional bourgeois government, which in turn was overthrown by the Bolsheviks (the early Communists) in October of that year. The reasons for the “October Revolution,” as it became known, are complex. The disastrous Russian involvement in World War I, growing political dissent among the non-Russian peoples within the empire, a lack of rapid reforms in agriculture, and rapid industrial growth all played major roles. Some researchers also point out the direct involvement of the British and German intelligence services in tacitly helping the Bolsheviks to assume power, because a strong Russia was not in Western European interests. As a result of the civil war, many of Russia's western territories—including Poland, about half of Ukraine and Belarus, and the Baltic states—were lost over the ensuing few years.

The Soviet Period (1917–1991)

After a bitter civil war between the Bolsheviks (known as the “Reds”) and the anti-Bolsheviks (known as the “Whites”) in 1917–1922, the Soviet state renamed itself the Soviet Union—or, officially, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.). It reconstituted itself within the former borders of the Russian Empire, with the exceptions of Finland, Poland, the Baltic states, much of western Ukraine and Belarus, and Moldova. This may be explained by not only political and cultural but also geographic factors. As suggested by Harold Mackinder in his famous series of papers on the world's “Heartland” (see Cohen, 2009), northern Eurasia forms a large, easily-defensible area bounded by some of the highest mountains in the world on the south, by the frozen Arctic Ocean on the north, and by the Pacific Ocean on the east. It is much more open and vulnerable in the west, and this is precisely where all the major wars were fought.

Once these boundaries were reclaimed by the Soviets in the 1920s, there was relatively little change for 70 years. Following the defeat of the Nazis in 1945, the Kaliningrad region was added (carved out of what had been Prussia), as well as the Baltic states, Moldova, and western Ukraine. Some islands in the Far East were gained from Japan. This produced the instantly recognizable shape of the U.S.S.R. that dominated the tops of world maps for about 50 years, until its collapse in 1991.

The creation of the Soviet Union's internal borders was of geographic importance, too. Most of these were drafted in the 1920s by early Soviet leaders, including Lenin, Trotsky, Zinoviev, Bukharin, and Stalin. Some of the boundaries were well designed to account for certain national groupings within the U.S.S.R. (e.g., Georgia, Uzbekistan), but others were drawn more in line with the economic or political needs of the moment. For example, there was no compelling reason to place the border between Ukraine and Russia, or that between Kazakhstan and Russia, exactly where it exists today. These nations have genuine transition zones between largely Russian and non-Russian speakers that stretch for hundreds of kilometers; these have no clearly defined boundaries, however, but rather are overlapping cultural, ethnic, and linguistic zones. Where the borders were drawn in these and similar cases had more to do with the Soviet economic rationale than with politics. Some examples in particular reflect the whimsical politics of the moment: The Crimea Peninsula, a mainly Russian-speaking area, was abruptly turned over to the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic in 1954 as a gift to a political friend there from Nikita Khrushchev, who was himself from Ukraine. Armenians did not get the predominantly Armenian-populated Nagorno-Karabakh region, while Azerbaijan was given the Azeri-speaking Naxicevan region inside Armenia; these decisions reflected the personal tastes of Stalin, who, himself from Georgia, particularly disliked Armenians. Fergana, the most fertile valley in Central Asia, was carved into a maddening jigsaw puzzle of borders in an attempt to accommodate Tajiks, Uzbeks, and Kyrgyz living in the area. Most of the territorial conflicts of the post-Soviet period (Table 6.2) can be traced back to these ill-fated policies of the Stalin and Khrushchev periods.

Main Territorial Conflicts or Disputes of the Post-Soviet Period

The Post-Soviet Period (1991 to the Present)

After the U.S.S.R. was dissolved by mutual agreement of the Russian, Ukrainian, and Belarusian presidents in December 1991, many internal borders became external (Vignette 6.2). Numerous conflicts started, some with thousands of casualties. A few started even before 1991, during Gorbachev's awkward perestroika attempts (see Table 6.2). To the credit of the people and leaders of the region, the situation did not come to resemble the horrific Yugoslavian scenario. Most conflicts remained localized, and the boundaries of the 15 republics today are essentially unchanged. Some areas, such as Abkhazia, South Ossetiya, and Chechnya, do see persistent military conflict; other areas experience occasional tensions, but without bloodshed. In addition, some self-proclaimed “republics” that have not been officially recognized by the United Nations or any individual nations do exist. They are greatly emboldened now by the recognition of Kosovo's independence by some European Union (EU) and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) members. Of particular note is the recent recognition of South Ossetiya and Abkhazia by Russia in the wake of the Ossetian–Georgian conflict in August 2008.

It is important to understand that the Russian Federation today is not merely a smaller U.S.S.R. It is qualitatively different from either the Russian Empire or the U.S.S.R. The latter two had fewer than 50% ethnic Russians and had external borders with nations of very different cultures (e.g., Hungary, Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan), whereas Russia is over 80% ethnically Russian and mainly borders other Russian-speaking territories in Ukraine, Belarus, or Kazakhstan (see Vignette 6.2). Although Russia remains the biggest state in the world by area, it is half of its original size and is now only 9th in terms of population and 6th in terms of GDP adjusted by purchasing power parity (PPP). It has also lost its status as one of the world's two superpowers. Indeed, in terms of overall trade and economic strength it is now part of the world's semiperiphery, more comparable to Brazil or South Africa than to the United States, China, Germany, or Japan. Politically, too, it is relatively isolated; it has lost most of its influence over Eastern Europe, including even the traditional friends Bulgaria and Serbia, as well as over countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America that were tightly aligned with the U.S.S.R. Russia is also embroiled in a number of conflicts, either on its own territory (Chechnya, Ingushetia) or in close proximity to its borders (Abkhazia, South Ossetia, the self-proclaimed Trans-Dniester Republic in Moldova). Although Russia and China have successfully settled their disputes along the Amur River border, Japan still expects Russia to return the annexed four southern Kuril Islands, although there is no indication from the Russian side that this will be forthcoming.

Most of the independent non-Russian republics have strong, if not enthusiastic, economic ties to Russia. However, they have relatively few continuing political connections with Russia, at least among the elites. A good case in point is Georgia—a country culturally similar to Russia and with a long history of mutual connection and even admiration, but now politically alienated from Russia both by its own pro-Western ambitions, and by the uncompromising stance of Russia on Abkhazia and South Ossetiya.

Thus Eurasia's heartland is no longer strong and is rather divided. It is also shrinking in population size. Among the signs of the times is the rise in Russian nationalism evident everywhere in the new post-Soviet Russia—from newspaper headlines and political pronouncements to ultraright demonstrations and even pogroms of Caucasian ethnic minorities in some peripheral Russian cities. The increasing cost of travel across the vast territory raises a possibility of farther devolution, especially in the Russian Far East; this extremely remote part of the country is 8–10 time zones away from Moscow and has a growing Chinese and Japanese presence and influence.