Russia is the largest country in the world, covering almost twice the territory of the next-largest country, Canada, and has the world’s eighth-largest population. The Russian Federation spans nine time zones. Russia was an independent country for many centuries, then following the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 became the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, a republic of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, Russia is now known as the Russian Federation since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in December 1991. The history of Russia begins with that of the East Slavs, the ethnic group that eventually split into the Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians. The first East Slavic state, Kievan Rus’, adopted Christianity from the Byzantine Empire in 988, beginning the synthesis of Byzantine and Slavic cultures that defined Russian culture for the next seven centuries. Kievan Rus’ ultimately disintegrated as a state, leaving a number of states competing for claims to be the heirs to its civilization and dominant position. Founded in the 12th century, the Principality of Muscovy was able to emerge from over 200 years of Mongol domination and to gradually conquer and absorb surrounding principalities. In the early 17th century, a new Romanov Dynasty continued this policy of expansion across Siberia to the Pacific. Under PETER I who ruled from 1682 to 1725, hegemony was extended to the Baltic Sea and the country was renamed the Russian Empire. By the 18th century, the Grand Duchy of Moscow had become the huge Russian Empire, stretching from Poland eastward to the Pacific Ocean. During the 19th century, more territorial acquisitions were made in Europe and Asia. Expansion in the western direction sharpened Russia’s awareness of its backwardness and shattered the isolation in which the initial stages of expansion had occurred. Successive regimes of the 19th century responded to such pressures with a combination of halfhearted reform and repression. Russian serfdom was abolished in 1861, but its abolition was achieved on terms unfavorable to the peasants and served to increase revolutionary pressures. Between the abolition of serfdom and the beginning of World War I in 1914, the Stolypin reforms, the constitution of 1906 and State Duma introduced notable changes in economy and politics of Russia, but the tsars were still not willing to cede autocratic rule. Military defeat and food shortages triggered the Russian Revolution in 1917, bringing the Communist Bolsheviks to power. Between 1922 and 1991, the history of Russia is essentially the history of the Soviet Union, effectively an ideologically based empire which was roughly coterminous with the Russian Repeated devastating defeats of the Russian army in World War I led to widespread rioting in the major cities of the Russian Empire and to the overthrow in 1917 of the imperial household. The Communists under Vladimir LENIN seized power soon after and formed the USSR. The brutal rule of Joseph STALIN from 1928 through 1953 strengthened communist rule and Russian dominance of the Soviet Union at a cost of tens of millions of lives. The Soviet economy and society stagnated in the following decades until General Secretary Mikhail GORBACHEV 1985-91 introduced openness and restructuring in an attempt to modernize Communism, but his initiatives inadvertently released forces that by December 1991 splintered the USSR into Russia and 14 other independent republics. Since then, Russia has struggled in its efforts to build a democratic political system and market economy to replace the social, political, and economic controls of the Communist period.