In the 14th and 15th centuries a powerful Russian state began to grow around Moscow. It gradually expanded west and southwest toward the Dnieper River, north to the Arctic Ocean, and east to the Ural Mountains. By the 18th century Russia had gained full control over a number of major rivers, giving it access to the Baltic and Black seas. These conquests had a huge impact on the country’s trade and economic development. The Russian Empire continued to grow. At its greatest extent, in 1914 before World War I (1914-1918), the empire included more than 20 million sq km (8 million sq mi), nearly one-sixth of the land area of the Earth.
The empire’s heartland centered on Moscow and was the original homeland of the Great Russians, the chief ethnic component of the Russian Empire. To the east of the empire lay Siberia, which by 1914 had an overwhelmingly Russian population. The western borderlands were home to Ukrainians and Belarusians; the empire considered these Orthodox Slavs to be merely branches of the Russian people who spoke somewhat strange, regional dialects.
In the northwest were Finland and the Baltic provinces (now Latvia and Estonia); their Protestant populations were very different from the Russians, both culturally and linguistically. Most of Poland, along with Lithuania, was acquired in the late 18th century. The South Caucasus, with its partly Muslim population, was absorbed in the early 19th century; most of Central Asia, almost entirely Muslim, was absorbed a generation later. The Russian Empire fell in 1917. Most of its territory was inherited by the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR, or Soviet Union), a communist state that existed until 1991. When the USSR collapsed, the Russian Federation became its principal successor state. "Russia" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.
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