The East Slavs emerged as a recognizable group in Europe between the 3rd and 8th centuries AD. Founded and ruled by a Varangian warrior elite and their descendants, the medieval state of Rus arose in the 9th century. In 988 it adopted Orthodox Christianity from the Byzantine Empire, beginning the synthesis of Byzantine and Slavic cultures that defined Russian culture for the next millennium. Rus ultimately disintegrated into a number of smaller states; most of the Rus’ lands were overrun by the Mongol invasion and became tributaries of the nomadic Golden Horde in the 13th century. The Grand Duchy of Moscow gradually reunified the surrounding Russian principalities and achieved independence from the Golden Horde. By the 18th century, the nation had greatly expanded through conquest, annexation, and exploration to become the Russian Empire, which was the third largest empire in history, stretching from Poland on the west to Alaska on the east.
Following the Russian Revolution, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic became the largest and leading constituent of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, the world’s first constitutionally socialist state. The Soviet Union played a decisive role in the Allied victory in World War II, and emerged as a recognized superpower and rival to the United States during the Cold War. The Soviet era saw some of the most significant technological achievements of the 20th century, including the world’s first human-made satellite and the launching of the first humans in space. By the end of 1990, the Soviet Union had the world’s second largest economy, largest standing military in the world and the largest stockpile of weapons of mass destruction. Following the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, twelve independent republics emerged from the USSR: Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and the Baltic states regained independence: Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania; the Russian SFSR reconstituted itself as the Russian Federation and is recognized as the continuing legal personality and a successor of the Soviet Union. It is governed as a federal semi-presidential republic.