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Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia has been striving to overcome the legacy of Communism.
Creating a democratic political system and a market economy to replace the bureaucracy and centralism of the past has proved an elusive goal.
Russia has a rich literary tradition stretching from Pushkin, Tolstoy and Dostoyevskiy in Tsarist times to Solzhenitsyn in the Soviet era. Composers from Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninov to Prokofiev and Shostakovich have left a lasting musical legacy.
The country impresses with its diversity and size. Spanning 10 time zones, this Eurasian land mass covers over 17m sq kms. Its climate ranges from the Arctic north to the generally temperate south.
After nearly 10 years of crisis, peaking in August 1998 with the devaluation of the rouble, the Russian economy bounced back more quickly than many expected. However, it is heavily dependent on world oil prices.
In the privatisation years of the 1990s Russia provided entrepreneurs with the potential for rich pickings. A small group of people, often referred to as oligarchs, acquired vast interests in the energy and media sectors.
Some analysts believed that Yeltsin allowed their influence to extend too far into the political field but President Putin soon made it clear that there was no question of that with him in charge. Some oligarchs found themselves facing criminal investigation and one or two household names felt it necessary to leave the country.
While Russians make up over 80% of the population and Orthodox Christianity is the main religion, there are many other ethnic and religious groups. Muslims are concentrated among the Volga Tatars and the Bashkirs and in the North Caucasus.
Chechnya remains a major problem for Moscow. Many thousands have died since Russian troops were first sent in to put down a separatist rebellion in 1994 and guerrilla fighters continue to mount attacks. However, the Kremlin has faced less criticism from the West over its actions in Chechnya in the aftermath of the 11 September attacks on the USA.
It insists that its policies there are working and that peace is returning to the republic. This line has frequently been called into question, not least when the Moscow-backed president, Akhmat Kadyrov, was killed in a bomb attack in May 2004.
Relations with Nato
Russia's supportive policy on the US-led campaign against international terrorism also had an impact on the country's relations with Nato. The two sides agreed in May 2002 to establish the Nato-Russia Council giving Russia an equal role with Nato countries in decision making on policy to counter terrorism and other security threats.
Nevertheless, Russia was firm in its opposition to the US-led military action against Iraq in the spring of 2003, insisting that UN weapons inspectors be given as much time as they needed to do their work.
Russia has consistently shown that its desire to build a new relationship with the USA will not deter it from going its own way on key issues.
Population: 143.2 million (UN, 2003)
Area: 17m sq km (6.6m sq miles)
Major language: Russian
Major religions: Christianity, Islam
Life expectancy: 61 years (men), 73 years (women) (UN)
Monetary unit: 1 rouble = 100 kopecks
Main exports: Oil and oil products, natural gas, wood and wood products, metals, chemicals, weapons and military equipment
GNI per capita: US $2,130 (World Bank, 2002)
Internet domain: .ru
International dialling code: +7
In recent years the Kremlin has secured greater control over the country's main national TV networks - Channel One, RTR and NTV. Critics say independent reporting has suffered as a result.
Bringing court cases against two of the country's biggest tycoons, Boris Berezovsky and Vladimir Gusinsky, and acting through the industrial groups Gazprom and Lukoil, the Kremlin wrested control of NTV in 2001 and ordered the closure of TV-6 in January 2002.
TV-6 was replaced by TVS, which soldiered on as Russia's only privately-owned national network until the authorities pulled the plug in June 2003, officially for financial reasons.
Prominent politicians and newspapers said the closure of TVS was a blow to freedom of speech. The US State Department expressed concern, citing "possible political motivation" for the closure. Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders said the action threatened the diversity and freedom of news coverage.
The war in Chechnya is blamed for government attacks on press freedom. Journalists have been killed in Chechnya while others have disappeared or were abducted. In Moscow and elsewhere, journalists have been harassed or physically abused.