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Russia was controlled by a long series of authoritarian rulers since its founding in Novgorod by a Viking named Rurik in 862. The reign of Peter the Great, beginning in 1682, was perhaps the most prosperous time of Russian history as many reforms were introduced. After WWI, the Communist Party, the Bolsheviks, seized governmental control and implemented Vladimir Lenin as the country's leader. Joseph Stalin succeeded Lenin and WWII brought further damage to a country already suffering under Stalin's brutal dictatorship. The Cold War then began with tensions high between Russia and the West. Finally, Mikhail Gorbachev was established as the country's leader and revitalized the nation's economy and political landscape. In 1991, under Boris Yeltsin, the USSR became the Russian Federation as it is known today under President Vladimir Putin.
Culture: The culture of Russia reflects long standing traditions as well as modern concepts and ideas. Despite years of oppression and tyrannical rule, the Russian arts have flourished and the country has become famous for its composers, ballet companies and theater. Popular items in Russian cuisine include caviar, herring, kvass, and vodka.
Things to Do: The ancient city of Novgorod hosts many early places of worship including the Byzantine Cathedral of Saint Sophia. The State Heritage Museum in St. Petersburg is an art-lover's dream with over three million pieces dating back to the stone age. Moscow's Kremlin is also a must-see, along with Saint Basil Basilica on the Red Square. The Trans Siberian Railway is an experience for those who have time to spare. The ride runs across the country, passing by beautiful Lake Baikal in Southeastern Siberia.