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A proud culture with a grand history, Russia is learning to embrace modernizing tendencies in order to remain an influential superpower.

The reign of Peter the Great (1682–1725) marked the beginning of a long trend of increasing Russian monarchical authority. Brought together in the newly established Empire, the conquered regions in Eastern Europe, Siberia, and the Caucasus transformed Russia into a major power in Europe, the Near East, and Central Asia. From Saint Petersburg, the Russian emperors ruled over the third largest land empire in history, continually expanding its borders from the late 18th century until the dawn of the 20th century.

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The empire’s expansion gathered momentum in the late 18th century and during the 19th century with the addition of new territories. Under the leadership of Catherine II (1762–1796), Alexander I (1801–1825), Nicholas I (1825–1855), and Alexander II (1855–1881) Russia seized control of Finland, Livonia, Poland, Ukraine, and the Caucasus. In the vast regions running from the Caspian Sea all the way to the Pacific, Russia and Great Britain were engaged in a drawn-out struggle for influence, known as the Great Game, which curbed Russia’s growing power in Central Asia and the Far East. This continual expansion lasted nearly a century and came at the expense of the Ottoman, Persian, and Chinese states, contributing significantly to their decline. After waging several wars, the Romanovs linked these annexed regions to their territory by extending the railroad network. To control these areas located so far from the heart of the Empire, fortified outposts were established, and the lands settled by Cossacks who defended and farmed these regions. The emperors, wielding total power over their subjects, fluctuated between conservative and reformist tendencies over the generations. Nonetheless, they failed to instigate the kind of reforms that might have succeeded in safeguarding their position in a society in turmoil. The defeat by the Japanese Empire in 1905 marked not only the end of Russian expansion, but also the start of a period of profound challenge to the authority of Nicholas II.

Did you know?

The Russian colonization of North America began in the 18th century and ended in the late 19th century. Following the sale of Fort Ross (California), the Russian Tsar also sold Alaska to the United States in 1867.