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Russia today is a nation of enormous diversity and tremendous vitality. It is as if the cultural traditions of a century ago have re-awakened with a newfound strength - ancient cathedrals are being rebuilt and restored, colorful markets hum with activity once again and literature and the arts are quickly regaining the creative renown they enjoyed decades ago. A new Russia is now in full bloom. The defeat of the Russian Empire in World War I led to the seizure of power by the communists and the formation of the USSR. The brutal rule of Josef STALIN (1924-53) strengthened Russian dominance of theSoviet Union at a cost of tens of millions of lives. The Soviet economy and society stagnated in the following decades until General Secretary Mikhail GORBACHEV (1985-91) introduced glasnost (openness) and perestroika (restructuring) in an attempt to modernize communism, but his initiatives inadvertently released forces that by December 1991 splintered the USSR into 15 independent republics. Since then, Russia has struggled in its efforts to build a democratic political system and market economy to replace the strict social, political, and economic controls of the communist period

The most important cities on the european side are Moscow, St. Petersburg (formerly Leningrad) and Murmansk. This is the heartland of Imperial Russia, and these great and ancient cities often become the focus for most tourists. However there is much more to Russia, a country that spans eleven time zones and two continents, ending less than 50 miles from North America. Within this vast expanse lie the largest freshwater lake in the world, rivers and forests teeming with fish and wildlife, awe inspiring volcanos, and towering mountains. Russia is the largest country on earth, with enormous tracts of land that have been opened to travellers only in the last few years.

Russia has a formidable pool of recreational resources, including natural landscapes of endless variety and inimitable beauty, monuments of history and cultural heritage, unique engineering structures, and unmatched cities, towns and smaller communities.

The most popular tourist attractions are the old Russian cities of Vladimir, Suzdal, Sergiev Posad, Pereyaslavl Zalessky, Rostov, Uglitch, Yaroslavl and Kostroma, the biggest gems of Russia's Golden Ring. Also high on every tourist's priority list are itineraries by boat from Moscow to St.Petersburg and the Valaam Island, a central point of religious piligrimage, or to Kizhi, the wonderland of old Russian wooden architecture, the Northern Caucasus and the Black Sea coast, to Mount Elbrus, the Ural mountains, and the Altai country, in different natural settings, from the Black Sea coast (like Gelenzhik and Anapa), the Baltic Sea (Sestroretsk, Komarovo, Zelenogorsk, Svetlogorsk, etc.) to the mountains of the Northern Caucasus (Teberda and Dombai), Ural (Kisegatch and Uveldy) and Altai (Chemal).

Present-day Moscow is a capital of the Russian Federation. Moscow is one of the biggest cities in the world. It occupies the area of 1035 square kilometres. Moscow has more than 5.000 streets. The population is about 9 million people, plus more than three million tourists and guests coming annually. Climate is moderate. The average temperature in July and August is +20(25)°C; in December and January -10°C. The humidity is moderate. The Moscow's winters are, as a rule, cold and snowy. Moscow is conveniently sited in the centre of Russia's European part where the rivers Moskva and Yauza cross the Central Russian Plateau.

A settlement of artisans and traders arose at the site of the present-day Kremlin and Zaryadie long before the first mention of Moscow in chronicles (the year 1147). Standing at the crossing of the main trading routes (the Moskva river and the Yauza), it had its centre on Borovitsky Hill. In the 15th century Moscow became capital of the Russian state. With the transfer of Russia's capital to St.Petersburg in 1712, it became the country's second capital. In 1918, it became the capital of the Russian Federation, and from 1922 to 1991, it was the capital of the USSR.

Administratively, Moscow is segmented into 10 administration districts. The names of the districts comply with their location: Central, West, North-West, etc. The districts are, then, segmented into city regions, there are 128 of them in Moscow.

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