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Churchill's "riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma" remains an apt description of Russia; most outsiders have only a hazy idea of its realities. A composite of the extravagant glories of old Russia and the drab legacies of the Soviet era, it's a country that both befuddles and beguiles.
This is a land of snow and deadly winters, but also of rivers that meander across meadows and a midsummer sun that never sets. Its people, in the words of a Russian proverb, "love to suffer," yet they also love to party and can be disarmingly generous and hospitable.
St. Petersburg Tours,
MOSCOW Tours, Travel and Activities
Moscow is the barometer and nucleus of the changes sweeping through Russia.
Nowhere are Russia's contrasts more apparent than here - ancient monasteries and ultra-modern monoliths stand side by side, and "New Russian" millionaires and poverty-stricken pensioners walk the same streets.
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ST. PETERSBURG Tours, Travel and Activities
St. Petersburg has been dubbed the Venice of the North for its palace-lined waterways.
It managed to escape the architectural incursions of Stalinism and its grandiose relics of tsarist days are rather intact. Sculpted by islands and the sinuous Neva River, the city is a vista of geometric elegance.
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A BRIEF HISTORY OF RUSSIA
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 the Soviet Union. The Soviet economy continued to grow at high rates under Malenkov and Khrushchev, and political and social controls were loosened.
The Soviet Union eventually reached its peak and became stagnant under Leonid Brezhnev, and the crisis would continue 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. A determined guerrilla conflict still plagues Russia in Chechnya.
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