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. While Russians make up over 80% of the population and Orthodox Christianity is the main religion, there are many other ethnic groups.
Muslims are concentrated among the Volga Tatars and the Bashkirs and in the North Caucasus.
The economy has long been in crisis and its priorities remain to curb inflation, balance the budget and reschedule foreign debt.
In 2000 the government claimed some success, aided by a rising oil price. Relations with the West have seen friction over Nato expansion, Russian support of the Serbs and above all the campaign to quell the rebellion in Chechnya.
The conflict between Russia's pursuit of an independent path and its need for outside backing will continue to be played out for some time.
Population: 148 million
Major language: Russian
Major religions: Christianity, Islam
Form of government: Multiparty republic
Monetary unit: 1 rouble = 100 kopecks
Main exports: Oil and oil products, natural gas, wood and wood products, metals, chemicals, weapons and military equipment
Internet domain: .ru
Time zone: GMT+2 (Kaliningrad)—GMT+12 (Kamchatka)
International dialling code: +7
President: Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin
Putin was named acting president by his predecessor, Boris Yeltsin, who resigned on the last day of the 20th century.
Yeltsin introduced him as the man who could “unite around himself those who will revive Great Russia”.
Putin subsequently won the March 2000 presidential poll and took up office in May.
The Russian media are generally either state-owned, or controlled by “oligarchs”, big businessmen with diverse political connections. Under financial and political pressure, media freedom suffered during 2000.
The government owns two leading news agencies. In television, ORT, or Russian Public Television, is 51% owned by the state. Its main competitor, NTV, or Independent Television, is largely financed by the giant Gazprom gas company.
The war in Chechnya is blamed for government attacks against 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.